Tag Archives: Industrial Revolution

Jews of the Week: Nathan Rothschild and Jacob de Rothschild

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 7th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the most famous (and sometimes infamous) Jewish family of all time: the Rothschilds. This is part three of five. Click here for part one and here for part two.

Jacob James de Rothschild

The youngest of Mayer Rothschild’s sons was Jacob “James” Rothschild (1792-1868). He moved to Paris in 1811 and opened a new branch of the family bank in 1817. Jacob play a central role in rebuilding post-Napoleonic War France, and financing the empire’s industrial revolution. He financed some of France’s first railroads and factories, imported tea and other goods, and invested in mining and wine-making. He would become the richest man in the world, and his fortune alone (not including the rest of the family) is estimated to have been over $300 billion in today’s dollars. Jacob, too, was brought into the nobility (becoming “de Rothschild”, while his brothers in the Holy Roman Empire were “von Rothschild”). He served as an adviser to French kings, and was awarded the French Legion of Honour. Jacob also served as an ambassador to Austria. He was a noted philanthropist and arts patron, funding greats like Chopin, Rossini, and de Balzac. He and his wife were French icons, and symbols of culture and sophistication. (When King Louis XVIII refused to host Jacob’s wife because she was Jewish, Jacob stopped doing business with him.) The couple was admired by the French people, and Jacob’s funeral drew countless thousands.

Nathan Rothschild

By far the most famous of the Rothschild sons was Nathan Rothschild (1777-1836). He moved to Manchester in 1798 to start a textiles business before opening a branch of the family bank in London in 1805. In 1809, he switched his focus to dealing gold, and in 1811 won a contract to take care of British payments to their soldiers fighting Napoleon. Nathan won this contract because, unlike other bankers, careful coordination with his brothers allowed him to transport gold safely across war-torn Europe. By 1825, Nathan’s bank was so wealthy and successful that he single-handedly saved the Bank of England from a serious crisis. Nathan, too, was a philanthropist, as well as a social justice advocate, playing a key role in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. At the time of his death (from an infection), he was the wealthiest man in the world. Nathan is infamous because of a myth that he made much of his fortune by speculating on the London stock exchange one day. Supposedly, he knew that the British had won the Battle of Waterloo before everyone else, and created a false panic by selling all his bonds as if Britain had lost. This led everyone else to sell their bonds, too, before Nathan quickly bought them all for very cheap right before news of Britain’s victory came and bond prices soared. Researchers have traced this legend to an anti-Semitic French pamphlet published ten years after Nathan passed away. It has no historical basis, nor does it make any sense according to both financial and historical experts. Accurate estimates suggest that if Nathan made any money at all from knowing about the Battle of Waterloo, it could not have been more than a million pounds. Nonetheless, the legend persists and is popular among conspiracy theorists. (Nathan did make a fortune in bonds some years after the war.) Interestingly, Nathan also played a critical role in Brazil’s independence from Portugal. His son Lionel, whose life we shall explore next week, continued to run the London branch, and it would go on to become the most successful of them all.

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Words of the Week

It requires a great deal of boldness and a great deal of caution to make a great fortune; and when you have got it, it requires ten times as much wit to keep it.
– Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild

Jews of the Week: Amschel, Salomon, and Kalman von Rothschild

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 7th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the most famous (and sometimes infamous) Jewish family of all time: the Rothschilds. This is part two of five. Click here to see part one.

The eldest son of Mayer Rothschild was Amschel Rothschild (1773-1855). He continued his father’s business in Frankfurt, and was made a baron in 1817 (becoming “Von Rothschild”). He was the most religious of the brothers, and tremendously helped poor Eastern European Jews, who nicknamed him “the pious Rothschild”. Unfortunately, he died childless, so his Frankfurt branch was taken over by siblings and nephews. The branch was permanently shut down in 1901. Mayer’s second son was Salomon Rothschild (1774-1855), head of the Vienna branch. He played a huge role in Austria’s history, sparking its industrial revolution, igniting the Austrian economy, and financing massive public projects, including Austria’s first railway network. In honour of this, Emperor Francis made him a baron in 1822 (making him Salomon von Rothschild). Ironically, he was still not an Austrian citizen, which Jews were barred from! It was only twenty years later that he was officially made Austria’s first Jewish citizen, paving the way for equal rights for all Jews. Unfortunately, just a few years later, a wave of anti-Semitic riots broke out in Austria, with Rothschild being its main target. He had to hand over his bank, and fled to Paris. Many of the precious artworks that he collected he donated to the Louvre. The Vienna branch of the bank would ultimately be put to an end by the Nazis (having already suffered a devastating blow during the 1929 stock market crash). The Naples branch went under even earlier, during the Italian Reunification. It was founded by Kalman “Carl” Rothschild (1788-1855), the fourth son. He transformed his bank into the dominant financier in Italy, and was also made a baron. One of his clients was the Vatican Bank, and witnesses were shocked that Kalman never kissed the Pope’s feet, which everyone – even kings – had to do in those days when meeting the Pope. Kalman died in the same year as his oldest brothers, perhaps from grief after his wife and son tragically passed away as well. The remaining two sons, in London and Paris, would become the most influential Rothschilds by far, establishing institutions that continue to operate until this day. Their life and achievements will be explored next week.

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Words of the Week

The Rothschilds are the wonders of modern banking… we see the descendants of Judah, after a persecution of two thousand years, peering above kings, rising higher than emperors, and holding a whole continent in the hollow of their hands…
– Niles’ Weekly Register, Volume 49 (1836)

Rothschild Coat of Arms. Among the interesting symbols is a Star of David at the top left, and a hand holding five arrows, representing the five Rothschild sons, based on Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” At the centre of the logo is a red shield (for “Rothschild”) with an image of the “Judenhut”, a hat that Jews were forced to wear in Europe to distinguish them from others.