Simon Bamberger, Utah’s first Jewish Governor, First Non-Morman Governor & First Democrat Governor

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Simon Bamberger

Governor Simon Bamberger of Utah

Governor Simon Bamberger of Utah

 

Values Codes I – H- E- L- P

Simon Bamberger was born in 1846 in Eberstadt, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany.

His father was Emanuel Bamberger and his mother, Helen Fleich Bamberger.

His parents saved enough money for Simon Bamberger to emigrate to America, in 1860, at the age of 14.

The sweatshops of the commercial centers of the East Coast did not appeal to Simon, so he headed to the West to Cincinnati, where there was a larger German-speaking Jewish community and where it would be easier for him to learn English.

Along the way . . .

His first job was setting pins in a bowling alley – then as a clerk in a dry goods store. All the while he attended public schools to further his education.

Working long hours and saving his money allowed him to eventually bring seven members of his family to America and Cincinnati.

His older brother, Herman Bamberger, started a dry goods store in Indiana, and Simon joined him for a while.

The Far West still beckoned, and the two brothers moved their business to St. Louis, Missouri where Simon Bamberger became of age and became an American citizen

In 1868, Simon Bamberger obtained employment with the Union Pacific Railroad as manager of the company store at the “front of construction,” where he remained until the first transcontinental railroad was completed at Promentary Point, in Utah, in 1869.

Joining of the Rails at Promentary Point, Utah

Joining of the Rails at Promentary Point, Utah

He worked in a local hotel for two years until he had the opportunity to purchase a half-partnership in the White House Hotel in Salt Lake City – previously known as the Delmonico.

After a short time, in 1872, he decided to try his luck in the mines – working in Nevada and then back to Utah to Park City and the surrounding area. Brothers Jacob, Herman, and Louis came and Simon set them up in business. They all “made a fortune.”

Simon Bamberger made two trips to Europe in order to gather investors to finance a railroad to the southern part of Utah –  to open up that area for mining.

During each trip he passed through Cincinnati, renewing friendship with Ida Maas. On his second trip, he stopped,  married Ida Maas in Cincinnati, and then they honeymooned in Europe.

Simon Bamberger built the Sanpete Valley Railroad, and then sold it to a larger railroad – using the profits to develop other projects.

Simon Bamberger created a resort on the shores of the Great Salt Lake and another in Hot Springs. To build this new resort, he had to build another railroad, which he also used to develop nearby quarries.

Simon Bamberger continued to build railroads into areas with mineral wealth and where he would also build a resort to simulate traffic.

Utah Resort Hotel at the turn of the century, Old Postcard

Utah Resort Hotel at the turn of the century, Old Postcard

Civic

Simon Bamberger served in the State Senate of Utah.

“The life of the Senate was Senator Bamberger. He is keen in his observation and a most excellent legislator. . . . His work was forceful and valuable, and he made many a session brighter with the soul of his wit.” –Senate Journal, 1905

For eight years he was a member of the Salt Lake City Board of Education.

In 1916, Simon Bamberger was elected as the fourth Governor of Utah – the first non-Mormon, the first Jew, and the first Democrat.

While in office, Simon Bamberger insisted that the legislature balance the state budget, create a public utilities commission to regulate the price of electricity and gas and banned gifts by utility companies to public officials.

He created a state department of public health; instituted water conservation; and advocated for a lengthened school year, and the non-partisan election of judges.

Bamberger, being a teetotaler, supported prohibition.

During the first part of his Governorship, Bamberger had a Republican Legislature which held back most of his reforms.

It was replaced with a large Democratic majority allowing Governor Bamberger to see most of his platform voted into law.

Governor's Reception Room at Utah State Capital, Vintage Postcard

Governor’s Reception Room at Utah State Capital, Vintage Postcard

Being 75 at the end of successful 4 year term, Simon Bamberger declined re-nomination and retired to manage his many business interests.

Community

Simon Bamberger was one of the forces behind the building of Congregation B’nai Israel.

At its dedication in 1891, Simon Bamberger was part of the opening procession.

On the rostrom, it was Simon Bamberger who handed the official keys of the new building over to the President of the Congregation, Mr. Siegel, – signifying its official dedication.

Simon Bamberger helped establish the Jewish Agricultural Colony in Clarion, Utah – which lasted only a few years between 1910 and 1915.

Simon Bamberger was a generous donor to charity – but most was done by stealth. Stories abound where widows in need ordered a sack of coal, only to find a ton delivered and their money refunded.

Simon Bamberger had a reputation of being absolutely fair and square in all his dealings allowing a “Gentile,” as Jews were called by Mormons, to strive and succeed in the early days of Utah.

Fraternal

In 1886, Simon Bamberger was a Charter Member of the Salt Lake City’s chapter of the International Order of Odd Fellows.

Family

Simon Bamberger married Ida Maas in 1881.

Bamberger Home in Salt Lake City, on National Register Today.

Bamberger Home in Salt Lake City, on National Register Today.

Together they had four children

 

Simon Bamberger died in Salt Lake City in 1926.

He is buried at B’nai Israel Cemetery in Salt Lake City.

Simon & Ida Bamberger's Gravesite in Salt Lake City.

Simon & Ida Bamberger’s Gravesite in Salt Lake City.

For more information see the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

Simon Bamberger: Governor of Utah, edited by S. George Ellsworth, WSJH, Vol. 5, Issue 4, 1973.

  • Other Source
  • The History of the Jews in Utah and Idaho, by Juanita Brooks, Western Epics, Publisher, 1973.

Family photos and more information are always welcome.

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