Select Shapiro Surname Genealogy

Shpria - which became Shapiro - was the Jewish name for the city of Speyer on the Rhine.  Speyer had a large Jewish population during the Middle Ages and Shapiro denoted someone from Speyer.  The Shapiro surname might also have derived from the Hebrew word sofer meaning "scribe" or from the Russian word safir meaning "pure."

The main spelling variants today are Shapiro and Schapiro.

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The Jewish community of Speyer thrived for more than two hundred years from the late 11th century. Speyer at that time was an important center for Ashkenazi culture.  The early Shapiros there were rabbinical scholars - Rav Schmuel of Shapiro and his son Rav Schlomo Shapiro, the first to adopt Shapiro as a family name.

However, religious persecution of the Jews began and the Jewish population of Speyer steadily declined until by the year 1500 there were none remaining there.  They spread elsewhere.  Notable Shapiros were later to be found in Lithuania, Prague, and Cracow in Poland.  Others were to be found among the Jewish communities in Hungary and elsewhere in Poland and Russia.

America.  Most of the Shapiros that came to America originated from Russia rather than from Germany. Among these Shapiro immigrants were:
  • Jacob Shapiro, born in Odessa in 1899, who came to New York as a young boy and became one of the chief mobsters in the garment district during the 1920's and 30's.  He co-founded Murder Inc. as his weapon of enforcement.  Among those wiped out during his splurge of killings were the three Shapiro brothers (not related to him) also into racketeering, who were murdered in the early 1930's.
  • Meyer Schapiro, on the other hand, born in Lithuania in 1904, came to New York also as a young boy, but achieved renown as an art historian.
  • Joseph and Jennie Shapiro had also arrived from Lithuania.  Their son Ted became a noted Tin Pan Alley songwriter in the 1920's.
  • and Samuel Shapiro, who was born in Estonia in Russia in 1907 and came with his parents to Chicago at a young age.  Known as "Smiling Sam," he briefly became Governor of Illinois in 1968.
One Shapiro family traces their history back to Amsterdam where two Shapiro brothers were meat wholesalers who supplied Napoleon's army.  One of these brothers, Abraham, travelled with this army to Russia in 1812 and remained then afterwards, settling in the Minsk area.  From his line came Isaac and Eliyahu Shapiro whose families migrated to Wisconsin and California in the late 19th century.

Morris Shapiro also came to America from the Minsk area, although at a later date.  He achieved renown as a weight-lifter and was known as "the Mighty Atlas."  He lived out his life in Las Vegas.

Another Shapiro family, based this time in Odessa, were food suppliers to the Tsar's fleet in the Black Sea during the 19th century.  These Shapiros emigrated to America in 1903, settling in Indianapolis where they opened Shapiro's Delicatessen.  It still flourishes.

Select Shapiro Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Jacob Shapiro
, co-founder of Murder Inc, was a New York mobster of the 1920's and 30's.
Carl J. Shapiro founded Kay Windsor in 1939 and built it up to be one of the largest women apparel companies in America.
Helen Shapiro was a British pop star of the 1960's.
George Shapiro is an American show business manager and television producer, best known for representing Jerry Seinfeld.

Select Shapiros Today
  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 13,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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