Samuel Sarphati (1813-1866) was one of Amsterdam’s influential residents in the 19th century: an idealistic doctor and businessman who worked tirelessly in an effort to improve public hygiene and combat the catastrophic poverty that abounded in working-class areas. He was convinced that public health could be positively influenced by improving living conditions. In those days, the streets of Amsterdam were littered with excrement, domestic and street refuse, waste products from markets and abattoirs and dead animals. Sarphati pointed this out to the city council and arranged for the first waste- and manure-processing company to be set up to collect street refuse and process it into manure suitable for agricultural land.
The canals and streets of Amsterdam became visibly cleaner and this contributed to making the living conditions of poor residents of Amsterdam healthier. Sarphati founded other factories too, such as the Maatschappij voor Meel- en Broodfabrieken, a factory producing flour and bread on an industrial scale, which sold bread at 30% less than the standard price charged by bakers. That meant that the poor of Amsterdam could eat good bread, which also benefited their health. By around 1870, efforts like these had resulted in an increase in average life expectancy in Amsterdam.
As the founder of the construction company, Amsterdamse Bouw Maatschappij, Samuel Sarphati also became famous for his architectural projects, such as the Paleis voor Volksvlijt (Palace for Ordinary People’s Diligence) and the Amstel Hotel. Our organisation is mainly inspired by his public health work in Amsterdam.
Want to read more about Samuel Sarphati (in Dutch)?
- Lydia Hagoort, Samuel Sarphati: van Portugese armenarts tot Amsterdamse ondernemer, uitgeverij Bas Lubberhuizen, 2013.
- Daniël Schipper, Een kleine stadsgids. Wandelingen door het Amsterdam van Geert Mak, Atlas, Amsterdam, 2009.
- Ida Jager, Hoofdstad in gebreke. Manoeuvreren met publieke werken in Amsterdam 1851-1901, 2002.
- Henne van der Kooy en Justus de Leeuwe, Sarphati, een biografie, 2000.
- W.J. Volmuller (Ed.). Nijhoffs Geschiedenislexicon, Nederland en België, Martinus Nijhoff, Antwerpen, 1981, p. 507-508.
- Bottenheim, Dr. Samuel Sarphati en zijne beteekenis voor Amsterdam, 1945
- Biography portal of the Netherlands, click here.
Samuel Sarphati spots in Amsterdam
- The Sarphatistraat has been a street on the south-eastern side of the centre of Amsterdam since 1870.
- In 1877 a park was laid out in de Pijp in Amsterdam-Zuid and given his name, the Sarphatipark in 1888. The Sarphati monument is in the middle of the park and contains a bust of Sarphati. The Sarphati Park is not in the same district as the street called Sarphatistraat.
- The study association for social geography and urban planning at the University of Amsterdam is named after Sarphati, because his efforts had an influence on urban development in Amsterdam.
- There is a care home for the elderly on Roetersstraat which has carried the name of Dr. Sarphatihuis (Dr Sarphati House) since 1978.