Search billions of records on


Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd. ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 567-571

HENRY GREENEBAUM, a well-known business man of Chicago of long years’ standing, is descended from very ancient and honorable families. His grandfather, Elias Greenebaum, was an iron merchant at Reipolskirchen, in Rhenish Bavaria. It is notable that this line of mercantile industry has been continued to the present, one of the leading iron houses of Chicago having been until recently conducted by great-grandsons of Elias Greenebaum. Being a Jew, the last-named was at a great social disadvantage in Germany, yet such were his energy, capability and integrity, that he was appointed Treasurer of his county. This position involved great responsibility at that time, owing to the existence in the neighborhood of a powerful bandit, who commanded a strong organization of followers, whom he ruled with despotic power. He was known by the nickname of “Schinderhannes,” and acted much upon the plan of the Robin Hood of English history, who took from the rich and gave largely to the poor. For many years he was a terror to the people and officers of the region where he flourished, but was finally captured and beheaded at Mainz. During his term of official life Elias Greenebaum was compelled to maintain a strong guard about his premises continually to protect the public funds, as well as his own, from attacks of the robber king.

Jacob Greenebaum and Sarah Herz, parents of the subject of this biography, were cousins, and grandchildren of “Jakob,” of Rathskirchen, who was born in the early part of the eighteenth century, and whose descendants have been active and prominent citizens in many lands. One of his sons, Herz Felsenthal, was a delegate to the synod held in Paris in 1806, by decree of Napoleon I. It was during this time that the Jews in Germany took surnames, and this family assumed that of Felsenthal. Among Jakob’s great-grandchildren were Dr. Felsenthal, an eminent physician of Darmstadt, who died in 1885, and Dr. Greenebaum, who was Rabbi emeritus at Landau, Bavaria, and died in 1893. Dr. B. Felsenthal, of Chicago, now in his seventy-fifth year, and long known here as a man of science and public spirit, is one of the great-great-grandchildren; so also is August Blum, Cashier of the Union National Bank of Chicago; Eli B. Felsenthal, an attorney-at-law, and a Trustee of the Chicago University; also Mrs. Hannah Greenebaum Solomon, President of the National Council of Jewish Women of America. A niece of Mrs. Solomon, and representing the sixth generation from Jakob, was married in San Diego, California, at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Max Lesem, in 1894.

Jacob Greenebaum was born at Reipolskirchen, and lost his father by death when he was six years old. He was brought up to commercial pursuits, having the advantage of a thorough education in the German, French and Hebrew languages, and became a merchant at Eppelsheim, in the Grand Duchy of Darmstadt. He possessed a taste for agriculture, and gradually came into possession of land in the Commune of Eppelsheim and adjoining territory, until he owned and managed a large estate. His wife, of sacred memory, was a daughter of Michael and Jetta (Felsenthal) Herz, of Eppelsheim, where Mr. Herz was a veterinary surgeon and a livestock dealer. They were able to give their children the benefit of the best schools, and did not fail to thus perform their duty in preparing them for the stations for which they were fitted by birth and capability. In 1852 Mr. Greenebaum sold his possessions and came to Chicago to be near his sons, three of whom had preceded him by several years. He did not engage in active business after coming here, but made real-estate purchases and built a number of houses for rent. He died in 1870, at the age of seventy-three years, and was followed to the grave by a very large concourse of people, the large courthouse bell being tolled as the procession moved, May 11, 1870. His wife survived him thirteen years, reaching the age of eighty-seven years. Eight of their thirteen children came to America, the others having died before the removal of their parents from Eppelsheim, several of them in infancy. Elias, the eldest, is a prominent banker in Chicago. Michael, the second, was an iron merchant, and did an extensive business in Chicago, where he died in 1894, leaving a widow and a large and interesting family of sons and daughters. He came to America in 1846, and to Chicago the next year. Jacob, the third, died here in 1871, and Isaac in 1885. The latter was a hardware merchant, and later in life became a broker in Chicago. Henry is the next in order of birth. Hannah died while the wife of Gerhard Foreman, an old-time banker of this city. Barbara is the wife of A. Wise, of Chicago; and David S., the youngest of the family, is engaged in the banking business in the same city. Elias, Michael and Henry preceded the rest of the family to Chicago.

Henry Greenebaum was born at Eppelsheim, Germany, June 18, 1833. He received his primary education in the public schools, where he early attracted the favorable notice of the teachers and school officers. He then took up the classics at Alzey and Kaiserslautern, and only left off his literary researches when he started for America. He arrived in Chicago October 25, 1848, and at once took employment as a hardware sales-man in the establishment of W. F. Dominick, who conducted a strictly cash and one-price business. Young Greenebaum found this employment congenial, especially as its conduct harmonized with his ideas of integrity and sound financial management. After two years of service, in which he did not fail to improve his opportunities, he engaged as clerk in the banking house of General R. K. Swift. Here he met many prominent citizens of the state, and his intercourse with them enhanced his knowledge of men and affairs. He was inspired with a laudable ambition to become a man of business, and he so applied himself as to be thoroughly conversant with banking in the course of four years, during which time he made a trip to Europe and formed business connections for his employer.

