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Bernhard Baron: tobacco and philanthropy

Gerry Black

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Bernhard Baron: tobacco and philanthropy GERRY BLACK Bernhard Baron was born in Brest Litovsk in the Pale of Settlement in 1850 and died at his home in Brighton in 1929.1 This paper will follow his commer? cial and financial success, sketch the role of Jews in the tobacco trade, particu? larly in England, and consider Anglo-Jewish philanthropy and Baron's place in it. In the context of this paper the term 'philanthropist' refers to those whose wealth makes it possible for them to give to charity on an substantial scale. Within that definition, Bernhard Baron was certainly a philanthropist. His family found life among the Cossacks in Rostov-on-Don, where they had moved from Brest Litovsk, unbearable, and in 1866 emigrated to Mary? land. One reason for the move was that Baron's father, who had endured the hardship of service in the Russian army, did not want his son to undergo the same ordeal. There is evidence that Bernhard had little formal education and lacked skills in reading and writing English, for although he spoke it well his accent and appearance made his Jewish immigrant background clear. He first worked as a cutter in a cigar factory in Baltimore, earning the equivalent of sixteen shillings a week, out of which he saved ten. Unable to afford lodgings, he slept in one of the tobacco sheds and later described how he would lie awake at night dreaming of how he could make his fortune. He worked at the same bench as someone who achieved fame much sooner than he and who, it would seem, had an influence on his future career.2 Samuel Gompers was born in the same year as Bernhard, in Tenter Street, Spital fields, in London's East End. He attended the Jews' Free School in Bell Lane and was indentured to a cigar maker in Bishopsgate before his family emig? rated to America.3 There, at the age of twenty-seven, Gompers became Presi? dent of the Cigarmakers' Union, and nine years later was the first President of the American Federation of Labor, an office he held until his death in 1924. Gompers was responsible for improving conditions of employment for workers in the tobacco trade, particularly in securing sickness and accident * Presidential Address delivered to the Society on 21 October 1998. 1 P. H. Emden, Jews of Britain (London 1943) 491-5. 2 H. Pollins, Economic History of the Jews in England (London 1982). 3 S. Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labour (New York 1923). 7i</page><page sequence="2">Gerry Black benefits. Bernhard Baron took this to heart, and later in life was acknowledged to be a good employer. Jews had long been involved in the tobacco trade, for Marranos had played a prominent part in introducing it to Europe. Seventeenth-century Amster? dam was the first important tobacco importing and processing centre and a Jew, Isaac Italiaander, was the town's largest importer. Ten of the thirty leading tobacco importers were Jews and poor Jews were employed in pro? cessing tobacco for snuff. There was similar Jewish involvement in Germany, while in Eastern Europe snuff was a staple ware of the Jewish pedlar. Leopold Kronenberg, a Jewish industrialist and financier, was one of Pol? and's main tobacco entrepreneurs, owning twelve factories in 1867 and produ? cing 25 percent of the country's total output. Of the no factories in the Pale of Settlement in 1897, no fewer than 83 were owned by Jews, and over 80 percent of the workers were Jewish. In America, immigrant Jews found employment in the thousands of small, in many cases Jewish-owned, tobacco factories that dotted American cities.4 Towards the end of the century between 10 and 15 percent of the Jewish population of New York worked as tobacco strippers and cigarette and cigar makers. Men, women and children worked seven days a week, often at home, from daybreak to late at night for poor reward. Jewish involvement in the cigar trade remained high in America and Canada until well into the 1930s. In Great Britain, tobacco was one of the oldest immigrant trades.5 Jewish boys were being apprenticed into the cigar trade in the 1820s and the Jewish owned firm of Godfrey Phillips started in the 1840s, as did the immigrant family business of Salmon &amp; Gluckstein, at first in Soho and then in Whitechapel. In London in the 1850s, cigar making was traditionally associ? ated with Dutch Jews, who then formed the main body of Jewish immigrants, and cigar making was the most widespread Jewish occupation in London's East End. Henry May hew noted in 1851 that the manufacture and sale of cheap cigars was almost entirely in Jewish hands.6 It was estimated that between 3000 and 4000 Jews were engaged in the trade in London and that most Jewish manufacturers employing more than fifty men were in the tobacco business. Like other immigrant trades tobacco was seasonal; unem? ployment was at its highest in July and August when the previous year's stock of tobacco leaf was running low, while prospects improved in November with the arrival of new supplies. Cigarettes, which arrived on the scene much later than pipe-tobacco and 4 S. Feldstein, The Land That I Show You (New York 1975). 