HENRY ABRAHAMS, one of the self-made men of Chicago, was born September 28, 1837, at Kornmarck, near Posen, Prussia, and was one of the seventeen children of Louis Lipman and Rosa (Moses) Abrahams. His career furnishes a forcible illustration of what may be achieved through force of natural ability, energy, perseverance, industry and integrity. Born in penury and reared in poverty, with no advantages and every obstacle, outside of his own personality, to overcome,he won his way to affluence and an influential position among the representative citizens of Chicago. Louis L. Abrahams was a tailor, who supported his large family by the earnings of his needle. Hoping to better his condition, he went to Newcastle, England, in 1840, and remained there until 1849, when he came to Chicago, where his widow still resides, at the age of eighty-five years.
Henry Abrahams showed his force of character and instinct for trade by starting out in life as a peddler in Chicago, at the age of twelve years, and was eminently successful. He continued in this occupation for twelve years, at the end of which period he felt able to take a wife and settle down in business. He accordingly married Elizabeth Gerber, a daughter of Joseph and Julia (Levy) Gerber. Joseph Gerber was a dry-goods merchant in Hoston, near Prague, Austria. Mr. Abrahams established himself as a retail grocer at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Adams Street, on the site now occupied by the Phelps, Dodge & Palmer Company, where he remained until his buildings and entire stock, valued at $55,000, were swept away by the great fire of 1871. At this time he was the owner of the southeast quarter of the block upon which he did business, besides nine houses on Adams and Quincy Streets and Fifth Avenue. It is said that he was before the fire the leading retail grocer of the city. As was the case with many others, his loss by the fire was nearly total, on account of the failure of the insurance companies.
Subsequent to the fire, Mr. Abrahams disposed of all his South Side property and bought lots on the corner of Van Buren and Halsted Streets, covering all of the block fronting on Van Buren Street, except two lots, which he owned at the time of his death. At the same time he purchased eight acres at Fifty-fifth Street and Garfield Boulevard. For the latter property he paid $8,000 in 1872, and sold the same in 1891 for $60,000. He continued business on the West Side until his retirement from commercial relations in 1880. He subsequently engaged in the real-estate and loan business, giving his attention largely to his own investments. It was always a gratification to him to reflect that he had never filled a subordinate position, being always the proprietor of the business in which he was engaged.
The success of this remarkable man is especially noteworthy from the fact that until his second marriage, in 1867, he had not learned to read or write. He never kept any books, and was able to refer with as much reliance to his memory for the details of every transaction as the ordinary merchant does to his books. The date of a note, its maturity and the interest accrued could always be told by him at a moment's notice. His memory with regard to other matters was equally retentive. He attributed this remarkable faculty to constant reliance upon his memory, unassisted by the usual accessories.
In 1866 Mr. Abrahams was bereaved of his wife by cholera, and her body was the first one buried in Graceland Cemetery. She left three children: Abraham Abrahams, late Health Inspector of the Fourth Ward; Moses, a furniture dealer in Clinton, Iowa; and Albert, who died at seven years of age. In 1867 Mr. Abrahams married Eleanora, sister of his first wife, who survives him and is the mother of the following children: Max, a plumber, and Fanny, the wife of Isadore Weiskopf, of Chicago; Bessie, the wife of Albert Richmond, of Philadelphia, formerly proprietor of the Standard Theatre of Chicago, and now sole wholesale agent for the Schlitz Brewing Company at Philadelphia, where his wife operates one of the largest photograph galleries; Joseph, a graduate of the public schools of the West Side Business College, now manager of his father's estate; and George and Louis, at present students at Notre Dame University, Indiana. Elizabeth, the second, died at eighteen years of age; Albert, the sixth, at thirteen; and Sarah, the seventh, in childhood. Mrs. Abrahams' grandchildren are: Leo Weiskopf and Leroy and Wilfred Richmond.
Mr. Abrahams' death occurred on the eleventh day of April, 1894, at his home at No. 3355 Forest Avenue, which he purchased and occupied in 1891. He was a man of fine appearance and pleasant address, and his friendship was of that warm and earnest character which attracted and held men to him. He was generous, and many remember with pleasure the time when he was to them a friend in need. His eminent geniality and social qualities brought him so closely in contact with his fellow-men that he naturally became a member of many societies, among which may be mentioned the Masonic and Odd Fellows' orders, B'nai B'rith, Hebrew Beneficiary Association, Sons of Benjamin, Old Settlers' Society of Chicago, and others. He was prominent and in- fluential in politics, a member of the Democratic party, and a man whose counsel had great weight with his associates in party affairs. He always refused nominations for office, which were frequently urged upon him, preferring to be a worker for the interests of the party to which he gave his allegiance rather than receive the emoluments of office. He was not only a genial and popular citizen, but was the kindest and most indulgent of fathers and husbands, and was the idol of his family.
Submitted by Sherri Hessick on November 29, 2008.
DISCLAIMER: The submitter is not related to the subject of this biography nor is she related to anyone mentioned in the biography.