Portrait of Isaias W. Hellman, ca. 1899

Portrait of Isaias W. Hellman, ca. 1899

Isaias Wolf Hellman


Born in a small town in Bavaria, Isaias Wolf Hellman was one of a number of German-Jewish immigrants whose entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts helped transform Los Angeles and San Francisco from rough mining camps into two of America’s leading urban centers.


Isaias Wolf Hellman (born October 3, 1842 in Reckendorf, Kingdom of Bavaria; died April 9, 1920 in San Francisco, CA) was born in 1842 to Jewish parents in Reckendorf, a village near Bamberg in the kingdom of Bavaria. Like many Bavarian Jews at that time, Hellman and his family faced economic obstacles and discrimination in their homeland, where they were subject to special taxes and even to restrictive edicts that governed various aspects of private life.[1] In 1859, at age sixteen, Isaias Hellman immigrated to America along with his younger brother Herman. By then, other relatives and family friends from Reckendorf had already moved to the United States in search of greater freedoms and what they hoped would be new economic opportunities in the aftermath of the Panic of 1857. Some friends and relatives had established themselves in the newly emerging mining boom towns of California, including Los Angeles. The presence of a robust family and ethnic network aided Hellman’s integration into American life and played a crucial role in his later business success. After arriving in Los Angeles on May 14, 1859, Hellman began working as a clerk in his cousins’ dry goods store. Six years later, in 1865, the twenty-one-year-old opened his own establishment. This business, a dry goods store, became the jumping off point for a long and successful career in banking and finance. In 1871, Hellman founded the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles with former California governor John G. Downey and twenty-one other investors. It became Los Angeles’s first successful banking enterprise.

The relative absence of anti-Semitism and the fluid social structure of the early American West, especially in the newly established California gold boom towns, allowed many Jewish pioneers to enter society, business, and politics with relative ease.[2] Like many of the approximately 250,000 German-speaking Jews who immigrated to America before World War I, Hellman relied on business skills he had acquired back in his homeland, as well as ethnic and kinship networks that extended across the United States. In addition to banking, Hellman was involved in a wide variety of business enterprises and became a major player in local wineries. He also invested in numerous utilities in the burgeoning city of Los Angeles, including gas, light, and water companies. Additionally, he invested in railways and purchased large tracts of real estate. In 1890, Hellman moved to San Francisco to shore up the failing Nevada Bank. In 1905, he oversaw the merger of the Nevada Bank with the Wells Fargo Bank; afterwards, the Hellman family remained at the helm of Wells Fargo for several generations. Over time, Hellman became known as a civic leader and philanthropist in both the general and Jewish communities, first in Los Angeles and later in San Francisco. In Los Angeles, Hellman served as an early president of the Jewish congregation B’nai B’rith, later known as the Wilshire Boulevard Synagogue, and as a founding father of the University of California, where he was first appointed a Regent in 1881.

Isaias Hellman died in 1920 at the age of seventy-seven. By the height of his business career, Hellman had served as president or director of seventeen banks along the Pacific Coast and was responsible for capital of $100 million dollars. One early business expert observed: “No one man in California has left an impress upon the financial affairs of the state in so many different communities and in such an unquestioned manner as I.W. Hellman.”[3] Moreover, one later historian maintained that Hellman “was very probably the most important citizen of Los Angeles in the later part of the nineteenth century. And when he moved to San Francisco in 1890 … he was one of the most influential citizens of that city and the State of California.”[4]

Family and Ethnic Background

Located in the Franconia region, Hellman’s hometown of Reckendorf was once part of the property controlled by the von Geruth family. Jews arrived there as early as 1644, when the village was largely inhabited by Catholics. Relations between Jews and Catholics in Reckendorf were often precarious, and several violent anti-Semitic episodes occurred in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1803, Franconia came under Bavarian rule. The change brought hope for increased opportunities for Jews, including the ability to enter certain trades and to access higher education. The local government seems to have provided at least some level of protection for Jews, and a Jewish cemetery existed in Reckendorf from early on.[5] Nonetheless, Jews still remained subject to laws that governed their movement, limited the number of Jewish residents in any given area, and restricted their right to marry and raise families – a situation that was not uncommon in most European states at the time.

The Hellmann (later spelled Hellman in America) family’s presence in Reckendorf can be traced back to the 1740s. Isaias’s grandfather Jesias Hellmann died in 1819, leaving behind a wife, Vogele, and four children. Thereafter, Vogele Hellmann was forced to open a small shop to support her family. Later, her eldest son Maier became a prosperous local cattle trader, and her younger sons Solomon and Wolf enjoyed moderate success as weavers until the 1840s, when competition from factories caused problems for their business. When Wolf Hellmann was twenty-six, he married Sara Fleischmann, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a well-to-do Jewish cattle dealer. Her generous dowry and the use of one of her father’s homes allowed the couple to raise their large family (the couple had thirteen children, seven of whom survived early childhood) in relative comfort. Their eldest child, Isaias, was born on October 3, 1842, and their second son, Herman, was born less than a year later. Their other surviving children were Bertha (b. 1845), Flora (b. 1846), Regina (b. 1848), Ernestine (b. 1853), and James (b. 1861). The children grew up in a traditional Jewish home, attended regular prayer services at the city’s synagogue, and celebrated the Jewish Sabbath and religious holidays. At the time, the population of Reckendorf was about 1,000; around 300 residents were Jewish. About sixty-five of these Jewish residents were members of the extended Hellmann family. Members of other local Jewish families, such as the Haas and Walters clans, were raised alongside the Hellmann children. Some of the Hass and Walters sons would also immigrate to the United States, and their early ties helped them forge extended immigrant networks, which helped them successfully expand their businesses.[6]

Isaias Wolf Hellmann attended a local secular elementary school. There, he and his brother Herman learned to read, write, and spell. Jewish subjects and possibly arithmetic were studied either privately with the local rabbi several afternoons a week, or at an after-school program sponsored by the local Jewish community. Isaias was recognized as an outstanding student with an aptitude for business. Therefore, in 1854, when he was twelve years old, his parents sent him away to the larger town of Marktbreit, about forty miles from Reckendorf, to further his education. There, he attended the College of Marktbreit, a commercial school that admitted both Jewish and Christian students but was run by Salomon Wohl, a respected Jewish educator, who had founded the institution in 1849. Thus, Isaias Hellmann honed his business skills at an early age. The school offered its students instruction in several foreign languages, including French and English, classes in higher mathematics, and bookkeeping among other related subjects. This sort of formal business training was rare for young Jewish boys at the time, and Isaias was fortunate that his parents were wealthy enough to pay the necessary tuition. This early schooling would prove exceedingly helpful to Hellmann in the future as he developed into a business magnate in California.[7]

