Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 1,1993
German gathering celebrated fatherland in 1902
By Jim Blount
Hamilton's German heritage was evident in 1902 when a national convention was held in the city, a four-day meeting which also had been sought by Chicago, Cleveland and Milwaukee.
Hamilton was decorated with flags and bunting "of all shapes, designs and sizes," said a newspaper, with "the red, white and blue along side of, or intertwined with the German colors, red, white and black."
The combined colors of the two nations, said a reporter, recalled for members of the convention their "deeds of valor in the Fatherland" and the pride that they are "now a citizen of the United States, for such he must be before he can become a member of the Deutscher Krieger Bund."
The Hamilton group was described in a newspaper article as "a mutual aid society of German ex-soldiers, called the Deutscher Krieger Unterstuetzungs Verein."
A national history of the organization, published in the Hamilton Democrat during the August 1902 event, said the former Germans soldiers "organized to foster olden times, comradeship and lend mutual aid in case of sickness, distress and death."
The first group was believed to have been founded in 1881 in Cincinnati. By August 1902, Kriegerbunds functioned in 66 U. S. cities with more than 4,000 members.
Hamilton was awarded the 17th annual convention during the 1901 meeting in San Antonio, Texas. A news report predicted that the August 1902 convention "will be the largest ever held in the history of Hamilton," drawing as many as 5,000 people.
A citizens committee, formed to assist the Hamilton Kriegerbund, included Mayor Charles Bosch, Peter Schwab, Charles Howald, C. E. Mason, William Knorr, William DelaCourt and the Rev. C. A. Hermann.
Heading the 77-member Hamilton host Kriergerbund were Gustav Pietsch, president; Louis Thomann, vice president; August Kopp, secretary; Rudolf Larberg, financial secretary; Eduard Mueller, treasurer, and Max Zeidler, Michael Racquet and Johann Hauser, trustees.
Among national officers directing the convention were Frank Erling, St. Paul, president; John Embs, Pittsburgh, vice president; Mylius Langenhan, Cleveland, secretary; and Martin Gass, Chicago, treasurer.
Delegates and their families began arriving in Hamilton via railroad Friday, Aug. 1,1902.
The convention opened Saturday night with a reception and banquet at Lindley's Hall (southwest corner of High and Front streets).
The first big public event was a Sunday morning parade, directed by Franz Kraft of the Hamilton Kriegerbund, which included between 650 and 700 delegates on foot, horseback and in carriages.
The parade started west from the courthouse on High and Main streets to F Street, where it reversed east to Second Street, then south to Ludlow, to Third, north on Third and east on Heaton Street to the Butler County Fairgrounds.
Sunday afternoon a picnic was sandwiched between drills, speeches, music and a fireworks display at the fairgrounds.
In addition to business sessions, Monday included an afternoon picnic at the fairgrounds which featured shooting contests, dancing and a concert.
Tuesday -- the last day of business -- highlighted a city tour, with stops at two Hamilton breweries, Peter Schwab's Cincinnati Brewing Company on South Front Street and the Mason Brewing Company on South C Street.
Wednesday, as a bonus, visitors were offered a trip to Cincinnati with visits to the art museum, the zoo and parks.
Because Hamilton hotels couldn't accommodate all the visitors, a committee including Eduard Mueller, Andreas Pilier, Heinrich Engelsmeier and Wilhelm Vinson had arranged lodging with Hamilton families. Large tents also were erected at the fairgrounds for "those who want to camp out."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 1993
Ezra Meeker began his long association with Oregon Trail during 1852 wagon trek
By Jim Blount
As the sesquicentennial of the Oregon Trail is observed this year, the experiences and efforts of Ezra Meeker, a Butler County native, are recalled.
He wasn't one of the first to brave the 2,000-mile travel. But in his long life Meeker would do more than any other western pioneer to preserve the landmarks and the history of the route from Independence, Mo., to near Portland, Ore.
Meeker was born Dec. 29, 1830, at Huntsville, about seven miles east of Hamilton at the present intersection of Princeton and Yankee roads, in Section 20 of Liberty Twp. He was a son of Phoebe Baker Meeker and Jacob Redding Meeker, a miller, who a few years later moved his family to Lockland, Ohio, and then to Attica, Ind. (between Lafayette, Ind., and Danville, Ill.).
As a young man, he drove an ox team for 25 cents a day and later worked in an Indianapolis newspaper print shop for $1.25 a week.
In October 1851 -- with his new wife, Eliza Jane Sumner -- Meeker moved to Eddyville, Iowa. But in April 1852, with a son of seven weeks, the family was among 13 people in a four-wagon group (nine men, three women and the infant).
