Julius Rosenwald

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Julius Rosenwald
Born(1862-08-12)August 12, 1862
DiedJanuary 6, 1932(1932-01-06) (aged 69)
Resting placeRosehill Cemetery
SpouseAugusta Nusbaum
Children5, including Marion, Lessing, Edith Rosenwald Stern, and William Rosenwald
RelativesEdgar B. Stern Sr.
Nina Rosenwald
Armand Deutsch

Julius Rosenwald (August 12, 1862 – January 6, 1932) was an American businessman and philanthropist. He is best known as a part-owner and leader of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and for establishing the Rosenwald Fund, which donated millions in matching funds to promote vocational or technical education. In 1919 he was appointed to the Chicago Commission on Race Relations.[1] He was also the principal founder and backer for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, to which he gave more than $5 million and served as president from 1927 to 1932.

Early life[edit]

The Rosenwald family purchased this house in 1868, owning it until 1886[2]

Julius Rosenwald was born in 1862 to the clothier Samuel Rosenwald and his wife Augusta (Hammerslough), a Jewish immigrant couple from Germany. Julius Rosenwald was Samuel and Augusta’s second child to survive infancy.[3] He was born and raised just a few blocks from Abraham Lincoln's residence in Springfield, Illinois, during Lincoln's presidency. In 2020, the house, formerly known as Lyon House,[2] was renamed in his honor, and a plaque erected.[4]

Additionally, Samuel Rosenwald served as the president of the B’rith Sholom synagogue of the Springfield Hebrew Congregation, where Julius received a Jewish education and learned lifelong lessons to shape his values.[3]

By his sixteenth year, Rosenwald was apprenticed by his parents to his uncles in New York City to learn the clothing trades. While in New York, he befriended Henry Goldman and Henry Morgenthau Sr.[5] With his younger brother Morris, Rosenwald started a clothing manufacturing company.

Rosenwald had heard about other clothiers who had begun to manufacture clothing according to standardized sizes from data collected during the American Civil War. He decided to try the system but to move his manufacturing facility closer to the rural population that he anticipated would be his market. He and his brother moved to Chicago, Illinois.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1890, Rosenwald married Augusta "Gussie" Nusbaum, a daughter of a competing clothier. Together they had five children: Lessing J. Rosenwald, Adele (Rosenwald) Deutsch Levy, Edith (Rosenwald) Stern, Marion (Rosenwald) Ascoli―second wife of Italian American journalist Max Ascoli―and William Rosenwald. Their son Lessing Rosenwald became a prominent businessman, following his father in the chairmanship of Sears, Roebuck & Company (1932–1939). Edith married businessman Edgar B. Stern Sr.

One of his grandchildren is Nina Rosenwald. Another was the Hollywood film producer Armand Deutsch, who believed that he was the intended target of the thrill killers Leopold and Loeb, who kidnapped and murdered his schoolmate Robert "Bobby" Franks on May 21, 1924.[6]

Sears, Roebuck & Company[edit]

In 1893, Richard Sears and Alvah C. Roebuck renamed their watch company Sears, Roebuck & Company and began to diversify. Rosenwald and Weil was a principal supplier of men's clothing for Sears, Roebuck. The volumes of unsold merchandise caused by the Panic of 1893 and his declining health led Roebuck to leave the company.

Roebuck placed his interest in the company in the hands of Sears who, in turn, offered that half of the company be sold to Chicago businessman Aaron Nusbaum, who in turn brought in Rosenwald, to whom Sears owed money. In August 1895, Sears sold Roebuck's half of the company to Nusbaum and Rosenwald for $75,000. The new Sears, Roebuck and Company was re-incorporated in Illinois with a capital stock of $150,000 in August 1895. Sears and Rosenwald got along well, but Nusbaum, who was Gussie Rosenwald's brother, was a problem. Sears and Rosenwald bought him out for $1.3 million in 1903.[7]

Rosenwald brought to the company a rational management philosophy and diversified product lines: dry goods, consumer durables, drugs, hardware, furniture, and nearly anything else a farm household could desire. The company's initiative at this time was particularly fortuitous with the initiation of Rural Free Delivery by the Post Office in 1896. From 1895 to 1907, under Rosenwald's leadership as vice president and treasurer, annual sales of the company climbed from $750,000 to upwards of $50 million. The prosperity of the company and their vision for greater expansion led Sears and Rosenwald to take the company public in 1906, with $40 million in stock. Rosenwald turned to his old friend Henry Goldman, who was now a senior partner at Goldman Sachs, to handle the initial public offering of the stock. After Sears resigned the presidency in 1908 due to declining health, Rosenwald was named president.[8]

