By Tracy McIntosh
Ernst Georg Roth, my great-grandfather, was born in Neckargartach, Germany, on February 11, 1857. He went to the public schools, later the Gymnasium at Schwaebisch Hall. he completed his education at the Polytechnic Institute at Stuttgart, one of the finest schools of the empire. He was graduated from there in 1879 as a civil engineer. In 1879-1880 he served his required military duty.
When he was 24 years old he saw America as the land of golden opportunity, and in 1881 came to Mexico with little money in his pocket. For five years his headquarters was in Mexico City, where he was employed by the railway building new lines across undeveloped country. The last three years he was a bridge and track engineer for the Mexican Central Railway.
In 1886 he left the undeveloped country of Mexico and went to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he entered the building department of the Chicago, Burlington, and Northern Railroad. He stayed in St. Paul only one year. In 1887 he came to LaSalle County, Illinois, surveying for what is known as the Illinois Valley and Northern Railroad. When the survey was completed he remained as resident engineer in charge of construction from the west end of Peru to the Vermillion River.
His next job was with the Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company, in the capacity of engineer. But his inclination was for railroading and he left the zinc plant after six months work to take up employment with the Toledo, St. Louis, and Kansas City Railroad as a draftsman. In his six months' work for the zinc company, he made a lasting impression, particularly with Frederick William "F.W." Matthiesen, one of the industrial leaders of his time. In June 1889, Mr. Matthiessen bought a small defunct clock factory in Peru, Illinois, and he called Mr. Roth to manage it for him. When he came to the clock works in 1889, he was 32 years old.
Matthiessen married Frances "Fannie" Clara Moeller, who was the aunt and namesake of Ernst's wife, Fannie. Fannie Moeller Matthiessen's sister Ida Wilhelmina Louise Fredericka Moeller was married to Frederick Julius Gillmann.
In 1922, upon the death of Capt. George P. Blow, he became the president as well as general manager, which two offices he held until the time of his death in 1924. (This clock factory became known as Westclox.) In 1888, he married Frances Wilhelmina "Fannie" Gillmann."
Fannie Nadler Green (one of his granddaughters) also wrote that "In addition to (his) Westclox interests, he was president and general manager of the LaSalle Tool Company; president of the Peru State Bank; vice-president of the Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company; and president of the Board of Trustees of the Tri-City Hygienic Institute. In his later years, somewhat as a hobby, he purchased a 430-acre dairy farm north of Peru along with his son-in-law, Godhard T.O. Becker, for a model dairy plant."
His grandchildren called him Grandpa (schwa a and soft th) Roth.
By Tracy McIntosh
Here is some information about Westclox founder Frederick W. Matthiessen. His wife was the aunt of Georg Ernst Roth (Ernst G., as he called himself).
From the Biographical and Genealogical Record of LaSalle Co., IL:
"Frederick W. Matthiessen, secretary of the Matthiessen & Hegeler Zinc Company, LaSalle, Illinois, is a native of Germany, born in 1835. He was educated in Germany and graduated in mining engineering at the University of Freiberg, in that country. Mr. Matthiessen and E.C. Hegeler were fellow students at the Univ. of Freiberg , and in 1857 they came to the United States together. Their purpose was to gain practical experience in mining engineering, and accordingly went to Mineral Point, Wisconsin. While at that place they observed the great waste of zinc ore, and conceived the idea of engaging in the smelting of zinc. They came to LaSalle, Illinois, in 1858, and their first operations were hardly more than experimental, the ore being obtained from Wisconsin. As soon as the success of the venture was demonstrated, the works were enlarged, again and again enlarged, until to-day the Matthiessen & Hegeler Zinc Company operate the largest plant in the United States, with several millions of dollars invested and a business that has steadily increased until it has reached an enormous volume. In 1866 the rolling-mill department was added. In 1874 the company began to mine its own coal, of which an enormous quantity is necessarily used. Thus it is observed that many coal miners have found employment through the company. A large number of workmen are employed in the zinc works, and to this industry the growth of LaSalle is largely indebted. Of the Matthiessen & Hegeler Zinc Company it can be truthfully said to its credit that workmen have been well paid for their labor and have been in more than one way shown consideration. Among the laborers employed no strike was ever inaugurated.
