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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 school).

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 Budge, 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, etc.

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.

Source: 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.

Photo: Aime Dupont, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.