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Jews and Transport

© Michael Jolles (2004)

(A brief survey of the involvement of individual Jews in the history of transport.)

The notion of ‘Jews and Transport’, may, on first reflection, invoke a particularly barren set of connotations, and a rather bleak prospect of any possible analytical elaboration. My thesis is the converse: there is hardly a single aspect of transport, or modality of transport, that does not have a set of Jewish historical connections. The principal aspects under scrutiny are those of enterprise (invention, design or investment), administration, racing and ‘consumption’. The paucity of ‘clusters’ or ‘cohorts’ of Jewish associations with transport, such as the high percentage of London taxi drivers of Jewish parentage, does not justify ignoring the record of the considerable extent and variety of the initiative of Jews as individuals in the history of transport.

   A list of stagecoach operators/proprietors licensed for the year 1830 records several names which may possibly have been of Jews. For example, the Edmonton to Bishopsgate Street service was served by S. Isaac & Co.; Tooting to Elephant and Castle by M. Joseph; West Ham to Royal Exchange by S. Levy; and Hereford to Monmouth by Joseph Barnett.[i] To what extent Jews had been subsequently involved in the provision of a public transport service appears unclear. One entrepreneur was the railway director Sir John Howard, better known for financing the Brighton Pier (May 1899), and who was responsible for setting up a tram project in Guernsey.[ii]

   The inventiveness of a number of Jews is manifest in the flood of nineteenth century patents relating to transport mechanisms. Lewis Gompertz, the inventor of the expanding chuck, in 1814, designed ‘scapers’, which were substitutes for wheels, keeping the carriage at the same height off the road, reducing friction;[iii] if applied today, this may have circumvented slowing down at road-bumps! In 1838, Abraham Cohen of Islington planned improvements in railway couplings.[iv] Abraham Alexander Lindo, of Liverpool Street, in 1840, suggested many complex railway improvements, including a third rail designed to prevent derailment.[v] Solomon Solomon of Aldgate, in 1853, designed better axle-boxes,[vi] and in the same year, Emanuel Myers of Ramsgate also devised a method of preventing engines and carriages running off rails.[vii] Henry Emanuel of Hampstead (1845) improved[viii] the experimental atmospheric railway invented by Jacob D’Aguilar Samuda (with brother Joseph, a naval engineer), whose trains, in trials in 1845, managed to reach 70mph.[ix] Most patents are, in fact, never adopted as they are impracticable, and many patentees were not the actual inventors.[x]

   One of the earliest Jews involved with transport arrangements was Lewis Levy (1786-1856), who was known as a ‘farmer of turnpikes’. His industrious relative Jonas Levy (1812-1894)[xi] was the deputy chairman of the [London] Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR). Many Jews in England, and particularly in Europe, developed and financed railways,[xii] and several served as directors of railway boards. One of the first in England was Isaac Lyon Goldsmid who was involved with the unsuccessful Croydon and Merstham Railway, which was sold to the LBSCR, of which he was also a director. Another director was David Mocatta, an architect of a synagogue and of railway stations (e.g. Brighton), who designed the 37-arched Ouse viaduct, which was, at the time, one of the largest brick structures in the world. These entrepreneurs were commemorated when railway engines on the LBSCR were named Jonas Levy, May 1888 (scrapped 1931); Ralph Lopes, May 1888 (scrapped 1911); Goldsmid, 1892; and Rothschild, June 1896. By coincidence it is also at Brighton where the only bus in Britain (as far as I know) was named after a Jew: the Dennis Trident double-decker Lewis Cohen (1999).[xiii] The earliest railway engine in England named after a Jew was The Major, engine No.1 of the Mersey Tunnel railway. Major Samuel Isaac was the indefatigable arranger of the financing of the tunnel railway (opened January 1886), then one of the largest civil engineering projects in the country.[xiv] Isaac’s Hamilton Square station in Birkenhead remains in daily use.

