The Rag Race
How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire
Published by: NYU Press
Have Jews been successful because of cultural factors distinct to them as a group, or because of the particular circumstances that they encountered in America?
Winner, 2016 Best First Book Prize from the Immigration and Ethnic History Society
Finalist, 2016 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
Winner, 2015 Book Prize from the Southern Jewish Historical Society
Finalist, 2015 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award from the Association for Jewish Studies
Winner, 2014 National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish Studies from the Jewish Book Council
The majority of Jewish immigrants who made their way to the United States between 1820 and 1924 arrived nearly penniless; yet today their descendants stand out as exceptionally successful. How can we explain their dramatic economic ascent?
The Rag Race argues that the Jews who flocked to the United States during the age of mass migration were aided appreciably by their association with a particular corner of the American economy: the rag trade. From humble beginnings, Jews rode the coattails of the clothing trade from the margins of economic life to a position of unusual promise and prominence, shaping both their societal status and the clothing industry as a whole.
Comparing the history of Jewish participation within the clothing trade in the United States with that of Jews in the same business in England, The Rag Race demonstrates that differences within the garment industry on either side of the Atlantic contributed to a very real divergence in social and economic outcomes for Jews in each setting.
Introduction: The Rag Race 1
1 Goblin Market: London, 1843 18
2 New York City: A Rag-Fair Sort of Place 37
3 Rumpled Foot Soldiers of the Market Revolution 58
4 Clothing Moses 91
5 The Empire’s New Clothes 112
6 A New Dawn in the West 134
7 Clothing the Blue and Gray 159
8 A Ready-Made Paradise 183
About the Author 297
"InThe Rag Race, Adam Mendelsohn traces the intertwined fates of the Jewish community and the garment industries in America and Britain...Like any good historical writer, he turns documents and data into relatable human stories." ~Sewjewish.com
"Mendelsohn joins the scholarly debate over the roots of Jewish economic success in the U.S. This he does with great style and energy, offering vivid descriptions, telling detail, and clear arguments, all based on meticulous research. This is a superb book that is a model of comparative and transnational history. It should be read not only by historians of American or modern Jewry, but by historians of immigration, business, fashion, and urban life." ~American Historical Review
"An inquiry into the wellspring of modern Jewish economic success, [The Rag Race] attends to the origins of the garment industry, poking around in the dusty, and often little-known, corners of a global exchange basedon kinship and the Jewish collective...The Rag Raceis a remarkable achievement, a testament to the vitality of the historical imagination." ~Jewish Review of Books
"Drawing upon the social and economic historiography of Britain, Australia, and the United States, this book weaves together disparate historical threads into a seamless narrative with a compelling argument. Making shrewd use of historical comparison, it illuminates the interplay of inherited culture with historically contingent structures of opportunity. The result is a book studded with insight, and written with wit and style." ~Jerry Z. Muller,author of Capitalism and the Jews
"With this gracefully written monograph, deeply researched on three continents, Mendelsohn joins a cohort of scholars writing Jewish economic history through a transnational lens." ~Choice
"Deeply researched and beautifully written, The Rag Race returns to a classic topicthe story of Jewish immigrants in the clothing industryto shed entirely new light on the route that led from the sweatshop to success. Moving the conventional starting point backward, from the turn of the twentieth century to the early 19th century, Mendelsohn demonstrates how early differences in Jewish settlement and the structure of the garment trade led to divergent Jewish trajectories on both the U.S. and British sides of the Anglophone world. An outstanding example of comparative history, The Rag Race offers insights that any scholar or student of immigration will appreciate." ~Roger Waldinger,Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles