Died: January 11, 1931
Married: Lina Gutherz Straus
Children: Nathan Straus Jr., Mrs. Sissie Lehman, Hugh Grant Straus
Nathan Straus (sometimes spelled "Strauss") was a merchant and philanthropist who co-owned two of New York City's biggest department stores – R.H. Macy & Company and Abraham & Straus. He served as New York City Park Commissioner from 1889–1893, president of the New York City Board of Health, 1898, and in 1894 he was selected by Tammany Hall to run for Mayor on the Democratic ticket, but withdrew from the race when his friends in society threatened to shun him if he did.
In 1892, he and his wife privately funded the Nathan Straus Pasteurized Milk Laboratory to provide pasteurized milk to children to combat infant mortality and tuberculosis. He opened the Tuberculosis Preventorium for Children at Lakewood Township, New Jersey, moved to Farmingdale, New Jersey in 1909. At the time, unclean, unpasteurized milk fed to infants was the chief cause of infant mortality rate in the U.S. Straus is credited as the leading proponent of the pasteurization movement that eliminated the hundreds of thousands of deaths per year then due to disease-bearing milk.
Nathan Straus in the Adirondacks
Nathan Straus spent a short but significant period of his life vacationing in Saranac Lake: from 1886 to 1893. He purchased property on Lower Saranac Lake near the Alexander House hotel (later the Algonquin Hotel) from Jabez D. Alexander and from Fanny Dunning, which included 33 acres (roughly from Algonquin Avenue to Duso's Crescent Bay Camps) and 4 1/2 acres which included the house built by E. J. Dunning in 1881-1882. E. J. Dunning's house was described by Donaldson in this way: "The original Dunning camp, built in the autumn of 1881 and the spring of 1882, was the first luxurious one erected in these parts. It had real plumbing, and both the fixtures and the plumbers were imported from New York." 1 It is possible that Straus knew E. J. Dunning in New York City, since Dunning was a well known financier there.
Naming of Rice baby
Nathan Straus and his wife were friendly with Fred W. Rice, the guideboat builder and his wife Kitty, who lived a short distance down the lake toward Ampersand Bay. The story told by Maitland DeSormo in his book Summers on the Saranacs says that Mrs. Straus tried to adopt a baby from Mrs. Rice, and pay $10,000 for that privilege. The Strauses had lost a daughter recently, who died at age two on a ship going to Europe. Kitty Rice declined, but allowed Mrs. Straus to name the baby. 2
In a letter written in 1971, which is in the Fred. W. Rice folder at the Adirondack Room in the Saranac Lake Free Library, Erna (Ernestine) Straus Rice Eskuche wrote the story about her naming, but does not mention the offer of adoption ---that may not have happened. But she says she grew up playing with the Straus girls and thought she herself was Jewish because of her name. She said that when she went to school and was asked her nationality, she responded, "Jewish". 3
Nathan and Lina Straus kept a cow at their home on Lower Saranac Lake, to provide fresh milk to their children. As Nathan himself told the story, "One day, the cow became sick. I couldn't seem to do anything for her, and she died very suddenly. It did not seem to me that she should have died from natural causes. I thought that she might have been poisoned. So I had a post-mortem held to assure me. The doctors found that the cow's lungs were eaten away, and that she had died from tuberculosis. I realized at once the menace of such a condition among milch cows to public health". In the same year, Straus established a Pasteurization laboratory as well as distribution depots and stations in New York City. 4
Lina Straus wrote a book entitled Disease in Milk 5 about her husband's efforts on the behalf of infants and children. They thought tuberculosis in humans and bovine tuberculosis were linked, though it was later found that it was not the same. The efforts of Nathan Straus to ensure that New York City children had a supply of fresh Pasteurized milk were estimated to have saved the lives of roughly 445,800 children. 6
Gift of cottage to Adirondack Cottage Sanatarium
Nathan Straus devoted more of his life to philanthropy than he did to earning money. Probably his first large gift was due to his growing interest in the cure and prevention of tuberculosis. In 1891, he and his wife Lina donated a cottage to the Adirondack Cottage Sanatarium. (Called in this article "The Trudeau Tuberculosis Sanatarium at Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks"). The Straus Cottage, later torn down during "Sanatarium operations", was on the Sanborn map of 1899. 7
In 1909 he established a "preventatorium", first in Lakewood, New Jersey in the "Cleveland Cottage" near his Lakewood Hotel, and then moved to Farmingdale, New Jersey when a friend donated his farm. This preventatorium was Nathan's idea to bring poor and immigrant children in New York City a chance to breathe fresh air and eat healthy food, thus building up their health and possibly preventing them from getting tuberculosis.