5 V. Lipman, Social History of the Jews of England (London 1954); L. Gartner, The Jewish Immigrant in England, 1870-1914 (London i960) 73; Pollins (see n. 2) 97. 6 Henry Mavhew, London Labour and the London Poor (London 18^1) vol. 1. 72</page><page sequence="3">Bernhard Baron: tobacco and philanthropy snuff, were manufactured in France from 1844 onwards and British officers were introduced to them by the Turks and French during the Crimean War. They became popular in the Pall Mall clubs and by the 1870s were fashion? able in London society. Until 1883 they were made by hand, but in that year a cigarette-making machine invented by an American, James Bonsack, revolutionized the busi? ness. Whereas operators rolling by hand could produce between 1200 and 1500 a day, a machine's output was 200 cigarettes a minute. The old established Bristol tobacco company, W. D. &amp;. H. O. Wills, acquired the British rights to the Bonsack machine and by 1888 had eleven, each producing 85,000 cigarettes a day. The introduction of machinery reduced the need for hand craftsmanship which led to lower wages in the trade. It also meant that comparatively large amounts of capital were required to enter the business, partly because of the cost of mechanization, partly because duty had to be paid on tobacco leaf immediately it was taken out of a bond warehouse and partly because an annual licence fee of up to ?30 had to be paid. A minimum of ?100 was needed to start in the business. By contrast, a tailor could purchase a cutting table for ^5 which, with a hired Singers sewing machine, was sufficient to set him up in business and call himself a master tailor, a more attractive occupation for an immigrant Jewish entrepreneur. So although tobacco remained the main immigrant trade for many years, it declined in importance as the century progressed. Between 1841 and 1880 20 percent of all men who married at Bevis Marks Synagogue were makers of cigars.7 At the Jewish Working Men's Club in 1875, 17 percent of its members were in the trade. The 1891 census of Spitalfields showed 13 per? cent of heads of families in the industry, most of them of Dutch origin, although the 1901 census showed that only 2 percent of Russians and Poles in London were tobacco workers. By then cigarette factories had almost com? pletely replaced cigarette workshops and Jewish youth no longer showed great interest in seeking employment in the trade. Tailoring, the boot, shoe and slipper trades and cabinet making overtook cigar and cigarette making as a Jewish East End occupation. However, Jewish entrepreneurs still retained an important if minor share in the United Kingdom tobacco business. In 1880 Jacob Kramrisch, an Aust? rian Jew who had arrived in England seven years earlier, brought in 300 workers, mainly Jews, to his Glasgow cigarette factory and it was he who established a cigarette-making branch of Players in Nottingham.8 Salmon &amp; Gluckstein, with 140 shops, became the largest retail tobacconists in England. 7 Pollins (see n. 2) 122. 8 For Kramrisch's story see Royal Commission on Alien Immigration I: Report Cd 1742, 1903. 73</page><page sequence="4">Gerry Black But there was no Jewish involvement in the brands that were most popular at the turn of the century - Wills' Gold Flake, Capstan, Woodbines (selling at id for a pack of five) and Players' Weights and Players' Medium (ten for 2d). Meanwhile, Bernhard Baron in Baltimore sensed the enormous opportuni? ties opening up in the trade, and in 1890, at the age of forty, he embarked on his first business adventure. He had saved enough to buy cigarette papers and his employers supplied him with tobacco on credit, and he made 500 cigarettes by hand and sold them to university students. From the proceeds he made 1000 cigarettes.9 He progressed to opening a tobacconist shop, but spent all his spare time in inventing a machine that could at least match the Bonsack. He succeeded, and many experts considered his machine to be superior. Yet since he could find no one in America prepared to back him, he decided to try his luck in London. He