Each year Rothschild & Co. welcomes many interns. In this Choice, we look back to a time when a young Mr Edmund de Rothschild, recently de-mobilised, spent time at banks in America learning the business of banking.
Older colleagues and N M Rothschild & Sons' Pensioners will warmly remember the late Mr Edmund de Rothschild (1916-2009), affectionately known as ‘Mr Eddy’, a former Chairman of N M Rothschild & Sons Limited. When travelling, Eddy kept meticulous diaries, and this month we draw on his private diary from 1947, when, as a young man, he was sent by his uncle Anthony to America for six months, to gain experience of the world of finance.
A banking career interrupted by war
Edmund de Rothschild was born in Mayfair, the first son of Lionel (1882-1942) and Marie-Louise (1892-1975). Brought up at Exbury House, his family’s estate by the Beaulieu river in Hampshire, he was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1935 he had joined the Royal Bucks Yeomanry, and in 1937, he was sent by his father on an 18-month tour around the world. Drawing on the diaries he kept during his travels, he published Window on the World, an account of his experiences in 1949.
Eddy joined his father Lionel and his uncle Anthony (1887-1961) at New Court in 1939. However, Eddy barely had time to get to grips with the business, for he was immediately seconded by Anthony to work on the pressing needs of Jewish refugees; Anthony coordinating activities of The Central British Fund for World Jewish Relief from offices at New Court. In 1940, Eddy was called upon to serve his country, and he saw active service as a battery-captain in the 77th Highland Field Regiment (RA), and later in North Africa with 4 Division, in the First Army. In the months after the war ended, Eddy served as a major in the Jewish Infantry Brigade, and drove through Austria and Germany where he saw at first–hand the horrors of the conflict.
An Englishman in New York
Lionel died in 1942, leaving Anthony as sole partner, to steer the business through the dark days of the war almost single-handedly. Upon his return to New Court in 1946, Eddy, conceded that his “knowledge of banking remained virtually non-existent”. Thus Anthony decided that it was time for his nephew to do a short ‘stage’- what would now be called work experience - at two banks in New York, and afterwards to go on a whistle-stop tour of the United States. Anthony had foreseen a developing role for the London business in America, and during the war had assisted the French Rothschilds in New York in setting up a joint-venture company, which was to become Rothschild Inc. Anthony arranged for Eddy to undertake two stints at two New York houses with which the London business had long-standing associations: Kuhn Loeb, and the Guaranty Trust Company.
Eddy sailed for New York on a February afternoon in 1947 on the Cunard liner, the Queen Elizabeth (restored to her art deco magnificence after distinguished service as a troop carrier), in the company of his sister Naomi (1920-2007) and her daughter Jocelyne. Naomi’s first husband Jean-Pierre Reinach had been killed during the war and she was on her way to marry Bertrand Goldschmidt, a French atomic scientist, then working in Canada. After the privations of the war, neither Eddy nor Naomi could believe the quantity and variety of food on board the ship - “mountains of white bread, butter, bananas, roast beef and all manner of things rarely seen since before the war”. During the crossing, which was rough, Eddy played squash and luxuriated in Turkish baths. In the evenings there was dancing and the ship’s cinema. The passenger list included friends and acquaintances, among them Olaf Hambro of Hambros bank. Mr Eddy also noted a beautiful passenger who turned out to be a young Elizabeth Taylor. On arrival at New York they were met by Bertrand Goldschmidt and the formidable Baroness Clarice (1894-1967), widow of Eddy’s cousin Baron Alphonse von Rothschild (1878-1942). Scattered by the war in Europe, many members of the Rothschild family were living in Manhattan at that time, including Alain de Rothschild (1910-1982), his wife Mary (1916-2014) and their young children Eric and Béatrice. Outside New York, Eugène von Rothschild (1884-1976) resided on Long Island; his brother Louis (1882-1955), lived in Vermont.
It was Eddy’s first visit to America, and he recalled being staggered by the towering buildings and New York’s famous skyline. He remarks on the heat inside the buildings and the contrasting cold outside, and, after the dullness of a Britain ravaged by war, the stores “bursting to capacity with goods” and an “all-pervading sense of urgency”. In the restaurants he was again amazed by the food: “ Dining alone in a restaurant, I ordered plain veal with a green salad… the waiter proudly presented me with a thick piece of brown meat with a fried egg on top, together with a piece of toast piled with smoked salmon, fish paste, Brussels sprouts and sweet potato. The salad contained lettuce, grapefruit and a pear in vinaigrette dressing…”
At Kuhn Loeb, Eddy was put to work in the bank’s bookkeeping, cashier’s, stock transfer and credit departments, which he admitted he found rather boring. Following that, for several weeks he found himself in the statistical department, where he had the task of comparing breakdown figures of tobacco and chemical companies and compiling reports on a collection of ball-bearing companies. In March 1947, Eddy received a telegram from his uncle which read “pleased to inform you have been admitted to partnership with effect from 1 January 1947”. Speaking to Anthony on the telephone afterwards, Eddy recalled that “he [Anthony] did not know whether to offer me his congratulations or to commiserate”! Leaving New York in mid-April, Eddy travelled to St Louis, Kansas and then New Orleans. From there he went on to Houston and Galveston, travelling through the Arizona desert to California and Los Angeles, and then on to San Francisco. At all the places he stayed he took great care to pay courtesy calls at local banks, and to make speeches at dinners to raise funds for Jewish refugees. And of course there was time for sightseeing; the trip ended with short fishing holiday in Canada, before the return crossing from New York via Chicago aboard another grand Cunard liner, the Mauretania, at the end of June.
Once back in England Eddy once again took up his place at New Court. He became the effective head of N M Rothschild & Sons in 1955 when Anthony suffered a severe stroke. In 1970, he became the first Chairman of N M Rothschild & Sons Limited, when the business became the last London accepting house to relinquish its private partnership status. He presided over the bank's transition from a highly conservative family firm to a modern institution, opening the partnership to non-family members, and overseeing the rebuilding of New Court. He stepped down as chairman in 1975, to be succeeded briefly by his cousin Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild (1910-1990), and then by his cousin Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, Anthony’s son. Eddy died on 17 January 2009, aged 93.
RAL 000/2626 Diaries of Mr Edmund de Rothschild
Window on the World, Edmund de Rothschild (London: Peter Davis, 1949)
A gilt-edged Life: memoir, Edmund de Rothschild (London: John Murray, 1998)