In 1881 the company began the manufacture of sulphuric acid, and in this department of the business wonderful progress has been achieved and an immense volume of profitable business transacted. The zinc ore is brought principally from Missouri. First it is desulphurized in the acid works, where tons of acid are made daily. Then the process of smelting takes place, and many tons of spelter are produced each day, and rolled in the rolling-mills into sheet zinc. The first street railway in LaSalle, which was nominally owned by an independent company, was really an appendage to the zinc works, Messrs. Matthiessen and Hegeler paying a certain sum annually for the use of the tracks for the purpose of conducting freight to and from the works.
The zinc company was incorporated in 1871, Messrs. Matthiessen and Hegeler holding the greater part of the stock, the latter president and former secretary.
Mr. Matthiessen has been and is connected with and interested in serveral other business enterprises. He was interested in the LaSalle Pressed Brick Compnay and now has interest in the Western Clock Manufacturing Company, of LaSalle. In the growth and development of LaSalle no other citizen has taken greater interest than has he. The city owns a fine electic light plant and water works system, which was gained through the generosity of Mr. Matthiessen, who purchased and gave them to the city. Educational facilities in LaSalle have been increased through his manifested interest and efforts, assisted by other progressive citizens. From 1887 to 1897, a period of ten years, he served as mayor of the city, and declined further election to this office.
In his personal relations Mr. Matthiessen is unostentatious and considerate. In business affairs, to his foresight and sagacity, his extraordinary success may well be attributed. His has been a business career well rounded with success.
In 1864 Mr. Matthiessen married Fannie Clara Moeller, in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. "
He established a smelter in LaSalle, Illinois, and produced zinc ("prospered hugely in the manufacture of casings for the cartridges that were used to destroy thousands of his new countrymen during the Civil War.") He came to own the Western Clock Company, which later became General Time Corporation. He was a leader of the development of the town and a benefactor to many causes. Mayor of LaSalle, 1887-1897.
He and his associate in the zinc mining, Edward C. Hegeler, both donated money to help found St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the city of La Salle.
From the book, "History of La Salle County, Illinois" -- Volume 1, p. 298; by M.C. O'Byrne, published 1924:
"The Zinc Industry
In 1856 F.W. Matthiessen and Edward C. Hegeler, two young Germans, came to the United States, with a well-defined and fixed determination -- the manufacture of zinc. They landed in Boston, and finally resolved to locate in LaSalle, having concluded that as a producer of coal it was a promising field for their enterprise within a convenient distance of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, a center of zinc mining. The first discovery of coal in the United States was made in Illinois, as shown in the rude outline map of Joliet's first exploration and Margry's account of the voyage. "The said M. Joliet," wrote Margry, "adds that he had set down in his journal an exact description of the iron mines they discovered, as also of the quarries of marble and Cole (sp) pits, and places where they find Salt-Petre, with several other things."
"A Zinc Factory Established
In 1858, two years after their arrival in America, F.W. Matthiessen and E.C. Hegeler established their facyory on the north bank of the Illinois River for hte production of slate zinc, rolled zinc and sulphuric acid. The tonnage of the district is said to exceed that of any other in the state with the exception of Chicago, while the population of the whole county is less than 100,000. The smelting department consists of funaces with a total capacity of more than six thousand retorts, the rolling mill combines three stands of slab rolls, ten fine rolls, and mills for the production of strip zinc. Its acid production is also large, and in all its various departments it employs more than 1,000 men."
Somewhere else in the book it mentions that the mining was of the room and pillar kind.
And elsewhere in the book:
Great Industries of the Twin Cities (La Salle and Peru)
The Matthiessen & Hegeler Zinc Company is one of the mammoth indusgtries which have put La Salle, Illinois, on the map, and its plant is one of the conspicuous features of the city, whose prosperity for many years has depended to a large extent upon the activities at these works. However, the story of their inception and expansion is not a mere record of business prosperity. The founders, two young men of German birth and training, whose names are still carried in the title, came to this country seeking the opportunities which the Old World did not afford and attained success beyond their expectations. What they accomplished by indefatigable diligence, ingenuity, patience, and the application of every resource, is substantially represented by the great establishment in which the production of zinc is carried on at La Salle, affording regular employment to many residents of that place, and drawing in its wake a tide of incidental business that swells the total sum of commercial transactions at that place considerably.