The ordeal began May 17-18, 1852, at a Missouri River crossing and ended Oct. 1 at Portland, Ore. Meeker's group was delayed when it was one of more than a hundred wagons waiting at a small ferry. Instead, the men found another boat and crossed on their own -- over the objections of the ferry operator.
"We did not have much trouble with the Indians in 1852," Meeker recalled. "The great numbers of the immigrants, coupled with the superiority of their arms, placed them on a comparatively safe grounds."
The greatest threat, Meeker said, was disease, especially cholera. The mysterious intestinal plague often killed strong men within 48 hours.
"The scourge of the cholera," Meeker said, "is far beyond my power of description. In later years, I have witnessed panics on shipboard; have experienced the horrors of the flight of a whole population from the grasp of Indians, but never before or since such scenes as those in the thickest of the ravages of cholera." He cited examples of 11 out of 23 people in a group dying within 150 miles, and another train losing 40 people in one day to cholera.
Meeker saw a connection between "improper preparation," especially food, and cholera. "Some trains, it soon transpired, were without fruit, and most of them depended on saleratus (baking soda) for raising their bread," Meeker said. "Many had only fat bacon for meat till the buffalo supplied a change, and no doubt but much of the sickness attributed to cholera was caused by ill-suited diet."
His family took butter "packed in the center of the flour in double sacks;" eggs "packed in corn meal or flour," enough for 500 miles; jerked beef; homemade yeast cake; fruit; brandy; and dried pumpkins. He said there also was "fresh butter churned every day in the can by the jostle of the wagon."
As others noted, waste was rampant. Women discarded long dresses and "the follies of fashion," Meeker said, but "rich dresses were worn by some ladies because they had no others left." He said "the gentlemen drew on their wardrobes till scarcely a fine unsoiled suit was left" and patched clothing soon became commonplace. Shoes also disappeared as "shoe leather began to grind out from the sand and dry heat."
Extra clothing also had other uses, such as during the crossing of the Snake River, when wheels were removed and the wagons converted to boats.
"All the old clothing that could possibly be spared was marshaled, tar buckets ransacked, old chisels and broken knives hunted up, and a veritable boat repairing and caulking campaign inaugurated," Meeker said, "and shortly the wagon rode placidly, even if not gracefully, on the turbid waters of the formidable river."
When he reached Portland, Meeker was 20 pounds lighter, his wife ill and the family had only $3.75, but the couple considered themselves lucky. They had survived the five-month trip. According to some estimates, over the years half the wagons never completed the trip and about 5,000 died of cholera along the way.
In the 25 years after 1843, about 350,000 people braved the trail. About 30,000 didn't make it, causing the trail to be called "the world's longest graveyard."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 1993
Ezra Meeker retraced 2,000-mile Oregon Trail at least six times before his death at age 98
By Jim Blount
Ezra Meeker 's 1852 wagon trip wasn't his last journey over the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail. In fact, the Butler County native was nearly 98 when he completed his last trip in 1928. Before his death Dec. 3, 1928, Meeker retraced the pioneer route at least six times, via four modes of travel -- ox team, automobile, train and airplane.
What is remarkable is that he made those six round trips after his 76th birthday when he began fulfilling a dream. "I longed to go back over the old Oregon Trail and mark it for all time for the children of the pioneers who blazed it, and for the world," Meeker explained.
Meeker -- who was born Dec. 29, 1830, in a log cabin at Huntsville in Liberty Twp. -- was part of "the year of the great migration," 1852, when Oregon Trail travel peaked at about 20,000 people.
The first mass migration over the trail began in May 1843 -- nine years before Meeker, his wife and infant son completed the trek. In 1993 the six states along the route -- Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon -- have been observing the trail's sesquicentennial, an event which would please Meeker, who was the first president of the Oregon Trail Memorial Association.
Among more than a dozen books written by Meeker was Ox-Team Days on the Oregon Trail, which recounted his experiences.
In the 54 years between 1852 and 1906, Meeker focused on other matters. His wagon train reached Portland, then in Oregon Territory, Oct. 1, 1852, where his first job was loading lumber ships.
After several moves and several jobs and business ventures, Meeker settled near Tacoma and Seattle, Wash., where he farmed and founded Puyallup, Wash. He platted the city in 1877 and was its first mayor.
