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1981 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Manfred Steinfeld


"Get an education, and then do what you want to do and do it better. Become totally dedicated to the task in front of you, and you will eventually succeed."

Manfred Steinfeld was born in Josbach, Germany, in 1924. When he was five, his father died, leaving his mother to run the family dry goods store. As a youngster, Steinfeld delivered orders for materials and ribbons from the family's store.

After Hitler became chancellor in 1933, life changed drastically for the Steinfelds. Nazi doctrine was taught in the schools, and it became harder and harder for Jews to earn a living. When he was 14, Steinfeld left Germany alone to live with an aunt and uncle in Chicago. He corresponded with his mother until 1942. He later learned that his mother and sister died in a concentration camp.

Steinfeld worked in a drug store and attended one year at the University of Illinois before joining the Army. By this time, he was an American citizen and says he felt no allegiance to his birth nation. Steinfeld earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and at age 21, translated the unconditional surrender document of the Germans east of the Elbe River in 1945 for Major Gen. James Gavin. He says, "I was the expert on the German Army in the 82nd Airborne Division, and my ability to speak German was valuable."

After the war, Steinfeld earned a degree in commerce from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He worked a short time for the Illinois Revenue Department before serving two years in the Korean War. In 1952, he went to work for Sam Horwitz of Equipment Manufacturing Company. Eventually, the two purchased the bankrupt Great Northern Chair Company for $10,000 and turned it into the world's largest public seating manufacturer. His company, Shelby Williams Industries, furnishes hotels, restaurants, and other installations around the world, and was the first U. S. furniture manufacturer to trade with the China.

Steinfeld endowed a hotel and tourism curriculum at Roosevelt University, known as the Manfred Steinfeld Curriculum in Hotel and Tourism Management. He endowed the Shelby Williams Scholarship Fund for Excellence at the University of Tennessee; established scholarships at Illinois Institute of Technology, Roosevelt University, and the University of Tennessee; and endowed a professional chair at the Weizman Institute in Israel. The Steinfelds have also endowed a gallery in 20th century American decorative arts at the Art Institute in Chicago.