The Research Value of Business Records

Documenting Change: Industry and Business in Troy and Rensselaer County, NY

Business records are especially valuable documents. They trace the development of American capitalism: they document the history of technical and managerial innovations, advertising, market development and expansion; they help scholars reconstruct and describe the evolution of labor-management and business-government relations; they preserve the history of unique business and corporate cultures; and they trace the ebb and flow of local and regional economies. Yet the importance of preserving the historical records of American industry – particularly 20th century firms – has unfortunately only recently been widely recognized.

Though American culture, society, and politics have been heavily influenced – some would say “shaped” – by American industry, few local and regional historical societies and museums put much energy into documenting and preserving the records of the economic institutions that were the bedrock of their communities. Few took the time and effort to document the often hidden worlds of innovation, competition, and struggle that lay behind the creation of the material objects they so carefully collected. Similarly, few businessmen and businesswomen recognized the paper treasures that lay mildewing in basement cardboard caskets, or the importance of treasurer’s reports, board-of-directors meeting minutes, memoranda, and transcriptions of labor-management conferences that were filed and forgotten in office or back room file cabinets.

It wasn’t until 1943 that a U.S. corporation – Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. – became the first American company to hire an archivist and initiate an extensive archival program for its records. Then and in the years that followed, only a handful of business leaders recognized what Harvey S. Firestone and his son did – that the preservation of their business’ records fulfilled both a historical as well as a business need. They helped accurately record the historical legacy of their business and aided management in making important decisions related to current and future business problems. Thankfully, in recent decades more and more industrial and business leaders, as well as archivists, have come to share Firestone’s wisdom. Large firms like General Mills, Kraft, Texas Instruments, Philips Petroleum and others have established business archives and hired professionals to maintain them. Historical societies increasingly collect business records. Academic libraries aggressively bid for the privilege of becoming official repositories of corporate archives.

The Rensselaer County Historical Society, in documenting the industrial transformation of Troy and Rensselaer in the post-WWII era, has thus joined a most worthy and important movement. This documentation project reflects the progress made over the last half-century, as well as the work that still needs to be done. It marks the beginning of a long-term effort aimed at remedying a tradition of neglect — a recognition by archivists and industrialists alike that through cooperative efforts the industrial legacy of Rensselaer County will no longer be forgotten or destroyed.

Prof. Gerald Zahavi
University at Albany, SUNY
July 1996

Documenting Change: Project Description and Methodology

Documenting Change: Industry and Business in Troy and Rensselaer County, NY

Troy and Rensselaer both have long histories as centers of industry and commerce that go back to the late 18th century. First the iron and steel industries and then the clothing and textile industries played key roles in the economy of both communities. Beginning around the turn of the 20th century, heavy industries began to move out of the area to be closer to sources of raw materials and cheaper labor. During all phases of their development, these industries shaped not only the economy but also the geography of these cities and the lives of their residents. The records that document the impact of industry and subsequent deindustrialization in Troy and Rensselaer have been largely uncatalogued and, in many cases, unidentified until now. Efforts at revitalization, which began just after World War II and continue today, have taken the form of a fundamental shift away from heavy manufacturing. The industries and other businesses that have slowly filled the gaps left by earlier industries have tended to focus their production in high technology and services like insurance and health care. Institutionally, it has become apparent that RCHS needs to look at this more recent past and at collection materials and documentation that reflect the many changes and groups that have affected the history of the county since World War II. This project adds important information to the base which will be used to assess RCHS’s current collections and future collecting directions during the next few years.

The people who worked for and ran these businesses have formed the bulk of the population of these two communities and have had their own impact on the life of the two cities. The records that document their private lives are generally unavailable for research. Institutional records, however, can provide glimpses of these lives through personnel records, information on production, etc. More importantly, these records can help to identify forces that shaped the communities in terms of labor practices, economic ups and downs and provide a context for the individuals’ lives. The documentation project looked for typical business archival materials including charters, incorporation papers, correspondence files, financial papers, personnel files, advertising materials, photographic records of the firms as well as product information and samples. Smaller firms and firms that did related work for the bigger industries are hard to document and an attempt has been made to locate their records. Equally important is the identification of businesses that have developed to fill the gap left by deindustrialization and newer firms were contacted for information about their records. The Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce has been particularly helpful in identifying firms involved in revitalization.

