Spiegel Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Spiegel Surname Meaning

The Spiegel surname derives from the German word spiegel meaning “mirror.”  Der Spiegel is a weekly German news magazine that is published in Hamburg.

The name in Germany is old and goes back to two early families in Saxony and Hesse.  Family tradition has it that the name might have been taken from a town or lake named Spiegel. There is a small community south of Munich called Spiegel.

Spiegel also emerged as a Jewish surname.

Spiegel Surname Resources on The Internet

Spiegel Surname Ancestry

  • from Germany (Saxony and Hesse) and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America

Early Spiegel lines were to to found from the 13th century in Saxony and in Hesse:

  • the Saxon Spiegels were first recorded as bishops at Naumberg and later as councillors to Electoral Saxony.
  • the Hesse Spiegels were known as the Spiegels of Desenberg and Peckelsheim. Their numbers included Heinrich III Spiegel zum Desenberg who was the Bishop of Paderborn in the 14th century.

Later the Spiegel name spread to the Rhine-Palatine.

Spiegels in Germany total about 5,000 today. Their numbers include the Jewish Paul Spiegel from Westphalia who survived the Nazi Holocaust to lead a regeneration of the Jewish community in Germany after the war.  Earlier Jewish Spiegels who had come to America originated from Germany but also from the wider Yiddish diaspora that included Austria-Hungary and the old Russian empire in the 19th century.  

AmericaThe early Spiegel arrivals into Pennsylvania were from the German Palatine and were leaving for religious reasons.

Johann Spiegel departed Baden-Wurttenberg with his family in 1737.  They settled in Lancaster county.  His son Michael moved to Virginia, fought in the Revolutionary War, and was appointed sheriff of Shenandoah county in 1801.  He and his descendants spelt their name Spiggle.

Samuel and Michael Spiegel, also from Baden-Wurttenberg, left on the Molly for Philadelphia in 1741.  Samuel died shortly after his arrival.  His son Martin settled in Catawba county, North Carolina where the spelling became Speagle or sometimes Speegle.  Aaron Speagle died from his wounds in 1864 during the Civil War.  Charles Speegle’s 1986 book was entitled The Spiegel Family and Their Kin.

Other Spiegels remained in Pennsylvania and this state had the most Spiegels in America in the 1840 census.  George Spiegel meanwhile arrived in New York on the Germania in 1853 and made his home in Ohio.  His son Frank bought the Cottonwood farm in Lockport, Illinois in 1909 which is still in family hands.

Jewish.  The main Spiegel arrivals later were Jewish.

A Spiegel family from Worms in Hesse, fearing anti-Jewish sentiment during the Revolutionary turmoil of 1848, fled to America.  They settled initially in New York before moving to Chicago.  Two Speigel brothers fought on the Union side during the Civil War.  Marcus was killed; while Joseph returned to Chicago to start a furniture store.

It was Joseph’s son Modie who, having published the first Spiegel catalog in 1905,  expanded the company into one of America’s leading mail order firms.  His company Spiegel Inc. remained independent until its sale to a German mail order company in 1985.  Of his children Dr. John P. Spiegel was a nationally renowned social psychiatrist and Pauline (Polly) Spiegel Cowan a civil rights activist in the 1960’s.

Later Jewish immigrants were not these middle-class German Jews but poorer Yiddish-speaking Jews from Eastern Europe.  They included:

  • Joseph and Bessie Spiegel from Kovetz in Ukraine who came via New Brunswick to Boston in 1901 and settled there.  Their daughter Esta was an adventurous sort who travelled widely before making her home as an artist on Block Island.
  • Samuel and Lena Speigel from Hungary who came to Pennsylvania around the year 1905.  Sam was a grocery store owner in McKeesport.  His son Herbert became a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who would popularize hypnosis as a medical treatment in the 1960’s.
  • Benjamin and Fannie Speigel from Ukraine who arrived in Philadelphia in 1906 and later settled in Brooklyn.
  • Gabriel and Rebecca Spiegel from Poland who also arrived in Philadelphia in 1906 but stayed in the Philadelphia area.
  • and Samuel and Jennie Spiegel from Hungary who were first recorded in New York in 1910 and moved to Kansas City five years later.

Sam Spiegel was born in Galicia (then part of Austria-Hungary) in 1901.  His involvement in films began in the 1920’s, but he did not arrive in America until the late 1930’s.  His success as a producer came in the 1950’s with films such as The African Queen and The Bridge on the River Kwai, considered classics today.

Abraham Spiegel and his wife Edita, who survived Auschwitz, were later arrivals.  He became very successful after the war as a developer of tract homes and he started Columbia Savings and Loan in California in 1974.  This did well for a while, but collapsed under his son Thomas’s stewardship in the late 1980’s.

A California success story has been John W. Spiegel, a prominent lawyer in Los Angeles, and his son Ewan Spiegel who started Snapchat, an image messaging and multimedia mobile application, in his twenties.  He is thought to be the youngest billionaire in America today.  Ewan was raised in an Episcopolian household from forebears that came to California from Missouri.

Spiegel Surname Miscellany

Jewish Spiegels in Frankfurt.  it is said that the Spiegel name originated from a house sign in the Frankfurt am Main Judengasse picturing a mirror. The form Spiegel has beens documented there from the 16th century. Variants have been Szpiegel, Schpiegel, Shpi(e)gel, and Şpighel.

