Open main menu

Lessing J. Rosenwald cropped.jpg

Lessing Julius Rosenwald (February 10, 1891 – June 24, 1979) was an American businessman, a collector of rare books and art, a chess patron, and a philanthropist.


Born in Chicago, Lessing J. Rosenwald was the eldest son of Julius Rosenwald, a clothier who became part-owner and was president of Sears, Roebuck and Company from 1908 to 1923, and chairman from 1923 to 1932. Lessing left Cornell University and went to work for Sears in 1911 as a shipping clerk, and in 1920, was given the responsibility of opening a catalog supply center for the growing mail-order company in Philadelphia. He resided for many years in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

Giant Bible of Mainz donated by Rosenwald to the Library of Congress

Succeeding his father, he was chairman of Sears from 1932 until 1939, when he dedicated himself full-time to collecting rare books and art, as well as managing the family charities, chiefly the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which made fellowship grants directly to hundreds of African-American artists, writers, researchers and intellectuals. In 1943, he pledged to donate his collections of 2,600 rare books and 5,000 additional books to the Library of Congress and 27,000 prints and drawings to the National Gallery of Art, both located in Washington, D.C., after his death. He was one of the founding donors of the National Gallery of Art when it opened in 1941.[1] "The Giant Bible of Mainz" has been on permanent display in the great entrance hall of the Library of Congress since Rosenwald donated it in 1952, when it was 500 years old. Rosenwald was also a chess enthusiast, and donated money to support American chess. He sponsored the U.S. Chess Championship from 1957 to 1969.

Political activitiesEdit

Rosenwald was the best known Jewish supporter of the America First Committee, which advocated American neutrality in World War II before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and was led by his successor at Sears-Roebuck and lifelong friend Robert E. Wood. Just three months after its founding, he resigned from the committee's board in December 1940 over concerns about anti-Semitism. He became director of the Bureau of Industrial Conservation in the War Production Board during World War II.

In 1943, Rosenwald accepted the invitation to become President of the American Council for Judaism, an association of anti-Zionist Reform Jews, a position he held until 1955; after that he remained chairman of the board. During this time, Rosenwald was also active in rescue efforts of European Jews, and urged the United States to admit large numbers of refugees, both Jew and Gentile.

International renownEdit

Lessing J. Rosenwald's importance as a rare book collector and donor to the Library of Congress is featured in David Baldacci's novel, The Camel Club, London (Pan Books) 2006, p. 164 ff.

Further readingEdit


External linksEdit