   Earlier, a lifeboat at Ramsgate Harbour had been named Michael Henry (1830-1875) after the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, who died in a fire.[xv] In 1906, lifeboats named Samuel Lewis and Ada Lewis, after the philanthropist and his wife, were stationed at Skegness and Newbiggin-by-the-sea, respectively.[xvi] Another vessel, the record-breaking steamship Great Eastern (launched 1858) was sold, in the 1880s, to a Mr Edward de Mattos, and then leased by Louis S. Cohen, the proprietor of Lewis’s and later Mayor of Liverpool; the docked ship was used as an unprecedented major advertising attraction to an international exhibition at Liverpool.[xvii] It was to be Marcus Samuel, later Lord Mayor of London, whose initiative brought into service the Vulcanus, the first ocean-going diesel ship in the world.[xviii]

   Albert Stern (1878-1966) was the foremost protagonist of the tank (armoured vehicle) in the First World War. His ‘uncle’, Henri Louis Bischoffsheim (1829-1908), however, was responsible for augmenting the prevalence of another conveyance, the ambulance. In London, he founded, in 1889, the Hospital Association Street Ambulance Service, donating sixty-two wheeled ‘Bischoffsheim’ litters; on his death, there were over 400.[xix] Edgar Speyer (1862-1932) was chairman of the Underground Electric Railways Co (1906-1915). Enid Marx (1902-1998) designed some of their pre-war seat moquettes. Sir Misha Black designed some underground stations as well as aboveground railway engines (1956-1962). The life of the railway carriages came to a rustic end under the aegis of the metallurgical company ‘Cohen 600’ [George Cohen Sons and Co Ltd., founded 1834], which dismantled them in Cransley Furnaces, near Kettering, in the Northamptonshire countryside.

    At the turn of the century, one of the greatest figures in British automotive history was Sir David Salomons (1851-1925). In 1895 he founded the Self-Propelled Traffic Association, of which he became President, and was an important founding member of the RAC, and of the Automobile Club of France. On 15 October 1895, he organised the first ever ‘motor show’, in Tunbridge Wells, where four vehicles were entered. He became the most influential and energetic campaigner for the Locomotive and Highways Act (1896), which permitted cars to travel without the red flag, and with a raised speed limit. He was a distinguished engineer with many patents to his name.[xx] He constructed the first properly equipped ‘motor house’ (i.e. garage) in England,[xxi] and he had the second petrol-driven car in England.

   During the Edwardian period, it was fashionable amongst the wealthy to have a car, and to speed in it. Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942) was one such.[xxii] His relative, Henri de Rothschild (1872-1947)[xxiii] took over a French car manufacturer, producing the marque ‘Unic’; one of their models was a London taxi. This company should not be confused with the Paris carriage-makers “Josef Rothschild et Fils” (founded 1838).[xxiv] Henri’s son, Philippe (under a pseudonym), came second in the Bugatti Le Mans in 1928, and he won the Bourgogne Grand Prix in 1929 (top speed 230kph).[xxv] His occasional competitor was the great champion Rene Dreyfus.[xxvi] Their highly inventive compatriot Andre Citroen (1878-1935) should also be noted.

   Woolf Barnato (1895-1948), with Bernard Rubin in 1928, won the 24 hours Le Mans. Barnato also won it in his Bentleys for the next two years, an unprecedented series of victories. He developed and raced the Bentley, whose company he briefly directed and kept financially viable; he soon had to withdraw support, and the company was taken over by Rolls-Royce. It is interesting that one of the most expensive cars in the world today is the “Bentley Le Mans”, a name redolent of Barnato’s success.[xxvii] During the 1920s, Bentleys were particularly highly regarded. 3-litre Bentleys were bought by members of the Leon, Van Raalte, Stern, Cohen, and Joel families; the Sassoons bought five, and Mrs G. Duveen bought two (different coachbuilders).[xxviii] In contrast, Sir Landon Ronald, principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, was driven to work a little more sedately, by the agency of a Rolls Royce; he was a chauffeur-driven conductor![xxix] Incidentally, Hon. Charles Rolls himself had spent an ‘important’ weekend as a guest of Sir David Salomons in February 1896; thirteen years later, Rolls won the Salomons Cup (the first British aviator to fly more than half a mile).[xxx]