Family lore, as told by the family of Joseph Spiegel (scion of the American Spiegel family of catalog fame), said that their family name in Germany had been Meyer. The story goes that Big Meyer bought a large mirror for his house. When he got it home, it was too big to fit. So it was leaned against a nearby tree. When people came into the valley, the sun reflected off the mirror. The house then became known as the Spiegel house and the family adopted the name.

The Life and Death of Colonel Marcus Spiegel.  Marcus Spiegel had intended to open a dry goods store with his brother Joseph in Chicago.  But the Civil War was raging and Marcus was a Jewish colonel on the Union side.   He was wounded, returned to Chicago and recovered, and then returned to battle.

He was killed in a river skirmish somewhere in Tennessee and buried by the river. When his remains were sought after the war, the river had shifted its banks and the grave could not be found. There is a monument to the 120th Ohio Volunteers at Vicksberg with his name prominently displayed.  He was just twenty-nine years old and had spent less than half of his life as an American.

Si Spiegel – from Bombing Raids to Christmas Trees.  Si Spiegel was born in New York City in 1924, the first year of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the last year that Ellis Island operated as an immigration station.

When war broke out, he was eighteen and wanted to fight the Nazis.  Without telling his parents he enlisted and was accepted into pilot training.  This took him around the country as he learnt how to pilot a B-17, the massive bomber known as the Flying Fortress.

Mission 33, which took place on February 3, 1945, is what he has often relived when reflecting on his war years.  His plane lost both of its engines due to flak and he knew that they would not make it back to England.  Instead he was able to belly-land the plane on a frozen potato field near Warsaw.

This area was by then being held by the Soviets who initially welcomed them.  However, Soviet authorities would not allow him and his crew nor other Americans in the area to leave.  So, early on St. Patrick’s Day 1945, nineteen of them jumped into a jury-rigged plane and took off.  Determined to avoid German antiaircraft guns in their hobbled plane, they headed south and eight hours later landed at an American air base in Foggia, Italy.

He returned to America on August. 31, 1945 and was given a hero’s welcome at his home on West 11th Street. Yet despite his thirty-five missions and multiple awards for bravery and exemplary behavior, he went to war as a first lieutenant and returned as one.  Looking back, Si Spiegel now believes that many Jewish soldiers were denied promotions because of anti-Semitism.

After the war he could not get a job in aviation and drifted around, working at odd jobs.  Then in the late 1950’s his luck turned.  The brush company he was working for in Westchester county was looking for a way to repurpose its machines to make Christmas trees.  Si Spiegel studied the problem.  He tinkered with the machines to speed up the process and soon he was selling quickly made and perfectly shaped Christmas tree fakes.

By the mid-1970’s his company, American Tree and Wreath, was producing about 800,000 trees a year, one off the assembly line every four minutes. He finally sold the business and retired in 1993 as a multimillionaire.  Alive in 2021 at the age of ninety-seven, he was one of the last bomber pilots of World War Two still around.

Jerry Spiegel and His Art Collection.  From humble origins working on his uncle’s farm, Jerry Spiegel rose to become one of Long Island’s most enterprising real estate developers.

When Jerry and his wife Emily started collecting art in the 1980’s, they began to befriend many of the artists they collected. In addition to being early champions of artists such as Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Christopher Wool and Anselm Kiefer, the Spiegels also amassed works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Man Ray, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Francis Picabia.

The Spiegels both died in 2009 and they left their art to their two daughters Pamela and Lise who should each received half of its estimated value.  How much the collection was worth was put to the test in 2017 when the daughters decided to sell the collection. Interestingly for the auction in a case of sibling rivalry, one chose to go through Christie’s and the other Sotheby’s.   The works overall would sell for more than $150 million.

Spiegel Names

  • Joseph Spiegel began the family furniture business in Chicago in 1865, which later expanded into one of America’s leading mail order companies.   
  • Sam Spiegel was an American film producer who won three Oscars for best picture in the 1950’s.
  • Herbert Spiegel was an American psychiatrist who popularized therapeutic hypnosis as a medical treatment in the 1960’s.
  • Evan Spiegel is a young American entrepreneur who devised Snapchat, an image messaging service for the internet, in 2011.

Spiegel Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 500 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Spiegel and Like Jewish Surnames

The Jews were banned from England in 1290 and did not return there until the 1650’s, sometimes in the form of Portuguese traders.  They were to make their mark as merchants and financers in London and many families prospered.  There was another larger Jewish influx in the late 1800’s.

In America the early settlement of Sephardic Jews was in Charleston, South Carolina.  In the 19th century Ashkenazi Jews started to arrive from Germany.  Later came a larger immigration from a wider Jewish diaspora.  Between 1880 and 1910 it is estimated that around two million Yiddish-speaking Jews, escaping discrimination and pogroms, arrived from the Russian empire and other parts of Eastern Europe.

Some Jewish surnames reflect ancient Biblical names, such as Cohen and Levy.  Some have come from early place-names where Jews resided, such as Dreyfus (from Trier), Halpern (from Heilbronn) and Shapiro (from Speyer).  Many more surnames came about when Ashkenazi Jews were compelled by Governments to adopt them in the early 1800’s.  The names chosen at that time were often ornamental ones – Bernstein or Goldberg or Rosenthal for example.  Then the name could change on arrival in America at Ellis Island.  And finally anti-Semitism perceived could cause further changes to conceal Jewishness.

Here are the stories of some of the Jewish surnames that you can check out here.


Written by Colin Shelley

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