Oscar Solomon Straus


Biography of Oscar Solomon Straus

Oscar Solomon Straus (December 23, 1850 – May 3, 1926) was United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1906 to 1909. Straus was the first Jewish United States Cabinet Secretary.

He was born in Otterberg, Germany. He emigrated with his parents to the United States, and settled in Talbotton, Georgia. At the close of the Civil War he moved to New York City where he graduated from Columbia College in 1871 and Columbia Law School in 1873. He practised law until 1881, and then became a merchant, retaining his interest in literature. He first served as United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1887 to 1889 and again from 1898 to 1899.

In December 1906, Straus became the United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt. This position also placed him in charge of the United States Bureau of Immigration. During his tenure, Straus ordered immigration inspectors to work closely with local police and the United States Secret Service to find, arrest and deport immigrants with Anarchist political beliefs under the terms of the Anarchist Exclusion Act.

Straus left the Commerce Department in 1909 when William Howard Taft became president and became U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire until 1910. In 1912, he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York on the Progressive and Independence League tickets.

His memoirs, Under Four Administrations, were published in 1922.

The Straus family had several influential members including Straus's grandson Roger W. Straus, Jr., who started the publishing company of Farrar, Straus and Giroux; his brother, Isidor Straus, who perished aboard the RMS Titanic in 1912, served as a representative from New York City's 15th District, and was co-owner of the department store R. H. Macy & Co. along with another brother Nathan; and nephew Jesse Isidor Straus, confidant of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ambassador to France from 1933 to 1936.

Washington, D.C., commemorates the achievements of this famous Jewish-German-American statesman in the Oscar Straus Memorial. He is buried at Beth El Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York.

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