Tag: Paris

Immigrants Made Good – Ernest Cassel

As one of the richest men of his day, Sir Ernest Cassel left a lasting mark on Britain’s history. He was a generous philanthropist, a wildly successful businessman, a close friend of royalty, and recipient of numerous honors and distinctions. Few would have expected such a legacy from a young, penniless German immigrant.

English: A portrait of banker and capitalist S...
A portrait of banker and capitalist Sir Ernest Cassel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ernest was the youngest of three children born to Amalia and Jacob Cassel. He was born on March 3, 1852, in Cologne, Germany. His father owned a small bank, and Ernest received a standard education up until the age of 14. At 14, he quit school and started an apprenticeship under J.W. Eltzbacher, a local banker who specialized in financing foreign business and large industrial ventures. Ernest had a natural knack for business, and with his outstanding capacity for hard work he quickly learned the ropes in the world of finance.

Shortly before his seventeenth birthday, Ernest set out for England. He arrived in Liverpool penniless, but with plenty of ambition. He quickly found a job working for a firm of grain merchants where he was paid £2 a week.

His true gifts lay in the world of banking, and he was soon working in Paris for a bank. His stint in Paris was short lived though, as the Franco-Prussian War soon broke out. Since he was born in Prussia, Paris was no longer safe for him, and he was forced to return to England where he soon found work in a London bank.

He began working as a confidential clerk for Louis Bischoffsheim in the financial house of Bischoffsheim and Gildschmidt. He became a fast friend of the Bischoffsheim family, and this led to rapid promotion through the ranks of the financial firm. By the time he was 22, Ernest was managing the bank at a salary of £5000 plus commission.

In 1878, Ernest was married to Annette Mary Maud Maxwell in a ceremony at Westminster. They had one child – a daughter, who they named Amalia Mary Maud Cassel. Tragedy struck before long, when Annette contracted tuberculosis and died within three years of their marriage. Ernest’s widowed sister and her children soon came to live in London, where she helped to run the household and look after little Amalia.

Ernest Cassel funerary monument, Kensal Green ...
Ernest Cassel funerary monument, Kensal Green Cemetery, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite Ernest’s personal losses, he prospered in the offices of Louis Bischoffsheim and in 1884 he began putting together his own financial deals. He developed business ventures in Turkey at first, and soon had substantial ventures in Sweden, South America, Egypt, South Africa, and the United States. By 1898, his independent business was so successful that left Bischoffsheim and Gildschmidt to open his own offices.

Ernest developed a friendship with Lord Willoughby de Broke and they jointly started a stud farm for breeding race horses. They began racing their bred horses, and it was at the tracks that Ernest met the Prince of Wales (soon to become King Edward VII), and a fast friendship formed between them.

Ernest Cassel received a number of public recognitions as well as foreign decorations. The first was the K.C.M.G. awarded by Queen Victoria for his importance in the financial world. King Edward awarded him the further distinctions of K.C.V.O., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., G.C.B., and a privy councillorship.

Throughout his lifetime, Sir Ernest Cassel gave away nearly £2 million to public works and charities.


Immigrants Made Good – Abraham Gottheimer

Few will recognize the name Abraham Gottheimer; but perhaps the name Baron Albert Grant will be more familiar. He would become one of the country’s richest men through his wily (and often dodgy) business dealings, but his beginnings were humble and rather inauspicious.

Abraham Gottheimer was born in December of 1831, to desperately poor parents living in Dublin’s Jewish Quarter. His mother Julia was British, and his father Bernard was a refugee from Prussian Poland. Bernard Gottheimer had moved to Dublin in the 1820s and worked the streets as a peddler. The little family was in such dire straits financially that members of their local synagogue had to provide them with blankets when little Abraham was born.

Little is known of Abraham Gottheimer’s younger years, though he boasted of an education in London and Paris. He was extremely charming and uncannily money-smart – traits that he developed early on. In 1856, he took on the name Albert Grant, shortly before marrying Emily Isabella Robinson.

He soon began to make his mark on the economic scene, working as a company promoter. Using his signature charm, he convinced investors to back companies. Rather than aiming for savvy businessmen, Grant approached widows, clergymen and other small targets that easily fell for his sales pitches. By working this way, he rapidly amassed an impressive fortune.

He was far ahead of his time where marketing and direct sales were concerned, and he truly knew how to capitalize on the average man’s impulse for speculative greed. He made millions for himself and his investors – but he lost an equal amount on a regular basis. Anyone who stayed with a Grant float for too long was bound to lose a fortune.

He put enormous stock in his public image and worked hard to maintain it. He bought and published his own newspaper, and successfully earned a seat in Parliament in 1865. He engaged in philanthropy, but even this was to his own ends, as his patronage was targeted toward the art galleries and projects that would earn him recognition and gratitude from the right crowds – particularly, the government. By patronizing a slum clearance in Milan, he earned a Baronetcy from King Victor Emmanuel. He did the same in Portugal and quickly began using his new titles.

The Baron’s fortunes continued to skyrocket, and by 1867, his wealth was estimated at over half a million sterling. Any time investors began to lose money, Grant would whip out another extravagant display to distract them. In 1874, the Baron bought and  developed a neglected piece of land in Central London which had beome a reknowned rubbish dump. It was called Leicester Field, he tidied it up, added a bust of William Shakespeare and gifted the city. We know it today as Leicester Square.

It wasn’t long though before Grant’s day of reckoning came. In 1874, the day after Leicester Square opened, the Baron was charged with bribery and kicked out of Parliament. He held his head above water for a time, but when the Emma Silver Mines Scandal broke in 1879, the Baron declared bankruptcy. He spent the rest of his life in seclusion, in and out of bankruptcy courts and hounded by allegations of fraud and misrepresentation.

Grant spent his last years in relative poverty. He died of heart failure at Aldwick Place, Pagham, near Bognor, in Sussex in August 1899 aged 67

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