Born: January 31, 1848
Died: January 11, 1931
Married: Lina Gutherz Straus
Children: Nathan Straus Jr., Mrs. Sissie Lehman, Hugh Grant Straus
Nathan Straus (sometimes spelled "Strauss") was a merchant and philanthropist who co-owned two of New York City's biggest department stores – R.H. Macy & Company and Abraham & Straus. He served as New York City Park Commissioner from 1889–1893, president of the New York City Board of Health, 1898, and in 1894 he was selected by Tammany Hall to run for Mayor on the Democratic ticket, but withdrew from the race when his friends in society threatened to shun him if he did.
In 1892, he and his wife privately funded the Nathan Straus Pasteurized Milk Laboratory to provide pasteurized milk to children to combat infant mortality and tuberculosis. He opened the Tuberculosis Preventorium for Children at Lakewood Township, New Jersey, moved to Farmingdale, New Jersey in 1909. At the time, unclean, unpasteurized milk fed to infants was the chief cause of infant mortality rate in the U.S. Straus is credited as the leading proponent of the pasteurization movement that eliminated the hundreds of thousands of deaths per year then due to disease-bearing milk.
Malone Palladium, January 11, 1894
A New York dispatch, dated Jan'y 4, says: "EATON & YOUNG, of the Hotel Ampersand in the Adirondacks, have sold for NATHAN STRAUSS his property on Lower Saranac Lake to CHAS. M. SWAIN of Philadelphia, for $50,000." It is not the property where Mr. STRAUSS proposed a year or two ago to erect a million dollar hotel, but is on the other shore of the lake, near the Algonquin.
Malone Gazette, February 21, 1896
Nathan Strauss, the millionaire philanthropist of New York, has written a letter to the State board of health in which he tenders his assistance to the board in its effort to free the State from tuberculosis in cattle. Mr. Strauss last year established several milk stations In New York at his own expense where pure milk, sterilized and free from all impurities, was furnished to all who applied for it. In his letter he offers to co-operate with the mayors of all cities in this State in an effort to secure pure milk.
Ausable Forks Record Post, January 15, 1931
In all human probability it would not be possible, to name three brothers who left a more enduring mark on their day and generation than Isidor, Oscar and Nathan Straus, all of whom lived their lives as men of the highest ideals. Now the last of them has gone on the great long journey across the bar. Nathan Straus had more varied activities than either of the others. As the securer of pure milk for the poor, however, he will be longest remembered. In fact no one living in the Empire State but knew Nathan Straus by reputation. He needs no eulogy. Such a life work is a fitting monument.
The New York Times, January 12, 1931
NATHAN STRAUS DIES; NATION MOURNS LOSS OF PHILANTHROPIST
End Comes in 83d Year After Illness That Began With Wife's Death Eight Months Ago.
TWO CHILDREN AT BEDSIDE
Third Is Summoned From Paris Simple Funeral Tomorrow to Be Open to Public.
HOOVER LEADS IN TRIBUTES
World-Wide Benefactions and Work for Zionism Extolled by Leaders In Many Fields.
Nathan Straus, world-famous philanthropist, benefactor of the sick and the poor in many lands, champion of Zionism and dean of American Jewry, died at 4:30 A. M. yesterday in his apartment at the Hotel San Remo, Central Park West and Seventy-fourth Street. Mr. Straus was in his eighty-third year.
His death followed eight months after that of his wife, Mrs. Lina Gutherz Straus, who had been his close co-worker in all his philanthropic activities. Mr. Straus had never rallied from that blow.
Although he had been confined to his bed for the last two weeks, his illness was not generally known and word of his death came as a shock to his many friends and associates.
For the last twenty-four hours Mr. Straus had been in a coma. At the bedside when he died were his son, Nathan Straus Jr.; his only daughter, Mrs. Sissie Lehman, wife of Judge Irving Lehman of the New York State Court of Appeals, and Dr. Leopold Stieglitz, his personal physician and intimate friend. Word of his death was Immediately cabled to his other son, Hugh Grant Straus, who is now in Paris.
Death Due to Heart Disease.
Dr. Stieglitz pronounced death to have been due to heart disease and high blood pressure. The end came peacefully. Since the death of Mrs. Straus, Mr. Straus had been in failing health and although his interest in his philanthropic work and in his work for Palestine did not lag until his last conscious moments, it is understood that the loss of his wife undermined his remaining reserves of strength. His death was not unexpected, said members of the family, ever since his return from Europe last year, when he was taken ashore in a wheel chair and since then had found it necessary to use that convenience.
A few days ago, Nathan Straus Jr. said, his father remarked. "I'm so tired."
