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Albert Kahn

KAHN, ALBERT (1860–1940), French philanthropist. Born in Marmoutier (Alsace) to a family of merchants, Kahn settled in Paris in 1876 and found a job at the Banque Goudchaux. However, he displayed such genius in the field of finance that he soon became a partner in the bank and founded his own bank in 1898. He built his fortune by investing in the diamond and gold mining projects developed by Cecil Rhodes in South Africa in the 1880s and 1890s. A confirmed bachelor, Kahn devoted his energy and his financial resources to the promotion of utopian concepts of peace and harmony in the world through better mutual understanding among the different civilizations and social forces. In 1898, he created the Autour du monde ("Around the World") fellowships to encourage young French intellectuals to travel and discover other parts of the world. The project was later extended to candidates from many other countries. His Archives de la Planète, created in 1912, sent photographers to various parts of the world and accumulated a wealth of rare animated images and photographs both of daily life and of specific events. In the same year, he sponsored the creation in the Collège de France, by Jean Brunhes, of a Human Geography cathedra.

From 1920, Albert Kahn endowed various French institutions of higher learning (notably the École Normale Supérieure in Paris) with documentation centers. He encouraged discussion of the social and human problems in a spirit of goodwill in the Autour du monde forum (1906) and the Comité national d'études sociales et politiques (1916), which published much material. A friend of Henri *Bergson since the time of their youth, he supported the activities of the League of Nations in the field of intellectual cooperation. His connections were particularly close with Japan and were reflected in the Japanese garden in his mansion in Boulogne Billancourt (near Paris), combined with an Alsatian-style garden reminding him of his youth. Kahn was ruined by the economic crisis of the 1930s, and most of his public activities were curtailed. His garden remains open to the public at large, and from the 1990s, mainly through Japanese sponsorship, his films and photographs have been digitized and are available to visitors together with thematic exhibitions.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.