Otto Kahn Biography

Otto Hermann Kahn (Mannheim, Germany, February 21, 1867 – New York, United States, March 29, 1934) was an investment banker, collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts.

He was born on February 21, 1867, and raised in the city of Mannheim, Germany, by Jewish parents. His father had been among the refugees to the United States after the revolution of 1848 and had become an American citizen, but later returned to Germany. Otto Kahn was educated in a gymnasium in Mannheim.

Kahn's ambition was to be a musician, and he learned to play several instruments before he graduated from the gymnasium. But he was one of eight children, and his father had set plans for the career of each one. Kahn he destined to be a banker. At 17, Kahn was placed in a bank at Karlsruhe as a junior clerk, where he remained for three years, advancing until he was thoroughly grounded in the intricacies of finance. He then served for a year in the Kaiser's hussars.

On leaving the army he went to the London agency of Deutsche Bank, where he remained five years. He displayed such unusual talents that he became second in command when he had been there but a comparatively short time. The English mode of life, both political and social, appealed to him, and eventually he became a naturalized British subject.

In 1893, he accepted an offer from Speyer and Company of New York and went to the United States, where he spent the rest of his life. On January 8, 1896, Kahn married Addie Wolff and following the couple's year-long tour of Europe, Kahn joined Kuhn, Loeb & Co. in New York City, where his father-in-law, Abraham Wolff, was a partner. In 1917, Kahn gave up his British nationality and became a United States citizen.

Besides his father-in-law, Kahn's other partners included Jacob Schiff, himself the son-in-law of Solomon Loeb, who co-founded the firm, and Paul and Felix Warburg. Almost immediately, Kahn was thrown into contact with railroad builder E. H. Harriman. In spite of sharply defined differences in temperament and method, they became as brothers. In opposition to Harriman's gruff, domineering, aggressive manner in business, was Kahn's calm, good-humored, almost gentle deportment. Kahn, although only 30 years old, took an almost equal part with Harriman in the gigantic task of reorganizing the Union Pacific Railroad, a work which in its early stages had been handled by Schiff. Kahn proved his ability to analyze mathematically and scientifically the problems that were constantly presented.

Kahn was soon to be acknowledged as the ablest reorganizer of railroads in the United States. He applied himself to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Missouri Pacific Railroad, the Wabash Railroad, the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, the Texas and Pacific Railroad, and other systems. More than once, his prompt and vigorous action averted an imminent financial panic. A notable instance was his rescuing from collapse the Pearson-Farquhar syndicate when it found itself in deep water in an attempt to combine several existing lines of railroad into a transcontinental system.

When American International Corporation was forming, Kahn took an active part in the negotiations, and brought them to a successful issue. Kahn conducted negotiations which led to the opening of the doors of the Paris Bourse to American securities and the listing there of $50,000,000 Pennsylvania bonds, in 1906, the first official listing of American securities in Paris. Also he had a large share later in the negotiations which resulted in the issue by Kuhn, Loeb and Company of $50,000,000 of City of Paris bonds and $60,000,000 Bordeaux-Lyons and Marseilles bonds.

In 1933, the smooth and affable Kahn successfully disarmed antagonism against members of the banking community during four days of testimony before the United States Senate's Pecora Commission hearings into the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The Senate's lead counsel Ferdinand Pecora wrote on page 293 in his 1939 memoir Wall Street Under Oath about Otto Kahn: "No suaver, more fluent, and more diplomatic advocate could be conceived. If anyone could succeed in presenting the customs and functions of the private bankers in a favorable and prepossessing light, it was he."

Kahn was a trustee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and of Rutgers College. He was a director in numerous corporations, including the Equitable Trust Co. of New York and the Union Pacific railway.

During the last years of Kahn's life he became increasingly frail and suffered from arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and attacks of angina pectoria. On March 29, 1934, following lunch in the private dining room of Kuhn, Loeb, Kahn suffered a massive heart attack and died, aged 67. Funeral services were held in the music room of his Long Island estate, followed by a burial in nearby St. John's Memorial Cemetery.