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When Money Was in Fashion
Henry Goldman, Goldman Sachs, and the Founding of Wall Street
By June Breton Fisher
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2010 June Breton Fisher
All rights reserved.
Against All Odds
"Men can learn from the past, and I've been shocked how little some of the younger executives in the present firm know about its origins. They don't even know that my grandfather whose picture is on the wall there founded the firm."
—Walter Sachs, senior partner of Goldman Sachs, 1928
My grandfather, Henry Goldman, was the son of a poor German immigrant named Marcus Goldmann who was born in 1821 in Trappstadt, one of a number of small villages that dot the rolling green wheat fields and dense forests of the Bavarian countryside. Marcus was the eldest child of Wolf Goldmann, a farmer and cattle dealer, who was married to a young woman by the name of Bella Katz Oberbrunner from the neighboring town of Zeil am Main. She had already had five children by her first husband, Samuel, when he died at the age of thirty-seven.
The family name had not always been Goldmann. According to the decree of the Catholic diocese of nearby Würzburg, which had ruled the region since the eleventh century, Jews did not have surnames and were known only by their given names and those of their fathers, and thus Wolf's father originally bore the name of Jonathan Marx, or more correctly, "Jonathan son of Marx." But in 1811, at the age of fifty-eight, when the Church revised its mandates and required the Jewish population to assume family names, Jonathan chose Goldmann, identifying it with the wealth and respected reputation of the elder citizen who officiated at his son Wolf's wedding.
Wolf was their first child, a restless, ambitious young man with a thirst for education who found the city walls of his hometown far too confining. The family home was located just around the corner from the local schoolhouse, and when he finished helping his father in the barnyard and the garden, Wolf would sneak into the back of the classroom and absorb as much as he could of the day's lessons in bookkeeping, reading, and history.
Although surrounded by vineyards and already well regarded as a center for breweries, Zeil offered virtually no opportunities for Jews to earn an independent living. Restrictive municipal laws, in fact, forbade Jews from voting, marrying, or having children, and so Wolf plotted from an early age to leave his family homestead and move closer to Bamberg, a larger, more progressive city sixteen miles away. However, in 1813 the Catholic diocese had imposed quotas on the number of Jews allowed to settle in each of the minuscule villages of the region, and to ensure compliance charged "protection money" from those who were granted residence permits. These measures virtually eliminated the possibility of a Jew's relocating to another township unless he replaced a dead man on the census rolls. Wolf started to haunt the record hall in Würzburg, which listed the names of Jews who had recently been interred and the villages in which they had resided. After many months of fruitless checking, he spotted the name of Samuel Oberbrunner, a young cattle dealer from the market town of Trappstadt, who had passed away shortly after the first of the year. He was survived by a wife, Ella, and five children ranging from four to eleven years of age. Investigating further, Wolf found that the young widow had not been left enough money to hire someone who could help tend the livestock that provided the family's livelihood. Recognizing that he and Ella had compatible needs, Wolf presented himself at the kitchen door of her house, which was simply identified as Number 16, and suggested that he work for her as a hired hand in exchange for his room and board.
The couple was married six months later in Sternberg, where Ella had grown up, as there was no synagogue in Trappstadt. Who knows whether it was a marriage of love or convenience or a combination of the two? They led a contented family life for forty years and had five more children, four of whom survived. Mark, the eldest, was born in 1822, Samuel (who died as an infant) two years later, and then another boy, Simon, and two girls, Bella and Regina. The family moved to a larger home near the town cemetery and the synagogue, where there was a growing colony of fifty-three Jews in residence, and the family cattle business thrived.
His stepsisters all made a fuss over Mark—after all, there were five of them, and for years he was the only boy! But he remained sweet natured and obedient, and was never known to give his parents any trouble. He loved school and was a good student, particularly adept at mathematics. His brother Simon, four years his junior, was his total antithesis: mischievous, volatile, doing his daily chores only after persistent nagging. Nevertheless, the boys were close to each other and looked forward to the monthly market days in the village when they helped their father sell his cattle. People from all the surrounding villages streamed into the main square for the occasion, and the town had the feeling of a big, jolly party.
Every spring their father took them to the larger district market in Bamberg, nine miles away. They rose while it was still dark to herd the cattle up and down rutted dirt paths that meandered through the pastoral terrain. Simon was sometimes inclined to whine and complain, but Papa would shush him with fanciful tales about the glamorous lives of the Baron and Baroness von Henneberg, who governed the area, and Mark would sing folk tunes he had learned from Hungarian gypsies passing through town. Any thoughts of being tired or having sore feet vanished once they reached the outskirts of the city.
