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07 Jewish business in Calcutta

Large Scale Enterprises


This is in no way a complete list of businesses that the Jews were involved in, but it does list some of the major businesses they owned.


Jewish merchants in the first part of the 19th century made their fortunes in the buying and shipping of opium.  The large Jewish merchants in this enterprise included:

David Sassoon

Elia Shalome Gubbay

Elia David Joseph Ezra

Meyer Brothers ( also very successful business men in Singapore)

Saleh Manasseh (also successful in Singapore).

Aaron Abraham Cohen (business in Moulmein, Burma and flourished )

Jewish firms, with the decline of the opium trade, invested in cotton and jute as export staples, and in the cultivation, shipping and sale of indigo. The Jewish traders also manufactured and exported silk, cotton and woolen products.


The Jews were very involved in real estate business and Sir David Ezra became, by the latter part of the 19th century one of the leading property owners of the City.


David Sassoon who also owned the Port Canning and Land Improvement Company that was worked by 15,000 agriculturists which sent food to Western India including the employees of the Sassoon mills in Bombay.

M. A Sassoon 


Raphael Belillos (made Hongkong their home in 1861) 

B.N.Elias and Company

B.N.Elias owned many businesses. These included: National Tobacco including a grading station in Guntur; Agarpara Jute Mills; Great Insurance Pyramid Company, Raniganj Coal Field, as well as real estate and engineering concerns. Oriental Electric and Engineering Company and Alpine Dairy also belonged to them.

Nissim Elias trained his son younger son Stafford Elias to supervise the jute mill. Ben, the elder one, worked in the tobacco factory. 

During the 40’s B.N.Elias hired several European refugees who worked in their various enterprises and brought new skills with them. For example, in order to supply and preserve more food rations for the British army Mr. Braun Barnett designed and they built a dehydration plant for potato and other vegetables that was very successful. He also established a large electrically powered saw mill to make cigarette cases for the growing output of cigarettes. During the war years several other industries were added such as metal buttons for army uniforms and lamps. Mr. Miklos Rayk, a refugee from Hungary organized looms for the webbing of parachute harnesses. Several of their wives find employment too as governesses and housekeepers for the wealthier Jewish families. Thus there was a colony of about 80 Jewish and other European refugees living and working in Agrapara through the war years.