"You have been a fighter all your life," the son replied. "You can pull out of it."
Mr. Straus tried bravely to overcome his growing infirmity, but the handicap of his advanced age proved too great. He grew perceptibly weaker in the last few days and death was regarded as a matter of hours when he sank into the coma from which he never emerged. The simple and austere mode of life pursued by Mr. Straus will be reflected in his funeral tomorrow. Services will be at Temple Emanu-El, Fifth Avenue and Sixty-fifth Street. In accordance with his last wishes the ceremony will be brief. There will be no flowers. The body will be placed in a plain coffin of pine wood. Flowers which reached the Hotel San Remo soon after news of Mr. Straus's death had become known to immediate friends were lent to near-by hospitals.
Funeral Services to Be Public.
At Mr. Straus's request there will be no tickets of admission to the funeral services. The general public
will be permitted to enter without hindrance, in accordance with the wishes of Mr. Straus, who had declared that those who had a humanitarian interest in his work, regardless of station, should be permitted to enter on the same footing with those of social, financial or political position.
No eulogy will be delivered during the services, which will begin at 10 A. M. A brief sketch of Mr. Straus's life will be read by Professor William Lyon Phelps of Yale University, who in the last years of the philanthropist's life had been closely associated with him and called on him frequently. Psalms will be read by Dr. Nathan Krass, Dr. Hyman J. Enelow, both of Congregation Emanu-El, and Dr. Stephen S. Wise of the Free Synagogue.
The honorary pallbearers will be Chancellor Elmer Ellsworth Brown, Arthur Brisbane Jacob Billikopf, Adrian La Forge, John Haynes Holmes, Adolph S. Ochs, William Leon Phelps, George Foster Peabody, Julian W. Mack, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Simon F. Rothschild, Julius Rosenwald, Felix H. Warburg, Mayor Walker, Max J. Kohler, Dr. Leopold Stieglitz. Dr. E. M. Bluestone, Benny Leonard, Samuel Strauss, Dr. David De Sola Pool.
Mr. Peabody was a boyhood friend who went to school with Mr. Straus. Mr. Kohler has been on attorney for Mr. Straus for many years. Mr. Bluestone represented Mr. Straus in Palestine in several notable works. Mr. Straus admired Leonard, the pugilist. for many years. Burial will be in Cypress Hills Cemetery, in the vault of the Straus
A World Philanthropist.
The breadth and profundity of the service of Nathan Straus to man-kind, his generous nature end cam-shine disposition, his sturdy defense of the truth and his ready eagerness to respond to the cry of suffering humanity, irrespective of race, color or creed, made him a philanthropist of the world.
He came to this country as a German immigrant boy and achieved wealth—something he valued only as a medium through which to bring happiness and -health to others. Through the years when he built his fortune as a merchant he found time to devote himself to benefactions for his fellows, and when he retired from active business in 1914 he gave himself over wholly to his good works.
Outstanding among these was his work for the conservation of infant life. This he accomplished, to an incalculable extent, through the establishment of his famous stations where the babies of the poor could get pasteurized milk, germless milk which saved the lives of countless little ones.
The next phase of Mr. Stress's life that won him recognition as the citizen of New York who had done most for public welfare in the quarter century ended in 1923 was his keen understanding of civic problems. especially those touching the poor. As a token of his widespread popularity he was nominated in 1891 by the Democratic Party as its candidate for Mayor, but he declined the honor.
Devoted to Zionism.
He was devoted to the cause of Zionism and to the effort to make a Jewish homeland in Palestine. As far back as 1912 he founded there a health centre, which stayed epidemics and saved the lives of thousands of persons. In April, 1927, he returned with Mrs. Straus after attending the ceremonies of the laying of the cornerstone of the Nathan and Lina Straus Health Centre, an elaboration of his earlier foundation.
Another chapter in Mr. Strauss life was his success in the business world. He started deeply in debt and became a partner in two great department stores, later, however, completely severing his connection with them. Through his business years there ran the emphasized note that the merchant cared little for the storing up of riches; in fact, he said in later years that death would find him a poor man.
"It is my ambition." he said. "to die a poor man, for then I shall be rich in happiness and in good works."
As the years passed over his head the philanthropist gave more and more study to his favorite problem—how to give greater health and more happiness to the greatest number of persons. Oft-times he spoke or wrote his thoughts on philanthropy, as, for instance. in 1922, when he addressed a letter to the editor of The New York Times, as follows:
"An article which recently appeared in the public press and has created much comment purported to give a list of the very rich men of this country, and my name was erroneously included in that list.
Saw an Obligation In Wealth.