The first project task was to identify industries that were here just prior to World War II and then identify the ones that stayed open, left the area for other locations afterwards or stopped production altogether. The Project Archivist used the RCHS research library and many other repositories for this background work. Some of the largest firms’ records are in institutions, i.e. Cluett, Peabody & Co., Inc. records are at RCHS. Other firms who have stayed in business, like the Ross Valve Company in Troy, have records that would be valuable research materials but are not currently accessible in any form. Records of newer firms that are part of revitalization efforts, such as some of the high technology firms that began in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s incubator program, have records which they often do not realize are valuable for researchers.

Because records of the recent past are not generally available, the materials surveyed and described in this resource guide add substantially to the body of information available to scholars and others with an interest in the period. When dealing with newer firms that are actively in business there may be some hesitation in providing access to records, particularly for competitive reasons. Access issues were discussed and access notes are provided in the guide. Materials documented in the survey will have a variety of potential uses in terms of immediately adding to the limited information known about post World War II Troy and Rensselaer. They will also be used for RCHS programming at a variety of levels. The results of the survey will be available to any other interested group or individual at the RCHS research library. RCHS also plans to share the results of the survey with the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway in Troy and the City of Rensselaer Historical Society, two organizations that are already involved in this field, and other libraries, town historians and historical societies. In addition, those businesses and organizations that participated in the survey will receive copies of the final report. RCHS plans to mount the guide on its World Wide Web site opening this fall. Finally, it is important to realize that most of these records are still in private or corporate hands. RCHS is committed to working with record holders to help preserve this valuable resource and increase the awareness of their importance today and for years to come.

Stacy Pomeroy Draper, Project Director
Philip B. Eppard, Project Archivist

Ashe Manufacturing Company

Documenting Change: Industry and Business in Troy and Rensselaer County, NY

Historical Note: Ashe Manufacturing was a carding and spinning mill that made woolen cloth and sweaters. It was founded by Patrick Francis Ashe in 1920 and located on Green Street in Rensselaer. After Ashe’s death in 1934, the business was run by his wife and then sold to another mill operator from outside of the area. The mill remained active through World War II and was a major supplier of sweaters and possibly uniform cloth for the United States military. The mill closed in 1948.

Records of Ashe Manufacturing Company have not been located and according to Matthew Ashe, the son of the founder, were presumably discarded. Matthew Ashe has retained some samples of the firm’s products, however.

“Grüß Gott” Acknowledgements

The Rensselaer County Historical Society would like to thank the following individuals and businesses for their generous support of “Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: The German-American Experience.

Freund
Mr. & Mrs. William Engelke
Want Ad Digest

Gönner (Supporter)
Dr. & Mrs. Martin Echt
Karl F. Moschner & Hannelore Wilfert
Dr. Thomas Reimer
Joan G. Sheeran
Mr. & Mrs. Bruce J. Wagner

Erbauer (Builder)
Fred W. Kunz
John E. Hinzelman
Mr. & Mrs. Andy Maier
Christopher Maier & Beth Walsh
Richard G. Permenter
Grassland, Horst Pogge
Pat Henkes Pogge in memory of the Henkes family
Betty Ann (Husser) Ratigan
Dudley & Elizabeth Schneider
Schuhplattler Verein Alpenklang
Charles Thomas, Esq. & Susan Flanigan
Troy German Hall Association

Siedler (Settler)
Badisch American Benefit
Harlan S. Barney, Jr.
Guenther Czakainsky
Daemenverein – Troy German Hall Association
P.W. Goedtel
Fred Kirch, Sr.
Dolores & Karl Kniele
Heinz Kullmann
Bernice Bornt Ledeboer
Ernest E. & Ann Karl Legenbauer
Ursula & Kenneth MacAffer
Bryan Pohlmann
Vernerd Pohlmann
Mr. & Mrs. Walter Pohlmann
Walter H. Speidel

Einwanderer (Immigrant)
William S. Assini
Mark & Rita Backhaus
Mary M. Beierschoder
Eleonore H. Betzwieser
Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Betzwieser
Beukendaal Lodge #915
Don T. Birkmayer
Mr. & Mrs. John Carroll
Elizabeth Kohler Dechene
Mr. & Mrs. Henry Goebel, Jr.
George & Gaby Hamm, Jr.
William L. & Joan Hart
Joanna Kirkpatrick in memory of Frederick Brockman
Dorothy Marschilok
Dr. & Mrs. Edward S. Marschilok
Leo & Beatrice Meichtry
Lotte & James Moore
Mrs. Anna Nirsberger
Roswitha Mueller
Paul & Genevieve Reinhardt
Herbert & Marianna Schmidt
Anton & Roswitha Schwartz
Eva Varady
Larry Vinick
George & Paula Wiesnet
Otto P. Witzleb
Herman Wolfershein & Emily Smith