On January 2, 1915, Rosenwald was indicted in Chicago for a failure to file a personal property tax schedule. One commenter described the indictment as "a shot heard around the world". Prior to the indictment the Tax Board of Review scheduled the value of Rosenwald's Sears' stock at $7,500,000. Rosenwald declared this to be greatly excessive and additionally claimed that the stock of the New York company did not represent tangible assets. The indictment was quashed in March 1915 when Rosenwald's attorneys convinced the Court that the section of law which provided for prosecution of such cases had been repealed.[9]

The company was laid low during the post-World War I recession as a severe depression hit the nation's farms after farmers had over-expanded their holdings. To bail out the company, Rosenwald pledged $21 million of his personal wealth. By 1922, Sears had regained financial stability. Two years later, in 1924, Rosenwald resigned the presidency, but remained as chairman; his goal was to devote more time to philanthropy. First he oversaw the design and construction of the company's first department store within Sears, Roebuck's massive 16-hectare (40-acre) headquarters complex of offices, laboratories, and mail-order operations at Homan Ave. and Arthington St. on Chicago's West Side. The store opened on February 2, 1925.[10] After leaving the presidency, Rosenwald was appointed chairman of the Board of Sears, a position he held until his death in 1932.[citation needed]

Hon. Julius Rosenwald, December 23, 1922.[11]


Julius Rosenwald had a simple philosophy when it came to philanthropy. He explained, “What I want to do is try and cure the things that seem wrong”.[12] Such rhetoric is extremely similar, and perhaps inspired by, the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, which refers to the concept of repairing the world and restoring justice. A major focus of Rosenwald’s philanthropic work stemmed from his desire to eradicate antisemitism in the US and worldwide.[13]

Additionally, Rosenwald was concerned about justice for all, and he believed that the plight of African Americans was deeply connected with the inequities faced by Jews throughout their history. This became even more important to him after meeting Booker T. Washington before the start of the first World War.[12] He explained that his desire to improve education for African Americans in the US when he said that “very few persons are interested in the education of the Negro that I have deemed it wiser to concentrate my efforts in that direction”. Rosenwald’s philanthropic pursuits thus combined his strong sense of responsibility to aid in social inequality with his reverence for education and learning.

After the 1906 financial reorganization of Sears, Rosenwald became friends with Goldman Sachs's other senior partner, Paul J. Sachs, who often stayed with Rosenwald during his many trips to Chicago. The two would discuss America's social situation, agreeing that the plight of African Americans was the most serious in the U.S. Sachs introduced Rosenwald to two prominent educators and proponents of African-American education, William H. Baldwin and Booker T. Washington. Rosenwald made common cause with Washington and was asked to serve on the board of directors of the Tuskegee Institute in 1912, a position he held for the remainder of his life. He endowed the institute to free Washington from fundraising and enable him to devote more time managing the institute.[14]

Rosenwald became a member of the city's leading Jewish Reform congregation, Chicago Sinai congregation, soon after moving to Chicago. Its rabbi, Emil G. Hirsch, made an impact on Rosenwald's philanthropy. Rosenwald donated generously to several Jewish community projects in Chicago and served as vice president of Chicago Sinai for many years.

African American education[edit]

Booker T. Washington encouraged Rosenwald to address the poor state of African-American education in the US, which suffered from inadequate buildings and books. Rosenwald provided funds to build six small schools in rural Alabama, which were constructed and opened in 1913 and 1914, and overseen by Tuskegee. As the projects were built by and for African Americans, they showed Rosenwald's intention to remain behind the scenes in this effort.[15] Inspired by the social progressivism of Jane Addams, Grace Abbott, Paul J. Sachs, and the Reform Judaism of Emil Hirsch and Julian Mack (many of whom were personal friends as well), Rosenwald devoted his time, energy, and money to philanthropy.[citation needed]

In his words, written in 1911:

The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race, on account of the centuries of persecution which they have suffered and still suffer.

