Karen's Keys to Genealogy:
Spiegelman Family

Biography of
Morris Spiegelman (1871-1934)


Morris Spiegelman, the fifth of nine children born to Elizer and Miriam (Wolff) Spiegelman, was born at Mordy, Poland on July 4, 1871 (or 1872, according to some sources). When he was ten, the Russian Tsar, Alexander II, was assassinated. At that time Poland was a territory of Russia. The Jews were blamed and a wave of pogroms in Russia and Poland was caused by these accusations. Then the new Tsar blamed the Jews for the riots and put new restrictions on them. This was occurring between 1881 and 1884, but the pogroms continued after that, as did anti-semitism.



He was educated in private schools in Warsaw, with a thorough education in Hebrew and Talmud, as well as Polish, Russian, and English. In 1889, he graduated from the City Business College of Warsaw as a bookkeeper, and subsequently worked for the second largest wholesale lumber business in Warsaw.

On January 8, 1895, he married Helene Shaeffer (or Schafir) of Warsaw, the daughter of Mordechai and Taube (Lerman) Shaeffer. They had their first child, Sara, born October 28, 1895, followed by Louis, born November 22, 1897. Their second son, Joseph, was born September 8, 1899, the same month that Morris came to the United States.

According to the 1900 U.S. Census, Morris Spiegelman was living at 31 Canon Street in Manhattan, New York with hist first cousin, Wolf Spiegelman and his second wife, Rose. Morris was employed as a shoe cutter.

His wife Helene and their three children followed Morris to the United States in 1902, traveling aboard the Red Star Line’s Friesland from Antwerp, Belgium, and arriving in New York City on August 5, 1902. The family left to escape anti-Semitism, and there is a family story that the real reason they left to come to America was that one day, Morris was at work and Helene was at home with the kids. She had just finished cleaning the house for Passover. Suddenly, the Russians rode through their house. It was a pogrom! When Morris got home, she told him they were moving to America, so they did.

By the time their son Leon was born on May 14, 1903, the family had moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Another son, Emanuel "Manny" followed shortly on October 15, 1904, with daughter Lena "Lee" arriving on December 6, 1905.

Morris became a naturalized United States citizen on May 2, 1906. While in Montgomery he worked at the dry goods business until his next move. Morris knew English relatively well, and in order to teach Helene English, he simply would not allow her to speak Yiddish, their native tongue. When she started speaking in Yiddish, he would tell her, "Speak English".

After the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Morris felt that the city would be a thriving economy during the aftermath and rebuilding period. In May of that year he moved the family to San Francisco. With very little capital, he started a mattress business, with Sig Simon, called the Continental Bedding Manufacturing Company. Morris and Helene's last child, David, was born in San Francisco on January 23, 1908.

When the 1910 U.S. Census was enumerated, the family was living at 1616 Sanchez Street in San Francisco. Morris' occupation was listed as "mattress manufacturer." By the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, they had moved to 2083 Pacific Avenue, where his occupation was listed as "furniture wholesale manufacturing." In 1930 Morris was listed as a "merchant in the textile business" and resided at 150 Page Street.

Morris Spiegelman is credited with having helped bring over seventy family members to the United States, employing many of them in his various businesses, including the Continental Bedding Manufacturing Company, United Paper Box Company, and helped sons Joe and Leon open the San Francisco Furniture Company, the latter of which was established in 1931.

Life was pretty good for them in America, and Morris, especially, worked hard to make it that way. He even had an oil lease with John A. Rockefeller! I don’t know if they experienced any prejudice in America; if they did, they never talked about it, probably because it was nothing compared to what it was like in Europe.

Morris was a member of Congregation B'nai David, and was involved in numerous charities, including the Federation of Jewish Charities, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and the Hebrew Free Loan Society. He was also a president of the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith, the oldest continually operating Jewish service organization in the world.

Morris Spiegelman died in San Francisco on March 19, 1934, at the age of sixty-two years. He was buried at Eternal Home Cemetery in Colma, California. His widow Helene moved in with her daughter Sara "Zara" and survived her husband by nearly thirty-four years, passing away at Menlo Park, California on January 17, 1970 at the age of ninety-four years. Her remains were laid to rest next to those of her husband.



  • U.S. Federal Census – 1900; 1910; 1920; 1930.
  • Obituary – San Francisco Chronicle, 20 March 1934: p 13.
  • Martin A. Meyer, Ph.D; Western Jewry – An Account of the Achievements of the Jews and Judaism in California; Temple Emanu-El, San Francisco, 1916.
  • Remembrances of Leonard Schlussel and Midge (Schlussel) Offel.
  • With assistance from Bryn Lewin-Ofell.

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