When Isaias finished school in the 1850s, the situation for Jews was challenging, particularly for those still residing in rural locations. Crop failures in the “hungry forties” and modernization, industrialization, and the increasing globalization of trade and commerce in Germany at mid-century brought deteriorating economic conditions to many residents of the German provinces, but especially to rural Jews like the Hellmanns.[8] Although the Hellmann family had achieved a significant level of financial success in Reckendorf, and had not been thrust into dire poverty like so many of their co-religionists, they too were affected by changing economic conditions. By that time, Isaias’s father Wolf Hellmann would have seen that a combination of factors – including economic uncertainty, social restrictions, and anti-Jewish sentiment – posed a significant threat to his son’s ability to advance in Bavaria. Indeed, these and other obstacles prompted Bavarian Jews to emigrate in disproportionately high numbers. Although Jews comprised only about 1.5 percent of the general population of Bavaria, they made up at least 5 percent of Bavarian immigrants moving to the United States. Between 1840 and 1870 over 20,000 of Bavaria’s approximately 59,000 Jews emigrated.[9]

When Isaias was fourteen, his parents applied for government permission for him emigrate, and within two years they made a similar application on behalf of their son Herman. In 1859, the two teenagers traveled together from the port of Hamburg in steerage on the steamship Hammonia to the United States. Three other Jewish friends from Reckendorf travelled with them. Their final destination was Los Angeles, but first they had to dock in New York, take another ship to Panama, cross the isthmus by train, and sail to San Francisco, where they boarded yet another boat to Los Angeles. At the end of the six-week journey, the two Hellman brothers arrived in Los Angeles with not quite $100 (approximately $2,790 in 2011)[10] in shared funds. Los Angeles was a rough and tumble frontier town at the time with a population of less than 4,500. On the plus side, the American West was a relatively welcoming environment for industrious Jewish immigrants, and the Hellmann brothers already had relatives there.[11]

The Hellman family participated in the now common phenomenon of chain migration, a process whereby members of a family (or residents of a region) followed one another to a new country, city, or region. European Jews frequently migrated to the United States in successive family groups, with German Jews being especially likely to engage in chain migration.[12] In many instances, their decision to emigrate was influenced by promising reports about the New World in letters from friends and relatives in America. Several members of Isaias’s family had immigrated to Los Angeles in 1854, attracted by economic opportunities in the region after the famous California Gold Rush of 1849. They helped Isaias get set up in America and offered him employment, which allowed him to acquire formal business experience. Kinship and past working relationships provided the basis for the trust needed for early German-Jewish immigrants like Hellman to conduct business and advance in their new surroundings.

Isaias’s cousins, Samuel and Isaiah M. Hellman, were partners in Hellman and Brother, a dry goods store, which sold clothing and stationery, and other Hellman cousins lived nearby. Herman found a job as a clerk in nearby Wilmington, and Isaias went to work as a clerk for his cousins. Isaias Hellman was industrious, hard-working, and devoted his attention to making the store more attractive to customers. In exchange, he earned twenty-five dollars a month, and received room and board, sleeping in a bunk under the store counter. As was the case with many immigrants, Hellman’s first job in California familiarized him with contemporary American business customs and allowed him to experiment with those practices.[13] Later, this experience prepared him to grow his own successful enterprises. The job at his cousins’ store also gave Hellman a chance to perfect his English. Additionally, he became fluent in Spanish, which was especially helpful in Southern California. He also became acquainted with the region, mostly because he was sent to surrounding areas to peddle store goods. Many years later, when he was in his seventies, he observed that, like so many of his German compatriots, he was highly driven as a young immigrant: “I wanted to get ahead, and I did not count the hours until my work was done and I gave my employer the best service I could.”[14]

Business Development

When the Hellman cousins dissolved their partnership, Isaias Hellman joined his cousin Isaiah M. in another dry goods store that sold clothing. By 1865, Isaias had accumulated enough funds to open his own store, which he purchased from Adolph Portugal, another German-Jewish immigrant, for $525 (approximately $7,480 in 2011). The store was located at the corner of Main and Commercial Streets. Isaias emphasized high quality and low prices in his new store, and, as was customary, he tried to avoid using middlemen whenever possible. To acquire goods more cheaply, he made use of ethnic and religious networks, often doing business with San Francisco merchants (including several who hailed from Reckendorf or nearby areas). He offered merchandise on credit, but was very deliberate about assessing the credit risk of potential customers, many of whom were miners. When Hellman opened his store, the local newspaper noted that the twenty-two-year-old businessman had already been in the dry goods business for several years and showed great promise: “The store has been finely fitted up, and large additions of new desirable goods made… [Hellman] will exert himself to give satisfaction.”[15]

By 1867, Isaias Hellman’s had accumulated over $50,000 (approximately $784,000 in 2011) in assets, which came primarily from profits from his business and property acquisitions. In addition to selling merchandise, Hellman started to engage in banking. As the story goes, he decided to enter the banking business after an intoxicated miner came into his store and wrongfully accused him of stealing the gold that he had left with him. Apparently, the incident made Hellman realize that he needed to develop a more formal system for holding miners’ gold, so he started his own small bank in a roped-off an area of the store, which he designated “I.W. Hellman, Banker.” This nascent “bank” allowed miners and merchants to deposit their gold dust in the safe. According to an early California business historian, Hellman was generally recognized as “the first person in Los Angeles to hang out his sign as “Banker.”[16]

Soon enough, Hellman’s banking enterprise outpaced his dry goods store, which he sold in 1867.[17] As his bank prospered, Hellman began purchasing what were then inexpensive city lots for only about fifty dollars each; he also bought larger California ranch properties and 37,500 acres of land comprising the Nacimiento Ranch in the counties of San Luis Obispo and Monterey. Furthermore, he acquired large parcels of land in Los Angeles’s Boyle Heights neighborhood. At the same time, he continued to build relationships and partnerships with influential city business leaders of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. In 1870, Hellman purchased the 12,000-acre Rancho Cucamonga in San Bernardino for a little under $50,000 (approximately $889,000 in 2011). Shortly thereafter, he sold off part of the land to a California syndicate at a profit, and then partnered with John G. Downey, Orzo Childs, and a Hellman cousin to successfully rejuvenate the vineyards and agricultural crops on the remaining land.[18]

In early 1868, John Downey and mining magnate James Hayward opened Los Angeles’s first official bank, which they called James A. Hayward & Company. Hellman soon became centrally involved in the city’s new banking industry. That same year, he partnered with meat supplier William Workman and landowner F.P.F. Temple to form Los Angeles’s second official bank, which opened on September 1, 1868, under the name Hellman, Temple & Company. Even before the bank formally opened its doors, the Los Angeles Semi-Weekly of August 12, 1868, lauded its business manager I.W. Hellman as a “young man of rare business attainment,” noting that “he has the confidence of the business community among which, for many years, he has been a successful and enterprising merchant.”[19] The paper was indeed correct in its assessment of Hellman’s standing in the business community, where he operated as an “insider” and moved easily in both Jewish and gentile circles. Hellman, Temple & Company was just one of many successful partnerships that Hellman formed with business leaders of various faiths.

