Lessing went to work for Sears in 1911 as a shipping clerk, and in 1920, was given the responsibility of opening a catalog supply center for the growing mail-order company in Philadelphia. He resided for many years in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. Succeeding his father, he was chairman of Sears from 1932 until 1939 when he dedicated himself full-time to collecting rare books and art.
Rosenwald was a Jewish supporter of the America First Committee, which advocated American neutrality in World War II before the attack on Pearl Harbor and was led by his successor at Sears and lifelong friend Robert E. Wood. He resigned from the committee's board in December 1940 over concerns about anti-Semitism. In the 1940s, he was a leader in a short-lived movement among American Jews against the creation of Israel. The group, a minority among the community, feared that the formation of a Jewish state "would make the larger world ambivalent toward Jews" and question their loyalties. In 1943, Rosenwald accepted the invitation to become President of the American Council for Judaism, an association of anti-Zionist Reform Jews, a position he held until 1955; after that he remained Chairman of the Board. During this time Rosenwald was also active in rescue efforts of European Jews and urged the United States to admit large numbers of refugees, both Jew and Gentile. (Rosenwald Collection in the Library of Congress.) (Rosenwald's Proposal to President Truman)
Fortunately for U.S. chess, Rosenwald was also a chess enthusiast and donated money to support American chess. He sponsored the U.S. Chess Championships in the 1950s and was a co-founder of the American Chess Foundation.The first of a series of invitational tournaments sponsored Rosenwald was held in 1954. The goal was to provide young US masters strong competition at home with the long-term aim of improving US performance in international events.
The initial plan was to have the Rosenwald Trophy rotate each year until a player had won it three times. The fourth Rosenwald tournament would double as the US championship and it turned out to be Bobby Fischer's first US championship.
In the first Rosenwald tournament in 1954/55 the first half was held at the Manhattan Chess Club and was directed by Hans Kmoch. The second half was held at the Marshall Chess Club and was directed by Al Horowitz. Reuben Fine was originally invited, but by then he was out of chess and declined. Robert Byrne was also invited but decided against playing because of his graduate studies. James Sherwin was selected as Byrne's replacement.
The winner was Samuel Reshevsky who had dominated US championship tournaments from the very first one in 1936 until Bobby Fischer arrived on the scene in 1957. Reshevsky had won every championship he entered with the exception of the 1951 event, which was won by Larry Evans. The first Rosenwald tournament was a double round event, and Reshevsky jumped out to a comfortable lead in the first half by scoring 4.5 – 0.5. The featured game given below was significant because it was Reshevsky’s first loss to an American player since 1951. Despite this loss Reshevsky held the lead and won the event easily. Bisguier finished third on the strength of an impressive 4.5 – 0.5 in the second half.
1-Samuel Reshevsky 7.5 – 2.5
2-Larry Evans 6.5 – 3.5
3-Arthur Bisguier 6 - 4
4-Donald Byrne 5 - 5
5-James Sherwin 3 -7
6-George Kramer 2 - 8