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Jacob Schiff
Born January 10, 1847(1847-01-10)
Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Died September 25, 1920 (aged 73)
New York City, U.S.
Nationality  United States
Occupation Banker

Jacob Henry Schiff, born Jacob Hirsch Schiff (January 10, 1847 – September 25, 1920) was a Jewish German-born New York City banker and philanthropist, who helped finance, among many other things, the Japanese military efforts against Tsarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War.

From his base on Wall Street, he was the foremost Jewish leader in what later became known as the "Schiff era," grappling with all major issues and problems of the day, including the plight of Russian Jews under the tsar, American and international anti-Semitism, care of needy Jewish immigrants, and the rise of Zionism. He also became the director of many important corporations, including the National City Bank of New York, Equitable Life Assurance Society, Wells Fargo & Company, and the Union Pacific Railroad. In many of his interests he was associated with E.H. Harriman.


Early life

He was born in 1847 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, to Moses and Clara (Niederhofheim) Schiff, members of a distinguished rabbinical family that traced its lineage in Frankfurt back to 1370. Schiff was educated in the schools of Frankfurt and was first employed in the banking and brokerage business as an apprentice in 1861.[1][2] After the U.S. 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.[3]

Upon the dissolution of Budge, Schiff & Company in 1872, Schiff decided to return to Germany. In 1873 he became manager of the Hamburg branch of the London & Hanseatic Bank. He returned to Frankfurt, however, upon the death of his father later that year. In 1874 Abraham Kuhn of the banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb & Company invited him to return to New York and enter the firm.[4]

Kuhn, Loeb & Company

Schiff accepted Kuhn's invitation in January 1875, bringing to Kuhn, Loeb & Company his connections with Sir Ernest Cassel of London, Robert Fleming of Dundee (later of London), and Edouard Noetzlin of the Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas.[5] On May 6, 1875, he married Therese Loeb, daughter of Solomon Loeb. The couple were the parents of a son and a daughter.[6][7]

In 1885 Schiff became head of Kuhn, Loeb & Company. Besides financing such Eastern railroads as the Pennsylvania and the Louisville & Nashville, he took part in the reorganization of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1896-99, and at various times aided the American Smelting & Refining Company (ASARCO), the Westinghouse Electric Company, and the Western Union Telegraph Company. Less fortunate was his share in the reorganization in 1902 of the Metropolitan Street Railway of New York.[8]

He became associated with E.H. Harriman in notable contests with James J. Hill and J.P. Morgan & Company for control of several Western railroads. Schiff served as a director of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, National City Bank of New York, Central Trust Company, Western Union Telegraph Company, Union Pacific Railroad, Bond & Mortgage Guarantee Company, and Wells Fargo & Company. He was elected a director of Wells Fargo in September 1914 to succeed his brother-in-law, Paul Warburg, who had resigned to accept appointment to the original Federal Reserve Board.[9][10][11][12]

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. However, he also financed many major American projects, believing strongly in the need to further develop and bring together the U.S.

Schiff grew to be one of American Jewry's top philanthropists and leaders, donating to nearly every major Jewish cause, as well as many secular American causes such as the Boy Scouts of America, the Semitic Museum at Harvard, the American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Fine Arts Society, and the American Geographical Society; and a number of other organizations for civil rights and the disadvantaged, such as the American Red Cross, Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids, and Tuskegee Institute. He also played a role in the municipal affairs of New York City, and worked to shrink the reliance on machine bureaucracy in this arena.[13][14]

During the Russo-Japanese War, in 1904 and 1905, in perhaps his most famous financial action, Schiff, again through Kuhn, Loeb & Co., extended a critical series of loans to Japan, in the amount of $200 million.[15] He was willing to extend this loan due, in part, to his belief that gold is not as important as national effort and desire, in helping win a war, and due to the apparent underdog status of Japan at the time; no European nation had yet been defeated by a non-European nation in a modern, full-scale war. It is quite likely Schiff also saw this loan as a means of avenging, on behalf of the Jewish people, the anti-Semitic actions of the Tsarist regime, specifically the then-recent pogroms in Kishinev.

