The Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

Schweitzer

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

Isaac Schweitzer (1845-1901) was a merchant from Mühringen (near Stuttgart). Like many other German Jewish emigrants, he departed LeHavre, France in July 1866, following in the steps of his three uncles, who immigrated to the United States earlier and started dry-goods stores in Virginia and Pennsylvania, among other states. To better acculturate themselves in their new country, all members of the family changed their name to Switzer or Sweitzer, or used other Americanized spellings. Isaac remained in the United States for almost twenty years, eventually marrying Isabella Guggenheimer, the American-born daughter of two other German immigrants.

To see a collection of letters (translated into English) between Isaac Schweitzer and his family in Germany, click here.

Advertising of Schweitzer’s business. Fincastle, May 17, 1867. Courtesy of Peter Schweitzer & Leo Baeck Institute Collection.

Letter from August 31, 1875 written by Isaac Schweitzer to his fiancée Isabella (Bella) Guggenheimer. Courtesy of Peter Schweitzer & Leo Baeck Institute Collection.

 

In June 1875 Isaac Schweitzer made plans to open a new business in Baltimore, the building of which is depicted in the letterhead here. Isaac and Isabella were married in Philadelphia on September 16, 1875. This letter was written shortly before their wedding in September – he describes the business and the apartment where they were going to live.

Isaac and Isabella Schweitzer, 1894. Courtesy of Werner Schäfer.

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

After 10 years in the United States in the dry-goods business, Isaac Schweitzer (1845-1901), saw opportunity in Europe. In August 1876, he departed for Germany. In November he wrote his wife, Isabella, that he had found a suitable business in Frankenthal (25 miles from Heidelberg), located in the best corner of the marketplace. In February, he gave her instructions and encouragement for her own journey, and Isabella soon joined her husband in Germany. They remained there for the rest of their lives, transforming an initially humble business into a flourishing department store in Frankenthal. 

A newspaper article mentioning purchase of a new building by Isaac Schweitzer in Frankenthal, January 18, 1881. Courtesy of Werner Schäfer.

Building of the company in Frankenthal. Courtesy of Werner Schäfer.

Isaac Schweitzer’s children, ca. 1900. Courtesy of Werner Schäfer.

Company advertising, 1905. Courtesy of Werner Schäfer.

Letterhead of the company, Frankenthal, 1925. Courtesy of Werner Schäfer.

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