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Max Lowenthal papers

Identifier: ua-01006

Scope and Content

The Max Lowenthal Papers consist of memoranda, dairies, manuscripts, documents, and correspondence - personal and professional - donated to the University of Minnesota Libraries by the Lowenthal Family. The collection spans the years 1855 to 1970, with the bulk of the collection covering 1929 to 1954, beginning with Lowenthal’s work in Washington as Secretary to the National Commission on Law Observation and Enforcement through his work in the Truman White House as a political advisor and strategist in the United State's recognition of Israel. In addition, the collection includes several manuscripts, one unpublished, on subjects of interest to Lowenthal throughout his career, including stock manipulation in the railroad and banking industries, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the history of sedition laws in the United States. The collection also includes documents, correspondence and research materials created by Eleanor Mack Lowenthal.

The collection is divided into eight series. The first two series contain material from Lowenthal’s career as a lawyer and legal counsel to a presidential commission and several Senate committees and executive branch departments. These are arranged chronologically. The next three series contain material on Post War Palestine and Lowenthal’s role advising the Truman Administration on recognition of Israel; on Lowenthal’s role as a political strategist in Democratic politics during the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations; and on a wide range of issues and events concerning the abuse of civil liberties by the federal government, with particular emphasis on the FBI’s role in perpetrating these abuses. The remaining three series include correspondence between Max Lowenthal and several prominent politicians and jurists, including Harry S. Truman, Justice Felix Frankfurter, and Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler, as well as general correspondence files; a manuscript series; and a subject series including materials on University of Minnesota professor William Schaper, The Lincoln School/Columbia University dispute and Eleanor Mack‘s (Lowenthal) materials.

The original donation included ninety boxes of materials, a substantial portion of which included government publications, news commentary, and clippings and published court records of cases Lowenthal consulted for his first book, The Investor Pays, published in 1932. In addition, there were multiple boxes of manuscript edits for The FBI, published in 1950. Because the newsprint had degraded on many of the clippings, and the government documents, news articles and court cases are available in research collections, the collection was extensively weeded. Some clippings were retained for their informational value and to give the researcher some idea of the extent to which Lowenthal collected news of the day and relied on news reporting to document his investigative writing.

Law Practice, includes formal and informal notes, correspondence, memos and commentary on various cases Lowenthal researched and litigated as a private attorney. Lowenthal’s law practice was conducted between 1912, the year he graduated from Harvard Law School, through 1932, when he was appointed as counsel to the Senate Banking and Finance Committee. During this twenty year period, Lowenthal was involved in a wide variety of litigation, including workers rights, defense of right-to-strike legislation and shareholder rights in receivership cases.

Legal Activities, focuses on Lowenthal's activities as a legal advisor. This series includes materials relating to the Second Hill Road Radio Tower, where Lowenthal served as a legal advisor as well as a plantiff in the lawsuit, and his work with the Missouri Pacific (MoPac).

Government Servicedocuments Lowenthal’s government service. This series is the largest of the collection, covering a 30-year period bracketed by WWI and WWII. It includes formal memos, personal and committee correspondence, written and typed notes, research materials, published government documents and news and commentary from papers and periodicals. There are seven subseries in this series. Subseries 1 (1918-1919) covers Lowenthal’s work with War Labor Policies Board, an amalgam of government departments engaged in war production that determined labor policy for government contractors. Subseries 2 (1929-1930) covers Lowenthal’s work as Secretary to the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, better known as the Wickersham Commission, which investigated crime and the criminal justice system during Prohibition. The third subseries (1933-1934) covers the period Lowenthal acted as Chief Counsel for the Senate Banking and Currency Committee, drafting securities legislation which led to the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Subseries 4 (1935-1942) covers Lowenthal’s service to the Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce. The committee, chaired by Senator Burton K. Wheeler, investigated railroads and holding companies. Between 1939 and 1940, Lowenthal was placed in charge of preparing legislation for regulation of railroad finance and holding companies, as well as advising on railroad reorganization legislation. It was also during his work with this committee that Lowenthal meet and formed what became a lifelong friendship with Senator Harry S. Truman. Subseries 5 covers 1942-1943 and Lowenthal’s work for the Board of Economic Warfare, a coordinating board for Allied procurement of strategic war-related resources. In 1946, Lowenthal was appointed Special Envoy for the Restitution of Stolen Jewish Property. In addition to the official memos generated during Lowenthal’s fact-finding trip to Germany, Lowenthal kept an extensive personal diary recording his observations of several Displaced Persons camps in the US Occupied Zone. There are also eight pocket-sized notebooks containing long-hand notes taken during his two month fact-finding trip. Subseries 6 includes memos advising Truman and his associates on a variety of legislative and political matters.

