Isidor Straus (February 6, 1845 – April 15, 1912), a Jewish-German-American, was co-owner of Macy's department store with his brother Nathan. He also served briefly as a member of the United States House of Representatives. He died with his wife, Ida, in the sinking of the passenger ship RMS Titanic.
Isidor Straus was born in Otterberg in Kaiserslautern county in the Pfalz, Germany. He was the first of five children of Lazarus Straus (1809–1898) and his second wife Sara (1823–1876). His siblings were Hermine (1846–1922), Nathan (1848–1931), Jakob Otto (1849–1851) and Oscar Solomon Straus (1850–1926). In 1854 he and his family immigrated to the United States following his father Lazarus who immigrated two years before. They settled in Talbotton, Georgia where Lazarus had opened a dry goods store.
At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Isidor volunteered to serve for the Confederate States Army but was turned down. The governor explained that "there were not arms enough to equip the men, to accept boys as soldiers was out of the question." Isidor worked in his father's store for about 18 months while his father's partner served in the 4th Georgia Regiment. When his father's partner came back discharged owing to physical disability, Isidor became the secretary to a group whose purpose was to bring cotton to Europe where it could be sold. The proceeds would be used to build blockade running ships. Although Isidor reached Europe, the enterprise never completed its mission. He remained in Europe for the remainder of the war. Isidor returned to the United States with $12,000 in gold he'd earned trading in Confederate bonds.
Following the war, the Straus family moved to New York City where Lazarus and Isidor formed L. Straus & Son, importers of crockery, china and porcelain. In 1874 brother Nathan, who by then had completed his education and joined the family firm, convinced Rowland Hussey Macy to allow L. Straus & Sons to open a crockery department in the basement of his store.
In 1871, Isidor Straus married Ida Blun (1849–1912). They were parents to seven children (one of whom died in infancy):
- Jesse Isidor Straus (1872–1936) who married Irma Nathan (1877–1970), and served as U.S. Ambassador to France, 1933–1936
- Clarence Elias Straus (1874–1876) who died in infancy
- Percy Selden Straus (1876–1944) who married Edith Abraham (1882–1957)
- Sara Straus (1878–1960) who married Dr. Alfred Fabian Hess (1875–1933)
- Minnie Straus (1880–1940) who married Richard Weil (1876–1918)
- Herbert Nathan Straus (1881–1933) who married Therese Kuhn (1884–1977)
- Vivian Straus (1886–1974) first married Herbert Adolph Scheftel (1875–1914) and second, in 1917, married George A. Dixon, Jr. (1891–1956)
They were a devoted couple, writing to each other every day when they were apart. He served as a U.S. Congressman from January 30, 1894, to March 3, 1895, as a Democrat representative to New York's 15th congressional district. By 1896, the Straus brothers had gained full ownership of R. H. Macy & Co.
Death on the TitanicEdit
Traveling back from a winter in Europe, mostly spent at Cap Martin in southern France, Isidor and his wife were passengers on the RMS Titanic. Traveling with them were Isidor's manservant John Farthing and Ida's newly hired English maid Ellen Bird. The couple occupied cabin C-55.
On April 14, 1912, Titanic hit an iceberg. Once it was clear the ship was sinking, Ida refused to leave Isidor and would not get into a lifeboat. Although Isidor was offered a seat in a lifeboat too, he refused seating while there were still women and children aboard. Ida insisted Ellen to get into lifeboat #8. She gave Ellen her fur coat stating she would not be needing it. Ida is reported to have said, "I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so will we die, together." Isidor and Ida were last seen on deck arm in arm. Eyewitnesses described the scene as a "most remarkable exhibition of love and devotion." Both died on April 15th when the ship sank. Isidor Straus' body was recovered by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett and brought to Halifax, Nova Scotia where it was identified before being shipped to New York. He was first buried in the Straus-Kohns Mausoleum at Beth-El Cemetery in Brooklyn. His body was moved to the Straus Mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx in 1928. Isidor and Ida are memorialized on a cenotaph outside the mausoleum, "Many waters cannot quench love - neither can the floods drown it."
The couple are portrayed in the 1953 film Titanic and the 1958 film A Night to Remember, in scenes that are faithful to the accounts described above. In the 1997 film Titanic, the Strauses are briefly depicted kissing and holding each other in their bed as their stateroom floods with water, along with a deleted scene showing Isidor (played by Lew Palter) attempting to persuade Ida (Elsa Raven) to enter the lifeboat.
The remains of Isidor Straus were recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. His gravestone also serves as a cenotaph for his wife. There are three other memorials to Isidor and Ida Straus in their adopted home of New York City:
- A memorial plaque can be seen on the main floor of Macy's Department Store in Manhattan.
- The Isidor and Ida Straus Memorial is located in Straus Park, at the intersection of Broadway and West End Avenue at W. 106th Street (Duke Ellington Boulevard) in Manhattan. The park is one block from 105th St. and West End Avenue, where they resided (now the site of the Cleburne Building). An inscription reads, "Lovely and pleasant they were in their lives, and in death they were not divided." (2 Samuel 1:23)
- New York City Public School P.S. 198, built in Manhattan in 1959, is named in memory of Isidor and Ida Straus. The building shares space with another school, P.S. 77.
Straus Hall, one of Harvard's freshman residence halls in Harvard Yard, was given in honor of the Strauses by their three sons.
- ↑ Congressional Biographical Directory of the United States 1774–present
- ↑ Straus, Isidor. Autobiography of Isidor Straus. Independently published by the Straus Historical Society, 2011. p. 27
- ↑ Straus, Isidor. Autobiography of Isidor Straus. Independently published by the Straus Historical Society, 2011. p. 117-150
- ↑ Straus, Isidor. Autobiography of Isidor Straus. Independently published by the Straus Historical Society, 2011. p.168-176
- ↑ Because of this scene, the 1997 Film is not so faithful to the Strauses. Isidor's body can't have been recovered if he had died with his wife in their stateroom.
- ↑ Straus, Isidor. Autobiography of Isidor Straus. Independently published by the Straus Historical Society, 2011. p. 175-176
- ↑ Thrasher, Steven (February 23, 2010). "Inside a Divided Upper East Side Public School: Whites in the front door, blacks in the back door". The Village Voice. http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-02-23/news/inside-a-divided-nyc-public-school/1. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
- ↑ Harvard Gazette: This month in Harvard history