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Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934)

Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the youngest son of James de Rothschild and Betty (née von Rothschild) bore the Hebrew name Benjamin. He was born in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, Hauts-de-Seine, on 19 August 1845. He grew up in the world of the Second French Republic and the Second French Empire, and was a soldier 'Garde Mobile' in the first Franco-Prussian War.

Edmond joined the Paris House in 1868 becoming a director of the Est railway company and other family concerns. He made journeys to Bukharu to examine the potential of the oilfields of the area. In 1877, he married Adelheid von Rothschild (1853-1935) of Naples, the daughter of his cousin Wilhelm Carl von Rothschild. They had three children: James Armand Edmond ('Jimmy') (1878-1957), Maurice Edmond Charles (1881-1957) and Miriam Caroline Alexandrine (1884-1965).

Edmond and Palestine

A strong supporter of Zionism, from 1882, his most outstanding achievements were involved in responding to the threats facing the Jewish people in Europe in the late 19th century by supporting massive land purchases and underwriting Jewish settlements in Palestine and Israel. Edmond's large donations lent significant support to the movement during its early years, which helped lead to the establishment of the State of Israel. Until his death, 'The Benefactor', as he was known provided support for Jewish colonists, overseeing dozens of new colonies. Rishon le Zion (the First in Zion) was followed by others bearing the names of his parents. In his goal for the establishment of a Jewish homeland, he promoted industrialization and economic development. Edmond played a pivotal role in Israel's wine industry; under the supervision of his administrators in Ottoman Palestine, farm colonies and vineyards were established, and two major wineries were opened in Rishon le Zion and Zikhron Ya'akov.

Edmond paid his first visit to the colonies in 1887, to inspect the progress that had been made in the first five years. On this first trip, he was accompanied by his wife Adelheid. Edmond's yacht moored at Port Said, then on to Jaffa, before travelling on to Jerusalem.

In 1923 PICA (the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association) was formed to oversee his affairs in Palestine. PICA acquired more than 125,000 acres (50,586 ha) of land and established a range of business ventures.

Art and philanthropy

Edmond inherited the family estate Château Boulogne-Billancourt and owned the Château d'Armainvilliers in Gretz-Armainvilliers in the Seine-et-Marne département. Edmond acquired an important collection of drawings and engravings that he bequeathed to the Louvre, consisting of more than 40,000 engravings (including over 100 engravings and drawings by Rembrandt), nearly 3,000 drawings, and 500 illustrated books, A portion of his art collection was bequeathed to his son James and is now part of the collection at Waddesdon Manor. 

Edmond had a stong interest in science and founded research institutions such as the Institut Henri Poincaré, the Institut de Biologie physico-chimique, the pre-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, the Casa Velázquez in Madrid, and the French Institute in London. He served as a member of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts and through it sponsored the archaeological digs of Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau in Egypt, Eustache de Lorey in Syria, and Raymond Weill in Palestine.

Edmond died at Château Boulogne-Billancourt in 1934; Adelheid died a year later. They were interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris until April 1954 when their remains were transported to Israel aboard a naval frigate. At Haifa, the ship was met with sirens and a 19-gun salute. A state funeral was held with former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion giving the eulogy following which Edmond and Adelheid were re-interred in Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens near the towns of Zichron Ya'akov and Binyamina, both of which he helped found and are named in his honour. Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv is named after him, as well as various localities throughout Israel which he assisted in founding. Also named after him is the Parc Edmond de Rothschild in Boulogne-Billancourt.

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