Israeldocuments Lowenthal’s role as Truman’s advisor on Palestine and Israel during a critical period in US international diplomacy . This section focuses primarily on the period between November 1947 and 1949, and contains memos, a personal diary of events, correspondence, interoffice communication and a substantial number of clippings. Researchers will find Lowenthal’s typescript “diary” for the weeks leading up to the Truman Administration’s recognition of Israel especially valuable, particularly in light of Truman’s letter in the Correspondence Series identifying Lowenthal, not Truman, as the person "... who did the job.” The series includes official and unofficial memorandum, hand written notes, clippings, and correspondence between Lowenthal and Clark Clifford, David Niles, Matt Connelly and members of Israeli delegations involved in negotiations.

Electionscovers Lowenthal’s activities as a Democratic Party advisor, strategist and stalwart. Included are memos, correspondence and party literature from Democratic Conventions of 1944, 1948, 1952 and 1956, with the bulk focusing on the 1946 campaign, convention, and election. Of particular interest are Lowenthal's communication with Truman and his advisors as they barnstorm across the US in summer of 1948 prior to the Democratic convention. The material is arranged chronologically.

Civil Liberties, is composed of materials related to Lowenthal’s life-long interest in the conflict between civil liberties and government policing. Lowenthal wrote on a wide range of topics that fall under the umbrella of civil liberties, including government surveillance of citizens and government employees, immigration policy, espionage, sedition and use of investigative committees against citizens. He was particularly critical of J. Edgar Hoover and the activities and institutionalizing of the FBI in American culture. This section contains Lowenthal’s some of professional writing - exclusive of his books, manuscripts and periodical articles - on civil liberties, including memos, correspondence, and typed notes. Materials related to his book, The FBI, and the manuscript on the history of sedition law, tentatively titled A Mirror to Congresswill be found in Series VII. This section also contains documentation - memos, notes, letters, news accounts - related to Lowenthal’s appearances before the Senate House Un-American Activities committee in 1950 and 1952.

Correspondencecontains correspondence between Lowenthal and three prominent Americans: Harry S. Truman, Senator Burton K. Wheeler and Justice Felix Frankfurter, as well as many others, including politicians, lawyers, writers and fellow government advisors. The Truman, Wheeler and Frankfurter materials are each treated as subseries, and are arranged chronologically. Additional letters between Frankfurter and Lowenthal can be found in the Government Service subseries for the Wickersham Commission and Senate Currency and Banking Commission. The remaining correspondence is arranged alphabetically. Among those included in the Miscellaneous correspondence are John Carson, Charles and Mary Beard, William O. Douglas, Monte Lehman, Robert Szold, Max Branwen, Max Seaham, Anthony Lewis and various editors of The Nation, The New Republic, and Harper’s Weekly.

Manuscriptscontains material related to Lowenthal’s two published books and one unpublished manuscript: The Investor Pays, The FBI, and A Mirror To Congress (unpublished.) Because Mirrorwas never published, all of the drafts have been retained. For the other two books, the collections of drafts and galleys that were part of the original accession have been weeded to reflect a smaller selection of materials. At least one draft of each manuscript has been retained in its entirety. Correspondence between Lowenthal and his readers and publishers for these publications was also retained. The series also contains drafts of Lowenthal’s other writing, which include law journal articles and popular news commentaries such as appear in Harpers, New Republic and The Nation. Scholarly and popular material are interfiled by the publication title and date.

Subject Filescovers a wide variety of subjects, interests and activities important to Max Lowenthal throughout his life and work. The Professor William Schaper materials will be of interest to researchers exploring the issues of academic freedom and wartime dissent, as well as those interested in University of Minnesota during Lowenthal’s student years there. Anyone engaged in a fuller treatment of Max Lowenthal’s life will be interested in the contents of his library and the systematic and thoughtful way he went about building and dispersing its content. Biographers will have access to copious material documenting the Lincoln School/Columbia Teacher’s College conflict. The school and college became embroiled in litigation in the late 1930s, and several of the principles involved in the lawsuit where prominent New Yorkers, including Nelson Rockefeller. Lowenthal served for a brief time as counsel for the parent litigants. Towards the end of his career in government service, Lowenthal became involved in a number of philanthropic endeavors, including the administration of the Julian Mack Scholarship Fund at Harvard Law School, scholarship funds for Israeli and Palestinian secondary school students, and funding for agricultural and food-production projects in Israel’s Negev region. This section also contains files reflecting the Lowenthal's sponsorships of numerous European Jews who applied for travel visas during the Nazi rule in Germany and occupation of Poland and Hungary. The Subject series also includes Eleanor Lowenthal’s papers such as were contained in the original accession. This portion includes correspondence, notes, and memoranda from her work with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union and research for a possible publication on merchant seamen and their working conditions.

