The Trouble with "Our Crowd"
Ten years ago, Barry E. Supple, an economic historian then teaching at Harvard, published a scholarly article which demonstrated that in the 19th century a significant share of American investment banking was concentrated in Jewish hands. In reviewing the history of such banking houses as Kuhn, Loeb; J & W Seligman; Goldman, Sachs; and Lehman Brothers, Supple drew attention to the fact that it was not only common for the children and relatives of the partners of a given firm to marry each other, but that marital alliances frequently occurred among, as well as within, the different Jewish banking houses.
Indeed, Supple’s careful analysis showed that the role of marriage in business went even further than this. The scions of banking families would marry the offspring of the owners of large German-Jewish companies in a variety of fields, and these companies—some of them later to become the country’s leading department stores and mail-order firms—would then raise capital through the banking houses with whom they had formed family connections. There were banking families, of course, which had even closer ties to the retailing business, having themselves engaged in it at one time. In fact, several of the most important banking houses were established by one or another Bavarian villager who began his American business career by carrying a pack on his back, and later graduated to a horse and wagon. Not all the Jewish banking houses, to be sure, could point to such Horatio-Alger beginnings; some were originated by immigrants who had served their apprenticeship as bankers rather than as peddlers. A few of the founders had come to America with wealth or connections, and others were assisted by European Jewish financiers (and in some cases served as their American representatives).
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