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Jacob Henry Schiff (Jakob Heinrich Schiff)

Jacob Henry Schiff was a Jewish-American banker, businessman, and philanthropist. Among many other things, he helped finance the expansion of American railroads and the Japanese military efforts against Tsarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War.

Background

  • Schiff was born in 1847 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, to Moses and Clara (née Niederhofheim) Schiff, members of a distinguished Ashkenazi Jewish rabbinical family that traced its lineage in Frankfurt back to 1370. His father, Moses Schiff, was a broker for the Rothschilds.

  • Education

    • Schiff was educated in the schools of Frankfurt and was first employed in the banking and brokerage business as an apprentice in 1861. After the American Civil War had ended in April, 1865, Schiff came to the United States, arriving in New York City on August 6. He was licensed as a broker on November 21, 1866, and joined the firm of Budge, Schiff & Company in 1867. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in September 1870.

    Career

    • In 1863 Jacob went to work with his father on the Frankfurt stock exchange, but two years later moved to New York, where in 1867 he formed his own brokerage firm with two other men from his hometown. When the partnership papers were ready for signature it was discovered that Jacob was not yet of legal age to sign. The partnership was later dissolved and after a brief spell as manager of the Deutsche Bank in Hamburg, Jacob returned to New York and in 1873 joined Kuhn, Loeb and Co., where he concentrated on railroad management and financing. Although a junior partner, Schiff soon dominated the field in the United States and developed contacts with European bankers on money matters concerning railroads. In 1875 when he married Therese Loeb, daughter of Solomon Loeb, he became a full partner in the firm and by 1881 was running the influential company.

      Schiff, joining forces with E. H. Harriman, owner of the Illinois Central Railroad, bought the Union Pacific Railroad in 1897, and their collaboration led to the amassing of the greatest single railroad fortune in the world. In 1901 he was involved in the “Battle of the Giants” in the struggle to take over Northern Pacific, which led to a major panic on Wall Street and the British and European stock markets.

      In 1904 Schiff arranged a two-hundred-million-dollar loan for the Japanese government, taking a financial risk because of his profound hatred of the anti-Semitic policies of the Russian government. He made a number of public statements at the time of the pogroms, calling the Russian government “the enemy of mankind,” and urged an armed revolt against the tsar.

      Yet, he was miserly about the use of the telephone in his home and kept a little notebook on the stand beside it where each person was required to enter calls. At the end of each month he carefully compared the calls listed in the notebook with those on the bill. Schiff presented the New York YMHA with its first permanent home, complete with gymnasium, library, clubrooms, and classrooms. He introduced the “matching gift” system of philanthropy, and believed that a man’s giving should be done in his lifetime, under his personal supervision. He headed Montefiore Hospital in New York and paid regular visits to the patients. He was one of the founders of the Provident Loan Society, endowed buildings at Barnard College, the Semitic Museum at Harvard University, Frankfurt University in Germany, and the Technion in Haifa. However, Schiff never permitted his name to be attached to any of these structures with the single exception of the Schiff Pavilion at the Montefiore Hospital.

      He served on the New York City Board of Education, was vice-president of the chamber of commerce, and was a member of many New York city commissions.

      Schiff died in New York City on September 25, 1920. His estate was estimated at about $50,000,000 ($620,000,000 in 2015). He bequeathed $1,350,000 to various institutions, most of which had received benefactions during his life. The largest bequests were $500,000 to the Federation for the support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York City and $300,000 to the Montefiore Home. He was succeeded as head of Kuhn, Loeb & Company by his son, Mortimer Leo Schiff (1877–1931).

    Works

    • Our Journey to Japan
    • This book was originally published prior to 1923, and represents a reproduction of an important historical work, maintaining the same format as the original work.

    Religion

    Schiff retained many of his Orthodox habits (he said his prayers every morning) but was affiliated with New York’s Temple Emanu-FJ and the Reform Movement. He was active in the establishment and development of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and also supported both Ycshiva College and Hebrew Union College. He used his personal wealth and influence on behalf of Jews everywhere, and his widespread philanthropic and communal activities brought him recognition as the foremost figure of American Jewry. He was a leading supporter of the Jewish Publication Society of America and financed its publication of the Schiff Library of Jewish Classics.

    Jacob Schiff was a founding member of the American Jewish Committee and in 1914 was instrumental in creating the American Jewish Relief Committee, which later became the Joint Distribution Committee.

    Denomination: Orthodox

    Membership

    Member firm Kuhn, Loeb & Company, bankers, New York.

    Personality

    Schiff always felt strongly about his connection to the Jewish people, and demonstrated this through his philanthropy. He supported relief efforts for the victims of pogroms in Russia, and helped establish and develop Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Jewish Division in the New York Public Library, and the American Jewish Committee.

    Schiff grew to be one of American Jewry's top philanthropists and leaders, donating to nearly every major Jewish cause, New York examples being the Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids, of which he was president, the Young Men's Hebrew Association building and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was also involved with many secular American causes: in addition to serving on the Board of Managers of the New York Zoological Society, he gave to such organizations as the Boy Scouts of America, the Harvard Semitic Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Fine Arts Society, American Geographical Society, and Barnard College; and a number of other organizations for civil rights and the disadvantaged, such as the American Red Cross, the Nurses' Settlement (New York) and Tuskegee Institute. On his 70th birthday, he distributed $700,000 among various charitable organizations and public institutions. Schiff was actively concerned with the improvement of civic conditions in New York. He was a vice president of the New York Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Committee of 70 which resulted in the overthrow of the Tweed Ring.

    Connections

    • He married Theresa Loeb in 1875.
    • father: M.Schiff. Schiff
    • spouse: Theresa Loeb
    • children: Frieda Schiff

    References

    • Jacob H. Schiff: His Life and Letters Part 1
      1928
    • This scarce antiquarian book is a facsimile reprint of the original. Due to its age, it may contain imperfections such as marks, notations, marginalia and flawed pages. Because we believe this work is culturally important, we have made it available as part of our commitment for protecting, preserving, and promoting the world's literature in affordable, high quality, modern editions that are true to the original work.

    • Jacob H. Schiff: His Life and Letters Part 2
      1928
    • This scarce antiquarian book is a facsimile reprint of the original. Due to its age, it may contain imperfections such as marks, notations, marginalia and flawed pages. Because we believe this work is culturally important, we have made it available as part of our commitment for protecting, preserving, and promoting the world's literature in affordable, high quality, modern editions that are true to the original work.

    Jacob Henry Schiff
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    Born January 10, 1847
    Died September 25, 1920
    (aged 73)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:
    • 1867
      Broker, Budge, Schiff & Company
      New York, United States
    • 1885
      Head, Kuhn, Loeb & Company
      New York, United States