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Mayer Lehman (January 9, 1830 – June 21, 1897) was a German-born American businessman, banker, and philanthropist. He was one of the three founding brothers of the investment bank Lehman Brothers.

Mayer Lehman
Born(1830-01-09)January 9, 1830
DiedJune 21, 1897(1897-06-21) (aged 67)
NationalityUnited States
Spouse(s)Babetta Newgass
ChildrenSigmund M. Lehmann
Hattie Lehman Goodhart
Lisette Lehmann Fatman
Clara Lehman Limburg
Arthur Lehmann
Irving Lehman
Herbert H. Lehman
Parent(s)Abraham Löw Lehmann
FamilyHenry Lehman (brother)
Emanuel Lehman (brother)
Adele Lewisohn Lehman (daughter-in-law)


Early lifeEdit

Mayer Lehman was born in 1830 to a German Jewish family in the small Franconian town of Rimpar near Würzburg. He was the son of a cattle merchant, Abraham Löw Lehmann.[1][2]

Career and life in the United StatesEdit

In 1850, Mayer emigrated to the United States, joining his brothers, Henry Lehman (b. 1822) and Emanuel Lehman in Montgomery, Alabama. His brother Henry had left Germany in 1844 and opened a dry goods store named "H. Lehman".[3] His brother Emanuel left Germany in 1847 and joined Henry in his business endeavor, which they renamed "H. Lehman and Bro." With the arrival of Mayer in 1850, it became Lehman Brothers.[4]

As cotton was the most important crop of the Southern United States and global demand led to profitable business, the Lehman brothers became cotton factors, accepting cotton bales from customers as payment for their merchandise.[3] Cotton trading eventually became the main thrust of their business. Mayer was also one of twenty men who established the first important iron furnace in the South before the war.[2]

Mayer Lehman supported the Southern cause during the American Civil War. Mayer was listed as the owner of seven slaves ("three males and four females ranging in age from 5 to 50") in the U.S. Census of 1860.[5] In 1864, the Governor of Alabama, Thomas H. Watts, appointed Mayer as a Commissioner to visit and look after the interests of Alabama Confederate soldiers being held as prisoners of war in the North. Other offers of public position were made to him but he declined.[2]

In 1855, his brother Henry died from yellow fever while travelling in New Orleans.[6] In 1867, Mayer and Emanuel moved the company's headquarters to New York City, leaving their New Orleans cotton operation (renamed Lehman, Newgass & Co) in the hands of their brother-in-law Benjamin Newgass[7][8] (father of British war hero Harold Newgass).[9] They eventually built their New York operation into an important American investment bank, which was in operation for over 150 years until its September 2008 collapse.

Mayer Lehman was one of the organizers of the New York Cotton Exchange, the oldest commodities exchange in New York City, and served as its director. Mayer Lehman concentrated on the railroad, land, industrial and mining enterprises of the business. He served as the director of The Hamilton Bank, The American Cotton Oil Company, The Union Oil Company of Providence, Rhode Island, and The N.K. Fairbank Company of Chicago.[10]


Mayer Lehman took an active interest in philanthropic work and was a trustee of Temple Emanu-El as well as a generous giver to the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He was also a member of the Harmonie Club.[2]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1858, Mayer Lehman married Babetta Newgass, the daughter of Isaac Newgass. Her sister, Esther, was married to banker Isaias W. Hellman. Together they had eight children of which seven survived childhood:[11]

The couple were Reform Jews who, although they always observed the religious holidays, frowned on many other religious traditions and practices, instead focusing on educating their children in language, history and culture. The one tradition that Mayer emphasized was the Jewish tradition of tsedaka or the joy of giving. In order to instill the importance of charity into his children, Mayer would take his three youngest — Arthur, Irving and Herbert — to Mount Sinai Hospital every Sunday to see the great needs of the less fortunate.[14]

Mayer Lehman died in 1897.


  1. ^ Bernhard, William, L., Birge, June Rossbach Bingham, Loeb, John L., Jr.. Lots of Lehmans – The Family of Mayer Lehman of Lehman Brothers, Remembered by His Descendants. Center For Jewish History, 2007, page 1
  2. ^ a b c d Hall, Henry America's successful men of affairs. An encyclopedia of contemporaneous biography (1895) [1] p 390-392
  3. ^ a b Lehman[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Birmingham, Stephen. Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York. Harper and Row, 1967, page 47
  5. ^ USA Today: "Lehman Bros: 1 brother owned 7 slaves in 1860" February 21, 2002
  6. ^ Archibald, Robert. "Mayer Lehman." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified May 07, 2015.
  7. ^ Cohen, Michael R. Cotton Capitalists: American Jewish Entrepreneurship in the Reconstruction Era.
  8. ^ Dinkelspiel, Frances (January 5, 2010). Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California. St. Martin's Press. p. 56.
  9. ^ Brazier, Kevin. "The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross". Victoria Cross and the George Cross Association.
  10. ^ Biography of Mayer Lehman Archived 2005-03-01 at the Wayback Machine retrieved April 3, 2012
  11. ^ New York Social Diary: "Lots of Lehmans" March 1, 2007
  12. ^ William Goodhart, QC retrieved August 2, 2015
  13. ^ Lehman College: "June Bingham Birge, 1919 - 2007" August 27, 2007
  14. ^ New York Social Diary: "Lots of Lehmans" March 1, 2007

External linksEdit