Autobiography of Rudolph Eisenstaedt

To whom it may concern-or to one who might be silly enough to be so interested as to read the vagaries of an old fool:

             I am not writing this for glory nor from choice, but getting old and inactive, two physicians advised me to take up a hobby of some kind to keep my brain active.  I thought of many things but finally decided, as some of my friends and even my oldest brother wrote his own biography, to take a hand myself.

             No doubt their biographies were far more interesting than mine as I have nothing unusual to relate; and my story differs but little from what is happening to all foreigners that land on our golden shores.  So before starting on my journey to America, I ought to give you a retrospect of my early life, my youth and the impression of views I was able to form at my so early age.

             I was born on the ninth of November, 1848, in Germany, in the town or city of Lissa.  Never having visited a larger city, I thought our city some pumpkins.  My father was an intelligent and hard-working man with a fair education, and was very industrious; but with all these qualifications it was very difficult for him to make a living.  So when my arrival on earth was expected I was certainly an unwelcome visitor, in fact they called me the “mechula macher” as my parents already had three children and found it difficult to support them.  How could I have been a welcome visitor?  I might say from the time I knew myself as a kid, I was a nervous, worrysome about small matters, and pessimistically inclined.  I attribute these conditions to several causes: first of all, in the year 1848 we had the worst revolution the country ever had; food was scarce and the prices of same exorbitant making it extremely difficult for poor people to exist, and when the Russians and Poles entered our country they stole what they could carry away and destroyed the rest, and under these conditions how can a mother feel bearing a child?  Then another phase of my nervous state I attribute to my teachers.  They mistreated and abused us shamefully.

             Later in life, I often thought if any of my children would be abused as we were, I would revenge myself on their teacher regardless of the consequences that might follow.  I have seen a boy called to the black-board to translate a German verse into French and as he made an error in translating same, he was whipped.  The teacher made him re-write the same, and the boy was so frightened that he made more errors than before and was whipped five times before the teacher would let up on the poor devil.  I remember well one day I had two pennies - how I got such treasures I know not - anyway, the next day I also had an examination in French; instead of spending these pennies for candies, I went around the corner and dropped them in the poor-box of a little Hebrew congregation, with the prayer that God will be good to me that I will pass my examination without punishment. 

             I do not know why with all this stringency in the money market at home, father insisted I get a good education.  When I was twelve years of age I studied French, Greek, German and Hebrew.  As father had hopes of making a Rabbi out of me, he engaged a tutor for me.  He was also a devil incarnate, he shook me by the hair of my head like a dog or a cat.  I was afraid to tell my father of these cruelties as teachers were always justified in punishing children.  Only once, I remember I was studing at home, my father asked me why I was not playing out-doors so I told him.  This was in vacation time.  I showed my father what work my teacher had given me: so many sheets of writing, so many arithmetic problems, I had to learn Shiller’s famous poem “The Bells” by heart and God knows what else.  So he grasped my hand, took me to the teacher’s house and asked him how he could give so much work to a child during vacation time.  I thought at one time they would come to blows, but it was peacefully settled by reducing my studies.  However, all teachers were not so cruel.  Our Hebrew teacher was a saint.  He was goodness personified.  After being a few years in this country, I sent this teacher some money but he returned same.  This teacher had only one child, a girl, but unfortunately she was deaf and dumb.  So he wrote once to my brother and myself that as we appreciated his services, would we be kind enough to look after this child of his after his good wife and self have passed away; and we promised to carry out his wishes.  But a year later we heard from him that his daughter had passed away, for this he thanked God.