This business was started some sixty years ago. It was in April, 1857, that F.W. Matthiessen and Edward C. Hegeler, who had been doing some preliminary experimenting in this line in their native land, sailed thence for Boston, Massa-chusetts, from which city they went on to New York. Their investigations in the field which interested them led them to Friedensville, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, in the vicinity of Bethlehem, where attempts had been made to produce zinc from the ore deposits found there. Though the ore was a fine silicate, these experiments had not been successful, and after a careful examination the young men came to the conclusion that it would be difficult to obtain the metal, but the opportunity to test their skill could not be resisted, and after a number of trials the zinc was produced. They had been obliged to do this work at their own expense, and after accomplishing what they set out to do, they found that the company was still suffering from the panic of 1857 to such an extent that it could not spare the necessary capital to equip a smelter, in addition to the works, for the manufacture of zinc white. As the concern owned only one mine, which was being drawn upon to supply the paint works, Messrs. Matthiessen and Hegeler felt that there would be considerable risk in depending upon it for ore deposits in large enough quantity to make the undertaking profitable for any length of time, and accordingly they began to look around for another place to invest their means. Having learned of the discovery of zinc ore in the West, they decided to investigate the deposits in southeastern Missouri and Wisconsin, meantime spending a few months at Pittsburgh, to familiarize themselves with the requirements of the American market and American business methods. They were interested in the southeastern Missouri mines as being accessible to the coal regions about East St. Louis, Illinois, which seemed a likely location for a smelter, the fact that it takes about two tons of coal to smelt one ton of zinc ore being a factor which has to be taken into serious consideration in this business. The coal tonnage being greater than that of the ore, it has been found most economical to establish the smelters near the fuel supply. The Missouri ore was satisfactory, but political considerations made it unadvisable to start operations there, so in the spring of 1858 they explored the possibilities of the Wisconsin deposits. Zinc ore had been discovered at Mineral Point, in the latter state, and the nearest point at which coal was available being La Salle, Illinois, that fact determined the location, which was doubly attractive because of its convenience to the markets, railroads at that time being few, and the canal the most dependable way of transportation.
The undertaking was well received by the people of La Salle. Local business men were quick to perceive the advantages of the presence of an extensive industrial establishment and gave the project substantial encouragement, the late Alexander Campbell exerting himself to obtain the necessary ground space and assist the young men to make a satisfactory contract with the Illinois Central Railroad Company, the site being near its tracks.
The first furnace built was a little north of the present furnaces, of firebrick brought from St. Louis and shipped to La Salle by boat, excavation being started December 24, 1858, and continued with all possible speed. It is unlikely that either the townspeople or the proprietors had any idea of the magnitude of the enterprise upon which they had embarked, nor did its possibilities appear in their true proportions for some years afterward.
The factory was in successful operation when the Civil war broke out, and the demand for the product ceased, dying down to such an extent that the works had to be closed temporarily, though the owners improved the opportunity to conduct their experiments which enabled them to introduce decided improvements when business was renewed. About 1862-63 a lively reaction took place, with the call for zinc in the manufacture of arms and cartridges, marking the beginning of development in the size and scope of the works, which continued until they became one of the largest in the world in this line.
Messrs. Matthiessen and Hegeler were somewhat hampered by lack of capital in the early years, being restricted to necessary expenditures, and they kept their affairs on a solid basis, weathering several panics successfully, and managing their industrial and financial details so skilfully as to avoid disaster during a number of periods of depression. Their success has been a record of progress throughout.
The works occupy a tract of 120 acres, and there are over 200,000 square feet of floor space in the vast establishment, housed in a number of buildings specially constructed for their individual needs -- one crusher, smelting furnaces, acid works, rolling mill, and handsome office building. The company operates its own coal mines. Pig and sheet zinc are the main products, and, in line with modern commercial economy, several by-products also are turned out, chief among which is sulphuric acid, whose manufacture was begun in 1882, this company being the first in the United States to enter this branch. Almost a hundred tanks cars of tenty to fifty tons' capacity, are used in distributing the product to customers, which includes manufactures of various kinds.
