|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
( Originally Published 1940 )
In 1750 Heinrich Wilhelm Stiegel, later known as Henry William Stiegel, still later known as Baron Heinrich von Stiegel, arrived in the city of Philadelphia. He came aboard the Nancy, with his mother, and his younger brother, Anthony, his father having died some nine years earlier.
Taking the oath of allegiance to the Crown of England and to William Penn, he settled his mother and brother in Schaeferstown, among their fellow-immigrants from Germany, while he himself went off to scout around the countryside in search of golden opportunity. He found his chance in a baser metal, which proved as good.
Pennsylvania, at this time, had the most productive iron mines, forges, furnaces, and consequently the most affluent, ironmasters in the country. One of these was Jacob Huber, of Brick erville. It was to Huber's iron works that young Stiegel found his way. He appeared there sometime in 1752 and got a job, probably keeping the books. He proceeded to work himself to the top by the simplest possible expedient. In November, 1752, he married his employer's daughter, Elizabeth Huber. The furnace at Brickerville was called Elizabeth Furnace, whether before or after Henry's alliance is not certain.
Stiegel was a remarkable fellow, as soon became apparent. After his marriage to Huber's daughter he was made general manager of the works and at once began to make changes in the iron business. The main product of the Elizabeth Furnace was stoves. In those days it was customary among the PennsylvaniaGermans to decorate their stove-plates with Biblical scenes and pious quotations. Stiegel put an end to this waste of good advertising space. Some of his first stove-plates were cast with the following inscription, honoring his father-in-law:
Jacob Huber ist der erste Deutsche Mann Der das Eisen werk vollfuren kann.
Jacob Huber is the first German Who knows how to make iron work.
Later, when his hold upon the establishment had become more secure, this rhyme was exchanged for:
Baron Stiegel ist der Mann Der die ofen machen kann.
Baron Stiegel is the man Who knows how to make stoves.
After five years he bought the Elizabeth Furnace outright, tore it down, and built a larger one. He manufactured Franklin stoves, and a large, ten-plate stove with increasing success. The ironmaster's daughter bore him two children, Barbara and Elizabeth, and then, after six years of marriage, she died.
So far as any evidence is concerned, Stiegel's title of "Baron" was wholly spurious. Probably someone called him "Baron," half in sarcasm, half in admiration. Stiegel apparently liked and affected the title. This is psychologically understandable, particularly in the case of our man. The pride of many a titled man in dropping his title in America was counter-balanced by the pride of many commoners from Europe who seized the occasion to adopt bogus titles. America was a place for dropping inhibitions. It offered the opportunity for being autocratic as well as democratic.
Six months after Elizabeth Huber died, the Baron married Elizabeth Holtz. His son by her was named Jacob, after his first wife's father.
At about this time he began developing a pipeless stove designed to fit into the jamb of the kitchen stove. By 1760 he was one of the most prosperous ironmasters in America. He em ployed about 75 men and built 25 tenant houses near the furnace. It was in this same year, probably, that he purchased Charming Forge, near Womeldorf, Berks County, Pennsylvania. At this establishment only bar iron was made, and much of it was used to manufacture the finished products at Elizabeth Furnace.
An adjunct of Stiegel's business was the manufacture of apparatus for refining molasses. Large quantities of such machinery were shipped from Elizabeth Furnace to the West Indies.
Stiegel's next venture was real estate promotion. In 1762, in partnership with Charles and Alexander Stedman, he purchased 729 acres of land on the north bank of Chiquaesalunga Creek in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There were two log cabins on this property at the time. But among the Baron's many accomplishments was that of surveying, and he soon laid out a pattern of streets and alleys and landmarks in this section of wilderness and named it Manheim. He and his partners then began to build houses which they planned to sell outright while charging rental for the property on which they stood. The boom was successful, and soon Manheim was a flourishing Pennsylvania-German town.
On a choice intersection of his town the Baron had built for himself a mansion of English brick. It took two years to build, and possessed many unusual features. It was luxuriously fur nished. The walls of the great parlor were hung with tapestries of hunting scenes, the doors and wainscoting were heavily panelled, and the mantels were set with blue Delft tiles. A full half of the second floor was taken up by an arched chapel, fully equipped with pulpit and pews. Here he instituted the custom of gathering his workmen into his chapel and delivering sermons to them in the best Lutheran tradition. On the roof was a bandstand.
