Raphaël Louis

Banker, politician, patron, founder of Nice Observatory.
       Raphaël Bischoffsheim's  family was native of Mainz, in Germany,  and had spread out in Europe, from 1820s,  contracting  unions with Goldschmidt's and Bamberger's.
     His  mother was Amelie  Goldschmidt. His father, Louis Raphaël created  the Bischoffsheim Bank in the Netherlands,  which became afterward the Banque de Credit et de Dépot  des Pays-Bas.
         He was born in Amsterdam, but he studied in Paris where he prepared the competitive entry examination to  the  Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures (Central School  of  Arts and Manufacture), that he passed sucessfully in 1839. As his family  was involved in the investment of European railroads, when he finished his studies at the School in 1846, he obtained a post of responsability in the Dutch railroads.
        Four years later, he was by his father's side, and became an administrator of the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Midi (Company of the  Southern Railroads).  The Bischoffsheims, associated to their cousins Goldschmidt and Bamberger, created the  Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (Paribas), merger of the Banque de Paris and the Banque de Credit et de Depot des Pays-Bas, in 1872. The year after, Bischoffsheim senior died.
         Raphaël, was a bachelor and  his unique heir. He decided  to continue the philanthropic actions. He was particularly helpful to astronomy, because he liked this science, and he knew how important an  aid was needed. in France.
         He provided Paris Observatory with a large meridian circle and the equatorial coudé, built on   his friend's idea, Maurice Loewy, astronomer  in Paris Observatory. Then, Bischoffsheim cooperated in the foundation of the Observatory of Puy de Dôme; he obtained funds for an Observatory to build at the top of the Mount Ventoux; he was one of the first  and  main subscribers  for the foundation of the Observatory of Pic du Midi (west French Pyrenees),  as well as for  the foundation of the Observatory of Mont Blanc( French Alps).
     But above all, he created the Nice Observatory, providing it with an excellent astronomical equipment, likely to compete with the best foreign establishments. Such a realization made his name famous to the French and foreign astronomers. Not only he met all the expenses there but also he financed astronomical and geodesic expeditions.
     He plaid a part of patron in other fields.  
He contributed to the birth of the Society of archaeological reserches  and to the foundation of a great Encyclopedia.  
      Raphael Bischoffsheim  had  a house in Bordighera (Italian Riviera)  where he left a good memory. While he was an inspector of the railroads of Northern Italy, he obtained that the express stop in Bordighera, and later he offered  to the city an important bank loan  for the creation of new streets.
        He was naturalized on April 24th, 1880,  and then he  could embark on french politics. The next year, he was elected deputee, as a republican candidate in a district of Nice, with a huge majority, but this election was disputed: he was  accused  to pressurized certain groups of voters, and his election was invalidated in 1890.
         He took his revenge three years  later. He was elected in the first ballot in the district of Puget-Théniers( Nice hinterland), and reelected with the same success to the Chamber until 1906,  when he was beaten.
       He got tired of the election campaign, the principal part of which was made on mules, by very steep mountainous roads and the defeat, which affected him,  weakened his health.  
         He fell ill in Nice, then  he got back to his Parisian  residence and died  a bit further.
          Bischoffsheim had a rare intelligent mind, an unusual ambition, and dissolute morals.  The writer Emile Zola  would have been inspired by him for the character of the banker Steiner in his book "Nana".
            Fellow of  the Royal Astronomical Society ( 1881 )
            Member  associate to the Academie des Sciences ( 1890 )


   Ref :  C.   FLAMMARION, Bulletin de la Societé Astronomique de France, 20 ( 1906 ).
           Ch. NORDMANN, Revue générale des Sciences pures et appliquées, 13 ( 1906 ).
            Dictionnaire des parlementaires français,  t. 1, p.329 et t.2, p.611, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1962.
         M. FULCONIS,  Raphael Bischoffsheim, l'homme qui a offert à la France le plus grand observatoire du Monde, édition Regards du Monde, 2003