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Remembering an industry icon...Howard Bernstein
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Howard Bernstein
Howard Bernstein


Here is the obituary published in the Chicago Tribune on May 20, 2015.

Howard N. Bernstein, 92, Beloved husband of Harriet; devoted father of Lisa (Harry) Millspaugh and Leslie (Richard) Sandler; loving stepfather of Bruce Harwood and Lauren (Larry) Kurzwell; cherished grandfather of Sarah (Chris) Micele, John Millspaugh, Dr. Victoria (Andy) Shlensky, Jeffrey Sandler, Alexander (Sara) Harwood-Karlik, Noahand Jacob Harwood, Matthew and Brian Kurzwell; proud great-grandfather of Evan Micele, Ethan Micele and Laney Shlensky; dear brother of the late Cleo Hagenson.  Howard will be missed by many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.  Vice President of the Palms Springs Air Museum and past president of MHEDA. Funeral service Fri. 11 AM at North Shore Congregation Israel, 1185 Sheridan Rd, Glencoe. Interment Westlawn. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Palm Springs Air Museum, For further information call the Weinstein & Piser Funeral Home at 847 256-5700.

Original Story:

An industry icon has passed at the age of 92. Howard Bernstein, founder and former chairman of the Atlas Companies in Schiller Park died at 10:30 p.m. Monday, May 18, at Evanston Hospital in Chicago, Ill. The funeral will be Friday, May 22 at 11 a.m. at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Ill.

“Howard Bernstein was known by everyone in the material handling industry throughout the world,” said Dean Millius, general manager and publisher of Material Handling Wholesaler. “I first met Howard in February 2000, being new in the material handling industry he told me to stick with him and he’ll introduce me to the industry. We all start at the same place.”

Bernstein loved the material handling industry and spent more than 75 years building his business, but more importantly he built friendships with everyone he met. After leaving the Atlas Companies, Bernstein was passionate about encouraging young people to enter the material handling industry. He even formed the Howard Bernstein Scholarship Fund contributing his own money to launch it. Bernstein mentioned only five universities in the country had courses in distribution, but with this scholarship and the efforts of MHEDA and MHI that list has grown to more than 30 universities with distribution and engineering courses.

Bernstein served as president of MHEDA in 1965 and attended almost every convention.

“Howard was one of the greatest leaders and icons in this industry and an example of someone who truly gave of himself for the betterment of others. He never stopped sharing his gifts of experience and knowledge,” said Liz Richards, executive vice president of MHEDA. “The past few years, Howard passionately worked to help raise the awareness of this industry among students through the establishment of the Howard Bernstein Industrial Distribution Scholarship first by seeding the fund with $150,000 and then tirelessly fund raising within the material handling community bringing in tens of thousands of dollars. His message was about the importance of ‘investment’ in young people. I was fortunate to have worked with Howard on this effort and have had the pleasure of Howard's friendship and mentorship for the past 20 years. The material handling industry has lost a great man.”

Wholesaler Aftermarket columnist John Walker added, “I first met Howard early in the 60s, and in my entire career I have never met a man with the integrity of Howard . . . if he told you something you could count on it.”  

We at Material Handling Wholesaler are heartbroken by the loss of Howard Bernstein, and recognize it is now up to us in the industry to carry on his passion. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Harriet Bernstein and the entire Bernstein family and friends.

Memorials can be sent to any of these organizations that Howard was passionate about.  The Howard Bernstein Scholorship Fund or the Palm Springs Air Museum


Here is a story Material Handling Wholesaler wrote in June 2011 that we thought you may like to read.

Editor’s note: Mr. Howard Bernstein was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 56th Annual MHEDA Convention in May. Fourteen years ago this month, Mr. Bernstein was featured in Material Handling Wholesaler’s “Your Business” column. To celebrate Mr. Bernstein’s Lifetime Achievement Award and recent “unemployment” (he hates the word “retirement”), join Material Handling Wholesaler as we take a look back …

"The best part is the gratification of finding your way in the world on your own," Howard Bernstein said. "It's more fun to start something yourself than to take over something started by your father or somebody else."

Bernstein started something himself that now employs 275 people, another huge gratification, he said.

"That's better than playing golf," said Bernstein, who has no plans to retire. "I find it very rewarding to continue to create" jobs that support families.

Atlas has eight companies: Atlas International Lift Trucks, Atlas Bobcat, Atlas Lift Truck Rentals and Sales, Atlas Lift Truck Chicago, Atlas Lift West, Atlas Material Handling, Mid-Continent Forklifts and Mid-America Propane Co. Atlas sells, services and rents lift trucks, pallet trucks, bobcats, and storage equipment.

It is, according to company brochures, "the power of one source." Together, the companies form the "Atlas Solution Center." It means everything customers need for their warehousing operations.
Choosing the name was easy. "Number one, we wanted it to begin with A, so it would be near the beginning of a directory or list," Bernstein said. And because it focused on material handling, he wanted to indicate strength. Who better than Atlas?

So on April Fool's Day, 1951, Atlas was born in Chicago. He knew "nothing" about the business when he started, he said. He was a salesman for a lumber company, and while selling wooden pallets came into contact with lift truck people. They shared leads for accounts, and as they talked he learned there was a void in the industry - nobody rented lift trucks. With low capital investment, he started his business.

"I was lucky I found it. I came upon it. There was a lot of luck involved," Bernstein said. But there was also a lot of hard work and diligence in developing a good reputation. Especially dealing in used equipment, but in all facets of business, it was vital "to have the highest integrity, so people would have confidence," Bernstein said. "That was very important."

The honesty is a two-way street between sellers and buyers, and between employer and employees, he said. "I take everybody at face value," Bernstein said. "There are charlatans out there, but most people - 99.9 percent - are honest." Would you want to buy a used lift truck from someone you met over the telephone, he asked? That's when the company's credibility is crucial, he said, because much of the work is done by telephone, nationally and internationally. And "there's not that much difference between my lift truck and somebody else's."

The difference is the people at the company. His sister, Cleo Hagenson, worked for the company for more than 30 years. "It was very important to her. She was a widow with little children." The job provided for her family. Pallets became her niche. The company handles pallet racks, pallet rack decking, wire mesh containers, conveyors and shelving.

"I had the experience of pallets, and I turned over pallets to her. She had the benefit of my experience." And he had the benefit of having a trusted family member working with him. 
Growing up, his mother, father, sister and Bernstein were a tight-knit family, he said. "We had complete trust and confidence in each other," he said. Whatever he wanted to do, his parents backed him, sometimes despite normal parental fear for his safety. His mother didn't want him to become a naval aviator in World War II.