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Samuel Montagu (Montagu Samuel), 1832-1911


International financier and famous Jewish activist.

Born Montagu Samuel to a Jewish watchmaking and silversmithing family that immigrated into England in the mid-1700's from northern Germany; educated at the Mechanics Institution (Liverpool Institute); upon graduation his parents had his name altered to Samuel Montagu (none of the other members of the family changed their names).

In 1847 he joined his brother-in-law's money-exchange business; in 1850 or 1851 he became the manager of the London branch of a French bank; in 1852, at 20 years of age, his father loaned him £5,000 to finance an international bullion, money-exchange, and bill-collection service that he formed with his elder brother, Edwin Samuel, a Liverpool bullion merchant. In 1862 the firm, Samuel & Montagu, took over the lease on the French bank's location.

In 20 years Samuel & Montagu was the undisputed leader in the silver market. Samuel gained a reputation as a master of the fine margin, and it was said that he had built a fortune on "the quarter pfennig and the half-centime". Edwin started his own bank in Liverpool in 1872 and died in 1877. Samuel was reluctant to delegate and maintained tight personal control over the company; he or the firm's first employee had to personally sign every check or document issued by the company during its first 50 years. By the 1870's his company was financing loans for European governments (for instance, he issued the 1896 loan to finance the Belgian budget). He was instrumental in making London the center of the international money market. The firm, private until 1951, in 1982 was owned by Midlands Bank and Aetna Life.

In 1885 he was elected to Parliament, where he supported Gladstone, Irish Home Rule, free-trade, the metric system, and bimetallism. He was responsible for exempting works of art from the inheritance tax (he had a large collection of art and of silver artwork) and also exempting gifts to universities, art galleries, and museums; he was a member of the Gold and Silver commission and he provided input to the commission that set up the U.S. Federal Reserve in 1913. He was created Lord Swaythling in 1907.

He was very active in Jewish affairs and the founding of synagogues (he was a "seat-holder" at 40 synagogues). He founded the Jewish Working Men's Club and in 1882 visited Russia and was active in organizing Jewish immigration from Russia. In 1886 he was expelled from Russia, but continued to play a prominent role. In 1887 he founded the Federation of Synagogues and he was president of the Russo-Jewish Committee from 1896-1909. He traveled to Palestine, the U.S., and Russia on behalf of Jewish causes, but was strongly opposed to Zionism.

He had 10 children whom he left a large trust provided that they not marry outside the Jewish faith. Three of these children become prominent in public life:

Louis Samuel Montagu (1869-1927), the eldest son, was president of the Federation of Synagogues, an anti-Zionist, and noted for his statement that "Judaism is to me only a religion". His son Ewen wrote The Man Who Never Was.

Edwin Samuel Montagu (1879-1924), the second son, was British Minister of Munitions in 1916 and became Secretary of State for India in 1917. He was staunchly anti-Zionist and had significant input to the Balfour Declaration.

Lilian Helen Montagu (1873-1963) established the Jewish Religious Union, the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.


Dictionary of Business Biography, Vol. 4.
Webster's Biographical Dictionary,
Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 12.

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