Milton Meltzer (May 8, 1915 – September 19, 2009) was an American historian and author best known for his history nonfiction books on Jewish, African-American and American history. Since the 1950s, he was a leading author of history books in the children's literature and young adult literature genres, having written more than 100 books. He won the biennial Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his career contribution to American children's literature in 2001.
Meltzer was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to Benjamin and Mary Meltzer, semi-literate immigrants from Austria-Hungary. One of three sons, Meltzer was the only child to graduate from high school, furthering his education at Columbia University from 1932 to 1936, he had to drop out of college before graduating to support his family after his father died of cancer. Meltzer became a writer for the Works Project Administration, a program designed by the Federal Government to provide jobs for the millions of unemployed during the Great Depression.
Meltzer wed Hilda "Hildy" Balinky on June 22, 1941. After serving in the Army during World War II, Meltzer was a writer for the CBS radio broadcasting network and later a public relations executive for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. While traveling the country for Pfizer, Meltzer did research at historical societies, local archives and museums and collected nearly 1,000 illustrations to begin a career writing history books with a focus on social justice. Meltzer co-authored with Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes, A Pictorial History of the Negro in America published in 1956.
Meltzer's books often chronicled struggles for freedom, such as the American Revolution, the antislavery movement of the nineteenth-century United States, and the movement against antisemitism. He wrote several biographies, including ones of Langston Hughes and Thomas Jefferson, and though most of his books are nonfiction, he wrote at least one historical novel, The Underground Man, about a white abolitionist in the 1800s United States who is imprisoned for helping escaped slaves. Meltzer won several awards for single books and career achievements. In 2003 he received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the professional children's librarians, which recognizes a living author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made "a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children". The committee noted that he "continues to be a model for informational writing today" and cited four works in particular: Brother Can You Spare a Dime?; Ten Queens; All Times, All Peoples; and The Jewish Americans.
The two books by Meltzer most widely held in WorldCat participating libraries are Never to Forget: the Jews of the Holocaust (1976) and Rescue: the story of how gentiles saved Jews in the Holocaust (1988). The latter is classified as juvenile literature and was soon published in a German-language edition.
Meltzer was an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a lecturer at universities in the United States and England, as well as professional meetings and seminars. He did work on various documentary films such as History of the American Negro and Five.
Meltzer served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, where he served as an air traffic controller and rose to the rank of sergeant.
- Starting from Home: A Writer's Beginnings (Viking Kestrel, 1988)
- Milton Meltzer: Writing Matters (Franklin Watts, 2004)
- A Pictorial History of the Negro in America, Langston Hughes and Meltzer (1956)
- 3rd ed. revised by C. Eric Lincoln and Meltzer (1968)
- 4th revised ed., A Pictorial History of Black Americans, by Hughes, Meltzer, and Lincoln (Crown, 1973)
- Mark Twain Himself: a pictorial biography (1960)
- In Their Own Words: a history of the American Negro, editor (Crowell, 1964–1967), 3 vols.
- Black Magic: a pictorial history of the Negro in American entertainment, Langston Hughes and Meltzer (1967); later title, Black Magic: a pictorial history of the African-American in the Performing Arts
- Bread—and Roses: The Struggle of American Labor, 1865–1915 (1967)
- Langston Hughes: a biography (1968) — NBA finalist[a]
- Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?: The Great Depression, 1929–1933 (1969)
- Remember the Days (1974) — NBA finalist[a]
- World of Our Fathers (1974) — NBA finalist[a]
- Never to forget: The Jews of the Holocaust (1976)
- Dorothea Lange: a photographer's life (1978)
- The Human Rights Book (1979)
- The Black Americans: A History in Their Own Words, 1619–1983 (Crowell, 1984), 306 pp
- Ain't Gonna Study War No More: a story of America's peace seekers (1985)
- The American Revolutionaries: A History in their own words, 1750–1800 (1987)
- Benjamin Franklin: the new American (1988)
- Rescue: The Story of How Gentiles Saved Jews in the Holocaust (1988)
- Voices From the Civil War: a documentary history of the great American conflict (1989)
- Columbus and the World Around Him (1990)
- The Amazing Potato: a story in which the Incas, Conquistadors, Marie Antoinette, Thomas Jefferson, wars, famines, immigrants, and french fries all play a part (1992)
- Ten Queens: a portrait of women of power (1998)
- There comes a time: the struggle for civil rights (2001)
- Hear That Whistle Blow!: how the railroad changed the world (2004)
- All Times, All Peoples: A World History of Slavery
- Edgar Allan Poe: a biography
- Margaret Sanger: pioneer of birth control (co-author)
- Milestones to American Liberty
- Nathaniel Hawthorne: a biography
- Starting From Home
- The Jewish Americans: A History in Their Own Words
- Thomas Jefferson: The Revolutionary Aristocrat
- Thoreau: People, Principles and Politics
- George Washington and the Birth of Our Nation
- "Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, Past winners". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). American Library Association (ALA).
"About the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
- "The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal". ALSC. ALA. 2001. Archived from the original on 2002-02-19. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
- New York Times: Milton Meltzer, Prolific Author, Dies at 94
- Milton Meltzer obituary (School Library Journal) Archived February 29, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- Milton Meltzer papers archived at the University of Oregon
- Worcester Area Writers - Milton Meltzer.
- Guide to the Milton Meltzer Papers 1955–1973, Special Collections, University of Oregon — with biographical notes
- "'It Was a Wildly Exciting Time': Milton Meltzer Remembers the New Deal's Federal Theatre Project" at History Matters
- (2001 ...) Award acceptance speeches in libraries (WorldCat catalog) — audiobook including the Wilder speech by Meltzer
- Milton Meltzer at The Worcester Writers Project
- Milton Meltzer at Bookrags