The Roos Family: Early Jewish Pioneer Merchants of San Francisco & Virginia City

The Roos Family: Adolphe, Hyppolite, and Achille, and Robert of the next generation

Values Codes I – E – L – P

The three Roos Brothers were born in Wissembourg, France: Adolphe in 1837, Hyppolite in 1844, and Achille in 1852.

Their parents were Lazare Roos and Judith Maler Roos.


San Francisco

Adolphe and his brother Hyppolite arrived in San Francisco, in 1864.

The first Roos clothing store was located on Leidsdorf Street in San Francisco in 1865, when Adolphe Roos bought out his employer.

Roos Bros. on Leidesdorff Street in San Francisco was so successful that, in 1866, it moved to a larger location at Kearny and Post streets.

Younger brother Achille Roos joined Adolphe in San Francisco.

Adolphe married Ernestine and lived with his family at 826 Geary, in the 1870’s.

Adolphe Roos was recognized as an integral part of San Francisco’s social elite when son, Robert A. Roos, was born in 1883.

After graduation from college, Robert Roos joined the firm and began to emerge as a civic leader.

Roos Bros. of San Francisco was destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake-Fire.

Adolphe Roos died in 1908, the same year as the re-opening.

Robert A. Roos gradually donned the mantle of perhaps the city’s best-known merchant.


Virginia City, Nevada

During the 1860’s and 1870’s, Virginia City, Nevada was booming from the silver strike called the Comstock Lode.

Roos Bros., a firm that catered to the tastes of “particular gentlemen,” was established in Virginia City in the early 1870’s, on South C Street.

Hyppolite Roos was the Manager of the Virginia City Roos Bros. store, which lasted until the late 1880’s, when the silver mines began to wane.

Hyppolite later became estranged from his family.


Roos Bros. Virginia City Store, Old Vintage Postcard

Roos Bros., Virginia City Store, vintage postcard


Adolphe Roos & Hyppolite Roos, Men’s Clothing Card, San Francisco, CA, 1870’s, #WS2155


Roos Bros. Faded Name, Virginia City, 2009 WSJH Photo.

Roos Bros., Virginia City, 2009, WSJH photo.


Roos Bros. San Francisco, from family scrapbook

Panama-Pacific International Exposition

The Panama Canal was soon to be completed and the idea of a Panama-Pacific International Exposition was a topic of discussion everywhere.

Robert Roos believed that the projected Exposition should actually have little to do with the canal. Instead, it could be a grand coming out party for the rebuilt City of San Francisco.

With this goal in mind, Robert headed East to lobby for congressional designation of San Francisco as the Exposition City. He then embarked on a round-the-world trip, inviting foreign participation in the proposed fair.

Panama-Pacific Exposition Souvenir Postcard, 1915

Panama-Pacific Exposition Souvenir Postcard, 1915

San Francisco was triumphant in its efforts, and in 1911 President William Howard Taft came West to break ground for the Exposition.

Taft’s only ceremonial visit to a private home during his three-day San Francisco stay was to that of Ernestine Roos, Robert Roos’ mother.

Panama-Pacific Exposition, Vintage Postcard

Panama-Pacific Exposition, Vintage Postcard

Roos Bros. promotional megaphones, Cal Berkeley football, 1940s. (Preserved by Kenneth W. and Janet L. Rosenthal; photo credit: Roger Rosenthal.)

Under Robert’s leadership, Roos Bros. Inc. expanded to a chain of nine stores, with two in San Francisco, two in Berkeley, and one each in Oakland, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Fresno

Robert Roos married Louise Swabaker, in 1915.

Louise Roos was not only a style-setter but one of the premier female golfers in California.

San Franciscans were “agog” in 1925, when the couple joined King George V and Queen Mary at a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

Robert Roos achieved national prominence for exceptional vision as a business leader and became chairman of the Retail Dry Goods Association of San Francisco.

During the Depression, President Roosevelt appointed Robert Roos to the retail advisory board for the National Recovery Administration.

When the Golden Gate International Exposition opened on Treasure Island in 1939, the new Roos Bros. Market Street store was hailed as one of the Exposition’s palaces.

Roos Bros. was touted as an “ornament of the city,” and regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful and unique stores.

Roos Bros. stores were sold in 1958 to the Robert S. Atkins Clothing Co. and continued to operate as Roos Atkins.

Robert Roos died in 1951 at age 68.

“The loss of (Robert) Roos has orphaned us all.”

— Rabbi Meyer Heller of Temple Emanu-El, eulogy


  •  Norton B. Stern, “The Roos Brothers: Jewish Pioneer French Merchants of San Francisco & Virginia City, Nevada,” Western States Jewish History 41/2.

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Thank you to Page Roos for helping to update this exhibit.