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Isidor Straus is a fair type of the broadminded, public-spirited men through whom this city maintains its commercial supremacy and its metropolitan character. Knowing the entire alphabet of his business, quick to seize upon and improve opportunities of trade, and strictly attentive to the duties which an exacting position imposes upon him, his equipment covers a much wider range than is comprised within the limitations of shop.

With a keen sense of the duties of a citizen and a natural aptitude for the study of public questions, there is no subject affecting seriously the welfare of the community or of the country which Mr. Straus neglects. Where the average man would find his physical and nervous energy taxed to exhaustion by the magnitude of routine responsibilities, Mr. Straus adds to the scope of his activity and gathers fresh vigor by employing his mind in directions that affect his private interest only as they bear upon the general welfare.

Having no ends of self to serve, innocent of any desire for personal preferment, his counsel is sought, and his advice is heeded with the utmost confidence by those in high station. With his habits of concentration upon matters to which be applies himself, the avenues to public life could not have been closed against him had he chosen to enter them. In avoiding them, the course of his thought is in no wise restricted, his motives never come into question, and his influence is a positive force in the causes with which he affiliates.

In a broad sense, Mr. Straus is self-made. Business genius is an inheritance in his family. It is embodied in himself in a high degree. Everything that he touches appears to succeed, not from luck or chance, but because of the directness with which he approaches a subject, and the thoroughness with which he devotes himself to it. At one time, when he was asked to give his idea of success in life, he expressed himself in language that may be regarded as singularly in place in a sketch of this kind:

"Success," he said, "is the result of doing the right thing at the right time. As to the value of a college education, if a man must become a breadwinner early in life he had better be without such an education, but if he can afford to become a breadwinner later in life, a college education may materially contribute to his success in business. The young man who wants to get on should never spend as much as he earns. He should be faithful in the discharge of all his duty, and should so conduct himself that those with whom he comes in contact will have reason to feel that he will do honestly and conscientiously that which he attempts to do. A great deal of luck is discretion. Let me say, however, that I have always felt that the reading of such opinions as these does more to embarrass than to aid young men who read them, and what is meant to guide them becomes a great misleader. I look upon any man's experience epitomized as very much like the results often seen in a laboratory, and the freaks of nature in chemical preparations, where frequently developments appear that puzzle even the experimentalist himself."

Mr. Straus did not enjoy the benefits of a college education, but he has so well availed himself of channels through which to become well informed upon subjects of general interest that it may safely be said of him that few business men are better fortified with facts based upon reading or with observations that have come within their own experience than he is, and that the quality of mind and the temperament which have disposed him to equip himself for dealing with any subject of public concern that may be presented would have distinguished him in any line to which, he might have given his attention.

Mr. Straus is a native of Rhenish Bavaria, where he was born Feb. 6, 1845. His father's family came to this country in 1852, and settled at Talbotton, Ga. Isidor Straus obtained a common-school education there, which he supplemented with a classical course at Collinsworth Institute. It was his ambition to enter West Point, and probably he would have done so had not the war broken out just at the time that he had prepared himself for this institution. He was then sixteen years old, and, with the war fever in the air, he wished to enter the service of the Confederate Army. He assisted in the organization of a company, of which his comrades had chosen him Lieutenant. When he offered himself, however, he was informed that the Confederacy did not have guns enough for men, and wanted no boys, and the only thing left for him to do was to enter his father's store, taking the place of clerks who had joined the Southern Army. Here he remained for two years, when an opportunity came to him to go to England as the agent for an importing company which wished to undertake certain shipbuilding contracts. He did well while in England and remained in the employ of the company until the close of the war.

His father had meanwhile moved to Columbus, Ga., and was seriously thinking of going to Philadelphia to start anew in business. The son favored this city instead, and, his advice prevailing, the family came to New-York, and the firm of L. Straus & Son was organized and began dealing in earthenware. The success of this venture led the firm to branch out shortly into porcelains and chinaware, and as the other sons of Lazarus Straus reached the age at which they could enter business, the firm name was changed by making a plural of the second section. From that time L. Straus & Sons grew in reputation until it was known, not only in this country, but throughout the world.

In 1874 the firm took charge of the china and glassware department for R. H. Macy & Co. This house had been established by R. H. Macy in 1858, and was already well known in this city. Mr. Macy was living in 1874 and was devoting his personal attention to a business that had already acquired considerable magnitude. He continued to direct the business personally until 1877, when he became seriously ill, and in the same year he died. The business continued to grow, the Messrs. Straus devoting themselves solely to the china and glassware department until 1888, when they were induced to enter the firm, the partners then becoming Charles B. Webster, Isidor Straus, and Nathan Straus. Under the new management the various departments of the house were much enlarged, until the gigantic business now done at Macy's was developed.

Isidor Straus has been the office member of the firm since the partnership was formed, but while the details of the office constitute his immediate field, be has a complete mastery of the business and is always ready upon occasion to take in hand the direction of affairs in the store itself. There is nothing about the establishment that he does not know, from the basement to the loft, and he may be found on duty, from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon nearly every working day in the year.

While at the store he has no time or thought for anything except the business of the firm. When he leaves there, he diverts his mind by occupations wholly distinct from business. He is the possessor of an excellent library, in which nearly all of his evenings are passed. His library is quite rich in works bearing upon economic questions. That line of reading interests him more than any other. 1t also furnishes him his recreation. Such resting spells as he allows himself are usually taken in Washington, where he has a large acquainttact [sic] with those whose lives are given to the study and treatment of public questions. He feels that in Washington he can enter an atmosphere entirely congenial to him, and while his visits there involve activity of mind, the channel is so pleasant as to afford him rest and enjoyment.

While always a student of economic questions, Mr. Straus's interest in political affairs was not thoroughly aroused until Mr. Cleveland became a Presidential possibility, and since then it has revolved about such matters as have surrounded Mr. Cleveland and his career, especially the efforts that have been made by Mr. Cleveland for sound currency and tariff reform.

There are several events in Mr. Straus's public life bearing upon public questions, any one of which would have commended him to the respect of business men and of statesmen. He was one of the committee of fifty who went to Washington in June, 1890, and appeared before the Committee on Finance of the Senate in opposition to the passage of the McKinley tariff bill. Various merchants, members of that committee, submitted arguments and statistics showing how the imposition of the tariff schedules devised by Mr. McKinley would affect the interests which they represented. It was a thoroughly good committee, and the arguments which it laid before the Senators were conspicuously strong and forceful. The comment of the merchants of this city, after the hearing, was that if half a dozen men like Mr. Straus had gone to Washington and had adopted his methods of demonstrating the injustice of the proposed tariff, the weight of the argument would have been much greater than it was through a committee of fifty.

Mr. Straus undertook to convince the Senators by ocular demonstration that the duties which the McKinley bill proposed were unjust, and that no possible benefit could come out of them. He had assumed that others would quote figures and present facts which, perhaps, could not be denied, but that he could better place his case before the Senate and before the country if he took with him to Washington samples of domestic and of foreign glassware and let the Senators see for themselves in the committee room the absurdity of the position assumed by the bill with reference to this class of goods. He found that all of the Senators appreciated this object lesson, and from the beginning to the end of his talk that they were much interested in everything he had to say. Almost every member of the committee asked him questions while he was speaking, and the official report of his address consists largely of dialogue in which he enforced by actual proof the points that he wished to make.

While the debate went on in Congress over the McKinley bill Mr. Straus was frequently consulted with reference to its operation in the lines of his own business, and he won recognition also among merchants in this city as an authority upon the subject of tariff reform. The reputation which he made on his first appearance in Washington before a committee established him also in the favor of legislators, and an opportunity was readily given him before the Coinage Committee of the House of Representatives to present an argument in favor of sound currency when the silver agitation began. The address which he made before that committee abounded alike in figures and in well-drawn conclusions, and was so attractively submitted that here also he found himself in a running discussion with the various members, thus adding materially to the value of the record, if not to the information of the Congressmen themselves.

The character of this address may be judged from the few extracts which illustrate the happy style in which Mr. Straus set forth his ideas:

"I am a merchant," he said, "'and as such my interest lies entirely with the consumers, not with the banks or with the capitalists. In any fluctuation in the value of the yardstick of commerce, the gold dollar or its equivalent, the banker, the capitalist, and the merchant are amply able to take care of themselves, for from the nature of their calling they foresee to some extent the effect which development may produce, and in commercial matters as well as in physical to be forewarned is to be forearmed. It is the laborer, the mechanic, and the farmer who are apt to be taken unawares, and hence they are the chief sufferers in the variance of the unit of value on which commerce is based.

"There is no greater fallacy than that we in the East are gold bugs because we are capitalists. The capitalist is more frequently a borrower than a lender of money. It is the working classes who are the owners of large amounts of ready money. They have their deposit in savings banks, and in trust companies, and in life insurance companies. Take these moneys and you have to a large extent---probably two-thirds---all the loanable funds that the Eastern cities command. The clamor for more money can be better satisfied by establishing more banks than by coinage of silver."

Mr. Straus then went on to show that the establishment of banks would introduce the credit system in sections in which transfers of property were in cash, and that business could be increased in the interior, as well as in the large cities, by the introduction of banking methods wherever they could be profitably employed. He made his illustrations so plain that all who heard him were interested, and the report of that session of the Coinage Committee was well calculated to be generally instructive.

In the last Presidential campaign Straus took an active part, contributing valuable service in the councils of the Democratic leaders. When Mr. Cleveland was forming his Cabinet, the name of Mr. Straus came up for the office of Postmaster General. The prospect of this appointment met with wide commendation, but Mr. Straus manifested no desire to lay aside his business pursuits, even for exalted station.

While the compliment could not have been other than pleasing, Mr. Straus preferred to continue at yeoman service in the cause to which he had committed himself.

The thoroughness with which Mr. Straus informed himself upon the currency question, and the ability that he had displayed in presenting arguments in favor of sound money, added to the confidence and respect which merchants in this city felt for him, and last July, when the condition of business was desperate, and grave doubt was entertained as to the position of the President with reference to the expediency of convening Congress in extra session before September, Mr. Straus went to Washington. He has never disclosed exactly what his service consisted of at this visit, but the fact is historical that he called upon the President, and that the proclamation convening Congress in extra session was issued on the very day that Mr. Straus visited the White House. There was no secret of his thorough conviction that Congress ought to be brought together as soon as possible, and some of his friends have not hesitated to declare and publish that a timely word from him, voicing the anxiety of commercial interests in this respect, induced the President to convene Congress at an earlier date than had first been contemplated.

Mr. Straus has enjoyed the confidence of the municipal authorities and has taken part in an honorary capacity in various enterprises projected for the credit of the city. He was a member of the World's Fair Committee. He has always advocated strongly the construction of a bridge across the Hudson River, and from the beginning he has been one of the Commissioners appointed to supervise the work. Charities have also interested him. He is Treasurer of the Montefiore Home and Vice President of the Manhattan Hospital. While domestic in his tastes, and in no sense a typical club man, he is prominently connected with the Manhattan, the Nineteenth Century, the Reform, and the Free Trade Clubs.

His business connections last Spring were enlarged, when he became identified with the Brooklyn dry goods house of Abraham & Straus. He is a Director in the Hanover National Bank and the New-York County National Bank, is Vice President of the Birbeck Company, and President of the Pottery and Glassware Board of Trade. He is a prominent member of the Chamber of Commerce.

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2004) BUSINESS MEN OF NEW-YORK---ISIDOR STRAUS (New York Times, Sunday 29th October 1893, ref: #3599, published 28 August 2004, generated 3rd October 2022 09:03:39 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/business-men-new-york-isidor-straus.html