The collection provides a detailed overview of Max Lowenthal's work, his influence on important mid-century American political legislation and his deep concern over abuses of American civil liberties by the government. It is especially rich in several areas: the detailed and daily account of the internal turmoil in the Truman Administration in the run-up to the US recognition of Israel; materials related to investigations leading to securities regulation and the creation of the SEC (Lowenthal is referred to as the “father” of the SEC in at least one admirer’s letter) and transportation legislation. The collection is also valuable for anyone interested in the history of wiretap and sedition legislation in the United States. Periods and materials not well-represented in the collection include family correspondence, photographs, and Lowenthal's early years in Minneapolis and his Minneapolis law practice.

Max Lowenthal's original order and folder titles were maintained as much as possible. Many times he included the exact same document(s) in multiple files, and had materials from one person or organization divided into multiple files under different headings. Thus material do overlap between many of the series. For example, correspondents with letters in the Correspondence Series may also be represented in the Subject and/or Government Service Series.


  • 1855-1975


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Sketch of Max Lowenthal (1888-1971)

Max Lowenthal, B.A. (1909) University of Minnesota, J.D. (1912) Harvard Law School; attorney and lifelong public servant. A close associate of Felix Frankfurter, Harry Truman and Louis Brandeis, he served on the National Committee on Law Observance and Enforcement (the Wickersham Commission), the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and the Interstate Commerce Commission. Lowenthal was an advisor and personal friend of President Harry S. Truman, and was influential in President Truman's recognition of the State of Israel. His publications include The Investor Pays(1933), and The Federal Bureau of Investigation, (1950), an expose of the Bureau and its operations, detailing a history of political spying, red-baiting and harassment of foreigners and radicals.

Max Lowenthal was born 26 February 1888 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents, Nathan (Naphtali) Lowenthal and Gertrude (Nahamah Gitel) Lowenthal immigrated from Kovno, Lithuania to Minnesota in the 1870s. Max Lowenthal was the youngest of three sons. The eldest died in Lithuania and a second son, Archie (Yecheskel) was born in 1887 in Minneapolis. Max Lowenthal’s given name was Mordechai - like his brother Archie, his name was Americanized in elementary school, and he was referred to as Max thereafter. Nathan and Gertie Lowenthal were active members of North Minneapolis’s Orthodox Jewish community. As a founder and trustee of the North Side’s first synagogue, Kenesseth Israel, Nathan Lowenthal figured large in community life, owning and running a modestly successful home furnishings store, acting as a go-between for the community and downtown politicians and police, and serving occasionally as a Democratic precinct chair. Gertie Lowenthal ran the family business and was a devoted synagogue member. Max Lowenthal attended Minneapolis Public schools where he excelled at Latin and literature, and graduated first in his class from North High School in 1905. He also attended the Talmud Torah, where he learned Hebrew.

He attended the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1909. That same year he was accepted into Harvard Law School. During his three years at Harvard, Lowenthal formed what became a lifelong friendship and working relationship with Felix Frankfurter.

Upon graduation from Harvard in 1912, Lowenthal clerked for Judge Julian W. Mack, a noted jurist, social progressive and Zionist. In 1914, he worked as a law clerk for the New York firm of Strong & Cadwalender. Lowenthal established his own successful law practice in 1915, which he subsequently left after three years when asked by Felix Frankfurter to travel to Spain in July 1917 as part of the confidential Morgenthau Mission. Upon returning, Lowenthal traveled with Frankfurter to the American west and southwest, serving on President Wilson’s Mediation Committee settling war-time management–labor disputes. Lowenthal also served as Frankfurter’s assistant in 1918 when Frankfurter chaired the War Labor Policies Board, which formulated uniform wartime labor policies, advocated for war industry workers, and studied domestic and foreign wartime labor conditions.