Andere (Other)
Canstatter Volksfest Verein
Mr. & Mrs. Robert M. Kennedy
Ruth Williams

As of October 20, 1999 German Heritage Project Committee:
Dr. Hannelore Wilfert, Chair
Dr. Thomas Reimer, Exhibit Curator
Don T. Birkmayer
Marie Kennedy
Fred Kunz
Andy Maier
Christopher Maier
Dorothy Marschilok
Helmut Reihs
Paul W. Sulzmann

RCHS would also like to acknowledge the individuals and corporations who donated their services or materials, in part, to the installation of this exhibition:
Roberta Lawrence Graphic Design
Nelson Studios
Troy Pork Store
Fritz Helmbold, Inc.

“Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: The German American Experience

This online exhibition is a condensed version of “‘Grüß Gott’ in Rensselaer County: The German American Experience”, which was originally part of the Rensselaer County Historical Society’s Millennium Project in 2000.

Meant to spark community interest and involvement in researching and documenting the history and heritage of a particular ethnic, civic or cultural group, the original exhibition and this online version, were the culmination of many months of extensive research conducted by Dr. Thomas Reimer, Exhibit Curator.

The original exhibition included a historical exhibition at RCHS, a series of oral histories, a cookbook with historical information and recipes, teaching packets from the Times Union, and a number of activities by the ambitious German Heritage Project Committee, chaired by Dr. Hannelore Wilfert, professor emerita of Russell Sage College.

Lords & Peasants

The Dutch West India Company granted land in the upper Hudson Valley to the Van Rensselaer family in 1629. A number of Germans settled in this area beginning in the 1640s. Johann Carstensz from Schleswig and Hans Vos (Fuchs) from Baden are among the early residents of Rensselaerwyck. When the German settlers intermarried with their Holland kinsmen, they quickly vanished as an identifiable group. In addition, English speakers early on subsumed the Netherlanders and the Germans (Deutsch) under the common label of Dutch.

The Golden Century

A second wave of German immigration began in the nineteenth century. Germans represented three percent of Troy’s population between 1870 – 1900 and four and a half percent in the county between 1870 – 1900. Despite these low percentage rates, they created a network of religious, civic and social organizations as well as a number of prosperous businesses.

The Twentieth Century

During World War I, local German-Americans protested the English blockade of food and surgical supplies to Germany and the atrocity propaganda used to justify the British government’s action. The local branch of the German-American National Alliance (DANB) with 900 members boycotted banks that sold Allied War Bonds in 1915. This measure had limited success. From Vienna, the local journalist, Carl Dannhauser, reported about the starving population their and in Germany. On German-American Day in October 1916, over $7,000 was raised to benefit war victims in Germany and Austria-Hungary.

“Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: Lords & Peasants

The Dutch West India Company granted land in the upper Hudson Valley to the Van Rensselaer family in 1629. A number of Germans settled in this area beginning in the 1640s. Johann Carstensz from Schleswig and Hans Vos (Fuchs) from Baden are among the early residents of Rensselaerwyck. When the German settlers intermarried with their Holland kinsmen, they quickly vanished as an identifiable group. In addition, English speakers early on subsumed the Netherlanders and the Germans (Deutsch) under the common label of Dutch.

Thousands of Palatine Germans, fleeing from the invading French armies, settled in the upper Hudson Valley in the early eighteenth century. Some became tenants in the scarcely populated East Rensselaerwyck. Their first village, “Hosek Road,” the area known today as Brunswick, was settled by such pioneer families as Johannes Jung, Johann Freidrich, Phillip Kelmer, Ludwig Schmidt, Johann Schneider and Johann Hayner. In the 1750s, the families of Hans Lautmann, Jacob Best, and George Brimmer were residents of the North Petersburgh area. Berlin was inhabited by members of the Gottfried Brimmer and Reuben Bohnenstiehl families while Sand Lake was settled by the Joseph Sipperly and Michael Reichard families.

The French and Indian War in the late eighteenth century brought sorrow to the villages throughout Rensselaerwyck. Like other colonials, Germans served in the militia, paid taxes and many were affected by enemy raids, including the Brimmer family. In 1754, one Brimmer child was killed and two others were kidnapped.

