Otto Hermann Kahn - Biography
Otto Hermann Kahn (February 21, 1867 – March 29, 1934) was an investment banker, collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts.
Life and career
He was born on February 21, 1867, and raised in the city of Mannheim, Germany, to Jewish parents. His father had been among the refugees to the United States after the revolution of 1848 and had become an American citizen, but later returned to Germany. Otto Kahn was educated in a gymnasium in Mannheim.
Kahn's ambition was to be a musician, and he learned to play several instruments before he graduated from the gymnasium. But he was one of eight children, and his father had set plans for the career of each one. Kahn he destined to be a banker. At 17, Kahn was placed in a bank at Karlsruhe as a junior clerk, where he remained for three years, advancing until he was thoroughly grounded in the intricacies of finance. He then served for a year in the Kaiser's hussars.
On leaving the army he went to the London agency of Deutsche Bank, where he remained five years. He displayed such unusual talents that he became second in command when he had been there but a comparatively short time. The English mode of life, both political and social, appealed to him, and eventually he became a naturalized British citizen.
In 1893, he accepted an offer from Speyer and Company of New York and went to the United States, where he spent the rest of his life. On January 8, 1896, Kahn married Adelaide "Addie" Wolff and following the couple's year-long tour of Europe, Kahn joined Kuhn, Loeb & Co. in New York City, where his father-in-law, Abraham Wolff, was a partner. In 1917, Kahn gave up his British citizenship and became a United States citizen.
Besides his father-in-law, Kahn's other partners included Jacob Schiff, himself the son-in-law of Solomon Loeb, who co-founded the firm, and Paul and Felix Warburg. Almost immediately, Kahn was thrown into contact with railroad builder E. H. Harriman. In spite of sharply defined differences in temperament and method, they became as brothers. In opposition to Harriman's gruff, domineering, aggressive manner in business, was Kahn's calm, good-humored, almost gentle deportment. Kahn, although only 30 years old, took an almost equal part with Harriman in the gigantic task of reorganizing the Union Pacific Railroad, a work which in its early stages had been handled by Schiff. Kahn proved his ability to analyze mathematically and scientifically the problems that were constantly presented.
Kahn was soon to be acknowledged as the ablest reorganizer of railroads in the United States. He applied himself to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Missouri Pacific Railroad, the Wabash Railroad, the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, the Texas and Pacific Railroad, and other systems. More than once, his prompt and vigorous action averted an imminent financial panic. A notable instance was his rescuing from collapse the Pearson-Farquhar syndicate when it found itself in deep water in an attempt to combine several existing lines of railroad into a transcontinental system.
When American International Corporation was forming, Kahn took an active part in the negotiations, and brought them to a successful issue. Kahn conducted negotiations which led to the opening of the doors of the Paris Bourse to American securities and the listing there of $50,000,000 Pennsylvania bonds, in 1906, the first official listing of American securities in Paris. Also he had a large share later in the negotiations which resulted in the issue by Kuhn, Loeb and Company of $50,000,000 of City of Paris bonds and $60,000,000 Bordeaux-Lyons and Marseilles bonds.
In 1933, the smooth and affable Kahn successfully disarmed antagonism against members of the banking community during four days of testimony before the United States Senate's Pecora Commission hearings into the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The Senate's lead counsel Ferdinand Pecora wrote on page 293 in his 1939 memoir Wall Street Under Oath about Otto Kahn: "No suaver, more fluent, and more diplomatic advocate could be conceived. If anyone could succeed in presenting the customs and functions of the private bankers in a favorable and prepossessing light, it was he."
Kahn was a trustee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and of Rutgers College. He was a director in numerous corporations, including the Equitable Trust Co. of New York and the Union Pacific railway.
During the last years of Kahn's life he became increasingly frail and suffered from arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and attacks of angina pectoria. On March 29, 1934, following lunch in the private dining room of Kuhn, Loeb, Kahn suffered a massive heart attack and died, aged 67. Funeral services were held in the music room of his Long Island estate, followed by a burial in nearby St. John's Memorial Cemetery.
Patron of the arts
An extremely wealthy financier, Kahn supported artists such as Hart Crane, George Gershwin and Arturo Toscanini. He was also smitten with Hollywood, to which Kuhn Loeb provided much commercial support and Kahn, personal support. In her second full-length film, Be Yourself, Fanny Brice sang a song which mentioned Kahn: "Is something the matter with Otto Kahn, or is something wrong with me? I wrote a note and told him what a star I would make. He sent it back and marked it "Opened by mistake."
Kahn was chairman of the New York committee of the Shakespeare Tercentenary (1916). He was elected to honorary membership in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity by the Fraternity's Alpha Chapter at the New England Conservatory in 1917. He was chairman of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Opera Co. of New York and of the French Theatre of New York, and a founder and later treasurer of the New Theatre Co.
