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‘america’s Most Unselfish Man,’ Edward A. Filene, Fights Usury

How a former Austrian Jew, who became world-famous as the head of the second largest ladies’ ready-to-wear store in the world, and who originated the “bargain-basement” store, today, at the age of 73, is devoting the rest of his years to fighting usury so that “the little man,” the wage-earner and farmer, can have more money to spend, was revealed by Thomas W. Doig, field secretary of the Credit Union National Extension Bureau, here.

America’s most unselfish man, as he is termed, is Edward A. Filene, Boston Jewish leader, multi-millionaire, philanthropist, one of the nation’s business leaders, friend of President Roosevelt and head of the NRA in Massachusetts.

“Mr. Filene was the first man in America to advocate establishment of a credit union movement,” Mr. Doig declared. “Credit unions are associations of a group of people—members of a firm, members of a church or synagogue, an American Legion post and the like—who band together to save systematically and to lend from $5 to $2,000 to members at a low rate of interest.

HAS SPENT $900,000

“To sell the Credit Union to America Mr. Filene has already spent $900,000. He has footed the bill for the Credit Union National Extension Bureau, with headquarters at Boston; and the Twentieth Century Fund, which he endowed in 1919 with $1,000,000, and of which such notables as Newton D. Baker, Owen Young and Max Lewenthal are directors, annually contributes $50,000 for credit union work in America.

“Here is a striking fact,” Mr. Doig went on, “the credit union was first conceived by a German, William Reiffeisen, in the little town of Flammersfeld, on the Rhine, in 1848. Pestilence stalked the land, crops failed and the people were without credit. Reiffeisen formed then the first credit union. For forty years he spread his idea, and forty “Reiffeisen banks” were created.

“In Italy Luigi Luzzati, an Italian Jew, promoted the credit union idea. A French Canadian Catholic, Alphonse Des Jardiens, brought Reiffeisen’s plan to Canada. And an Austrian born Jew, Edward A. Filene, made possible the credit union in America. That’s something for Hitler to think about.

“Mr. Filene, at 73, is still active, an energetic little man who spends most of his time traveling, and whose chief interest is to use his $25,000,000 fortune for philanthropic endeavors,” Mr. Doig said.

3,000 CREDIT UNIONS IN U. S.

“As a result of Mr. Filene’s great public service there are now in the United States 3,000 credit unions with 450,000 members and $75,000,000 in assets, and millions of Americans have been lent money through credit unions.

“Mr. Filene’s thought in fathering credit unions has been to eliminate usury. He is shrewd and far-sighted and he has told me: ‘In one State in the Union alone $42,000,000 interest was paid on $100,000,000 in loans. Under the credit union plan the interest would have been reduced to $12,000,000, releasing $30,000,000 in buying power.’

“Eliminate usury and your buying power is freed. Eighty percent of our people are in debt today, because they fell into the evils of installment buying. The credit union promoted cash buying. The purpose of the loan is important in credit union operation.

“In Minneapolis a leading bank has formed a credit union to do for its customers seeking personal loans what the bank itself does for those asking commercial loans. In Seattle, a Jewish group, the Workman’s Circle, established the first credit union.

“And for all the blessings credit unions have brought to millions of Americans, a public spirited Jew is responsible.”

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