In 1871, Hellman bought out Workman and Temple and founded a new institution on the same site. His partner in this new endeavor, which became known as the Farmers and Merchants Bank, was John Downey. The bank opened with a capital stock of $500,000 (approximately in $9.5 million 2011) and became California’s first successful banking enterprise. Through this bank, Hellman was able to grant loans to numerous merchants and farmers of modest means. They, in turn, brought new growth and prosperity to Southern California. Over time, the bank became especially influential in supporting the state’s burgeoning oil industry. Hellman, for instance, provided funding to Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield, who discovered oil near Los Angeles.[20] Hellman eventually gained control of the bank from Downey and became its president in 1876.[21] After moving to San Francisco in 1890, Hellman retained ownership of the Farmers and Merchants Bank and continued serving as president – a position that he held until his death in 1920. During the Panic of 1893, when his brother Herman served as the bank’s vice-president, Isaias made a return trip to Los Angeles to help assure depositors that their money was safe by displaying hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold coins, including $250,000 (approximately $6.45 million in 2011) of his own personal funds.[22]

Isaias Hellman was not just a businessman, banker, and landowner; he was also a key civic leader who was instrumental in transforming Los Angeles from a rough village into one of America’s premier urban centers. Among other contributions, he played a major role in introducing the city’s trolley system and in bringing the Southern Pacific Railroad to Los Angeles in 1876. The introduction of the railroad gave the city an enormous economic boost by connecting it to both the East Coast and to the bustling commercial center of San Francisco. In 1899, Hellman became a board member of the Southern Pacific; his appointment was partially attributable to his success in selling its bonds. Joining the Southern Pacific board made strategic sense, because Hellman also served as treasurer of the San Francisco and San Joaquin Railroad, a role that allowed him to negotiate between the two railroad lines when needed. Hellman was also a major stockholder in the city’s privately held water company, and, in 1902, he became a key investor in the Los Angeles Pacific Light and Power Company. Among the other investors was railroad titan Colis P. Huntington, with whom Hellman became close friends. Later, the two would partner in several other ventures. To be sure, Hellman’s investments in the burgeoning city’s infrastructure benefitted Los Angeles and helped it grow; at the same time, they also benefitted him and helped him amass a significant fortune. Hellman was always a shrewd businessman, and it is not surprising that his investments in infrastructure helped boost the value of his land parcels.

Like other German-Jewish businessmen in Los Angeles and around the country, Hellman felt a keen responsibility to support the larger civic community, a perspective that made sense from a business perspective but also brought personal satisfaction and increased status. German-Jewish merchants often functioned as civic and community leaders; they served as boosters and helped stabilize and grow their communities. Frequently, they reinvested their profits not only in myriad commercial ventures, but also in philanthropic and cultural undertakings. Isaias Hellman is a prime representative of the countless German-Jewish immigrants who sought to enhance their status in the wider community “by chalking up an impressive record in philanthropy.”[23] Still, it must be said that Hellman’s philanthropy was motivated by more than a desire for esteem – it was also a genuine attempt to give back to the community. For instance, after helping to organize the first street car line in Los Angeles in 1883, Hellman explained that, as a successful businessman, he felt a duty to work on behalf of the city that had launched his career, noting: “I am now in a position to benefit and improve the city.” Two years earlier, in 1881, he had donated both land and funds to help found a new state university. That same year, he was appointed to the board of trustees and the board of regents of the University of California.[24]

In 1886, Hellman tried, unsuccessfully, to secure an appointed seat in the U.S. Senate. The failed bid put an end to any further plans he had regarding political office. His Jewish background likely played a role in his failure to win the nomination, as did his refusal to use his considerable personal wealth to garner the support of legislators, a common practice that he apparently found personally distasteful. In the end, his rival, the mining magnate George Hearst, won the vote by a landslide. However, like many other prominent businessmen, Hellman used his political influence behind the scenes. The same year as his Senate bid, Hellman loaned a significant sum to conservative Los Angeles booster Harrison Gray Otis, so that Otis could buy out his partners and take over sole ownership of the Los Angeles Times.

The Move to San Francisco

In 1890, Hellman left his wife, Esther, and daughters temporarily behind, and moved to San Francisco to help shore up the struggling Nevada Bank, which had been founded by “silver kings” James C. Flood, John W. Mackay, William O Brien, and James G. Fair. Hellman did so at the suggestion of Colis Huntington, his friend and partner in the Southern Pacific Railroad. The bank’s crisis started when its funds were drained by a cashier, who invested a good portion of the institution’s money in wheat speculation. The Nevada Bank subsequently lost millions of dollars when wheat prices plunged. After tapping his network of German-Jewish businessmen and leading gentile financiers, Hellman became president of the Nevada Bank. He quickly restored confidence in the institution by fulfilling his obligation to raise $2.5 million ($63.8 million in 2011). This allowed him to attract new investors from New York and London as well as California. The demand for shares soon outpaced the supply, and potential buyers formed long lines to purchase them. Leading entrepreneurs such as San Francisco clothing magnate Levi Strauss and Hellman’s brother-in-law Meyer Lehman (of New York’s Lehman Brothers) invested $120,000 (approximately $3.06 million in 2011) and $150,000 (approximately 3.83 million in 2011), respectively, as did old friends and relatives from Reckendorf. Many prominent gentiles such as William Perry, who ran the Los Angeles Water Company, the Swiss entrepreneur Antoine Borel, and the French-born Christian de Guigne, founder of the Stauffer Chemical Company, also participated. Unsurprisingly, the new board of directors consciously included both gentiles and Jews, as Hellman continued to forge strong business alliances across religious and ethnic lines. At the time, one local newspaper ran a letter to the editor that described Hellman as “the financial success and sensation of the day in San Francisco,” and estimated his personal worth as the “wealthiest Hebrew in America” at approximately $40,000,000 (around $1.02 billion in 2011), undoubtedly an exaggeration.[25]

When Isaias left Los Angeles, he called upon his brother Herman (who by then headed his own wholesale grocery company with a member of the Haas family who also hailed from Reckendorf) to join the Farmers and Merchants Bank as vice-president. However, disagreements over business practices eventually led to the estrangement of the two men; their final falling out was precipitated by the embezzlement of significant funds by one of Isaias’s cousins, whom he had regarded as almost a son. Disagreements with partners appear to have been a pattern throughout Isaias’s business life; fortunately, they seem to have had no detrimental effect on his long-term success. In 1892, after his son Marco graduated from the University of California with a degree in philosophy, Isaias presented him with a gift of $50,000 (approximately $1.28 million in 2011) in property and stocks for his twenty-first birthday; Marco was soon brought into the banking business as well.[26]

In 1893, Isaias took the lead in the opening of yet another pioneer business venture, the Union Trust Company, which was described by one business historian as the first bona fide trust company in San Francisco. It testified to Hellman’s growing importance in California banking, his growing connections to a wide mercantile network, and his ability to bring investors together in a diverse group representing the Irish, Yankee, and German-American communities. With an initial capital of $1.5 million (approximately $38.7 million in 2011), this new financial institution primarily served individuals, whereas the Nevada Bank and the Farmers and Merchants Bank focused on business clients. When Hellman died in 1920, the Union Trust Company had aggregate deposits of $32 million (approximately $359 million in 2011).[27]

The involvement of members of the German-American community in the California banking industry reflected a far-reaching and complex network of connections, which at various times proved either helpful or challenging to Hellman. For example, in 1895, Rudolph Spreckels, the estranged son of sugar baron Claus Spreckels, brought a contentious lawsuit against Hellman’s Nevada Bank over a dispute involving sugar stock that Rudolph had pledged as security for funds borrowed by his brother from the bank.[28] Rudolph Spreckels became president of San Francisco’s First National Bank in the early twentieth century. During the infamous San Francisco graft trials, which began in 1905, and which he helped finance, Spreckels in his newfound role as a political reformer vocally criticized several companies that Hellman was associated with, including the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Spring Valley Water Company.[29]

One of Hellman’s most important and enduring financial successes came at the behest of railroad titan Edward W. Harriman. In 1905, Hellman ably managed the merger of the Nevada Bank with Wells Fargo to form the Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank. Hellman took over not only the management but also the controlling ownership of the enterprise, once again demonstrating his influence within California and even national banking.[30] Wells Fargo had been founded in San Francisco in 1852 to provide banking and delivery services. Over time, it had expanded to become an express and banking company that delivered goods and money around the United States and the world. In 1901, after Harriman purchased the Southern Pacific Railroad, he received a large share in Wells Fargo. He soon realized, however, that the banking side of the Wells Fargo enterprise was inefficient and put a drain on overall company profits. Harriman approached Hellman, who, by that time, had already financed other of Harriman’s ventures, and invited him into the partnership that eventually resulted in the merger of the Nevada Bank with Wells Fargo. Once again, Hellman’s German-Jewish business associates, such as Levi Strauss, bought shares, but Harriman and the Southern Pacific Railroad still remained among the biggest investors in the newly merged bank. Hellman’s son Marco briefly succeeded him as president of the Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank, and later in 1943, Marco’s son Isaias Hellman III became vice-president. After Isaias’s death in 1920, Hellman’s Union Trust Company merged to become the Wells Fargo and Union Trust Company, which became known as the Wells Fargo Bank in 1954 and endures to this day as a premier American banking institution.

Just a year after the Wells Fargo merger, the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 dealt a catastrophic blow to the bank and the city as a whole. Hellman played a major role during the emergency period following the earthquake, and he was one of many prominent businessmen who led the city’s recovery. Hellman’s own mansion on Franklin Street was destroyed in the earthquake, and he and his wife ended up moving in with their daughter Clara and her family. During that difficult period, Hellman and other members of the city’s Jewish elite banded together to provide aid to earthquake victims in both the Jewish and wider communities.

When San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz formed the “Committee of 50,” a group of fifty San Franciscans tasked with coordinating safety efforts and providing general relief to earthquake victims, Hellman was included on that list – his presence there reflecting his reputation as a leading citizen of the city. He served on the finance sub-committee, working alongside men of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. Other members included Claus Spreckels, a German-American immigrant businessman; James Phelan, a second-generation Irish American and former San Francisco mayor; and Harriman, the Yankee-born railroad titan. Other Hellman family members served the city during the aftermath of the earthquake as well. Hellman’s son-in-law, Emanuel Heller advised the governor as part of a five-person sub-committee of San Francisco’s Committee for Reconstruction.

After the devastating earthquake, Hellman, like many other leading businessmen, expressed great optimism and strongly encouraged the community to rebuild. He inspired confidence by maintaining that “San Francisco is in ashes but will rise again greater than ever. The insurance companies will most all pay up and money will then become plentiful… My banks are solid and safe and are certainly considered among the best in the country.”[31] Hellman’s access to capital was a crucial factor in the city’s ability to rebuild. Although the Wells Fargo bank building was severely damaged, the vaults survived, and banking continued out of Hellman’s daughter’s home. Hellman would later play a key role in the opening of the famous Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, a spectacular fair that drew visitors from around the globe and announced to the world that San Francisco had recaptured its former glory.

Over his career, Hellman and members of his extended family, including his son Marco, served on the boards of numerous Los Angeles and San Francisco banks. Isaias Hellman also worked with Henry Huntington (the nephew of his friend Colis P. Huntington) and a San Francisco syndicate to finance the Los Angeles Railway (1898) and the Pacific Electric Railway (1900), both of which helped Los Angeles develop better connections with the surrounding suburban areas. In 1915, at the height of his career, Isaias Hellman was at the helm of institutions that aggregately oversaw more than $100 million in funds (approximately $2.31 billion in 2011). At that time, he served as president of the Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank, the Farmers and Merchants Bank, the Union Trust Company, and the Bankers’ Investment Group, a California real estate syndicate. Concurrently, he served as director of the Columbus Savings and Loan of San Francisco, the Southern Trust Company, the Fidelity Trust Company of Tacoma, the Long Beach Savings Bank, and the United States National Bank of Portland; he was also involved with several other California banks in less formal capacities. Isaias’s son and protégé, Marco, also became one of the most prominent businessmen in the West. He worked alongside his father as vice-president of the Union Trust Company, where he succeeded Isaias in 1916, and he served as vice-president, and later president, of the Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank. Like Isaias, Marco also served as director, or in other official capacities, in many other banks. Marco, too, became involved in many philanthropic institutions and served as treasurer of the University of California. He also became influential in Republican politics.[32]

