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Isidor Straus: Victim of the Titanic Disaster

Titanic Victim Isidor Straus

Titanic Victim Isidor Straus was born in Rhinish, Bavaria in 1845. He came to this country with his family when he was seven years old, and in his sixteenth year volunteered for the Confederate Army. Straus was rejected because of his youth and went to England, where he remained until the end of the war. After Mr. Straus return to America, he engaged in commerce and became one of the most distinguished of American merchants. Harper's Weekly (20 April 1912) p. 31. GGA Image ID # 109bd20040

Besides being one of America's most successful merchants, Isidor Straus took an active interest in politics and in sociological movements. The Tribune has this to say of his long and eventful life:

Isidor Straus, the eldest son of Lazarus Straus, was born in Rhenish Bavaria on February 6, 1845. At the age of sixteen, he enlisted in a company of Confederate volunteers and was chosen a lieutenant, but the Confederate Government refused to accept him on account of his age.

His first employment was a clerkship in a paper mill in Columbus, but he soon afterward entered his father's store as a clerk. Two years later he went to Europe as secretary for John E. Ward, of Savannah, whom the Confederacy had dispatched abroad to purchase supplies for the army.

In 1864,  Mr. Straus, for a while, was a clerk in the office of a ship-owner in Liverpool. In 1865, he joined his father in New York City to engage in the crockery business of  L. Straus & Son.

In 1874, this firm enlarged its operations by taking charge of a glassware and china department which R. H. Macy & Co. had opened in their 14th Street store. This venture met with success, and resulted, in 1888, in Mr. Straus and his brother Nathan becoming members of R. H. Macy &  Co. of New York, with Charles B. Webster as the senior partner.  Under the new management, the various departments of the 14th Street store were multiplied.

For his active part in the campaign of 1892, on behalf of Mr. Cleveland, he was prominently named for the place of Postmaster-General, a place, however, for which he had no aspirations. He was led finally, in 1893, owing to the fight on the Wilson Tariff Bill, which was then at its hottest, being an ardent tariff-reformer, to accept a nomination at the special election in January 1894, for a member of Congress from the 15th District of New York, and, after a hotly contested campaign, was elected.

Mr. Straus was one of New York's leading philanthropists. The Educational Alliance, known as the "People's Palace," of the congested East Side tenement-house district, of which he was president, is a monument to his tireless interest in the field of sociological reform. He was a director in several charitable organizations, regardless of creed.

Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus

Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus. The Truth About the Titanic (1913) p. 24. GGA Image iD # 106f7da449

The Last Days of Mr. and Mrs Straus by Archibald Gracie

During this day, I saw much of Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus. In fact, from the very beginning to the end of our trip on the Titanic, we had been together several times each day.

I was with them on the deck the day we left Southampton and witnessed that ominous accident to the American liner, New York, lying at her pier, when the displacement of water by the movement of our huge ship caused a suction which pulled the smaller ship from her moorings and nearly caused a collision.

At the time of this, Mr. Straus was telling me that it seemed only a few years back that he had taken passage on this same ship, the New York, on her maiden trip and when she was spoken of as the “last word in shipbuilding.”

He then called the attention of his wife and myself to the progress that had since been made, by comparison of the two ships then lying side by side.

During our daily talks after that, he related much of particular interest concerning incidents in his remarkable career, beginning with his early manhood in Georgia when, with the Confederate Government Commissioners, as an agent for the purchase of supplies, he ran the blockade of Europe.

His friendship with President Cleveland, and how the latter had honored him, were among the topics of daily conversation that interested me most.

On this Sunday, I recall how Mr. and Mrs. Straus were particularly happy about noon time in anticipation of communicating by wireless telegraphy with their son and his wife on their way to Europe on board the passing ship Amerika.

Sometime before six o’clock, full of contentment, they told me of the message of greeting received in reply. This last good-bye to their loved ones must have been a consoling thought when the end came a few hours after that.

From my own conclusions and those of others, it appears that about forty-five minutes had now elapsed since the collision when Captain Smith’s orders were transmitted to the crew to lower the lifeboats, loaded with women and children first.

The self-abnegation of Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus here shone forth heroically when she promptly and emphatically exclaimed: “No! I will not be separated from my husband; as we have lived, so will we die together;” and when he, too, declined the assistance proffered on my earnest solicitation that, because of his age and helplessness, an exception should be made and he be allowed to accompany his wife in the boat.

“No!” he said, “I do not wish any distinction in my favor, which is not granted to others.” As near as I can recall them, these were the words which they addressed to me.

They expressed themselves as fully prepared to die, and calmly sat down in steamer chairs on the glass-enclosed Deck A, prepared to meet their fate. Further pleas to make them change their decision were of no avail. Later they moved to the Boat Deck above, accompanying Mrs. Straus’s maid, who entered a lifeboat.

Isidor and Ida Straus

Who that hereafter writes of Isidor Straus can fail to write of Ida Straus? Linked in a loyal life together, they were joined forever in noble death.

If Isidor Straus was a great merchant, a great philanthropist, a clear-headed economist, and a noble citizen, Ida Straus was a great woman, also a great philanthropist, a generous mother, a loyal, loving wife. If Isidor Straus was the patriarch and honored head of a great family, Ida Straus was the serene and indispensable mistress of a distinguished home. If Isidor Straus was a civic and commercial power, Ida Straus was a social and domestic force. If Isidor Straus, after a life of honorable living, died a hero's death, so Ida Straus, after forty years of loyal loving, found of her own choice a heroine's end. The beautiful examples of gracious living and of a nobler dying meet in these remembered names.

In an age of material absorption, they have given a new and gentler illustration of the fidelity and tenderness of love. In an age of domestic disloyalty and divorce, they have wreathed a fadeless beauty around the deathless tie of marriage. In life, they were united. In death, they refused to be divided. As the world was better for their united living, so it shall be better for their loyal and undivided end.

Bibliography

"The Sea's Toll of Prominent Men: Isidor Straus," in The Literary Digest, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, Vol. XLIV, No. 17, Whole No. 1149, 27 April 1912, p. 892, 894.

Archibald Gracie, "The Last Day Aboard Ship," in The Truth about the Titanic, New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1913, p. 9-11, 25

Thomas Herbert Russell, Ed., "Chapter XXI: On the Roll of Honor - Isador and Ida Straus," in Sinking of the Titanic: World's Greatest Sea Disaster, New York: L. H. Walter, 1912, p. 185-186.

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