Straus, Isidor, 1845-1912

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Isidor Straus (February 6, 1845 – April 15, 1912) was a Bavarian-born American Jewish businessman, politician and co-owner of Macy's department store with his brother Nathan. A member of the Democratic Party, he represented New York's 15th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from January 1894 until March 1895. He died with his wife, Ida, in the sinking of the passenger ship RMS Titanic.

Born in Otterberg in the former Palatinate, then ruled by the Kingdom of Bavaria (now part of Germany), he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1854. After briefly settling in Columbus, Georgia, they moved to Talbotton, Georgia, where Straus attended Collinsworth Institute. Straus was preparing to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point when the outbreak of the American Civil War prevented him from doing so. In 1861, he was elected an officer in a Confederate military unit but was not allowed to serve because of his youth; in 1863, he went to England to secure ships for blockade running.

After the Civil War, the Straus family moved to New York City where Isidor's father, Lazarus, convinced Rowland Hussey Macy, founder of Macy's, to allow L. Straus & Sons to open a crockery department in the basement of his store. Isidor Straus worked at L. Straus & Sons, which became the glass and china department at Macy's. In 1888, he and Nathan Straus became partners of Macy's. In 1893 he and his brother bought a controlling interest in Wechsler & Straus, renamed Abraham & Straus. By 1896, Isidor and his brother Nathan had gained full ownership of R. H. Macy & Co.

Straus served as a U.S. Congressman from January 30, 1894, to March 3, 1895, as a Democratic representative of New York's 15th congressional district. He won a special election in January 1894 to complete the term of Ashbel P. Fitch, who had resigned to become New York City Comptroller. Straus did not run for re-election in the general election of November 1894. Also, Straus was president of The Educational Alliance and a prominent worker in charitable and educational movements, very much interested in civil service reform and the general extension of education. He declined the office of Postmaster General which was offered him by U.S. President Grover Cleveland. When the newly formed Mutual Alliance Trust Company opened for business in New York on the Tuesday after June 29, 1902, there were 13 directors, including Emanuel Lehman, William Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Straus.

Traveling back from a winter in Europe, mostly spent at Cape Martin in southern France, Isidor and his wife were passengers on the RMS Titanic when, at about 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, it hit an iceberg. Once it was clear the Titanic was sinking, Ida refused to leave Isidor and would not get into a lifeboat without him. Isidor and Ida were last seen on deck arm in arm. Isidor's body was recovered and taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia and from there shipped to New York. He was first buried in the Straus-Kohns Mausoleum at Beth-El Cemetery in Brooklyn, then moved to the Straus Mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx in 1928. Ida's body was never found, so the family collected water from the wreck site and placed it in an urn in the mausoleum. Isidor and Ida are memorialized on a cenotaph outside the mausoleum with a quote from the Song of Solomon (8:7): "Many waters cannot quench love—neither can the floods drown it."

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Wilson, William Lyne, 1843-1900. Papers, 1852-1901. Washington & Lee University, James G. Leyburn Library
referencedIn W.R. Grace & Co. W.R. Grace & Co. records, 1828-1986, bulk 1861-1960. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Max James Kohler Papers, 1765-1963 (bulk 1888-1935) American Jewish Historical Society
creatorOf Wilson, William Lyne, 1843-1900. Correspondence, 1894-1900. Washington & Lee University, James G. Leyburn Library
referencedIn Nathan Straus papers, 1840-1990, 1865-1930 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Wechsler & Abraham. Wechsler & Abraham private trial balance ledger, 1886-1952, bulk 1886-1903. Harvard Business School, Knowledge and Library Services/Baker Library
referencedIn Oscar S. Straus Papers, 1856-1955, (bulk 1856-1923) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Straus family papers, 1810-1962, 1870-1912 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
parentOf Hess, Sara Straus person
associatedWith Kohler, Max J. (Max James), 1871-1934 person
associatedWith R. H. Macy person
ownedBy R. H. Macy & Co. corporateBody
memberOf Straus family. family
parentOf Straus, Herbert, 1881-1933. person
spouseOf Straus, Ida. person
parentOf Straus, Jesse Isidor, 1872-1936 person
sibling of Straus, Nathan, 1848-1931 person
sibling of Straus, Oscar S. (Oscar Solomon), 1850-1926. person
parentOf Straus, Percy Selden 1876-1944 person
associatedWith Titanic (Steamship) corporateBody
memberOf United States. Congress. House person
associatedWith Wechsler & Abraham. corporateBody
associatedWith Wilson, William Lyne, 1843-1900. person
associatedWith W.R. Grace & Co. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Otterberg 08 DE
Talbotton GA US
Atlantic Ocean 00
Columbus GA US
New York City NY US
Representatives, U.S. Congress


Birth 1845-02-06

Death 1912-04-15








Ark ID: w64k15xg

SNAC ID: 85831189