Death of A.G. Becker – May 14, 1925
Death of Abraham G. Becker – May 14, 1925
As reported in the Chicago Tribune on May 15, 1925:
“A.G. Becker, pioneer Chicago banker and head of the banking house of A.G. Becker & Co., died of angina pectoris yesterday morning in the Drake Hotel after several weeks of illness.”
Mr. Becker was sixty-eight years old. The Tribune went on to report that Mr. Becker’s birth was in Warsaw, Ohio, on September 21, 1867, and his early employment was at the German National Bank in Chicago, followed by many years with Herman Schaffner & Co., and then over thirty years in his own firm.
“At death, Mr. Becker was a Director of Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company; St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad; Pressed Steel Car Company; Hammermill Paper Company; Hart, Schaffner and Marx; Drexel Bank; and Greenebaum Sons Bank & Trust Co. He was a Trustee of the Art Institute, Hebrew Union College, and the Sinai Temple; Director of the Jewish Charities of Chicago; and a member of the Chicago Symphony Association. His clubs included the Union League, Mid Day, Standard, Downtown, Hamilton, Illinois Athletic, and Lake Shore Country.
The Tribune continued:
“Mr. Becker was survived by his widow, Mrs. Kate Friedman Becker, whom he married in 1887, and three daughters: Mrs. Frank L. Sulzberger, Mrs. Moses Shire, and Mrs. Herbert Friedlich. A.G. Becker had one son, James H. Becker and two sisters, Mrs. Rachel Schaffner and Mrs. Viola Stern.”
Within a few days of his death, the then prominent Chicago Journal of Commerce published an unusual eulogy. As a matter of corporate policy through the years, this eulogy was displayed in the form of a bronze plaque on the wall of the reception area of every Becker office. The Chicago office plaque is archived with the Newberry Library.
Death of a Man of Honor
ONCE IN A GREAT WHILE A MAN DIES ABOUT WHOM THE ORDINARY EULOGIES DO NOT SUFFICE. SUCH A MAN WAS A.G. BECKER.
IT HAS BEEN TRUE OF MANY A MAN THAT HE WAS BORN IN POVERTY AND AMASSED A FORTUNE AS AN INVESTMENT BANKER. IT HAS BEEN TRUE OF MANY A MAN THAT HE HAS BECOME A DIRECTOR IN A NUMBER OF GREAT CORPORATIONS. OF MANY A MAN IT HAS BEEN TRUE THAT HE HAS GIVEN LIBERALLY TO RELIGION, CHARITY AND EDUCATION, AND HAS BEEN TRUSTEE OF AN ART MUSEUM AND ART SCHOOL AND MEMBER OF A SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ASSOCIATION.
BUT OF FEW MEN HAS IT BEEN TRUE THAT THEY HAVE CONSISTENTLY EXHIBITED AN INTEGRITY WHICH NOT ONLY HAS MET ALL THE DEMANDS OF THE LAW AND ALL THE REQUIREMENTS OF COMMON MORALS BUT HAS GONE FAR BEYOND THEM.
SELDOM HAS THERE BEEN A PARALLEL TO THE PERSONAL SACRIFICE WHICH A. G. BECKER MADE FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF HIS HIGH CODE OF INTEGRITY. BY THAT SACRIFICE, HE ERECTED A STRUCTURE OF PERSONAL CREDIT WHICH WAS UNSHAKABLE. THE REGARD IN WHICH HE WAS HELD BY BANKERS WAS ALMOST UNPARALLELED. NO MAN IN THE WORLD COULD BORROW MORE MONEY IN PROPORTION TO HIS ASSETS THAN COULD A. G. BECKER. HE WAS A MAN. HE WAS HONORED IN LIFE AND HE IS HONORED IN DEATH. HE LEFT HIS FAMILY A HERITAGE WHICH IS GREATER THAN A HERITAGE OF RICHES.
On May 17, the funeral for A.G. Becker - “a pioneer banker, philanthropist, and patron of the arts” - was held privately at his Ravinia home. Mr. Becker was buried in a family plot in Rosehill where many of Chicago’s prominent persons rest in peace. As an old-time employee of the firm Hal Ahlberg reported, “Everyone in the office went to the burial. We were picked up at the office in funeral cars and taken to the cemetery and returned later.”
The Character of A.G. Becker
Letters of condolence streamed into the firm, to James the son, and to key associates. Below are just a few quotes as examples of the esteem with which Mr. Becker was held among friends and people with whom he had done business. In the absence of personally knowing the man, these comments will acquaint readers with this unique human being.
“. . . untiring energy, wide experience, and unselfish devotion . . .”
“. . . alert, incisive, and clear . . honor, integrity, service, philanthropy, success . . .”
“. . . revered and loved . . ."
“. . . reputation for honorable and fair dealing . . ."
“. . . (respect for) his judgment, loyalty, and integrity . . ."
“. . . kindly personality, even temperament, and congenial ways . . .”
“. . . no man held a higher reputation for integrity and honor . . .”
“. . . (he) was always ready to share any efforts for suffering humanity everywhere . . ."
“. . . constructive qualities of his mind . . . fine character and cordial nature . . .”
“. . . in the panic of ’93 (he) showed wonderful intelligent courage . . .”
“. . . sterling character, unusual financial ability and genial manner . . ."
“. . . splendid character and gentle, kindly disposition . . .”
“. . . (his) integrity, ability and helpfulness were boundless . . .”
In November, 1925, some six months after his death, A.G. Becker was extolled at a Jewish fundraising event by his close friend, Julius Rosenwald, as follows:
“During my absence in Europe, a terrible blow came to me, as came to you, in the death of a friend whom I loved, as I believe I can rightfully say, as no other man . . . (He) represented the finest qualities of any Jew or non-Jew I ever knew. He had the noblest soul and the finest spirit. He was ever ready, no matter what the cause, if it was a good cause, not only to give generously of his wealth, but to give himself. A man of finer judgment never lived and I believe every man here who knew him will agree. To know him was to love him. It was always a great regret to me that not more people knew him. He was so modest. No matter in what capacity he appeared, he was the nobleman in every group. His non-Jewish friends with whom he came in contact were as devoted to him and loved him as did his Jewish friends.”
In an article in the New York Times of May 29, A.G. Becker’s estate was estimated at $3,150,000. Bequests of $50,000 to the Art Institute and $50,000 to Chicago Jewish Charities were noted.