Swig, Benjamin Harrison

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SWIG, BENJAMIN HARRISON (1893–1980), U.S. businessman and philanthropist. His father, Simon Swig, an immigrant from Lithuania, rose from an ordinary peddler to become a Republican member of the Massachusetts State Legislature and founder of the Tremont Trust Company of Taunton, Mass., for which Benjamin went to work in 1914. He remained with the company until 1920, when it went bankrupt in consequence of the Ponzi postal-coupon scandal. Swig then ventured into the real estate business, in which he prospered until the stock market crash of October 1929, which ruined him financially. He recouped his fortune, however, and in 1937 joined forces with his brother-in-law, J.D. *Weiler, a real estate broker from New York. By the 1940s Swig and Weiler had become one of the largest real estate firms in the United States. In 1945 Swig settled in San Francisco, a city with which his commercial and civic activities were thereafter largely identified. Among the properties acquired by him there were the Fairmont Hotel and the St. Francis; the Bankers Investment Building; and the giant Merchandise Mart.

He began to take an interest in Democratic Party politics, to which he contributed handsomely, was active in the Stevenson campaigns of 1952 and 1956, and was an early supporter of John F. Kennedy, and later, Robert Kennedy. He was a founding member of Brandeis University and gave generously to the State of Israel, as well as a large number of general and Jewish charities, especially the United Jewish Appeal, Israel Bonds, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the national Reform movement. He also gave to many Catholic institutions, including the University of Santa Clara. In 1988, the Mae and Benjamin Swig Fund for Jewish Community Involvement was established as part of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. It is dedicated to seed funding programs that provide innovative models for the involvement of individuals in the Jewish community.

Swig's son richard (1925–1997) managed the Fairmont Hotel from 1946. As chairman of the Fairmont Hotel Management Company, he expanded the Fairmont hotel chain into seven major U.S. cities. Following in his family's philanthropic footsteps, he served on numerous boards encompassing all religious, political, and cultural arenas, contributing generously to a wide array of causes. In 1998 the Swig Company sold its interests in three of its Fairmont hotels (in San Francisco, Dallas, and New Orleans), as well as its 50 percent interest in the Fairmont Hotel Management Company, to a hotel investment fund run by Maritz, Wolff & Co.


W.J. Blum, Benjamin H. Swig: the Measure of a Man (1968). add. bibliography: B. Scharlach, Dealing from the Heart: A Biography of Benjamin Swig (2000).

[Hillel Halkin /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]