Our inventory of the Berks History Center is nearly complete, but we still continue to discover amazing artifacts such as this 200 year old apothecary scale which belonged to Reading pharmacist Gerhard Gottlieb Bischoff. (1775-1856). A native of Thuringia, Germany, Bischoff studied pharmacy under his father and then subsequently worked as an apothecary assistant in both Germany and Switzerland. In 1817, he immigrated to Reading where his brother, Frederick Christopher Bischoff, was already a well established artist.
Gerhard Bischoff opened an apothecary shop on Penn Street, midway between Sixth and Seventh Streets, and by all accounts was still working when he died in 1856 at the age of 81. Bischoff had a keen interest in Botany and Zoology. In addition to a large collection of plant specimens which he had assembled over the years, estate records reveal that he also possessed “19 cabinets of insects”.
We are fortunate that such an unusual artifact survives after two centuries.
Reading, well-deservedly, was known as the Pretzel Capital of the World by 1948. Its pretzel bakeries were producing one-third of all the pretzels baked in the United States. The earliest bakery to open in Reading, was on Apple Street in the 1860’s, owned by Benjamin Lichtenhaler who was born in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Julius Sturgis, also from Lititz, is credited with opening the first commercial pretzel company in the United States in 1861 in Lititz; later moving the enterprise to Berks County in 1924. His plant produced the first hard pretzels. The original recipe belonged to the Moravians. Other pretzel companies followed as the demand for pretzels increased. The Reading Pretzel Machinery Company was founded in 1935, who produced machinery to automate pretzel production–since up to that point pretzel makers did everything by hand!
The origin of the pretzel can be traced back to a 7th century monk in Europe using it to reward children who knew their prayers, calling it “pretiolas”–“little rewards” in Latin. The shape of the pretiola suggested a pair of folded hands. Later, they were taken over the Alps into Austria and Germany were the name became “bretzel”. In Vienna, pretzel bakers were awarded a coat of arms for uncovering a Turkish plot in the 1500’s. From its early use as a reward for prayers, it became so popular in the Middle Ages that it was a symbol of good luck, and the shape was used as a marriage knot in Switzerland. Pretzels were also supposed to ward off evil.
Pretzels have been popular with Americans for centuries Some believe that the Pilgrims brought pretzels with them on the Mayflower. However, there’s little doubt that early German settlers to Pennsylvania (who we think of as the Pennsylvania Dutch) were baking pretzels in their home kitchens in the early 19th century.
Although Reading no longer produces one-third of the pretzels in the United States, Pennsylvania remains the pretzel center of America, accounting for 80% of the pretzels made in this country. In 2003, Governor Ed Rendell declared April 26 as Pretzel Day in Pennsylvania in recognize “the importance of the pretzel to the state’s history and economy.” The pretzel still remains an icon for Reading and Berks County. Reading mayoral keys (often called “Keys to the City”) have a pretzel shape at one end! We have a number of these keys in our collection, including the one above from Joseph Kuzminski’s term in the mid-1970s.
During our inventory at the Berks History Center, we recently discovered two U.S. Army hats which are both nearly 190 years old! However, both hats are shrouded in mystery.
The first hat is a style known as a stove pipe shako. While it is missing its original brim and a plume which attached at the top, its condition is surprisingly solid for its age. The emblem on this hat was used between 1833 and 1851 by U.S. Dragoon regiments – horse mounted units that would later be known as cavalry. Unfortunately, that is all we know about this hat. We do not know who used it, and in fact we do not even know how it came to be in our collection.
The second hat is known as a bicorne hat. It is in excellent condition, and we can infer several bits of information from its design. The style of the insignia, for example, was used by the U.S. Army between 1821 and 1851. In addition, the hat is marked with the name and address of its maker: William H. Horstmann & Sons, North Third Street, Philadelphia. It is well documented that Horstmann & Sons only operated at this location from 1830 to 1857.
We know that the Berks History Center received the bicorne hat in 1937, and its donor reported that it belonged to a Major David Hocker. Unfortunately, our predecessors did not record any additional information about this person, and to add to the confusion, they incorrectly recorded the hat as having belonged to “Mayor” David Hocker. To date, we have not yet been able to identify a Major Hocker connected with Berks County or the United States Army.
While there are many questions with both of these hats, they are both unique artifacts. Our hope is that additional research will help us to better ascertain to whom each belonged and how each is connected to Berks County.
The “Treaty Elm” was an enormous tree which stood near the present day neighborhood of Kensington in Philadelphia. Tradition holds that William Penn pledged an oath of friendship with the Lenape Indian Chief Tamanend at the treaty elm in 1682. While there is no definitive documentation of this meeting, the Treaty Elm came to symbolize Penn’s desire to live in harmony and peace with Native Americans. After the tree fell during a storm on March 5, 1810, relic hunters salvaged pieces of its wood in order to create mementos of the famous tree.
Today, artifacts crafted from this wood can be found in the collections of several museums. However, it was with some surprise that we recently discovered a treaty elm box in our collection. While we are not exactly sure of its connection to Berks County, it is inscribed by its maker, a Philadelphia merchant named Benneville D. Brown (1779-1863). Brown was related to several Berks County families including the Keims and Bertolets.
