Samuel Untermyer

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Samuel Untermyer
Samuel Untermyer cph.3b34313.jpg
Samuel Untermyer, 1932
Born(1858-03-06)March 6, 1858
DiedMarch 16, 1940(1940-03-16) (aged 82)
Alma materColumbia Law School
OccupationCorporate Lawyer
Known forCivic Activism
Spouse(s)Minnie Carl

Samuel Untermyer (March 6, 1858 – March 16, 1940, although some sources cite March 2, 1858,[1] and even others, June 6, 1858[2]) was a prominent American lawyer and civic leader. He is also remembered for bequeathing his Yonkers, New York estate, now known as Untermyer Park, to the people of New York State.


Samuel Untermyer was born in Lynchburg, Virginia but after the death of his father the rest of the family moved to New York City. He was educated at the College of the City of New York and received his LL.B. from Columbia Law School in 1878.[1]

Untermyer was admitted to the bar, and started practicing in New York city. His younger brother, Maurice Untermyer, was later admitted, and then in 1895 Louis Marshall joined the firm. They, with Randolph Guggenheimer, practiced as Guggenheimer, Untermyer & Marshall for 45 years.[citation needed]

Untermyer gained fame as a lawyer focusing on corporate law. He became an advocate of stock market regulations, government ownership of railroads, and various legal reforms. He was also a prominent Zionist leader and the first attorney to earn a million dollars on a single case.[citation needed] In addition, Untermyer served as chairman of the board that framed America's income tax and excess profits laws during World War I. [3]

Untermyer frequently attended the Democratic National Convention as a delegate. As an active Zionist, Untermyer was also an advocate for the Zionist liberation movement, and was President of the Keren Hayesod, the agency through which the movement was conducted in America.[1]

Untermyer is well-remembered for donating his home to the people of Yonkers, New York. The property is now known as Untermyer Park.


Interior of Samuel Untermyer's tomb at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx NY

Between the start of his practice and the end of 1921, Untermyer was counsel in many celebrated cases, specifically:[1][4]

"I Like a Little Competition" – J.P. Morgan by Art Young. Cartoon relating to one of J.P. Morgan's replies to Untermyer at the Pujo Committee.[5]
  • As counsel for H. Clay Pierce he prevented the Standard Oil Co., after its dissolution in 1910, from dominating the Waters-Pierce Co.
  • In the same year he effected the merger of the Utah Copper Co. with the Boston Consolidated and the Nevada Consolidated Co.'s involving more than $100,000,000.
  • In 1912, as counsel to the Kaliwerke Aschersleben and the Disconte Gesellschaft in the controversy arising out of the control of the potash industry by the German Government, he assisted in reaching a settlement.
  • In 1903 he undertook the first judicial exposure of "high finance" in connection with the failure of the U.S. Shipbuilding Co., organized only a year before as a consolidation of the larger shipbuilding companies in America including that subsequently known as the Bethlehem Steel Co. As a result of the sensational exposures connected with that company, a reorganization was effected under the name of the Bethlehem Steel Co., in which Untermyer became a large shareholder.
  • After this he conducted a number of similar exposures. In 1911 he delivered an address entitled, "Is There a Money Trust?" which led the following year to an investigation by the Committee on Banking and Currency of the U.S. House of Representatives headed by Arsène Pujo. Untermyer was counsel to the Committee and famously cross-examined J.P. Morgan and other New York bankers. This so-called Pujo Money Trust Investigation resulted in the passage of remedial legislation, including the establishment of the Federal Reserve System.
  • Untermyer for years agitated before Congress and state legislatures such measures as the compulsory regulation of stock exchanges.
  • He for many years conducted agitations and wrote magazine articles dealing with reforms in the criminal laws, the regulation of trusts and combinations and other economic subjects.
  • He was counsel for many reorganization committees, including those of the Seaboard Air Line, the Rock Island railway, the Central Fuel Oil Co., and the Southern Iron and Steel Co.
  • In 1915 he acted as a counsel for the U.S. Government in the suit brought against the Secretary of the Treasury and the Comptroller of the Currency by the Riggs National Bank of Washington, D.C., which charged there was a conspiracy to wreck it; the defendants were cleared.
  • He took an active part in preparing the Federal Reserve Bank law, the Clayton bill, the Federal Trade Commission bill, and other legislation curbing trusts.
  • He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1904, 1908, 1912, and delegate-at-large for the state of New York in 1916.
  • He was a strong supporter of President Wilson's administration.
  • After America entered the Great War he was adviser to the U.S. Treasury Department regarding the interpretation of the income tax and the excess profits tax laws.
  • He was appointed by President Wilson to serve on the U.S. section of the International High Commission, which sat at Buenos Aires in 1916, for the purpose of framing uniform laws for the PanAmerican countries.
Detail of Samuel Untermyer's tomb at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx NY
  • In 1920 he was counsel for the Lockwood Committee, appointed by the state Legislature to investigate an alleged conspiracy among the building trades of New York City. It was charged that labor leaders were using their power by extorting bribes for the prevention of strikes, by preventing independent bids and by forcing building awards to favorites. Many illegal acts were disclosed and numerous convictions secured. Robert P. Brindell, who was at the head of the labor council of the building trades with a membership of 115,000 was prosecuted by Untermyer, who conducted the case in person as a special attorney-general, and convicted of extortion and sentenced to five-to-ten years in state prison. At the end of 1921, when the prosecutions were being continued, more than 600 indictments had been found as a result of the investigation and many more were said to be pending. There were more than 200 convictions including pleas of guilty by employers, labor leaders and others and over $500,000 had been collected in fines. In connection with the exposure of abuses and acts of illegality among the labour unions, all unions in the state were required, under the threat of criminal prosecution and of submitting to incorporation, to amend their constitutions and bylaws by eliminating these abuses; this they all agreed to do. It was shown that in many of the building trades both manufacturers and dealers, often with the collusive aid of labour leaders, had organized to fix prices and prevent competition. Subsequent prosecutions established the fact that these and other unfair practices were an important element in preventing building operations and increasing rental charges for dwelling property. Public opinion, especially in view of the housing shortage, reacted sharply to these revelations, and it was felt that Untermyer's work in this connection had been performed with admirable public spirit, energy and courage. It was generally believed, moreover, that the evils brought to light by the committee were not confined to New York, and a demand for similar investigations arose in other parts of the country.
  • As special counsel until 1933 in the New York City transit suits, he helped maintain the five-cent subway fare.

