Nathan Straus

Nathan Straus

Birth
Bavaria (Bayern), Germany
Death 11 Jan 1931 (aged 82)
Manhattan, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial Ridgewood, Queens County, New York, USA
Memorial ID 102101828 · View Source
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Merchant and Philanthropist. Born in Bavaria, Germany. Nathan came to Georgia with his mother, brothers and sister in 1854. The Strauses moved to New York City after the Civil War, where Nathan and his older brother Isidore became the sole owners and managing directors of the R. H. Macy department store. Nathan joined his family’s glass and china import business in 1866 at the age of 18. In 1874, L. Strauss & Son the company launched by Nathan, his father, and his brother Isidor began to operate the china and glassware department at Macy & Co. Within a few years, they had the highest profits of any department and accounted for 18 percent of the total gross at Macy’s. By 1898, the Straus family owned both Macy’s and the Brooklyn store Abraham & Straus. During the terrible depression winters of 1892 and 1893, he operated a chain of centers to distribute food and coal to the poor and he built shelters for the homeless. However, his main concern was the high mortality of infants and children that, he became convinced, was caused chiefly by their consumption of unsanitary raw milk. Nathan was sensitized to child mortality by the deaths of two of his three children. The greatest philanthropic crusade of his life was providing safe milk for the nation’s children. Before the Industrial Revolution, the overwhelming majority of babies were breast-fed. And most Americans lived on farms, where fresh cow’s milk was readily available. But as the population moved increasingly to cities, the milk supply became a problem. The urban rich could keep a cow in their stables, but the less affluent had to depend on “swill milk.” Produced by cows kept by brewers and distillers, it was of the poorest quality imaginable. Typhoid, diphtheria, and cholera can all be contracted from contaminated milk, although there may be no sign of spoilage. In New York in the 1850s, fewer than half all children born lived to see their 5th birthday, and bad milk was one of the biggest culprits. Nathan was convinced that the discoveries of Louis Pasteur offered the best hope for a remedy to the milk problem. He built his own plant to sterilize milk bottles and pasteurize (that is, heat) milk to kill bacteria. In 1893, at his own expense Nathan opened the first of 18 milk distribution depots throughout the city, which sold his sterilized milk for only a few cents and made free milk available to those unable to afford even that. Nathan believed that ensuring safe milk should be a government responsibility. He tirelessly lectured civic groups and bombarded political leaders around the United States with missives describing the menace of raw milk. He carried the campaign abroad by building pasteurization plants in Europe and the Middle East to demonstrate the technique to foreign governments. In 1912, he and his wife Lina traveled to Europe to attend the International Tuberculosis Conference in Rome. Brother Isidor and his wife also went on the same trip, but sailed home aboard the Titanic. In 1914, deeply affected by the loss of Isidore and his wife, both of whom perished on the Titanic, Nathan retired from business to devote himself full-time to public service and philanthropy. Nationally, Nathan established, at his own expense, 297 milk stations in 36 cities. The national death rate for infants fell from 125.1 per thousand in 1891 to 15.8 in 1925. Altogether it is estimated that the efforts of Nathan Straus directly saved the lives of 445,800 children. Nathan died at the age of 82.

Bio by: Shock


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Big Ern
  • Added: 12 Dec 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 102101828
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Nathan Straus (31 Jan 1848–11 Jan 1931), Find A Grave Memorial no. 102101828, citing Beth El Cemetery, Ridgewood, Queens County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .