Program Recap: The Money Kings

April 5, 2024
by Rebeca Miller

This program originally took place at the Center For Jewish History on March 27th, 2024 at 6:30pm ET, and was co-sponsored by the Leo Baeck Institute.

Author Daniel Schulman joined us to discuss his latest book, The Money Kings with moderator Susie J. Pak, author of Gentlemen Bankers.

The term ‘money kings’ was used during the Gilded Age to refer to Jewish and non-Jewish bankers and tycoons. Daniel was concerned that using the term as his book title would play into antiemetic stereotypes and encourage more discrimination. He discovered that information about German born banker Jacob Schiff had been distorted over time to benefit the conspiracy theories and false history of white nationalists and antisemites. Daniels choice to write The Money Kings, came from a desire to push back against that antisemitism and tell the true story of the pivotal Jewish players in American economic history.

Many of the individuals that would go on to become American financiers had immigrant backgrounds from Germany. In the 19th century German speaking states professions and trades were limited for Jews so many defaulted to working as peddlers, this became a logical choice of occupation once they became new arrivals in the United States. A large portion of peddlers were working in the clothing and textile business when the American Civil War breaks out and the cost of the war must be financed. The clothing merchants become involved in large scale bond selling and find themselves transitioning to working as bankers. The story of the family firms grows, develops, and evolves though Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, Great Depression and two world wars.

Daniel discussed surprises in his research, such as the extent to which Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent was responsible for modern antisemitism. In an oral history with Herbert Lehman, son of Mayer Lehman, Daniel discovered that the Lehman family had enslaved several people and after emancipation those individuals remained with the family and raised several Lehman children. Daniel regrets the way women were written out of the family firms history and the difficulty of finding references to female family members and their impact.

Topics covered in this program: Samuel Sachs, Marcus Goldman, Jacob Schiff, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Gilded Ghetto, American Civil War, World War I, World War II, German Jewish Immigrants, Russian and Eastern European Jewish Immigrants, The Galveston Movement, Zionism.