Julius Rosenwald, the part-owner and head executive of Sears, Roebuck & Co. and one of the more progressive philanthropists of American capitalism, was born on this date in 1862 in Springfield, Illinois. Rosenwald became a clothier through apprenticeship in New York City and eventually became the exclusive supplier of men’s clothing for Sears, Roebuck. Following the Panic of 1893, he bought half the company for $75,000. From 1895 to 1907, under his management, Sears developed its innovative mail-order catalogue and annual sales soared from $750,000 to $50 million. The Rosenwald Fund, established in 1917, eventually distributed more than $70 million, much of it to institutions of African-American education and empowerment. In association with Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, Rosenwald helped to build over 5,000 Black schools and 4,000 school libraries in the rural South. He financed moderate-income public housing in Chicago and helped to launch and fund the NAACP. Rosenwald also served as president of the Association of Jewish Charities in Chicago and was very active in supporting Jewish communal organizations, including the American Jewish Committee.
“He was a great man. But he was no mere philanthropist. He was, rather, the subtle stinging critic of our racial democracy.” –W.E.B. Du Bois