Prosperity, first slump and the Jews arrive - by Adri Odendaal | iinfo TZANEEN

Around this time Lithuanian Jews who were looking for new economic opportunities, started to arrive in Oudtshoorn to take part in the ostrich boom.   They opened businesses, trading in the valuable commodity and good relations were established between the Afrikaans speaking farmers and the Jewish immigrants.

The rising wealth allowed for the completion of the new Dutch Reformed Church on 7 June  1879, but prosperity led to overproduction and the ostrich industry experienced a sudden slump in 1885; compounded by severe flooding, which washed away the new Victoria Bridge which had been built over the nearby Olifants River.  Still, in 1886, when the number of Jews was about 250, the decision was made to build a synagogue, sponsored in part by their Afrikaner neighbors.

The ostrich industry recovered slowly, and though Oudtshoorn had not been directly affected by the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902, the economic overspill meant the industry could only boom again at wars end.   Incredible, surplus wealth swamped the isolated town and in the first decade of the twentieth century, most of Oudtshoorn's opulent 'Feather Palaces' were built.  At the high point of the feather trade some 300 Jewish families emigrated from Lithuania to the town, which was nicknamed the 'Jerusalem of South Africa'. Among these migrants was Max Rose, who arrived in 1890 and after ten years became the unrivalled feather baron in the whole of South Africa. The feather had become a major force in South Africa's economy.

The first indication of problems in the industry came in 1911 with signs of overproduction and increasing competition, especially from California. The South African ostrich breeders realized that the only way they could continue to dominate the world market was to produce the best feathers in the world. This led to the crossbreeding with the Barbary Ostrich to produce double-fluff feathers. 1913 Brought a bumper crop of high quality feathers with the price of the finest double-fluff feathers reaching R650 per kg earning the country about R6 million. 
The ostrich feather industry would never reach these heights again.

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