German-born merchant and philanthropist who went to the USA in 1854. In 1888 he and his brother Isidor became partners of R H Macy and Company, becoming its sole owners in 1896. He and Isidor also helped develop Abraham & Straus, another department store. In 1892 he began a campaign for the pasteurization of milk, opening almost 300 milk depots around the country and abroad.
He was born in Otterberg, Germany, the brother of Isidor and Oscar S Straus. His mother, Sara, brought the family to join her husband, Lazarus, in Georgia in 1854. They moved to New York after the Civil War and in 1866 Nathan joined L Straus & Sons, the family's crockery and glassware firm.He was New York City park commissioner 1889–93 and president of the board of health in 1898. Nathan established employee amenities such as restrooms, medical care, and a lunchroom. He was President Taft's delegate to the Third International Congress for the Protection of Infants in 1911 in Berlin. In 1925 the League of Nations recognized him as a layman pioneer in public health.By 1914 he had retired from involvement with Macy's. An active philanthropist, he helped the poor acquire food, coal, and shelter through the winters of 1892–93, 1893–94. His other passion was the welfare of the Jewish people in Palestine, to which he gave nearly two-thirds of his fortune; he built schools, public kitchens, and clinics. In 1927 the cornerstone to his last health center in Jerusalem proclaims it for all the people of the land, ‘Christian, Moslem, and Jew’.
Widely honoured, President Taft called him ‘a great Jew and the greatest Christian of us all’.