Vacationing on Lower Saranac Lake with brother Isidor and family
In her book about Isidor and Ida Straus entitled A Titanic Love Story, 8 June Hall McCash relates: "By 1890 they (Isidor and Ida) had purchased a small mountain cottage of their own (they had been staying with Nathan and Lina) which they called "Villa Plaisance" and which stood next door to Nathan's house on Lower Saranac Lake." Isidor and Nathan alternated times when they came to the lake---one of them stayed to mind the store (Macy's) when the other was vacationing. Much is known about this time period, since Ida wrote to Isidor almost every day and the children, especially Sara, wrote to their father too. Letters tell about visits from other Jewish families on the lake such as the Nathans (at Knollwood) and the Limburgers (at Rockledge) on the other side of the lake. The teenage boys and girls of both Straus families and these other Jewish families shared a lot of lake activities. The cousins enjoyed fishing and hunting together, particularly Nathan's son Jerome and Isidor's son Percy. The Strauses visited with friends on Upper Saranac Lake, and their friend Grover Cleveland who sometimes stayed nearby.
Death of Nathan's son Jerome
On February 22, 1893, Nathan and Lina's oldest son Jerome died of pericarditis and double pneumonia just six days before his 16th birthday. His parents were heartbroken. He had just gone on a tour with his father to inspect milk stations, and was about to enter Cornell University. "As he lay on his sick bed he said to his father, 'Father, you should sell your horses so that you can go on with your milk stations'. That night, Jerome died, and Nathan Straus carried with him to the day of his death the sacred charge of those words". 9
After Jerome's death, Nathan and Lina could not bring themselves to return to the lake house. His brother Isidor's wife reported that their sister Hermine "disposed of all poor Jerry's other clothes" and the house was rented out for the summer of 1893. Possibly it was rented to Charles M. Swain of Philadelphia, as Mr. Swain bought the house from Nathan Straus in December of 1893. Nathan and Lina never came back to the lake to live ---they bought property in 1897 on Cherry Island in the Thousand Islands, where they built a cottage called Villa Olympia. Their friends and business partners, the Abrahams, also bought property there and built a cottage.
Isidor and Ida continued to come to the lake, but their son Jesse wrote "One is so forcibly reminded of Jerome on all sides", and Ida noted that the name of their cottage, Villa Plaisance, must be changed, since it wasn't so pleasant anymore. Eventually, they too, sold their cottage, maybe as late as 1900. Their new summer home in Elberon, New Jersey was under construction by 1901. (NOTE: In 1912, Ida and Isidor Straus died in the sinking of the Titanic. She was told to get into the lifeboat with the women and children, and replied that she would stay with her husband, since they had been together for forty years and would not be separated.)
Nathan Straus' hotel project across the lake
In 1890, Nathan Straus and partner Max Nathan formed a company along with multiple investors called the Lakewood Hotel Company. They planned to build a hotel that would be open to all, including Jews. Eventually all the investors withdrew except for Max Nathan and Nathan Straus. Their hotel was a success, since Lakewood, New Jersey was not only a summer resort but also a winter vacation destination, close enough to New York City and Philadelphia that prominent people went there for the weekend. Some families stayed longer. As they did for the Adirondack hotels, the New York Times announced the arrivals and departures and events being held there. By 1901, however, it had been running at a deficit for several years.
Also in 1890, Nathan Straus bought 10,000 acres of land on the west side of Lower Saranac Lake from the Mutual Life Insurance Company for $27,000. The deed conveyed all land in the 10,000 acres which had been surveyed by Averill "that remained unsold". His intention was to build a hotel in the Adirondacks similar to the one in Lakewood, which would be open to all including Jews, as Jews had been turned away from existing Adirondack hotels.