His prime crop became hops, a grain vital to the brewing industry. His 500 acres -- which earned $500,000 annually -- made Puyallup "the hop capital of the world" and earned Meeker the title of "the hop king of the world." Meeker's first book, published in 1883, was about hops. But a blight in 1892 and a depression in 1893 ended his reign and drained his financial resources.
In the late 1890s he became part of the Alaska gold rush, not as a prospector, but in the business of providing supplies -- especially Puyallup valley vegetables -- to those seeking gold. That enterprise ended in 1901, and Meeker began a new career - promoting preservation of the Oregon Trail and crusading for good roads.
Jan. 29, 1906, he left Puyallup in an ox-drawn prairie schooner to travel the trail. Meeker said "the ox team was chosen as a typical reminder of pioneer days." He also admitted that it was a publicity stunt. "No more effective instrument," he said, "could have been chosen to attract attention, arouse enthusiasm and secure aid in forwarding the work" of preserving the wagon trail.
Along the way, he placed markers, gave speeches and sold copies of his book. After several extended stops -- including one in Hamilton -- he arrived Nov. 29, 1907, in Washington, D. C., where he met President Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1910 he started a two-year trip over the trail by ox-team, and in 1915 he covered the route via auto (an 80-horsepower, 12-cylinder Pathfinder).
In 1924 -- at 94 -- Meeker flew over the trail in an open cockpit army airplane. The flight started in Vancouver, Wash., and ended at Dayton, Ohio, where he attended air races at McCook Field. The 2,560-mile flight took 23 hours and 30 minutes with 13 hours and 30 minutes spent over the Oregon Trail. Meeker's 2,000-mile wagon trip had required five months in 1852.
In 1925 and 1926 he toured with the J. G. Miller Wild West show, demonstrating how ox teams had been driven on the Oregon Trail. Also in 1926 he completed a cross-country railroad trip.
In 1928 he drove east in his "oxmobile," a car with the top of a covered wagon. He had reached Detroit - and was planning another visit to Hamilton -- when he became ill. Meeker returned by railroad to Seattle, where he died Dec. 3, 1928.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 1993
Ezra Meeker, at 76, began 22-year campaign for national road system
By Jim Blount
Ezra Meeker promoted preservation of the Oregon Trail, but he didn't live in the past. At age 76 he launched a 22-year crusade for a national network of paved roads similar to what 50 years later became the interstate highway system.
The Butler County native -- with his wife and seven-week-old son -- had crossed the continent in 1852 in a wagon train. Two years later his father joined him in Oregon Territory with the news that Ezra's mother and a brother had died along the trail.
Between 1852 and 1906, through several businesses -- especially hops farming -- Meeker became a millionaire before suffering financial setbacks. He also was a civic leader in Puyallup, Wash., a city he founded and promoted.
From 1906 until his death Dec. 3, 1928, at age 98, Meeker devoted his time, writing ability, promotional talents and money to campaigning for the marking and preservation of the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail, whose sesquicentennial is being observed this year.
While retracing the trail by ox-drawn wagon, auto, train and plane, Meeker preached about the need for transportation improvements, especially roads. He persisted in taking his message to mayors, governors and presidents as well as their constituents. Near the end of his 1906-1908 trip, his ox team and wagon attracted a crowd in Wall Street in New York.
In a prophetic 1907 speech in Hamilton, Meeker said "there has been the Stone Age and the Iron Age, but now we have the coming of the Cement Age to revolutionize the building of cities and solving the transportation problem."
By 1916, his efforts had encouraged erection of more than 160 historical markers along the Oregon Trail, but Meeker said a "memorial highway would be the greater enduring monument by combining utility with sentiment."
Among his suggestions was a 3,560-mile coast-to-coast highway over the routes of two pioneer roads, the Cumberland Road (or National Road) and the Oregon Trail. It would be called the Pioneer Way.
"The last decade has wrought great changes in world affairs by the numerous discoveries and improvements," said Meeker in 1916. "Not the least of these is the wonderful advance in the use of the trackless car (auto) now progressing so rapidly."
In congressional testimony, he predicted "government ownership -- state or national -- of the roadbed with private ownership of the car" would "foster enterprise."
In endorsing the first federal aid to states for highway construction, he said road building would "serve as a great object lesson and encourage other great highways so necessary to the commercial development of the country."
In driving the route of the Oregon Trail in the early years of the 20th century, Meeker found most of it primitive roadway. It had not changed much since his six-month trek in 1852 when he had noted that "in calm weather at times the dust would settle so thick that the lead team of oxen could not be seen from the wagon."
Meeker -- who had been born Dec. 29, 1830, at Huntsville in Liberty Twp. -- also stressed "preparedness" in campaigning for a national highway system. A transcontinental road "is fully justified from a military standpoint," he said in 1916, a year before the United States entered World War I Europe.
"With bridges destroyed by spies, trains derailed, railroads blockaded, it requires no stretch of the imagination to know what would happen" in the event of war, he said in a hearing before the military affairs committee of the U. S. House of Representatives. "Provide this roadbed and hundreds of thousands of trackless cars would appear on the scene and supply transportation for the speedy transfer of troops."
He said "we can readily see how a small army may become more formidable than a larger one where the means are at hand for speedy mobilization." As an example, he cited the French using motor vehicles before the Battle of the Marne, an encounter "that saved Paris from the horrors of a siege and probable destruction."
Meeker's point was dramatized a year after World War I when an army convoy of trucks, cars and motorcycles completed a 3,200-mile cross-country trip. It started July 7, 1919, at Washington, D. C., and arrived in San Francisco Sept. 6. The report on the trek stressed "the necessity for a comprehensive system of national highways."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 1993
Gordon Rentschler moved from Hamilton industry to head New York City-based international bank
By Jim Blount
Who was Gordon Sohn Rentschler, whose former residence is the center of a controversy which Nov. 2 will involve voters in Hamilton and Fairfield and Fairfield Township?
The 349-acre Rentschler farm -- in Fairfield Township southeast of Ohio 4 at Perin Place -- is key to Hamilton's plan to annex and develop 1,037 acres. The city will buy the farm -- if voters approve and if the proposal clears other legal challenges.
Gordon Rentschler spent most of the first 43 years of his life in Hamilton before assuming leadership of "the largest bank in the world" in April 1929. He was born Nov. 25, 1885, in Hamilton, a son of George Adam Rentschler, a pioneer Hamilton industrialist, and his second wife, Phoebe Schwab Rentschler.
His father, a native of Germany, came to Hamilton in 1873 to become foreman at the Variety Iron Works. Within two years, he invested in a similar company and eventually headed the Hamilton Corliss Engine Co. and the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Co. (later General Machinery and the Lima-Hamilton Corp.).
Gordon S. Rentschler was president of Princeton's 1907 graduating class before starting at Hooven, Owens Rentschler as a machinist on the way to becoming president. In between, he served HOR as engineer, company representative in Washington, general manager, secretary, treasurer and vice president. He also was involved in other family firms, and during World War I was a special adviser to the government's Aircraft Production Board.
In 1921 -- with a shaky world economy -- Rentschler attracted attention in financial circles during the Cuban sugar depression. Sugar mill machinery was a major product of the HOR plant in Hamilton, but Cuban plantation owners couldn't afford it.
Rentschler assured plantation managers of loans for Hamilton-made machinery and credit for crops while touring the nation as a representative of Charles E. Mitchell, president of the National City Bank of New York. Rentschler also became manager of the bank's sugar properties in Cuba.
He was named assistant to the president of the bank in 1923, vice president in 1925 and president in April 1929, positions requiring his presence in New York City. He bought a residence on Long Island, but maintained The Farm, as it was known, off Middletown Pike at Millikin Road (now Perin Place).
He guided the bank -- later renamed Citibank and a part of Citicorp -- through the Depression and in 1940, with World War II approaching, it had deposits of about $2.6 billion and resources topping $2.775 billion with operations in 24 foreign nations. David Lawrence, a nationally-syndicated newspaper columnist, said Rentschler "built up the National City Bank to be the largest bank in the largest city in the world."
"He was many-sided in his abilities," Lawrence said, "and recognized as being one of the best posted men on government bonds in the nation. His counsel on government financing has been sought by an unbroken line of secretaries of the treasury through many administrations."
President Harry Truman in 1946 appointed Rentschler to a 12-member committee of industrialists and bankers to recommend measures to restore foreign trade at the end of World War II.
Rentschler also was a director of several companies -- including Union Pacific Railroad; Home Insurance Company; Anaconda Copper Mining Company; National Cash Register Company; and the Consolidated Edison Company -- and a trustee of Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Lawrence said Rentschler "was known to relatively few Americans, but he played a significant part in the economic life of America. Many an official of the treasury department, will recall the earnest service he rendered in his quiet way in determining the factors that often had to be analyzed before the government could float large issues of bonds."
Rentschler had been married July 23, 1927, to Mary Coolidge Atkins and they parented four daughters, including one from her first marriage. He died of a heart attack March 3, 1948, while in Havana, Cuba. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton after private services at his Middletown Pike residence.
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