Category Archives: Science & Technology

Jews in the World of Science and Technology

Jew of the Week: André Citroën

The Man Who Made the Citroën Car and Helped Win World War I

As a child, André Citroën was inspired by the Eiffel Tower. He lived to see his name displayed on it. This early “billboard” marketing technique is still a Guinness World Record for largest advertising sign.

André-Gustave Citroën (1878-1935) was born in Paris to a Dutch-Jewish father and Polish-Jewish mother. The last name “Citroën” comes from his grandfather, who sold fruit for a living in the Netherlands and was known as Limoenman, so his son made the family last name Citroen, which means “lemon”. As a child, Citroën was inspired by the Eiffel Tower and by the works of Jules Verne and dreamed of becoming an engineer. After graduating with an engineering degree, Citroën went on a trip to Poland to see his mother’s birthplace. There, he saw a carpenter working with a gear that had a “fish bone” structure. Citroën realized that such gears could be used in automobiles to make them quieter and more efficient. He bought the patent from the carpenter, then tweaked the designs until he came up with the automotive double helical gear. The Mors auto company successfully integrated these gears to make better cars, and by 1906 Citroën was the company’s director. With the outbreak of World War I, factories were being converted to produce weapons, and Citroën soon became world-renowned for increasing factory productivity. He took charge of fellow car-maker Renault’s large plant, now having its 35,000 employees making armaments. Citroën’s work played a key role in ensuring the Allies were well-armed and helping them win the war. Following the war, Citroën founded his own Citroën automobile company in 1919. Within just a dozen years, it became the world’s fourth largest car manufacturer. The company was most famous for its executive Traction Avant model, which pioneered a number of revolutionary features including independent suspensions on all four wheels and front-wheel drive. Investing so much money into research and development ultimately drove the company to bankruptcy and it was bought out by its tire maker Michelin. Citroën died the following year from cancer. He was buried in Paris’ famous Montparnasse Cemetery, with a traditional Jewish ceremony presided by Paris’ chief rabbi. A number of streets and parks in the city are named after him, and in 1998 Citroën was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, his company retained his original vision, and continued to pioneer many new technologies (like modern disc brakes, self-leveling suspensions, and swiveling headlights), becoming one of the most iconic car brands in the world.

Should You Wear a Red String On Your Wrist?

Words of the Week

If someone says,“I have worked hard, and I have not been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says,“I have not worked hard and I have been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says,“I have worked hard and I have been successful,” believe him!
– Talmud (Megillah 6b)

The double helical gear inspired the Citroën logo.

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