On a hill near Schaeferstown, between Elizabeth Furnace and Charming Forge, the Baron built his Thurm Berg. This was a strange tower, built of heavy wood in the shape of a trun cated pyramid, and painted red. It was so feet square at the bottom, 10 feet square at the top, and 75 feet high. The interior was divided into vast banquet halls and guest chambers. On its summit were mounted brass cannon which are said to have fired a 24 round salute whenever the Baron approached, and a 12 round salute for the approach of distinguished guests, such as George Washington, who reputedly visited there.
Stiegel drove about the country at breakneck speed in a coach drawn by six white horses, with wigged and uniformed outriders. There were other cannon at his Manheim mansion to boom his approach. This was a signal for all the townspeople to gather in the streets to cheer his entry, and for his bandsmen to drop their regular work, don their fancy outfits, grab their instruments, rush to the platform on Stiegel's roof, and blast out with a stirring German march. All in all it was no mean affair when Baron Henry Stiegel came to town.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Stiegel should have come to the making of glass. To the early manufacturer the production of glass had an adventuresome and speculative aspect tempting to the gambler, in its probability of failure, its obscurities of formulae, and the fabulous beauty of its finished output.
Just as Stiegel had a good knowledge of the ironworker's craft, of surveying, building, music, bookkeeping, theology and polemics, he probably knew a good deal of the craft of glass making. His first efforts were at Elizabeth Furnace where he made window glass and bottles on a small scale, employing five blowers as early as 1763.
As soon as he had determined to begin the manufacture of glass on a large scale he made a trip to Europe and brought back a group of workmen whom he had secretly recruited in Ger many and England. Then, at an expense which would be equivalent today to about $20,000, he erected a glassworks at Manheim.
Tradition says that the glass-house was go feet high, and that a four-horse team could be driven through its doorway, turned around, and driven out.
He began operations with only five blowers. On April 14, 1766, he wrote, "This evening the Glass House ended the season, the men being worn out." His first year's efforts had brought in $3005.
By 1769 he was going full speed and employing thirty-five glass blowers. He soon had his own wholesale and retail distributors in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Boston. He bought out the Stedmans' interest in the town of Manheim.
The decline and fall of Baron Stiegel was abrupt and significant. Like many another, he had become associated with men who were less imaginative, had less of the Grand Manner, were more cautious, less generous, and infinitely more cunning than himself. Such men are capable of waiting for a long time for a man of Steigel's type to fall into a trap. They waited, and Stiegel fell. He extended his credit to the breaking-point with constant re-investments and expansions. Then, when the shadow of impending revolution stilled the activity of commerce, and creditors rushed to draw back their money, Stiegel had everything but cash. On October 15th, 1774, he pawned his wife's gold watch. No mercy was shown to him by men who had long envied him. He was thrown into a debtors' prison.
There was something extremely fragile about his nature, for all his bombast. In prison he wrote pitiable letters to people whom he hoped would help him. He composed prayers of really fine literary quality. Finally, "an act for the relief of Henry William Stiegel languishing prisoner in the gaol of Lancaster County with respect to the imprisonment of his own person. . . . ." was passed by the legislature and he was released. Baron Henry William Stiegel somehow did not have the resilience to recover. He had lived a fantasy, and in this one abrupt failure he had lost the thread of it forever. He tried to live in the old house at Elizabeth Furnace, and the owners, whom he thought were his best friends, did not like it. The letters he wrote to them are full of apologies that stand in bitter contrast to the romantic splendor of a few years past.
He tried teaching school and was for a while foreman of Elizabeth Furnace, where he had begun his American career. But he was beaten, and at forty-eight he was a thin, bent old man. Michael Quigley, who met him at that time, wrote in his diary, "He appeared terribly dejected. He had laid aside his fine wig; his round skull was nearly bald, his eyesight had become dim."
In the period of his helplessness he witnessed the rise to power of the nation whose industry and art he had greatly stimulated. On January 10th, 1785, he died.