Julius Austrian: Early Jewish Pioneer Merchant of Northern Minnesota & Wisconsin

Julius Austrian: Early Jewish Pioneer Merchant of Northern Minnesota & Wisconsin

Values Codes I – E – L – P


Julius Oesterreicher was born in Wittelshofen Bay, Bavaria, Germany in 1821. He was one of five brothers.

Julius left for America in 1844, at the age of 23, changing his last name to “Austrian.”


Along the way . . .

Julius Austrian headed to the fur trade of Lake Superior and the island of Madeline.

There, he took a position at the island trading post and bought out the owner in a few years.

Austrian quickly gained a reputation for honesty and generosity. Both whites and Indians knew that they could count on him to deal fairly, and to help them when in need.

Julius Austrian was selected to be a signer as witness on the treaty between the Ojibwe Indian Tribe and the United States, signed in 1847.

In the late 1840’s, Julius, his brother, Marx, and business partner, Lewis Leopold, settled in LaPointe, Wisconsin on Lake Superior, where they were among the first white settlers.

When the American Fur Company failed in 1853, Julius Austrian bought the lands that once belonged to the company, thus becoming one of the region’s largest landowners.

Austrian opened another store in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

Bayfield, Wisconsin, Early Map

Bayfield, Wisconsin, early map

The Austrian Brothers ran several prosperous general merchandise stores in Eagle River, Eagle Harbor, Cliff Mine, Calumet, and Hancock.

Julius also joined with other investors, setting up the LaPointe Iron Company to mine ore in northern Wisconsin.

The 1860 Census shows him holding 150 acres of farmland in LaPointe Township.



In 1851, Julius Austrian went to St. Paul, where he continued to extend his business holdings.

In 1862, after 18 years with his business base split between LaPointe and Bayfield, Austrian moved his base of operations to Eagle River, where his younger brother, Joseph, had settled. Nine years after he relocated once again to St. Paul.

In the 1870s, Austrian built the first store in the city of Ashland, and about the same time advertised in the Bayfield Press:

Julius Austrian

Produce & Commission Merchant


Dealer in Coal and Pig Iron – St. Paul, Minn.

Particular Attention Paid to Lake Superior Orders.

 In 1886, Austrian returned to attend the festivities held at the Island View Hotel marking the thirtieth anniversary of Bayfield’s founding.



After the Civil War, the Austrian family was instrumental in building the Jewish community in Minnesota.

They worked to find a home for the Mt. Zion Hebrew Congregation, the first synagogue building in Minnesota, in 1871.

Mt. Zion Hebrew Congregation, St. Paul, First Building

Mt. Zion Hebrew Congregation, St. Paul, first building

Julius kept the records for the Mt. Zion Cemetery — in Hebrew.

Julius’s wife, Hannah Austrianfounded and headed the first Jewish women’s group, the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society.

She was instrumental in founding the St. Paul Neighborhood Home.

Marx Austrian, Julius’ brother, was blinded in childhood.

In 1869, he joined his brother in St. Paul, where he was an active member of the Jewish community.

He blew shofar (ram’s horn) for the High Holidays.



Julius served as treasurer of Minnesota’s B’nai B’rith Lodge #157, which still meets today.



Julius Austrian married 19-year-old Hannah Leopold (b.1830) in 1849.

Hannah’s brother was Joseph’s business partner, Lewis Leopold.

Julius Austrian died in 1891. While bringing food to a poor family in St. Paul, he was run over by a horse-drawn beer wagon and died of his injuries. He was survived by Hannah, two sons, and a daughter.

By tonight’s Press I see that another of Lake Superior’s pioneer settlers has passed over the river and joined the silent majority. Few of the early inhabitants of this section but remember the kindly greetings and hearty handshakes of Julius Austrian, and the news of his death will cause many a regret.

– The Daily News, Ashland, Wis., Sunday, March 22, 1891

Mr Austrian was highly respected as a citizen, both by his Jewish co-religionists and the Christian community. He was an indefatigable and constant worker in the cause of charity, and his death is deeply mourned by all who knew him. 

– Obituary Notice

A real mensch is a man of character; a man who is upright, honorable, and trustworthy; a man deserving of admiration. A mensch is a man like Julius Austrian. 

– Robert Mackreth

Hannah Austrian died in 1910. Her obituary said that she was the first white woman to set foot in the town of Bayfield.

Julius and Hannah are buried together in Zion Gardens Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.

Marx Austrian, who despite being blind from youth had successful clothing and jewelry businesses, died around 1903.



  • Bob Mackreth, The Retread Ranger Station, http://www.bobmackreth.com
  • W. Gunther Plaut, The Jews in Minnesota: The First Seventy-Five Years (New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1959).
  • Gene H. Rosenblum, Jewish Pioneers of Saint Paul (Arcadia, 2001).

Samantha Silver is curator for this Julius Austrian exhibit.

Thank you to Bob Sideman for providing additional materials.