GRATZ , U.S. family of merchants and community leaders in Philadelphia. The Gratz family was founded in the United States by barnard gratz (1738–1801), who was of Polish birth and who emigrated from London in 1754. After working in the mercantile house of David Franks, in 1757 he went into partnership with Michael Moses, and a few years later he and his younger brother michael (1740–1811) formed a long-lived partnership under the family name as shippers and traders operating on the east coast and inland. As part of their trading operation, the partners sold kasher meat to the West Indies and conducted an extensive and sometimes dangerous Indian trade. In the midst of a very busy social and business career Barnard, with other merchants, signed Non-Importation Agreements to boycott British goods during the Stamp
Act and Townshend Act crises prior to the Revolution. Always deeply involved with Jewish communal activities, the brothers helped found the first Philadelphia synagogue, which in 1773 evolved into Congregation Mikveh Israel. Barnard Gratz was named its first parnas, and Michael was on the board of directors. The Gratz family supported the Revolution, as did many Philadelphia Jews, and supplied goods to the Continental Army. After the war, the Gratzes became involved in a successful struggle for equal rights in Pennsylvania. Always interested in western lands, the Gratzes supplied money to the Indian trader and agent George Croghan and to George Rogers Clark in his Revolutionary expedition to capture Detroit, and in 1794 invested in real estate around Louisville, Kentucky. Michael founded Gratzburg, in Otsego County, New York, in 1793.
Two of Michael's sons, simon (1773–1839) and hyman (1776–1857), carried on the family business. Hyman was elected director of the Pennsylvania Company for Insurance in 1818 and president in 1838. He founded *Gratz College. Both brothers participated in the affairs of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Pennsylvania Botanical Gardens. Though Simon and his younger brothers jacob (1789–1856) and benjamin (1792–1884) married gentiles, through their sisters' marriages the family was related to other prominent Jewish families. Their sister frances (1771–1852) married Reuben *Etting; rachel (1783–1823) married Solomon Moses; and richea (1774–1858) married Samuel *Hays. Richea is reputed to have been the first Jewish girl to attend college in the United States. Others of the Gratz family achieved considerable careers in law and politics as well as in business. Another of Michael's sons, joseph (1785–1858), was an ardent Federalist, as was his brother Hyman. Joseph was a director of the Philadelphia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, and of the Atlantic Insurance Company.
Jacob joined the family firm in 1806, but soon left to form his own dry goods firm. He received an M.A. degree (1811) from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1824 and 1839 he was elected to the state legislature. His younger brother Benjamin also joined the family firm and studied at the University of Pennsylvania. He was admitted to the bar in 1816. One of the early Jewish residents of Kentucky, where the family held land, he helped organize the Lexington and Ohio Railroad in 1830 and in 1835 helped found the Lexington branch of the Bank of Kentucky. Perhaps the best known of the Gratz family was Michael's daughter Rebecca *Gratz (1781–1869), who was active in various women's and children's organizations.
E. Wolf and M. Whiteman, History of the Jews of Philadelphia from Colonial Times to the Age of Jackson (1957), index; W.V. Byars, B. and M. Gratz Papers (1916); D. Philipson (ed.), Letters of Rebecca Gratz (1929); R.G. Osterweis, Rebecca Gratz: A Study in Charm (1935).