As the president or director of seventeen banks over the course of his career, as one of the state’s major landowners, and as a builder of the infrastructure that helped transform Los Angeles and San Francisco, Isaias W. Hellman played a central role in the growth of California’s economy and by extension that of the nation. One biographer, a Hellman descendant, summarized his contributions as follows: “Isaias Wolf Hellman was California’s premier financier in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a man whose financial acumen catapulted the state into the modern era and laid the groundwork for one of the world’s most dynamic economies.”[33] However laudatory the writer’s assessment may be, it is undeniable that Hellman was a pioneer and key player in early California banking. When he died, his personal wealth was estimated at around $20 million (approximately $224 million in 2011). Isaias Hellman left major legacies to his children, who split his estate after designated funds were first distributed to other relatives and various philanthropic organizations. These designations included $50,000 (approximately $561,000 in 2011) to each of his seven grandchildren and to his younger brother James, legacies of $100,000 (approximately $1.12 million in 2011) to a group of several Jewish benevolent institutions, and a $25,000 gift (approximately $281,000 in 2011) to the Los Angeles Catholic Orphan Asylum.[34]

Unarguably, Hellman possessed the talent and skill set necessary for a successful career in finance. In 1915, one East Coast journalist fancifully observed that “Isaias Hellman was born a banker… he was born with an instinct for estimating probabilities… he makes it possible for wealth to increase wealth.”[35] Despite his wealth and success, Isaias Hellman remained a conservative businessman to the end. In a 1904 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he stated, “I am strictly an investor, and I have all my life paid for things as I go along. I never borrow money. It is against my principles.” Although cautious, he was also forward-thinking in his views about the role the West Coast would eventually play in the national and international economy, and by taking the long view, he amassed an immense private fortune and played a pivotal role in the commercial development of California. At the age of seventy, he told one Los Angeles reporter, “I see great development ahead of the Pacific Coast and I want to have a part of it.”[36] Later, at a memorial service for Hellman, one of his colleagues praised him as a man of “broad vision, sound judgment and unquestioned integrity…” As he explained, “while he [Hellman] was an optimist, he was never a speculator or a boomer. He proceeded cautiously with his investments, buying only what he could pay for… He had the vision to foresee, the ability to plan, the courage to execute.”[37]

Religion, Family Life, and Social Status

Isaias Hellman was involved in the Los Angeles Jewish community from the very beginning and probably attended informal High Holiday services in a Jewish home when he arrived in 1859. In the early 1860s, the small Jewish community established the Congregation B’nai B’rith as a traditional synagogue following Polish rites. However, it eventually moved toward classic Reform as more German Jews influenced its development. In the 1870s, Isaias Hellman became president of the congregation, which then sought what he and his colleagues considered “a more prestigious, German rabbi.” In 1872, as president of the congregation, Hellman presided over the laying of the cornerstone for B’nai B’rith’s first building.[38]

Like most other Jewish Reform congregations of the era, B’nai B’rith adopted customs geared toward acculturation and Americanization. By reforming a number of traditional Jewish practices (e.g., by introducing sermons in English as well as choir and organ music), this group of upwardly mobile German Jews felt that they were “modernizing” and becoming more like their gentile socio-economic counterparts.[39] In his keynote address at the dedication of the congregation’s first building, Hellman made reference to dual loyalties, that is, to both the Jewish past and the American future. He stated at one point, “You, my brethren, may all feel proud of this noble structure… may this building be used for centuries to come… may this school room be continually filled with children of our race, to be taught good morals, literature and science, the principles of our religion and, above all, love and patriotism to this, our noble and free country.” Hellman was then presented with a silver trowel in appreciation of his financial generosity and his work on behalf of the congregation.[40] The following year, Hellman was praised by a congregant for his loyalty to B’nai B’rith and for his exemplary attendance at Jewish holiday services: “We are proud of having a leader of our congregation who, although having more than the average share of business, is still promptly at his post, and is a living example of what energy, perseverance and strict integrity can do.”[41]

In 1870, at the age of twenty-eight, Isaias Hellman married nineteen-year-old Esther Newgass (originally Neugas) in New York City. Esther came from a wealthy, cultured German-Jewish family who had emigrated from Bavaria, and she and her parents arrived in America in 1866. The ceremony was held in New York City’s leading Reform Synagogue, Temple Emanu-El. Isaias had arrived in New York City for the wedding after a twelve-day trip on the newly completed transcontinental railroad, an exciting experience that may have influenced his later interest in railroads. Dark-haired and small in stature, Isaias sported a mustache, a goatee, and gold-rimmed glasses. Esther’s ebullient personality served as a useful counterpoint to his serious, often autocratic temperament. Her older sister Babette was married to Meyer Lehman, a member of the prominent New York family of German-Jewish investment bankers, and Isaias’s marriage to Esther brought him into the wider circle of the East Coast’s most successful German-Jewish businessmen. Members of New York’s Jewish elite frequently socialized together, and business connections were forged at dinner parties, balls, and similar events. Indeed, Meyer Lehman became a close friend and served as a role model for Isaias. Lehman was a German immigrant who had started his career as a peddler and went on to become a nationally known business leader through the Lehman Brothers investment firm. The Lehman brothers developed close commercial and family ties with other leading Jewish families such as the Belmonts, the Guggenheims, the Seligmans, and the Kuhns, among others, and these connections were made available to Hellman as well. This ethnic network made it possible for Lehman, Hellman, and other elite German-Jewish businessmen to share information, credit, and commercial opportunities.[42]

By the time Esther Hellman arrived in Los Angeles as a young married woman, the city’s Jewish community had grown to 350 members. She soon became active in the city’s elite social scene and found a niche doing charity work for the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society. Esther and Isaias both came from traditionally observant Jewish families in Bavaria, but in America they were drawn to Reform Judaism, as reflected in their active role in the Congregation B’nai B’rith. Although the Hellmans were deeply involved in B’nai B’rith and attended services regularly, Isaias conducted business on the Jewish Sabbath, a practice that would have been foreign to his Reckendorf family. Later on, as part of the German-Jewish elite in San Francisco and as members of the prestigious Reform Congregation Emanu-El, the Hellmans even celebrated Christmas as a “winter holiday.” To this end, they hosted lavish parties, exchanged gifts, and decorated a tree, new family traditions that would have been anathema to their Jewish-Bavarian ancestors. Isaias Hellman was also a leading Freemason.[43]

Although Isaias and Esther had an arranged marriage, their union was by all accounts a happy and affectionate one.[44] The couple became the parents of three children, son Isaias W. Hellman, Jr. (nicknamed Marco), who was born in 1871, and two daughters, Clara (b. 1877) and Florence (b. 1881). In 1876, Isaias and Esther Hellman built an impressive thirteen-room mansion in one of Los Angeles’s best neighborhoods on the same street where Governor John G. Downey resided. The elaborate house, which featured a library, a billiards room, and a conservatory, cost $12,000 (approximately $260,000 in 2011) to build. It was hailed at the time as the most magnificent home in Southern California. Marco’s Bar Mitzvah in 1884, attended by both Jews and gentiles, was one of the highlights of the Los Angeles social season. After religious services at B’nai B’rith synagogue, the Hellmans hosted a lavish party at their home, and Marco received many elaborate gifts including a gold watch, diamond buttons, four lots of land from his father, and enough cash from his mother to purchase a horse.

