Guide to the William Steinitz (1836-1900) Papers ca. 1880s-1990s MG 1638
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The New Jersey Historical Society, Publisher
Inventory prepared by Julia Telonidis, May 2006.
Finding aid encoded by Julia Telonidis. February 2006. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.
Willhelm (later William) Steinitz was born in Prague, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in 1836. He began playing chess at age 12 and moved to Austria in 1858. By the age of 26 he was champion of Vienna and a professional player with a growing reputation.
In 1862 Steinitz played in the London International Chess Tournament and took 6th place. He immediately challenged and defeated Dubois, the fifth place prize winner, in match play. London was becoming an important center for chess, attracting many of the top players in the world, Steinitz settled in London and defeated such notables as Anderssen, Blackburne and Bird in match play during the years 1862-1866.
One of Steinitz’s most formidable opponents was Johannes Zukertort, who he defeated decisively in match play (+7 =4 -1) during 1872. At this time Lowenthal wrote, “Mr. Steinitz may be fairly regarded as the present occupant of the exceptional position formerly held by Mr. Morphy” Another noted player, Amos Burn wrote that Steinitz was “now probably the strongest living player.” In 1883 Steinitz met with Morphy while in New Orleans for a month’s engagement with the New Orleans Chess, Checker, & Whist Club. It is not believed that any games of chess were played between the two.
Steinitz met Zukertort once again at the London International Tournament in 1883. This was the first official tournament to use a mechanical clock to time the games. Zukertort came in first place, defeating Steinitz who finished second.
In 1883 Steinitz immigrated to the United States, first settling in New York. Around 1890, he moved with his wife Caroline to Upper Montclair, New Jersey.
After the London International Tournament of 1883 there was a great deal of contention over who the world’s strongest chess player was. It is reported that while attending a dinner function put on by the Manhattan Chess Club a toast was made to the” World Chess Champion.” Both Steinitz and Zukertort arose from their chairs in acknowledgement of the toast! Clearly a match between the two was needed to settle the question and after a great deal of negotiations the first official World Chess Championship match began in New York in January of 1886. The match was divided into three stages and the winner would be the first player to score ten wins. For the first time, a large demonstration board was used to replay the moves to the crowd of spectators that had gathered to observe the games. At the end of the first stage Zukertort led by four games to one. The second stage was held in St. Louis where Steinitz won several games to pull even at four wins for each player. The third and final stage took place in New Orleans where the match remained close until game 15 when Steinitz went on to win ten games to Zukertort’s five to become the first World Chess Champion.
During the early 1890s Steinitz lived in Upper Montclair, N.J. and commuted not only to his office in New York City, but to Cuba, New York and Canada to defend this title. Steinitz sucessfully defended his title from 1886 to 1894, retaining it in four matches against Zukertort, Mikhail Tchigorin (2 matches), and Isidor Gunsberg. In 1894 and again in 1896, he lost matches against Emanuel Lasker, who became his successor as World Chess Champion.
Besides being the first World Chess Champion, Steinitz is known for adopting a scientific approach to the game. He formulated chess theories in scientific laws and terms. He focused on what we now call the positional elements of chess such as pawn structure, space, and outposts for knights. He perfected a new method of play and was a profound influence on other chess players. He was also the editor of the U.S. based International Chess Magazine in the 1880’s. Steinitz became a U.S. citizen on November 23, 1888, having resided for five years in New York, and he legally changed his first name from Wilhelm to William.
Steinitz was the first chess player to make his living as a chess player through tournaments, and matches, as well as his chess writing and magazine work, yet the money he earned did not allow him to live comfortably and he continued to play chess well after he had reached his prime. In his later years, he had a mental breakdown and spent the last year of his life in several New York area mental hospitals. He died in an impoverished state on August 12, 1900 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
This collection consists of the documents accumulated by researcher, author, and Steinitz descendant Kurt Landsberger, who wrote two books on William Steinitz. It includes many letters and postcards written by Steinitz to various people, regarding the subject of chess and specific chess matches. Each letter is accompanied by a short explanatory note, taken from an original inventory list provided by Landsberger.
There are also several photographs of Steinitz, and other prominent chess players of the era, including Steinitz’s opponent, Emanuel Lasker. Many of the images were reproduced in the Landsberger book, The Steinitz Papers: Letters and Documents of the First World Chess Champion. In addition there are original ephemera and reproductions of ephemera, including a broadside advertisement for a chess match against Lasker and colorful postage stamps from various countries depicting Steinitz and other prominent chess players. There is biographical information from periodical articles, as well as original newspaper clippings and materials written in languages such as Russian and German.
There are no access restrictions on this collection.
Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.
Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.
The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which
This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 1638, William Steinitz Papers, The New Jersey Historical Society.
Donated by Kurt Landsberger, 2006.
Landsberger, Kurt. The Steinitz Papers: Letters and Documents of the First World Chess Champion.Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Co., 2002.
Landsberger, Kurt. William Steinitz, Chess Champion : A Biography of the Bohemian ceasar. Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Co., 1996.
“Wilhelm Steinitz” Chess World Champions. 10 May 2006. <http://www.chesscorner.com/worldchamps/steinitz/steinitz.htm>
“Wilhelm Steinitz” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 10 May 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wilhelm_Steinitz&oldid=52227794>