From 1919 to the fall of 1920, Lowenthal returned to private practice in New York. During that time, again on a recommendation from Felix Frankfurter, Lowenthal oversaw the successful defense of Sidney Hillman and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union in a landmark labor injunction suit. Lowenthal intention was to return to Columbia University to study philosophy and geology or astronomy. He joined the Szold Brandwen law firm, assuming it would be a six month association, but remained with the firm for nine years, handling a variety of cases involving the film, aviation, manufacturing and retail industries, and simultaneously writing a study on receiverships that would be published in 1933 as The Investor Pays. He also worked on the founding of the Amalgamated Bank, the first labor-union supported bank to service smaller borrowers by offering unsecured loans to immigrant and working peoples.

In 1922, Max Lowenthal married Eleanor Mack, a niece of Judge Julius Mack. The first of three children, David, was born in 1923, followed by John in 1925 and Elizabeth (Betty) in 1927. The family moved from New York to Washington, D.C. in 1929. From 1929 to 1930, Lowenthal served as Executive Secretary to the National Committee on Law Observance and Enforcement, known as the Wickersham Commission. The Commission had been created by President Herbert Hoover to investigate the causes of rising crime rates in the United States, and to determine if and how increased crime was related to Prohibition. Lowenthal resigned from the Commission in the summer of 1930. After his resignation, Lowenthal returned to working on his receivership manuscript and the Lowenthal Szold & Brandwen law practice. His time away from public service was, however, short-lived. In 1933, again at Felix Frankfurter’s recommendation, Lowenthal was appointed as Research Director to Ferdinand Pecora’s Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. The committee, created in 1932, was charged with investigating the underlying causes of the 1929 stock market crash. The Pecora Commission uncovered a wide range of abusive practices on the part of banks and bank affiliates. The hearings galvanized broad public support for new securities laws. As a result of the Pecora Commission's findings, Congress passed the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, requiring financial disclosures from companies seeking public financing. The Securities Exchange Commission was created to carry out the reforms. Lowenthal was asked by Commission Chair Senator Duncan Fletcher to draft the original stock exchange regulations bill.

In 1935, Lowenthal became Chief Counsel for the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), chaired by progressive Senator Burton Wheeler. During that same year, Lowenthal was at the hub of legal activities initiated by a group of activist Missouri Pacific (MoPac) bondholders, led by Charles Beard. Lowenthal continued to advise the Banking Committee during the Railroad Financial Reorganizations investigation in 1936, playing a key advisory role in ongoing legislation through 1942.

In his first year at the ICC, Lowenthal met Harry Truman, the newly elected junior senator from Missouri. Truman was appointed to the ICC in 1935, and became the vice chair of the Committee to Investigate Railroad Finances in 1937. During their shared years on the committee, Truman and Lowenthal cemented a political and personal relationship that was to last until Truman’s death in 1968. Lowenthal introduced Truman to Justice Louis Brandeis, a connection that proved to be a turning point for point for the senator, who found that he shared with Brandeis and Lowenthal “…agreement on the dangers of bigness.” In 1939, the Wheeler-Truman Bill was introduced in Congress. The bill sought to regulate all segments of the transportation industry, with a continued special emphasis on railroads. Lowenthal’s experience documenting and analyzing railroad finances, mergers and receiverships and advising the MoPac bondholders lead Truman to rely on his expertise, both legally and strategically. The bill passed congressional scrutiny and became the Transportation Act of 1940.

Lowenthal left the ICC in 1941. From February to July of 1942, he was the Chief Consultant to the General Council of the Board of Economic Warfare (BEW). For the remainder of 1942 until January of 1944, he served as head of the Re-Occupation Division of the BEW. The BEW had been commissioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the prewar years and was responsible for the procurement and production of all imported materials necessary both to the war effort and the civilian economy. The Bureau, renamed the Office of War Management in 1943, was set up to streamlined purchasing for the war effort. Political struggles between BEW head Vice President Henry Wallace and the State Department led to the dissolution of the Office of War Management in late 1943. In January of 1944, Lowenthal left BEW.

In 1945, a bi-partisan sub-committee of the Senate Inter-State Commerce Commission asked Lowenthal to serve as a special advisor on railroad reorganization questions and legislation. He continued to consult with members of the ICC and the House Judiciary committee for another two years.

In August 1946, Lowenthal was asked to perform a different type of governmental service. General Lucius D. Clay, the Deputy Governor of Germany in the Allied Military Government had asked representatives of American Jewish organizations to recommend counsel to assist him in drafting legislation on the return of property seized by the Nazis. Lowenthal was selected for the job, and spent six weeks in the fall of 1946 touring parts of Germany taking testimony and drafting his report. While in Germany he toured several displaced persons camps, recording what he saw there in diaries and letters home.

