John Daniel Hertz Biography

A Historical Sketch
John Hertz

Our Founder, John Daniel Hertz, was an Austrian emigrant who came to the United States and lived the American Dream. He arrived from Europe as a very poor young boy and matured into a prominent man of many accomplishments, most notably as a leader in the advent of the automotive age.

Throughout his life, he reiterated his appreciation for the opportunities which this land afforded him for the achievement of success in business and finance, as well as for the attainment of leadership in the avocation of his and Mrs. Hertz's choice – the breeding and racing of outstanding horses. These opportunities, he often stated, would have been denied him in the land of his birth.

He expressed his gratitude in many ways, but the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, representing one of the culminating activities of his life, was perhaps the most eloquent and enduring. It was designed to fulfill a need which Mr. Hertz sensed long before Sputnik: this nation, in order to survive, prosper, and lead, had to increase substantially the ranks of its most competent engineers and applied scientists. He felt that the Foundation could perform a notable service to the nation by fostering the education and training of outstanding students in these areas, and, in the spirit of the country which he revered, by doing it without discrimination by reason of race/color, creed, sex or geographical origin. The wish of Mr. Hertz, in establishing the Foundation, was to enhance the technological stature of the United States.

Fannie Hertz

In 1957, the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation was formed with the goal of supporting applied sciences education. This was originally accomplished by granting undergraduate scholarships on a national scale to qualified and financially-limited mechanical and electrical engineering students undertaking a curriculum fully accredited by the Engineering Council for Professional Development.

In 1963, a special committee of the Foundation's Board of Directors, after consultation with a large number of distinguished engineering and science educators throughout the United States, recommended a major modification in the Foundation's program. The Foundation, in accordance with the recommendation of this committee, decided to phase out the national undergraduate scholarship program, and adopted in its place a plan for the granting of postgraduate fellowships leading to the award of the Ph.D. At that time, the scope of the studies to be supported by Fellowships was enlarged to include both the fields of engineering and applied sciences, with special emphasis placed on physical sciences and the stimulation of exceptional competence and innovation-oriented development in these fields.

The Foundation's Board of Directors believes Mr. Hertz's purpose is most effectively accomplished by supporting the graduate studies of excellent young men and women. We attempt to select Hertz Fellows who will become leaders in applied scientific and technological advances, exemplars of teaching skills in the applied physical sciences, and key contributors to the advancement of national technological capabilities on which the long-term well-being of the United States largely depends. We hold an annual, national competition for Hertz Foundation graduate fellowships as a means of identifying these future leaders and offering them our support.

John Daniel Hertz and Fannie Kesner Hertz...

Enhancement of the technological strength of the United States and of the American way of life were paramount in John Hertz's plan for the utilization of the fortune amassed during his successful career. Outstanding among the qualities that distinguished Mr. and Mrs. Hertz was an extraordinary love for and devotion to this country.

Some of the events in his life serve to illustrate that this land is one of truly exceptional opportunity for those who combine the requisite intelligence, integrity, willingness to work hard, and the qualities of honor and consideration in their relationships exemplified by John Hertz.

John Daniel Hertz was born on April 10, 1879. When he was five years old, Mr. Hertz's family immigrated to this country from the little village of Vrutsky, in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later became Czechoslovakia. After his family settled in Chicago, he attended public school for only a short time before leaving home at age eleven to earn his own living. He worked as a newsboy and then as a copyboy in a newspaper office until his health became impaired, and he was forced to seek open-air employment and to develop his body. He found work on horse-drawn delivery trucks and, in his spare time, joined a gymnasium frequented by professional boxers. As he regained his physical strength, he began to take boxing lessons and was encouraged, while only sixteen years of age, to engage in public boxing matches. The small sums paid to him for these activities were sorely needed. He also found that he could augment his income by providing information collected at the gymnasium for the sports page of the newspaper which had formerly employed him.

Upon delivering information to the Chicago Record sports editor on one particular evening, he was invited to write up a news story based on his information, an event that he always considered as the turning point of his life. Through laborious self-training, he became a successful sports writer, eventually gaining his own by-line. As an additional source of revenue, he performed miscellaneous jobs at the racetracks in and around Chicago, an activity also prompted by his love of horses.

In his early twenties, he met Fannie Kesner, a member of a well-to-do Chicago family, and they were married on July 15, 1903. The marriage proved to be an enduring and happy one. They had three children: the late Leona Hertz Saks, the eldest; the late John Hertz, Jr., a former advertising executive; and the late Helen Hertz Hexter. Fannie Hertz, a devoted mother, was also the constant companion and inspiration of Mr. Hertz throughout his lifetime. Their many friends characterized Mrs. Hertz as the most solicitous, devoted and understanding of wives. She participated in all activities, helped to build their many enduring friendships and shared his hobbies and love of horses. Her gracious hospitality to their many friends and acquaintances from all over the nation was legendary.

