The Value of Education
What do you think was the most common signature on legal contracts in the early Wild West?
Smith? Jones? Williams?
Actually, it is an “X.” Usually, a big “X!”
In the early days of the Wild West most Europeans, as well as Mexicans and Indians, were illiterate.
But not the Jews!
Pioneer Jews were Educated
Most of us had at least a 7th or 8th grade education—thanks to Chader in Eastern Europe or Jewish community schools in Western Europe.
We knew our letters and we knew our numbers. We could read and we could add, subtract, multiply and divide.
We could keep the books of our businesses, knowing if we were making a real profit.
Most others simply counted the money in the cash register or strong box at the end of each day.
Multiple Levels of Commerce at the Same Time
As merchants, we did a large amount of our retail and wholesale business on credit, keeping careful ledgers with farmers and ranchers, who usually paid up at the end of a season and often paid with crops or hides.
The merchant would then break up the crop or merchandise – selling some at retail in his store, some at wholesale to other stores in the area, and the rest to a commission broker to sell in other towns or cities. The Jewish merchant often operated at three different levels of profit.
Good bookkeeping was necessary, and Jewish merchants brought it to an art form.
Many of the great Western Department Stores and giant Food Wholesalers grew from humble beginnings due to the owners stong accounting abilities.
Bookkeeping as an Artform
Herman Frank, of the famous Harris & Frank Department Stores in Los Angeles, describes in his autobiography how he kept ledgers, using one size pen for the words and another for the number columns.
The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, has a number of merchants’ records of Jewish stores of this time and the record books are beautiful to observe.
Education made a big difference in the Wild West, and the Jews, as a group, were well educated.
from Why the Jews were So Successful in the Wild West, David W. Epstein, Isaac Nathan Publishing