"During my whole life I have maintained that wealth, whether moderate or great, creates an obligation upon the holder to use it for the benefit of mankind, and I have lived up to this obligation myself even beyond what I felt was just to myself and my family.
"I have tried to do all the good I could possibly do myself, and by my example to inspire others of greater means to use their wealth and influence as freely as I do mine for humanity rather than for themselves. I regret that my fortune is only moderate and that I am not a man of large wealth only because large wealth would enable me to give more.
"Others measure my fortune by what I give. I give what I can, and not merely in proportion to what others who could do more are giving. I would be ashamed to adopt such a standard. I would be ashamed to give what I now give if I had any
considerable part of the wealth which is accredited to me."
Born in Bavaria.
Mr. Straus was born in Rhenish Bavaria on Jan. 31, 1848, the son of Lazarus and Sara Straus. He had two brothers, Isidor and Oscar. Isidor, a great merchant, lost his life when the steamship Titanic went down after striking an iceberg on her maiden trip. Oscar S. Straus, once Ambassador to Turkey, a Cabinet member and recipient of honors at the hands of six Presidents, from Cleveland to Wilson, died of heart disease on May 3, 1926.
Nathan was the eldest of the sons, and when his father came to this country in 1854, the boy, despite his tender years, was already assuming the role of "big brother." The Straus family settled in Talbottom, Ga. At first the father peddled his wares on the Georgia plantations and later he set up a store in Talbottorn. When it began to succeed, the father sent for his wife and the young sons.
Oscar Straus, in his autobiography, Under Four Administrations, which was published in 1922, gave interesting details of those early years. The Straus family was the only Jewish group in the small village. Thus they attended now and then the Baptist Church, the autobiography relating how their home became the headquarters for the old-time circuit-riding preachers who looked with something akin to awe upon the elder Straus as one who could translate literally from the original of the Old Testament.
Family Lost All in Civil War.
The Civil War ruined the family and, with their savings swept away, they moved to New York City. The father went into business as L. Straus, importer of pottery and glassware, and Nathan entered Packard's Business College. Shortly after he was graduated he married Lina Gutherz, and in April, 1927 the couple, rich in memories, celebrated the fifty-second anniversary of their marriage. After his marriage Nathan joined his father—Isidor having already done so—and the firm became L. Straus & Sons, both young men acting as salesmen. In 1923, the philanthropist bought out the business and Nathan Straus & Sons., Inc., with State Senator Nathan Straus Jr., as President, came into being.
On St. Patrick's Day. 1874, Nathan Straus walked into the highly successful department store founded by Rowland Hussey Macy under the firm name of R. H. Macy & Co. Mr. Straus had under his arm two fine porcelain plates. Mr. Macy was interested, and the upshot was that the basement of the store was rented to the Straus firm. Nathan and Isidor Straus bought the store in 1887. After his brother's tragic death Nathan Straus in 1914 gave up all connection with R. H. Macy & Co.
In 1888 the brothers established a china department in the Brooklyn department store then known as Wechsler & Abraham. The brothers were invited to enter the firm in 1893, and after they had acquired Mr. Wechsler's interest, the firm became Abraham & Straus. The firm was incorporated in 1920, but it was not until 1925 that Mr. Straus, who had not been active in the business for some time, retired as chairman of the board.
Started Milk Stations In 1892
Through all his business years his philanthropic spirit had been at work, the vision of his stations for pasteurized milk for infants having come to him in 1892. He inaugurated and maintained at his own expense until 1920 a laboratory and distribution system to provide the poor with milk, which, according to the statistics of the Board of Health, is saving many thousands of infants' lives in this city alone annually.
When Mr. Straus started his milk campaign he encountered opposition. In his own words he was "met with incredulity or with derision or with open and bitter attack." Dairymen and milk companies fought his efforts to lower prices, and even physicians doubted whether Mr. Strauss could save lives "and achieve by such simple methods such startling results." In 1916, when the infantile paralysis epidemic was claiming so many young victims, Mr. Straus's milk ideas had triumphant vindication.
Addressing the International Congress for the Protection of Infants, held in Brussels in 1922, the philanthropist said that when he began his work in New York in 1892 the death rate among children under 5 years of age was 96.2 per thousand. The use of the treated milk caused a steady decrease, and in 1920 the percentage had decreased to 28.3 per thousand.
The idea was novel and the propaganda against it was strong and well directed. Once Mr. Straus was arrested on a charge of watering milk, this charge arising from the fact that at some of the milk stations the milk was modified so that it could be fed directly to the child without the inclusion of any additional preparation. Mr. Straus, chucklingly told how three Justices Of Special Sessions convicted him and then suspended sentence.
