The Shwayder Family: From Back-Pack Peddling to Samsonite Luggage, Denver Colorado

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The Shwayder Family: They were all in this together!

Values Codes: H-I-E-L-P

The Shwayder Famy Photo, 1905, #WS0277

The Shwayder Famy Photo, 1905,
#WS0277

Isaac Shwayder

Isaac Shwayer was born in 1855 in Poland.

Isaac Shwayer emigrated to England and studied to be a Cantor and Rabbi.

In Manchester, he met and, after a two year courtship, married Rachel Kobey, whose parents had also emigrated from Poland.

Isaac came to America in 1879, and traveled to Central City, Colorado to work with Rachel’s uncle, Abe Rachofsky, who owned a dry goods business.

Isaac Shwayder began peddling in the surrounding mining towns, selling out of his heavy back-pack.

Within two years he had saved enough money to rent a house and send for his family.

Isaac Shwayder became the acting Rabbi for the Jewish community, officiating at religious festivals held in the Odd Fellows Hall above his uncle’s store.

 

When Issac’s oldest son, Sol, began to attend school, Rachel studied with him at home and learned to read and write English.

Rachel convinced Isaac to move their now family of six to Denver.

In Denver, Issac first opened a grocery store and then a used furniture store.

Rachel took in two boarders and their oldest daughter, Dora, gave piano lessons.

Their second son, Jesse, had a clear soprano voice and, at the age of nine, was discovered by Wilberforce Whiteman, (the father of Paul Whiteman) the Director of Music of the Denver schools. Jesse earned fifty-cents a week singing in St. John’s Cathedral on Sundays.

At 13, Jesse became proficient playing the violin, so Dora and Jesse were hired to play at weddings.

Lack of funds prevented Jesse from attending college, so he worked in his father’s furniture store.

In 1903, Jesse convinced Isaac to sell the store and open a luggage shop.

Jesse Shwayder

Jesse Shwayder

 

Jesse was noticed by one of their suppliers and invited to come to New York City as a salesman for the Seward Luggage Company. In his first year Jesse Shwayder earned over $4,000 in commissions– a vast sum at that time.

In 1910, Jesse returned to Denver and opened his own luggage factory with his father, Isaac, as his lead salesman.

The whole family jumped in to help. The Shwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company began to grow.

Instead of competing with low pricing, Isaac insisted that they make high quality merchandise and price it at the highest price it would bear in the luxury marketplace.

Vintage "Samson" Luggage

Vintage “Samson” Luggage

In 1916, the Shwayders took a picture that would become an advertising coup. Four brothers and their father stood on a plank positioned atop one of their suitcases with the caption; “Strong enough to stand on.” With five portly Shwayder men weighing more than 1,000 pounds together, the picture was striking and became their advertising and direct-mail gimmick for several years.

Isaac Shwayder died suddenly of a stroke in 1916.

Rachel Shwayder took his life insurance money and put it toward a new and larger factory that opened in 1917.

Jesse Shwayder was the President from 1910 to 1960.

Mark Shwayder became the head of sales.

Sol Shwayder, now a lawyer, became attorney for the firm.

Vintage "Samsonite" Luggage, circa 1960s

Vintage “Samsonite” Luggage, circa 1960s

Maurice and Ben Shwayder became the production managers.

The orginal name of their luggage was “Samson” – honoring strength of our Biblical hero of the same name.

Today, we know their luggage as “Samsonite,” the largest manufacturer of luggage in the world.

The Golden Marble

Jesse Shwayder’s official corporate philosophy was the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do to you.”

All company officers and salesmen carried a Golden Marble, which they were told to take out and look at whenever they had to make an important business decision.

When visiting the family’s factories in later years, Jesse Shwayder would ask to see the Golden Marble. Any employee who could show it got a one hour paid work-break.

The Golden Rule Marble

The Golden Rule Marble

Civic

The Shwayder family  funded the Shwayder Art Center at the University of Denver.

Community

Maurice Shwayder had a summer place, a 242 acre facility on the slopes of Mt. Evans, that was given to Temple Emanuel to use as a summer camp for the Jewish community.,

Family

Rachel and Isaac Shwayder had 11 children: Solomon, Dora, Jesse, Raschelle, Mark, Florence, Gertrude, Maurice, Hannah, Benjamin, and Liebe.

 

Isaac Shwayder died in 1916.

Rachel Kobey Shwayder died in 1938.

They are buried together in the Mt. Nebo Memorial Park in Aurora, Colorado.

For more information see Western States Jewish History:

  • A Colorado Family History, by Hannah Shwayder Berry, WSJH, Vol. #5, Issue #3, 1973.

Thank you to Mandell Winter who updated family information for us. (The beauty of a virtual museum!)

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Golden Marble Wrapping

Golden Marble Wrapping

Isaac & Rachel Shwayder Gravesite

Isaac & Rachel Shwayder Gravesite

 

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