Nathan Eckstein (January 10, 1873 – October 21, 1945) was a German-born American businessman, associated in business and by marriage with the Schwabacher Brothers firm and family. In 1926 he received the honor of being named "Seattle's Most Useful Citizen", an honor sponsored by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and chosen by service clubs and community organizations. At that time, Seattle's Jewish Transcript called him "the man who has brought the greatest amount of respect and prestige to the Jewish people of Seattle." Seattle's Nathan Eckstein Middle School is named in his honor.
Life and career
Eckstein was born to Lazarus Eckstein and Johanna Haas in Bavaria in 1873. After a gymnasium education in Munich, he emigrated to New York City, where he spent a decade in the wholesale grocery business beginning in 1888. He came to Seattle in 1898, where he went to work for Seattle wholesaler Schwabachers and Co. and in 1902 married Mina Alice Schwabacher daughter of Abraham Schwabacher, one of the original Schwabacher Brothers.
Eckstein became vice president and later chief executive officer of Schwabachers, guiding the company through both World Wars and the Great Depression. Besides being a member of numerous organizations ranging from the Rainier Club to B'nai B'rith to both the Shrine and Scottish Rite Masons, and a trustee of organizations such as Goodwill Industries and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, he served on a volunteer basis in numerous public capacities, including on the Seattle School Board (1913–1920), as chair of the Washington State Tax Commission (1921–1922), chair of the Seattle Community Fund (1924, 1925; this was the forerunner of the city's United Way), and as a member of a commission to revise the City Charter (1925). The last resulted in a proposed charter that was defeated by the city's voters. In 1931 there was talk of him running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate, but he declined to do so.
Eckstein's years on the School Board were controversial. This was during a period of great confrontation between labor and capital in Seattle—the Seattle General Strike of 1919 was the first such action in the United States—and Schwabachers' support for the open shop put Eckstein firmly on capital's side of the divide. The labor unions strongly opposed his candidacy. Eckstein, a naturalized American citizen of German birth, stood with most businessmen in supporting U.S. entry into World War I and even bowed to pressure to drop German language courses from the Seattle Public Schools curriculum.
Eckstein was a proudly believing Jew, and served as president and trustee of Seattle's Temple De Hirsch, now Temple De Hirsch Sinai. "The prejudice under which the Jew is suffering is not due to his religion," he said on one occasion. "The greatest criticism of the Jew is that he is irreligious. If every Jew belonged to a temple or synagogue there would not be one percent of the prejudice that exists today"
By the late 1930s, Eckstein, though still running Schwabachers', had a much-improved relationship with organized labor. In 1937 and 1938, he was part of a citizen's committee that successfully arbitrated in a jurisdictional dispute between the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) under Harry Bridges and the Teamsters under Dave Beck over organizing inland warehouse workers.
- Dates according to Lee Micklin, Eckstein, Nathan (1873-1945), HistoryLink, August 26, 1999. Accessed online 2009-10-20. Biography of Nathan Eckstein, Eckstein Middle School (Seattle), accessed online 2009-10-20, gives his birthdate as a decade later, which does not fit in reasonably with the chronology of his life.
- Lee Micklin, Eckstein, Nathan (1873-1945), HistoryLink, August 26, 1999. Accessed online 2009-10-20.
- Biography of Nathan Eckstein, Eckstein Middle School (Seattle). Accessed online 2009-10-20.
- The Jewish Transcript, June 25, 1926, quoted by Lee Micklin, Eckstein, Nathan (1873-1945), HistoryLink, August 26, 1999. Accessed online 2009-10-20.
- About the School, Eckstein Middle School (Seattle). Accessed online 2009-10-20.
- Jean Roth, Part 2: The Schwabacher Family Tree, The Seattle Genealogical Society Bulletin, Summer 1997, reprinted on the site of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington. Accessed online 2009-10-20.
- Jean Roth, Part 3: Schwabacher Family Biographies, The Seattle Genealogical Society Bulletin, Summer 1997, reprinted on the site of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington. Accessed online 2009-10-20.
- Summary for 1000 14th AVE / Parcel ID 1346300190, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. Accessed online 2009-10-20.
- Home page, Seattle General Strike Project, Pacific Northwest Labor and Civil Rights History Projects, Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, University of Washington. Accessed online 2009-10-20.
- The Jewish Experience in Washington State: A Chronology 1845–2005, Washington State Jewish Historical Society, 2006. p. 21–23.
- The Jewish Transcript, May 6, 1924, quoted by Lee Micklin, Eckstein, Nathan (1873-1945), HistoryLink, August 26, 1999. Accessed online 2009-10-20.
- Preliminary Guide to the Nathan Eckstein Papers 1880-1943, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
- Photo of Eckstein marching in a 1915 Shriners' parade, University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections
- Photo of Mina and Nathan Eckstein circa 1930, University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections