Isidor Straus
Straus in 1903
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 15th district
In office
January 30, 1894 – March 3, 1895
Preceded byAshbel P. Fitch
Succeeded byPhilip B. Low[1]
Personal details
Born(1845-02-06)February 6, 1845
Otterberg, Kingdom of Bavaria
DiedApril 15, 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 67)
North Atlantic Ocean
Cause of deathSinking of the Titanic
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1871)
Children7, including Jesse
OccupationCo-owner of Macy's department store

Isidor Straus (February 6, 1845 – April 15, 1912) was a Bavarian-born American businessman, politician and co-owner of Macy's department store with his brother Nathan. He also served for just over a year as a member of the United States House of Representatives.[2] He died with his wife, Ida, in the sinking of the Titanic.

Early life

Straus was born into a Jewish family in Otterberg in the former Palatinate, then ruled by the Kingdom of Bavaria. He was the first of five children of Lazarus Straus (1809–1898) and his second wife and first cousin, Sara Straus (1823–1876).[3] His siblings were Hermine (1846–1922), Nathan (1848–1931), Jakob Otto (1849–1851) and Oscar Solomon Straus (1850–1926). In 1854 he and his family immigrated to the United States, following his father, Lazarus, who immigrated two years before. They settled first in Columbus, Georgia, and then lived in Talbotton, Georgia, where their house still exists today. He was preparing to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point when the outbreak of the American Civil War prevented him from doing so.[4] In 1861, he was elected an officer in a Confederate military unit but was not allowed to serve because of his youth; in 1863, he went to England to secure ships for blockade running.[5] Straus worked as an aide to a London-based Confederate agent while living in England, as well as a Confederate bond salesman in both London and Amsterdam.[6]


After the Civil War, they moved to New York City, where Lazarus convinced Rowland Hussey Macy, founder of Macy's, to allow L. Straus & Sons to open a crockery department in the basement of his store.

Isidor Straus worked at L. Straus & Sons, which became the glass and china department at Macy's. In 1888, he and Nathan Straus became partners of Macy's. In 1893 he and his brother bought a controlling interest in Wechsler & Straus, renamed Abraham & Straus. By 1896, Isidor and his brother Nathan had gained full ownership of R. H. Macy & Co.[7]

Marriage and children

In 1871, Isidor Straus married Rosalie Ida Blun (1849–1912). They were parents to seven children (one of whom died in infancy):

Among his great-great-granddaughters are singer Mikaela Mullaney Straus, known by her stage name King Princess,[11] and Wendy Rush (née Weil), the widow of Stockton Rush who founded the deep sea tourism company OceanGate and lost his life on a dive in a submersible in 2023 to the wreck of the Titanic.[12]

Political career

He served as a U.S. Congressman from January 30, 1894, to March 3, 1895, as a Democratic representative of New York's 15th congressional district. He won a special election in January 1894[13] to complete the term of Ashbel P. Fitch, who had resigned to become New York City Comptroller. Straus did not run for re-election in the general election of November 1894. Also, Straus was president of The Educational Alliance and a prominent worker in charitable and educational movements, very much interested in civil service reform and the general extension of education. He declined the office of Postmaster General which was offered him by U.S. President Grover Cleveland.[14]

When the newly formed Mutual Alliance Trust Company opened for business in New York on the Tuesday after June 29, 1902, there were 13 directors, including Emanuel Lehman, William Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Straus.[15]

Death on the Titanic

The gravesite of Isidor Straus in Woodlawn Cemetery

Traveling back from a winter in Europe, mostly spent at Cape Martin in southern France, Isidor and his wife were passengers on the Titanic when, at about 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, it hit an iceberg. Once it was clear the Titanic was sinking, Ida refused to leave Isidor and would not get into a lifeboat without him.[16] According to friend and Titanic survivor Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, when he offered to ask an officer if Isidor could enter a lifeboat with Ida, Isidor refused to be made an exception while women and children were still on board, while Ida is reported to have said, "I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so we will die, together." Ida gave her maid her fur coat and insisted she get into a lifeboat. Isidor and Ida were last seen on deck arm in arm; eyewitnesses described the scene as a "most remarkable exhibition of love and devotion".[17] The ship sank at 2:20 am.

