Henry Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block, dead at 96

Henry Bloch, who helped build tax preparation company H&R Block into a leading force in business innovation in 20th century America, died Tuesday. He was 96.

Bloch was a philanthropist and a decorated World War II veteran. H&R Block announced his death in a news release. The company did not disclose the cause, but said Bloch died peacefully surrounded by his family.

"Henry embodied the best of American business, entrepreneurship and philanthropy," H&R Block CEO Jeff Jones said in a statement. "In so many ways, he was ahead of his time and a model for today's entrepreneur."

In 1955, Henry and his brother Richard took out an ad in the Kansas City Star offering up tax preparation services for $5. The ad was a hit, and later that year the brothers created H&R Block. They named it "Block" because they believed it was easier to spell and pronounce than "Bloch." Richard Bloch died in 2004.

The company was a true disruptor, changing the way Americans prepared their taxes. By 1962, the company had more than 200 offices and $800,000 in sales. The company went public that year at $4 a share.

In the 1970s, H&R Block grew by expanding into professional services. In 1972, Bloch appeared in his first television commercial that would introduce the company to millions of Americans.

By 1978, H&R Block offices prepared more than one out of every nine tax returns filed in the United States. In 1986, H&R Block helped lead a pilot test of electronic filing, working with the IRS and Sears.

Bloch retired as CEO of H&R Block in 1992 and as chairman of the company's board of directors in 2000.

Bloch, the son of a prominent Kansas City lawyer, joined the Army Air Corps shortly after the United States entered World War II in 1941. He was a navigator on B-17 bombers and was awarded the Air Medal for his combat missions over Germany.

"I flew B-17s, the Flying Fortress. I flew 32 missions, mainly over Germany. We bombed Berlin three times," Bloch told the Kansas City Star in 2016.

After the war, the Bloch brothers founded United Business Company, which provided bookkeeping services to small businesses in Kansas City. H&R Block eventually replaced it.

Bloch and his wife, Marion, were active philanthropists in his hometown of Kansas City. In 2011, the Blochs established the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation. Marion Bloch died in 2013.

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