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SIR ERNEST OPPENHEIMER (1880-1957)
It is impossible when considering mining in the 20th century not to place the Oppenheimer family at the centre of the development of the South African industry, one that is pre-eminent in the production of precious metals. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer played a crucial role in establishing the Anglo American group and, as Chairman of De Beers, in organising the modern diamond-trading cartel, the Central Selling Organisation, now much reformed.
Sir Ernest was born in 1880 in Freidberg, Germany, where his father Edward was a cigar merchant. The Oppenheimers were a large German Jewish family with excellent connections, particularly in the diamond business in England. When he was 16 he went to England and started work as a clerk in the London office of diamond merchant A. Dunkelsbuhler, who was his cousin, and became a naturalised Briton.