His own son Roger Wolfe Kahn was a popular jazz musician and band leader of the late 1920s and early 1930s. His daughter Margaret Kahn married John Barry Ryan II, and was a New York society doyenne and benefactor of the Metropolitan Opera.
As was typical for men of his stature, Kahn maintained both a New York City residence and a home in the country. Kahn's original country home, a gift from his father-in-law, was in Morristown, New Jersey. Although a resident there for a number of years and a business associate of many of his neighbors, anti-semitism was still prevalent and Kahn was never accepted by Morristown society. Social rejection led him to move to Long Island and his New Jersey estate ultimately became home to Honeywell.
By 1919, Kahn had assembled a 443 acre (1.79 km²) estate on Long Island, and had Oheka Castle (from Otto Hermann Kahn) built as its centerpiece. At , the 127 room structure was designed as the second largest private residence in the United States (after George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina) by Delano & Aldrich of New York City; its landscaping was designed by Olmstead Brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted of Brookline, Massachusetts. The property featured a golf course, a working farm, a private airstrip and numerous outbuildings.
Following Kahn's death in 1934, the property was sold to the City of New York City for use as a retreat for sanitation workers and then a government training school for merchant marine radio operators. In the late 1940s, an upscale housing development was constructed and in 1948, the Eastern Military Academy (EMA) purchased the mansion and around it. One of the former EMA cadets has written his memories going to school there. By the time the school went bankrupt 30 years later, the gardens had been bulldozed, rooms subdivided and paneled walls painted over. Following the departure of EMA, vandals repeatedly set fire to the building, however, because Kahn had insisted on fireproofing the building through a concrete, brick and steel structure, the building survived. In 1984 a local developer, Gary Melius, purchased the estate for $1.5 million and began the largest private renovation project in the United States. Today, Oheka is used as a catering facility, hotel and conference center.
In New York City, following his acquisition of the property at 1 East 91st Street from Andrew Carnegie in 1913, Kahn commissioned J. Armstrong Stenhouse and Charles P. H. Gilbert to design his Carnegie Hill mansion. The home, an 80-room Italian Renaissance-palazzo style mansion, was modeled after the Cancelleria in Rome. Completed in 1918, it served as Kahn's New York City residence until his death. Shortly thereafter, the house was sold to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, an independent Catholic girls school. In 1974 the house was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
In Palm Beach, Kahn built a summer home on Sunset Avenue, naming it Oheka. When this house proved too small, he built another Oheka, at 691 North County Road. Following his death, the house was used by the Graham-Eckes School. In the 2000s, it was acquired by businessman Robert Cohen and returned to private use.
In 1927, Kahn commissioned German boat builder Lürssen to build a high-speed motor yacht for use on the River Rhine and in the North Sea. Designed using a classical round bottomed hull, she had a composite wooden plank over alloy metal frame structure. But innovative hull design meant that her hull flattened towards the rear third, and with her three 500 hp Maybach engines positioned forward in her hull, the resultant counter balance and high power gave her a 34 knot top speed, the highest in her class for the day. Oheka II came to the notice of the German Navy, resulting in their development of the Schnellboot high speed torpedo craft within the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles.
- Bernhard Kahn (b. May 23, 1827, Stebbach - d. March 8, 1905, Heidelberg)
- A son of Michael Kahn and Franziska Baer, a German-Jewish industrialist and banker who participated in the 1848 Revolt, and was condemned to death. He escaped to the United States, was naturalized an American citizen, and then returned to Germany ten years later to court and on October 17, 1860 marry Emma Stephanie Eberstadt, whom he married on the condition that he not return to the United States.
- Emma Stephanie Eberstadt (b. October 29, 1840, Worms - d. June 26, 1906, Berlin) Emma Kahn
- First daughter and third child of the Worms merchant and Burgermeister Ferdinand Eberstadt and his wife, Sara Zelie Seligmann.
The couple had nine children of whom Otto was the fifth child and third son. His siblings included:
- Franz Michael Kahn (b.? - d. 1904)
- Clara Maria (b. 1863 - d. 1916)
- Robert Kahn (b. July 21, 1865, Mannheim, Germany - d. May 29, 1951 , Biddenden), German composer
- Elizabeth Francisca (b. 1869 - d. 1940?)
- Paul Friedrich Kahn (b. 1870 - d. 1947)
- Felix P. Kahn (b. January 25, 1873, Mannheim, Germany, d. July 25, 1950, New York City), noted violin collector.