arrived in 1895 with his patent, but little money - the reverse of the usual situation in which English inventors had to go to America to obtain financial support. He formed the Baron Cigarette Machine Company to market his invention and, in addition to using it to make his own brand of cigarettes, sold and leased machines to other manufacturers in Europe. His first customers included John Player &amp; Sons Ltd, and other United Kingdom tobacco com? panies that at the time had not been able to use the Bonsack machine because W. D. &amp; H. O. Wills had sole rights. In 1903 the old-established firm of Jose Carreras of Wardour Street came onto the market and Baron, using almost all his accumulated capital, pur? chased it. Founded in 1734, Carreras enjoyed a wide reputation for fine tobacco and snuff and had an extensive trade in pipe tobacco. Baron expanded the company greatly before and during the First World War, and in 1921 introduced what was to become its leading brand, Craven A, named after one of Carreras's most important customers, the Earl of Craven. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Earl liked to experiment with the contents of the jars that lined the shelves, and he evolved a new mixture that was named after him, Craven Mixture. Craven A cigarettes were based on his blend. The company continued to expand in the 1920s largely due to Baron's introduction of coupon gift schemes which he used particularly in connection with his Black Cat brand. In 1930, shortly after Baron's death, Carreras acquired an interest in the distributive trade with the purchase of John Sin? clair Ltd, a manufacturing business with its own wholesale and retail branches, and in 1933 Carreras was supplying more than 13 percent of the total UK cigarette market, second to, though far behind, the Imperial Tobacco Company. 9 Jewish World 8 August 1929. 74</page><page sequence="5">Bernhard Baron: tobacco and philanthropy Even though the British tobacco industry was dominated by the Imperial Tobacco Company and the American Tobacco Company, newcomers were still able to enter it, and between the two world wars several firms that were Jewish in origin came to prominence. Godfrey Phillips went public in 1920 and absorbed several small companies, some of them Jewish, including Abdullah, Marcovitch and Cohen Weenen. J. Wix &amp; Sons, founded by Julius Wix in 1901, made the Kensitas brand and was taken over by the American Tobacco Company in 1927. Ardath was founded by Sir Albert Levy and, though purchased by Imperial Tobacco, was allowed to run on more or less autonomous lines at its large factory in Worship Street. Balkan Sobranie sur? vived until after 1945 in the control of the Redstone family. Rothman's of Pall Mall was founded in the late nineteenth century by Louis Rothman who, from his Pall Mall shop, sold cigarettes by mail order to embassies and various British institutions overseas. When problems created by the South African government stopped imports, Anton Rupert, who was Rothman's representa? tive in South Africa, made them under licence. It was he who later made a reverse takeover of Rothman's and subsequently bought Carreras. In No? vember 1958, control of Carreras and Rothmans passed to the Rembrandt Tobacco Corporation of South Africa. The acquisition of Carreras in 1903, although it ensured Bernhard Baron a prominent place in the trade, did not produce immediate financial rewards. Among other problems he faced increasing competition from a much improved Bonsack machine which, from 1901, was used by the Imperial Tobacco Company in preference to Baron's machine. He struggled financially for five years, during which he said, 'I worked hard, worked always, took no interest in anything outside my work, and I advertised, advertised, adver? tised'.10 It was not until the sixth year of his ownership of Carreras that he made his first substantial profit and from then on he never looked back. By 1910, at the age of sixty, Bernhard Baron was a multi-millionaire at a time when a pound was a pound and tax was low. He married three times and by his first wife had three daughters, two of whom predeceased him, and also a son, Louis Bernhard Baron. Despite his immense wealth he was a man of simple tastes. 'If I want anything', he said, 'I get the best that money will buy, but it is extraordinary how little I want.' He made no outward display; kept no racehorses, yacht or picture gallery; and his home at The Drive, Brighton, was modest considering what he could have afforded. So what did he do with his money? The answer is that he gave a great deal of it away, both during his lifetime and in his will. Perhaps the former is worthier, because the benefits that gifts bring can be accelerated. The American millionaire, Godfrey Lowell said, 'You ought 10 Emden (see n. i) 493. 