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HON. EDWARD HIRSCH. – Someone has written, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we may;” and the subject of this sketch is a living exemplification of it. When, away back in “the fifties,” he landed a poor boy in the city of New York, among strangers in a strange land, and looked about him for honest employment in any capacity, how little he dreamed that as years passed by he would hold the purse-strings for the then almost unknown territory of Oregon, when a few years later she should lay aside her swaddling clothes and emerge into the maidenhood of a young and prosperous commonwealth. Such has been his career, however; and no man in the state stands higher in the estimation of the people than does Honorable Edward Hirsch, ex-State Treasurer.
He was born at Wurtemberg, Germany, May 3, 1836, and came to America in 1855. Landing in New York City, he at once sought employment. Proving unsuccessful, however, he went over into the neighboring State of Pennsylvania, and secured a clerkship in a store in a little town in Mercer county, at the princely salary of seventy-five dollars per annum. He remained there for several months, and then went down into the State of Georgia, where he remained nearly two years, the greater part of the time at Macon. He became thoroughly acquainted with Southern life in all its varied phases, and to this day bears pleasant recollections of his sojourn in the sunny South. Becoming imbued, however, with the Western fever, he again went north, and in company with his brother, Honorable Sol. Hirsch, ex-State Senator from Multnomah county, embarked on the steamship Star of the West, booked for the Pacific slope via the Isthumus of Panama. This was in the year 1858. They reached Portland about the middle of April of the same year, and a few months later opened a retail store at Dallas in Polk county. They remained there about three years, and then moved to Silverton, Marion county, where they carried on a general merchandising business three years longer. They then dissolved partnership; and Edward Hirsch went to Salem, Oregon, being employed for some time as salesman in the firm of J.B. & M. Hirsch. In 1866, having been elected president and business manager of the Eagle Woolen Mills at Brownsville, he went there and remained in charge of the enterprise for about two years. In 1868 he returned to Salem, where he has resided continuously since. In 1869 he was interested in the mercantile firm of Hermann & Hirsch of Salem; and in 1876 the name was changed to L. & E. Hirsch.
In 1878, when the Republican state convention met in Salem, Mr. Hirsch’s name was urged by a host of friends as a candidate for state treasurer. The contest in the convention was a vigorous one; but Mr. Hirsch was successful, and a few months later was elected by a very large majority. The writer of this sketch has been intimately acquainted with Mr. Hirsch for many years, and would regard this biography as altogether incomplete and insufficient without giving here a brief résumé of the results of Mr. Hirsch’s admirable administration of the monetary affairs of our state for eight years. And, first, the writer would call attention to the fact that, at the time the new treasurer was inducted into office in 1878, he found the securities of the state at a discount. Without reflecting or bewailing the seriously impaired finances of the state, he went to work vigorously, quickly and continuously to remedy the same; and, under his able management, the securities of the state rapidly rose, and were within a very few months at par. Through the subsequent years, the state securities were constantly advanced. It should be stated here that the office of state treasurer is by no means a sinecure. First, he is a member of the Public Building Commission; second, a member of the State Asylum Commission; third, a member of the Canal and Lock Commission; fourth, a member of the Board of School Land Commissioners; fifth, the general duties of the state treasurer’s office.
Mention should be made of the development and establishment of the State Asylum. This establishment was designed and built during this administration; and it is a proud monument to the foresight, care, economy and discreet management of the Public Building Commission. The building of this institution was one of the great tasks undertaken by the administration; and when we come to consider the many details connected therewith, in the way of general management, selection and purchase of lands, locating buildings, superintending their construction, purchasing stores and materials, employing architects and workmen, we can realize a little of the work to be done. The many details in the matter of furnishing a great institution like this was a great work of itself. The purchasing of kitchen furniture, and all the various and numerous appurtenances belonging to the laundry, and furnishing the several wards, the management of the farm and stock, etc., all constituted a great work.
During this administration the state house was almost completed, including the Senate chamber, numerous committee rooms, the legislative hall, the rotunda, the supreme court room, west portico and part of the east portico. The furniture furnished was of a good and substantial quality, and was secured at reasonable rates. The frescoing was done by the best artists, and would be a credit to any state house in the country.
At the beginning of this administration the condition of the state prison was very poor. The improvements that followed at the prison during the eight years that Mr. Hirsch served as treasurer were many and various, including an entire new wing with double rows of iron cells; also the new brick wall or stockade, which is a solid and substantial affair, was build; and inside this wall large and commodious brick shops and foundries were designed, built and completed. Many repairs in the way of floors, etc., were made; and in addition to these a fine new brick barn for placing the stock of the entire establishment was completed. It should be stated here that in the year 1882 Mr. Hirsch was renominated by his party; and at the state election held in June of that year he was re-elected by a largely increased majority over that of 1878. His careful, prudent, economical and successful administration of the monetary affairs of the state was entirely acceptable to the people at large; and especially was this the case in his own home county of Marion, where his majority during that year was nearly eleven hundred. This majority was particularly large at his home at Salem, larger, as the writer remembers, than any state officer ever received before or since.
Without taking up in detail the continuously sound financial policy of Mr. Hirsch during his second four years of service as state treasurer, the writer will here only undertake a brief recapitulation of the great advance made during his two terms, as will be seen in the following items; First, the state tax levy in the beginning of this administration in 1878 equaled seven mills; second, the last tax levy made by the board for general state purposes in the year 1886 equaled one and nineteen-twentieths mills only; third, in the year 1878 there were no public buildings finished or completed; at the close of this administration the State Asylum, State House and State Prison were almost completed, and in fine condition; fourth, this administration found a high tax when they took charge of state affairs; and they ended with an exceedingly low state tax; fifth, when this administration took charge, they found the public credit of the state largely impaired; and it was closed with public credit, advanced above par, and sustained by that public confidence that gives tone and solidity to public credits; sixth, this administration found a large debt to begin with, and ended with the public debt almost entirely liquidated, with the exception of one small balance, which could have been paid out of the general fund, but was not paid because it was due from a special fund; seventh, Mr. Hirsch as state treasurer, in taking charge of the office in the year 1878, received from his predecessor the sum of one hundred and twelve thousand dollars; when Mr. Hirsch as state treasurer turned over the state money to his successor in office, the sum was found to equal a total of three hundred and eighty-eight thousand dollars; and this one item alone speaks volumes for the sound and thorough financial policy constantly pursued by the subject of our sketch.
Without reverting further to his success as a state financier, we will state that his honesty, integrity, discreet management of the public funds, his high social standing and unflinching adherence to the principles of the political party he espouses, have endeared him to the people of our state. His honesty is proverbial and his popularity great, having the respect of all and the enmity of but few. His liberality is acknowledged, although many of his acts of kindness are known to none but himself and the grateful recipients. Mr. Hirsch as a private citizen is greatly respected by all, and has served as a member of the common council of the city of Salem for several terms. Mr. Hirsch has been a prominent and active member of the Republican party for many years. He served as chairman of the Republican county central committee in the year 1876 with great ability. He has long been a prominent, useful and active member of the I.O.O.F. and of the A.O.U.W.
Mr. Hirsch was married May 10, 1868, to Miss Nettie Davis; and their family now consists of seven interesting children. Mr. and Mrs. Hirsch take an active interest in all social and public affairs. As an active, thorough-going and public-spirited citizen, Mr. Hirsch is destined to many long years of usefulness; and the people of this state will not fail to take advantage of his great abilities in the future as they have done in the past.