Port Elizabeth was at the
centre of the burgeoning mohair industry in the 1800s. It still is except that
the industry is no longer flourishing. Before the motor vehicle assembly
industry was established in Port Elizabeth during the 1920s, wool as well as
mohair were the mainstays of the local economy.
This is the long-forgotten story of the rise of this industry off the back of the Angora goat and its fall in the twentieth century.
Main picture: One of the last batches of Angoras imported
from Turkey by Adolph Mosenthals & Co. in 1895. Mr.& Mrs. W. Mosenthal
are seated in the buggy with Mr. H. Goldschmidt standing in the background. In
the foreground are three Turkish goat handlers who accompanied the animals on
Despite being a small proportion of the town’s population, the Jewish community has always been prominent in Port Elizabeth mainly due to their business and commercial acumen, but they also played a prominent role in civic affairs.
It is fair to say that everybody either had a Jewish school mate, friend, or neighbour. In the case of the McCleland’s it was the Siesel’s who had escaped from Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. Arriving in Port Elizabeth with nothing but a suitcase, Mr Siesel opened a trading operation catering for the black population. The Siesel’s were our neighbours across the road in Mowbray Street, Newton Park.
Main picture: Western Road Synagogue used primarily by Jews of German and British extraction
Even my family has a connection to this once prominent company. Firstly, my maternal grandfather was a wool sorter and later my mother was a typist in their employ.
For me, the firm Mosenthals epitomises both the growth and subsequent decline of Port Elizabeth, but also the trajectory of South Africa’s industrial, agricultural, and commercial growth.
Let us trace the journey that Mosenthals, Port Elizabeth and South Africa took.
Main picture: The original offices of Mosenthals in Port Elizabeth