             Now I wish to say just a few words about my dearest mother.  She was very intelligent, far above the average woman and if any friend or neighbor needed a letter written to a public official, to the mayor, post-master, they came to mother for her to write the letter.  She also was well, having read all the books from our Public Library, so the librarian obtained some books for her from libraries of the big cities.  Now by this time you are acquainted with my family, except the greatest Roman of them all - A.L. Oppenheim – that was my mother’s father, the dearest and sweetest character.  He saved me many scoldings and punishments when my father wanted me and I was not about, he knew where to find me - playing ball.  He gave me the high sign.  I dropped the ball and he escorted me to my father’s little store and in his prescence my father was considerate enough not to scold me.  He, being a widower, after his daughters were married, lived with his youngest daughter, Mrs. Danziger.  In the winter time, I slept with him.  He was very religious.  He went to Synagogue very early in the morning and I went with him.  Before leaving, he made coffee for me and himself and as we left the house, he gave me a piece of hard candy with the advice not to open my mouth to avoid catching cold as we had very severe winters.  This may be the reason why to this day I prefer hard candy to any other.  My Uncle Danziger was in the whole-sale dry goods business and when my grandfather was not on the road selling watch materials, he made himself generally useful.  He was a fine penman, a marvel of neatness, and the burlap packages he shipped out!  You could have thrown them from the Eifel Tower, without injuring the contents.  I never knew my grandmother for she passed on very young in life, leaving four children, three girls and a son, who was Meyer Oppenheim’s father.  My grandfather never married again.  I have somewhere, an elegant painting of him, I think Julien has the same.  Many a time I stood before this picture and prayed devotedly for him to intercede to God in my behalf when sorrows and clouds overshadowed me, as I felt such a good soul as his the Lord would listen to his prayers in preference to mine.  My father had three brothers, apparently well to do.  Two of them were rich but not inclined to assist their youngest brother.  So my father sought relief in America, as my mother had a sister living in a little town of Morrow, Ohio.  They were the parents of Joe and Eddy Levy, Fannie Hirsch Tillie Moses, and Pene Mendelson.  So my oldest brother went to America, three or four years ahead of me.  With my brother’s  earning ability in America and the liberal manner in which he sent money home and made us all comfortable, about a year after my confirmation the talk was to prepare me to leave for America, but believe me, as you are the only ones that may take the interest to read this scribbling, I have seen hard times in my parental home.  I have seen days when we had no butter on the table, we used some kind of oil.  I remember one afternoon when my sisters returned from school, my father embraced them crying bitterly when he unhooked their little earrings, father evidently

had to pawn them somewhere or raise a little money from some friend.  So my dear children, you will excuse me, being raised in such a sphere, that I often remind you to economize and prepare yourself for a rainy day.  Thank God! that you were raised under pleasanter surroundings and that you are all more optimistic in your views of life.  I pray for you more often than you can think that you will all be happy, be brothers to each other in the fullest sense of the word.  Help each other out if necessary; don’t act as my father’s brothers.


             Finally, my ticket arrived which was to bring me to America!  Quite a number of relatives were at the depot to see me off-and before I could say farewell to all of them, the bell rang-all aboard for Hamburg!  My father had a very good friend, by the name of Marbe, who made frequently trips to Hamburg, so my father intrusted me to his care - that he would take good care of me and see me on board of the steamer Hamonia.  He faithfully preformed his mission; when I said my last farewells to him on the boat, I took out my little purse which contained about five dollars – I gave Mr. Marbe half of my money, which he was to hand to my father on his return to Lissa, knowing well it was quite a strain on my father’s finances to prepare me for this trip and we green-horns were led to believe in America we didn’t need money as we can pick some up on the streets.  In all my life I never derived more pleasure from anything I ever did than the return of the few dollars to my father.


             So we left Hamburg in good spirits and the hope of making a speedy trip to America.  But in the realization of same we were greatly diseapointed.   On the way to New York, all Hamburg American steamers stopped in South Hampton for coal, but on our way there our machinery had an accident and we were towed to South Hampton.  We remained there a week before another steamer of the Hamburg American line, the Fulda, on the next trip would take our passengers from the Hamonia to New  York.  The steamer Fulda was fairly well filled with passengers, so imagine how crowded we were when they took the passengers of the Hamonia aboard.  We were packed like sardines.


