Daniel Rose: A Reading Clockmaker

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Portrait of Daniel Rose  by Jacob Witman (1769-1795) from the BHC Museum Collection

Born in 1749, Daniel Rose of Reading became a talented watch & clock maker capable of building musical mechanisms that few in America could rival. He also sold and repaired clocks, watches, and jewelry in addition to musical instruments. In 1775, Rose instructed the drummers and fifers of the 1st Battalion of the Berks County militia. The following year, he joined the Committee of Safety in Reading, and in 1777, was appointed a captain in the militia. He served in the State Legislature from 1799 -1804, 1806 – 1808 and 1811-1812. Rose even opened his own museum in Reading in his home on Penn Street. He was also a talented musician. At the time of his death in 1827, Rose owned two organs, a piano, clarinet, hautboy (oboe), bassoon, flute and a French horn.

The Berks History Center Museum is home to several Rose tall case clocks and a full length portrait of the famous clockmaker. In the portrait, Daniel Rose is depicted as a dashing figure wearing his double-breasted coat and red silk vest by Jacob Witman. His hair is cut short and brushed forward in a style that became fashionable in the late 1790s. Rose is wearing an extensive amount of jewelry, which was all in the height of male fashion at the time, including oval knee buckles, steel cut shoe buckles, and a gold ring. Four musical instruments are also included in the portrait: a violin, flute, clarinet, and square piano. Look carefully at the piano to see where the artist, Jacob Whitman, cleverly painted his own name instead of that of the instrument maker.

Berks History Center Acquires Artifacts Belonging to a Berks County Civil War Hero

 

cropped-blogheader.pngThe Berks History Center is pleased to announce a new acquisition of personal and military artifacts of Captain George W. Durrell to the BHC Museum Collection, donated on March 27, 2017.

The donated items include a large escutcheon, an NCO sash, an officer’s sash, a Model 1840 Light Cavalry Sabre, as well as personal and military correspondence from Captain George W. Durell. George Durell first gained notoriety in Berks County as the Orderly Sergeant of the Ringgold Light Artillery, the preeminent light artillery company in the Pennsylvania Militia before the Civil War. The Ringgold Light Artillery would later earn greater fame by becoming a member of the  First Defenders, which were the first troops to respond to President Lincoln’s call for volunteers at the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion. A watercolor portrait of Durell as Provost Marshal of Berks County and a photo album were also included in the donation.

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Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1816, George W. Durell eventually moved to Reading seeking employment with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (P&R RR). He was a painter by trade and rose to become superintendent of the P&R RR paint shop. In addition to being a skilled painter, Durell led one of the most celebrated batteries in the Civil War. Captain Durell’s battery was composed mostly of men from Berks County.

“These artifacts are of immeasurable value to the understanding of Berks County’s history. This donation will help us learn about an actual Berks Countian who played an important role during our Civil War. ” said Mark Pflum, Civil War historian and leading authority on Berks County’s Civil War artillery units.

The Durell artifact collection is now on display in the Berks History Center Museum. The items will be exhibited until the end of June. Durell’s correspondence and photo album will be available to the general public for research in the Berks History Center Research Library.

Berks History Center thanks Mark Pflum for providing his expertise and information on the Durell artifacts. 

Lebanon Valley Railroad Bridge by John Heyl Raser

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Reading and Berks County have a rich railroad history. This circa 1875 oil painting by John Heyl Raser (1824-1901) depicts the original Lebanon Valley Railroad bridge where it crossed the Schuylkill River and the Union Canal at Reading. Opening in 1858, the Lebanon Valley Railroad became a subsidiary of the Reading Railroad, and a lucrative route connecting Reading with Harrisburg. John Heyl Raser was a native of Alabama who moved to Reading in 1851 and became particularly well known for his landscape paintings. He exhibited his works at a variety of venues including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Are you a fan of railroad history? Berks History Center’s Second Saturday program on April 8th will focus on the Northern Central Railway and its role in the Civil War. Join us for Scott Mingus Sr.’s talk, Soldiers, Steam & Spies: The Northern Central Railway in the Civil War 

Happy Birthday, Henry Janssen!

You may recognize the name “Henry Janssen” from recent news surrounding the sale of his former Wyomissing home. At the Berks History Center, Mr. Janssen is the namesake of our Library and Archival facility on Spring Street. Our Library is also the home of many items related to the businesses Janssen founded with Ferdinand Thun–including early ledgers from Textile Machine Works and bound copies of The Yarn Carrier, the magazine published for Wyomissing Industries employees. Henry Janssen was born on February 8, 1866; and, in honor of his birthday, our Library staff wanted to take a moment to remember Mr. Janssen’s contributions to Berks County and share a few tidbits about his life.

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Portrait of Henry Janssen, 1937 by Egon Josef Kossuth

(Painting hangs in the Research Room of the Henry Janssen Library)

Heinrich Janssen was born in Barmen, Germany (then Prussia) in 1866. Barmen became an center for industry in the 19th century. The town was situated between hills and a river–not unlike Janssen’s future hometown–and became known for its textile industry and coal mining. Janssen’s future partner, Ferdinand Thun, was born a few blocks away in Barmen, on February 14, 1866. Both lived and studied in Germany until the late 1880s. Janssen studied manufacturing before coming to New York City to work in a braiding plant in 1889. It was in New York that Janssen met Thun and, after discovering their similar childhoods and textile skills, they decided to go into business together.