75</page><page sequence="6">Gerry Black to give money away while you are alive, when it costs you something', and Jacob Schiff, the banker and philanthropist, said, 'God has blessed me so lavishly that had I done less ... I should feel no respect for myself. Andrew Carnegie's theory was that a man who died rich died disgraced. Few can be as altruistic as that, and Bernhard Baron took a middle course. He was gener? ous during his lifetime and made substantial charitable dispositions in his will. However, he came late to giving on a large scale. It was said that his conversion to it was triggered by a particularly persistent Jewish charity can? vasser. To be rid of him, Baron said that he would remember the charity in his will, to which the canvasser responded, 'Would you rather I wished you a long life or an early death?' This gave him food for thought, and following this he became a cheerful giver; philanthropy became his passion and his pleasure.11 Where did Bernhard Baron stand in relation, on the one hand, to elite Victorian and Edwardian Jewish philanthropists such as the Goldsmids, Cohens, Rothschilds, Montefiores, Sassoons, Franklins and Mocattas, or the families of Salomons, Stern, Bearsted, Samuel Montagu, Cassel and, on the other hand, to the newly rich? Bernhard Baron arrived on the charity scene at the point when the Jewish middle class was about to take over the leader? ship of communal institutions from that elite.12 The newcomers used much of their increasingly ample resources for chari? table purposes, and among those who contributed most were Montague Burton, the multiple tailor; Oscar Deutch, the owner of cinema chains; Sig? mund Gestetner, of the copying machines; Michael and Ephraim Goldberg, of the Glasgow department stores; Alfred and Henry Mond, in chemical engineering; and Simon Marks, Harry Sacher and Israel Sieff of Marks &amp; Spencer. Bernhard Baron the cigarette manufacturer fitted into this category. Bernhard Baron did not follow the hands-on approach of the Rothschilds and other Victorian philanthropists. He did not assume or seek to assume office as president, chairman or governor of the institutions he supported. What he did do was to visit them, measure their needs and then follow up to satisfy himself that his gifts were being well spent. He also sought to have his name attached to some of the organizations he favoured, such as the Bernhard Baron Pathological Institute at the London Hospital. If this is a vanity, it is an understandable and forgivable vanity. One of Bernhard Baron's favourite charities was the Oxford and St George's Boys' and Girls' Club. Founded by Basil Henriques in 1914, ably 11 I am indebted to Professor Raphael Loewe for this story. 12 For further discussion of the role of the Anglo-Jewish philanthropists see my first Presidential Address in this volume and the sources quoted there. 76</page><page sequence="7">Bernhard Baron: tobacco and philanthropy assisted by his wife Rose Loewe, it started its life in Cannon Street Road and then moved to Betts Street. Its popularity was such that the premises were soon too small to accommodate the number of youngsters who wanted to join, and in 1925 Bernhard Baron paid an unannounced visit to the club and spent an entire evening there going into minute detail about its problems. He sent Henriques a cheque for ?1000. Two years later the Prince of Wales paid a visit and warmly sympathized with Henriques about the lack of space and said he hoped he would soon be able to move into larger premises. It seems that word of the Prince's interest was passed on to Bernhard Baron by friends of Henriques, and Basil and Rose were invited to Baron's home to discuss the matter. He offered them ?15,000 to acquire larger premises, but Rose, to Baron's astonishment and the total bewilderment of her husband who sat by temporarily dumbfounded, refused it, saying it was not enough. 