About Michael Reese
Michael Reese was a traveler, adventurer, speculator, and real estate investor who made and lost several fortunes in his lifetime. Born in the Bavarian town of Hainsfurth, he left Germany at the age of 19 to pursue his fortune in America. He soon made enough money in New York City to finance the immigration of most of his brothers and sisters to America, where they settled in and around Chicago. However, Reese moved on with news of the California Gold Rush, establishing a shipping business in San Francisco. There he lost a fortune when several of his ships went down in a storm.
When the California Gold Rush went bust, and with the panic of 1857, many of the miners moved on to British Columbia, where new gold deposits had been discovered. Reese established a real estate investment business, buying up distressed properties and claims that the California miners left behind. When land prices recovered, Reese became a multi-millionaire.
Reese's travels and adventures later in his life, and the circumstances of his death, are little known. He passed away in 1878, after he had returned to Germany. His other relatives in Chicago had prospered by this time and were active in the city's civic life. Reese left his fortune to relatives, but also to several hospitals and orphanages across the United States.
One of Reese's bequests established Michael Reese Hospital on the south side of Chicago, with the stipulation that the hospital would treat all persons without regard to nationality or creed. In the late 19th century, Jewish physicians often had trouble practicing in other hospitals, so they established many new hospitals across America and became some of the leading physicians and researchers at these hospitals. Michael Reese Hospital pioneered the study of bacteriology in the United States, and became a leading research and teaching hospital, eventually moving in 1907 to a spacious campus on the South Side of Chicago north of Hyde Park.
But in the late 20th century, the neighborhoods around Michael Reese hospital had deteriorated, and many of the original Jewish immigrants of the South Side who had once formed the backbone of support for the hospital had moved away. As conditions in surrounding neighborhoods deteriorated, the hospital focused more on serving the impoverished communities around it. In 1991, after years of losses, Michael Reese hospital was sold to a for-profit hospital chain. The remaining assets of the non-profit entity that had operated the hospital were turned over to the Michael Reese Health Trust, which serves the needs of the poor in Chicago.