Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica
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The Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica article on the Rothschild family, published in 1911, is in Volume XXIII, pp.758-9. The complete text of the article is reproduced here. There are about a dozen other articles in this Edition on particular activities of various members of the family.
ROTHSCHILD, the name of a Jewish family which has acquired an unexampled position from the magnitude of its financial transactions. The original name was Bauer, the founder of the house being MAYER ANSELM (1743-1812), the son of Anselm Moses Bauer, a small Jewish merchant of Frankfort-on-the-Main. His father wished him to become a rabbi, but he set up as a money-lender at the sign of the “Red Shield” (Rothschild) in the Frankfort Judengasse. He had already acquired some standing as a banker when his numismatic tastes obtained for him the friendship of William, ninth landgrave and afterwards elector of Hesse-Cassel, who in 1801 made him his agent. In the following year Rothschild negotiated his first great government loan, ten million thalers for the Danish government.
When the landgrave was compelled to flee from his capital on the entry of the French, he placed his silver and other bulky treasures in the hands of Rothschild, who, not without considerable risk, took charge of them and buried them, it is said, in a corner of his garden, whence he dug them up as opportunity arose for disposing of them. This he did to such advantage as to be able afterwards to return their value to the elector at 5% interest. He died at Frankfort on the 19th of September 1812, leaving ten children, five sons and five daughters. Branches of the business were established at Vienna, London, Paris and Naples, each being in charge of one of the sons, the chief of the firm always residing at Frankfort. By a system of co-operation and joint counsels, aided by the skilful employment of subordinate agents, they obtained unexampled opportunities of acquiring an accurate knowledge of the condition of the financial market, and practically embraced the whole of Europe within their financial network.
The unity of the interests of the several members of the firm has been preserved by the system of intermarriages which has been the general practice of the descendants of the five brothers. Each of the brothers received in 1815 from Austria the privilege of hereditary landowners, and in 1822 they were created barons by the same country. The charge of the Frankfurt house devolved on the eldest, ANSELM MAYER (1773-1855), born on the 12th of June 1773, who was chosen a member of the royal Prussian privy council of commerce, and, in 1820, Bavarian consul and court banker. The Vienna branch was undertaken by SOLOMON (1774-1826), born on the 9th of December 1774, who entered into intimate relations with Prince Metternich, which contributed in no small degree to bring about the connexion of the firm with the allied powers.
The third brother, NATHAN MAYER (1777-1836), born on the 16th of September 1777, has, however, generally been regarded as the financial genius of the family, and the chief originator of the transactions which have created for the house its unexampled position in the financial world. He went to Manchester about 1800 to act as a purchaser for his father of manufactured goods; but at the end of five years he removed to London. The boldness and skill of his financial transactions, which caused him at first to be regarded as unsafe by the leading banking firms and financial merchants, later awakened their admiration and envy. By the employment of carrier-pigeons and of fast-sailing boats of his own for the transmission of news he was able to utilize to the best advantage his special sources of information, while no one was a greater adept in the art of promoting the rise and fall of the stocks.
The colossal influence of the house dates from an operation of his in 1810. In that year Wellington made some drafts which the English government could not meet; these were purchased by Rothschild at a liberal discount, and renewed to the government, which finally redeemed at par. From this time the allied powers negotiated loans to carry on the war against Napoleon chiefly through the house of Rothschild. Rothschild never lost faith in the ultimate overthrow of Napoleon, his all being virtually staked on the issue of the contest. He is said to have been present at the battle of Waterloo. Being able to transmit to London private information of the allied success several hours before it reached the public, he effected an immense profit by the purchase of stock, which had been depressed on the news of Blucher's defeat two days previously.
Rothschild was the first to popularize foreign loans in Britain by fixing the rate in sterling money, and making the dividends payable in London and not in foreign capitals. Latterly he became the financial agent of nearly every civilized government, although persistently declining contracts for Spain or the American States. He did not confine himself to operations on a large scale, but on the contrary made it a principle to despise or neglect no feasible opportunity of transacting business, while at the same time his operations gradually extended to every quarter of the globe. He died on the 28th of July 1836, and was succeeded in the management of the London house by his son LIONEL (1808-1879), born on the 22nd of November 1808, whose name is associated with the removal of the civil disabilities of the Jews.
He [Lionel] was elected a member for the City of London in 1847, and again in 1849 and 1852, but it was not till 1858 that the joint operation of an act of parliament and a resolution of the House of Commons, allowing the omission from the oath of the words to which as a Jew he conscientiously objected, rendered it possible for him to take his seat. He continued to represent the City of London till 1874. His eldest son, NATHAN (b. 1840), was created a peer as Baron Rothschild in 1885.
JACOB (1792-1868), the youngest of the original brothers, was entrusted with the mission of starting the business in Paris after the restoration of the Bourbons, for whom he negotiated large loans. At the Revolution of 1848 he was a heavy loser, and had also to be protected for a time by a special guard. It was by his capital that the earliest railways were constructed in France; the profits he obtained from the speculation were very large. He died on the 15th of November 1868. The Naples branch was superintended by another of the brothers, KARL (1780-1855). It was always the least important of the five, and after the annexation of Naples to Italy in 1860 it was discontinued.
See Das Haus Rothschild (1858); Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History (1875); Francis, Chronicles and Characters of the Stock Exchange (1853); Treskow, Biographische Notizen über Nathan Meyer Rothschild nebst seinem Testament (1837); Roqueplan, Le Baron James de Rothschild (1868).
George Salzman is a former American Jew living in Oaxaca, Mexico, an Emeritus Prof of Physics, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston.