Samuelson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Samuelson Surname Meaning

Samuelson is patronymic (son of Samuel) and derived from the Hebrew name Shmuel, meaning “name of God.”  Samuel was the last of the ruling judges in the Old Testament.  He anointed both Saul and David as kings of Israel.

The Samuelson name found its way into the English-speaking world via two routes:

  • from Scandinavian arrivals.  The spelling was Samuelsson in Sweden and Samuelsen in Denmark and Norway.
  • and from Jewish arrivals. Here Samuelson would have been the equivalent of Ben Shmuel and later Samuelsohn.

Thus Samuelson like the Tapper surname has both Scandinavian and Jewish origins.

Samuelson Surname Resources on The Internet

Samuelson Surname Ancestry

  • from Sweden, Norway, Scotland (Shetlands) and from Jewish emigrants
  • to England, America, Canada and South Africa

Scotland.   The Shetland islands to the north of Scotland had remained under Viking control until 1472 when they were finally annexed by the Scottish Crown.  Norse heritage and names remained there.  The Norse name of Samuelson was to be found in the Shetlands in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly in the northernmost island of Unst.  

England.  The Samuelsons in England were few in number (less than 90 in the 1881 census) and were Jewish in origin.  There were two notable lines here, one from affluent German Jews and the other from Polish immigrants.

The first Samuelsons were originally Samuels from Hamburg.  Hyman Samuel, born in London, became prosperous as a silversmith and watchmaker in Baltimore.  He died in Jamaica in 1813. His son Samuel Samuelson, brought to Hull at an early age, was the forebear of the English Samuelsons:

  • his son Sir Bernhard Samuelson made his name as an industrialist in Banbury, Oxfordshire. He served as its MP from 1858 to 1895 and was made a baronet.  
  • while two of Bernhard’s sons, Henry and Godfrey, were also Liberal MP’s.  

Elias Samuelson had changed his name from Metzenberg to Samuelson in 1846 soon after his arrival in Dublin from Leszno in Poland. He became a successful tailor in Dublin and moved to London and a shop off Saville Row in 1871.

His brother Henschel, who also changed his name, made his home in Southport, Lancashire as a tobacconist.  He died soon after the birth of his son G.B. Samuelson (known as Bertie) in 1889. Despite this unpromising beginning, Bertie emerged as one of the pioneers of British cinema in the silent film era:

  • one of his sons Sidney was appointed the first British Film Commissioner in 1991; while another son David won an Oscar for his contributions to camera and lighting.  
  • and Sidney’s son Peter has been a successful film producer in both the UK and US.

America.  Samuelsons here have been a mix of Scandinavian and Jewish origin. 

Scandinavian.  These immigrants came in the mid/late 1800’s, generally to states in the upper Midwest. Among the arrivals were:

  • Svend Samuelson who came from Norway in 1854 and farmed in Wisconsin.  
  • Swan Peter Samuelson who came from Sweden in the late 1860’s and farmed in Henry county, Illinois.  His grandson Don Samuelson, born at his farmstead at Woodhull, became Governor of Idaho in 1967.
  • Alexander Samuelson, a glass engineer, who emigrated from Sweden to Indiana in 1883.  There he designed the Coca-Cola contour bottle which was introduced in 1916 and became world-famous.
  • Anders Samuelson and two of his siblings who came from Norway to Milwaukee around the year 1890.  Anders later departed to homestead in North Dakota.
  • and Charles Samuelson who left Sweden for Wabash county, Minnesota in the early 1900’s.  His son Ralph is credited with having invented the sport of water-skiing.

Jewish.  The Samuelson Jewish incomers were less focused on the Midwest:

  • Max Samuelson, for instance, came to Vermont from Poland in the early 1880’s.  Starting from nothing, he helped develop the Jewish community in Burlington.  
  • while Yehuda Ben Schmuel arrived in New York from Russia in the early 1900’s and became Julius Samuelson in America after leaving Ellis Island.  He and his family settled in Chicago and his descendants in Louisiana and Texas.  They have held Samuelson family reunions since 1985.

Frank and Ella Samuelson were Jewish immigrants from Poland who had come to Gary, Indiana in 1908.  Their son Paul Samuelson, born there in 1915, became the famous economist.  He spent his career at MIT where he was instrumental in turning its Department of Economics into a world-renowned institution.

Samuelson’s family included many well-known economists, including brother Robert Summers, sister-in-law Anita Summers, brother-in-law Kenneth Arrow and nephew Larry Summers. Curiously his brothers Robert and Harold had both elected when young to change their names from Samuelson to Summers.

Canada.  Lesser Samuelsohn had immigrated to Rochester, New York from Poland in the early 1900’s.  He was a master tailor who in 1923 moved to Montreal where he established an international reputation. His tailoring business was handed down to his grandsons Michael and Richard.  