             Crossing the ocean on the Steamer Hamonia I had some friends from Lissa aboard but when we landed in Castle Garden in the rush on leaving the boat I got separated from them and when I finally got off the boat, I did not see a soul I knew.  I stayed a little while in the hope that my name would be called, but on final thought, how could anyone expect me as I did not land the steamer in which I had expected to reach New York.  Why they named this dumping place Castle Garden I have not found out – a shed would be more truthfully named.  So I started out and followed other imigrants but as I had a big carpet sack holding all my belongings, I was impeded in walking.  Finally I broke down and cried, to be all alone in such a big city never could be a pleasure.  Fortunately, a young man of fine appearance, and a German approached me and wanted to know why I cried.  I told him my story – that I landed probably two hours ago, I expected some relatives would meet me, but on account of the delay, in that the Hamonia went back to Hamburg, they could not even expect me.  He asked me if I had any relatives in New York and their addresses.  I told him I had friends on Houston St. which must be fully ten miles from Castle Garden.  He cheered me up – asked me to stop crying, as he would bring me to my relatives, I thanked him again and again but never asked him his name and hope the good Lord dealt as nobly to him as he dealt to me, a little lonesome wayfarer.  What co-incidents happen in life!  I had a few addresses to visit distant relatives when reaching New York.  The first address I gave him was of Henry Kalish, who in years to come, became my father-in-law, as I married his oldest daughter in 1875; and even my wife remember me when I found shelter in their home in 1863.


             Remaining in New York but a few days, or as soon as my brother sent me the money to come West, my trip to Ohio was very uneventful.  Excepting, that while to-day we have news-boys in that we had news-girls selling candies, news-papers, books and other articles.  At Columbus, Ohio, a girl got on the train.  Her trip was between Columbus and Cincinnati.  She looked up and down every passenger and finally came to me and asked if my name was Eisenstaedt.  I shook my head and she brought up to me an old German who enlightened me that my brother instructed this girl to look after me, and she should take charge of me, and she will tell me when we reach Morrow, Ohio, as the depot was right in the heart of the little town or village, I found awaiting my arrival, my brother, uncle, aunt Levy and their youngest son, E.E. Levy.  When my aunt saw me, she held up her hands in wonder and said how could a sister of hers send over such a little fellow unprotected!  How can I describe to you this meeting of my brother?  Words fail me!  A brother who I had not seen for years and thousands of miles from our parental roof.  I then could see how much my brother Isadore looked like my father both physically and in actions.  A week before leaving Lissa, father took me walking daily in the high-ways and bye-ways of our town and preached to me to be honest and not disgrace the name of Eisenstaedt.  This was a daily lecture.  Of the pitfalls a young boy is exposed to-not a word.  I suppose years ago a father and sons, parents, were distant, to broach such a subject.   So my brother, the first evening also took me walking, making plans of my future.  My cousin, E. Levy, went along and he will bear witness to the tears that were shed by both of us.  To little Ed Levy it was all Greek; he could not understand German and I no English.  It was decided it would be best to go to school for a few weeks anyway.  I must have stayed in school for about a month and as I had a position offered me in a drug store and post-office, earning $2.50 a week, I accepted the same.  For the little time I was in school I could see the difference in schools at home and those in this country.  Here the children romp to school glad to get there, and how tidy and well-groomed they are.  School children always fascinated me; for the last few years I spent my winters in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The hotel I stopped at was less than a block from the public schools, my greatest pleasure was to sit on St. Petersburg’s green benches and watch these children going and coming from school.  How jolly! now bright and cheerful they appeared!  Dressed exceptionally fine in their summer clothes and how the teachers look out for their well-fare, especially when a street is to be crossed.  Happy children!  Happy country! that knows how to raise its children with love and not fear.  Things or perhaps knowledge was pounded into us.  I have seen our principal teacher come home from his vacation with a bundle of canes, all he could carry, and when he opened the door he said, so we could all hear it, “boys-this I brought home for you from my vacation!