After moving to San Francisco in 1890, the Hellmans became part of that city’s Jewish elite, a “gilded circle” that included such well-known figures as mining magnate and mayor Adolph Sutro, Levi Strauss, the Fleishackers, who acquired their wealth in the cardboard box industry, the Zellerbackers, who owned one of the most successful paper businesses in the world, and the Gerstles and Schlosses, who made their fortunes in Alaskan furs. The Hellmans first rented a house on Sutter Street in San Francisco, and they also rented a summer home in nearby San Rafael. By the mid-1890s, Isaias and Esther were spending time in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where they would later build a vacation home. In 1893, the Hellmans purchased a Victorian mansion on the prestigious Franklin Street, in a neighborhood that was home to some of San Francisco’s leading gentile families. The Hellman’s Franklin Street house was remodeled by German-American architect Julius E. Kraft and featured a magnificent stained glass window in the stairwell. Esther filled the home with expensive furnishings and hired a staff that included a butler, a housekeeper, maids, and a valet for Isaias.[45]

In 1890, Hellman joined San Francisco’s elite Reform congregation, Temple Emanu-El, and soon became a prominent member. When he died thirty years later, his funeral was held there. The service was conducted by the congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Martin A. Meyer, who eulogized Hellman as having remained “true to his people and true to his faith.”[46] As in Los Angeles, the Hellmans also socialized outside of the Jewish community and mingled with members of the city’s elite. Isaias Hellman was a member of several exclusive associations, including the Pacific Union and Union League Clubs, as well as the German immigrant Jewish Concordia Club and the Verein Club. The latter initially welcomed Germans of all faiths but became a predominantly Jewish club in the 1890s.[47]

On September 7, 1898, Marco Hellman married Frances Jacobi, the daughter and granddaughter of prominent San Francisco Jews, They became the parents of four children: Warren (I.W. Hellman III), Frederick, Florence, and Marco II. Frances’s father was the owner of Lachman & Jacobi, a well-known California wine company that would soon become part of Isaias’s larger wine empire. In 1901, along with two partners, Isaias bought the controlling interest in the California Wine Association for $1 million (approximately $27.3 million in 2011).[48] Immigrants played a pivotal role in the California wine industry, which was dominated by Germans and Italians. In 1899, Clara Hellman married a friend of Marco Hellman’s, the rising young attorney Emanuel Heller, and they had one son, Edward. Isaias and Esther’s younger daughter Florence married lawyer Sidney Ehrman in 1904, and they had two children, Sidney and Esther.

Throughout his life, Isaias Hellman regarded his homeland of Bavaria with great affection, and he maintained a special appreciation for the German language and for German culture. Retaining solidarity with his countrymen also made good financial sense, insofar as it helped ensure that they would patronize his businesses. Beginning in 1875, Hellman returned to Bavaria numerous times to visit his family in Reckendorf and to visit spas in an effort to cure his recurrent migraines. In the spring of 1911, for example, he traveled from Nuremberg to Reckendorf to go to the Jewish burial ground. As he wrote, “[I] visited my dear parents and grandparents graves. I next walked through the village; no change there except looking more dilapidated than before. Visited the synagogue, etc.” Hellman also visited relatives in other Bavarian towns, bringing lavish gifts. He later made a stop in Marktbreit, “the place where I was sent to school. No change in all these years, except a fine school building, the Handelschule, into which the former Wohl Institute has been merged.”[49] Later, in June 1911, Hellman observed that “Reckendorf has not changed, only getting smaller and smaller all the time. I have an affection for the old place and am always glad to visit again.”[50]

Hellman’s affection for Germany was put to the test during World War I, when anti-Semitism flared and anti-German sentiment rose dramatically. At first, he was sympathetic towards Germany, in part because of his negative view of Russia, where anti-Semitism was especially virulent. He was also concerned that war would disrupt the American and international economies. His diary entries from 1915 are filled with references to the threat of an even wider war. In response to the German sinking of the Lusitania, on May 8 of that year, he declared: “Roosevelt in an interview blames Germany and advises our government to take action, etc. – Nonsense. [Still] the loss of life is deplorable and very sad.” Two days later, he observed: “Much excitement is being manifested by the yellow press blaming Germany, etc. I hope nothing will come of it.” In June, Hellman expressed hope that relations between America and Germany had improved and wrote that “It now looks that all danger of war or a serious disagreement between the two great nations is passed.”[51] Hellman also realized that his German origins promised to have a detrimental effect on his business in the face of a war with Germany. He may have had this in mind when, in late June of 1915, he noted in his diary that “President Caldwell of Wells Fargo Express has paid me a visit. He assures me that his company has great confidence in my management and that their shares of stock in this bank are not for sale at the present.[52]

Hellman was extremely grateful for the opportunities that the United States had afforded to him and his Jewish co-religionists. As he remarked in his diary on Thanksgiving Day of 1911, “The American people should all be grateful and thank God for the liberties which they are enjoying in this land and for the great good which is bestowed upon them by God Almighty living in this country.”[53] In March of 1917, when it became clear that the United States would go to war on the side of the Allies, Isaias threw his full support behind America, declaring that those who had previously been neutral now had a “Duty to our government as good & loyal citizens and assist it to the fullest extent of our power, financially and otherwise.”[54] Hellman supported the Allied war effort by donating generously to war charities and making “heavy purchases of both Liberty and Victory bonds,”[55] likely from a combination of genuine patriotism, on the one hand, and an urge to shield his business enterprises from anti-German sentiment, on the other.