Word of what was being accomplished in New York spread and pasteurization plants for milk were installed in many other cities, Mr. Straus building some of them out of his own pocket. Then the milk companies adopted the method employed by Mr. Straus, so that now virtually all milk entering a large city is pasteurized.
Milk Stations in Many Lands.
In Germany, Palestine, Cuba, the Philippines and other parts of the world Mr. Straus built his pasteurization plants and ran them until his idea was accepted. Now virtually every country in the world regards pasteurization as one of the necessary medical steps in the treatment of the milk supply for the elimination of whatever colonies of disease germs may be lurking there. Much of the credit for the health work he conducted was given by Mr. Straus to the late Dr. Abraham Jacobi. Mrs. Straus, his faithful helpmate of more than a half century, also was of great aid in the work. It was she who compiled and edited the literature which the philanthropist used in furthering education on proper milk.
As evidence of his tremendous interest in the problem of a safe milk supply for the children of the poor, there may be cited an incident that occurred late In 1921 when drivers of milk wagons went on strike. Mayor Hylan sought vainly to prevail upon
the men to return. Nathan Straus was sick in bed, but when he beard of the Mayor's failure he insisted on getting up. Accompanied by a nurse, and obviously weak from his illness, the elderly philanthropist appeared at a strikers' meeting and vainly pleaded with them to "stop this murderous business."
In 1918 Mr. Straus offered his milk plant to the city, saying that his advancing age made it impossible for him to continue direction of it. He also disclosed that for years he had been spending more than his income in his benefactions, which at this time began to be directed to Zionism and Palestine in vastly increased measure. Two years later the city accepted the plant and on the occasion of the formal acceptance tribute was paid to Mr. Straus for his labors.
Aided Panic Victims.
While seemingly engrossed in his milk stations, Mr. Straus found time to devote his tireless energy to other aids to the distressed. During the panic Winter of 1893, and during the months of 1892 leading to the panic, he originated and maintained a chain of depots for the distribution of coal, bread and groceries to the poor of the city, and he also maintained a system of lodging houses for the homeless.
During the Spanish-American War he donated an ice plant to Santiago. Cuba, and in 1909 he founded the first tuberculosis preventorium for children. He located it at Farmingdale, N. J., after an unsuccessful attempt to place it in Lakewood, N. J. In later years, when he spoke of the attitude of persons who opposed Lakewood as the site of the preventorium, Mr. Straus was inclined to be bitter—something his kindly nature seldom permitted itself.
Although his interest in a Jewish homeland long antedated it, Mr. Strauss first substantial gift to Palestine was in 1912 when he established a health bureau in Jerusalem. Almost coincident with the setting up of the bureau, Mr. Straus established a soup kitchen, where 1,700 persons were fed daily.
The Health Bureau, Mr. Straus said at the time, was established to improve health conditions generally and particularly to eradicate malaria and trachoma, the two diseases which were epidemic there. It was intended to serve all inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of nationality or creed, and, since the Jews at that time numbered less than one-sixth of the whole population, its work accrued largely to the benefit of non-Jews. When cholera threatened Palestine in 1916 and in 1917 the bureau received credit for having stayed the advance of the dread disease.
The Winter of 1914 found Mr. Straus back In this city ministering to the wants of the many unemployed. He adapted his milk stations so that one-cent meals were served, and during the hard months of that period he served 1,135,731 meals. In 1915, when the war bore heavily upon Palestine, he contributed toward sending the food ship Vulcan to aid the suffering ones.
His Work in the World War.
The World Was gave him ample scope for his desire to serve. In 1916 he sold his yacht, the Sisilina, and gave the proceeds to war orphans. In 1917 when charges were made that improper conditions obtained aboard the United States hospital ship Solace, Mr. Straus was one of a committee appointed by Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, which investigated and found the charges unwarranted.
When this nation entered the war Mr. Straus gave free distribution of pasteurised milk to service men and turned over to the use of the army Quartermasters Corps a large tract of land in Lakewood, N. J. A Red Cross hospital was erected on the land and conducted in conjunction with General Hospital 9, which was housed in what had formerly been the Lakewood Hotel.
Mr. Straus took deep interest In post-war problems, especially as they affected his co-religionists. He was intense in his attention to the plight of the Jews in Poland and once engaged in a controversy with Ignace Paderewski, the pianist, who had denied that pogrom, had taken place during his incumbency as Prime Minister of Poland. The Committee for the Defense of Jews in Poland, of which Mr. Straus was Chairman, cited alleged instances of pogroms and charged that Paderewski had sought to conceal the truth.
