Ernest Oppenheimer

Sir Ernest Oppenheimer (22 May 1880 – 25 November 1957) was a diamond and gold mining entrepreneur, financier and philanthropist,[1][2][3] who controlled De Beers and founded the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa.

Ernest Oppenheimer
Ernest Oppenheimer (right) visiting a diamond factory (Amsterdam, Dec. 1945)
Born(1880-05-22)May 22, 1880
DiedNovember 25, 1957(1957-11-25) (aged 77)
NationalitySouth African
Years active1896-1957
Known forAnglo American
Spouse(s)Mary Lena Pollak
Caroline Magdalen Oppenheimer
ChildrenFrank Oppenheimer
Harry Oppenheimer
  • Eduard Oppenheimer (father)
  • Nanette (mother)
FamilyBernard Oppenheimer


He was born in Friedberg, Hesse, Germany, the son of Edward Oppenheimer, a cigar merchant.[4]:13 Oppenheimer began his working life at 17, when he entered Dunkelsbuhler & Company, a diamond brokerage in London.[4]:13 His efforts impressed his employer and in 1902, at the age of 22, he was sent to South Africa to represent the company as a buyer in Kimberley, where he eventually rose to the position of mayor in 1912 until 1915.[4]:13[5] In this role he helped raise the manpower for Kimberley Regiment for service during World War One.[4]:13

He became great friends with William Lincoln Honnold, an American engineer and chairman of Transvaal Coal Trust, Brakpan Mines, Springs Mines and The New Era Company. [6]

In 1917, they launched the Anglo American Corporation with financial assistance from J. P. Morgan.[4]:13 The initial capital was £1 million. Half of the capital was subscribed in America and half in England and South Africa.[7] He would remain as a permanent director and its chairman until 1953.[4]:13 In 1919, two years after it launch, Anglo American purchased diamond mines in South West Africa which would be challenge for De Beers diamond business.[4]:13

He took part in the 1924 South African general election and was elected to the House of Assembly as the Member for Kimberley.[4]:13 He held the seat until 1938.[4]:13 In 1927, Ernest Oppenheimer managed to wrest control of Cecil Rhodes's De Beers empire and built and consolidated the company's global monopoly over the world's diamond industry until his retirement.[4]:13 He gain the chairmanship of De Beers in 1929.[4]:13

He was involved in a number of controversies, including price fixing, antitrust behaviour and an allegation of not releasing industrial diamonds for the US war effort during World War II.[8][9]


He married Mary Lena Pollak in 1906 and had two sons.[4]:13 She passed away in 1934.[4]:13 In 1935 he married Caroline Magdalen Oppenheimer (nee Harvey) widow of Michael Oppenheimer.[4]:13


He died in Johannesburg in 1957. He was born into a Jewish family, but as an adult, he converted to Anglicanism and was buried at St George's Church, Parktown. He was succeeded in the business by his son Harry Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer's brother, Sir Bernard Oppenheimer, was also heavily involved in the diamond industry.


In 1964, the Oppenheimer Diamond was named in his honour by its owner, Harry Winston, who donated the stone (not a gem, as it remains uncut and unpolished) to the Smithsonian Institution as a memorial.

See also


  1. Rajak, Dinah (2011-11-09). In Good Company: An Anatomy of Corporate Social Responsibility. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804781619.
  2. Vertigans, Stephen; Idowu, Samuel O. (2016-08-02). Corporate Social Responsibility: Academic Insights and Impacts. Springer. ISBN 9783319350837.
  3. "Sir Ernest Oppenheimer | South African industrialist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-11-15.
  4. "Sir Ernest Oppenheimer". The Times of London. The Times Digital Archive. 26 November 1957. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  5. "Ernest Oppenheimer". South African History Online. 17 February 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  6. William L. Honnold Papers, H.Mss.0381, Special Collections, Honnold Mudd Library, Claremont University Consortium|
  7. H. F. Oppenheimer, R. B. Hagart, W. D. Wilson, Francis Whitmore, H. MacConachie, Dr. J. E. Holloway, Optima, September 1967 Volume seventeen number three, Commemorates the Fiftieth Anniversary of Anglo American Corporation September 25th 1967, p.97.
  8. Janine P. Roberts (2003). Glitter & Greed. The Disinformation Company. ISBN 0-9713942-9-6. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  9. Theodor Emanuel Gregory (1977). Ernest Oppenheimer and the Economic Development of Southern Africa. Arno Press. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  10. "Our History - De Beers Group".
Preceded by
Cecil Rhodes
Chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines
circa 1925–1957
Succeeded by
Harry Oppenheimer
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