Marks, Simon, Baron

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MARKS, SIMON, BARON (1888–1964), British businessman, philanthropist, and Zionist. Born in Leeds, Simon Marks was the son of Michael Marks, who emigrated in 1882 from Russia to the U.K. where he began as a peddler. In 1884 he opened a market stall in Leeds and later a number of Penny Bazaars in the Midlands. They grew into the great multiple-store chain of Marks … Spencer Ltd. Simon Marks was elected chairman of the board in 1917 and from then on, until he died at his office desk, steered the firm to phenomenal commercial and financial success. His close business associate was Israel Moses (later Lord) *Sieff; they had married each other's sisters. The high quality of their goods and business probity set a tradition in British retail merchandising. Indeed it was said that they were largely responsible for a quiet revolution in British life by raising living standards through making high quality goods available at popular prices. "Marks and Sparks" remains probably the best-known and most famous of all British high street retail chains, although its founding families largely severed their direct connection with the firm in the 1980s.

From their mid-20s Marks and Sieff were loyal and devoted supporters of Chaim *Weizmann in his Zionist activities originally in Manchester and later in London, and were joined by other members of their families. In 1919 Marks went as secretary of the Zionist delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference. Later he became chairman of the Keren Hayesod Committee, vice president of the Zionist Federation and in 1950 was elected a member of the Zionist Exceutive. He was president of the Joint Palestine Appeal at his death. Marks participated with Weizmann and the Zionist leadership in political negotiations with successive British governments and in other Zionist efforts until the State of Israel was established. He and Lord Sieff were leading contributors to the Daniel Sieff Research Institute (1934) and later in the Weizmann Institute of Science (1949) both at Reḥovot, Israel. Their personal and family trust benefactions to public causes in Britain and Israel totaled tens of millions of pounds over six decades. The Marks and Sieff families were reputed to have been the greatest donors to Zionist causes in the Diaspora.

Marks rendered distinguished public service in the period between and during both world wars. He helped to found the Air Defense Cadet Corps in Britain in 1938 and headed wartime production coordination in the London and southeast England area. He was also an adviser to the Ministry of Petroleum Warfare and one of the first directors of British Overseas Airways. In 1944 he received a knighthood and 1961 was created a baron.


G. Rees, St. Michael, A History of Marks and Spencer (1969); I. Sieff, The Memoirs of Israel Sieff (1970). add. bibliography: odnb online; dbb, 4, 138–146; M. Sieff, Don't Ask the Price (1986).

[Julian Louis Meltzer (2nd ed.)]