With illustration by author
If a Lively and amicable gentleman may be described as a walking encyclopedia, happy in his rather extraordinary achievements, and ambitious to accomplish in full the opportunities he sees before him as the new United States Minister to Sweden, then Laurence A. Steinhardt is the very walking picture of a walking encyclopedia. For it is as an animated bureau of general information that President Roosevelt’s appointee is known to his friends. Anyone who might expect the subject of such a designation to be aged, matter-of-fact, and dull as a column of numbers, would be startled by the personality of the minister.
First, he is the youngest minister so far appointed by President Roosevelt—just forty. And he bubbles with energy, is as exciting as a column of numbers can be when they tell the score of a championship football game.
Laurence A. Steinhardt believes in action. "That’s my first rule, the basic rule of my life," he admits. "Do something. Do anything, but do something. Every tick of the clock brings us one tick nearer the grave. We must not sit back and wait for things to happen. We must make them happen. If we make mistakes, we’ll usually get a chance to correct them."
HE KNOWS FACTS IN THE CASES
His activist philosophy is expressed in his life. To his "do something" might be added the qualification, "but know what you are doing." for he knows.
"I don’t need much sleep," he says. So he reads. Every night he sits up for a few hours reading books on economics, finance, history. He has one of those retentive minds. Facts and figures stick. And so he is able to rattle off the "set-up" of almost any important corporation in the United States, able to toss off the operating figures and earnings of leading corporations, able to mention the population of Czecho-Slovakia or Dubuque or Paraguay, and to list the favorite kinds of fish in the diet of the Finns.
This encyclopedic background is organized in a mind that comprehends, as surely as any other mind in America, the inexorable working of economic laws. And it is that combination of organized knowledge with interpretive intelligence that brings him, so young, to the fore amongst that active, aggressive, undefeated group of men who intend to reverse the lever that has kept the world running backwards, who intend to make the world run forward again.
PREDICTED CRASH OF 1929
Laurence A. Steinhardt is a Roosevelt man. When he speaks of the President, he glows with full enthusiasm. Because the President has the qualities he understands and admires most—courage, will, understanding, speed, the ability to make friends.
It was in 1929 that Laurence Steinhardt measured the reversed gears of the world’s economic machine. In June of that year he predicted the financial crash, and his friends laughed at him. But he did something. He sold out his stocks. He did not laugh at his friends, later. He wouldn’t laugh that way.
In 1931 he did something again. He wrote and published a pamphlet entitled "The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth." It was the most severe analysis of the Hoover administration fallacies that had, at that time, been made. And it was backed with encyclopedic fact. Banks began sending out their messengers for copies of the pamphlet. It had to be reprinted three times. The bankers seemed never to have known the facts about the engine they were driving—in reverse. "We never had more than a few real bankers in this country," he says. "All these giants one reads about—pathetic." There was, he charged, a bankruptcy of economic, political and financial leadership.
CORRECTS HIS PICTURE
The pamphlet brought him actively into the group of men of his own positive approach, men of his energetic temper. He was a member of the Roosevelt Pre-Convention Committee, and during the campaign was on the National Democratic Finance Committee and the Executive Committee. "Now," he says, "we have an administration of human beings, a government close to the people. I have absolute confidence that President Roosevelt will bring us out of the crisis. I believe he will go down in history as among our three or four greatest Presidents."
While being sketched, Minister Steinhardt talks of himself, of his philosophy—and pauses to suggest something about the line of his jaw. "I know my face," he jokes. "I’ve looked at it in a photograph. His correction is, in fact, a good one. He has an utter objectivity about his face, and about his character, that is rare. He will not permit any "prettifications," and he is equally quick to criticize an unjust puckering of the mouth.
For his new task, he has the highest enthusiasm. He loves travel, has been abroad more than twenty times, and admires Sweden more than any other foreign country. "They are two hundred years ahead of most of Europe in their civilization. Sweden has had continuous peace for 116 years. They had their great wars nearly three centuries ago, and learned better. What greater example of civilized national restraint could you want than this: In 1925 there was a dispute as to the ownership of Aland Island between Finland and Sweden. Sweden had been, at one time, in possession of the island. The Finns had an historical claim. The island was nearer to Sweden, and the Swedes were of course immeasurably stronger than the Finns; they could have kept possession. Yet they allowed to dispute to be referred to the Hague, and when the island was awarded to Finland, they abode scrupulously by the decision of the international court."
As a people, he finds the Swedes enchanting. "The men are tall and handsome. The women are beautiful. They have a sense of living, there, they know how to get the most out of life. The farmers, for instance, are gentlemen by instinct. Sweden has, I think, as high a level of culture as any nation on earth."
HAS WRITTEN ON LAW
It is Minister Steinhard’t ambition to improve our trade relations with Sweden. "Both our export and import trade have fallen off about fifty percent during the last three or four years. I think it can be pulled up. We must get rid of trade barriers. Sweden exports a great deal of pulp: we need pulp. Our chief markets in Sweden are for automobiles, gasoline, kerosene."
Mr. Steinhardt is a partner in the law firm of Guggenheimer, Untermyer and Marshall, but contends that he would have been a better economist than a lawyer. He is known, nevertheless, as a legal authority on a wide variety of topics, having written on such diverse subjects as "Medical Jurisprudence" and "The Legal Status of the Trade Union."
He believes capitalism will continue in some form, "until some force greater than requital for self-help is found." Perhaps the future will bring a modified form of capitalism, tinged with socialism. "There must be some reward for greater effort. We must not destroy individual incentive. It is a great question as to how far we can modify inheritance and other laws, without killing that incentive. I believe that if a man who has a million dollars knows he can leave between four hundred and six hundred thousand dollars to his children, he will still feel that incentive. Take more away, and law of diminishing returns will exorably kill his ambition to ### hard, to create that wealth."
Laurence Steinhardt is the sor### Adolph M. and Addie Untern Steinhardt. He was graduated f### the Columbia University Law Sel### in 1915, practiced accountancy, se### in the army, became a sergeant, ### back into law after the war, an# 29 was made a partner in his pre### firm. He was married in 1923 ### Dulcie Hofmann; they have a da###ter, Dulcie Ann, aged 7½.
He is proud of his wife’s lingu### ability. She speaks French, Ger### Italian. "like a native." They’ll ### Swedish. Both of them pick up ###guages easily. "I received clips f### Sweden the other day, and four ### could actually make out the cont###
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.