'What will you do then?', Baron asked, 'I shall hold up the ceilings with one hand and find someone who will give us what we want with the other', was the reply.13 Shortly afterwards, Baron offered them ?50,000, sufficient to purchase and furnish the defunct Berner Street School that then became the home of the famous Bernhard Baron St George's Jewish Settlement. Baron made it a con? dition of his gift that they should make no further requests of him. In the honoured tradition of Jewish charity workers they ignored this, and when they approached him again he gave them a further ?15,000 to convert the roof into a playground. One of Bernhard Baron's greatest pleasures in the last years of his life was joining the Club members at their annual camps at Goring-on-the-Sea, sharing their meals, and entering into the spirit of the occasion. It has been estimated that he gave away some ?2 million during his life? time. He was a friend and enthusiastic supporter of Ramsay MacDonald and made substantial donations to the Labour Party before the 1924 and 1929 elections. He gave well over ?750,000 to hospitals alone. In 1928 he set up the Bernhard Baron Charitable Trust for Orphans and Crippled Children under the administration of his friend Lord Reading, endowing it with ?575,000. He arranged for the income to be distributed each year on the anniversary of his birthday - 5 December, stipulating that it should be applied in the proportion of 75 percent among Christian and Undenominational Hos? pitals and Homes, and 25 percent among similar institutions under Jewish control. In 1939, for example, ?16,000 of the income went to London hos? pitals, ?10,000 to hospitals outside the metropolis, and ?10,500 to Jewish charities. He celebrated his birthday each year by making additional gifts to charities. The London Hospital received ?35,000 for a pathological institution; ?14,000 13 B. L. Q. Henriques, The Indiscretions of a Warden (London 1937) 193. 77</page><page sequence="8">Gerry Black went to the Dockyard Settlement for swimming baths; ?11,500 to the Liberal Jewish Synagogue of which he was a member and where he was a frequent worshipper. His donations to that synagogue paid for the five columns that were retained in front of the Synagogue in St John's Wood Road when it was rebuilt in the 1980s. At the original unveiling in 1925 one onlooker said it reminded him of a Carreras 'pack of five'. Sums of ?10,000 went to the Middlesex Hospital, the London Jewish Hospital, the Royal Sussex County Hospital and the Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital. As an ardent Zionist he gave ?10,000 to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; ?5000 to the Balfour Forest Fund; and, in one year alone, ?50,000 to the Palestine Foundation Fund. He purchased a freehold house and grounds at Brighton and had it converted into a convalescent home, principally for the staff of Carreras, but generally open to 'sick workers engaged in domestic, manual or clerical labour'. Many other gifts, the full extent of which cannot now be exactly quantified, were made beseter, 'in secrecy'. The dispensation of large sums of money from the estate of a wealthy man during his lifetime can be the cause of family discord, but this was not so in the case of Baron's son and heir. Louis Baron said he was not in the least distressed by his father's colossal generosity and, on the contrary, would do his best to emulate it.14 Baron laid the foundation stone of the Bernhard Baron Settlement at the end of April 1929. He had been in frail health for some time and asked Henriques to hurry the builders for he feared he would not be there for the opening. He signed his will on 3 June 1929 and died a few weeks later, before the Settlement was opened. He directed that his body should be cremated and his ashes deposited in an urn next to that containing the ashes of his third wife Rachael in the obelisk he had erected in her memory. He also directed that a small Union Jack and a Stars-and-Stripes flag should be placed inside the compartment (but not, it should be noted, a flag displaying the hammer and sickle). He expressed the desire that the factory and offices of Carreras should be closed on the day of his funeral so that as many of his employees who wished to do so could attend, and that the service should be carried out in as simple a way as possible. He was buried on 6 August 1929 at the Liberal Jewish Cemetery in Harlesden Lane. Probate of his will was granted in the sum of ?4,724,973 (more than ?100 million in today's terms) on which duty of more than ?2 million was payable. From this it must be deduced that he made little or no effort to arrange his affairs so as to avoid a heavy levy. In his will he declared that he had given money for charitable purposes during his lifetime without distinction of creed or religion, as he loved his 14 Jewish Guardian 16 August 1929, p. 5. 