Israel Reizenstein (c.1830-1898) immigrated to New York from Bavaria about 1849 and changed his name to Charles. He married Rose Streng (c.1825-1902), who had emigrated from Bavaria about 1851. According to military documents, he worked as a sugar maker.
Charles Reizenstein volunteered for a three-month tour of duty in the Union Army on April 19, 1861, exactly one week after Confederate soldiers fired on Fort Sumter. He was discharged after one month because he suffered from rheumatism. He re-enlisted later in the war and served in the 6th Regiment of the New York state militia from November 1863 until May 1864.
Charles and Rose Reizenstein moved to old Allegheny City about 1866, after a brief time selling lamps in Franklin, Pa. He opened the Charles Reizenstein Company on Federal Street and sold glassware. He travelled to Europe at least once a year for buying trips. “By thus buying direct the house keeps a finer and larger stock and at prices which cannot be rivaled even in New York or Philadelphia,” a guide to local companies claimed in 1890.
Charles and Rosa Reizenstein had a large family. In an oral history interview, their grandson Louis referred to “ten children, five boys and five girls,” although census records list only eight, Julius, Caroline, Louis, Isadore, Rachel, Samuel, Sophie and Henrietta.
Louis Reizenstein (1856-1947) was a newspaper boy on the streets of Allegheny City before joining the family business. He worked in the Federal Street store and delivered orders to customers using a two-wheeled cart. He took over the business after his father died and expanded the enterprise. By 1906, he opened a second store in downtown Pittsburgh. He eventually closed the Allegheny City store and moved his entire business to Liberty Avenue. He made his first buying trip to Europe in 1882 and visited the continent almost 50 more times before he retired. In 1927, King Albert of Belgian made Louis Reizenstein a Chevalier of the Order of the Crown in recognition of his business association with the Val St. Lambert crystal glassware factory in Leige, Belgium.
Louis Reizenstein married Freda Jacobs (c.1857-1922) of Marietta, Ohio, in 1882. They lived on Fremont Street in Allegheny with their four children, Elrose, Charles, Harry and Louis.
Elrose Reizenstein (1883-1976) married Alexander Silverman, a chemist and expert on glass. Having no children of her own, Elrose Silverman felt she “had to do something for somebody else’s children,” as she told to the Jewish Criterion in 1958. She dedicated much of her life to scholarship work through the National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh Section, and the Allegheny County Scholarship Association. The Alpha Epsilon Phi Mothers’ Club at the University of Pittsburgh created the Elrose Reizenstein Silverman Scholarship in 1959 to recognize her contributions to undergraduate education.
Charles L. Reizenstein (1884-1961) was secretary-treasurer of C. Reizenstein Sons under his father and later assumed the presidency. After some Bohemian glass workers came into the store in early 1915 looking for work, he started the Elrose Decorating Company to produce Bohemian glass in Pittsburgh. Charles L. Reizenstein married Freda Silverman, who was the president of the Pittsburgh Conference of Jewish Women’s Organizations and the Pittsburgh chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She also edited a page of club news for the American Jewish Outlook.
Freda and Charles Reizenstein had two children, Charlotte and Louis.
Harry S. Reizenstein (b.1889) became an electrical engineer. He married Estelle Isaacs, of Pittsburgh. They lived on Brighton Road before moving to upstate New York.
Louis and Florence Reizenstein
Louis J. Reizenstein (c.1896-1977) was born two-and-a-half months premature. He was almost a decade younger than his nearest sibling and grew up at a time when many Jewish families were leaving Allegheny City for neighborhoods in the East End. “I had no Jewish companions there,” he told the Jewish Chronicle in 1966. “It was a tough neighborhood. And it was not long before I grew accustomed to hearing such epithets as ‘dirty Jew.’ I became somewhat introverted, I guess, and each summer I took up a different subject to study since I had no companions my own age.” He considered going to rabbinical school, but Rodef Shalom Rabbi J. Leonard Levy told him that “no one should be a rabbi who did not have an Orthodox background,” Reizenstein said in his oral history interview.
Reizenstein was a clever child. He fashioned drinking cups from the remnants of lamp chimneys produced in the family glass factory. Unable to afford college, he took night classes in business law, chemistry and accounting at the University of Pittsburgh. He made eight dollars a week working for the Falk American Potato Flour Company. While employed with the company, Reizenstein studied chemistry through a correspondence course and patented a cheap alternative for tung oil by cooking castor oil with aluminum sulphate. In 1923, Reizenstein, Alexander Lowenthal, Charles Rosenbloom and Leon Falk Jr. started the Falk Company, which refined oils and resins. They sold the business to Cargill Inc. in 1947 for $4 million.
When the United Jewish Fund and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies merged in 1955 to form the United Jewish Federation, Reizenstein became its first president. He was chosen because, as he later explained, “I was the only guy nobody was mad at.”
In 1924, Louis Reizenstein married Florence Silberstein, the daughter of a furnace and tin ware dealer in Homewood. Florence Reizenstein (1901-1970) was a leader in community and civic affairs and was widely admired both for her high ideals and for her soft-spoken manner. In the 1950s, she served on the Pennsylvania Fair Employment Commission and both the city and state Commissions on Human Relations. In 1958, she became the first president of the United Jewish Federation Women’s Division. The Jewish Chronicle called her “a gentle zealot” for her work in race and interfaith relations, which included associations with the Anti-Defamation League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Negro Education and Emergency Drive (NEED).
After her accidental death, the Chronicle carried tributes in five consecutive issues and the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education named a new middle school in her memory. The school was renamed for President Barack Obama in 2012 and has since been demolished. “It is too bad for us all that Florence Reizenstein is not still alive,” NEED Executive Director Herman L. Reid Jr. told the Chronicle in 1979. “Florence is the one person in this town who knew how to get inter-community communication going; and to keep it going to achieve results.”
Louis and Florence Reizenstein had a son, David.