Philanthropy and Public Life

Isaias Hellman and his family became recognized philanthropists throughout California. Among other contributions, Hellman played a central role in the founding of the University of Southern California. Isaias had long developed business networks with men of other faiths. In concert with the Irish-Catholic politician and entrepreneur John G. Downey and the Protestant railroad magnate Ozro W. Childs, Hellman donated over 300 lots of land in what was then called West Los Angeles to the foundation that was tasked with founding the university. In 1881, Hellman was appointed Regent of the University of California to fill a vacancy, and, in 1883, he was appointed by Governor Perkins to a full sixteen-year term in his own right. He remained a regent for thirty-seven years until 1919. The Los Angeles Herald noted his eminent qualifications for the trustee position, commenting on his “sterling and sagacious business attitudes” and his “vigorous intellect.” The newspaper also identified him as a man who had long valued the importance of learning and education. In 1917, Hellman donated $50,000 (approximately $877,000 in 2011) to establish a scholarship fund for deserving students at the University of California at Berkeley.[56]

Without a doubt, Hellman’s generosity was an expression of his Jewish faith and was certainly motivated by genuine altruism. At the same time, however, his charity was likely informed by a desire shared by many acculturated and affluent German-Jewish immigrants – namely, the urge to demonstrate his commitment to American ideals and to prove his value as a loyal and productive American citizen. As Naomi Cohen observed in Encounter with Emancipation, German-Jewish immigrants of this era viewed philanthropy and charity as twin expressions of the strong civic responsibility of Jews in American society at large. As individuals who hoped to expand and enhance their position in American society, German Jews felt that their involvement in charitable endeavors would help ease their path to upper-class acceptance.[57]

As was common throughout the American West, the wives, daughters, and sisters of prominent Jewish businessmen and professionals often took leading roles in philanthropy. They, too, were motivated by a genuine sense of altruism, but charity work also cemented their social status and developed their leadership skills.[58] It is important to note that Isaias’s wife Esther supported a number of important Los Angeles charitable institutions that reflected her own interest in Jewish, German, and general community causes. Esther Hellman served as a charter member of the Los Angeles Kindergarten Association, which provided free services to the poor, and as an active member of the general Ladies Benevolent Society, the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, and the German Ladies Benevolent Society.

When Eastern European Jewish immigrants started arriving in San Francisco in significant numbers in the 1890s, German Jews greeted them with mixed sentiments. Over 2 million Eastern European Jews arrived in the United States between 1880 and 1925, fleeing extreme poverty and persecution in their homelands. The well-to-do German Jews gave freely of their time and funds to help their co-religionists, but at the same time they worked to Americanize and acculturate them as quickly as possible so that their “poor cousins” did not serve as a source of embarrassment.[59] Esther was elected president of a free Jewish kindergarten, which aimed to educate young immigrant children (and, by extension, their mothers), and she was a member of the Ladies’ Visiting Pacific Committee of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. Isaias served as the institution’s treasurer.

The Hellman family also became active in San Francisco’s charitable endeavors. Isaias Hellman supported one of the city’s leading Jewish philanthropic institutions, the Mount Zion Hospital. Although it was founded and funded by Jews, it treated patients of all faiths, and Esther Hellman served as the first president of the hospital’s Ladies Auxiliary from 1897 until her untimely death from cancer at age fifty-seven in 1908. She was succeeded in the presidency by her daughter-in-law Frances Hellman, who served until 1928, and whose husband Marco served on the board of directors of Mount Zion for years. Isaias contributed $100,000 dollars (approximately $2.5 million in 2011) to Mount Zion in memory of his wife, for whom a building was named. Later, the Hellman family donated the funds for the Esther Hellman Settlement House, a community center erected primarily for the benefit of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. As some historians have argued, Bavarian-Jewish merchants like the Hellmans were “at the heart of San Francisco’s social and economic network and “expressed their collective pride through Temple Emanu-El.”[60] Indeed, Marco Hellman served as a director of Emanu-El and later as president of the San Francisco United Federation of Jewish Charities, which was organized in 1910.

Later, during World War I, when American Jews rallied in support of European Jews, who were suffering from severe deprivation and violence, both Isaias and Marco Hellman made generous donations to help their co-religionists in Europe. In September 1915, inspired by a lecture by Rabbi Meyer of Congregation Emanu-El about the plight of Polish Jews during that year’s Yom Kippur, Isaias recorded in his diary that “I sent in my check for $3,000 (approximately $69,300 in 2013) towards the Jewish relief fund of the poor and distressed Jews in Poland, impoverished and ruined by these miserable Russian soldiers.”[61]


Isaias W. Hellman died of pneumonia on April 9, 1920, at the age of seventy-seven. Only a month later, his son Marco died at age forty-nine after a series of heart attacks. Marco had recently been appointed president of Wells Fargo National Bank, where he succeeded his father. Over time, other Hellman family members became centrally involved in that institution. In 1924, Marco’s son I.W. Hellman III was elected vice-president of Wells Fargo Bank & Union Trust Company, and grandson Warren Hellman later served as president of Wells Fargo Bank from 1943 to 1960.

According to a 1920 tribute from the board of directors of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, Isaias W. Hellman began life in America “as an unknown immigrant [ . . . ] without friends or influence, before he was forty years of age he had attained an international reputation as a banker.”[62] Hellman’s rise from an immigrant store clerk in a small family business in Los Angeles to a leading California financier reflects some general patterns in German-Jewish entrepreneurship, which was heavily influenced by chain migration, and kinship and ethnic networks. Like so many other German Jews who had immigrated before him, Hellman benefitted greatly from German ethnic and Jewish religious networks, which provided not only social capital but financial capital as well. Moreover, he arrived in the United States with a marketable skill – in his case, formal business training. Other factors that contributed to his success included the relative openness of the American economy in the wake of the Civil War and the fluid social structure of the American West. Finally, the availability of natural resources in the new but rapidly expanding urban centers of the Pacific Coast presented Hellman with unprecedented business opportunities, ranging from banking and investment to real estate and transportation.

Before he was a leading financier, Isaias Hellmann was the owner of a small dry goods store. Throughout his career, his business philosophy remained largely the same: the values and principles that informed his humble beginnings as a shop owner guided his later work in banking. Despite a progressive vision about the tremendous commercial potential of the American West, Hellman always remained a conservative businessman at heart. It was an outlook that dated as far back as his early training in Bavaria. As a young merchant, he claimed to have always paid for his goods in cash. Later, as an established banker, he always kept large gold reserves to bolster the reliability and reputation of his financial institutions. Hellmann was a large-scale landowner, but never a land speculator; he always purchased land for the long-term value after serious study of its potential.

Hellman was one of a number of German-Jewish immigrants whose entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts helped transform Los Angeles and San Francisco from rough mining camps into two of America’s leading urban centers. During his early years in Los Angeles and later in San Francisco, Hellman worked with members of both the Jewish and gentile communities to establish a number of successful financial institutions. Eventually, his growing fortune allowed him to engage in generous acts of philanthropy, which were motivated by his Jewish faith (particularly the Jewish emphasis on social responsibility) but also by his gratitude for the opportunities afforded to him by his adopted country. As a philanthropist and, more generally, a civic leader, Hellman was no less influential than he was as a businessman. His contributions to charitable causes and civic life left a lasting mark on the state of California and its two largest cities.


