South African financier; born of a well-known Hamburg Jewish family in 1853. Beit went to Kimberley during the early days of the diamond "rush" (1875), and in company with Barney Barnato, Cecil Rhodes, H. J. King (Friedlander), J. C. Wernher, J. B. Robinson, and a few others gradually obtained control of the diamond-mining claims in the Central, Dutoitspan, and De Beers mines; Beit, who had formed a partnership with Wernher, furnishing the money necessary for the exploitation of the company. In return for this service, Beit was made a life governor of the De Beers mines. This was the foundation of his ultimate fortune. Just before the consolidation of the diamond-mines, gold had been discovered on the Bezuidenhout farm in the Witwatersrand district, Transvaal, about thirty-five miles south of Pretoria. Beit and his associates, realizing the limitations of Kimberley, sent emissaries into the new gold districts to stake out claims wherever there appeared any trace of gold. So assiduous were these representatives that the Kimberley financiers, 90 per cent of whom were Jews, soon had practical control of the Rand district.
Beit was the first to see the possibilities of thegold district as the base of stock-company exploitation. With Barnato, Rhodes, King, and others, he floated company after company, each one heavily capitalized. Shares rose from no value to absurdly high prices; and by the summer of 1889 Beit, through judicious selling, had accumulated an immense fortune.
In that year, however, nature interfered with the Kimberley speculators; for no rain fell for so long that the gold-mines were forced to shut down. In consequence the share market broke, and Beit was enabled to buy many of the better-class shares at comparatively low figures. In this manner he increased his fortune considerably.
Another phase of Beit's life was his connection with the Jameson raid, about which he testified before the Parliamentary Commission, and later with the so-called "Uitlander protest," which was the direct cause of the South African war.
Beit is a director of the Rand Mines, Rhodesia Railways, Bechuanaland Railway Trust, Beira Railway Company, the Consolidated Company, the Bultfontein Mines, and a shareholder in almost every company whose interests center in South Africa.
- Harper's Weekly, Jan. 20, 1900;
- Minneapolis Tribune, April 23, 1901;
- Daily Mail, London, March 20, April 26, 1901;
- The Speaker, new series, i. 390 et seq.;
- W. T. Stead, The Scandal of the South African Commission, 1899;
- British Colonial Office Report, 1899, Correspondence Relating to the Claim of the South African Republic for Damages on Account of Dr. Jameson's Raid.