For baseball aficionados, nothing says Spring as much as the words “Play Ball!” Reading, Pennsylvania has a long history in baseball, dating back to 1875 when the Reading Actives organized one of the first professional minor league teams. Playing the game at what is now 17th and Perkiomen Avenue, players wore no gloves or other protective equipment.
Over the decades there were changes in both teams and leagues beginning in 1890. Teams such as the Coal Barons, the Keystones, the Chicks, the Indians and the Red Sox played in Reading from 1919 through 1940. Leagues included International, New York-Pennsylvania, Inter-State and Eastern.
From 1907 until 1941, Reading professional teams played at Lauer’s Park Stadium at 3rd and Elm Streets. 1919 to 1932 were great years for the International League. The Reading Aces, later called the Keystones, were managed by Charles Albert (Chief Bender), a Hall of Famer who invented the slider. In 1929, George Quellich, playing for the Keystones, set a professional baseball record that still stands: 15 hits in 15 consecutive at bats.
Poor attendance caused teams to leave Reading, which resulted in ten years without a team or stadium by 1942. The first ball tossed out at the new Reading Municipal Stadium was on July 15, 1951. In 1957, the Reading Indians were post season champs. Notable Reading Indians players included Rocky Colavito and Roger Maris.
Concession stand items from the 1955 Reading Indians:
Hot Dogs .20
Cracker Jack .15
Y-B Cigars .10 + .25
Cushions .25 (Rented only)
The Phillies have been in Reading since 1967. Here are a few notables who have appeared on their roster: Ron Allen, Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, Bob Boone, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins,Greg Lusinski and Marlon Byrd. The state’s approval in July 1973 of the sale of beer at the stadium turned things around financially. Improvements and repairs were made including the new electronic scoreboard. The Reading Phillies, bought by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, are the oldest team in the Eastern League to play in their original city with the most seasons under their original name. They are tied for the longest affiliation in Minor League baseball.
Today, the Reading Fightin Phils’ are ready for the start of the 2017 season at First Energy Stadium. Play Ball!
Sources and Further Reading:
Tales from Baseballtown: Vignettes from the Storied History of Baseball in Reading, Pennsylvania and Baseball in Reading: Images of Baseball both by Charlie Adams
“Early Baseball in Reading,” by Bruce K. Gerhart, The Historical Review of Berks County vol. 8, no. 4, 1943.
“Berks Players in Major League Baseball, Part I,” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 34, no. 4, 1966.
“The Reading International League Baseball Team — 1919 to 1962,” by Jack Linton, The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 55, no. 3, 1990.
“Reading’s First Two Pennants — Outlaw and Otherwise,” by Kevin Tully and Brian Englehardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 80, no. 4, 2015.
Reading’s Big League Exhibition Games by Brian Englehardt
Wyomissing Industries was the largest manufacturer of ladies full- fashioned hosiery in the world from 1920-1940’s. The three industries that comprised the Wyomissing Industries (Textile Machine Works, Berkshire Knitting Mills, Narrow Fabric Company), employed thousands of workers in its vast array of multi-floor brick buildings prior to its sale to Vanity Fair Corporation in 1969. Wyoming Industries was founded by Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen following their emigration from Germany in 1892.
At its peak, it had on site a dispensary for its employees offering medical, dental and eye care. The cafeteria could seat up to a 1000 employees and a small section was opened in another building to sell over-runs to workers and their families. Seeing its success, they decided to allow the public to by direct from them.
Berkshire Knitting Mills was chosen by the DuPont Company to test a new material known as Nylon and they quickly adapted their machinery to its use. After 1940, most women’s hosiery was made from nylon. Wyomissing Industries published a newsletter for its employees from 1931-1957 called “The Yarn Carrier”. The following is a saying from the “Say” column from December, 1932: “What the world needs is a telephone bell that will tell who is ringing at the other end.”
Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company traces its beginnings back to 1740 when William Bird built a forge, a saw mill and grist mill and founded the town of Birdsboro. His oldest son, Marcus, enlarged on his father’s work and constructed Hopewell Furnace. He was the largest producer of iron in America during the Revolutionary War. After the war, the forges have financial problems caused the Birds to sell their assets to Matthew Brooke changed the name to the Birdsboro Iron Foundry Company.
The forges were most successful under Brooke’s management in the mid-19th century. During the Civil War, the company produced munitions and armaments for the Union Army and began manufacturing parts for railroad cars and locomotives. This was the beginning of steel production for the family. The company continued its tradition of supplying the armed forces with providing the Navy with material for building a steel fleet during the late 19th century.
In 1906, the management decided to erect a large modern steel foundry with a potential capacity of approximately 3000 tons per month for making steel castings. In World War II, the government contracted with Birdsboro Steel and Foundry and Machine Company to produce tanks and artillery for the war effort. In 1944, a manufacturing subsidiary was established for weapons manufacturing known as Armorcast. By the end of the war, the company began to manufacture more industrial equipment, many used in the production of steel.
After 1947, the federal government and several businessmen tried to sell or use the space. Armorcast failed to win a government contract to continue production in 1975 and the plant closed in 1988 after a lengthy strike. The four smokestacks, collapsed in the planned implosion to make way for a new power-generating facility, were the last vestiges of a regional history of manufacturing started before the American Revolution.
“Manufacturing evolved from making cannon for Revolutionary War to making tanks for World War II,” said Sanders, 70, former Superintendent of Hopewell Furnace. “All that’s gone now.”