Philip Morris Klutznick was born on July 9, 1907, in Kansas City, Missouri. His parents, Morris and Minnie, had emigrated from Poland two years earlier.
Klutznick graduated from Manual High School in Kansas City in 1924. He attended Kansas University in Lawrence and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln before moving to Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska in 1926. He received a J.D. from Creighton Law School in 1930.
In 1924, Klutznick participated in the formation of the second chapter of the Jewish fraternal youth organization Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA). He became Grand Aleph Godol (President) of the expanding organization, now sponsored by local lodges of B'nai B'rith, in 1925. Following his service at the head of AZA, Klutznick was employed for several years as Secretary to its Supreme Advisory Council. Klutznick retained his ties to both AZA and the individuals he met during its early years throughout his life. In 1940, he became the first member of AZA to hold a major leadership post within B'nai B'rith, when he was elected President of District 6, which covered a large portion of the Midwest, including Omaha and Chicago.
Klutznick first put his legal education to work in the Omaha law firm of Fradenberg, Stalmaster and Beber. In 1933, he became Assistant to the city's Corporation Council. In this post, he worked to encourage city officials to take advantage of New Deal funding for housing, slum clearance and public works.
Klutznick entered federal government service in the mid-1930s as an Omaha-based Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney for Public Lands, focusing on slum clearance programs. In 1940, he served as a consultant to the U.S. Defense Housing Coordinator and in 1941 he moved Washington, D.C. to take a post in the Division of Defense Housing, where he worked to coordinate housing models for communities of defense workers in the Midwest and South, including Oak Ridge, Tennessee, site of atomic bomb production. After a brief service with the Omaha Housing Authority, Klutznick returned to Washington in 1944 as Commissioner of the Federal Public Housing Authority. He held the post until July, 1946, organizing wartime public housing and making plans for the alleviation of post-war housing shortages.
Klutznick left Washington for Chicago, to embark upon a commercial venture that took full advantage of the knowledge and contacts he had gained as a federal housing official. With his partners in American Community Builders (ACB), Klutznick built a new "G.I. town." Park Forest, Illinois, thirty miles outside Chicago, was designed not only to meet the housing needs of returning soldiers and their families, but also to provide a complete and enduring community, with shops, schools and places of worship. Residents were encouraged to take responsibility for planning, zoning and funding their town. Park Forest was incorporated in 1949. In 1953, it was the focus of a series of articles in Fortune magazine, later expanded by author William Whyte into a book, Organization Man (1956). Whyte presented Park Forest as the model of a new sort of community, with a social structure determined by the transience of its young residents and the pre-planned nature of their new home.
Klutznick and ACB went on to work in partnership with Marshall Field's department stores, building major shopping malls in the Chicago suburbs, including Old Orchard in Skokie (1955) and Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook (1959). In 1962, he sold his shares in ACB and with his son Tom formed Klutznick Enterprises, soon to be replaced by KLC Ventures, Ltd., a partnership with longtime associates Ferd Kramer, Jerrold Loebl, Norman Cohn and Lester Crown. KLC built and managed commercial properties in the Chicago area and in Denver.
In 1968, KLC was succeeded by Urban Investment and Development Company, which gained substantial capital when purchased by Aetna Life and Casualty Company in 1970. Among Urban's projects were "minitowns," small suburban communities sparked by the development of a regional shopping center. New Century Town in Mount Vernon, IL is a notable example. Klutznick retired as Chairman and CEO of Urban in 1972, but remained active in many business ventures, most notably the development of Water Tower Place in downtown Chicago. Water Tower, a pioneering "vertical" (high rise) shopping center, included retail and office space, a hotel and residential units and opened in 1975. As he had done in Park Forest a quarter century earlier, Klutznick moved with his family to his latest residential development.
Klutznick's career in public service advanced along with his success in business. In 1953, he was elected to the first of two three-year terms as President of B'nai B'rith. His presidency focused on strengthening the century-old organization's internal structure and expanding its constituency. He visited B'nai B'rith districts worldwide and worked to strengthen lodges in post-war Europe and Israel. Domestically, he instituted a membership drive, expanded support for youth programs and traveled in southern states to discuss B'nai B'rith support for school desegregation. A highlight of Klutznick's tenure was the financing and building of a permanent headquarters in Washington, D.C. Following his presidency, Klutznick served as chair of the newly-created International Council of B'nai B'rith.
Klutznick was also active in international affairs. In 1957, he served a three-month term as a United Nations delegate. He gained the rank of ambassador as U.S. representative on the UN Economic and Social Council in 1960, working closely with Ambassador Adlai Stevenson II. Klutznick resigned his UN post two years later, contending that a failure to integrate political goals with economic and social needs undermined the effectiveness of international diplomacy. In later years, he remained active in international affairs, completing a survey of Brazilian housing for the Johnson administration, writing and speaking frequently on international issues and working with the United Nations Association of the U.S.A.
Klutznick had a special interest in the Middle East and in U.S.-Israeli relations. As B'nai B'rith President, he traveled to Israel and advocated the use of German reparations funds to support Jewish organizations. He was among the American Jewish leaders to meet with President Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to discuss Middle Eastern policy and events. In 1977, Klutznick became President of the World Jewish Congress, succeeding Nahum Goldman who had led the group since 1949. The WJC, an umbrella organization of Jewish groups, represents the diplomatic interests of the international Jewish community to governments and bodies such as the United Nations. During negotiations that preceded the 1977 Camp David Accords, Klutznick met with Israeli leader Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Jimmy Carter, as well as other U.S. adminstration officials. In 1978, Klutznick initiated a commission headed by Baron Guy de Rothschild to examine the economic implications of Arab-Israeli peace for Israel and the international Jewish community. Another focus of his leadership was Jewish culture, demonstrated in efforts to strengthen and reorganize the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and Beth Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora. Klutznick's service as WJC President was brief. He took a leave of absence upon his appointment as Secretary of Commerce in 1979, and chose to leave the position to his replacement, Edgar Bronfman, after leaving the government.
Klutznick's views on Middle Eastern issues were often controversial in the American and international Jewish communities. He considered himself a Zionist, and a strong defender of Israel, but encouraged dialogue with Arab groups and leaders. In 1975, he served on a "Middle East Study Group," sponsored by the Brookings Institution, which produced a report encouraging both Israeli and Arab concessions and active involvement by the U.S. government. In 1981, he traveled to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and the West Bank as part of a private group to meet with leaders in government, education, military affairs, business and communications, as well as political dissidents. The resulting "Seven Springs Report" attempted to provide a base of knowledge and understanding for the conduct of future negotiations and peace plans. In June, 1982, Klutznick joined with Nahum Goldmann, former President of the World Jewish Congress, and Pierre Mendes-France, former Prime Minister of France, to issue the "Paris Declaration," encouraging an end to Israel's siege of Beirut and negotiation with the PLO to ensure regional peace and security. Klutznick's involvement in each of these reports and statements prompted both widespread support and protest from Jewish organizations and individuals.
In January of 1980, Klutznick began service as Secretary of Commerce under President Jimmy Carter. He had long-standing relationships with Vice-President Walter Mondale and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and his ties to the Carter administration were further strengthened by his significant role in Arab-Israeli peace talks. His appointment was viewed by some critics as an effort to strengthen Carter's status among Jewish voters. Klutznick's tenure was marked by the economic recession and inflation that characterized the later years of the Carter administration, Carter's unsuccessful bid for reelection and the completion of the 1980 census.
After 1980, Klutznick retired from employment in business and government, but remained publicly active. He had a particular interest in education in "Jewish culture and civilization," founding chairs in the subject at Creighton and Northwestern Universities and serving on the boards of organizations such as the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization. He spoke regularly on economic development and housing issues and on international affairs, particularly Middle Eastern relations. Retirement from leadership posts such as the WJC presidency gave Klutznick the opportunity to speak freely on controversial issues, leading to his participation in public statements such as the Seven Springs Report and the Paris Declaration. In Chicago, he was active in civic affairs, serving on several public boards, including Task Forces on the city's steel industry and the Chicago Housing Authority. Klutznick's memoirs, Angles of Vision: Memoirs of My Lives, were published in 1991.
Klutznick married Ethel Riekes in 1930. They had six children, Bettylu, Richard, who died in early childhood, Thomas, James, Robert and Samuel. Ethel Klutznick died in 1996. Philip M. Klutznick died of Alzheimer's disease on August 14, 1999.