American family, originally from Otterberg, in the Rhenish Palatinate. The earliest member known was one Lazarus, born in the first half of the eighteenth century, whose son Jacob Lazarus was known also as Jacques Lazare. Lazarus was elected in the department of Mont Tonnerre for the Assembly of Jewish Notables convened by Napoleon in Paris July 26, 1806, preliminary to the establishment of the French Sanhedrin. His son Isaac took the name of Straus in the year 1808, when Napoleon passed the decree ordering all Alsatian Jews to adopt family names. Isaac's son Lazarus was possessed of considerable means, made in both agricultural and commercial pursuits. Being of liberal tendencies, he was involved in the revolutionary movement of 1848; he emigrated to the United States in 1854 and settled in Talbotton, Ga. In 1865 he established in New York a successful pottery and glassware business, in conducting which he was joined in 1872 by his sons. It was due to his instigation that Kayserling undertook the researches in Spain resulting in his work on Christopher Columbus. He died in New York in April, 1898.

Isidor Straus:

Merchant; eldest son of Lazarus Straus; born at Otterberg Feb. 6, 1845. He accompanied his parents to the United States in 1854, and was educated at Collinsworth Institute. He was elected lieutenant of a Georgia company at the opening of the Civil war, but was not allowed to serve on account of his youth. In 1863 he went to England to secure ships for blockade-running. In 1865 he went with his father to New York, where they organized the firm of L. Straus & Son; in 1888 he entered the firm of R. H. Macy & Company, and in 1892 that of Abraham & Straus, Brooklyn. He was elected a member of the Fifty-third Congress in 1892, and was instrumental in inducing President Cleveland to call the extra session of Congress which repealed the Sherman Act. Straus has been identified with the various movements in behalf of fiscal and tariff reform, and was a delegate to the Sound Money Convention held at Indianapolis. He was one of the founders of the Educational Alliance (of which he is now [1905] president), is a director of several banks and financial institutions, and is a prominent member of the Board of Trade and vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce. The Washington and Lee University conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. in 1905.

Nathan Straus:

Merchant; second son of Lazarus Straus; born at Otterberg Jan. 31, 1848. With his family he went to the United States in 1854. It settled at Talbotton, Ga., where he attended school; afterward he was trained at Packard's Business College, New York. He joined his father in the firm of L. Straus & Son in 1872, and his brother Isidor in the firm of R. H. Macy & Company. Straus has shown considerable interest in municipal affairs, becoming a member of the New York Forest Preserve Board and park commissioner of New York in 1893. He was offered the nomination of mayor of New York in 1894, and was appointed president of the Board of Health of New York in 1898. He originated in 1890, and has since maintained at his own expense, a system for the distribution of sterilized milk to the poor of New York city which has been shown by the report of the Health Department of New York to have saved many infant lives. He contributed also to the establishment of the same system in Chicago and Philadelphia. He likewise originated and maintained during the coal strike in the winter of 1903-4 a system of depots for the distribution of coal to the poor of New York. Straus has shown considerable interest in trotting.

Oscar Solomon Straus:

Merchant and diplomat; third son of Lazarus Straus; born at Otterberg Dec. 23, 1850. He went with his family to Talbotton, Ga., in 1854, and removed with it to Columbus, Ga., in 1863, and to New York in 1865. He was educated at Columbia Grammar School and Columbia College, graduating in 1871. Afterward he attended the Columbia Law School, graduating from that institution in 1873. He began the practise of law in the firm of Hudson & Straus, which afterward became Sterne, Straus & Thompson, the senior member being Simon Sterne. The strain of a large practise in commercial and railway cases told upon Straus's health, and in Jan., 1881, he retired from law and entered his father's firm. Straus was active in the campaign which resulted in the election of President Cleveland in 1884, and was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Turkey in 1887 at the suggestion of Henry Ward Beecher. Straus did excellent work while at Constantinople, especially in obtaining recognition of the American schools and colleges in the Turkish dominion. He was again appointed minister plenipotentiary to Turkey (1897-1900) by President McKinley, and was enabled by his influence with the sultan to help reconcile the Mohammedan inhabitants of the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines to the recognition of the suzerainty of the United States.

Copyright by Pierre Mac Donald.Oscar Solomon Straus.

Straus has performed much valuable public service as member of various commissions, as, for instance, those appointed to investigate. New York public schools and to improve institutions for the insane. He was president of the National Primary League in 1895, and of the American Social Science Association from 1899 to 1903, as well as of the National Conference of Capital and Labor held in 1901. He was instrumental in founding the National Civic Federation, of which he has been vice-president since 1891. In 1902, on the death of ex-President Harrison, Straus was appointed by President Roosevelt to succeed him as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, this high honor being given him in recognition of his diplomatic service and knowledge of international relations. Straus has written much for the magazines, has delivered lectures at Yale and Harvard universities, and, since 1903,has lectured annually upon international law before the United States Naval War College at Annapolis. He is the author of "The Origin of the Republican Form of Government in the United States" (New York, 1885), and "Roger Williams, the Pioneer of Religious Liberty" (ib. 1894). He has been a very active student of American Jewish history, and was one of the founders, and the first president, of the American Jewish Historical Society; he resigned in 1898. Straus is a trustee of the Baron de Hirsch Fund. The honorary degrees of L.H.D. (Brown University) and LL.D. (Columbia University) have been conferred upon him. In 1906 he was appointed Secretary of the Department of Commerce and Labor by President Roosevelt.

  • Appleton's Cyclo. of Am. Biog.;
  • Who's Who in America, 1905;
  • New York Times, Dec. 3, 1893.
A. J.
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