Category Archives: Science & Technology

Jews in the World of Science and Technology

Jews of the Week: Philips Family

Gerald and Anton Philips

Gerald Leonard Frederik Philips (1858-1942) was born in the Netherlands, the son of a wealthy Dutch-Jewish financier (who was the first cousin of Karl Marx). In 1891, inspired by the recent invention of the light bulb, he decided to open his own light bulb and electronics company. His father purchased an abandoned factory where they set up shop and started producing carbon-filament lamps under the Philips brand the following year. The company did poorly, and nearly went bankrupt before younger brother Anton Frederik Philips (1874-1951) joined the business. A great salesman, with terrific innovations of his own, Anton quickly changed the company’s fortunes. Philips got another boost during World War I, when it filled the void left by the embargo on German electronics. By the 1920s, Philips had become a large corporation, and would soon establish the model for future electronics multinationals. After making their own vacuum tubes and radios, Philips’ introduced a new type of electric razor, the wildly popular Philishave. (It was invented by lead engineer and fellow Jew Alexandre Horowitz.) During the Holocaust, the family fled to the United States and ran the business from there. One son, Frits Philips, remained behind, and spent several months in an internment camp. He would save the lives of 382 Jews that he employed in his factory, convincing the Nazis that they would assist the war effort. In 1963, Philips introduced the compact audio cassette, revolutionizing the world of music forever. They did it again less then a decade later with the first home video cassette recorder. In the 1980s, Philips developed the LaserDisc, and together with Sony, brought about the age of the CD. Similarly, in 1997 Philips and Sony developed the Blu-ray disc. Today, Philips is still the world’s largest lighting manufacturer, employing over 100,000 people, with revenues of nearly €25 billion. In 2012, Greenpeace ranked Philips first among energy companies and tenth among electronics companies for their green initiatives and commitment to sustainability. This is very much in line with Gerald and Anton Philips’ original vision. The brothers were noted philanthropists, and supported many educational and social programs in their native Netherlands.

Words of the Week

Incidentally, Europe owes the Jews no small thanks for making people think more logically and for establishing cleanlier intellectual habits – nobody more so than the Germans, who are a lamentably déraisonnable race who to this day are still in need of having their “heads washed” first. Wherever the Jews have won influence they have taught men to make finer distinctions, more rigorous inferences, and to write in a more luminous and cleanly fashion; their task was ever to bring a people “to listen to raison.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

A 1968 Philips audio cassette recorder; a Philips Magnavox video recorder; Philishave rotary razor; and an early LaserDisc player model

Jew of the Week: Yuri Milner

Yuri Bentsionovich Milner (b. 1961) was born in Moscow. He studied theoretical physics at Moscow State University before working at the prestigious Lebedev Physical Institute. He found that his abilities in physics were not the best (especially because he was placed on a lower track due to his being Jewish), and decided to switch to business. He first tried selling computers, then went to do an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania, becoming the first person from the Soviet Union to officially study in the US. Upon graduation, he got a job at the World Bank, and in 1995 was made CEO of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s investment company. In 1999, Milner read an article and decided it was a good idea to start an online business. He began a series of ventures that brought American-style sites to Russia, including Molotok.ru (the Russian eBay), Boom.ru (free webhosting), and 24×7 (Russia’s Amazon). In 2005, Milner established his own investment fund, Digital Sky Technologies. Five years later, his Mail.ru went public on the London Stock Exchange with a valuation of $5.6 billion. That same year, Milner bought pioneering Israeli instant messaging company ICQ, and has since invested an additional $150 million in Israeli startups. Milner’s venture capital fund has become one of the world’s greatest. He was among the first to invest in Facebook, with an initial $200 million, and plenty more since. He also invested $800 million in Twitter, $125 million in WhatsApp, and $1.6 billion in Alibaba, in addition to Groupon, Snapchat, Airbnb, and Spotify. In 2012, Milner established the Breakthrough Prize, awarding $3 million to great achievements in Physics, Life Sciences, and Mathematics. This is now the largest scientific award in the world, trumping even the Nobel Prize. In 2015, Milner founded the Breakthrough Initiatives to investigate life on other planets. Its first project is a $100 million, 10-year endeavour called “Listen”, searching for radio and laser signals from distant stars with the most sensitive equipment in the world. The most recent Breakthrough Initiative is “Starshot”, investing $100 million to develop a spacecraft that will be accelerated to 20% of the speed of light and take a 20 year journey to our nearest star. Milner also awards (together with Mark Zuckerberg) a $250,000 scholarship to the winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, in addition to $50,000 for that student’s science teacher, and $100,000 for the student’s school science lab. Milner has been on Fortune‘s list of 50 Greatest World Leaders, and TIME’s 100 Most Influential People. He was voted Russia’s Businessman of the Year in 2010, and Man of the Year in 2011, and has been described as “the most interesting man in the world”. Milner recently purchased a house in Los Altos for $100 million, the most ever paid for a single-family home in US history (which the modest Milner was quite embarrassed about). He regularly attends the local synagogue. Milner made the news once again a couple of weeks ago when his Breakthrough Listen project discovered mysterious radio bursts from a distant galaxy, sparking whispers of the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.

Words of the Week

An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions, atheism is very stupid.
– Carl Sagan