Straus, Nathan

Straus, Nathan

(1848–1931) merchant, philanthropist; born in Otterberg, Germany (brother of Isidor and Oscar S. Straus). His mother, Sara, brought the family to join her husband, Lazarus, in Georgia in 1854. They moved to New York after the Civil War and in 1866 Nathan joined L. Straus & Sons, the family's crockery and glassware firm. In 1888 he and his brother Isidor became partners of R. H. Macy and Company, becoming its sole owners in 1896. Nathan established employee amenities such as restrooms, medical care, and a lunchroom. He and Isidor also helped develop Abraham & Straus, another department store. He was New York City park commissioner (1889–93) and president of the board of health (1898). By 1914 he had retired from involvement with Macy's. An active philanthropist, he helped the poor acquire food, coal, and shelter through the winters of 1892–93, 1893–94. In 1892 he began a campaign for the pasteurization of milk, opening almost 300 milk depots around the country and abroad. He was President Taft's delegate to the Third International Congress for the Protection of Infants (1911, Berlin). In 1925 the League of Nations recognized him as a layman pioneer in public health. His other passion was the welfare of the Jewish people in Palestine, to which he gave nearly two-thirds of his fortune; he built schools, public kitchens, and clinics. In 1927 the cornerstone to his last health center in Jerusalem proclaims it for all the people of the land, "Christian, Moslem, and Jew." Widely honored, President Taft called him "a great Jew and the greatest Christian of us all."
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.