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Sidney Myer – The philanthropist that made Christmas better for thousands, his funeral was attended by more than 100,000 people

Boban Docevski

Sidney Myer (Simcha Myer Baevski) was a Russian-born, Jewish-Australian businessman and philanthropist. Those from Australia know him for creating Myer,  best known for creating Myer, the largest chain of department stores in the country.

Sidney emigrated to Australia in 1899, when he was 21, with almost no money. There he joined his brother Elcon Myer, and both of them started working in Slutzkin’s underclothing business in Melbourne. After a while, they opened their own drapery shop in Bendigo.

Very soon, Sidney proved himself as a very skillful businessman. The company started to grow, and in the period from 1911 to 1921 he managed to purchase three different companies and open two new stores in Melbourne. These eventually became the the “Myer” chain of department stores.

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The former MYER Emporium, Lonsdale Street, Melbourn / Photo credit

The 1930’s came and brought the great depression with them. This economic crisis devastated the whole world. Australia became one of the hardest-hit developed countries, and many companies suffered the consequences. Wages began to decrease massively, and thousands of people lost their jobs. Unemployment in Australia reached a staggering 29% in 1932.

Myer’s business was no exception; it was also struck with the unexpected devastation of the economy with one major difference: he managed to keep the company intact, and his workers satisfied. Even more, with his noble deeds, he managed to maintain the will of thousands of people strong.

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Sidney Myer

Faced with all of the devastated people Myer felt an obligation to help. He wanted to do something for those who helped him gain his fortune; the community that made his business success possible.

First of all, he was determined not to fire anybody. To prevent letting his employees out on the street, Myer decided to cut the wages of the whole staff, including himself. This was not the only thing that Sidney did during the crisis. He personally funded relief funds with more than £22,000 to help the unemployed and offer them a chance to find a job.

If this isn’t enough, in 1930, Myer paid for and organized a huge Christmas dinner at the Royal Exhibition Building, which was attended by 11,500 people. During the dinner, he gave every child received a Christmas present, making them smile and feel the spirit of the holiday.

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over 1000 unemployed men marching from the Esplanade to the Treasury Building in Perth, Western Australia (1931)

Besides the help he offered in public, Meyer was also a huge benefactor behind the curtains. The Myer museum has a huge collection of sad letters written by desperate people seeking his attention and help. He responded to as many letters as he could and offered help to those who deserved it. The letters also offer a perspective into the hard lives of those individuals during the depression.

By 1934, Meyer’s company had a huge capital value of £2,500,000. One of the rare companies to survive in those harsh conditions. Besides making a profit, Meyer also employed 5300 people, offered them medical aid and even rest homes in the Dandenong Ranges. Unfortunately, Sidney Myer died on 5 September 1934, at age 56. His funeral was attended by more than 100,000 people.

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The Myer gravesite / Photo credit

Here is another interesting read from us: Alfred Nobel created the Nobel Prize as a false obituary declared him “The Merchant of Death”

Myer left £922,000 in his will and one tenth of his estate was set aside for the Sidney Myer Charitable Trust (the Sidney Myer Fund), the philanthropical organization that continues Myer’s work even today.