An Immigrant Bank in Philadelphia Serving Russian Jews: The Blitzstein Bank (1891–1930)


The Blitzstein Bank of Philadelphia, established in 1891 by Russian Jews to serve Russian Jewish immigrants, had two main functions: first, to sell steamship tickets to immigrants so that they could bring relatives and friends to the United States and, second, to serve as an intermediary in the transfer of dollar remittances to relatives in Russia and then the Soviet Union. The financial status of the bank was tied to economic conditions in the United States and those in Russia. When prosperity reigned in the United States, the bank sold many tickets. When conditions were especially harsh in Russia, the impulse to migrate to the United States was high and so were ticket sales. The bank’s fortunes were also indirectly connected to legal barriers against Jewish emigration erected by both the fledgling Soviet Union and the draconian immigrant quotas imposed by the United States in the early 1920s. After initially surviving the first wave of bank closings at the beginning of the Great Depression, the bank finally succumbed and closed its doors in late December 1930.