According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 2003, the Rothschild family (roth´child, Ger. rot´shilt) is a "prominent family of European bankers. The first important member was Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1743-1812), son of a money changer in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt, Germany. His first names are also spelled as Meyer and Anselm. It was he who laid the foundation of the family fortune by his skillful operations as financial agent for the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel (later Elector William I). His five sons were Amschel Mayer Rothschild (1773-1855), who remained at Frankfurt with his father; Salomon Rothschild (1774-1855), who established the Vienna branch of the family; Nathan Meyer Rothschild, who founded the London branch; Karl Rothschild (1788-1855), who established the Naples branch (discontinued in 1860 after the Italian annexation of Naples); and James Rothschild (1792-1868), who settled in Paris.
"After the Napoleonic Wars the house of Rothschild attained increasing power, and in 1822 all five brothers were created barons by Emperor Francis I of Austria. Because of their position as creditor of many European governments, the Rothschilds were undoubtedly one of the world's chief financial powers in the 19th cent. Their banks played a major role in financing railroads and mines that made France an industrial power and the English branch financed the British government's acquisition of the Suez Canal. The improvement in state financing late in the century greatly reduced their influence.
"The rise of the Nazis forced the family to give up its Viennese branch in 1938 and some family members fled to the United States during World War II. Although the English Rothschilds are still one of the country's important financial dynasties, the French government nationalized the bank owned by the French branch of the family in 1981 and the family has only a minor presence in the United States. Rothschild family members have traditionally maintained their Jewish faith and have consistently engaged in large-scale philanthropic activities for both Jews and non-Jews. Many later and contemporary members of the family distinguished themselves as patrons of the arts, sportsmen, writers, and doctors."
Bibliography: See F. Morton, The Rothschilds (1962); E. C. Corti, Rise of the House of Rothschild (1928, repr. 1972) and Reign of the House of Rothschild (1928); V. S. Cowles, The Rothschilds (1973); D. Wilson, Rothschild (1988); N. Ferguson, The House of Rothschild (2 vol., 1999); the memoirs of G. de Rothschild (1985).
"The Rothschild family can trace their first banking client to 1769. By 1830, within a generation, the five Rothschild brothers who spread out from their Frankfurt home were the most successful international banking group of their age.
"Their rise to fame can be largely attributed to the commission from the British government in 1814 to solve the problem of funding the Duke of Wellington's armies in Spain and France during the campaign to defeat Napoleon. Using their growing, but already unrivalled, network of agents throughout Europe, the brothers bought up small quantities of gold coin and transported them secretly to Holland where they were shipped to Wellington to provision the army.
"The lesson learned - of an innovative solution building upon carefully nurtured relationships - is one which has served Rothschild and its clients well in the two centuries which have followed."
The Rothschild web site contains quotes from three generations of Rothschilds, each one quite revealing of a family business philosophy:
- "We are like the mechanism of a watch: each part is essential" ... Solomon von Rothschild, 1818.
- "It requires a great deal of boldness, and a great deal of caution, to make a great fortune" ... Nathan Mayer Rothschild, 1834.
- "We believe in the merits of our model. It offers clients that which is most precious: confidence, experience, and ethics" ... David de Rothschild, 2001.
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- Rupert Wright, "The Rothschilds: The First Barons of Banking", The National (UAE), November 8, 2008.