This morning Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy with the intention of dissolving itself. What most people don’t know is that the firm dates back 164 years to its founding not in New York City but in Montgomery, AL. I was just in Montgomery last week, so their origin was more poignant for me.
Henry Lehman started as a retailer in Montgomery, an immigrant from Germany. Shortly afterwards he was joined by his two brothers Emanuel and Mayer. The goods that they sold were often paid for with cotton, the currency of the Old South. The brothers were soon making more money in trading cotton than in selling goods.
This same phenomenon occurred with my own grandfather who started in the hardware business, receiving timothy, red top and clover seed at harvest. He also made more money with the seed than he ever did with hardware. The seed business was a family operation from 1903 until being sold in 1987.
The Lehman’s opened an office in NYC in 1858 and moved their operations there during the Civil War, also known as the War of Northern Aggression in the South.
At the turn of the 1900s they were the main investment bank that financed many of the new retailers of the day like Sears, Macy’s, May and Woolworth’s.
It’s a shame to see them go under.