Bamberg rose like a fairyland between the river Regnitz and a canal that was crossed by several wooden bridges. A lock and a weir, situated below the tall frescoed town hall, took pride of place in the middle of town. Half-timbered and baroque houses in ice cream shades of peach and sandstone and pistachio green, all with red tile roofs, lined the winding narrow cobblestone streets—so narrow that the boys sometimes spotted the fire brigade answering alarms on bicycles rather than horse-drawn wagons. Beautiful stone and plaster representations of saints and angels decorated the outside walls of many houses they passed. And rising above everything was the cathedral, with its spires and impressive stained-glass windows. Once in a while the boys would peek inside and gawk at the likeness of the city's founder astride his horse, which had been carved into the wall of the nave many centuries earlier.
The market was held at the Maximiliansplatz, the largest square in the city. Every imaginable fruit and vegetable was sold there—fat white asparagus and luscious strawberries, and mushrooms, potatoes, cauliflower, and cabbages harvested in fall. Around the corner, overlooked by the Gabelmann, or Neptune Fountain, there was a large flower market where ladies from the surrounding manor houses sent their servants to fill baskets with roses, lilies, and marguerites. Downstream from the town hall and the Benedictine monastery, in "Little Venice," colorful half-timbered fishermen's houses with neat little gardens and tiny balconies were lined up like a stage set facing the river. The cattle market and the municipal slaughterhouse were located nearby.
While Wolf negotiated the best prices for his cattle—and he was known to be a master at bartering—the two boys skipped stones on the river and watched the local toughs competing in rowing races and jousting as they balanced in canoes. At the closing bell, Papa would drop in to one of the many beer kellers on the street—there were sixty-five of them within the city, some over a hundred years old—for a pint and a pipe and to gossip with other farmers who had come to town for market day. The conversation was always spirited and spiked with acrimony about the peasants' lack of representation in the government, the economic havoc wreaked by endless wars among Germany's many feudal states, the punishing taxes from which only the rich seemed to benefit. And, not least, the "blood money" extracted by the government to obtain papers allowing those from the less privileged classes to emigrate in search of a better life.
The Goldmann children were devoted to one another, the older girls taking care of the little ones and assisting with the household chores while the boys tended the animals and helped their father in the fields. Once they reached the age of six, both boys and girls attended a "mixed" school for Christian and Jewish children and were taught history, geography, simple arithmetic, and a smattering of English. Wolf was especially proud of Mark, who, at the age of sixteen, had been encouraged by the schoolmaster to make periodic trips to the Würzburg synagogue, where the rabbi offered more advanced classes to outstanding students. It was there that Mark made the acquaintance of Joseph Sachs, the nineteen-year-old son of a poor saddle maker. Joseph had determined at an early age that he wanted to make a career of teaching school. The two young men became fast friends, never dreaming that their futures would be entwined for more than a century in a land they had yet to see.
At the time, Joseph was boarding in the home of a rich Würzburg goldsmith by the name of Baer, where he had been engaged to tutor the young lady of the house, Sophia. Ignoring her parents' staunch disapproval, she developed a crush on her teacher, and a storybook romance developed. They secretly pooled Joseph's meager savings with the jewelry Sophia had received from her parents since her birth and eloped one night to the port of Hamburg. There they stayed at the home of one of her cousins and were married several weeks later. Then, with little more than his tutoring credentials in his battered suitcase, Joseph set sail for Philadelphia, first circling South America with his plucky and adoring bride at his side. The journey lasted six weeks.
It had become increasingly apparent that there was no future for young Jewish men in Germany. Their station in society was lower than that of the Negro in pre–Civil War America. Rumblings of uprisings against the monarchy were becoming louder and increasingly passionate, jobs were almost nonexistent, and a year-long drought had resulted in poor harvests and a devastating famine. In addition, the likelihood of all able-bodied men being conscripted for military service in support of governments reluctant to recognize their basic rights seemed probable. Wolf reluctantly concluded it was time for his eldest son, who had just turned twenty-seven, to seek a new start in the United States.
The Bamberg newspaper had run stories almost every day about the grand opportunities available to newcomers in America, the warm welcome they were receiving, the fairness and freedom of a democratic society. In fact, a recent article had told of an orphan boy named Levi Strauss from a nearby village who had left the Old World and peddled fabrics from a backpack when he got off the boat. Soon afterward, he made a fortune sewing work pants for gold prospectors heading out west. As Mark deliberated and demurred, concerned that his parents would find running the farm without his help too heavy a load, twenty-three-year-old Simon, entranced with the vision of gold lying on the streets of California, impulsively volunteered to keep him company.
On the eve of Mark and Simon's departure in 1848, Ella baked the family's favorite apple cake and Wolf gave both of his sons his blessings and 150 gulden to tide them over until they were settled. There were no regrets, no long-drawn-out farewells. In the morning, Mark and Simon registered for exit papers with the town clerk at the village Rathaus and paid a hefty "Jewish tax" on top of the $50 charge for train tickets to Bremerhaven and passage on the steamship Miles to London. There they would board the Margaret Evans, bound for Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, which was surrounded by verdant farmland and offered a myriad of employment opportunities to immigrants. It was said to have a sizable German population and was hospitable to Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike.
