Born in Baiersdorf, Germany, Joseph Seligman (1819-1880) showed a creative entrepreneurial spirit from an early age. As a youth he would earn money by exchanging foreign coins for travellers while working at his family’s goods shop. At 17, Seligman decided to go out on his own, boarding a steamer for America. In Pennsylvania he worked as a cashier for a salary of $400 a year. From his earnings, Seligman started a small business delivering goods to rural farmers, saving them from having to travel to the city. His first $500 in savings was used to ferry over two of his brothers from Germany. After building a successful clothing business, the brothers went into banking, opening branches across Europe and America. Their wealth continued to skyrocket, so much so that during the Civil War Joseph Seligman disposed $200 million in bond loans to allow the war effort to continue. Historians have called this “scarcely less important than the Battle of Gettysburg”. Seligman was later offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury, but turned it down. He would go on to invest heavily in the development of the United States (as well as Russia and Peru), pumping money into railroads, bridges, shipbuilding, steel, oil and mining, even bicycles and communication lines. Together with the Vanderbilt family, Seligman financed much of New York’s public utilities. In one of the country’s most controversial events of the time, Seligman’s family was denied residence at the Grand Union Hotel by Henry Hilton, on the grounds that Jews were not welcome. Of this H.W. Beecher wrote “When I heard of the unnecessary offense that has been cast upon Mr. Seligman, I felt no other person could have been singled out that would have brought home to me the injustice more sensibly than he.”
Words of the Week
Time must be guarded… Every bit of time, every day that passes, is not just a day but a life’s concern.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Hayom Yom, Cheshvan 17)