At the end of this period, in connection with his elder brother, Elias, a clerk in the same bank, he opened a similar business on his own account. In fact, all of the Greenebaum brothers, except Jacob, became at one time or another bankers, though not in the same bank. The subject of this sketch did not follow the limited lines of nationality or religious affiliation, but fraternized with New Englanders and Southerners, as well as the natives of the Fatherland. He was a reader and lover of books, and joined the Young Men’s Library Association, in whose affairs he was an active officer, with Robert Collyer and others, until the Great Fire. He was among the early officers of the Athenĉeum, another literary institution after the fire, and was among the promoters of the City Library. As a member of the committee of which the late Thomas Hoyne was Chairman, he went to Springfield and aided in securing the permanent establishment of this great institution, which has grown to be one of the most important and valuable establishments of the city of his home.

He became President of the German-National Bank, which was compelled by the panic of 1877 to close its doors after a long-continued run, in which it paid eighty per cent, of its liabilities in cash, and within a comparatively short time paid the balance, with interest. The German Savings Bank, of which he was also President, had a similar experience at the same time, and met its liabilities in the same honorable manner. The aggregate deposits of these banks in the time of their highest prosperity approximated five millions of dollars.

In his social and benevolent activities Mr. Greenebaum has accomplished a stupendous work, the simple enumeration of which almost exceeds the capacity of this article. His great heart and wide popularity are evidenced by the mere mention of these associations. He is a life member of the Chicago Historical Society, the Academy of Sciences, the Astronomical Society, and of several kindred associations. Through secret and benevolent societies he has been permitted to do more for his fellows than often falls in the way of a single man. All Jewish interests, congregational, charitable and educational, owe a heavy debt to the tireless energy and enthusiasm of Mr. Greenebaum. In 1855, at Cleveland, Ohio, he joined the nearest lodge of the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith, and two years later took a card of withdrawal in order to assist in instituting Rammah Lodge Number 33, of that fraternity, in Chicago. He was an active member of District Lodge Number 2 for ten years, and one of the founders of the Cleveland Orphan Asylum, of whose Board of Trustees he is still a member. At the convention of the order in 1868, at New York, as a member of the Committee on Constitution, he was largely instrumental in placing the entire body upon a Democratic basis, establishing the sovereignty of lodges. At that convention a charter was granted to District Grand Lodge Number 6, of which he became the first Grand President by unanimous choice, and. twice succeeded himself. His usefulness in these and other matters is well known to the great body of the Jewish people in Chicago, and has become almost as well established in foreign lands. In June, 1885, he assisted Julius Bien, President of this order, in instituting District Grand Lodge Number 8 at Berlin, Germany. Five years later he was in attendance at the convention of the order at Richmond, Virginia, representing the Berlin District Grand Lodge, and in May, 1895, represented District No. 9, Roumania, at the convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has delivered many addresses in various conventions, the last being at Grand Rapids, Michigan, in February, 1892, upon “Knowledge and Character.” His spoken and written matter is always clear and effective. He is an officer of the Jewish Training School, a Director in the German Altenheim, and holds membership in many other organizations.

In the purely religious institutions of his people in Chicago he has ever been foremost and efficient. Before he was of age he was Secretary of the congregation B'nai Sholom. In 1855 he withdrew to join that of Anshe Maarib, and was elected an honorary member of the congregation of B'nai Sholom. He was one of a minority in Anshe Maarib who proposed a modification of forms of Jewish worship, and was associated with Levi Rosenfeld and Lazarus Silverman as a committee to make the desired changes in the official ritual. Although the majority were favorable to their report, Mr. Greenebaum would not consent to its adoption by a mere majority, and according to his desire the reformers were induced to go out and form a new congregation, which is now known as Sinai, and is the strongest congregation in Chicago. In 1864 Mr. Greenebaum was the founder of Zion Temple on the West Side, and was its President seven years. In 1882 he was requested to take charge again, which he did for two years, and during this time the movement was started for the building of the beautiful temple of the society erected at Washington Boulevard and Ogden Avenue. In the fall of 1895 a large number of co-religionists living south of Thirty-ninth Street united to organize the Isaiah Temple, a Jewish Reform congregation, with Dr. Joseph Stoltz as Rabbi, and Mr. Greenebaum was elected the first President of the congregation by a unanimous vote.

