Welcome toThe Rothschild Archive'swebsite

Sources for business history: catalogues of bank files

Sources for art history: Catalogue of the pictures of Alfred de Rothschild 1901

Sources for yachting history: Plans for Nathaniel von Rothschild's yacht Veglia 1905

Sources for natural history: Walter 2nd Lord Rothschild and his zebra carriage: c.1910

Sources for global financial history: Map of lines of the Brazil Railway Company: c.1920

Sources for business history: index cards to bank files

Sources for social history: Rothschild Hospital Paris: 1920s

Sources for business history: detail of a Rothschild bond coupon

Sources for architectural history: Halton House: 1890s

Sources for the history of travel: Lionel de Rothschild's tours of Spain: 1909

Sources for local history: Tring Park: c.1900

Sources for Royal history: shooting party with Edward Prince of Wales: 1893

Sources for political history: Lionel de Rothschild: first Jewish MP: 1858

Sources for sporting history: St Amant winner of the Derby: 1904

Sources for local history: gardeners at Aston Clinton: 1899

Sources for Rothschild family history: Lionel de Rothschild's yacht Rhodora: 1927

Sources for London history: entrance to New Court: 1965

Sources for design history: plans for Lionel de Rothschild's Rolls-Royce: 1930

Sources for business history: Rothschild gold bars produced by the Royal Mint Refinery: 1930s

Sources for business history: letters of August Belmont Rothschild Agent in New York: 1860s

April 2017: Cinquantenaire de la Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-lits & des Grands Express Européens

Treasure of the Month: The collections of The Rothschild Archive London contain over two million pieces of paper, volumes, files, photographs, artefacts and art works. Each month the archivists will highlight a particular treasure from the collections.

In 1926, the Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-lits celebrated 50 years since its foundation, producing a commemorative booklet to mark the achievement. The company operated some of the most luxurious trains in Europe, and many of its elegant dining cars and sleeper services ran on lines built by the French Rothschilds.

Rothschild has been involved with railway finance for over 180 years. In the 1830s, while railway mania gripped England, leading to haphazard development, the Rothschild banks remained aloof, observing the best practices of the time and then carrying them forward into continental investment in rail networks.  Careful assessment of emerging business opportunities ensured that the business was not exposed to high-risk investments.       

Building on the contacts already established during the early 1830s, N M Rothschild & Sons acted for the Belgian government in raising funds for a national railway system, planned by George Stephenson to radiate out from Brussels. The first line, from Antwerp to Cologne, was opened in 1835. Encouraged by Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) in England, the family in Vienna and Paris determined to become involved in pioneering rail development on the continent. In spite of the success of the railways in England, continental 'experts', were loud in their opposition to the innovation. It was claimed that passengers would suffocate in tunnels, spectators and livestock would be driven mad by the speed of the passing trains and the countryside would be ravaged by fire from the locomotives. However, there were enough forward-thinking engineers and contractors to ensure that, with proper financial backing, it was not long before steps were taken to establish new lines.

Railways in Austria

Salomon von Rothschild (1774-1855) of the Vienna banking house, S. M. von Rothschild, was an early convert to the cause of the railways. In 1835 permission was granted to begin construction of the Kaiser-Ferdinands-Nordbahn, from Florisdorf to Vienna so named to appeal to the new Emperor's vanity. Baron von Drohsdick, the official concerned with granting the application, in recommending Salomon's proposal, wrote, "…through his considerable personal resources, his vast credit, and his extensive connections, the banker Rothschild is so exceptionally suited for forming a Public Company, that there could not be any objection…". The enthusiasm of the public for the railway was such that the initial share offering was six times oversubscribed. Substantial difficulties were overcome to build the line and with the success of this venture Salomon began to realise his vision of developing a much wider network within the Austrian Empire.

Don't risk it, Your Majesty! 

James de Rothschild (1792-1868), who had established de Rothschild Frères in Paris, was quick to follow his brother's example.  His first steps were taken as a financier, when he took a 23.5 % stake in the Paris-St Germain line, the brainchild of two entrepreneurial brothers, Emile and Isaak Pereire. The 12-mile long line opened ahead of schedule, in 1837. "Don't risk  it,  Your  Majesty" was  the  advice  given  to Louis   Philippe,  King   of  France,  by  his  Government when Queen Marie-Amélie and her children boarded the first train to make the journey to St Germain at a speed of ten miles per hour; a speed considered  potentially dangerous to  the  nervous courtiers and  politicians. The success of this venture led to a further collaboration between the parties, the Paris-Versailles line along the left bank of the river Seine, which opened in 1839.

The 1840s witnessed the rapid growth of James de Rothschild's involvement with French railways. The major undertaking and jewel in the crown of the Rothschild rail network in France was the Chemin de Fer du Nord, running initially between Paris and Valenciennes on the Belgian border. When the French government finally awarded the contract for the line in 1845, the Paris and London houses were the largest shareholders, providing funding and overseeing the construction. By 1860, the Chemin de Fer du Nord had become one of the key rail routes in France.

N M Rothschild & Sons

In the nineteenth century alone, the London house handled over twenty loans to bring railways to Austria (South Austrian, Lombardo, Venetian and Central Italian Railway) France (including the Chemin de fer de Nord), Spain (Madrid - Zaragoza Railway, in conjunction with the French Rothschilds), Burma (Burma Railways Company Limited), Russia (Imperial Russian Livny Narrow Gauge Railway) and Brazil (Bahia and San Francisco Railway Company). The firm engaged the most skilled engineers, such as George Stephenson's company, to work on the lines it financed, ensuring popular confidence in rail investment and travel. Closer to home, the London bank participated in the funding of London Underground Electric Railways in the 1920s and 1930s.

Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-lits

Georges Nagelmackers (1845-1905), founder of the Compagnie Internationale de Wagons-Lits, was born in the Belgium city of Liege in 1845. He was the Jewish son of wealthy bankers and was a trained engineer. During his trip to the US in 1867 he was impressed by the Pullman night trains, and upon his return home, he decided to establish a network of such trains in Europe. He envisioned that such trains should be luxurious and travel across borders. The company quickly established itself as the premier provider and operator of European railway sleeping and dining cars during the late 19th and the 20th centuries. The company ran either complete trains of Wagon-Lits cars or individual sleeping and dining cars were coupled onto services operated by the state railways of the European countries through which the Wagon-Lits cars passed. The company introduced famous services, such as the Orient-Express, the Nord Express, and the Sud Express and the Train Bleu and expanded to markets outside Europe with involvement in the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia. The Company's trains also reached China and Cairo. Many of its trains ran over Rothschild tracks, and its luxury services were patronized by members of the Rothschild family. 

RAL 000/1804