This loan attracted worldwide attention, and had major consequences. Japan won the war, thanks in large part to the purchase of munitions made possible by Schiff's loan, and elements of its government took this as evidence of the power of Jews all around the world, of their loyalty to one another, and as proof of the truth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This thinking later led to the failed Fugu Plan, which would have saved many thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, bringing them to Japan-controlled China to work for the benefit of Japan's economy. In 1905, Schiff was awarded the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure;[16] in 1907 he was honored with the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, which represents the second highest of eight classes associated with the award. [17] Schiff was the first foreigner to have been personally awarded the Order by Emperor Meiji in the Imperial Palace.[18]

Schiff was also invited to a private audience in 1904 with King Edward VII of England.

In addition to his famous loan to Japan, Schiff financed loans to many other nations, including those that would come to comprise the Central Powers. When World War I finally did break out, he used his reputation and influence to urge President Woodrow Wilson, and others, to put an end to the war as quickly as possible, even without an Allied victory. He feared for the lives of his family, back in Germany, but also for the future of his adopted land. He engineered loans to France, and other nations for humanitarian purposes, and spoke out against submarine warfare.

Last years

Over the years, before, during, and after World War I, his firm extended loans to many nations all around the world, but Schiff made sure none of the funds ever went to Russia, which continued to severely oppress the Jewish people. When the Tsar's government fell in 1917, Schiff believed that the oppression of Jews would end. He formally repealed the impediments within his firm against lending to Russia.

As an observant Jew, Schiff stood opposed to political, secular Zionism. He claimed to identify with Jews by faith, not by race. However, despite not agreeing fully with the ideas of Theodore Herzl, and in fact believing that Zionism was not compatible with American citizenship, he donated to many Jewish projects in Palestine, including the Technical Institute of Haifa. As the situation for Eastern European Jews grew more dire, with the Russian Revolution, and pogroms in Ukraine, Schiff made more considerable contributions to the Zionist effort; he even offered to join the Zionist organization, provided he could publish a statement he'd prepared. This offer was denied, and so he never formally joined the Zionist camp.

Schiff died in New York City on September 25, 1920. He was succeeded as head of Kuhn, Loeb & Company by his son, Mortimer Leo Schiff (1877-1931).[19]


Mr. Schiff was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1982.

As a prominent businessman of Jewish origin, Schiff often appeared in various antisemitic conspiracy theories. He was accused, along with other famous Jews of the time, of being one of the key players in a powerful Jewish cabal conspiring to dominate the world. The international loans he brokered, the news reports that he provided large sums to finance the Bolsheviks in their takeover of Russia, along with his involvement with several companies and organizations around the world made him a person of interest for conspiracy theorists.[20]


Schiff's descendant Andrew Newman Schiff is married to former Vice President Al Gore′s daughter, Karenna.

John Denham Schiff is another descendant.

See also


  1. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. XIII, p. 533. New York: James T. White & Company, 1906.
  2. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVI, pp. 430-431. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935.
  3. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVI, p. 431.
  4. ^ Ibid.
  5. ^ Ibid.
  6. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of National Biography, op. cit.
  7. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVI, p. 432.
  8. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVI, p. 431.
  9. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, op. cit.
  10. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, op. cit.
  11. ^ Walter Lord, The Good Years. From 1900 to the First World War, pp. 71-79. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960.
  12. ^ Noel M. Loomis, Wells Fargo, p. 315. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1968.
  13. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, op. cit.
  14. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVI, p. 432.
  15. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVI, p. 431.
  16. ^ Cyrus Adler, Jacob Henry Schiff: A Biographical Sketch, p. 12. New York: The American Jewish Committee, 1921,
  17. ^ Adler, p. 14.
  18. ^ Pamela Rotner Sakamoto, Japanese Diplomats and Jewish Refugees, p. 17. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 1998.
  19. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVI, p. 432.
  20. ^ See Google search "Jacob Schiff and conspiracy theories," retrieved August 10, 2009.


  • Cohen, Naomi Wiener. (1999). Jacob H. Schiff: a Study in American Jewish Leadership. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England. 10-ISBN 0-874-51948-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-874-51948-8: OCLC 123134648
  • Schiff, Jacob Henry and Cyrus Adler. (1928). Jacob H. Schiff; his Life and Letters. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. OCLC 801997

External links

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