Isaac Newton Seligman...

Banker, Investor, Reformer, Artist, Collector
For an excellent, comprehensive biography of Isaac N. Seligman, read Hopper Striker Mott's
article in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, printed October, 1918 shortly
after Isaac's death in a riding accident in 1917.   Wikipedia has another
good article with
many excellent links about Seligman family history in the section on Isaac's father Joseph. also has good
information on the Seligman family.

Isaac N. Seligman was born July 10th, 1855 on Staten Island.  By the time Isaac was born, his
father, Joseph Seligman, was already a wealthy and influential man.  As a boy, Isaac was
tutored by Horatio Alger, Jr., the famous writer.  He graduated with honors from Columbia
College in 1876.  He rowed on Columbia's crew team, often competing with other colleges on
Saratoga Lake.  Perhaps his fascination with the Adirondacks began there with the views of
the distant peaks to the north.  According to family accounts passed down through his
daughter Margaret, Isaac's interest in the Adirondacks may have been linked to his
friendship with
Edward L. Trudeau. Trudeau moved to the Adirondacks in 1873 seeking a
cure for tuberculosis and founded a sanitarium and research center in Saranac Lake, not far
from where Fish Rock Camp would be built.

Isaac's business training with the family firm began in the New Orleans branch. He was
transferred to the New York office in 1878 and became a partner in the firm in 1880 when his
father died.  His uncle Jesse Seligman headed the firm until his death in 1894, and Isaac
became head of the financial house shortly afterwards, a position he held for 22 years until
his death at age 62.

During his years as head of J. & W. Seligman & Co.,  Isaac made repeated trips to foreign
capitals to confer with heads of state and financiers.  He is credited with being a major force
behind the project to complete the Panama Canal, which his firm heavily financed. He
worked intensely on the Panama Canal project from 1898 to 1902.  He helped work out a plan
to save Venezuela from a financial collapse during the Teddy Roosevelt presidency.  During
the period he headed the company, it financed many of the earliest municipal gas utilities
and street car systems.

Isaac worked tirelessly for progressive reform.   He served on civic committees which
espoused regulation of  child labor, and gave
a major address on the topic titled "A Duty of a
Rich Nation to Take Care of Her Children" before the National Child Labor Committee.  He
delivered the address due to the absence of his friend, the group's chairman,
Felix Adler,
founder of the Society for Ethical Culture, of which Isaac was a member.  Isaac was one of
the founders of the Child Labor Association.  It was perhaps at his urging that the family in
1905 "established at their original home in Baiersdorf (Germany) an institution for the
training and support of children during the absence of their parents at work, and open to all
the inhabitants of Baiersdorf without distinction of creed," according to an article in

He was active in groups proposing  
decriminalization  of  prostitution (euphemistically
referred to as "the social evil), to remove it from the heavy grip of police graft of the time.  
He backed reform of crooked civil service practices.  He worked for improvement of
tenement slums and was one of the founders of the City and Suburban Homes Company,
which tried to create model tenements.  

He was a friend of early muckraker  
Jacob Riis, whose book How the Other Half Lives was
one of the earliest photo-journalism exposes of slum conditions.  Riis visited Fish Rock
Camp in 1906 and, at the request of Selgiman, entered
quotes from two of his progressive
books in the Fish Rock guest book.   

guest was Charles Evans Hughes, who became governor of New York and later a
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.     Isaac wrote
a public letter on behalf of Hughes'
campaign for governor in 1906 when Hughes ran against William Randolph Hearst, the king
of yellow journalism.  Hughes and his wife were guests at Fish Rock in September, 1909
when he was New York governor.  Their
signatures are in the guest book.

Isaac also seemed to support early civil rights for blacks and was
pictured at the 25th
anniversary of Tuskegee Institute.  According to family accounts, he was a friend of Booker
T. Washington, Tuskegee founder.

In 1914 he gave
testimony before a government committee favoring creation of a state
income tax.

He was an avid art collector and installed six large murals by noted wildlife artist Charles
Livingston Bull on the walls of the main house at Fish Rock. It would appear that Isaac's own
sketches for the Fish Rock guest book were influenced by Bull's

Isaac amassed the largest collection of Washington Irving papers and first editions, which
he loaned for
exhibit by the New York Public Library in 1914.

Seligman Archives at the University of Oklahoma Libraries include books of letters
written by Isaac N. Seligman between 1898 and 1899 and between 1904 and 1916, including
letters to Theodore Roosevelt and other extensive records of the family firm.  

Isaac married Guta Loeb, daughter of banker Soloman Loeb, a founder of Kuhn, Loeb & Co.
and Betty Gallenberg Loeb.  Isaac and Guta had four children.  Two of their children died
before reaching age two just before and during the time Isaac began the search for a camp
on Upper Saranac Lake (Maude died in 1886 and Nina died 1891.)  Perhaps the building of
Fish Rock, which came soon after Nina's death, was a distraction for Isaac and Guta and a
comforting retreat.  Guta's granddaughter remembers family accounts that Guta had
difficulty giving birth.  The nature of her illness the night of the Fish Rock fire in 1904 was
not disclosed in the newspaper accounts at the time. Isaac and Guta's surviving children
were Joseph Lionel, born in 1887 and Margaret, born in 1895.  
Margaret married Samuel
Lewisohn, son of  mining magnate
Adolph Lewisohn, who built Prospect Point, now Young
Life Camp, on Upper Saranac Lake.  Margaret and Sam's children still have and treasure the
Fish Rock guest
book that Isaac filled with his sketches, many of them of fish he caught.  
They agreed to have the guest book digitized for this web site.
Return to Our History Page