    In the 1930s, Bentley’s racing competitor was Mercedes, a marque deriving from Daimler. Thirty years beforehand, a particular agent of Daimler, Emil Jellinek, son of Rabbi Aaron [Adolf] Jellinek (Leipzig, Vienna), married a Rachel Canrobert, and their daughter, born in 1889 in Vienna, was named Mercédès. In 1899, Jellinek, a great entrepreneur and businessman, using the pseudonym ‘Monsieur Mercedes’, raced a 28hp Daimler in the Nice-Magagnon-Nice race and won, acquiring an excellent reputation. He soon backed another very successful car designed by Maybach, which Jellinek[xxxi] preferred to sell as ‘Mercédès’, which resonated well with the French-speaking market, and the name eventually caught on. The owner of the latter successful car, which was to prove to have crystallised the name Mercedes (indeed, after the granddaughter of a noted rabbi), was none other than “Dr Pascal”, the pseudonym of Baron Henri de Rothschild,[xxxii] the first cousin of 2nd Lord Rothschild (1868-1937).

   Of British racing drivers, Sheila van Damm (1922-1987) was the European Women’s Driving Champion in 1954-1955, entitling her to the epithet ‘the fastest woman in Europe’ (Sunbeam Alpine); her autobiography does not refer to her Jewish identity.[xxxiii] Stirling Moss[xxxiv] (whose father’s surname was Moses) was the respected gentleman sportsman of legendary decency; one of his cars was a Facel Vega, a connoisseur’s car (6286cc), considered by many at the time (c1959-1962) to be the most impressive car in the world. The first purchaser in Britain of a specimen of this marque was Montague Burton’s son, Arnold (1957). Other owners included Danny Kaye and Tony Curtis (both USA), but it was Lionel Bart who insisted on buying the actual model at the 1961 motor show![xxxv].

   One Jewish car designer was Luigi Segre (Italy) who styled the Fiat Coupé 2300, Innocenti 950, Renault Floride, and VW Karmann.[xxxvi] The earliest car model named after a Jew (as far as I can detect) is the ‘Pirbright’ design, built by Dennis (12hp; 1902),[xxxvii] named after Lord Pirbright who, as Baron Henry de Worms, had been the first Jewish (political) government minister. Automotive engineers included Eduard Rumplor (1872-1940), an aircraft manufacturer who pioneered the first car with front wheel drive in 1926.[xxxviii]  On the aviation front, the ‘Luftschiff’ (an airship, later called the ‘Zeppelin’), was created by David Schwarz (1845-1897), a Jewish timber merchant from Zagreb.[xxxix] Aircraft designer and inventor, Marcel Bloch, founded Dassault, the French aeroplane manufacturer. Sir Samuel Instone was a director of Imperial Airways Ltd. The academics Selig Brodetsky and Ben Lockspeiser were mathematicians specialising in the theory of aerodynamics.  

   On the administrative side, Sir John Elliot (born 1898) was chairman of the Railway Executive and of London Transport during the 1950s; he was the son of Ralph Blumenfeld, editor of the Daily Express for thirty years. In 1963, Stepney-born Sir Alexander Samuels CBE was placed in charge of London’s traffic management, and was known as “Mr Traffic”.[xl] The first Jewish Minister of Transport was Leslie Hore-Belisha, after whom the Belisha beacon is named. Sir Mark Henig (1911-1979) was Chairman of the English Tourist Board.

   In 1910, Arnold Maurice de Forest founded the ‘Baron de Forest’ Aviation Prize for the fastest aviator to fly across the channel in a British built plane, which was won by Sopwith. Just before, Rolls had been the first Briton to fly a return crossing over the Channel. It is not so well known that when Rolls achieved the world land speed record in 1903, he had taken it from Baron de Forest (1879-1968), who had, in that year, in Dublin, at 84.09mph, briefly attained the world land speed record himself, - a feat not mentioned in his Times obituary. Although later well known as an adherent to the Catholic faith, de Forest was the adopted son of (the late) Baron Maurice de Hirsch, once, one of the most famous Jews in Europe.

   A complete century has now elapsed since the application of the internal combustion engine, and since the first man-powered flight. I hope this brief survey will have amply demonstrated the range and extent of many interesting activities of Jews, as individuals, in the history of transport.

[i]  Robson’s List of Stage Coaches, licensed to run to and from London, and the Branch and other Coaches licensed in the Counties, (1830).

[ii]  JC 28 December 1906, p.19.

[iii]  UK patent 1814:3804.

[iv]  UK patent 1838:7882.

[v]  UK patent 1840:8744.

[vi]  UK patent 1853:1473.

[vii]  UK patent 1853:615.

