The Hammerslough/Rosenwald family, clothiers

Advertisement from the 1857 Springfield City Directory

The Capitol Clothing House opened in Springfield in 1856 with the slogan “Low Prices and Good Goods.” Aside from providing inexpensive, ready-to-wear clothes to pre-Civil War Springfield, the Capitol Clothing House is the reason Springfield can boast that it was the birthplace of merchandiser and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.

The store was operated by the Hammerslough brothers – Julius, Edward and Louis, along with cousins Isidore and Simon. The parents of Julius, Edward and Louis were Solomon and Regina Benjamin Hammerschlag, German Jewish immigrants who settled in New York.  The family surname was changed to Hammerslough after they arrived in the U.S.

Samuel Rosenwald (1828-99), a fellow German Jewish immigrant, began working for the Hammersloughs in Baltimore in 1850. He later married the brothers’ sister Augusta (1833-1921).

The Hammersloughs opened more clothing stores in the South and Midwest, with Samuel Rosenwald serving as branch manager, first in Peoria and then Talladega, Ala., and Evansville, Ind.

In the summer of 1861, Samuel and Augusta arrived in Springfield with their eldest child, Ben, in tow. Samuel became manager of the Springfield Hammerslough store, which had been renamed Hammerslough & Bros. His move was partly due to the Civil War – the Hammersloughs were manufacturing uniforms for Union officers, and they needed corporate guidance at their Springfield location.

Samuel Rosenwald (Lincoln Home National Historic Site)

Augusta Rosenwald (findagrave.com)

Samuel Rosenwald successfully expanded the business. He also served as president of the Springfield Jewish Congregation, later Temple B’rith Sholom, for seven years beginning in 1867. (The congregation’s first president had been Julius Hammerslough, Rosenwald’s brother-in-law.)

The Hammersloughs dissolved their Springfield business in February 1868 and moved to New York.  (At one point, they were partners with the Saks brothers, Andrew and Samuel, whose business eventually became the luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue.)

Samuel Rosenwald, however, stayed in town, taking over the Hammerslough store on the north side of today’s Old Capitol Plaza. He renamed the establishment “S. Rosenwald”. Cousin-in-law Simon Hammerslough [1827-97] remained in Springfield, working as one of Rosenwald’s salesmen. As an adult, Ben Rosenwald also worked in his father’s business.

In 1869, Samuel Rosenwald moved his growing family from their first home at Seventh and Jackson streets to a larger house in the 400 block of South Eighth Street, across the street from where Abraham and Mary Lincoln had lived. Today, the renovated Rosenwald home is a feature of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site

The Rosenwalds had four sons and two daughters who lived to adulthood. Julius, born the year after the family moved to Springfield, attended Springfield High School, but didn’t graduate. His studies were cut short when his father sent him to New York City to apprentice under his uncle, Julius Hammerslough. Six years later, Julius Rosenwald moved to Chicago to operate his own clothing store.

Julius Rosenwald (findagrave.com)

He eventually teamed with Richard Sears to build Sears, Roebuck & Co. into one of the great merchandising successes of the early 20th century. Julius Rosenwald also became one of the nation’s most generous and innovative philanthropists, supporting schools, colleges, Jewish charities and initiatives to improve the lives of African-Americans.

In 1876, Samuel Rosenwald moved his store to the west side of the square, where it was branded the “C.O.D. One Price Clothier.” The move was noted in the Illinois State Register:

Rosenwald… has made no foolish move in going to that elegant building, 117 west side square… he has a much better room and light, etc., and his store looks like a palace, compared to other houses, but the nicest is his adopting the one price system, and having his entire stock marked in plain figures.

Rosenwald sold the business in 1886 to brothers Albert and Louis Myers, who went on to form the renowned Myers Brothers department store.  

Samuel Rosenwald left Springfield for Chicago, where he went into the wholesale clothing business. He suffered a paralyzing stroke in the 1890s and died in 1899.  Augusta Rosenwald died in Chicago in 1921.