The merger of the Chicago Record with the Chicago Herald terminated Mr. Hertz's employment as a sports writer, and made it necessary for him to seek other employment in order to provide for the needs of his growing family. He became an automobile salesman and, from the outset, was astonishingly successful. He was indefatigable and highly persuasive, and soon discovered that the only way he could sell most customers a second automobile was to take back the first on a trade-in basis. This was a real innovation at the time, and resulted in tying up most of his capital in used, high-priced automobiles, for which there was very little demand. Undaunted, Mr. Hertz formed a profitable business relationship with Mr. Walden Shaw, and provided the automobiles for Mr. Shaw's motor livery service. The expense involved, however, made the use of automobiles in this way by the ordinary individual quite infrequent. Mr. Hertz felt that, if rates could be reduced, it might be possible to develop a mass market. Wishing for the automobiles of his proposed service to be easily recognizable, he determined after some research that the now-famous yellow color for taxi-cabs would best serve his purposes.

With a group of associates including Mr. Shaw, he formed the Yellow Cab Company in 1915. He invented and developed techniques for maintenance, supervision, operation and service of his cab fleet which were so successful that the Yellow Cab Company was able to franchise operations in cities throughout the country and to perform instructional, management and supervisory services for these various Yellow Cab Companies.

A problem then developed which was responsible for another highly successful enterprise of John Hertz. The automobiles at his command were not rugged enough to withstand the hard service to which taxicabs were put in those early days, when country roads and even side streets were a far cry from the smooth streets and highways of today. Mr. Hertz decided that it would be necessary to build a taxicab that could take such punishment, and so he organized the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company. Mr. Hertz organized the Hertz Drive-Yourself Corporation in 1924 in order to further develop the market for the automobiles produced by this company. He commenced to conduct, on a nationwide basis, the business of leasing cars and trucks, a radical idea for its time. In 1926 the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company, including the Drive-Yourself Division, was sold to General Motors and Mr. Hertz joined the Board of Directors of GM at the age of 46.

John Hertz's interest in transportation motivated him to take a leading role in the development of the urban motorbus systems of New York. Mr. Hertz was responsible for the creation of the plan under which the street railways of New York were converted to motorbus systems. Control of operations, in New York through the Fifth Avenue Coach Company, and in Chicago through the Chicago Motor Coach Company, was vested in the Omnibus Corporation, formed for that purpose. Eventually, the Chicago Motor Coach Company was sold to the Chicago Transit Authority, and the Omnibus Corporation acquired the Hertz Drive-Yourself System from General Motors Corporation, disposing of its New York City bus operations in the process. The name Omnibus Corporation was changed to the Hertz Corporation, which now carries on a worldwide truck and automobile renting and leasing business.

Mr. Hertz was invited to become a major partner in the Lehman Brothers investment-banking firm in 1933, and remained a member of this firm until his death in 1961. The relationship was far more than a merely successful business association. Mr. Hertz cherished the friendship and affection of the partners, and particularly that of Robert Lehman, as one of the greatest satisfactions of his life.

In both World Wars, Mr. Hertz rendered valuable assistance in the nation's defense program. During World War I, he was Special Advisor in transportation matters to the Secretary of War, and in World War II, he was a dollar-a-year man on the staff of Undersecretary of War Robert P. Patterson, as the expert advisor on all matters concerned with wheeled vehicles. During this World War II period, he lived in Washington and was primarily concerned with his work in the War Department. In 1947, he received the Medal and Certificate of Merit of the new Department of Defense, in recognition of his valued contributions to the defense of the nation.

Despite his active business career, Mr. Hertz found time to devote to other aspects of public service, among them service as a director of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation and as a trustee of the Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

For his dedication to service in the defense of the United States, as exemplified by his endowment of the Hertz Foundation, John Hertz was decorated in 1958 by the Secretary of Defense with the Defense Department Certificate of Appreciation, the Defense Department's highest civilian award at that time.

During their lifetimes, Mr. and Mrs. Hertz were recognized as outstanding leaders in the field of breeding and racing horses. Mr. Hertz formed a group of prominent citizens in Illinois to acquire and develop the Arlington Racetrack in Arlington, Illinois. Under Mr. Hertz's guidance, this became one of the leading tracks in the country. He was a member of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association and was associated with the Keeneland, Santa Anita and Hollywood Turf Clubs. Among the outstanding horses bred or owned by Mr. and Mrs. Hertz were Reigh Count and Count Fleet. Reigh Count not only won the Kentucky Derby, but also, after demonstrating his championship caliber in the United States, raced in England where he won a number of important events. Count Fleet, bred by Mr. and Mrs. Hertz, won the famous Triple Crown, and sired many renowned offspring. The Hertzs' principal breeding farm was located in Paris, Kentucky, in the famous Blue Grass region.

In summing up John Hertz's illustrious career, Mr. Robert Lehman eloquently declared that, by his efforts, character and capabilities, Mr. Hertz became a champion in a number of categories: in business, particularly in the transportation field; in the field of investment banking; and, with his beloved wife Fannie, in the field of breeding and racing thoroughbred horses. To these achievements may well be added his reputation as a most devoted husband, a steadfast to the land of his adoption.