Tag Archives: Titanic

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

Jews of the Week: Straus and Bloomingdale

Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s 

Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale

Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale

Lyman Bloomingdale (1841-1905) and Joseph Bloomingdale (1842-1904) were the sons of German-Jewish immigrants who settled in New York. Their father Benjamin started a small clothing shop, and it was here that Lyman and Joseph sold their first hoop skirts for ladies. In 1872, the brothers opened their own store. Business boomed, and in 1886, the company expanded and opened its current world-famous Bloomingdale’s location. Over the next century, Bloomingdale’s went on to open dozens of stores across America, and become one of the most recognizable department store brands in the world. In 1930, Bloomingdale’s joined together with another department store giant – Macy’s. Macy’s began in 1858 as a small dry goods store. Thirty years later, a pair of Jewish brothers (who originally only supplied Macy’s with tableware) became partners in the business, and the shop’s fortunes boomed.

Isidor Straus

The brothers were Isidor Straus (1845-1912) and Nathan Straus (1848-1931), who were also German-Jewish immigrants like the Bloomingdales. Eventually, the two became the sole owners of Macy’s, and turned the company into an internationally-recognized brand, which now has 850 locations. The elder Isidor served as a US Congressmen and was a noted philanthropist and social activist. Tragically, he and his wife were aboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912. Despite his wealth and status, which immediately guaranteed him a seat on a lifeboat, Isidor refused so that all women and children could be saved first. He and his wife did not survive. His brother Nathan was also supposed to cruise the Titanic, but instead decided to take a trip to Israel. This decision saved his life, and Nathan saw this is a divine message.

Nathan Straus

Nathan Straus dedicated the rest of his life to support the Jewish state, going on to donate two thirds of his wealth for the cause. His money opened up countless schools, health clinics and public kitchens in Israel. The modern city of Netanya is named after him. Meanwhile, Nathan also did a great deal at home. He opened a pasteurized milk institute that gave out free milk to children, and is credited with significantly reducing the incidence of milk-borne diseases. During the recession of 1893, he gave away coal and meat for free, opened lodgings for 64,000 people, and provided 50,000 meals for a penny each. In the recession of 1914-15 he provided over one million such penny meals, and during World War I, sold his private yacht in order to feed orphans. His personal motto was: “The world is my country, to do good is my religion.”

Words of the Week

God transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew makes physical things spiritual.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov