Mayer Amschel Rothschild - Biography
Mayer Amschel Rothschild (23 February 1744 – 19 September 1812) was the founder of the Rothschild family international banking dynasty that became the most successful business family in history. In 2005, he was ranked 7th on the Forbes magazine list of "The Twenty Most Influential Businessmen Of All Time". The business magazine referred to him as a "founding father of international finance".
Meyer Amschel Rothschild was born in 1744 in the ghetto (called "Judengasse" or Jew Alley) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, one of eight children of Amschel Moses Rothschild (d. 1755) and his wife Schönche Rothschild née Lechnich (d. 1756).
The ancestry of the Rothschilds can be traced back to 1577 to Izaak Elchanan Rothschild, whose name derived from the house he occupied in the Judengasse — zum roten Schild ("at the sign of the red shield"). His grandchildren and descendents took this name as the family name and kept it when they relocated in 1664 to another house in the Judengasse — Hinterpfann (literally "house in the back of the saucepan") — which became the family's home and business location through to the early 19th century.
The father of Mayer Amschel had a business in the trade of small goods and currency exchange. The family home above the shop had a front wall only wide, where more than 30 people lived at that time.
He was apprenticed to the banking firm of Jakob Wolf Oppenheim in Hamburg, returning to business in Frankfurt in 1763. He became a dealer in rare coins and won the patronage of Crown Prince Wilhelm of Hesse, gaining the title of "Court Factor". Rothschild's coin business grew to include a number of princely patrons, and then expanded through the provision of banking services to Crown Prince Wilhelm, who became Wilhelm IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel in 1785. Business expanded rapidly following the French Revolution when Rothschild handled payments from Britain for the hire of Hessian mercenaries.
By the early years of the 19th century, Mayer Amschel Rothschild had consolidated his position as principal international banker to Wilhelm IX and began to issue his own international loans, borrowing capital from the Landgrave.
In 1806, Napoleon invaded Hesse in response to Wilhelm's support for Prussia. The Landgrave went into exile in Schleswig-Holstein, but Rothschild was able to continue as his banker, investing funds in London. He also profited from importing goods in circumvention of Napoleon's continental blockade.
In 1798, third son Nathan Mayer Rothschild was sent to England to further the family interests in textile importing with £20,000 capital — the first foreign branch. Nathan became a naturalized citizen in 1804 and established a bank in the City of London. In 1810, Mayer entered into a formal partnership agreement with his three eldest sons. The youngest son Jacob was sent to Paris in 1811, enhancing the family's ability to operate across Europe. This enabled them to profit from the opportunity of financing Wellington's armies in Portugal, requiring the sourcing of large quantities of gold on behalf of the British government.
Mayer Amschel Rothschild died on 19 September 1812 in Frankfurt am Main. He was buried at the old Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt, located next to the Judengasse. His grave still exists. A park was named after him, also a street (Rothschildallee). In 1817 he was posthumously ennobled by the emperor Francis I of Austria. His descendants furthered the family fortune across Europe — the "five arrows" of banking. Eldest son Amschel Mayer took over the Frankfurt bank and Salomon moved to Vienna. Nathan turned the London branch into one of Europe's most powerful banking institutions (N. M. Rothschild & Sons), Calmann (gentrified to "Carl") set up a branch in Naples and Jacob ("James") became a giant of finance in Paris.
Mayer Amschel Rothschild married Guttle Schnapper (1753–1849), the daughter of Wolf Salomon Schnapper, on 29 August 1770. They had the following children:
- Schönche Jeannette Rothschild (20 August 1771–1859) - married Benedikt Moses Worms (1772–1824)
- Amschel "Anselm" Mayer (12 June 1773 – 6 December 1855)
- Salomon Mayer (9 September 1774 – 28 July 1855) - founder of the Rothschild banking family of Austria
- Nathan Mayer (16 September 1777 – 18 July 1836) - founder of the Rothschild banking family of England
- Isabella Rothschild (2 July 1781–1861)
- Babette Rothschild (29 August 1784 – 16 March 1869)
- Calmann "Carl" Mayer (24 April 1788 – 10 March 1855) - founder of the Rothschild banking family of Naples
- Julie Rothschild (1 May 1790 – 19 June 1815)
- Henriette ("Jette") (1791–1866) married Abraham Montefiore (1788–1824)
- Jacob "James" Mayer (1792–1868) - founder of the Rothschild banking family of France