“It is nearly always easier to make a million dollars honestly than to dispose of it wisely,” said Julius Rosenwald. And he would know.
In 1895, Rosenwald became an early investor in Sears, Roebuck, the mail-order company that sold everything from clothes to ready-to-build houses. Eleven years later, he began presiding over its operations and took the company public, raising his personal wealth to $4 million in a few hours.
Rosenwald was conscious of his privilege. After reading Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Rosenwald began a philanthropic project of building African-American rural schools in the South. His program was revolutionary, not just in focus and scope, but in requiring each community to invest together with him in their schools. At the same time, Rosenwald funded civil rights projects organized by Washington’s ideological adversary,W.E.B. Du Bois.
With advice from his rabbi, Rosenwald used Maimonides‘ Eight Degrees of Charity, which prize respect and self-reliance over merely throwing money at a problem, in order to decide where his efforts would be most useful.
Most of Rosenwald’s programs are no longer in effect–rather than saving money for future endeavors, he believed in investing back into the community immediately. But his ideas, and the people who benefited from his programs, have made an indelible impact on this country.