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Karl Schneider papers, 1910-1962 (bulk 1925-1945)

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Finding aid for the Karl Schneider papers, 1910-1962, bulk 1925-1945

Biographical Historical Note

Karl Schneider was born in Mainz Germany in 1892. He trained as an architect under Lussow and Kühne (Dresden, 1911-1912), Walter Gropius (Berlin, 1912-1914), and Peter Behrens (Berlin, 1915-1916). After serving in the military from 1917 to 1919, Schneider established architectural firm in Hamburg, which he directed until 1933. His Villa Michaelsen, well-received by critics when completed in 1923, brought him numerous private commissions for domestic architecture. In the later 1920s Schneider joined a group of architects known as "Der Ring," whose stated goal was to reject past-enshrined forms and employ the latest technology to solve contemporary building problems. This group included among its members Otto Bartning, Peter Behrens, Walter Gropius, Erich Mendelsohn, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, among others. In 1926, Schneider's designs for the Großseidlung Jarrestadt-Barmbek, a city-sponsored competition, won first prize and brought further financial and artistic rewards.

In 1933, the new Nazi government dismissed Karl Schneider from his professorship at the Landesschüle, despite the protest of students who petitioned the Bürgermeister for reconsideration of the termination. Due to continued pressure by the Nazi regime, Schneider left the Hamburg firm in 1933 and "Der Ring" was disbanded. In 1935, his wife, Emma Schneider, sought and received a civil divorce on the grounds of adultery. In 1938, Karl left Germany with his second wife, the photographer Ursula Wolff, and emigrated to the United States. Settling in Chicago, Schneider found work at Sears, Roebuck and Company where he remained until his death in 1945.

At Sears, Roebuck and Company, Schneider was the head of the corporate design department, the first of its kind in America. He was hired on the recommendations of Walter Gropius, Lewis Mumford, and Walter Curt Behrendt. Schneider contributed to the progressive designs of Sears products, including "Craftsman" tools, mass-market furniture, home appliances, children's toys, and Sears retail stores. By creating products in the streamlined modern style, Schneider shaped the evolution of corporate architecture and retail product design in America. Through Schneider's work, Sears' stores may have introduced many Americans to streamlined and, what came to be called, "International Style" designs.

In cooperation with the Chicago Housing Commission, Schneider participated in various urban planning projects. In fact, his relationship with the city aided in securing his position during the war years, when a paranoid populace raised questions, based on Schneider's nationality, concerning his loyalties. Beyond these endeavors, Schneider devoted his time to national competitions, including the Smithsonian competition in 1939. Although not selected, his designs for the Smithsonian's Gallery of American Art are illustrative of his technique, logic, style, and desire to shape the American architectural milieu.

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