[viii] UK patent 1845:10809.

[ix] UK patent 1844:10167.

[x] There is also the patent by Ludwig Epstein, of 28 Victoria Street, Westminster, who introduced the Mix System, whereby a combustion engine operated a dynamo which produced direct current, supplying the electric motor for the drive [UK patent 1897:5258]. I have not ascertained whether Epstein had Jewish ancestry or not. Biographical details about patentees are not provided in patent documentation.

[xi]  Jonas Levy. See Jewish Chronicle, 13 July 1894, p.9.

[xii]  K. Grunwald, Europe’s Railways and Jewish Enterprise’, Leo Baeck Year Book, XII, 163.

[xiii]  J. Middleton, ‘Encyclopedia of Hove and Portslade, A-L, (2001).

[xiv]  M. Jolles, ‘Samuel Isaac, Saul Isaac and Nathaniel Isaacs’, (1996).

[xv]  D. A. J. Cardozo, ‘Think and Thank’, (1933), p.36.

[xvi]  Gerry Black, ‘Lender to the Lords, Giver to the Poor’, (1992), p.343.

[xvii]  A. Briggs, ‘Friends of the People; the centenary history of Lewis’s’, (1956), p.57.

[xviii]  R. Henriques, ‘Bearsted, a biography of Marcus Samuel’, (1970), p.515.

[xix] M. Jolles, ‘Jews and the Carlton Club, with notes on Benjamin Disraeli, Henri Louis Bischoffsheim and Saul Isaac, MP’, (2002).

[xx]  A. Hyamson, ‘David Salomons’, (1939).

[xxi]  Piers Brendon, ‘The Motoring Century; the story of the Royal Automobile Club’, (1997).

[xxii]   Martin Harper, ‘Mr Lionel; an Edwardian episode’, (1970).

[xxiii]  Henri de Rothschild raced in England as well as on the continent. He owned several important cars in motoring and racing history.

[xxiv]   Nick Georgano, editor, ‘The Beaulieu Encyclopaedia of the Automobile’, (2001).

[xxv]   J. Littlewood, ‘Milady Vine’, (1984).

[xxvi]  René Dreyfus (1905-1993) was the 1930 Monaco Grand Prix winner. Andre Citroen (1878-1935) was the son of an Amsterdam diamond merchant, Levi Bernard Citroen.

[xxvii]  A Bentley had also won the 1924 and the 1927 Le Mans.

[xxviii]  Stanley Sedgwick, ‘All the Pre-war Bentleys – As New: a survey of 5439 Bentleys built between 1919 and 1940’, (1976); this publication is a remarkable compilation.

[xxix]  C. Ehrlich, ‘The Music Profession in Britain since the eighteenth century, a social history’, (1985).

[xxx]  Salomons persuaded Rolls to read for a Tripos instead of just the ‘Engineering Special’. See: Montagu of Beaulieu, ‘Rolls of Rolls-Royce; a Biography of the Hon. C. S. Rolls; research by Michael Sedgwick’, (1966), p.18.

[xxxi] Emil Jellinek (died 1918) was Mexican Consul in Nice: Austro-Hungarian consul in Monaco; and in 1913, was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Legion of Honour. His life has been depicted in Guy Jellinek-Mercedes, ‘My father Mr Mercedes’, (1967).

[xxxii]  Further details in Mercedes Enthusiast, August 2002, issue 10.

[xxxiii]  Sheila Van Damm, ‘No Excuses’, (1957). Incidentally, Lt.-Col Ernest Albert Rose was noted in an obituary [Jewish Chronicle, 22 October 1976, p.24] to have been the first man to do 100mph at Brooklands racing track, but I have not detected any corroboration.

[xxxiv]  Stirling Moss (born 17 September 1929). See Who’s Who.

[xxxv]  F. Hobbs, ‘A Life with HWM; from Aston to Facel Vega’, (1996).

[xxxvi]  Jewish Chronicle, 15 March 1963, p.55, c.4.

[xxxvii]  Autocar, 13 December 1902, p.598.

[xxxviii]  Encyclopaedia Judaica, (1971), 14, 429.

[xxxix]  Jewish Chronicle, 26 October 1928, p.16, c.2.

[xl]  Jewish Chronicle, 14 June 1963, p.1, c.5.

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