Alphonse de Rothschild
Who was he: During the 1860s, the monetary system in Europe and around the world was in a state of change, and great debates about how to handle this issue raged across the United States and Europe. The prominent Péreire brothers who were bankers in France supported paper money, but Alphonse de Rothschild defended the preservation of France's bimetallism system. When the debates began Alphonse had influential supporters for his monetary position. One supporter was his friend, Léon Say, who was a former employee of the Rothschild's Northern Railway Company. In 1872, Say became the Minister of Finance in France. But, France was part of the Latin Monetary Union and when that union joined the rest of Europe it adopted the gold standard. Alphonse still believed in bimetallism so he put together a deal in 1880 that resulted in the family's total control of Société Le Nickel (SLN), a nickel mining business in New Caledonia.
During the Franco-Prussian War, Alphonse guarded the ramparts of Paris on the eve of the Prussian siege. When a peace treaty was signed in 1871, the Rothschild bank played a major role in raising the five billion francs that France was obliged to pay the new German Empire, and he also helped to stimulate economic stability. Thanks to his efforts, France made a dramatic financial recovery and the country repaid their German reparations bill ahead of schedule. That accomplishment meant that the German Occupation of the northern French territory finally came to an end in 1873. But that same year, the Vienna and Berlin stock markets crashed, plunging Central Europe into an economic depression.
In spite of the depression, Alphonse helped stimulate considerable economic growth in France in less than a decade. Alphonse was asked to be a member of the Legion of Honor for his work during French economic crisis, and in 1896 Alphonse was elevated to the Grand Cross, which is the highest class of the Legion of Honor.
In August 1895, a letter bomb addressed to Alphonse was delivered to his Paris home. He was not at home at that time, but a member of the house staff decided to forward it to the de Rothschild Frères offices. The bomb detonated and seriously injured the chief clerk, but Alphonse was not harmed. When Alphonse died in 1905, his son Edouard took over the family business.
Background: Known as Alphonse, Mayer Alphonse James Rothschild was born in 1827. He was the eldest son of Betty de Rothschild, the daughter of Salomon Mayer von Rothschild from the Austrian branch of the family and James Mayer de Rothschild. Alphonse received his training in the other Rothschild banking houses in Europe so he could take his rightful place as head of de Rothschild Frères bank. It didn't take long for Alphonse to become a powerful force in the financial world in France. In 1855, he was appointed a regent of the Bank of France and held that position until his death. Alphonse married the daughter of Lionel de Rothschild of the English branch of the family. His wife as well as cousin, Leonora "Laure" de Rothschild had four children. Their firstborn, Bettina Caroline married Albert Salomon von Rothschild.
Alphonse and brother Gustave participated in a family rivalry with their English cousin Nathaniel de Rothschild. Nathaniel moved to Paris after marrying sister Charlotte. Nathaniel worked at de Rothschild bank, but in 1853 he purchased the Château Brane Mouton Vineyard in Pauillac, which is in the Médoc region of the wine-growing region. In 1855, Mouton Vineyard received a second-growth ranking in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification. Three months before father James died in 1868, Gustave and Alphonse convinced him to buy the prestigious and popular Château Lafite Vineyard in Pauillac when it came up for sale. They wanted the vineyard so they could compete with Nathaniel.
Alphonse and Gustave inherited the Château Lafite-Rothschild Vineyard to fuel the rivalry, but it was not a significant venture when compared to their massive investment portfolio in banking and other business concerns. The brothers lived in Paris so they only visited the vineyard occasionally, and both of them had a lukewarm interest in the wine growing industry. Nonetheless, they kept the vineyard in the family and it is still owned and operated by the Rothschild family.