Julius Rosenwald

National Cyclopedia of American Biography

ROSENWALD, Julius, merchant and philanthropist, was born in Springfield, Ill., Aug. 12, 1862, son of Samuel and Augusta (Hammerslough) Rosenwald. His father came from Germany in 1851, settling first in Baltimore, Md., and later in Springfield, Ill., where he established a large department store. The son began his business career at the age of seventeen in the clothing house of his uncles, Hammerslough Bros., New York city. Five years later he went to Chicago and organized the wholesale clothing firm of Rosenwald & Weil, of which he was president for twenty-one years. In 1895 he became vice-president of Sears, Roebuck & Co.. a mail order firm, which had been established in Minneapolis in 1888 by Richard W. Sears, and which was incorporated upon its removal to Chicago in 1895 with a capital stock of $159,000. Rosenwald's entrance into its directorate marked the beginning of its phenomenal success and expansion into the largest nail order house in the world. It was re-incorporated under the New York laws in 1906 with a capital of $50,000,000. Upon the retirement of Sears in 1910 Julius Rosenwald became its president, a position he held for fifteen years, and chairman of its board of directors. The gross sales the first year in Chicago (1896) were about $1,000,000; in 1929 they amounted to $443,000,000. At the time of his death Sears, Roebuck & Co. owned or controlled thirty factories to supply its 12,000,000 customers and had distributing warehouses scattered throughout the country in addition to its headquarters in Chicago. It published semiannually a catalogue of 1100 or mere pages listing many thousands of articles for personal, household, farm and general use. The growth of business was due almost entirely to Rosenwald's ability. His philanthropic bent, which exercised itself to far-reaching effect in various fields, was first manifested in his concern for the welfare of the Sears, Roebuck employes. He initiated a mutual benefit association which cared for sick employes and paid a death benefit varying according to salary; he organized a savings bank paying 5 per cent interest compounded quarterly, and provided a dental infirmary and a medical department where free examinations, advice and treatment were given. For recreation purposes he constructed an athletic field and erected a branch building of the Y.M.C.A. near the company's headquarters. He also opened a library for his employes in cooperation with the Chicago public library. For many years the company maintained a profit sharing plan combined with a pension fund, giving those who remained with the company ten years or more an income upon retiring or a cash payment. In 1921 Rosenwald pledged $21,000,000 of his personal fortune to safeguard the interest of Sears, Roebuck & Co. during the critical period of business readjust-

(110) -ment after the World war. In 1910 he offered $25,000 toward the cost of a Y.M.C.A. building for Negro men and boys in any city that would raise an additional $75,000 by popular subscription. The result of the offer was the erection of twenty-five Y.M.C.A. and three Y.W.C.A. buildings. For many years he equipped dental infirmaries for the Chicago public schools and on his fiftieth birthday he contributed $250,000 to the University of Chicago for a new geology and geography building (the Julius Rosenwald hall), $250,000 to the Associated Jewish Charities of Chicago for a new executive building and similar sums to the Chicago Hebrew institute, to Booker T. Washington (q.v.) for Negro schools, to the Chicago-Winfield tuberculosis sanitarium and the Glenwood manual training school for boys. As a patron and trustee of Tuskegee (Ala.) institute he saw the great benefits to the Negro race from the instruction ín elementary subjects, farming and the trades. Impressed by Booker Τ. Washington's oft repeated statement that "you cannot hold a man in a ditch without standing in the ditch with him," he decided to follow his initial contribution to Washington with other sums for the erection of school buildings. Realizing that real progress could he made only as the local communities recognized their responsibility and acted upon it, he made his gifts conditional upon the support of the schools by the educational authorities as a regular part of the public school system. The first Rosenwald school was built near Tuskegee, Ala., in 1913 and since then 5000 schools, trade shops and teachers' homes have been built in the fifteen southern states, for the cost of which $4,000,000 was supplied by the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The plan has not only been successful in its original purpose but has given a decided impetus to educational development in the South. The Julius Rosenwald Fund was established in 1917 for philanthropic purposes. His subsequent gifts to the fund brought the principle up to $20,000,000, while accrued interest and earnings increased its value to $34,000,000 ín 1929. At this time he stipulated to the trustees that the fund should be expended in its entirety and the trust terminated twenty-five years after his death. Although the bulk of its benefactions have been in the field of Negro welfare, gifts have also been made to health and medical services, to library extension, and to rural education. Rosenwald gave $500,000 to the Hebrew Union college rabbinical training school of Cincinnati, $2,500,000 to the University of Chicago, $100,000 to the Hoover German children's relief fund and $6,000,000 for Jewish colonization work in Russia. In 1929 he gave $3,000,000 to the city of Chicago for a museum of science and industry to be located in the fine arts building in Jackson park, and increased that sum to $5,000,000 in 1930. The museum was designed to illustrate the origin, growth and development of notable inventions and discoveries which have contributed to the progress and improvement of mankind throughout its whole history. Rosenwald was long a director, president during 1910-13 and honorary president until his death of the Associated Jewish Charities of Chicago. He was chairman of the Chicago bureau of public efficiency, member of the executive committee of the Chicago plan commission and trustee of the University of Chicago, Hull House, United Charities, Art Institute of Chicago, Baron D de Hirsch Fund, Rockefeller Foundation and Tuskegee institute. During the World war he was a member of the advisory commission of the Council of National Defense and in August 1918 went on a special mission to France for the secretary of war. For his outstanding help to the American Negro a special gold medal was awarded him in 1927 by the Harmon Fund. He has been characterized as "a benefactor in a score of ways that mark him as an outstanding example of how money honestly made should be used, for that part of the public whose assistance, support and approval make gain possible; one of those rare men of large means who really understands the value of money." His inherent modesty, his sincere love for his fellow men, his catholic tastes and interests and his humor and kindliness rendered intimate contact with him agreeable and inspiring and earned him the unstinted affection and devotion of business associates, family and friends. He was twice married: (1) in Chicago, Apr. 8, 1890, to Augusta, daughter of Emanuel Nusbaum, a clothing merchant, of that city; they had five children: Lessing Julius; Adele, wife of David Mordecai Levy; Edith, wife of Edgar Bloom Stern: Marion, wife of Alfred Kaufman Stern, and William Rosenwald; she died in 1929; (2) at Abington, Pa., Jan. 8, 1930, to Adelaide (Rau) Goodkind, daughter of John Rau, a manufacturer, of New York city, and widow of Benjamin Louis Goodkind, of St. Paul, Minn. His death occurred in Chicago, Ill., Jan. 6, 1932.


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