Biography and History

Otto Kahn, international banker, philanthropist, and patron of the arts and music, was born in Mannheim, Germany, on February 21, 1867. He was the son of Bernhard, a banker, and Emma Kahn. His father took part in the German Revolution of 1848 and was condemned to death. He escaped to America and became a naturalized citizen. After ten years he returned to Germany and was able to marry Emma Eberstadt with the consent of her parents on the condition that he not return to America.

At the age of 17, Kahn finished his studies and began work as a junior clerk in a banking house in Karlsruhe. While learning the fundamental skills of banking, he continued his musical studies and attended lectures at the local university. Kahn then served in the military for a few years. Afterward he returned to banking and spent the next five years in London with Deutsche-Bank. Then in 1893 he accepted a position in the United States with the banking firm Speyer & Co.

Kahn married Addie Wolff in 1896 and together they had four children: Emily Maud, Margaret-Dorothy, Gilbert Wolff, and Roger Wolff. On January 1, 1897, Kahn entered the banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. as a partner. Kahn aided the reorganization of the Union Pacific and many other railroad companies making Kuhn, Loeb & Co. one of the top banking houses.

Kahn served as the director of both Equitable Trust Co. of New York and Los Angeles & Salt Lake R. R. Co., and as the chairman of the Finance and Currency Committee of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York. He was also a trustee of MIT, Rutgers College, and Carnegie Institute of Technology. Many universities, such as Michigan, George Washington, and Lincoln Memorial, have awarded him honorary degrees.

During World War I, Kahn played a very active role in aiding public services in various countries. The governments of France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain bestowed high honors on him for his philanthropic work.Kahn was a life-long patron of the arts and music, especially in New York City, and held various positions on the Board of the Metropolitan Opera House for over 25 years. He was responsible for bringing in Guilo Gatti-Casazza as director and Arturo Toscanini as principal conductor, as well as making many artistic and business reforms. Kahn also founded the Chicago Opera and served on the board of various other musical companies.

Otto Kahn died of a heart attack in his New York office on March 30, 1934. His family received hundreds of condolences due to his long banking career, involvement in the arts, and other philanthropic endeavors.

Source: From the finding aid for TC032

  • Ivy Ledbetter Lee Papers. 1881-2003 (inclusive), 1915-1946 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC085"

    The Ivy L. Lee Papers consist of personal papers and material from the public relations firm of Ivy Lee and Associates documenting his public relations theories and practice. Included are correspondence, diaries, articles, writings, public relations material, newsreels, and photographs reflecting his interest in public relations, transportation (especially railroads), financial markets, and foreign relations, among others. The Papers also contain documents relating to other Lee family members including Reverend James W. Lee (father), Emma Eufaula Lee (mother), Cornelia Bartlett Bigelow Lee (wife), Alice Lee Cudlipp (daughter), James W. Lee II (son), and Ivy L. Lee, Jr. (son).

  • Otto H. Kahn Papers. 1908-1934 (inclusive), 1920-1933 (bulk).

    Call Number: TC032

    The Otto H. Kahn Papers consists primarily of the correspondence of Otto H. Kahn (1867-1934), international banker, philanthropist, and patron of the arts and music, but also includes printed copies of addresses, talks, opinions, and speeches that Kahn gave on a variety of political and fiscal topics, as well as press clippings, letterbooks, and some photographs.

  • Otto H. Kahn Papers. 1908-1934 (inclusive), 1920-1933 (bulk).

    Call Number: TC032

    The Otto H. Kahn Papers consists primarily of the correspondence of Otto H. Kahn (1867-1934), international banker, philanthropist, and patron of the arts and music, but also includes printed copies of addresses, talks, opinions, and speeches that Kahn gave on a variety of political and fiscal topics, as well as press clippings, letterbooks, and some photographs.