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1774: First Rothschild to Become a Baron Is Born

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A portrait of Salomon Mayer von Rothschild, 1839.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

September 9, 1774, is the birthdate of Salomon Mayer von Rothschild, the second son (and third child) of dynastic founder Mayer Amshel Rothschild.

It was Salomon who was to open the Vienna branch of the family business empire.

As the company founded by Mayer Amshel Rothschild (1744-1812) in Frankfurt’s Judengasse ghetto in about 1760 expanded its reach across the European continent, each of his five sons was given responsibility for a different region. Nathan was the first to leave Frankfurt, first for Manchester, in 1800, and nine years later setting up an office in London. James went to Paris, Salomon to Vienna, Carl (or Kalman) to Naples, and Amshel remained in Frankfurt.

The father had imbued his sons with two key principles of business: Enter into transactions jointly, and never seek excessive profits. Salomon began working with his father as a teenager, dealing in wool, cotton, cloth and flour.

The Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century offered steady markets for commodities, and also vast opportunities for the financial services offered by the Rothschilds. It was they who handled the payments transferred by the British to their allies on the Continent, Prussia and Austria, and later, in 1816, it was the Paris, London and Frankfurt offices of Rothschild and Sons that collected and distributed the indemnity payments that the losing side, the French, had to pay the allies for the costs of both the war and the peace.

Aside from war, the other major development exploited by the Rothschilds in the 19th century was the industrial revolution, whose infrastructure and factories demanded huge monetary investments.

Before he opened up shop in Vienna, Salomon worked in Paris with brother James, as the family took on the complex business of supplying provisions and paying out salaries to the Austrian army dispersed around central Europe.

Lottery loans and Havanas

In 1820, Salomon moved to Vienna and established S.M. von Rothschild, after being invited by Austrian Foreign Minister Count Metternich to oversee two large lottery loans for the government. He then began investing Rothschild funds in such ventures as coal mines, asphalt and textile production, and even the import of Havana cigars, which proved to be extremely popular in Vienna.

In 1822, he was given the title of Freiherr (baron), and in 1843 was the first Jew to become an honorary citizen of Austria.

Salomon was open to technology and the changes it was bringing to industry, and tried to keep on top of developments. After sending a company representative to the United Kingdom to study steam railroads, he won the concession in 1832 to build the first such railroad in the Austrian empire – the Emperor Ferdinand Northern Railway, linking Vienna with Bochnia in Galicia. The railroad was only finished in 1858.

By that time, Salomon was gone. He died in Paris on July 28, 1855, and his place at the head of the Vienna office was taken by his son, Anselm Salomon Rothschild (Salomon and his wife, the former Caroline Stern, had two children: Anselm and Betty). Anselm was responsible for establishing the Credit Anstalt, which became the most significant bank in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

S.M. von Rothschild continued to operate in Vienna until 1938 and the coming of the Nazis, who confiscated the assets of the bank.

Twitter: @davidbeegreen

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