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Kornfeld, Zsigmond

(1852–1909), banker and financial expert. Zsigmond Kornfeld was born in the Czech town of Golčûv Jenikov (Ger., Goltsch-Jenikau), the nephew of Aharon Kornfeld, who was the last great head of a yeshiva in Bohemia. At age 16, Kornfeld left school to work for the Torsch Bank House in Vienna. After a short trip to Paris in 1872, he was employed by the Böhmischer Bankverein in Prague; four years later he was promoted to be vice manager of the local branch of the Vienna Creditanstalt. Early in 1878, Albert Rothschild appointed Kornfeld to direct its partner institution, the Hungarian General Credit Bank in Budapest. From 1900, Kornfeld was the managing director and from 1905 the president.

After arriving in Budapest, Kornfeld recommended to the government that it consolidate its debt by releasing gold loans, and he volunteered to organize this process. His ideas and assistance were instrumental to the government’s currency reform of 1892: a base in gold led to an extended period of stability. At Kornfeld’s initiative from 1880, the Credit Bank also actively participated in founding and reorganizing industrial companies, an innovation for the Hungarian banking system. Kornfeld founded a mining company in Bosnia, and in 1882 established a petroleum refinery in Fiume (now Rijeka, Croatia), with registered capital of 1 million forints. The bank retained 26 percent of the shares, with another 68 percent going to the Vienna Bank and the House of Rothschild. At the same time, Kornfeld transformed the Fiume rice mill into a joint stock company with registered capital of 800,000 forints. By keeping more than one-third of the shares for himself, he guaranteed his influence in the company.

In the 1880s, Kornfeld also founded the Transylvanian Petroleum Share Company, which later merged with the petroleum refinery. In addition, Kornfeld’s name is associated with the founding of several transportation ventures, including the Budapest–Pécs Railway, the Electric and Transportation Share Company, and, in 1895, the Hungarian River Navigation and Maritime Share Company, of which he also became the president.

Through Kornfeld, the Hungarian General Credit Bank played a significant role in the food industry, especially in sugar. In 1887, he took the Hungarian Metal and Lamp Manufacturing Share Company under the bank’s influence. In the 1890s, he did the same with the Danubius Shipyard; with help from the Credit Bank it merged in 1905 with the Ganz & Co. Engineering and Ironworks Share Company, becoming one of the most important engineering works in Hungary. At the time of Kornfeld’s death, the Hungarian General Credit Bank’s industrial share interests exceeded 233 million crowns.

At the center of Kornfeld’s activities in Hungary was always his “own” bank. He worked continuously to modernize it, overseeing its financial transactions and investments. He also took an interest in the lives of his employees, offering assistance when necessary. In 1899, he was elected president of the Budapest Commodity and Stock Exchange. At his insistence, Hungarian replaced German as the official language of the exchange. In 1901, Emperor Franz Joseph appointed him to the Upper House, and in 1909 granted him the title of baron.

Kornfeld remained a proud Jew all his life; indeed, he rejected an award from Russia because of the persecution of Jews there. He played an active role in the work of the Pest Jewish Community, serving a term as its vice president and supporting the National Israelite Teacher’s Union. He built a synagogue on his estate in upper Hungary (today Slovakia). Active also as a patron and collector of the arts, Kornfeld purchased the Franklin Company, Hungary’s most important publishing house, and placed great emphasis on genuine quality. In 1914, his onetime maritime company named a steamship after him (renamed Turán in 1938).

Suggested Reading

Károly Halmos, “Kornfeld Zsigmond: Az emancipált ‘állambankár,’” in Sokszínű kapitalizmus: Pályaképek a magyar tőkés fejlődés aranykorából, ed. Marcell Sebők, pp. 154–165 (Budapest, 2004); Zsigmond Móricz, “Kornfeld Zsigmond,” Nyugat 17 (1931): 257–261, also available at; József Radnóti, Kornfeld Zsigmond (Budapest, 1930s); György Tallós, A Magyar Általános Hitelbank, 1867–1948 (Budapest, 1995).



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabo