Claude Maxwell “Max” Stanley was born on June 16, 1904, in Corning, Iowa, bearing the name of his father who was a soldier, lawyer, and public servant. As he grew up, Max insisted that Claude was his father's name and preferred to go by Max.
Max enrolled in the University of Iowa in 1922 to pursue a degree in engineering, a subject he had always been passionate about. He graduated in 1926 with a degree in general engineering and became a structural designer for Byllesby Engineering and Management Corporation in Chicago.
In 1927, Max went back to the University of Iowa to work on design and construction at the Hydraulics Laboratory on the Iowa River. He married Elizabeth “Betty” M. Holthues in November of 1927. The pair moved to Dubuque, where Max continued his work on hydraulics, and they welcomed their first son David.
Max continued his work on hydraulics in Dubuque and Chicago until 1932, when his former professor, Floyd A. Nagler, attracted him to Muscatine. Nagler made Stanley aware of the opportunity to buy into Central States Engineering Company. Using savings and financial assistance from his brother, Max bought 49 percent of interest in the company and became the general manager. He and Betty moved to Muscatine and welcomed their second son Richard, usually called Dick, and their daughter Jane four years later.
During WWII, Maxx became very conflicted and considered seeking a commission in the U.S. military. He watched his father, Claude, fight in the Rainbow Division in WWI, and wondered if he had a duty to follow in his suit. Upon thought and advisement, he decided not to seek a commission, but rather to keep working in consulting engineering and find “war work.” The work included building air bases in Nebraska and the Dakotas; this is how Max found a way to give his effort to the war.
The economy after the war was grim. During the war, Max joined his brother-in-law in starting a kitchen cabinetry business called “Home-O-Nize.” Though, they couldn’t find steel while the war was at its height. As a problem solver, Max wanted to find a way to make this venture work and was relentless in ensuring their investments would not be a lost cause. The company shifted and designed coasters, recipe books, and small items until metal became more available. When they could purchase metal, they began creating filing cabinets and office equipment that sold quickly. The company continued down this path and became “HON,” which later became HNI, as it is known today.
When WWII came to an end, Max was convinced the world needed to find better ways to deal with conflicts and differing views. He understood it was necessary to work with people from many cultures, religions, and countries to accomplish the goals of peace he sought. Betty worked by Max’s side, supporting and agreeing with his beliefs as his mind started turning.
Dave Stanley had ideas of his own after WWII and became involved in the United World Federalists (UWF), a group that sought world peace through enforceable world laws and strengthening the United Nations. While visiting home, he explained the group and its values to his father and asked him to take the time to read a book titled “The Anatomy of Peace” by Henry Reeves to learn more.
Max followed the recommendation and became infatuated with the group. He was convinced of the ideas and worked to strengthen and improve the United Nations. He believed the people may not be ready for UWF, so he began the Stanley Foundation in 1956.
Max’s children believed that one of his main talents was his ability to pose a problem and find a way to solve it. This quality led Max to start the Stanley Foundation, as a catalyst for the change he felt was necessary in the world.
The Stanley Foundation served as an avenue for Betty and Max to donate charitable support to other organizations working in the field. The Foundation began to gain national attention in the early 60s at a conference in New York. Business and government officials were invited to talk about how the US should move forward in the Cold War. The conference became known as the “Strategy for Peace.” The second conference was held in 1961 near Washington, D.C. and was organized by the Stanley Foundation. The Foundation continues to hold the Strategy for Peace conference annually. The conference aligns around U.S. foreign policy issues.
To educate Americans on what other countries’ press was reporting about foreign policy, the Stanley Foundation published a magazine called The World Press Review. It allowed American citizens to gain a global understanding of world issues and policy. The magazine was published until 2003.
In 1965, Max had another idea that the foundation began to implement: the United Nations of the Next Decade Conference (UNND). 1965 marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of the UN, and a commemorative session was planned to celebrate the years of work. Max knew many influential people who would be attending this session, and he wanted to take the opportunity to look towards the future with them. He organized a seminar immediately after the commemorative session that discussed the future direction of the UN. UNND continued until 2008.
The Stanley Foundation continues to thrive today as the “Stanley Center for Peace and Security.” It is still headquartered in Muscatine but works on a global stage. It focuses on three issue areas: climate change, nuclear weapons, and mass violence and atrocities.
Betty took an interest in African art on trips to Liberia with Max. She bought pieces and brought them home, where Max also took an interest. He studied African art alongside experts and purchased more pieces. The Stanleys amassed one of the three largest African art collections in the United States, which is now on display at the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art.
Max was a global citizen living in a local setting. His opinion was not only valued but sought after at the UN meetings he attended. His lasting legacy still shapes the work of the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. His life demonstrates the importance of various opinions sitting at the same table to discuss - even in rural communities like ours.
Read: Max: A Biography of C. Maxwell Stanley, Engineer, Businessman, World Citizen