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Barmen (1870) by August von Wille

(Source: Wikipedia, Image is in the Public Domain)

Janssen and Thun’s first business venture in Berks County was a small factory on Cedar Street in Reading, which they opened in 1892. This was the beginning of Textile Machines Works. In 1896, they moved their business to Wyomissing. The partners incorporated Narrow Fabrics in 1900, after they began using their own machines to make braids and other items. Six years later, Janssen and Thun added knitting machines to their lineup, which they used to produce their own range of stockings (specifically full-fashioned, which was the trend at the time). This company was incorporated as Berkshire Knitting Mills. According to many accounts, Janssen was a perfectionist. He insisted that the products produced by his companies were of the highest standards and he wanted his employees to maintain that high quality in themselves. The February 1948 edition of The Yarn Carrier (which was dedicated to Janssen following his death) included a quote by Janssen from March 1929. He advised one of his employees in German, of which the English translation is roughly: “Be thorough and accurate in both large and small things. May this always be your guide and success will never fail you.” (The Yarn Carrier vol. 17, no. 11, page 12).

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Henry Janssen (center) with partners Ferdinand Thun (l) and Gustav Oberlaender (r), late 1920s-early 1930s (Image from the collections of the Henry Janssen Library, Berks History Center)

Henry Janssen was one of six children. At the time of his death, Janssen had two surviving siblings. Paul Janssen was also a businessman and later Mayor of Offenbach, Germany; while Johannes served in the German Parliament in the early 1900s. During their childhood, their father, Albert, owned a printing and book shop in Barmen. Henry married Wilhelmina Raeker in Brooklyn in 1890. Their son, Harry Janssen, died during WWI. Janssen’s two son-in-laws continued to work for Wyomissing Industries after his passing. In addition to their role at Wyomissing Industries, Janssen and Thun developed the Borough of Wyomissing. Janssen served on the Borough Council for forty years, while he also served on the Reading Hospital Board (including ten years as President). Janssen became a US citizen less than ten years after immigrating from Germany. His death on January 28, 1948 shocked many–not only in the community, but around the world. From the pages of tributes printed in The Yarn Carrier following his death, it is obvious Janssen’s influence was far-reaching. Here are just a few:

“…He was a driving force in the building of an industrial empire unparalleled in the textile industry, and unique in the entire U.S. industrial force.”

Knit Goods Weekly

 

“He will be missed not only as a pioneer of the hosiery industry but also as an outstanding person of the deepest humanitarian interest.”

–Robert Reiner, Inc.

 

“Every day was too short for this man who rate the title of industrial tycoon, titan of industry, capitalist or whatever the popular terms of the day. He could have rested on his laurels. He didn’t.”

–Herbert C. Kohler, in a Reading Times editorial, January 30, 1948.

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Three photos of Janssen, about middle age.

(Images from the February 1948 edition of The Yarn Carrier, page 9)

Janssen’s philanthropic and industrial contributions live on. The Reading Health System has grown exponentially since Janssen and Thun first made their contributions. Families still flock to the grounds of The Reading Public Museum–another project of the partners. Textile Machine Works products are still in use today. In Wyomissing: An American Dream, the father and son team at Barbett Industries in Reading are shown using Thun and Janssen designed products that are over a hundred years old. They argue that these machines were made to last, unlike many produced today. This is a testament to Janssen’s commitment to perfection. In honor of his industrial expertise and advances, Barmen (now part of Wuppertal, Germany) named a street after Henry Janssen, which intersects with the street named for Ferdinand Thun.

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Heinrich-Janssen-Straße [Street] Sign, Wuppertal, Germany

(Image from GoogleMaps, 2017)

 

If you would like to learn more about Henry Janssen, PBS39 produced a wonderful documentary on Janssen, Thun, and Wyomissing called Wyomissing: An American Dream. It is available to view both on the PBS39 website and on YouTube.

Researched and Written by BHC Archival Assistant Stephanie Mihalik

Sources:

The Yarn Carrier, vol. 17, no. 11. Produced by The Wyomissing Industries: February 1948

Partners: A History of the Development of the Wyomissing Industries. Published by The Wyomissing Industries: 1936.

Wyomissing: An American Dream. Produced by PBS39 WLVT: 2016.

 

Berks County Belsnickel

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For the Pennsylvania Germans living in Berks County, the Belsnickel was a character who visited homes shortly before Christmas to determine if children had behaved throughout the year.  Clad in furs, he would pound on the door or window with a stick before entering a home.  While he was intimidating to children – especially because he always seemed to know who had misbehaved – he did distribute treats to the children whom he would visit.  This particular rendition of the Belsnickel, located in the collections of the Berks History Center, was drawn by Edward Smith (1897-1981) as an advertisement for Reading Brewery.

Dunkelberger’s Belsnickle – Museum Collection

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Belsnickel is often described as malicious and belligerent. But in this drawing by Ralph D. Dunkelberger (1894-1965), Belsnickel is made to look more like the kind and joyful Santa Clause that we know today.  Dunkelberger was a local artist who was born in Reading and went to the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art. Many of his works feature local scenes, people, or cultural figures, including this depiction of Belsnickel that many Pennsylvania German children would have known.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Ornaments – BHC Museum Collection

Some of you may recall the “Charlie Brown” Christmas Tree that graced Reading’s streets two years ago. It was so named because the tree was so dilapidated and depressing that it reminded many residents of the fictional character’s tree. News of Reading’s sad tree reached national news outlets and became a local celebrity.

After the holidays wood from the tree was turned into several items, including these ornaments made by Steve Weber, a carpentry instructor at the Reading Muhlenberg Career & Technology Center. This small piece of Berks History is now commemorated in the BHC Museum Collection.