Chess Created the Rothschild Fortune

Jun 23, 2011, 6:55 PM |

A few months ago I had written about a chess-playing member of the famous Rothschild family, Jacqueline Piatigorsky.  I recently came across a book with the following tale (the reader can decide its veracity) of the founding of the Roschschild fortune:

The Boy Travellers in Northern Europe 
by Thomas Wallace Knox 

     Frank [Frank Bassett,one of the boy travellers; Fred Bronson is the other] then turned the thoughts of his companions to something more practical than poets and their works. He remarked that they would see the house of the Rothschilds, the famous bankers, whose wealth is said to be the greatest amount held by any single family in the world. Accordingly, he told the guide to take them to the Jews' quarter, or Judengasse, and in a little while they were in that not very attractive locality.
     "It may surprise you a little," said Frank, "when I tell you that the immense fortune of the Rothschilds had its foundation in America."
     '' I don't see how that can be," said Fred, "when none of the family ever went to our country or had any relations with it until long after the fortune was established."
     "Nevertheless, that was the case," the youth replied. "You know that during the Revolutionary war a great many Hessian soldiers were sent over to aid the British troops in subduing the rebellious Continentals."
     "Certainly I do," said Fred; "every American school-boy knows that, or ought to know it."
     "Well," continued Frank, "the Landgrave of Hesse sold those Hessian soldiers—sold them just like so many oxen or horses—to George III., King of England. There were seventeen thousand of these soldiers, and King George paid twenty millions of dollars for them. The landgrave left these twenty millions, and as much more, to his son and successor, William IV.
     After the battle of Jena, in 1806, the landgrave was obliged to flee for safety, and he did not know what to do with his money. His friend, Baron Esthorff, had recommended to him a shrewd banker of Frankfort, named Mayer Anselm Rothschild, as an excellent man to take charge of the money. So the banker was sent for, and when he reached the palace at Cassel the landgrave and Baron Esthorff were engaged in a game of chess. The baron was about to win the game, and the landgrave asked Rothschild if he knew anything of chess.
     Thus appealed to, the banker suggested a move which enabled the landgrave to win. The move was made, the baron was defeated, and the landgrave remarked that a man who could play chess so well was a suitable person to handle the very large amount of money that was about to be intrusted to him.
     The forty millions of dollars were turned over to Rothschild, together with a great store of jewels, and gold and silver plate. The house of Rothschild was already well-to-do, and this amount of capital gave it a standing above all other bankers of Frankfort or any other city. The money was shrewdly invested at high rates of interest, and returned a great profit to the Rothschilds. When the landgrave returned in 1814 the banker to whom he had intrusted his wealth was dead; his son Anselm made out the account, with interest, but the landgrave refused to accept anything but the principal, which he said he would have lost had it not been for the fidelity of Mayer Anselm. Before he could withdraw the amount from the bank the news was received of the escape of Napoleon from Elba, and the money remained in the hands of the Rothschilds for nine years longer. Then it was returned to the successor of the landgrave, and the accounts of the banker and lender were closed, to the satisfaction of all concerned.
So you see that I had at least a fair reason for saying that the foundation of the immense fortune of the Rothschilds came from America, though no Rothschild ever went there."