In the fall of 1891 the Adirondack Improvement Company was incorporated in New York with a capital of $1,000,000. "It is proposed to establish game and fish preserves, hold and improve real estate, establish parks, and maintain and operate hotels. The directors and principal shareholders are: Nathan, Isidor and Oscar Straus, Jacob H. Shiff, Max Nathan, Simon R. Stern and Simon Rothschild. These are the same gentlemen who built the large hotel at Lakewood, New Jersey and have conducted it so successfully." 10
The Albany Sun says a $1,000,000 hotel is to be built in the Adirondacks next summer. Two years ago, seven well known New Yorkers bought 10,000,000 acres near Lower Saranac Lake in anticipation of the building of W. Seward Webb's new railroad. It is settled now that the road will run near the property, and building will be begun in the spring. "We propose to establish a sanatorium, with a fine hotel, and a park stocked with fish and game" said Nathan Straus one night. "In all the Adirondacks there is not a first class hotel now, and we propose to erect one. We shall lay out $1,000,000. The park shall be fenced in and will have some very valuable preserves in a few years. Our Lakewood venture has been very successful, and we expect to duplicate this success in the Adirondacks. " 10 There are other articles which refer to Nathan Straus having a "deer park" which was probably on this property, and that there was even a portable sawmill there, ready to begin work. But for some reasons, this project was never undertaken. Perhaps it was because of the death of Nathan Straus' son in 1893, perhaps because the Lakewood Hotel began to have financial problems -- the reasons are not known.
Parts of the 10,000 acres were sold to private individuals and either sold or donated to the state. A large piece of lakefront on Shingle Bay was sold to the founders of the Knollwood Club, one of which was Max Nathan, who had been a partner with Nathan Straus in the hotel venture here as well as in Lakewood. The other six founders were: Louis Marshall, George Blumenthal, Elias Asiel, Daniel Guggenheim, and A.N. Stein. The property on Shingle Bay was purchased from the Adirondack Improvement Company. There must have been at least three separate transactions. The title to lots 1, 2, 3, and part of 4 must have been conveyed earlier in 1899. In two deeds in December of 1899 and August of 1900 about 339 of the total of about 500 acres in Knollwood were sold to George Blumenthal, who then sold them to the Knollwood Club in November of 1900. 11
In 1895 the rest of the property left unsold was put up for sale for back taxes, and all of that was purchased by the Estate of William J. Ehrich. 12 Nathan Straus was a friend of William Ehrich, and they owned a piece of property together that would have allowed the proposed hotel to have access to docks and boathouses on Lake Colby. It is a mystery why he didn't sell the remaining land, or give it to Mrs. Ehrich. William Ehrich had also purchased property from the Mutual Life Insurance Company when Nathan Straus did. In any event, this was the end of Nathan Straus' property ownership in the Adirondacks.
The Forest Commission and the Great Railway Scandal
Under Governor David Hill, the Forest Preserve was established by law in 1885, and a three man Forest Commission was set up. The Adirondack Park was created in 1892. Lumbering interests were very powerful and they kept finding loopholes in the laws. In 1893 Governor Flower recommended a new Adirondack Park plan, and to dissolve the old Forest Commission and create a new five member board.
His selections of Commissioners included: Francis Babcock, president of the First National Bank of Hornellsville; Samuel J. Tilden of Chatham, nephew of Ex-Governor Tilden; Clarkson C. Schuyler, a wealthy physician of Plattsburgh and son in law of the well-known lumberman, W. W. Hartwell; Nathan Straus of the dry goods firm of R.H. Macy and Company, New York; and William R. Weed, a lumberman of Potsdam. 13
Nathan Straus was most likely selected because of his interest in the Adirondacks and also because he was Park Commissioner for the City of New York and a prominent Democrat. This new Forest Commission had a five year term. In 1893 there was so much abuse of the laws on lumbering that "the advocates of forest protection became satisfied that it could no longer be left to the Commission or the Legislature" and needed an amendment to the Constitution. In 1894 there was to be a Constitutional Convention. The amendment which was hammered out, and which would become Section 7 of Article VII of the Constitution read; "The lands of the State, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold, or exchanged or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold or removed or destroyed."
The new amendment went into effect on January 1, 1895. Less than a week before that date, three out of the five members of the Forest Commission met behind closed doors and granted a right of way across lands of the Forest Preserve to the Adirondack Railway Company, controlled by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. The railroad wished to extend its line from North Creek to Long Lake, and five or six miles of the proposed route lay over State Lands.
This action had to be taken because the new law would not allow the grant. Donaldson says, "An immediate meeting of the Forest Commission---the supposed guardians of the forest----was therefore arranged. President Babcock was out of town, and no effort was made to reach him. Mr. Nathan Straus, another conscientious commissioner who might have made trouble, was in Europe. Mr. McClure and Mr. Martin who, on behalf of the Board of Trade might have made trouble, had started for home, thinking all danger of the grant was over. The field was therefore enticingly clear of bothersome meddlers, and full advantage was taken of their absence. The two members of the Forest Commission who were still in Albany, Samuel J. Tilden and W.R. Reed, and the vice president of the railroad company met in a private room of the Delavan House at seven o'clock on the evening of December 27, 1894. Dr. Clarkson C. Schuyler was at his home in Plattsburgh. The railroad sent a special engine and car at his disposal and brought him down to Albany. He arrived at about 8:30 p.m. and cast his vote with them to grant the Adirondack Railway Company a right of way over virgin state lands." 15
As this became known, Dr. Babcock and other friends of the forest brought an injunction against this act, and on January 1, 1895 the new law went into effect so the railroad deal could not happen.