The spiritual center for German families was Gilead Lutheran Church in Brunswick. Under the ministry of Rev. Nicholaus Schwerdtfeger, the parish included a few African-Americans. Many Germans were persecuted for their neutrality during the American Revolution and after the war many, including Rev. Schwerdtfeger, emigrated to Canada.

The influx of settlers from New England after the revolution changed the German villages. At Gilead Lutheran Church Rev. Anton Braun introduced English services and German was abandoned after 1812. This marked the assimilation of the German population. When the New York State Legislature created several townships in 1806 – 1808, three towns Nassau, Brunswick (Braunschweig) and Berlin were named after German cities.

“Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: The Golden Century

A second wave of German immigration began in the nineteenth century. Germans represented three percent of Troy’s population between 1870 – 1900 and four and a half percent in the county between 1870 – 1900. Despite these low percentage rates, they created a network of religious, civic and social organizations as well as a number of prosperous businesses.

German Jews founded Anshe Chased, later named B’rith Shalom, in 1852. Trinity Lutheran Church in Castleton, St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in South Troy and Taborton Evangelical Lutheran Church were established in subsequent years. These churches used German in their services for many decades. St. Lawrence established a day school which functioned until 1950. The Troy Turnverein, an athletic club and the Troy Maennerchor, a singing society, were established in the mid-nineteenth century. Germania Hall, located in Troy, was founded as community center in 1889. Businesses such as Stoll’s Brewery in Troy, the Grubb-Kosegarten Action Piano Co. in Nassau, the Goergen lamp factory in Castleton and the Troy Freie Presse, a weekly German newspaper, thrived.

A number of German immigrants served their adopted homeland through military and political service. Local war heroes included John Arts and Joseph Egolf, wounded in combat during the Civil War. Lieutenant Charles Rapp, also active in the Civil War, was later elected alderman in Troy. Other German-Americans politically active in Troy included Robert Patchke, Friedrich Schneider and Andreas Ruff. Christian Peter served as mayor of Castleton for twenty years. The community celebrated from 1902-1916 an annual German Day to commemorate their contributions to American life. A local chapter of the German-American National Alliance (DANB) was founded in 1907 to fight blue laws and later became active in fighting prohibition.

“Grüß Gott”: The Twentieth Century

During World War I, local German-Americans protested the English blockade of food and surgical supplies to Germany and the atrocity propaganda used to justify the British government’s action. The local branch of the German-American National Alliance (DANB) with 900 members boycotted banks that sold Allied War Bonds in 1915. This measure had limited success. From Vienna, the local journalist, Carl Dannhauser, reported about the starving population their and in Germany. On German-American Day in October 1916, over $7,000 was raised to benefit war victims in Germany and Austria-Hungary.

On April 2, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany despite considerable public opposition. Just a few months after the United States entered the war, Secretary of the Treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo, called the public mood a “delirium”. Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage, German Shepards became Alsatians and the city of Syracuse banned pinochle, a German card game. The press published calls for mass hangings of “disloyal German-Americans” and some clergymen compared Germans to cholera germs that must be annihilated. Despite this, naturalized Germans collected relief funds for the Red Cross and served in the U.S. Army.

The war, national prohibition beginning in 1919, and the closing of free immigration in 1921 affected German-American organizations. Membership in the societies of Germania Hall increasingly shifted to second generation German-Americans. However, institutions in Rensselaer County survived the war far better than those in Albany, drawing on a larger German population.

After World War II, many of the German churches dissolved. Germania Hall and its inner societies remained the center of German-American social life. The hall’s building at 134 River Street suffered fire damage in 1949 and in 1954 the society built a new hall at its current location, 309 Third Avenue in Lansingburgh. A Ladies Auxiliary was established in 1975 and three years later the Schuhplattlerverein Alpenklang (Bavarian folk dancing society) followed. To celebrate its 100th Anniversary in 1990, Germania Hall published a history of its organization and its inner societies. Today, Germania Hall remains a center of German-American life with traditional German dinners being served on Friday evenings.

In 1985, Dr. Hannelore Wilfert, Professor of German (now emerita) of Russell Sage College founded, together with other first-generation Germans, the German-American Culture Club. The club conducts its monthly meetings in German and programs address culture from literary, musical and culinary presentations to current developments in Germany.

Both organizations look forward to the new Millennium with a heartfelt Grüß Gott to Rensselaer County.