South Africa.  Ben Schmuelson left Lithuania for South Africa in the early 1900’s.  He settled in Johannesburg.

A neighbor asked him in 1925:  “You are so poor and yet you have six children. Would it not be easier for you if you had had one less?”  He smiled and replied: “And which one should I not have had?

Samuelson Surname Miscellany

Samuelsons in the Shetlands

Name Date of Birth Shetland Location
Charles Samuelson    1759 Delting on the mainland
Samuel Samuelson    1760 the northernmost island of Unst
Gilbert Samuelson    1781 Northmavine on the mainland
John Samuelson    1782 the northernmost island of Unst
Archibald Samuelson    1791 the northernmost island of Unst
James Samuelson    1818 Northmavine on the mainland
Samuel Samuelson    1819 the northernmost island of Unst

Sir Bernhard Samuelson’s Industrial Works in Banbury.  It was the Banbury Guardian in Oxfordshire in its obituary notice in 1905 that named Sir Bernhard Samuelson as “its modern founder who gave the town its industrial character and modern growth.”

In 1848 Samuelson bought a small agricultural engineering company in Fish Street, Banbury following the death of its owner James Gardner.  With Samuelson at the helm, the Britannia Works, as the business became known, expanded rapidly and soon established an international reputation for the range and quality of its agricultural tools and machinery.

The Britannia Works in fact represented a revolution in machinery production which hitherto had been content to produce machinery on a small scale for local use. Samuelson introduced mass production and exported around the world.  He was known as “the iron man” of Banbury.  He was also an unusually generous and caring employer, with his employees enjoying higher wages and better working conditions than elsewhere in the county.

Samuelson’s other contribution to Banbury was as a Liberal MP for nearly thirty years, representing the constituency from 1858 to 1895.

Anders Samuelson Surviving in North Dakota.  Anders Samuelson was one of four siblings – Herman. Andreas, Anders and Sara – who left their home on Flekkefjord in Norway and crossed the Atlantic in the late 1800’s.

Herman, a sea captain, died in 1897 in South America; while the other three made it to Milwaukee, Wisconsin sometime around the year 1890.  Andreas was captain and Anders first mate on a sailing ship on Lake Michigan. Anders secured a watchman’s job during some of the winter months when Lake Michigan was frozen and they could not sail.

In 1905 Anders left with his family to homestead in North Dakota.  Their first home and barns were built of sod and Andres farmed with oxen during the early years. However, the droughts burned up their crops and they got little return for their toil.  Each year brought new courage.  But things just got worse. Still, they stuck it out until 1931.

Their four children all went to local grade school.  Anna the eldest taught school in the area.  Sam, a doctor who had his own hospital in Minneapolis, was killed with his two sons when his plane crashed on a trip to Canada.  The daughter Hedvig, also a teacher, was murdered in Arizona. The youngest Arnold got a degree in journalism and spent a year with Ernest Hemingway in Key West, Florida.

Max Samuelson Doing Well in Vermont.  Max Samuelson had come to America by himself from Poland at the tender age of fifteen in the early 1880’s.  First  he went to an uncle in Massachusetts where he worked putting cockroach powder in envelopes.  Soon afterwards he left for Vermont where he peddled in the northern part of the state.   He was living in Burlington, Vermont by 1885 and by the early 1890’s had opened a junkyard there.  He started to prosper.

He was a founder of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington and helped to develop the Jewish community there.  He became Vermont’s first elected Jewish official in 1902.  He died in 1928.

The Samuelson Reunions.  In the early 1900’s a young Jewish couple emigrated from Russia, arriving in New York with their infant daughter Rebecca.  The man was known as Yehuda Ben Schmuel (Yehuda son of Samuel) with a family name of Glassivitsky.

The immigration agent at Ellis Island where they were being processed suggested that he Americanize his name to Julius Samuelson.  He did so.  In search of green pastures Julius and Deborah Samuelson headed west, living for a time in Pennsylvania and Indiana and then settling in Chicago.

Julius’s relatives, Morris and Julius Glassivitsky, had come to America earlier in the 1880’s and they stayed in close touch with their new Samuelson cousins.

The Glassivitskys remained in New York while many of the Samuelsons moved south to Louisiana. Hymie Samuelson – a native of Donaldsonville, Louisiana – had served in World War Two and then settled in Austin, Texas where he was a haberdasher and pillar of the local Jewish community.

The first reunion of the Samuelson and Glassivitsky families occurred in New Orleans in 1985 and it has been repeated in four-year intervals since that time.

Samuelson Names

  • Ralph Samuelson is considered the father of water-skiing, having developed the first prototype skis in 1922. 
  • Paul Samuelson, awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1970, has been called the father of modern economics. 
  • Sir Sidney Samuelson was appointed the first British Film Commissioner in 1991.

Samuelson Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in UK)




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Written by Colin Shelley

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