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Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), patriarch of the Rothschild clan, fathered five illustrious sons who made the family name a by-word for banking, fabulous wealth, and Jewish philanthropy. Israeli historian Elon has pieced together the story of the dynasty's founding father, largely unrecorded heretofore. Mayer Amschel spent his life traveling between the humble Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt and the mansions of the prosperous Gentiles whom he served, particularly that of Prince Wilhelm of Hesse. Jews were severely restricted in most areas of their lives, and Rothschild had to conduct himself with appropriate servility in the presence of his masters. However, the displacements of the Napoleonic Wars gave the discreet Rothschild his chance to act as Wilhelm's agent, and his monopoly on the disbursement of the prince's loans was his entry into banking. It was all the start he needed. [via]