Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Jews of the Week: the Guggenheims

Meyer Guggenheim, with (top to bottom) Daniel, Solomon, Simon, and Benjamin

Meyer Guggenheim (1828-1905) was born in Switzerland to a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish family. At 19, he set out on his own and journeyed to the United States. After working in various shops in Philadelphia, Guggenheim opened up his own company, importing Swiss embroidery. Business went well, and he soon searched for new opportunities. In 1881, Guggenheim invested $5000 in two Colorado silver mines, and quickly realized their incredible potential. He sold all his other ventures and put all of his money into mining and smelting. With the help of his seven sons, Guggenheim quickly expanded across the US. By 1901, the family controlled the largest metal-processing plants in the US, and also owned mines in Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, and the Congo. In 1922, various disputes led to the Guggenheims being kicked out of their largest company by its own board. Soon, they sold off all of their mines. The family would invest elsewhere, and the fortune vacillated over the decades. In 1999, it ceased to be a strictly family affair with the opening of Guggenheim Partners. Today, the firm has 2300 employees, and controls $260 billion in assets worldwide (including the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, purchased for a record $2.15 billion in cash).

After the elder Guggenheim’s passing, his son Daniel Guggenheim (1856-1930) took over the business. By 1918, he raised the family fortune to as much as $300 million, making them among the wealthiest people in the world, as well as among the most generous philanthropists. Daniel’s son was a World War I pilot, inspiring Daniel to invest considerably in aviation technology. To this day, the most prestigious prize in aeronautics is the Daniel Guggenheim Medal. Another son, Solomon Guggenheim (1861-1949), was a patron of the arts and an avid collector. He established New York’s world-famous Guggenheim Museum. Meanwhile, Simon Guggenheim (1867-1941) served as a US senator. He established a fund in honour of his deceased son that has granted over 15,000 scholarships to date, totalling over $250 million! His $80,000 donation (equivalent to $2.5 million today) to a Colorado school was, at the time, the largest private grant ever made to a state institution. Benjamin Guggenheim (1865-1912) worked for the family business out of Paris, and in 1912 boarded the Titanic to head back home. When the iceberg hit, he was offered a place among the first women being evacuated, but rejected, saying “No woman shall remain unsaved because I was a coward.” One survivor reported that “after having helped the rescue of women and children, [he] got dressed, a rose at his buttonhole, to die.” His body was never recovered.

Words of the Week

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
– Plato

Jew of the Week: Dan Bricklin

“Father of the Spreadsheet”

Daniel Singer Bricklin (b. 1951) was born in Philadelphia and studied at its Akiba Hebrew Academy. He graduated from MIT in 1973 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. His first job was working at a tech company called DEC, replacing typewriters with computers for newspaper companies. He then became DEC’s project leader on its development of the first word-processing software. After a few years, Bricklin moved on to work at FasFax, designing some of the first electronic cash registers for fast food companies. In 1979, he got an MBA from the Harvard Business School. During his studies there, fed up with repetitive and tedious calculations, Bricklin came up with an idea for an electronic spreadsheet. Teaming up with his friend, the two put together a new program called VisiCalc for the Apple II computer. This was the first spreadsheet software ever made, and the foundation for future spreadsheet programs like Excel. In fact, it was VisiCalc that transformed the computer from a mysterious device reserved for techies to a practical tool used by mainstream businesses and consumers. VisiCalc skyrocketed sales of the Apple II, leading Steve Jobs to admit that it “propelled the success of Apple… more than any other single event… If VisiCalc had been written for some other computer, you’d be interviewing somebody else right now.” A New York Times article at the time wrote humorously, but accurately: “All Hail VisiCalc.” For this, Bricklin was awarded the prestigious Grace Murray Hopper Award, among many others. Since then, Bricklin has started a number of other successful tech and software companies, and is currently the president of Software Garden, and the CTO of Alpha Software. He has also published a book, and has been featured in two documentaries. Watch Bricklin’s short and fascinating TED talk here.

Words of the Week

In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence… Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.
– Isaac Newton