Theo Goldschmidt, Industrialist and chemist

The Patriarch

Goldschmidt

* 1883, Berlin

† 1965, Seeheim/Bergstraße

It cannot be said that many industrialists left their mark on a successful company after more than 50 years in a management position—especially when those 50 years saw two World Wars, three political coups and a global economic crisis—yet it can be said of Theo Goldschmidt.

Theo, the eldest son of Karl Goldschmidt and grandson of the company founder Theodor Goldschmidt, was born in Berlin, but attended school in Essen. He studied chemistry at the Technical University in Dresden and at the universities in Munich and Strassburg, and started studying for his doctorate in 1908. Theo Goldschmidt then joined Chemische Fabrik Th. Goldschmidt, the chemical factory run by his father and his uncle, Hans Goldschmidt, and soon became manager of the tin works, which were very important at that time. After Th. Goldschmidt AG was founded in 1911, he took a seat on the board and, at the beginning of 1923, succeeded his father as Chief Executive, an office he continued to hold until 1958. Under Theo Goldschmidt’s management, the company with a focus on metallurgy became a more strongly diversified specialty chemicals business with a global orientation.

Unlike his father and uncle, Theo Goldschmidt was not a distinguished chemist, but instead exhibited great entrepreneurial skill over decades, particularly in times of crisis. It was largely due to his efforts that Th. Goldschmidt AG survived the global economic crisis in 1930-32 and the periods during and after WWII. His contribution was also crucial to the economic boom during the 1950s.

Initially, he extended a welcome to the National Socialists when they came to power but nevertheless maintained a certain distance—an attitude that ultimately developed into open rejection of the NS regime. In 1933 in particular, the experienced collector and art aficionado Theo Goldschmidt had a particular interest in the Folkwang Museum Society – not in line with the official policy on art – which helped the famous Folkwang Museum in Essen to survive these difficult times. 

Despite his patriarchal and conservative demeanor, Theo Goldschmidt enjoyed great popularity over the years and was usually referred to as Dr. Theo or, after he was awarded a professorship at the Technical University in Hanover in 1954, as Prof. Theo.

He was held in great esteem by politicians including Ludwig Erhardt and Theodor Heuss, and was for many years President of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Essen, a Senator at the Max Planck Society and Treasurer for the Society of German Chemists. He also held a seat on the governing bodies of numerous institutes and on the board of directors of prestigious companies, including Commerzbank and Feldmühle AG.

In 1958, shortly before he retired, he received the Order of Merit with Distinction from the Federal Republic of Germany. He then withdrew to his estate in Seeheim, yet remained Chairman of the Board of Th. Goldschmidt A. G. until he died.