The present officers of the Matthiessen & Hegeler Company are: C.B. Lihme, president; Mrs. Mary Hegeler Carus, vice president; F.W. Matthiessen, Jr., secretary; C.H. Nichol, treasurer; Joseph Brenneman, general manager."
According to the Peru, IL, Centennial book, FW gave the hospital money to create an isolation hospital for contagious diseases.
From Margy Baldau Grosswendt (1-2015), whose maternal grandfather was John Dewitt Lent, also associated with Westclox. J.D.'s second wife was Mildred Roth Nadler, who was the daughter of Ernst Roth:
Frederick Mathiessen and Edward Hegeler were high school chums in Germany, becoming highly-educated engineers there. They are truly in the mega-rich German-American industrialist category, but they were very different. Upon arriving in America in the mid-1800s, they looked for locations for their zinc factory for almost a year, but wound up in La Salle for the river, the canal, the coal nearby, and the zinc. They set up business as the Mathiessen & Hegeler Zinc Works in 1857. By 1880 this was the largest zinc company in the U.S. Mathiessen buys the Peru clock factory in 1888 as a side interest. He soon hires our great-grandfather Ernst Roth, who too is a German-American. One of the criticisms of M&H Zinc is that they seemed to frequently hire these recent immigrants from Germany. While Mathiessen buys the clock factory in 1888, his partner Edward C. Hegeler (1835-1910) opens up a publishing company in La-Salle Peru in 1887 by the name of Open Court Publishing. Hegeler has 10 kids and lives in a huge mansion in LaSalle operated to this day as the Hegeler-Carus museum, described now as an American center of philosophical, scientific, and religious dialogue. Paul Carus 1852-1919 (amazing bio: he brought the Eastern traditions of Buddhism and Taoism to the attention of Americans for the first time, was a pioneer in the promotion of interfaith dialogue) leaves Germany in 1884 because of his liberal views and is hired by Edward Hegeler to run Open Court Publishing right in LaSalle - in the Hegeler mansion! Paul Carus marries the boss' daughter, Mary Carus, who has another equally amazing bio, first woman to graduate from the Univ of Michigan in engineering, runs her father's interests after his death, she dies 17 years after Paul, in 1936. Paul and Mary Carus have six children, most of whom are alive: they were the ages of our parents. Marjorie and Jane remember the Carus children; Blouke, one of their sons, still lives in Peru and had an incredible career running Open Court Publishing (sold in 2011) responsible among other things for publishing Cricket and Ladybug children's magazines. I mention all of this as it is the Carus family who brought enormous cultural resources in the music and arts to LaSalle-Peru during our grandparents and parents' day: this is how the great modern dance teacher that Marjorie and Jane so loved, Mabel Katherine Pearse, happened to come to Peru, through the Carus family.
One of Matthiessen's descendants is author Peter Matthiessen.
By Tracy McIntosh
John DeWitt Lent (J.D.), went to Yale University, but did not graduate, as he had to help his family. He probably majored in business and was recruited while still a student by F.W. Matthiessen to work at Westclox.
From Margy Baldau Grosswendt (1-2-2015): More interesting tidbit from Marjorie Lent Garrard and Jane Lent Baldau (J.D.'s still-living daugthers) on our grandmother Mildred:
- when Mildred was 12 (her birthday was in August), she was escorted across the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC along with her siblings Eda and Ernie by J.D. Lent, (her second husband) this would have been in 1900 or 1901. J.D. was a salesman for Westclox in NY. He was told that the big boss (that would be Ernst Roth, Mildred's father and superintendent of Westclox in LaSalle-Peru) family was in town and he (J.D.) was called upon to take Ernst's children across the bridge. (J.D. Lent is later transferred to La-Salle Peru Westclox and marries Ruth Zubron at the age of 33, his first marriage. He often told his children that he could not consider getting married any earlier, as he had to support his mother and sisters. He had finished a year at Harvard and would have been in the class of 1901, but had to drop out to take care of his family.