Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South

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"This is the first serious biography of the exuberant man who transformed the Sears, Roebuck company into the country’s most important retailer. He was also one of the early 20th century’s notable philanthropists.... The richness of primary evidence continually delights." —Judith Sealander, author of Private Wealth and Public Life

"[No] mere philanthropist [but a] subtle, stinging critic of our racial democracy." —W. E. B. DuBois on Julius Rosenwald

In this richly revealing biography of a major, but little-known, American businessman and philanthropist, Peter Ascoli brings to life a portrait of Julius Rosenwald, the man and his work. The son of first-generation German Jewish immigrants, Julius Rosenwald, known to his friends as "JR," apprenticed for his uncles, who were major clothing manufacturers in New York City. It would be as a men’s clothing salesperson that JR would make his fateful encounter with Sears, Roebuck and Company, which he eventually fashioned into the greatest mail order firm in the world. He also founded Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. And in the American South Rosenwald helped support the building of the more than 5,300 schools that bore his name. Yet the charitable fund he created during World War I went out of existence in 1948 at his expressed wish. Ascoli provides a fascinating account of Rosenwald’s meteoric rise in American business, but he also portrays a man devoted to family and with a desire to help his community that led to a lifelong devotion to philanthropy. He tells about Rosenwald’s important philanthropic activities, especially those connected with the Rosenwald schools and Booker T. Washington, and later through the Rosenwald Fund.

Ascoli’s account of Rosenwald is an inspiring story of hard work and success, and of giving back to the nation in which he prospered.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews


"It is no wonder... that when Rosenwald died in 1932, W.E.B. DuBois declared, 'He was a great man. But he was no mere philanthropist. He was, rather, the subtle stinging critic of our racial democracy.'... Set against the virtual absence of black education in the rural South beforehand, his [Rosenwald's] schools qualified as revolutionary.... Rosenwald established a standard of enlightenment, impact and common sense." —Moment

Chronicle Review

"In Julius Rosenwald... his grandson Peter Max Ascoli has done well in searching out the scattered sources that previous biographers have neglected. In particular, we now have a much clearer understanding of Rosenwald's relations with contemporary social reformers like Jane Addams." —Chronicle Review

The Forward

"As Ascoli shows in this... thorough biography, Rosenwald was a compelling figure, a mensch who followed his principles, mixing good business with good social justice." —The Forward

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
"Ascoli's work will stand as the definitive biography of Juiius Rosenwald for a long time to come." —David Blanke, An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, 2008

— David Blanke

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies - David Blanke

"Ascoli's work will stand as the definitive biography of Juiius Rosenwald for a long time to come." —David Blanke, An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, 2008

From the Publisher
"This book is a great start in giving Rosenwald the attention he deserves." —Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253347411
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2006
  • Series: Philanthropic and Nonprofit Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 472
  • Sales rank: 835,441
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter M. Ascoli is on the faculty of Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago. He taught at Utah State University and later served as director of development for Chicago Opera Theater and Steppenwolf Theater Company. He is the grandson of Julius Rosenwald and lives in Chicago, Illinois.

"Peter Ascoli has written a sensitive biography of his grandfather, Julius Rosenwald. What we see is a very modest, successful business leader/philanthropist whose skill and generosity merit his recognition as one of our preeminent citizens at the advent of the twentieth century." —Bill Gates Sr.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents


1. Youth and First Business Ventures, 1862-1895
2. Early Sears Years, 1895-1908
3. Blacks, Politics, and Philanthropy, 1908-1912
4. Black Schools, Political Attacks, and the Profit Sharing Plan, 1912-1916
5. World War I, 1916-1918
6. The Rescue of Sears and the Consolidation of Philanthropic Endeavors, 1919-1924
7. New Philanthropic Ventures, 1924-1928
8. The Julius Rosenwald Fund, Hoover, and the Depression, 1928-1930
9. Final Year and Postmortem, 1931-1949


Indiana University Press

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2006

    Julius Rosenwald is highly recommended reading given its author's considerable accomplishments in business and humanitarian spheres alike.

    Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck And Advanced The Cause Of Black Education In The American South by Peter M. Ascoli (an academician and the grandson of Julius Rosenwald) is the definitive biography of Rosenwald, a pioneer not only in transforming Sears, Roebuck into the greatest mail-order firm in the world, but also in philanthropy. He helped build more than 5,300 schools in the American South, among other efforts to improve the lives of his fellow citizens such as the Rosenwald Fund. Exhaustively researched and packed cover to cover with minute detail, Julius Rosenwald is highly recommended reading given its author's considerable accomplishments in business and humanitarian spheres alike.

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