June 9, 2021
One truly unique item within the Epstein archives is the scrapbook that our Founder Abraham Epstein kept from his youth growing up in Odessa, Russia (known today as the Ukraine) in the late 1800s/early 1900s. That scrapbook includes a number of photos and letters from Abraham’s time enrolled in military school, sketches he drew of ships, animals and friends, as well as the topic of today’s piece – souvenirs from his solo journey to America in 1906.
In July of 1906, shortly after graduating top of his class from Odessa’s Richelieu Gymnasia, 18-year-old Abraham made his way to Hamburg, Germany to set sail by himself for the United States for a trans-Atlantic voyage via the Hamburg-Amerika passenger ship.
Abraham was leaving Russia, his family had left the country earlier, due to rising cases of violence directed at the Jewish population in the region. Abraham stayed behind in order to achieve his goal of finishing top of his class to become more attractive to engineering schools in his soon-to-be new home – the United States.
Above photos in order: Hamburg-Amerika Dinner Menu (July 14, 1906); Portrait of Mother & Son; Luggage tag and Passenger List; Front and side views of Abraham’s first home in Chicago at 617 W. 14th Street.
Abraham’s scrapbook includes items like luggage tags, passenger lists, copies of the ship newspaper as well as a dinner menu from July 14, 1906. Side note: 15 years after Abraham ate that meal aboard that Ocean Liner, almost to the day, he would found our firm. Incredible.
When Abraham arrived in New York, he didn’t speak any English and needed to board a train to Chicago to reunite with his family, who were living at 617 W. 14th Street at the time. This train had a stopover in Buffalo, causing the understandably confused Abraham a lot of stress since he didn’t know which train to re-board to Chicago. Thankfully, Abraham was aided in this journey by a sympathetic conductor who helped guide him to the correct train and then set Abraham’s watch to indicate when the train would arrive in Chicago. Abraham humorously reflected upon this experience years later in a newspaper article printed in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1956. The train made so many stops from Buffalo to Chicago, by the time he arrived in Chicago, Abraham thought he was must have been in California.