Untermyer was a staunch advocate of stock market regulations, government ownership of railroads, and various legal reforms.

Political involvement[edit]

Untermyer was a delegate to Democratic National Convention from New York in 1904, 1908, 1912, 1916, 1932, and 1936. He was also a delegate to the New York state constitutional convention in 1938.[6]

Untermyer also advocated the Zionist movement and was President of the Keren Hayesod, the agency through which the movement was then and still is conducted in America.[1]

In 1933, he helped found the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to promote an economic boycott of Nazi Germany.[7]

Untermyer Park[edit]

Part of Untermyer Park, the former estate of Samuel Untermyer

Untermyer developed elaborate gardens at his 150-acre riverside estate "Greystone", in Yonkers, New York, on land adjacent to the Hudson River.[8] Greystone had previously been owned by defeated Presidential candidate Samuel Tilden, and was purchased by Untermyer when Tilden died in 1886. When Untermyer himself died in 1940, his plan had been to donate the whole estate to the Nation, or the State of New York, or at least to the City of Yonkers. Eventually the city of Yonkers agreed to accept part of the estate gardens; this parcel of land was renamed Untermyer Park in his honor.[9] It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Untermyer was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on March 6, 1858 to Isadore Untermyer and Therese Laudauer, both of whom were German Jews who emigrated to the United States from Bavaria. His father, who had been a lieutenant in the Confederate Army, died in 1866. The family then moved to New York City.

Gravesite of Samuel Untermyer, Woodlawn Cemetery

On August 9, 1880 he married Minnie Carl, daughter of Mairelius Carl of New York City. They had three children, Alvin, who served in the 305th Field Artillery in France during the Great War; Irwin Untermyer, a justice of the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, First Judicial Department, and Irene, a philanthropist who married Louis Putnam Myers and, after his death, became the wife of Stanley Richter. Upon the outbreak of World War I, Untermyer, his wife, and two servants were vacationing in Carlsbad, Germany, and returned to the United States aboard the Baltic via London in late August.[11]

Untermyer died March 16, 1940, in Palm Springs, California. His body was interred at a family plot that he established in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York, which features sculpture by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.[12] His obituary was published in the New York Times (March 17, 1940, p. 1).


  1. ^ a b c d e Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Untermyer, Samuel". Encyclopædia Britannica. 32 (12th ed.). London & New York. pp. 901–02.
  2. ^ "Current Biography", 1940, p. 819.
  3. ^ G. & C. Merriam Co, Webster's Biographical Dictionary at p. 1501 (1964).
  4. ^ "Samuel Untermyer". Retrieved 2007-01-11.
  5. ^ Michael Burgan (2007). J. Pierpont Morgan: Industrialist and Financier. p. 93.
  6. ^ "Untermyer Political Graveyard entry". Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  7. ^ Hawkins, Richard A., "The internal politics of the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights, 1933–1939", Management & Organizational History, 5 (2): 251–78, doi:10.1177/1744935910361642Hawkins, Richard A., Management & Organizational History, 5, pp. 251–278, doi:10.1177/1744935910361642
  8. ^ Hawkins, Richard. "Samuel Untermyer." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified November 12, 2013.
  9. ^ "Untermyer park". Retrieved 2007-01-11.
  10. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  11. ^ "Baltic Brings 1,500 American Refugees Home," Syracuse Herald, Aug. 23, 1914.
  12. ^ Samuel Untermyer at Find a Grave

Further reading[edit]

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