Mayer Amschel Rothschild was a German-Jewish banker who founded one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful dynasties. He was born on February 23, 1744, in Frankfurt, the son of Moses Bauer, a moneychanger and goldsmith. The red shield over his father’s shop door would become his family’s heraldic symbol. When Moses died in 1754, Mayer Amschel had to abandon his rabbinical studies and go to work as a cashier at a bank in Hannover. He earned a series of promotions and managed to obtain a small share in the bank’s equity.
When he returned to Frankfurt, he took up his father’s business and changed his surname from Bauer, German for “peasant,” to Rothschild, which meant “red shield.” In 1760, thanks to General Von Estorff, whose business interests he had helped manage, Amschel met Prince William IX of Assia-Kassel. In 1769, he became William’s court agent, and began managing his estate, particularly the affairs related to the various wars the Prince was involved in. Thanks to his ability and his now-considerable savings, Mayer Amschel was able to found his own bank a few years later in Frankfurt. Rothschild kept his oldest son, Amschel Mayer, with him in Frankfurt, and sent his other sons to key cities around Europe: Nathan went to London, Solomon went to Vienna, James to Paris and Karl to Naples. Each of them founded a bank with ties to their father’s bank.
In a very short time the Rothschild family’s business and commercial interests expanded. They focused on investments in the textile sector, the gold trade and the insurance industry. They became increasingly involved in the world of stock market investing. The economic and political power of Mayer Amschel and his family grew enormously, thanks in large measure to war loans he made available to states and monarchies during the Napoleonic Wars.
Mayer Amschel Rothschild died in Frankfurt on September 19, 1812. He was 68, and left behind an empire extending over Europe’s financial and commercial panorama.
The Rothschild empire grew stronger with the advent of the industrial revolution, as the family added mining and oil companies to their portfolio of stakes in large steel companies and railways. Coined by Mayer Amschel himself, the family’s motto – Concordia, Integritas, Industria – repeatedly rang true when the winds of history seemed to blow against the Rothchilds. Thanks to their sense of unity, the dynasty survived both world wars and managed to hold onto much of its accumulated wealth. Today, the Rothschilds remain one of the most powerful families in the world. In 2005 Forbes magazine, the bible of capitalism, named Mayer Amschel one of the most influential businessmen of all time, referring to him as the “father of international finance.”