He helped fund the American Revolution, he's part of monuments in Chicago and Los Angeles, he's been featured on a postage stamp and had a World War II cargo ship named after him. Yet say the name Haym Salomon, especially to young people, and you'll get a blank stare.
Jack Sholl aims to change all that.
Sholl, a Philly native who serves as second vice president of the San Diego chapter of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution, is spearheading a campaign to make sure the forgotten Jewish financier gets a fair shake and receives the credit he's due.
"We're going to make sure this man gets some recognition," said Sholl during one of his frequent visits to Philadelphia.
"This man is really exciting, and if what I'm reading about him is true, then he was more important to the American Revolution than Robert Morris," he said, citing the much-lauded revolutionary financier for whom Salomon worked.
Sholl, a spry 82-year-old, has a deep love of American history, and his eyes light up when he talks about his favorite subject. Before starting his research he knew Salomon's name, but said he didn't know much more than that he was a financier. What began as a hobby has evolved into an effort to bring national recognition to a man he feels is one of America's unsung heroes.
"I can't get enough of him," said Sholl, who has put together a Power Point presentation on Salomon's life, which he plans to formally present at a SAR meeting in San Diego next month.
Salomon was born in Poland in 1740 and came to New York in the early 1770s. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1778 (some say escaping from the British), and once there, established a successful brokerage business and joined the Sons of Liberty.
He was a vigorous supporter of American independence, and it is said that "Send for Haym Salomon" was a common call in times of financial crisis during the Revolution. He secured loans, often without interest, for notables such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, among others. Exact figures are varied and unreliable, but it is believed that Salomon raised several hundred thousand dollars for the Revolution. Yet, for all his assistance, it is reported that he died without having been repaid for his personal loans to the fledgling government.
'An Incredible Oversight'
Part of Sholl's campaign to increase awareness involves giving "Salomon presentations" at as many schools, synagogues and SAR meetings as possible.
His colleague Phil Winter will take over the presidency of the SAR San Diego chapter in January, and said that he plans to dedicate his yearlong term to "full recognition of this worthy patriot." Winter called it "an incredible oversight in our American history" that Salomon's contribution to independence has been all but forgotten.
Since the nation's capitol and many American cities are filled with monuments to forgotten politicians, "we should have something for this guy," said Winter, lamenting such an absence in Washington.
"I think he's the greatest patriot other than [George] Washington," he said, adding that the country could use more servants of Salomon's mettle today.
Sholl and Winter also hope to persuade SAR to establish an annual Haym Salomon award. The medal, if struck, would feature Salomon's likeness on the front, and the Liberty Bell on the back, along with the words "Patriot, Financier."
Sholl has shown his presentation to Congregation Mikveh Israel's Rabbi Albert Gabbai and congregation archivist Louis Kessler, who helped with accuracy and dates, and pointed Sholl toward a number of sources.
He also hopes to make the presentation available to schools in the coming academic year. Ideally, he said, it would be targeted to students between fifth and seventh grades.
"They've at least got to have a sense of American history to get started with" in order to properly understand Salomon's importance, said Sholl.
It could be a thorny path: According to Beth Wenger, director of Penn's Jewish-studies program, Salomon's importance has been exaggerated, and in some cases, outright fictionalized over the years, as myths associated with him have come to be taken as fact.
Nevertheless, she noted, Salomon's role is a vital one for Jews.
"Myths and historical legacies are very important, because they're a way Jews make America home and provide meaning," said Wenger. She said that nearly every ethnic group had its own Revolutionary hero.
Though Sholl lives in Palm Desert, Calif., he spends a significant amount of time in Philadelphia — in 2007 alone he logged 112 days here, and has amassed nearly 2,500 volunteer hours for the National Park Service, much of it in and around Independence Hall.
In fact, he chimed in, the Park Service often calls him "Independence Park West" because he spends so much time here.