The collaboration between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald was the subject of the 2015 documentary Rosenwald, subtitled[16] The Remarkable Story of a Jewish Partnership with African American Communities by writer, producer and director Aviva Kempner,[17][18] which won Best Documentary Jury Award at the Teaneck International Film Festival and the Lipscomb University Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Nashville Film Festival.[16]

Julius Rosenwald Historical marker at the entrance to Tuskegee University.

He established his Rosenwald Fund in 1917 for "the well-being of mankind". Unlike other endowed foundations, which were designed to fund themselves in perpetuity, the Rosenwald Fund was intended to use all of its funds for philanthropic purposes. As a result, the fund was completely spent by 1948.[citation needed]

Julius Rosenwald Hall at the University of Chicago

Schools, universities, and museums[edit]

Over the course of his life, Rosenwald and his fund donated over $70 million to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities and African-American institutions.[citation needed] The rural school building program was one of the largest programs administered by the Rosenwald Fund. This program eventually was responsible for construction in the South of more than 5,000 schools and shops for African-American children, as well as homes for their teachers. These schools became informally known as "Rosenwald Schools".[19]

Rosenwald commissioned one of Chicago's largest philanthropic housing developments: the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, at 47th St. and Michigan Ave. The Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments was one of the first American housing developments to mix residential, commercial and social uses and still stands.[citation needed]

The complex was built in 1929 by Julius Rosenwald and his nephew, architect Ernest Grunsfeld (who also designed the Adler Planetarium, at the behest of Rosenwald's brother-in-law, Max Adler).[citation needed] Covering a square block, the buildings enclosed an enormous central landscaped courtyard. Rosenwald planned the development of 421 units to provide sound housing for African Americans and to relieve the tremendous overcrowding due to Chicago's pervasive racial segregation. The development also included 14 stores along the 47th Street side of the property, four of which were occupied by black-owned businesses, and a nursery school. Rosenwald invested $2.7 million in the project, receiving only a 2.4 percent return during the first seven years.[citation needed]

YMCAs for African Americans[edit]

In 1910, the YMCA asked Rosenwald to fund a proposal for a new building in Chicago; Rosenwald replied that he would contribute only if a center for African Americans were also constructed.[20] The result was the Wabash Avenue YMCA, opened in 1914, which would later become an historic landmark. The Wabash "Y" greatly aided blacks' integration into Chicago during the Great Migration. It is still operating today.[21]

Rosenwald went on to offer challenge grants to cities across the United States to build YMCAs for African Americans.[2] Rosenwald promised to give $25,000 to any city that could raise $75,000 to build a YMCA for African Americans.[2] Between 1911 and 1933, Rosenwald provided over $600,000 toward the building of 25 YMCAs in 24 cities across the United States,[2] including one in Harlem.

Samuel Reshevsky[edit]

Rosenwald was the patron of chess prodigy Samuel Reshevsky. He encouraged Reshevsky to earn a university degree so as not to be completely dependent upon chess for his living. Reshevsky did so, earning his degree in accounting from the University of Chicago.[22]

County Extension[edit]

Rosenwald gave $1000 grants to the first 100 counties in the U.S. to hire County Extension Agents, helping the United States Department of Agriculture launch a program that was highly valuable to rural Americans. He was also the principal founder and backer for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, to which he gave over $5 million and served as the president (1927–1932).

Death and legacy[edit]

Rosenwald died at his home, now Rosewood Park, in the Ravinia section of Highland Park, Illinois, on January 6, 1932.

When looking back on his life and success, Rosenwald declared, "Most people are of the opinion that because a man has made a fortune that his opinions on any subject are valuable. For my part, I always believe most large fortunes are made by men of mediocre ability who tumbled into a lucky opportunity and couldn’t help but get rich and that others, given the same chance, would have done far better with it."[3] Thus, although Julius Rosenwald is one of Chicago's most admired Jewish businessmen, he maintained a low profile throughout his life. He refused to be the source of biographies and did not want his name to be affixed on buildings or institutions. He even insisted that his generous philanthropic contributions be matched by others so that he would not be credited with the title of 'sole donor'.[3] However, he is well-remembered today through many books, such as Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South by Peter M. Ascoli, and Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World by Hasia R. Diner.


