Henry Morgenthau Sr.

Henry Morgenthau Sr.
Henry Morgenthau crop.jpg
4th United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
In office
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byWilliam Woodville Rockhill
Succeeded byAbram I. Elkus
Personal details
Born(1856-04-26)April 26, 1856
Mannheim, Grand Duchy of Baden, German Confederation
(now in Baden-Württemberg, Germany)
DiedNovember 25, 1946(1946-11-25) (aged 90)
New York City, United States
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Josephine Sykes
Alma mater
ProfessionLawyer, diplomat
ReligionReform Judaism

Henry Morgenthau (/; April 26, 1856 – November 25, 1946) was an American lawyer, businessman and United States ambassador, most famous as the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. As ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Morgenthau has come to be identified as the most prominent American to speak about the Armenian Genocide.[1]

Morgenthau was the father of the politician Henry Morgenthau Jr. His grandchildren included Robert M. Morgenthau, District Attorney of Manhattan for 35 years, and Barbara W. Tuchman, a historian who won the Pulitzer Prize for her book The Guns of August.


Morgenthau was born the ninth of 11 living children, in Mannheim, Grand Duchy of Baden, in 1856 into an Ashkenazi Jewish family. He was the son of Lazarus and Babette (Guggenheim) Morgenthau.[2] His father was a successful cigar manufacturer who had cigar factories at Mannheim, Lorsch and Heppenheim, employing as many as 1,000 people (Mannheim had a population of 21,000 during this period). His business suffered a severe financial setback during the American Civil War, due to an 1862 tobacco tariff on imports, which closed German tobacco exports to the US forever.

The Morgenthau family immigrated to New York in 1866. There, despite a considerable "nest egg" of cash, his father was not able to re-establish himself in business. His development and marketing of various inventions and his investments in other enterprises failed. Lazarus Morgenthau staved off failure and stabilized his income by becoming a fundraiser for Jewish houses of worship. Henry attended City College of New York, where he received a BA, and later graduated from Columbia Law School.

He began his career as a lawyer, but he made a substantial fortune in real estate investments.[3] In 1898, he acquired 41 lots on New York's Lower East Side from William Waldorf Astor for $850,000. [4] A few years later, he led a syndicate that bought a swath of undeveloped land in Washington Heights around 181st Street, anticipating the construction of the first subway through the area. [5]

Morgenthau married Josephine Sykes in 1882 and they had four children: Helen, Alma, Henry Jr. and Ruth.[6] His daughter Alma married financier Maurice Wertheim.[7]

Morgenthau built a successful career as a lawyer and served as the leader of the Reform Jewish community in New York.[8]

Democratic Party

Morgenthau's career enabled him to contribute handsomely to President Woodrow Wilson's election campaign in 1912. He had first met Wilson in 1911 at a dinner celebrating the fourth anniversary of the founding of the Free Synagogue society and the two "seem to have bonded", marking the "turning point in Morgenthau's political career".[9] His role in American politics grew more pronounced in later months. Although he did not gain the chairmanship of Wilson's campaign finance committee, Morgenthau was offered the position of ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He had hoped for a cabinet post as well, but was not successful in gaining one.

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