Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald

The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South
Ascoli, Peter M.
Distribution: World
Publication date: 08/17/2015
Format: Paperback 22 b&w photos
ISBN: 978-0-253-02058-1
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Named one of the 2006 "Best Books of the Year" by The Chicago Tribune

In this richly revealing biography of a major, but little-known, American businessman and philanthropist, Peter M. Ascoli brings to life a portrait of Julius Rosenwald, the man and his work. The son of first-generation German Jewish immigrants, Julius Rosenwald, known to his friends as "JR," apprenticed for his uncles, who were major clothing manufacturers in New York City. It would be as a men’s clothing salesperson that JR would make his fateful encounter with Sears, Roebuck and Company, which he eventually fashioned into the greatest mail order firm in the world. He also founded Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. And in the American South Rosenwald helped support the building of the more than 5,300 schools that bore his name. Yet the charitable fund he created during World War I went out of existence in 1948 at his expressed wish. Ascoli provides a fascinating account of Rosenwald’s meteoric rise in American business, but he also portrays a man devoted to family and with a desire to help his community that led to a lifelong devotion to philanthropy. He tells about Rosenwald’s important philanthropic activities, especially those connected with the Rosenwald schools and Booker T. Washington, and later through the Rosenwald Fund. Ascoli’s account of Rosenwald is an inspiring story of hard work and success, and of giving back to the nation in which he prospered.

Author Bio

Peter M. Ascoli taught at Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago from 1995–2015. Prior to that, he taught at Utah State University and served as director of development for Chicago Opera Theater and Steppenwolf Theater Company. He is the grandson of Julius Rosenwald.


Peter Ascoli has written a sensitive biography of his grandfather, Julius Rosenwald. What we see is a very modest, successful business leader/philanthropist whose skill and generosity merit his recognition as one of our preeminent citizens at the advent of the twentieth century.This is the first serious biography of the exuberant man who transformed the Sears, Roebuck company into the country’s most important retailer. He was also one of the early 20th century’s notable philanthropists. . . . The richness of primary evidence continually delights.

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Table of Contents


1. Youth and First Business Ventures, 1862–1895
2. Early Sears Years, 1895–1908
3. Blacks, Politics, and Philanthropy, 1908–1912
4. Black Schools, Political Attacks, and the Profit Sharing Plan, 1912–1916
5. World War I, 1916–1918
6. The Rescue of Sears and the Consolidation of Philanthropic Endeavors, 1919–1924
7. New Philanthropic Ventures, 1924–1928
8. The Julius Rosenwald Fund, Hoover, and the Depression, 1928–1930
9. Final Year and Postmortem, 1931–1949


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