Isidor Straus (February 6, 1845 – April 15, 1912) was a German-born, Jewish, American businessman, politician, and co-owner of Macy’s department store, along with his brother Nathan. He also served for just over a year as a member of the United States House of Representatives. He died with his wife, Ida, in the sinking of the passenger ship RMS Titanic.
After the Civil War, the Straus moved to New York City, where Lazarus the father of Isidor, convinced Rowland Hussey Macy, founder of Macy’s, to allow L. Straus & Sons to open a crockery department in the basement of his store.
Isidor Straus worked at L. Straus & Sons, which became the glass and china department at Macy’s. In 1888, he and brother Nathan Straus became partners of Macy’s. By 1896, Isidor and his brother Nathan had gained full ownership of R. H. Macy & Co.
Traveling back from a winter in Europe, mostly spent at Cape Martin in southern France, Isidor and his wife were passengers on the RMS Titanic when, at about 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, it hit an iceberg. Once it was clear the Titanic was sinking, Ida refused to leave Isidor and would not get into a lifeboat without him. Although Isidor was offered a seat in a lifeboat to accompany Ida, he refused seating while there were still women and children aboard and refused to be made an exception. According to friend and Titanic survivor Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, upon seeing that Ida was refusing to leave her husband, he offered to ask a deck officer if Isidor and Ida could both enter a lifeboat together. Isidor was reported to have told Colonel Gracie in a firm tone: “I will not go before the other men”. Ida insisted her newly hired English maid, Ellen Bird, get into lifeboat #8. She gave Ellen her fur coat, stating she would not be needing it. Ida is reported to have said, “I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so will we die, together.” Isidor and Ida were last seen on deck arm in arm. Eyewitnesses described the scene as a “most remarkable exhibition of love and devotion”. Both died on April 15 when the ship sank at 2:20 am. Isidor Straus’s body was recovered by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett and taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where it was identified before being shipped to New York. He was first buried in the Straus-Kohns Mausoleum at Beth-El Cemetery in Brooklyn. His body was moved to the Straus Mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx in 1928. Ida’s body was never found, so the family collected water from the wreck site and placed it in an urn in the mausoleum. Isidor and Ida are memorialized on a cenotaph outside the mausoleum with a quote from the Song of Solomon (8:7): “Many waters cannot quench love—neither can the floods drown it.”