Jewish Accomplishments

Jewish Nobel Prize prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer in 1978
Author Isaac Bashevis Singer signs autographs after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. Chuck Fishman/Getty Images

With an estimated 7.4 billion people on earth, Jews comprise a mere .2 percent of that amount at about 14.2 million. This makes the following list of accomplishments by Jews particularly impressive.

The Nobel Prize

Between 1901 and 2015, 194 Nobel prizes have been awarded to Jews, accounting for 22 percent of all Nobels awarded. In fact, Jews have won more Nobel prizes than any other ethnicity. Statistically, Jews should not have won such a majority of Nobel prizes considering they only account for 1 in every 500 individuals, an anomaly that has been hotly debated for years.

Great Thinkers

  • Albert Einstein, perhaps the most famous scientist of the 20th century, proposed a groundbreaking theory of relativity (including his famous equation e=mc²). Einstein's work established the foundation for much of modern physics and had a profound impact on everything from quantum theory to nuclear power and the atom bomb.
  • Karl Marx, the German philosopher, economist, and revolutionary, wrote The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, with the help of Friedrich Engels. These works greatly influenced modern socialism and the social sciences. Marx is considered one of the founders of economic history and sociology.
  • Dr. Sigmund Freud, an Austrian physician, was the founder of psychoanalysis and father of psychiatry. He theorized that the symptoms of hysterical patients represent forgotten and unresolved infantile psychosexual conflicts. His psychoanalytic theories profoundly influenced 20th-century thought.

Science and Medicine

  • Dr. Jonas Salk created the first polio vaccine.
  • Dr. Abraham Waksman coined the term antibiotics.
  • Casmir Funk, a Polish Jew, pioneered a new field of medical research and coined the word "vitamins."
  • Dr. Simon Baruch performed the first successful operation for appendicitis.
  • Dr. Paul "Magic Bullet" Ehrlich won the Nobel Prize in 1908 for curing syphilis.
  • Dr. Abraham Jacobi is considered America's father of pediatrics.
  • Dr. Albert Sabin developed the first oral polio vaccine.

Business and Finance

  • Haym Solomon and Isaac Moses are responsible for creating the first modern banking institutions.
  • Jews created the first department stores: B. Altman & Co. (1865-1990), Gimbels (1887-1987), Kaufmanns (1871-2006), Lazaruses (1851-2005), I. Magnin & Company (1876-1994), Mays (1877-2005), and Abraham & Straus, later A&S, (1865-1995) became leaders of major department stores.
  • Julius Rosenwald revolutionized the way Americans purchased goods by improving Sears Roebuck's mail order merchandising.
  • Hart, Schaffner, Marx, Kuppenheimer, and Levi Strauss became household names in men's' clothing.
  • Isadore & Nathan Straus ("Abraham & Straus") eventually became sole owners of Macy's, the world's largest department store, in 1896.
  • The fortunes of English-Jewish financiers such as Isaac Goldsmid, Nathan Rothschild, David Salomons, and Moses Montefiore helped England become an empire.
  • Armand Hammer (Arm & Hammer) was a physician and businessman who originated the largest trade between the U.S. and Russia.
  • Louis Santanel was the financier who provided the funds for Columbus' voyage to America.
  • Levi Strauss invented durable pants first used by 49ers during the Gold Rush. These "wonderful pants of Levi's" were made of a heavy blue denim material called "genes" in France. The pants he created, called levis or jeans, have become an emblem of the American West and an emissary of the Western lifestyle — egalitarian, utilitarian, independent — around the world.

Entertainment Industry

  • Samuel L. Goldwyn & Louis B. Mayer (MGM) produced the first full-length sound picture, The Jazz Singer.
  • European Jews are the founding fathers of all the Hollywood Studios.
  • Adolph Zukor built the first theater used solely to show motion pictures.
  • Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin are three of the most prolific composers of the 20th century
  • Harry Houdini (born Ehrich Weisz) is considered the father of magic.
  • Sherry Lansing of Paramount Pictures became the first woman president of a major Hollywood studio.
  • Flo Zigfield of "Zigfield Follies" is the creator of American burlesque.
  • Steven Spielberg is arguably the most successful filmmaker since the advent of film.
  • Many of the most famous actors, actresses, directors, producers, and musicians (Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen) of the 20th and 21st century are Jewish. 


  • Theodor Judah was chief architect and engineer for the American Transcontinental railroad.
  • In 1918, Detroit, Max Goldberg opened the "first" commercial parking lot.
  • In 1910, Louis Blaustein and his son opened the "first" gas station, eventually founding AMOCO OIL.
  • In 1909, four Jews were among the 60 multi-cultural signers of the call to the National Action, which resulted in the creation of the NAACP.
  • Emile Berliner developed the modern-day phonograph. The machine he patented was called the gramophone. Berliner made possible the modern record industry. His company was eventually absorbed by the Victor Talking Machine Company, now known as RCA.
  • Louis B. Mayer (MGM) created the idea for the Oscar.

Art and Literature

  • Marc Chagall (born Segal, Russia) is one of the greatest painters of the 20th century.
  • The famous poem of Jewish Poet Emma Lazarus — "give me your tired ... your poor ... your huddled masses ... " — appears as the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.
  • Famed painter and muralist Diego Rivera played an important role in 20th-century art, especially as he was married to Frida Kahlo. 
  • Jews account for 53 percent of the recipients of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and 14 percent of recipients for Fiction

Article updated by Chaviva Gordon-Bennett. 

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Your Citation
Katz, Lisa. "Jewish Accomplishments." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, Katz, Lisa. (2020, August 26). Jewish Accomplishments. Retrieved from Katz, Lisa. "Jewish Accomplishments." Learn Religions. (accessed January 23, 2021).