On This Day in Jewish History: December 30, 1867
On this date in 1867 John Simon Guggenheim was born in Philadelphia. Known to the world as Simon Guggenheim, he was one of ten children born to Meyer and Barbara Guggenheim, Ashkenazi Jews who had immigrated to the United States in 1847. The Guggenheims would become one of the wealthiest and most philanthropic families in America. The family fortune was earned in the mining and smelting, originally from mines in Colorado, then smelting factories in the US and Mexico. After supervising the family business in Denver, and marrying his wife Olga at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1898, he was elected to the United States Senate from Colorado in 1907 and served one term. He and Olga then moved to New York where they lived out the rest of their lives.
In New York, Guggenheim served as president of American Smelting and Refining Company, a position he kept until his death in 1941. But like much of his family, and in particular his more famous brother Solomon, for whom the art museum in New York City is named, Simon devoted much of his time and fortune to philanthropy. Still, his tremendous privilege could not shield him from personal tragedy. In 1922, John, his first son, died before the age of twenty. In 1939, his second son, George Denver Guggenheim, committed suicide at the age of 32. Perhaps Simon Guggenheim’s greatest legacy is the foundation named in his honor, best known for granting Guggenheim Fellowships to scholars and artists doing work in the humanities, creative arts and social sciences.