- Hedwig Kahn (b. 1876 - d. 1950)
- Maud (Momo) Emily Wolff Kahn (b. July 23, 1897, Morristown, New Jersey - d. October 24, 1960, New York City);
- Married June 15, 1920, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, John Charles Oakes Marriott (later Major-General Sir John Marriott), (b. 1895, Stowmarket, Great Britain - d. September 11, 1978, Great Britain), one child
- Margaret (Nin) Dorothy Wolff Kahn also known as Nin Ryan (b. July 4, 1901, Morristown, New Jersey - d. January 26, 1995, New York City;
- Married February 9, 1928, New York City, John Barry Ryan Jr., (b. 1901, USA - d. January 21, 1966, Cold Spring Harbor, New York), two children, John Barry Ryan III and Virginia Fortune Ryan (Countess of Airlie)
- Gilbert Wolff Kahn, (b. July 18, 1903, Morristown, New Jersey - d. December 15, 1975, Old Brookville, Long Island);
- Married November 19, 1924, New York City, Anne Elizabeth Whelan, one child, Claire Ann, divorced;
- Married February 1, 1933, New York City, Sara Jane Heliker, a Broadway dancer, b. 1912, Milwaukee, Wisconsin - d. 1988, Largo, Pinellas County, Florida, one child, Gilbert W. Jr (b.? - d. 2008), divorced;
- Married June 30, 1938, New York City, Polly Stover, a fashion model (died 2006)
- Roger Wolff Kahn, (b. October 19, 1907, Morristown, New Jersey - d. July 12, 1962, New York City);
- Married January 26, 1931, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, Hannah Williams, a Broadway singer and dancer, divorced 1933;
- Married April 7, 1933, Hempstead, LI, Edith May Nelson, a politician's daughter (b. October 13, 1910, Waterville, Maine -d. September 1994, Glen Cove, Nassau, New York), two children
Kahn was buried in the St. John's Memorial Cemetery, in Laurel Hollow, Cold Spring Harbor, New York
Selected books and speeches by Kahn
- Of Many Things; Being Reflections and Impressions on International Affairs, Domestic Topics and the Arts (1926) (a compilation of speeches and writings)
- The Value of Art to the People (1924)
- The Myth of American Imperialism (1924)
- Reflections of a Financier - A Study of Economic and Other Problems (1921)
- Two Years of Faulty Taxation (1920)
- Our Economic and Other Problems: A Financier's Point of View (1920)
- Let Us Reason Together (1919)
- Taxation: A Letter (1918)
- Right Above Race (1918)
- Poison Growth of Prussianism (1918)
- The Menace of Paternalism (1918)
- When the Tide Turned (1918)
- Frenzied Liberty (1918)
- The Common Cause: Britain's Part in the Great War (1918)
- Some Comments on War Taxation (1918)
- The War and Business (1917)
- Prussianized Germany. Americans of Foreign Descent and America's Cause (1917)
- Art and the People (1916)
- Suggestions Concerning the Railroad Problem
"The deadliest foe of democracy is not autocracy but liberty frenzied. Liberty is not foolproof. For its beneficent working it demands self-restraint, a sane and clear recognition of the practical and attainable, and of the fact that there are laws of nature which are beyond our power to change." (from a speech given at the University of Wisconsin–Madison)
On business "It has long been our policy and our effort to get our clients, not by chasing after them, not by praising our own wares, but by an attempt to establish a reputation. . . . We have no show window; our only attractiveness is our good name and our reputation for sound advice and integrity. . . . If we do not live up to what they [our clients] believe is our capacity, and to what they believe is the value of our sponsorship, of our trade-mark, they will quit us. And we have no means to prevent them."
- List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1920s
- Collins, Theresa M. Otto Kahn - Art, Money & Modern Time. The University of North Carolina Press, 2002
- Collins, Theresa M. Introducing Otto H. Kahn
- King, Robert B. Raising a Fallen Treasure: The Otto H. Kahn Home, Huntington, Long Island. The Mad Printers of Mattituck, 1985
- Kobler, John. Otto the Magnificent: The Life of Otto Kahn. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988
- Matz, Mary Jane. The Many Lives of Otto Kahn. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1963
- Otto Kahn: Art, Money, and Modern Time, Introduction Discusses Kahn in the context of the arts, financial history, anti-semitism, Citizen Kane and locates him among the lives of Sergei Eisenstein, Groucho Marx, Enrico Caruso and Anna Pavlova, Paul Robeson, James Joyce, Eugene O'Neill, etc.
- On the Cover of Time Mag (Nov. 2, 1925), and "Mr. Kahn & Mr. Gatti" in same issue
- Otto H. Kahn Papers at Princeton University includes a short biography and a photograph of the financier.
- St. John's Memorial Cemetery, Laurel Hollow, Cold Spring Harbor, New York
- Books by Kahn at Project Gutenberg.
Kahn's ancestry and family
- Otto Kahn's maternal genealogy Information on his relatives, and some of his descendants.
- Otto Kahn's parents This page is in German, but provides an alternate date and place of birth for his father.
Long Island estate
New York City home
- Otto and Addie Kahn Home - New York City
- Otto and Addie Kahn Home - New York City
- Convent of the Sacred Heart's website