  1. ^ The Negro in Chicago; a study of race relations and a race riot. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press. 1922. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Lyon House". National Park Service. Retrieved August 23, 2020. In 1868, the lots and house were purchased by Samuel Rosenwald, father of Julius Rosenwald, who became the well-known U.S. clothier, manufacturer, business executive, and philanthropist
  3. ^ a b c d Diner, Hasia (2017). Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. Yale University Press.
  4. ^ Schoenburg, Bernard (February 12, 2020). "Lincoln area home named for Julius Rosenwald". The State Journal-Register. Archived from the original on August 5, 2021. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  5. ^ Deutsch, Stephanie. Julius Rosenwald profile", Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 3, edited by Giles R. Hoyt. German Historical Institute. Last modified September 16, 2015.
  6. ^ "Armand Deutsch - tribunedigital-chicagotribune". Articles.chicagotribune.com. August 18, 2005. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  7. ^ Emmet and Jeuck, Catalogues and Counters (1950), pp 47-53
  8. ^ Emmet and Jeuck, Catalogues and Counters (1950), pp 53-57
  9. ^ Arnstein & Lehr, The First 120 Years, Louis A. Lehr Jr., pp. 8-9
  10. ^ Ascoli, Peter M. Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.
  11. ^ Taylor, Julius F. (December 23, 1922). "The Christmas Issue of the 27th Anniversary Edition of the Broad Ax". The Broad Ax. Vol. 28, no. 14. p. 1. Retrieved June 17, 2015 – via Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.
  12. ^ a b Julius Rosenwald. Papers, Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
  13. ^ "In Search of Tikkun Olam", Keeping the Mystery Alive, Academic Studies Press, pp. 90–123, September 6, 2022, doi:10.2307/j.ctv2vt05bx.8, retrieved May 19, 2023
  14. ^ Julius Rosenwald profile, Philanthropy Roundtable; accessed July 1, 2017.
  15. ^ Erik Eckholm, "Historic Black Schools Restored as Landmarks", The New York Times, 15 January 2010, p. A16
  16. ^ a b NEW RELEASE Book Now: Available for Film Festival & Event Screenings, jewishfilm.org; accessed July 1, 2017.
  17. ^ Rosenwald: A Remarkable Story of a Jewish Partnership with African American Communities (Film Screening), Archivesfoundation.org; accessed July 1, 2017.
  18. ^ "Rosenwald: The Remarkable Story of a Jewish Partnership with African American Communities - The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture". Ganttcenter.org. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  19. ^ Bolton-Fasman, Judy. "Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald Aimed to Repair the World". Jewish Boston. Retrieved February 24, 2018.
  20. ^ "Give While You Live: The Generosity of Julius Rosenwald" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  21. ^ "History - The Renaissance Collaborative". Trcwabash.org. Archived from the original on August 31, 2013. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  22. ^ The Bobby Fischer I Knew And Other Stories, by Arnold Denker and Larry Parr, San Francisco 1995, Hypermodern Press.
  23. ^ Williams, Greg H. (July 25, 2014). The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O'Brien. McFarland. ISBN 978-1476617541. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
  24. ^ Hansen, Mary (February 12, 2020). "Home In Lincoln Historic Site Renamed For Julius Rosenwald". WGLT. NPR from Illinois State University. Retrieved August 23, 2020.

Sources and further reading[edit]

  • Ascoli, Peter M. Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South (Indiana University Press, 2006), a major biography. online
  • Brinkmann, Tobias, "Sundays at Sinai: A Jewish Congregation in Chicago" (2012), on Rosenwald's Jewish philanthropy.
  • Burton, Charles Wesley and Laura Dancy Burton, The North Star: Julius Rosenwald's Impact Upon Black America (2008)
  • Diner, Hasia R. Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. (Yale University Press, 2017). , a major biography. online
  • Embree, Edwin R. Investment in People? The Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund. 1949.
  • Emmet, Boris, and John E Jeuck. Catalogs and Counters: A History of Sears, Roebuck and Company (1950), a scholarly history
  • Mays, Russell O. "Julius Rosenwald: Building Partnerships for American Education." Professional Educator 28.2 (2006): 1-8. online
  • Werner, M. R. Julius Rosenwald: The Life of a Practical Humanitarian. 2nd ed. 1939.

External links[edit]