It is no secret that the 1830s were the beginning of the long struggle to unify the German states into a single country, especially in 1834 with the Zollverein - the Germans Custom Union. But with a series of wars and the start of the German Revolutions in 1848, many families chose to leave the tumultuous violence for the calmer lands of the American Wild West.
A Blacksmith in Prussia
Martin and Elizabeth Wehrle lived in Rheinberg, Prussia (Germany) where Martin worked as a blacksmith and moulder. After the beginning of the Revolutions, the family immigrated to the United States and in 1849 settled in Newark, Ohio. Martin and his wife Elizabeth had a total of 10 children, only 4 made it to adulthood - Catherine, Elizabeth, Anna, and Joseph Christian born in Prussia on March 3, 1836.
Joseph knew his father’s trade and was fairly good at it. But in order to fill in a point of necessity in their new home in Ohio, Joseph opened a grocery store in 1859 on Fifth Street in Newark. Then the American Civil War broke out in April 1861, and the Wehrle family were once again faced with a country in turmoil.
The American Civil War
People today have a lot of thoughts on the Civil War, but the general contemporary belief at the time leaned to the Confederacy was a traitorous endeavor by the spoiled, and should be a problem easily resolved in a matter of months. Of course, once a 'quick resolution' failed to occur, men in the United States felt compelled to serve in the U.S. Army, causing a spike in enlistments from September to November of 1961. Joseph was one of these men, enlisting on October 17, 1861 and was appointed 2nd Lieutenant of Company E, Seventy-sixth Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
As an avid Republican and supporter of President Lincoln, Lt. Wehrle recruited and organized Company E at his own expense “for the preservation of the Union without which our country might now be at the mercy of every faring adventurer at home, and the diplomatic center of every foreign power that might wish to use it for their ambitions,” according to Father B.M. O’Boylan in the Catholic Columbian, Oct. 14, 1907, p 8 (link: last paragraph of page 50). For his efforts, Wehrle was commissioned as the Company’s Captain.
There is no way I could compile all of victories of the 76th OVI and Captain Wehrle’s unit in the Mississippi Valley, up the Yazoo River, into Haines Bluffs, Louisiana, the Vicksburg campaign, Taylor Ridge, and Ringgold Ridge. During the service time from February 1862 to July 1865, the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry saw action in an estimated 44 battles across eleven Confederate States. For all of that, I will refer you to the 76th OVI's Facebook page.
A War Hero Returns
Captain Wehrle was discharged on October 28th, 1864 and upon returning home to continue his work in groceries, and married “one of the sweetest girls in Licking County,” according to Col. W.B. Woods in a letter to Captain Wehrle (below) named Philomena Morath on February 9, 1865.
While his wife was busy with their 12 children, Captain Wehrle was active in Newark’s business life being the first Secretary of the Home Building Association, and starting the first German Maennerchor (social club) in Newark.
Burning the Home Fires
Around this time, Blandy Machine Works went out of business and a man by the name of John Moser purchased the facility. In 1883, Joseph Wehrle invested in the business and became partners in the newly formed Moser-Wehrle Stove Company producing coal and wood stoves made from a mixture of 95% iron and 5% steel. 1889 the company moved their production to a site between Wilson Street and the railroad to take advantage of the new railway system. Joseph’s sons had become involved in the business and in January of 1890, Moser sold his stock to Wehrle, and the factory became known as Moser, Wehrle and Company and operated as "Wehrle Works."
Captain Wehrle was only president for 3 months before falling ill with pneumonia and died on March 31st. He was 54 years old. His youngest sons took over the business and in 1903 incorporated the Wehrle Stove Company… which brings us to this stove entry found here in a 1910 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog.
The Wehrle Stove Company
Starting from 1904, the Wehrle Stove Company began to expand their enterprise with the purchase of Atlas Safe Company of Fostoria that manufactured fire-proof safes. They grew to a company that employed over 2,200 people, had 2 miles of private rail road to cater to their massive foundry, and garnered a contract with Sears, Roebuck and Company of Chicago, producing over 600 stoves a day, making it the largest stove manufacturer in the country.
Acme Stove was known for their “vapor stoves” and incorporated as the Acme Stove and Light Company in 1900. In working with Sears, Roebuck and Company, Wehrle produced a variety of cast products that were designed by other companies. One of these was the “Acme Rustic Glory,” described in the advertising above as a “cottage heater with handsome ornamented mica front” for “a brilliant illumination” and a “cheerful glow.”
One of these beautiful stoves happened to find its way into our shop and it is quite a stunning piece to look at. You can find out more about this particular stove found in our shop.
Fun Facts about Sears, Roebuck and Company
There seems to be this push by Sears, Roebuck and Company (est. 1893) to combine several companies into one large foundry bearing the name of “Sears, Roebuck and Company,” and you can find “Sears” foundry illustrations that look suspiciously similar to the Wehrle factory found at the top of this page. Even though a combination of design/manufacturing/sales occurred under the Sears umbrella, a union of the companies never occurred.
Thanks to their catalog shopping, Black and Native Americans could buy anything they needed for their home and have it delivered without enduring targeted racism. This was an extremely profitable situation for Sears, Roebuck and Company. To capitalize off of that, it appears that Sears wanted to be the one-stop shop for EVERYTHING a person would need for their home from clothes, household items, appliances, and even homes themselves. The situation of an Acme Stove being made by Wehrle and sold by Sears with an attempt to have Sears, Roebuck own ALL OF IT is just one example of this.
At one point, Sears had such a massive operation, one in 204 Americans worked with the company. The concept of a massive all-in-one shopping experience was most influential after the 2nd World War in propelling the rise of the “middle class” with affordable but well-made household items. But then came the eventual downfall of the mercantile giant. Even with slow deterioration, it took about 50 years before Sears succumbed to another company with the exact same concept with a very similar structure: Amazon.com