The Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

Morgenthau

Late 18th- first half of 19th Century: Changes are coming

Lazarus Morgenthau (1815-1897) came from Hürben, a small village in Bavaria. When he was young, he sold ties he made at various fairs. Eventually, he moved his family to Mannheim, where he had better access to markets and money. Mengo, his younger brother who had emigrated to San Francisco in 1850, sent Morgenthau some money, which he used to found a successful cigar manufacturing business. When his business failed in 1866, Morgenthau moved his family to New York where his family became successful and influential. After studying law, his son Henry became an important American diplomat, serving as US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Morgenthau’s grandson, Henry Morgenthau Jr., was a close friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and served as his Secretary of Finance. His great-grandson, Robert Morgenthau, was an influential jurist and the long-time District Attorney in Manhattan.

German Emigrants to United States, Hamburg 1874. Wikimedia Commons.

Poor Jewish Peddler or Beggar. Leo Baeck Institute, 78.61.

This image depicts a man standing in a marketplace, holding out a small collection box with an overcoat draped over his other arm. His coat is torn and ragged. People mill about in the background. The print is captioned "Jude."

 

To see more depictions of peddlers in the LBI Collection, click here.

Second half of the 19th century: From entrepreneurs to major businesses

It is easy to focus on successful Jewish entrepreneurs, but it is important to note that more businesses fail than succeed. To give but one example among thousands, Lazarus Morgenthau started up a cigar-making business with help from his brother in the United States. It prospered until the U.S. imposed high import duties on cigars, eventually driving Morgenthau into bankruptcy. He made various attempts to find other markets and businesses but found no success.

The Jewish Immigrant. Vol. 2, no. 1. (January 1909). New York: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, 1909. Courtesy of Library of Congress (54).

 

On this journal cover, published by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Lady Liberty, wearing a cap bearing the text "America" in Yiddish, holds a key in one hand and opens a gate to waiting immigrants with the other. Two verses from the Hebrew scriptures flank the open gate. On the right, the verse reads: "Open the gates of righteousness for me" (Psalms 118:19) and on the left, "Open the gates and let a righteous nation enter" (Isaiah 26:2).

William Allen Rogers (1854-1931). The Jewish Quarter, Boston. Published in Harpers, 1899. Graphite drawing with wash. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

 

This drawing by William Allen Rogers depicts the shops, street peddlers, and bustling street life of Boston's Jewish quarter at the turn of the twentieth century. 

To learn more about Lazarus Morgenthau, see the Shared History Project here.

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