Mr. Greenebaum was one of the foremost in placing on a firm foundation the United Hebrew Charities, formerly known as the United Hebrew Relief Association. It built and maintained a hospital on La Salle Avenue. At the laying of its corner-stone, when Mayor John B. Rice was the only speaker beside Mr. Greenebaum, the latter said: “While it is true that it is to be built and when completed will be maintained by the Jews of Chicago, yet its doors will ever be open to any poor or sick man, without any reference to nationality, denomination, creed or color;” and his utterance was deeply applauded by the Jewish people present. He takes a just pride in the fact that he is an honorary member of Johanna Lodge, the leading organization of Jewish ladies in Chicago, devoted to charity and intellectual culture. He is also President of the Past-Presidents’ Association of District Grand Lodge Number 6, I.O.B.B., and for thirty years officiated in Zion Temple as reader on the most important Jewish holiday, the eve of the Day of Atonement.

As early as 1856 he took an active part in organizing several German societies, and was President of the German Aid Society in 1861. He was the first President of the Orpheus Mannaerchor, in 1869. On account of his services in furthering the war for the preservation of the American Union, he is an honorary member of the Eighty-second Illinois Veteran Association. During the Civil War he maintained a recruiting office in Chicago at his own expense, and furnished a man to serve in the army as his representative. He was Chief Marshal on the following occasions: the Siegel Festival in 1862; the great Peace Jubilee of 1871; the opening of Humboldt Park by the German people; and the unveiling of the Humboldt monument. He was Division Marshal at the unveiling of the Fritz Reuter monument, and was Adjutant-General on German Day at the World’s Fair in 1893, and also at the recent commemoration of the German victory at Sedan. It will thus be seen that he is and has been for forty years a prominent representative of the best German element in Chicago.

Mr. Greenebaum has never been a politician, and holds broad and liberal views on political, as well as religious, questions. He originally affiliated with the Democratic party, and was a warm admirer of Stephen A. Douglas, whose personal friend he was. Without his previous knowledge, he was placed on the Democratic . electoral ticket in 1860. His only political office previous to that was that of Alderman from the Sixth Ward, defeating in the election the “know-nothing” candidate. In the City Council he acted as Chairman of the Finance Committee. After the war he became a Republican, and was chosen Elector-at-Large on the Presidential ticket of that party in 1872. With Charles B. Farwell, he represented Cook County on the first Equalization Board of the state, and the clear financial ideas of these two gentlemen enabled the first board to complete its business in five days. He was appointed by Governor Palmer a delegate to a national convention at Indianapolis to devise means for protecting European immigrants, and was a member of the committee which laid the matter before Congress. He was a member of the Committee on Finance to make preliminary arrangements for the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. He was active in promoting the adoption of Chicago’s park system, and was appointed a member of the West Chicago Park Commission in 1869, and was once re-appointed. He was one of the first promoters of direct trade between Chicago and Europe, and for many years his letters-of-credit were readily cashed throughout the civilized world.

In 1855 Mr. Greenebaum was married, in New York, to Miss Emily Hyman, whose birthplace is not far from that of her husband. Having been trained in the same manner and under the same customs, they have been happily united all these years in aim and thought, and are warmly welcomed in general, as well as Jewish, society. Mrs. Greenebaum sympathizes wholly with her husband’s benevolent disposition, and does her part in aiding him. For twenty-two years she has been the representative of the Jewish people in the directory of the Home for the Friendless, and has fulfilled her duties in perfect accord with her associates. The only child of this couple, born August 24, 1856, was named George Washington, and died on the day which completed his first year of life. Several orphaned children of relatives have been reared by Mr. and Mrs. Greenebaum with the same loving care which their own would have received had he been spared to them.

Though still influenced much by his early German training, Mr. Greenebaum is a true American, loyal through and through. He is a student of literature and modern languages, of which he speaks half a dozen, and is much interested in music. He has contributed liberally to the musical culture of Chicago, and to providing a home for musical art. He is a firm believer in the power of woman in the ethical development of the world, and approves of every effort to remove her trammels and make her the equal of man in liberties and power, as she is in talent.

Mr. Greenebaum is a resident Manager at Chicago of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, and has been connected with the company since the spring of 1882. His sterling character and business activity have secured for him a large business from the best element of Chicago, and won for him a deserved respect and confidence on the part of the general officers of the society. Although in his sixty-third year, he is a special favorite of the young people, to whom he is sympathetic and congenial as an associate. He is an optimist, and always pleasant and agreeable.

– Submitted by Sherri Hessickssick on May 27, 2007


DISCLAIMER:  The submitter is not related to the subject of this biography nor is she related to anyone mentioned in the biography.