Isidor's body was recovered by CS Mackay-Bennett and taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and from there shipped to New York. He was first buried in the Straus-Kohns Mausoleum at Beth-El Cemetery in Brooklyn, and he was then moved to the Straus Mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx in 1928. Ida's body was never found, so the family collected water from the wreck site and placed it in an urn in the mausoleum. Isidor and Ida are memorialized on a cenotaph outside the mausoleum with a quote from the Song of Solomon (8:7): "Many waters cannot quench love—neither can the floods drown it."[18]


Straus Hall, Harvard College

In addition to the cenotaph at Woodlawn Cemetery, there are three other memorials to Isidor and Ida Straus in their adopted home of New York City:

Straus Hall, one of Harvard's freshman residence halls in Harvard Yard, was given in honor of the Strauses by their three sons.[21]

In popular culture

The couple are portrayed in the 1953 film Titanic, the 1958 film A Night to Remember, and in the musical Titanic, in scenes that are faithful to the accounts described above. In the 1979 film S.O.S. Titanic, Ida and Isidor are shown, however the film deviates from the accounts and has Ida tell Isidor that she plans to "stay a little while." In the 1997 film Titanic, the Strauses are briefly depicted (despite there being no evidence they returned to their cabin and despite the fact that Isidor's body was later recovered) kissing and holding each other on their bed as their stateroom floods with water, during a sequence of emotional events while the ship's string quartet plays the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee". A deleted scene, in harmony with the accounts of rescued survivors, shows Isidor (played by Lew Palter) attempting to persuade Ida (played by Elsa Raven) to enter a lifeboat, which she refuses to do.

See also


  1. ^ "Isidor Straus Biography". History, Art and Archives. Office of the Historian, United States House of Representatives. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  2. ^ "STRAUS, Isidor - Biographical Information".
  3. ^ "Reminiscences of Jacob Greenebaum, Sr. - Written for his Children in 1859 Volume 2 Number 1" (PDF). Straus Historical Society. August 2000. : Johanette GREENEBAUM married Isaak STRAUS in about 1808. They were the parents of 14 children. Their oldest, Lazarus STRAUS, married his first cousin, Sara STRAUS. Lazarus and Sara were the parents of Isidor, Hermine, Nathan and Oscar
  4. ^ The Encyclopedia Americana: A universal reference library ..., Volume 14 1905
  5. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia Isidor Straus; for details of his brief service see Kurt Stone's "The Jews of Capital Hill.."(p.54)
  6. ^ "Straus". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved May 21, 2022.
  7. ^ Straus, Isidor. Autobiography of Isidor Straus. Independently published by the Straus Historical Society, 2011. p. 117-150
  8. ^ "Straus, Percy Selden, 1876-1944". The Frick Collection - Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  9. ^ Harvard College Class of 1897 Fourth Report. Forgotten Books. February 6, 2018. p. 197. ISBN 9781334712180.
  10. ^ Lyons, Richard D. (January 21, 1994). "Stuart Scheftel, 83; Executive Took Part In Many Civic Posts". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Newstead, Al (October 19, 2018). "King Princess on reappropriating White Stripes and her "extra as hell" family history". triple j. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  12. ^ Patil, Anushka (June 21, 2023). "Submersible Pilot's Spouse Is Descended From a Famous Titanic Couple". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 22, 2023.
  13. ^ "Our Campaigns - NY District 15 Special Race - Jan 30, 1894".
  14. ^ Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Straus, Isidor" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  15. ^ "Mutual Alliance Trust Co.", The New York Times, New York, p. 35, January 23, 2017, retrieved September 28, 2017
  16. ^ "Great-grandson of elderly 'Titanic' couple shares their real story". December 18, 2017. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  17. ^ Bollman, Steve (2016). The Choice Wine. 7 Steps to a Superabundant Marriage. Greenleaf Book Group Press. p. 48. ISBN 9781626342507.[attribution needed]
  18. ^ Straus, Isidor. Autobiography of Isidor Straus. Independently published by the Straus Historical Society, 2011. p.168–176
  19. ^ Straus, Isidor. Autobiography of Isidor Straus. Independently published by the Straus Historical Society, 2011. p. 175-176
  20. ^ Thrasher, Steven (February 23, 2010). "Inside a Divided Upper East Side Public School: Whites in the front door, blacks in the back door". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  21. ^ "Harvard Gazette: This month in Harvard history". Archived from the original on April 13, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2010.

Further reading