Jacob Henry Schiff
(1847 - 1920)
Jacob Henry Schiff was an important participant in actively accelerating the rapid industrialization of the United States economy during the late 19th and early 20th century. Through his firm, Kuhn, Loeb and Company, he was able to help finance the development and
growth of such corporations as Westinghouse Electric, U.S. Rubber,
Armour, and American Telephone and Telegraph.
He also served as a director and advisor of numerous insurance
companies, banks and other corporations. Schiff was a prime mover in
helping to consolidate and expand the American railroad networks,
Schiff was prominent in floating loans for the U.S. government and
for foreign nations. He took great delight in floating a spectacular
bond issue of 200 million dollars for Japan to help them in their war
with Czarist Russia, 1904-1905. Schiff was angered and infuriated
with the anti-Semitic pogroms and policies of the czar. Helping Japan
fight Russia was one of his methods of striking back at anti-Semitism.
Jacob Henry Schiff was born on January 10, 1847, in Frankfurt-
am-Main, Germany. The son of Moses and Clara (Niederhofheim)
Schiff, he was a descendant of a distinguished rabbinical family that
could trace its lineage back to 1370. He received a secular and religious education at the Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft (a local
At age 18, Schiff emigrated to the United States and became a citizen.
He went to work in a brokerage firm in New York and he later
became a partner in Budae, Schiff and Company. He met and fell in
love with Theresa Loeb, the daughter of Solomon Loeb, head of the
banking firm, Kuhn, Loeb and Company. They were married on May
6, 1875, and he entered her father's firm.
In 1885, he was named head of the firm because of his financial
abilities. Schiff was a strong advocate for the gold standard and he
opposed the Silver Purchase Act of 1890. Despite his success in the
financial world, he always felt he had a special obligation to the Jewish
People. He fulfilled this commitment through his philanthropies.
Schiff was a Reform Jew, but he still retained many of the Orthodox habits of his youth. He was especially active in the establishment
and development of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Hebrew
Union College. He was a large contributor to the relief programs for
the Jewish victims of the Russian Czar's anti-Semitic programs.
There was hardly a Jewish organization which was not the recipient
of his contributions. His interest and love for Jewish literature found
him contributing generously to the Jewish Publication Society. He
funded a program for a new English translation of the Bible. He helped
to establish the Jewish Division in the New York Public Library.
Schiff was always concerned about humanity and sickness. He
contributed heavily to Montefiore Hospital in New York where he served
as president for 35 years. During those years, he visited the hospital
weekly. He contributed generously to many Jewish and non-Jewish
organizations, including the Semitic Museum at Harvard University;
he gave one million dollars to Barnard College; contributed to the
American Red Cross, Tuskegee Institute, the Henry Street Settlement,
He was one of the founders of the American Jewish Committee and
was active in the Jewish Welfare Board.
Jacob Henry Schiff died on September 25, 1920, in his beloved
New York City.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American
heroism included in Jewish
Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of
American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written
by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida,
illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published
by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.