Birthday of Nathan Straus, 1848

On This Day in Jewish History: January 31, 1848

Nathan Straus was born into a Jewish family in Bavaria. He would go on to be a giant of American retail as co-owner of the New York department stores Macy’s and Abraham and Straus, known to shoppers as A&S. With his parents and three siblings, Straus emigrated to the United States in 1854. After the Civil War, the family moved from Georgia to New York where, in the last decade of the 19th Century, Nathan and his brother Isidor built their powerhouse stores, one in Manhattan, the other in Brooklyn, accruing tremendous wealth in the process.

Seven years after acquiring R.H. Macy & Co., Straus and his brother moved the store from its location on 6th Avenue between 13th and 14th streets to what would become its signature, flagship building in Herald Square on 34th Street. Over time, the store would expand to take up an entire city block. Isidor Straus died on the Titanic in 1912.

Nathan Straus used his fortune to become one of the nation’s great philanthropists, devoting much of his generosity to the cause of children’s health. In particular, his energies contributed to the success of the pasteurization movement and efforts to fight childhood diseases caused by contaminated milk. He was also devoted to feeding poor and orphaned children, efforts recognized by President William Howard Taft in 1911 and 1912 with appointments to international conferences on children’s health. After a trip with his wife Lina to Ottoman-occupied Palestine in 1904, Straus fell in love with the Holy Land and they undertook various philanthropic efforts there. This included founding the Jerusalem Health Center. In recognition of his Zionism, the town of Netanya, founded in 1927, was named in his honor. Straus died in New York City in 1931.

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