Tag Archives: Lawyer

Jew of the Week: Isaac Rice

Chess Master, Musician, Submarine Tycoon

Isaac Rice

Isaac Leopold Rice (1850-1915) was born in Bavaria to a German-Jewish family, and grew up in Philadelphia. At 19, he went back to Europe and studied music at the National Conservatory of Paris. At the same time, he was a European correspondent for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and regularly wrote newspaper articles. After three years, Rice briefly moved to England and became a music teacher. He was an avid chess player and won a UK chess championship in Manchester. Rice then moved to New York and wrote his first book, the philosophical “What is Music?” He taught music classes for ten hours a day in order to support his struggling parents and siblings, and spent several more hours composing new music. In 1878 he enrolled in Columbia Law and graduated at the top of his class two years later. Rice worked primarily with railroad companies, and over the next decade became the most famous railroad lawyer in America. Meanwhile, he co-founded Columbia’s school of political science, and taught the subject (along with law and economics) for four years. He also established Forum Magazine, and was a regular contributor for decades. Rice was fascinated by electricity and its potential. In 1892 he bought out the failing Electro-Dynamic Company, producer of motors and generators. He then founded the Electric Vehicle Company, and is thought to be the first person in New York to have a car, bringing another dozen motorized cabs to operate in the city for the first time. In 1897, Rice bought the Electric Storage Battery Company and the Holland Torpedo Boat Company, creating his new Electric Boat Company. Rice secured a contract with the US government to build America’s first submarines (designed by John Philip Holland). He went on to supply the US Navy with 85 submarines and 722 submarine chasers, which were instrumental in World War I, as were his 580 motor boats for the British Royal Navy. Rice sold his Electric Boat Company for $2 million several months before he passed away. His companies later formed General Dynamics, today one of the largest military contractors in the world, employing over 100,000 people, and still the main supplier of the Navy’s submarines. (The company’s most famous creation: the F-16 fighter jet.) Rice continued to play chess and host tournaments until his last days. He is credited with playing a key role in boosting the popularity of chess in America. Rice was president of the Manhattan Chess Club, and discovered a classic opening move of chess that is named after him (the Rice Gambit). His large New York home, which he built in 1903, is an official historical landmark, and currently houses a yeshiva.

Amazing Discovery of Biblical Joseph’s Statue in Egypt

Words of the Week

This is a fight for the homeland – it is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine will have to leave. We will facilitate their departure to their former homes. Any of the old Palestine Jewish population who survive may stay, but it is my impression that none of them will survive.
– former PLO chairman Ahmed Shukairy

New York City is famous for its cabs. It all began with a set of motorized cabs, like the Electrobat on the right (designed by Morris and Salom) – first introduced by Isaac Rice.

Jew of the Week: Abraham Jonas

The Man Who Made Lincoln President

Abraham Jonas (1801-1864) was born in England to a religious Jewish family. He moved with his brothers to Cincinnati in 1819, and they were the first Jewish family to journey west to the new frontier beyond the Allegheny Mountains. They were also the founders of the first synagogue in Ohio, Congregation B’nai Israel. Jonas married Lucy Seixas, the daughter of Gershom Mendes Seixas, the first rabbi born in America. After she passed away, he relocated to Kentucky, remarried, and opened a general store. Having been involved with the Freemasons back in Cincinnati, Jonas opened a new Masonic Lodge in Kentucky. He became its master in 1832. Around the same time, he was elected to the Kentucky State Legislature and served a four year term. After this, Jonas moved to Illinois and opened a new general store, as well as a carriage business, before going to study law. He and his brothers started a newspaper, and built another synagogue, Congregation B’nai Abraham. (Jonas’ law office was a room inside the synagogue.) In 1840, Jonas established Illinois’ Grand Masonic Lodge and was elected its Grand Master. Two years later, he joined the Illinois State Legislature, and there met Abraham Lincoln. The two became very close friends. When their Whig Party fell apart, both Abrahams were among the co-founders of the new Republican Party. It was Jonas who later inspired Lincoln to run for president, and campaigned on his behalf. Jonas was a noted abolitionist, and vehemently opposed the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act which allowed slavery in new Western states. In fact, Jonas chaired the committee which organized the now-famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates, where Abraham Lincoln made his case against slavery. In 1858, when leaders of the Republican Party were deciding whom to nominate as their next candidate for president, Henry Asbury suggest Lincoln, whom the others rejected immediately. At this point, Jonas spoke up and turned the tables. Still, at the party’s Illinois convention in May 1860, it seemed clear that William Seward would be nominated. Jonas stepped in yet again, and ensured Lincoln’s nomination. Less than a year later, Lincoln was president. He appointed Jonas as the postmaster of Quincy, Illinois. Jonas continued to support and advice Lincoln until his last days. Of Jonas’ five sons, two fought with the Confederate Army, which grieved him greatly. He fell terribly ill in the midst of the Civil War. As he lay on his death bed in 1864, his son Charles was captured and imprisoned. President Lincoln wrote a personal order to release Charles so that he could be alongside his father. Jonas died that same day. He played a critical role in ensuring the survival of Jewish life in America. He was also a key founding member of the Republican Party, and there is little doubt that without him Abraham Lincoln (who has been voted America’s greatest president by both citizens and political scientists) would have never become president. Not surprisingly, Jonas is the only person that Lincoln ever described as “one of my most valued friends”.

Was Abraham Lincoln Jewish?

Lincoln and the Jews: 10 Fascinating Facts

Words of the Week

The American Jewish community is wonderful. While you cannot tell them to do anything, you can teach them to do everything.
– The Lubavitcher Rebbe, to Herman Wouk