The Miles was packed to the gunwales with German émigrés when the halyards were set free and she drew away from the dock. An unexpectedly large increase in the German population over the past few years had fostered a move to stimulate emigration with cash rewards, which were freely disbursed among doctors, lawyers, musicians, teachers, and artists. All the proletariat, in fact, except those of the Jewish faith. Unacceptable as they may have been, they alone were required to buy their way out.
As the ship's white sails unfurled and she drew out of the harbor, the passengers gathered on deck to have a last glimpse of their homeland and sang a sad song of farewell. "A proud ship goes lonely," went the refrain, "taking our German brothers away ... to America. Poor Germany, do you want to banish us to live the rest of our lives and die in America? We have nowhere else to go and our choice would be to stay. Don't forget us. We shall return someday."
It was an extremely rough night crossing the Channel, and the brothers spent most of the voyage clinging to the railing on the upper deck. London showed them few of her charms, and they spent the early hours of the morning searching the port through a pea soup fog for the Margaret Evans. When at last they signed on board, they were assigned quarters measuring six by six feet, which they were to share with two other émigrés, a British machinist and a brewmaster from Munich, who was planning to join the gold rush and make his fortune in California. The brewmaster was a barrel-chested fellow, tall and fair with a wispy mustache and a booming voice, and he told tall tales he had overheard of the mobs rushing to find gold in California and the dark-eyed señoritas waiting with open arms in every doorway. Simon was immediately smitten, and vowed to follow him on the first available wagon train.
Conditions aboard ship were rudimentary at best. There was one toilet for every fifty people, and the drinking water was rank and bitter. The passengers jostled one another to receive their daily ration of thin soup, cabbage, and potatoes, and their blood ran cold seeing little children dying of hunger and exposure on the upper deck. There were rumors of cholera and dysentery spreading among the crew below decks. When the ship finally reached shore on September 4, a great shout of relief was heard, and the ragtag band of passengers, significantly diminished after the two-week ordeal, pushed and shoved to disembark.
True to his promise, Simon melted into the crowd with his newfound friend from Munich, giving his brother a friendly punch on the shoulder. "Come and see me in California!" he cried. "I'll have a fine house and horses and a beautiful wife by next year and you may change your mind and join me." But Mark concluded he'd had enough adventure and was ready to settle down to a quiet, hardworking life in the New World. Simon would eventually fail in his quest for gold and settle in Sacramento, where he married, had five daughters, and became the owner of a small neighborhood grocery store.
As Mark descended the gangway, the sweet, earthy aroma of produce in autumn struck him instantly—apples and carrots and cabbages. And it was no wonder, for the city marketplace was just a few steps from the harbor. It was noisy and thronged with people: butchers selling their hogs, girls carrying crates with squawking chickens, cheese makers, fishermen with their morning's catch. Dahlias and sunflowers and zinnias stood in milk pails at the flower stalls, just like at home. He was surprised to hear so much German being spoken and was startled by a tap on his shoulder. When he turned, he was confronted by his old friend Joseph Sachs with his pretty bride Sophia glowing beside him.
"Well, Mark, this is a surprise!" Joseph said. "I had no idea you were coming so soon. Have you been promised a job? A place to live?"
Mark, his cardboard suitcase with all his belongings still in hand, admitted he hadn't.
"It isn't so easy," Joseph continued. "I've been without work since we arrived. But maybe it will be different for you. You haven't any preconceived ideas about what you want to do with your life and seem content with whatever fate hands you. As for me, I've always wanted to be a teacher, and there are no openings here. However, I've just heard of an opportunity in Baltimore, which isn't so far away." Then he laughed. "Just like the old country," he said, "they find room for you when somebody dies.
"And speaking of rooms, my friend, if you haven't found a bed yet, perhaps you might consider taking our place at Frau Müller's boardinghouse. It is clean and cheap and convenient, and she keeps a German kitchen. You would only have to pay up the rest of the month's rent, which we owe, and the place is yours. Want to see it?"
The boardinghouse was nearby on North Street, and as they ambled through the Old City on this crisp, sunny morning, Mark marveled at the sights he saw along the way: rowhouses, with three-step stoops, taller than they were wide, one jammed right next to another; the Liberty Bell, the Free Quaker Meeting House, Independence Hall. The streets were straight, laid out in rectangles and paved with bricks—so different form the narrow alleys twisting through Bamberg, and the unmarked dirt paths they called streets in Trappstadt. In an area called Society Hill, a progressive Jewish congregation called the Knesset Israel, or KI, had been established by the synagogue just the year before. It was one of a number of German communities in the city that had established self-help societies and information centers for new arrivals. They spread the word about jobs and cheap farmland and organized social activities at which German-speaking immigrants could meet one another. It would be a good place to start looking for a job, Joseph advised Mark, whose name had been changed to Marcus by the immigration authorities upon his arrival in Philadelphia.
Excerpted from When Money Was in Fashion by June Breton Fisher. Copyright © 2010 June Breton Fisher. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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