[1] There were limits, for instance, on how many of Bavaria’s Jews were allowed to marry. Still, it should be noted that, during that era, Bavarian laws regarding Jews were among the most liberal in Europe. For a detailed account of the situation of the Jews in the German provinces at the time, see Avraham Barkai, Branching Out: German Jewish Immigration to the United States (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1994).

[2] Moses Rischin, “The Jewish Experience in America,” in Moses Rischin and John Livingston, Jews of the American West (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 32-33, and Jeanne E. Abrams, Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 5-10.

[3] Ira B. Cross, Financing an Empire: History of Banking in California (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing, 1927), 539.

[4] “The Diary of Isaias W. Hellman – 1911,” Part I, Western States Jewish History 22, 1 (October 1989): 60.

[5] See http:///www.alemannia-judaica.de/reckendorf_friedhof.htm. (last accessed on July 29, 2015).

[6] Family background information is based on the engaging and detailed biography of Isaias Hellman authored by his great-great-granddaughter, the journalist Frances Dinkelspiel. See Towers of Gold, How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 12-23.

[7] Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 18.

[8] Although industrialization brought some benefits to Jews in urban centers, it reduced opportunities for those in rural areas, often limiting them to petty trade and commerce. See Phyllis Dillon and Andrew Godley, “The Evolution of the Jewish Garment Industry, 1840-1940,” in Rebecca Kobrin, ed., Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012), 42.

[9] Hasia R. Diner, The Jews of the United States (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004), 87.

[10] All current values (in 2011 USD) are based on Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present,” MeasuringWorth, 2011, using the Consumer Price Index.

[11] Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 10-25.

[12] Moreover, chain migration was far more common among German Jews than among gentile German immigrants. See Dillon and Godley, “The Evolution of the Jewish Garment Industry,” 42.

[13] Over time, many German-Jewish immigrants played a critical role in reinventing American commerce, most notably in the retail clothing and banking and investment sectors.

[14] Los Angeles Examiner (December 2, 1917), as quoted in Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 30.

[15] Los Angeles Tri-Weekly News (April 15, 1865), 2.

[16] Cross, Financing an Empire, 536-38.

[17] Ibid., 539.

[18] Norton Stern, “Towards a Biography of Isaias W. Hellman – Pioneer Builder of California, “Western States Jewish History 2, 1 (October 1969): 28-29.

[19] Los Angeles Semi-Weekly News (March 12, 1867), 2.

[20] Ava F. Kahn and Marc Dollinger, eds. California Jews (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2003), 18-19.

[21] After Hellman pushed Downey out, the relationship between the two men deteriorated, and, starting in 1877, Hellman launched several successful lawsuits against his former partner. Most involved disagreements over the sharing of profits or business philosophies. See Cross, Financing an Empire, 225, 386, 538.

[22] Cross, Financing an Empire, 619.

[23] Naomi Cohen, Encounter with Emancipation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1984), 117.

[24] Ellen Eisenberg, Ava F. Kahn, and William Toll, Jews of the Pacific Coast (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010), 53.

[25] Los Angeles Herald (April 9, 1890), 40.

[26] Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 113.

[27] Cross, Financing an Empire, 614.

[28] See Spreckels v. Nevada Bank, American State Reports 54 (San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, Co., 1897), 348-55, and “The Nevada Bank Suit,” San Francisco Call (March 8, 1895), 8.

[29] Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 270-71.

[30] Cross, Financing an Empire, 226.

[31] As quoted in Eisenberg, Kahn, and Toll, Jews of the Pacific Coast, 66.

[32] Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 289.

[33] Ibid., 2.

[34] San Francisco Chronicle (April 21, 1920), 3.

[35] “King of Finance,” Town Talk (January 15, 1914).

[36] Los Angeles Times (October 5, 1912).

[37] Los Angeles Times (April 28, 1920), 11-12.

[38] Eisenberg, Kahn, and Toll, Jews of the Pacific Coast, 37-38.

[39] For a detailed account of the rise of American Reform Judaism, see Michael A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism, and Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism, A History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004).

[40] Los Angeles Daily Star (August 19, 1872), 2.

[41] The Hebrew (San Francisco) (October 23, 1872), 4.

[42] For an informative essay on these intricate family networks, see Barry E. Supple, “A Business Elite: German-Jewish Financiers in Nineteenth-Century New York,” in Jonathan Sarna, ed. The American Jewish Experience (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1997), 99-11.

[43] Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 179.

[44] Many years later, on the third anniversary after Esther’s death, Hellman wrote in his diary, which was penned in English, that “With a heavy heart do I begin this day. My darling wife is not any more among the living. I shall never forget the last anniversary which we celebrated. How happy we were then. Peace be to her – best of wives.” See “The Diary of Isaias W. Hellman – 1911,” Part I, Western States Jewish History 22, 1 (October 1989): 64.

[45] Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 150-51.

[46] As cited in Stern, “Towards a Biography of Isaias Hellman,” 43. Hellman was a long-time admirer of Meyer, whose “fine Jewish New Year” service he had praised in a 1911 diary entry. Additionally, he wrote that Meyer had given two “excellent lectures” and noted that the “services at the Temple were very fine, music good.” See “The Diary of Isaias W. Hellman – 1911,” Part II, Western States Jewish History 22, 2 (January 1990): 171.

[47] Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 118, 147.

[48] Ibid., 184.

[49] “The Diary of Isaias W. Hellman – 1911,” Part I, Western States Jewish History 22, 1 (October 1989): 65.

[50] “The Diary of Isaias W. Hellman – 1911,” Part II, Western States Jewish History 22, 2 (January 1990): 167.

[51] “The Diary of Isaias W. Hellman – 1915,” Part I, Western States Jewish History 23, 1 (October 1990): 66, 68.

[52] Ibid., 69.

[53] “The Diary of Isaias Hellman – 1911,” Part II, Western States Jewish History 22, 2 (January 1990): 173.

[54] Letter from Hellman to Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank’s Board of Directors, March 3, 1917, as quoted in Dinkelspiel, Towers of Gold, 310.

[55] Cross, Financing an Empire, 222.

[56] Ibid., 39-40.

[57] Cohen, Encounter with Emancipation, 117.

[58] See, for example, Abrams, Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail, Chapters 2 and 3.

[59] Abraham Karp, ed. Golden Door to America: The Jewish Immigrant Experience (New York: Viking Press, 1975), 14.

[60] Eisenberg, Kahn, and Toll, Jews of the Pacific Coast, 252, 56.

[61] “Diary of Isaias W. Hellman – 1915,” Part II, Western States Jewish History 23, 2 (January 1991): 144, 146.

[62] As cited in Cross, Financing an Empire, 222.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Isaias Wolf Hellman
  • Coverage 1842-1920
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date June 23, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018