Upon his return, Lowenthal continued to advise the Truman Administration informally. During the spring of 1948, the administration was embroiled in an internal struggle focused on Palestine. The pro-Arab U.S. State Department backed a plan that maintained Palestine as a trustee state of the United Nations past a deadline that had been set for the creation of the state of Israel. Close advisors to Truman, including Lowenthal, Clark Clifford and David Niles, backed implementation of a U.N. mandated recognition of the new nation in May of 1948. Ultimately, the White House advisors prevailed over the State Department. Letters between Truman and Lowenthal reveal that the President saw Lowenthal’s arguments - in the form of memos used in briefings - as critical in influencing his actions. In a series of letters written during the early 1960s Truman stated that Lowenthal is the “…one who should have the credit” [23 April 1962] and “…I [Truman] don’t think it’s proper for me to take the program as mine when you set it up” [3 April 1962]. Lowenthal continued to advise the Administration through the end of Truman’s second term in 1952. Lowenthal was a delegate to both the 1952 and 1956 Democratic Conventions.

In addition to serving in all three branches of government, Lowenthal was a dogged and probing investigative writer and researcher. His interest in writing took shape during his university years, where he reported on university events for the Minneapolis Journal. His first book, The Investor Pays, is based on cases from his law practice. Between his first and second books, Lowenthal published opinion pieces on banking, rail and insurance industries and financial reform in The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers’. His second book, The Federal Bureau of Investigation, was released in 1950. It was the first substantively documented book critical of the Bureau and its operations, detailing a history of political spying, red-baiting and harassment of foreigners and radicals. The book’s publication was preceded by a denouncement of Lowenthal as a communist sympathizer on the House floor. A barrage of criticism of Lowenthal and The FBI appeared in syndicated columns. Shortly before the book was released, Lowenthal was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee where he was grilled about his relationships with a number of liberals and communists. The Federal Bureau of Investigationwas not promoted by its publisher, and sold poorly. A final Lowenthal manuscript on the history of American sedition laws was never published.

After withdrawing from active public service in the late 1950s, Max Lowenthal remained involved in a variety of political and philanthropic causes, most notably underwriting educational scholarships for Israeli and Palestinian high school students, law school scholarships at Harvard Law school, and research into increasing arable land in the Sinai to reduce regional hunger. He was also an avid horticulturalist. Max Lowenthal died of heart failure in New York City on 19 May 1971.


33.4 Cubic Feet (28 boxes (26 record cartons; 2 oversize))


Collection contains the papers of Max Lowenthal, alumnus of the University of Minnesota. A successful attorney who devoted his life to public service, Lowenthal served as counsel to a series of government committees in the 1930s and 1940s. Lowenthal may be best known for his work with the National Committee on Law Observance and Enforcement (the Wickersham Commission), the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and the Interstate Commerce Commission. His second book, The Federal Bureau of Investigation(1950), was highly critical of the Bureau's covert political operations and director J. Edgar Hoover. Lowenthal was also a trusted friend and advisor to President Harry S. Truman and played a key role behind the Truman administration's recognition of Israel in 1948.


The collection is divided into the following series:

  1. Law Practice
  2. Legal Activities
  3. Government Service
  4. Israel
  5. Elections
  6. Civil Liberties
  7. Correspondence
  8. Manuscripts
  9. Subject Files

In addition, the Government Service series is divided into the following subseries:

  1. War Labor Policies Board
  2. Wickersham Commission
  3. Senate Banking and Currency Committee Counsel
  4. Interstate Commerce and Railroad Investment Commission
  5. Board of Economic Warfare
  6. Special Envoy, Restitution of Stolen Jewish Property
  7. Informal Presidential/White House Advising

Source of acquisition

The collection was donated to the University of Minnesota Archives by Max Lowenthal's children, David Lowenthal, John Lowenthal and Betty Levin, in 1972. An additional accretion was donated in 2011.

Related Materials in University Archives

William A. Schaper papers

Other Related Materials

A small collection of Max Lowenthal's papers regarding his involvement with the Wickersham Commission (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement) is held by the Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. The Harvard Law School Library also holds the records of the Wickersham Commission.

An oral history interview conducted with Max Lowenthal in 1967 and various correspondence between Lowenthal and President Truman is held by the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Independence, MO.

Correspondence with George B. Leonard is held in Leonard's personal papers collection at the Minnesota Historical Society.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Susan Hoffman with funds donated by Harold Rosenthal, James Rosenthal and Brent Rosenthal.

Max Lowenthal papers, 1855-1975
Susan Hoffman
February 2008
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area