"From Peddlers to Millionaires" Panel at the German Studies Association Conference

The Immigrant Entrepreneurship Project will be present at the Twenty-Sixth Annual Conference of the German Studies Association, October 4-7, 2012, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

 The following panel was organized by the project staff:

From Peddlers to Millionaires: Jewish Immigrant Entrepreneurs from Central Europe and the Transformation of American Fashion and Retail

During the second half of the nineteenth century, German-speaking Jewish immigrants from Central Europe established some of America’s foremost retail, clothing, and financial firms, many of which still exist today. Goldman Sachs, Levi’s, and Bloomingdale’s, for instance, can all be traced to Jewish immigrant peddlers who came to the United States from small Franconian villages in the 1840s. Immigration historian John Higham has presented the “German Jews” as the most successful immigrant group in American history. But is this really true? Apart from a few outdated biographies, surprisingly little is known about the economic and business history of American Jews during the second half of the nineteenth century. This panel seeks to shed light on the careers of German-speaking Jewish immigrant entrepreneurs, especially in the clothing and retail trades. How did so many Jewish immigrants from Central Europe manage to go from peddlers to millionaires? Can their experience be compared to that of other immigrant groups in the United States or to Jews in Imperial Germany and Britain?

Panels and Commentators

Chair: Lisa Silverman (University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee),

Tobias Brinkmann (Penn State University): Compassionate Capitalist? Joseph Schaffner and the Making of Hart Schaffner & Marx

Adam Mendelsohn (College of Charleston): Different Yarns: Comparing Jewish Ethnic Entrepreneurship in the Clothing Trade in England and America

Marcus Bacher (University of Wisconsin/Madison): Boston’s Merchant Progressive: Edward Filene, Industrial Democracy, and the Dawn of the U.S. Credit Union Movement

Discussant: Kathleen Conzen (University of Chicago)