Differed With Zangwill.
Mr. Straus made frequent speeches in behalf of Zionism and took violent issue with Israel Zangwill, when the eminent English author in a speech in Carnegie Hall in October, 1923, said that Zionism was a political corpse. In the midst of the furor produced by Mr. Zangwill's utterances, Mr. Straus said that he felt he most "denounce" the author.
"The Zionism of Mr. Zangwill is counterfeit Zionism," he said. "I speak from experience; he speaks from hearsay. I have devoted my life to this one cause and I am not going to have any one be misinformed. I have been in Palestine. I have lived in Palestine. My mind is there, my money is there, my heart is there."
Again, in 1925, Mr. Straus gave vivid evidence of his interest in Palestine. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Chairman of the United Palestine Appeal, had threatened to resign his chairmanship because of widespread misinterpretation of one of his sermons praising Jesus. In urging Dr. Wise to retain his post Mr. Straus gave $150,000 to the appeal and it was announced then that his donations to the Jewish homeland in recent years alone had been close to $750,000. He had established as a foundation for the Nathan and Lina Straus Health Centre a trust fund of $500,000 for general welfare work in Palestine.
Mrs. Straus joined her husband in his devotion to the project, and in 1922 it was announced that she had donated her jewels, valued at $18,500, to the Zionist Organization of America to further medical and health service in Jerusalem.
Upon his return from the laying of the cornerstone of the health centre Mr. Straus was as optimistic as ever over the future of Palestine. He reported that he had found on every side signs of the progress of the country, and added that "the Holy Land is being rebuilt".
Urged End to Walling Wall Dispute.
Mr. Straus appealed to the Moslems of Palestine, in a letter to the Grand Mufti in December, 1928, to end the controversy over the walling wall which eventually culminated in the massacre of Jewish inhabitants by raiding Arab tribesmen. After that outbreak he accepted an honorary chairmanship, with Julius Rosenwald, Felix M. Warburg, Samuel Untermyer and the late Louis Marshall, of the Palestine Emergency Fund which raised $2,083,813 for the Jewish sufferers in Palestine.
Mr. Straus himself gave $50,000 to the fund. Through the soup kitchens he established in Palestine more than 500,000 needly persons. regardless of race or creed, received free meals in five months up to Dec. 31, 1929, and during the Arab emergency.
More than 700 members of Hadesash, a woman's Zionist organization, attended a testimonial luncheon to Mr. and Mrs. Straus et the Hotel Astor on Jan. 23, 1929, in honor of the work they had done in rebuilding Palestine as a Jewish homeland. A silver-encased scroll in Hebrew, listing their gifts of more than $2,000,000 to Palestine, many of them made through Hadassah, was presented through relatives to Mr. and Mrs. Straus, who were prevented by illness from being present.
A silver key used at the formal ceremony of opening the $250,000 Nathan and Lina Straus Health Centre in Jerusalem was sent to Mr. Straus in May, 1929, by Sir John Chancellor, High Commissioner of Palestine, who thanked him for "the magnificent gift" to all the peoples of Palestine. Mr. Straus had deputized John Haynes Holmes, pastor of the Community Church, to represent him at the dedication of the centre, but when Mr. Holmes arrived the ceremony had to he postponed, due to the fact that the building was not completed.
Scored Passfield White Paper.
Mr. Straus was so moved by the Colonial Office White Paper of Lord Passfield in 1910, which Zionists regarded as a repudiation of the Balfour Declaration, that he joined Rabbi Stephen S. Wise in a cablegram to Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, thanking him for his attack on the White Paper in the House of Commons.
Mr. Straus never entirely recovered from the shock of the death of his wife at the age of 76 at their home, Driftwood, in Mamaroneck, on May 4, 1930. A memorial to his lifelong companion, penned by John Spargo, Included a tribute to Mra. Straus:
"Lina Straus was a fit helpmeet and companion to her husband, that grand old man of whom Chief Justice Taft told to me, 'Dear old Nathan Straus is a great Jew and the greatest Christian of us all.'
On the day before he sailed on a voyage to regain his health Mr. Straus was one of four distinguished citizens to whom the National Institute of Social Sciences awarded a gold medal in recognition of his "distinguished and widespread social service rendered in behalf at humanity." Mr. Straus celebrated the eightieth anniversary of his birth on Jan. 31, 1928, in characteristic fashion by giving $100,000 for reconstruction work in Palestine. He received tributes from all parts of the world, among them an album containing felicitations from President Coolidge, Governor Smith, Mayor Walker, Bishop William T. Manning, Cardinal Hayes and others—200 in all.