             By this time the year 1864 entered in – civil war was still raging.  Men were called into service and things looked dubious for the North.  President Lincoln called another 250,000 men and among them my brother, Isadore, was called into service and left the Post-office job.  I took my brother’s place with my Uncle Levy.  Well do I remember when the boys from Warren County left for Camp Dennison to be trained.  I wanted to go along but they would not accept me as I was not yet sixteen years.  While working for my uncle, I received a letter from Dr. Mounts who was the postmaster and half owner of the drug store, but a lieutenant in the army of the Morrow contingency.  The doctor begged me to take charge of the post office as the man who had charge of the same neglected the office, was a drunkard.  He also said that he wrote to a lawyer, Squire Dynes, that he should swear me in as assistant; he would not ask any questions as to my nationality or age as if it were not war times it would not be permissible as I was under age, a foreigner.  So my uncle told me to help out the P.O. until Dr. Mount’s brother would relieve me shortly as he was exempted from war duties.  I received letters of appreciation from Dr. Mount that I valued very highly and I treasured these letters but I lost them, where and when I know not.  During the late World War we heard and read a great deal of how some of our soldiers misbehaved, I have seen some actions of soldiers in the Civil War.  They did not act any better,  A trainful of soldiers, a New York regiment stopped in our town as the engine needed coal and water.  Next door to our store a watch maker had a small store.  The soldiers left the train, gathered around his show-window, and in a minute – smash – went every window.  The soldiers took everything the poor man had, all he had to defend himself was a chisel.  The soldiers went back to their train and the officers of the regiment made no attempt to punish the offenders.  Remember, it was a Northern state and that Northern soldiers did such a deed.  Another offence to convince you that in selecting soldiers they were not so choice as to their character; one day I was making a display of merchandise when two men came along, stole two bolts of flannels.  They were captured, were taken to the county jail in Lebanon, Ohio.  I had to be witness of this outrage, but the judge spoke to them if they want to join the army, the indictment for theft would be cancelled, why they had nothing to lose they joined so you see the make up of some soldiers was not beyond reproach.  Another incident which I will never forget was early one morning,  very early, I saw a man skulking along.  He approached me asking me if I were a Jew.  I told him “yes” then he begged me to hide him, which I did, in the rear of our store.  We had a wool ware house.  I got him in there, brought him something to eat, hid him in the wool, got him some old clothes – so he could change his rebel uniform, and late that evening I bought him a ticket to Columbus, Ohio for $2.20.  I saw him on the train.  Had the poor devil been recognized, I don’t know what they would have done to me, but we would have had a hanging bee.  Of all hated rebels, Morgan’s guerillas were hated the most.  His were the only troops that crossed the Ohio River and his final stand was only about thirty miles from our town.  Many a time I put our wooden shutters up when the report was circulated that Morgan and his men were coming.  A few months later I received a letter of thanks from the man I concealed.  He lived in Alabama and his name was Goldman.  While I have given you these incidents about myself, peace talk and peace was looked for shortly.  General Grant surrounded Vicksburg and it was only a question of days when Vicksburg would be taken and Gen. Robert E. Lee was willing to surrender on favorable terms.  In fact, peace was declared shortly; the soldiers were returning home, among others my brother Isadore, was shortly discharged and returned home.  This was in 1865, and we opened a store in London, Ohio.


             As our town was near Cincinnati and we kept closed Roshashona and yom Kippur, we went to Cincinnati for religious services.  In Cincinnati, we were invited to dinner by Uncle Levy’s sister.  There we were introduced to a Miss Solomon, a fine strapping, handsome woman.  My brother fell in love with her at once.  She was only a month in this country but love speaks all languages.  He proposed to her, would not take no for an answer, besieged her as only a soldier could do it, and in a few weeks they were married in Indianapolis.  You all knew her.  She was a good woman, a religious Jewess and raised a fine family of children.


             While looking in the future calmly, an unexpected bomb shell struck us from a source very unexpected and which probably changed the whole history of the Eisenstaedt brothers and their families and the future existence of their whole life.  We received letters from home that our oldest sister engaged herself to a Mr. Rawitch, of Breslau, in Germany and that my father promised him a dowery of $1500.00.  This amount was no small matter for us to raise but eventually it was raised.  While corresponding pro and con about the particulars of this engagement, news reached us that, for reasons unknown Mr. Rawitch left Breslau and came to America.  We thought then that this engagment was broken but such was not the outcome of this love affair.  After his arrival here, he kept corresponding with me that I should come to New York, he was manufacturing neckties, was doing well, making money.  So here you have the history of how the name Eisenstaedt got interested in the neck-wear trade.  Now I wish to say, before going further, that when I met Mr. Rawitch I met a man who had no equal.  He was very jolly, enjoyed life, could sing and dance – a hail fellow well met – could deliver sermons to the living and to the dying – never worried about anything, belonged to a dozen societies and celebrated more birthdays than there were days in the year.