Nathan Straus learned of this when he returned from Europe January 24, 1895. On February 3, 1895, Governor Levi P. Morton announced that he had received a letter of resignation from Nathan Straus as Forest Commissioner. "I regret exceedingly at three of the Forest Commissioners granted, during my enforced absence, the right of way through the forest preserve to the Adirondack Railway Company. I consider this grant entirely contrary to the purpose for which the Forest Commission was created, viz: To preserve the State forests. And I desire to record a most emphatic protest against the action of the three commissioners----I hope you will pardon my seeming presumption in the following suggestion: That, when you select my successor, you name a gentleman who has no interest in lumbering." 16
Donaldson again: "The Forest Commission was legislated out of office and replaced with the Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission ---which was simply a merging of these two separate commissions into one. There was no obvious gain for the Adirondacks in the merger. The new Commissioners were: Barnet H. Davis, president; Henry H. Lyman; Charles H. Babcock; William R. Reed; and Edward Thompson." 17 (Note that William R. Reed was a lumberman and one of the conspirators in the railroad scandal!)
1. A History of the Adirondacks, Alfred L. Donaldson, vol. 1, p. 308.
2. Summers on the Saranacs, Maitland C. DeSormo, p. 120.
3. Letter by Erna Straus Eskuche, p. 1. Adirondack Room, Saranac Lake Free Library. Fred W. Rice folder.
4. "The Jewish Criterion", vol. 77, no. 10, Jan. 16, 1931, p. 32. online, www.digitalcollections library.cmu.edu
5. Disease in Milk: The Remedy, Pasteurization, Lina Gutherz Straus, Nathan Straus, 1913. Digitized from Harvard University Library. Available online, Digital Archive.
6. "The Milk Man" by John Steele Gordon, Philanthropy Roundtable. Reprint of fall 2011 issue of Philanthropy Magazine. philanthropyroundtable.org
7. "Nathan Straus" by David de Sola Pool in 1931-32 AJC. American Jewish Committee Archives.com
8. A Titanic Love Story: Ida and Isidor Straus, June Hall McCash, Mercer University Press, 2012. various pages
9. ibid. p. 107,
10. The Sun newspaper, Fort Covington, NY, Thursday, October 22, 1891. email@example.com
11. Deeds from Adirondack Improvement Society to George Blumenthal and George Blumenthal to Knollwood.
12. Deeds for sale of land for back taxes, ads in newspaper for the sale.
13. Malone Palladium, Thursday, April 13, 1893.
14. Donaldson, op cit., v. II, p. 191.
15. Donaldson, v. II, p. 194-196.
16. "Nathan Straus, Public Servant:", article in Straus Historical Society Newsletter, February, 2003, p. 6.
17. Donaldson, v. II, p. 196.
Malone Palladium, January 11, 1894
A New York dispatch, dated Jan'y 4, says: "EATON & YOUNG, of the Hotel Ampersand in the Adirondacks, have sold for NATHAN STRAUSS his property on Lower Saranac Lake to CHAS. M. SWAIN of Philadelphia, for $50,000." It is not the property where Mr. STRAUSS proposed a year or two ago to erect a million dollar hotel, but is on the other shore of the lake, near the Algonquin.
Malone Gazette, February 21, 1896
Nathan Strauss, the millionaire philanthropist of New York, has written a letter to the State board of health in which he tenders his assistance to the board in its effort to free the State from tuberculosis in cattle. Mr. Strauss last year established several milk stations In New York at his own expense where pure milk, sterilized and free from all impurities, was furnished to all who applied for it. In his letter he offers to co-operate with the mayors of all cities in this State in an effort to secure pure milk.
Ausable Forks Record Post, January 15, 1931
In all human probability it would not be possible, to name three brothers who left a more enduring mark on their day and generation than Isidor, Oscar and Nathan Straus, all of whom lived their lives as men of the highest ideals. Now the last of them has gone on the great long journey across the bar. Nathan Straus had more varied activities than either of the others. As the securer of pure milk for the poor, however, he will be longest remembered. In fact no one living in the Empire State but knew Nathan Straus by reputation. He needs no eulogy. Such a life work is a fitting monument.
See alsoNathan Straus obituary