Oscar S. Straus, born December 23, 1850, in Otterberg, Bavaria, immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four. The family first lived in Georgia and moved to New York City in 1867 where Straus was educated at the Collinsworth Institute and Columbia College. He received a law degree in 1873, worked at his own law firm for eight years, and then became a partner at his family’s business, the import firm of L. Straus & Sons.
Straus entered government service in 1887 as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, a position he would also hold from 1898-1899 and 1909-1910. During the Roosevelt administration, Straus was appointed to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague. He would be reappointed by President Roosevelt in 1908, President Taft in 1912, and President Wilson in 1920. Straus made history in 1906 when he became the first Jewish cabinet member after being appointed by Roosevelt as Secretary of Commerce and Labor. He served as secretary until the end of the Roosevelt administration.
Straus campaigned unsuccessfully in 1912 as the Progressive Party candidate for governor of New York. During the First World War, Straus worked with the League to Enforce Peace and advocated for the creation of the League of Nations. He also participated at the Paris Peace Conference, advising President Wilson on the interests of European Jewry. Straus was known and respected as an advocate of international peace and religious toleration. He served on the board of the American Jewish Committee and visited Palestine on behalf of the Federal Council of Churches in America in an effort to lessen religious tensions. Straus also mediated labor disputes as a member of the Foundation for the Promotion of Industrial Peace. Straus passed away in New York City on May 3, 1926.
Grabill, Joseph L. “Straus, Oscar Solomon.” American National Biography. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. Vol. 10. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.
“Oscar S. Straus.” Miller Center. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2014.