             He also wrote if I would come to New York, we can go in partnership.  He also corresponded with my parents and sister that he was doing well that they decided to send Mathilda to New York with her dowery.  So finally my parents wrote me that my sister will come to New York and that I shall go to a certain Rabbi, that he knew, to be married.  What a predicament: I was not old enough to say anything against this.  So I went to New York looked up my future brother-in-law and wanted to know what his business was as he had only a sleeping room, and cooked meals there.  “O!” said he, “don’t be in such haste, to-day we will not work but visit friends.”  So the next day I asked him again.  He opened a closet, the only one in his room, and took out a big sheet of card-board in which were about 100 bows, that was the only kind that were used, on top of this card was a sign “neckties 10 cents apiece.”  I was thunderstruct at the diminutive size of his stock, so I asked what shall I do?  The answer was “do the same thing as I do.”  From the time I landed my jobs were with high grade people but having nothing else to do I also made me a card and went down to the old post-office on Nassau Str. And hollered also “neckties 10 cents apiece”.   While I brought to New York $230.00 I placed $200.00 of same in the Bowery Saving Banks and with the $30.00 I went into partnership with Mr. Rawitch.  So one gets used to everything.  I made a big card like a sandwich man and shouted neckties.  The materials for these goods were samples bought from men that sold rages, and from ladies coat manufacturers.  Pretty soon my sister arrived.


             I did fairly well as I easily sold 1000 ties a day at a profit of $5.00.  We gave these bows out of the house to be made by girls.  From this beginning, we entered in the field of neckwear manufacturers.  Pretty soon my sister arrived with her dowery and Rawitch started out and purchased a big lot of clippings from a waist manufacturer and told us, as brother Sol was also in New York, that he being married would need more money than we who were single so we would better wind up the partnership, which we did.  My brother-in-law was the most peculiar man I ever met.  I really believe if we had stuck together we would have been very successful but brother Sol and I were too young.


             While I was selling these 10 cent ties a friend of mine, a Mr. Sherbel, from Lissa, who also clerked for Uncle Levy looked me up and was surprised that I was selling goods on the public street and as he was on his way to Europe, he came to me that if I wanted a position he could secure me one.  As standing on the street mingling with a lot of fakers, one sold a monkey, the other a dog, and a tough gang they were “move on Dutchy make room for my toys”. That Mr. Sherbel took me to a clothing firm of Strauss and Steifel.  I was there, chief cook and bottle washer, porter, in fact I kept their books and my salary was $30.00 a month and board.  This firm had three stores, one in Cadington, O., Delaware, O., and Galveston, Texas.  The first of the year he visited all his stores.  So upon his return from one of his inspection tours, he said “Roudolph, I want you to go to Cadington and close out that store, as his manager, after Jan, 1st. still had linen dusters on the tables.  So me for Cadington.  I did the best I could.  I had to collect some out-standing accounts and to save money for Mr. Strauss, instead of hiring a horse and buggy I hired a horse only and being drenched on one of my collecting tours, I got chills and fever which I could not shake for a long time.  Having finished my business in Cadington, I was sent to Delaware, O. where I also received $50.00.  In the meantime, Sol went to Cincinnati and manufactured neckties.  To retain my interest, I sent Sol $30.00 a month, and for the other $20.00 I had to board and clothe myself, as I slept in the store.


             As we did not make much headway in Cincinnati, I decided to separate for Sol and I intended to go to Louisville, Kentucky.  So I took a boat to get there, and before leaving the boat I bought a paper, looked who wanted boarders, and I struck a very fine boarding house with a Southern family.  I got my trunk up and started to sell my wares.  I made friends with the merchants and they told me to be careful in offering or selling my goods with out a license.  Kentucky was a Southern state and if a Northerner wanted to get Kentucky trade a license was necessary.  So I went to the police headquarters to find out if I could get a license by the week or month.  This they told me it would cost me $300.00.  Why I almost laughed in their faces I told them “I have not goods of value enough for the license”.  So one of the higher ups in the police department told me “young fellow, if I catch you selling goods it will go hard with you!  I spoke to some friends I made “what shall I do?”  and they advised me that they were very strict in license matters to protect home manufacturers.  So off again I packed up,  went by boat all along the Ohio River, made every place where the boat stopped until I got to Cairo, Ill.  From there to my future home, Chicago where my brother Isadore had preceded me, as he did not remain long in London, O.  From London, he moved to Wataka, Ill. where his oldest son, Dr. Sol Eisenstaedt was born.  As he did not agree very well with his brother-in-law, we Sol and myself, advised him to go to Chicago to manufacture neckwear.  I sent him the $200. I had in the Bowery Saving Bank which was great help to him.  He worked very hard and was successful from the start.  Sol came to Chicago also and showed Isadore the little he had learned of how to manufacture neckwear and to make it profitable.  So when I came to Chicago, Sol and myself joined forces again.  We purchased our goods from Isadore and we sold them to the retailers.  By this time Isadore manufactured largely.


