Alexander Silberman (1902-1992) was a Jewish-American industrialist.
Thanks to his involvement in community service projects in the United States, he received the Horatio Alger Award in 1973. This award is conferred every year to 10-12 people who demonstrate "personal initiative and perseverance, leadership and commitment to excellence, belief in the free-enterprise system and the importance of higher education, community service, and the vision and determination to achieve a better future. "
Address by Mr. Alexander Silberman at the award ceremony.
Mr. Silberman's philanthropic activity was also directed at the State of Israel. In 1976 he founded the Alexander Silberman Applied Science Foundation for Science and Technology in Israel, and in 1978 he founded the Scholarship Fund for Support of Research Students in Contemporary Jewry. He was deeply involved in the establishment of the Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, and was rewarded by naming the institute after him.
In recognition of his great contribution to the State of Israel in general and to the Hebrew University in particular, Mr. Alexander Silberman received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University in 1981.
Address by the President of the University at the ceremony of awarding an honorary doctorate
The Senate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem paid tribute to Alexander Silberman (November 18, 1981)
A man of vision and determination who is committed to the public good, Alexander Silberman has always been proud of his Jewish heritage. He is a model of those who in the Jewish tradition, serve the community in good faith.
A remarkably successful industrialist, Alexander Silberman’s whole life is a testimony to his philosophy of self-reliance and self-help, of achievement through hard work, of success through unremitting effort, and of education as a never-ending process. Sharing is part of his way of life and his munificence has many beneficiaries. The Hebrew University is proud that its work in the Life Sciences, Applied Science, and Contemporary Jewry has attracted his support. The combination of these subjects of his concern is in itself an indication of the breadth of his interest and of his dedication to Israel’s development and to the Jewish people.
The Alexander Silberman Foundation for Applied Science, established in 1976, makes possible research that is crucially important to Israel’s future, for the Graduate School of Applied Science and Technology is responsive to the needs of the country and deeply involved with the solution of its technological problems.
The Alexander Silberman Scholarship Foundation in Contemporary Jewry, established in 1978, is supporting the activities of graduate and post-graduate students and eminent international scholars in the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, adding new dimensions to its work.
The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences has revolutionized teaching and research in the Life Sciences at the Hebrew University by providing the means for the increased activity of the several Life Sciences departments in an integrated, interdisciplinary structure.
Alexander Silberman loves the State of Israel with all his heart and has given concrete expression to his firm conviction that her only real natural resource, her brainpower, must be nurtured and encouraged. His actions have made it possible for the dreams of scholars and scientists to be realized, to the benefit of humanity and the State of Israel.
Alexander Silberman has attracted the respect and gratitude of the Hebrew University community.
In recognition and appreciation of his commitment to the welfare of the State of Israel and the Hebrew University and of his exceptional example of dedication to the welfare of his fellowmen, the Senate has resolved to confer on Alexander Silberman the Degree of Doctor Philophiae Honoris Causa Of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and he is hereby invested with all the dignity and privileges ertaining to the Degree of Doctor.
Biographical Notes & Background Material - Alexander Silberman
(Excerpts from remarks delivered to Golden Slipper Club upon presentation of Horatio Alger Award, August 19, 1973)
…… I was born May 11, 1902 but my history really began a the ripe old age of 15 ½ when I left boy’s High in Brooklyn (in the last Term) to take a job as an office boy in a small Wall Street chemical brokerage firm during World War I. In less than 3 years I became the manager, very knowledgeable about heavy chemicals, dyestuffs, commercial acids and pharmaceuticals.
At 19, I helped my father to establish the Penn Tinsmith’s Supply Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, without any knowledge whatever of what he could make or who could use it. I found an empty stable at 4th and Queen, facing the Settlement School of Music. We were soon joined by my two brothers, Arthur and Ben. I was my father’s chief cook-and-bottle-washer, or his so-called general manger, in a totally strange business, far removed from my earlier training.
At the start we worked about 70 hours a week for about 3Cents an hour and later we were raised to about 6 Cents an hour or so. My father passed away March 5, 1933, the day of the “Bank Holiday” at the age of 56. TIME MARCHES ON!
On my 31st birthday, May 11, 1933, we established the Penn Supply and Metal Corporation at 948N. 8th Street, between Poplar and Cirard.
This was right in the very depth of the depression. We started with $5,000 loaned to us by my first wife Anne Shapiro and my mother.
In 1933, there was no charity in our hearts or in our minds. We were fighting for our very own existence! In the year 1937, we started to grow! We built our first plant, from the ground up, at 1831 N. 5th Street, alongside the Stetson Hat Company, mortgaged and financed up to here. PENN MARCHES ON! This became our new slogan and still is to this day.
Today, as the Billy Penn Corporation, we occupy 6 different buildings on both sides of North 5th Street, starting at Jefferson Street and ending at Berks Street and still expanding – in a very bad slum area.
I still work from about 10A.M. to about 4P.M. every day, skipping a Wednesday or Thursday now and then, to relax or go to my different doctors to keep in shape – but just as ambitious and active as ever. I tell you this for one reason only – one thing has to feed the others… yes, one thing has to feed many other things and by other things, I mean feeding by sharing!
My brother Arthur, retired 21 years ago. That was the year I was married to Ruth Herring, who was born in Pittsburgh and came from Johnstown, where she taught High School. The following year our only child, Kathy Anne was born. Today she is 20 years old, majoring in Art in her last term at Syracuse University.
I always had a deep, hidden ambition and compulsive dream… that someday I, too, may become a somebody so much like so many of my friends and contemporaries who have also climbed the ladder of success in their various fields of endeavor, all graduates from the same school of hard knocks.
In 1938, the Allied Appeal was established and in later years became a part of the Federation of Jewish Charities… the greatest humanitarian organization we have in the City of Philadelphia, far greater than most people are fully aware of; for all they do for the many thousands of people here, there and abroad… and not publicized enough as far as I am concerned.
From them I received my first indoctrination and learned about the tremendous needs of the sick and the poor. And thus started “my habit” of sharing … from nothing, to small, to larger and larger. They have had my continuous support.
I must have developed this “habit” from my paternal Grandmother… the greatest little fund-raiser Brooklyn ever had. She knocked on doors for nickels and dimes to help starving Jewish families with food and shelter. Her memorial is called THE YETTA SILBERMAN HELPING HAND SOCIETY. It is supported by many successful lawyers, judges, doctors and business men to this very day.
This “habit” is like being in love. It never leaves your heart or mind.
It can never make anyone poorer. You just have to work that much harder and longer to feed a habit like this.
I firmly believe sharing and helping should be done while you have the mental, physical and financial strength to do it… all generated by your own sincere desires, emotions and motivations… you’ve gotta by you! You just gotta be you… to stand up and be counted when called upon… to do your share and enjoy the art-of –sharing. You can call it an endowment or a gift of nature.
Generosity expands you; it builds you up, it stiffens your spine. It’s much easier to be generous than to expect gratitude or lots of thanks for your generosity or philanthropies. It is indeed more blessed to share than to receive, to be sure.
I want to be around to smell the sweet fragrance of a good name while I’m able to smell and see the fruitful results of helping and sharing with those who need so very much – in this topsy – turvy world of ours! And if you have the name you must play the game… for all it’s worth to you… and to exercise natural endowment and character.
I often say to myself, “don’t forget, Silberman, how you started, from the time you left high school. Be ever grateful for everything. Keep going as long as you can. Count your blessings. Don’t lose your “habit” or let any trivial or innocuous reason take it away from you. Being a mench (that’s a nice person) is your best and greatest possession.”