78</page><page sequence="9">Bernhard Baron: tobacco and philanthropy Christian brethren as much as his Jewish ones. After providing for his son and other relatives, and giving shares in Carreras to several of his employees and his personal staff, he directed his trustees to place the residue of his estate into a Charities Fund out of which they were to pay ?10,000 to the Liberal Synagogue and ?50,000 to the Jewish Orphanage at Norwood to which he had also made substantial gifts during his lifetime. The income on the fund was to be distributed at the trustees' discretion for twenty years in the proportions of one-fifth to Jewish and four-fifths to Christian or Unde? nominational charitable purposes. At the expiry of the twenty years the capital was to be distributed in similar proportions. Those who benefited from this trust included Guy's Hospital, which was given ?10,000 for a new dispensary; Queen's Charlotte's Maternity Hospital, which was enabled to build a Patho? logical Department by a gift of ?20,000; and the Royal College of Surgeons, which was able to extend its research laboratories at a cost of ?30,000. Other important gifts were ?50,000 to the Middlesex Hospital,which named a wing of its new building after him; ?6,000 to the London Hospital to enable them to set up a Pay Beds Scheme; and Papworth Village Settlement for Sufferers from Tuberculosis which received ?20,000. His death was widely reported in the national as well as in the Jewish press.15 He was described as a simple, gently-spoken, pious, generous man, who had gone from rags to riches, understood what it was to be poor and never used his money to obtain power for himself. The Jewish Guardian said that he had died as he had lived, without adornment or extraneous honour. It had been indicated to him by those in royal circles that a title was available, and Ramsay Macdonald proposed to recommend him for one of the new Labour peerages, but he did not respond to the overtures. 'He bought', said the Jewish Guardian, 'nothing with his money except the satisfaction of his conscience and the welfare of his fellow human beings ... He was a rich Jew who preferred to die a poor Jew.' This last comment was rather wide of the mark given that he left an estate of almost ?5 million, but as much of that went to charity perhaps it was partially justified. He was, the obituary con? tinued, 'a type of man we should all wish to be; the man who can conquer adversity and does not become the victim of prosperity'. Though he was ambitious for success, he achieved it while remaining honest, hard-working, considerate to others and modest in his wants, and he distributed his money without spoiling the self-respect of its recipients. The Catholic Times contributed an interesting slant:16 15 Obituaries appeared in the Jewish World 8 August 1929; Jewish Chronicle 9 August 1929; The Times 3 August 1929 and most other national papers. 16 Reprinted in the Jewish Guardian 16 August 1929, p. 5. 79</page><page sequence="10">Gerry Black The life story of Mr Bernhard Baron, the erstwhile poor Jewish boy who became the owner of vast wealth, furnishes a profitable study. His numerous benefactions to Christian (including Catholic) and Jewish charities were blessed beyond measure, because of the spirit that prompted them. It is often the case that schemes of relief for the sick and poor are helped by those whose wealth has been accumulated largely at the expense of their workers' well-being, and donated with an eye on the Honours List. Honours the late Mr Baron despised, and his useful life overwhelmingly proves that the successful conduct of a great business is quite compatible with the payment of a living wage on the lines laid down by Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical on Labour. If the business morality of Mr Baron were adopted on a universal scale one immediate result would be peace in industry. The journal's conclusion was that Bernhard Baron was a great Catholic; 'per? haps not a Papal one, but one who loved all mankind'. To the Jewish Chronicle he was a poor lad from the very bowels of Russian Czarist repression who lived to become one of England's most notable philan? thropists. His life, the report said, was a lesson that should be taken to heart by those in the wider community, inside and outside Parliament, who opposed Jewish immigration and referred to Jewish immigrants as 'undesir? ables'. Today the conduct of Jewish charitable institutions is in professional hands. With increased State assistance, and a greater percentage of contributions coming from the middle classes and the less wealthy, the community is not as heavily dependent as it was on the generosity of a few of the wealthiest families. Nonetheless, it is to be hoped that British Jews of the present and the future who make large fortunes will continue to play, as so many of them already do, as significant a part in securing Anglo-Jewry's future as wealthy Jews of the past have done. The Anglo-Jewish community, declining in num? bers, needs the help of all of its members 80</page></plain_text>