Building A Monument
MORE SKILL THAN LUCK
Mendes’ older brother Jacob established himself in business soon after the family arrived in Baltimore. As early as 1812, Jacob started selling lottery tickets, used to raise money for both public and private projects. Jacob displayed a dramatic flair and talent for this career, and soon opened his own lottery firm, Cohen’s Lottery and Exchange. His brothers joined him in this venture and together they opened offices in Baltimore, Norfolk, Richmond, Charleston (SC), Philadelphia and New York.
Lottery ticket courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society
The Cohens were innovative entrepreneurs. Among their lottery patents was an odd-and-even system that ensured that half of all ticket holders would win something. If the winning ticket for the largest prize ended in an even number, anyone holding a ticket that ended in an even number would win a small prize.
Patent issued to Jacob Cohen for lottery scheme courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society
A WINNING STRATEGY
Competition among the various lottery brokerages was fierce and the Cohens aggressively promoted their offerings through advertisements. They even published their own weekly which included the results from lotteries, highlighting the number of winning tickets purchased from Cohen’s Lottery and Exchange. The brothers’ success encouraged the Cohens to expand their business to offer customers banking services. As the popularity of the lottery was beginning to decline, Jacob and his brothers decided to devote their full attention to banking.
Advertisement for Cohen’s Lottery and Exchange Office, Baltimore, for the benefit of the Surgical Institute of Baltimore, 1817. JMM 1984.101.1
A BIG DRAW
The drawing of winning lottery tickets was a popular event. Ticket stubs were stuck in the spokes of a large wooden wheel. The wheel was spun and the winning ticket was drawn at random. A second wheel was often used to determine the amount of prize money won.
Drawing of the Baltimore Lottery, 1853 courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society
A Supreme Challenge
Mendes went to work for Cohen’s Lottery and Exchange, and opened a branch office in Norfolk, Virginia, with his brother Philip. In 1820, Mendes was fined for selling a ticket for the Grand National Lottery. This violated a Virginia law banning the sale of tickets for out-of-state lotteries.
The brothers appealed the case, Cohens v. Virginia, all the way to the Supreme Court. The Cohens argued that since the lottery had been authorized by Congress, it was a national institution and was therefore not subject to state laws. Although the Cohens lost, Chief Justice John Marshall’s ruling helped establish Supreme Court jurisdiction over cases in which state and federal laws conflict.
Cohen’s Lottery and Exchange helped finance construction of Baltimore’s Washington Monument in Mount Vernon, among other civic work projects.
Baltimore MD. Washington Monument. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.