Remarkable People

ID #5202

Ernest Oppenheimer, Entrepreneur, Industrialist and Philanthropist, South Africa.

Sir Ernest Oppenheimer (1880–1957) was a diamond and gold mining entrepreneur, financier and philanthropist, who controlled De Beers and founded the Anglo American Corporation.

He was born in Friedberg, Germany, the son of Edward Oppenheimer, a cigar merchant. Oppenheimer began working at 17 when he entered Dunkelsbuhler & Co, a diamond broker in London. His efforts impressed his employer and in 1902, at age 22, he was sent to South Africa to represent the company in Kimberley, where he eventually rose to the position of mayor.

In 1927, he managed to wrestle control of the De Beers empire from Cecil John Rhodes. He continued to build and consolidate the company's monopoly over the world's diamond industry until his retirement. During this time, he was involved in a number of controversies, including price fixing, antitrust behaviour and an allegation of not releasing industrial diamonds for the US war effort during WW2. 

He died in Johannesburg in 1957. He was born Jewish but later converted to Christianity and was buried at St George's Church, Parktown. He was succeeded in the business by his son Harry. His brother, Sir Bernard Oppenheimer, was also involved in the diamond industry.

The Oppenheimer Diamond was named in his honour by Harry Winston in 1964, who donated it (not a gem as it remains uncut and unpolished) to the Smithsonian Institute. RSAEO

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:31
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.4

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