Rothschild, the name of a Jewish family of European bankers and financiers. The house of Rothschild became an immensely wealthy firm in the 19th century, and European governments borrowed heavily from it. The economic influence of the Rothschild family led to its social advancement. The Rothschilds were among the few Jews in the 19th century who were accepted in the highest European social circles. The Rothschilds gave generously to Jewish causes.
Meyer Amschel Rothschild (1743-1812), whose original name was Bauer, was the founder of the house. He became a shopkeeper and moneylender in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Bauer adopted the name Rothschild from the red shield (in German rot means "red"; Schild, "shield") over the door of his shop. His business prospered and he became a financial adviser to William, prince of Hesse-Cassel. During Napoleon's occupation of German)', Rothschild hid the prince's money. William then permitted Rothschild to use it for some time without interest, and by lending it out he made a large profit.
By the time of his death, Rothschild had established a large international banking house. He left his five sons in charge of the firm: Meyer Amschel in Frankfurt; Salomon in Vienna; Nathan Meyer in London; Karl in Naples; and Jacob in Paris.
Through loans to the British government during the Napoleonic Wars, Nathan Meyer Rothschild (1777-1836) expanded the house's influence. From then on European powers often negotiated loans from the Rothschilds.
All five Rothschild brothers were made barons of Austria in 1822. Nathan Meyer Rothschild's son Lionel (1808-1879) became the first Jew to sit in the British Parliament. (Previously Jews had been barred because they refused to take an oath they considered offensive to their religion, but the oath was changed in 1858.) Lionel's son Nathaniel Meyer (1840-1915) was named a baron, the first Jew to be raised to the English peerage.
After World War II, the wealth and influence of the firm declined.