             I made two trips in the West to Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri but still for reasons of my youth or I had grit enough, I had hard sledging and did not make it profitable.  Sol canvassed Illinois, Indiana and Iowa,  So I decided I will travel, canvas the state of Michigan thoroughly.  It was nearby and the expense was not so high as to travel out West.  From the time I made my first trip, I was successful.  The trade I visited liked me, I got popular, every merchant I visited introduced me to other merchants – the proof of my success was visible in that in probably two years I saved up from $7500 to $8000.  By this time I was about twenty years old.


             In the year of 1871, our mother visited us and I was chosen to take her home.  She was present and saw the great Chicago Fire.  Among other things my mother urged me as I was foot free and prosperous, that I should stay home and try my luck at home.  In those days we obeyed our parents.  She also heard it rumored, that I had a girl in New York that I was paying some attention.  In conversation, she asked me not to tie myself down as she selected a girl, a cousin of mine, a beauty, her name was Hanchen Erlich.  I told my mother she is a first cousin of mine and too near a blood relation for me to marry.  I promised to see her anyway before I made my selection of a wife.  You may think this strange but 50 years ago we did many things that parents wanted us to do.


             So we started for Europe.  My wife who married me later being a distant relative saw me also when I sailed away on board ship.  We liked each other that was all.  I did not even correspond, but before parting the only remark I made to her was “Lou, don’t be in a hurry to marry!”  Before going to Europe I gave my trade, my customers and by book of accounts to Brother Sol with the understanding that if I come back he will give me back my trade, my route &. 


             When I returned to Europe in 1872, my parents begged me to remain and go into business and told me how prosperous Germany was.  The Germans were drunk with the excitement of defeating France.  The five milliards they received from France set they crazy with speculation.  Every large business was turned into a stock company.  Gambling in stocks,  in real estate was terrible.  My own father advised me to speculate.  He wrote me “a cousin, a banker in Berlin, Max Eisenstaedt & Co. will advise you what to do!”  Other relatives tried to get me into business.  Finally I was persuaded to buy a partnership in a marble and alabaster works.  But after I entered this business I did not like it.  This was the year of 1872, the Germans were yet hilarious over the victory over France.  The laborers did little work, at least from the standpoint of an American mechanic.  Every thing was booming, they were simply drunk with glory for a while.  But in 1873, the boom broke.  Failures were the result and as usual to every boom, suicides all over the country.  So with my losses on the board of trade and in selling out my business, I lost nearly all the money I had, probably all I had left was about $2000.00.  So with the knowledge I had of American affairs where I knew I could make a living easily, I decided to return to America.


             I went to Leipsic, bought on speculation 200 dozen kid gloves, did not go back even to say farewell to my parents, thinking it would make them feel worse were I to go there and to notify them that I was unsuccessful.  I went to Bremen, notified my parents that I am sailing back, was fortunate to pass in my gloves free from duty and reached New York a day before Hallowe’en.  Called on my future wife and invited her to go to a Hallowe’en dance. 


             On our way home we were literally covered with confetti and I told her my story that I came to America to settle down forever.  And I told her how much I loved her in the eighteen months I stayed in Germany, and if she wants to marry me I am at her disposal.  Which she consented and like all lovers felt as happy as any lover could be.  I went to Chicago, started out with a vim with snap and courage and was fairly successful.  I don’t think my wife ever regretted the chance she took and we were married in real Orthodox style, March the 25th, 1875.  Our home was a very happy one, while plain and fairly furnished.  My wife made a great many friends and she seemed to be a great favorite in our family.


             In 1875, there were two firms of I. Eisenstaedt, my eldest brother preferred to sell his goods in the city of Chicago; so, to avoid any disagreement, my brother Sol and Myself – our firm was R. & S.H. Eisenstaedt – finally joined forces and started the firm of Eisenstaedt Bros. Co which is being carried on under that name for fully fifty years.