Julius Hammerslough and Abraham Lincoln

Julius Hammerslough’s connections to Abraham Lincoln, while real, are sometimes exaggerated. That’s especially true of folklore surrounding Hammerslough’s role in Lincoln’s funeral ceremonies.

Julius (1832-1908), was the oldest of the Hammerslough brothers and the effective head of the family clothing enterprises.

Julius Hammerslough (Findagrave.com)

Some of the confusion about the Hammerslough/Lincoln relationship may have originated with Julius Hammerslough himself, although it’s been compounded by later writers. Shortly before his death, Hammerslough apparently told an interviewer, Isaac Markens, that he “accompanied Lincoln’s remains from Chicago to Springfield as one of a committee of citizens of Lincoln’s old home chosen for that purpose.”

Markens included that statement in his 1909 book, Abraham Lincoln and the Jews. Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell, authors of a similarly titled 2015 study, Lincoln and the Jews: A History, seem to have amended Markens’ report, writing that “According to Markens … Hammerslough was among those who met the body of the slain president on its return to Springfield.”

Contemporary newspaper reports, however, do not include Hammerslough as an official member of the committee that escorted Lincoln’s coffin from Chicago to Springfield, nor as one of those specifically designated to receive the body when the funeral train reached Springfield. Members of both committees are listed here. (It’s possible, of course, that Hammerslough was on the train unofficially or, even more likely, among the crowd at the Chicago & Alton station on May 3, 1865.)

Hammerslough also was not one of Lincoln’s pallbearers, a claim that appeared in some obituaries when he died in 1908. Among them was a brief death notice in the Illinois State Register – which, however, also got his first name wrong; the Register called him Joseph. An obituary attached to Findagrave.com’s entry about Hammerslough likewise says he was a Lincoln pallbearer. (That unattributed clipping may have been from the New York Times, but no Julius Hammerslough obituary appears in an internet search of NYT archives.)

Markens writes that Hammerslough “enjoyed very friendly relations with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln” both in Springfield and in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Hammerslough witnessed Lincoln’s first inauguration and frequently called to see him at the White House, the President invariably inquiring of Mr. Hammerslough : “How are the boys ?”—referring to (Hammerslough’s) brothers in Springfield. On one occasion he escorted Mrs. Ninian Edwards, a sister of Mrs. Lincoln, from Springfield to Washington.

A few weeks after the funeral, Hammerslough wrote a letter asking Jews across the nation to contribute money to help build the Lincoln Tomb.

Lincoln and the Jews: A History probably does the best job of summing up Julius Hammerslough’s relationship with Lincoln.

Julius Hammerslough (1832-1908), who headed the family firm … in his twenties, established himself in Springfield. There he became one of Abraham Lincoln’s numerous acquaintances. Likely, Lincoln purchased clothes in the store. …

Hammerslough, who was twenty-three years Lincoln’s junior, probably admired Lincoln more than he actually befriended him.

Later Hammersloughs

Joseph Hammerslough, 1933 (Courtesy State Journal-Register)

Simon Hammerslough was the only male member of the original family who remained in Springfield after Benjamin Rosenwald took over the Hammerslough clothing store. Aside from selling clothes, he worked later for the Internal Revenue Service.

Simon and his wife Louisa (1835-1920) were the parents of six children. The most prominent was son Joseph (1873-1937), who lived a Horatio Alger story.

Joe Hammerslough worked his way up from stenographer/timekeeper at the Springfield Boiler Factory to the vice president and sales manager of the boiler manufacturer. He was active in a variety of civic clubs and served a term as president of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

“Mr. Hammerslough imparted to community service an intensely human character that endeared him to all with whom he came in contact,” an Illinois State Register editorial said at his death.

His son, Joseph Hammerslough II (1921-2001) had his own record of civic involvement, including 25 years on the board of directors for Memorial Hospital. The younger man worked for the Illinois Department of Transportation and also owned the Record Room, a music store originally at MacArthur Boulevard and South Grand Avenue, later in Town & Country Shopping Center.

 More about the Hammerslough and Rosenwald families: See Lincoln and the Jews: A History by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell (2015) and Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World by Hasia R. Diner (2017)

Contributor: William Cellini Jr.

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