The Rothschilds are an influential banking dynasty originating in Frankfurt. The family empire was established by Mayer Amschel Rothschild in the 18th century and grew in prominence under his fives sons: Nathan Mayer, James Mayer, Salomon Mayer, Carl Mayer and Amschel Mayer. The Rothschilds were pioneers in the development of international finance, having established branches in London, Paris, Vienna and Naples, in addition to their native Frankfurt.1
From a small business engaged in trading goods and foreign exchange, the Rothschild family grew their business activities to include merchant banking, private banking, asset management, mergers and acquisitions, insurance, venture capital, pensions and investments, sovereign debt and commodities. They have also invested in major infrastructure projects such as bridges, tunnels and railways and—most notably—the Suez Canal. Other business interests include hotels, media, transportation and wine.2
- The Rothschild family grew in prominence in Europe beginning in the 18th century when Mayer Amschel Rothschild founded the family empire in Frankfurt.
- Mayer Rothschild sent sons to establish banking operations in London, Paris, Vienna and Naples, in addition to keeping a son in Frankfurt.1
- The family profited greatly during the Napoleonic Wars by helping the British government with its finances.3
- In his will, Mayer Rothschild left strict instructions that titles and property could only be passed down through male heirs, which encouraged marriage among family members.
The House of Rothschild in the 20th Century
Wars, politics and family rivalries diminished the family fortune over the next 100 years. The Naples branch of the bank closed in 1863, and a lack of male heirs led to the closure of the Frankfurt branch in 1901. The Vienna branch was shuttered in 1938 following the Nazi invasion of Austria and the danger posed to Jews.8
The Vichy government in France expropriated Rothschild Bordeaux properties during the war, and the Nazis confiscated millions of dollars worth of art and other precious objects from the Austrian branch of the family (a portion of these were returned by the Austrian government in 1998). Over the years, palatial Rothschild estates were donated to the British and French governments and other organizations and universities.
By the 1970s, three Rothschild banks remained: the London and Paris branches and a Swiss bank founded by Edmond Adolphe de Rothschild (1926–1997).13 In 1982, President Francois Mitterrand’s socialist government dealt the Paris bank a fatal blow, nationalizing it and renaming it Compagnie Européenne de Banque.8 Despite his independence, Edmond came to the aid of his cousin, Baron David René James de Rothschild (1942), who stayed in Paris and in 1987 created Rothschild & Cie Banque. By 2003, the British and French banks were united with David as chair.14
In 2008, all of the holdings were reorganized under a single company, a shareholder of Paris Orléans based in France, unifying the family businesses roughly two centuries after the five sons of Mayer Rothschild spread out across Europe.8
Moving Into the 21st Century
The family wealth has been divided among descendants and heirs over the years. Today, Rothschild holdings span a number of industries, including financial services, real estate, mining, energy, and charitable work. The family also owns more than a dozen wineries throughout the world.15
Traditionally, the Rothschild fortune is invested in closely held corporations. Today, Rothschild corporations have continued to see success. Most family members are employed by these corporations directly or are invested in operations that generate family wealth. The remarkable success of the family has largely been due to a strong interest in cooperation, being entrepreneurs, and the practice of smart business principles.
The estate of Nathan Rothschild was intimately tied to the other fortunes of the family and became part of the collective wealth each Rothschild passed to the next generation. Rothschild descendants continue to finance global business operations and contribute to scholarly, humanitarian, cultural, and business endeavors.