The Lunkenheimer Co., part one
Lunkenheimer, an uncommon name, is familiar to most engine enthusiasts. The Lunkenheimer Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, was one of the most prolific builders of "engineering specialties" of all sorts, mostly brass goods. Lunkenheimer products can be found on hundreds of different types of engines and machinery. Valves of all sorts, oilers, fittings and whistles were just some of the many products built in the Lunkenheimer plant.
The company's namesake Frederick Lunkenheimer was born Oct. 21, 1825, in Neider-Ingelheim in the Rhineland of Germany. At 14 years of age he decided to pursue the metalworking trade and apprenticed himself to a machinist in the town of Mainz 10 miles from his hometown. After completing this apprenticeship, his aspirations turned to America and in 1845 he joined the many thousands of other European immigrants seeking opportunity in the U.S.
Lunkenheimer found work for a short time in New York working for Samuel Morse on his printing telegraph. By 1851 Lunken-heimer was moving west, first settling in St. Louis for about two years and then on further south down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where he set up shop making sewing machine needles and other small metalwares.
This first business was short lived because in 1853 a terrible Yellow Fever epidemic struck New Orleans. Lunkenheimer contracted the dreaded disease but was fortunate to recover from it - 7,800 did not. With so many thousands dead and the possibility that the fever epidemic could return, Lunkenheimer decided to return north to New York. The epidemic and what he had witnessed of the slave system in the south appalled him, and convinced Lunkenheimer to pursue his business in the north.
During the voyage up the Ohio River on a riverboat, Lunkenheimer was robbed of all his money and possessions and found it necessary to disembark at Evansville, Ind., recouping his finances working for the Heilman machine shop. After a short while he moved further up the river to Cincinnati in 1854 and found employment at the brass goods section of the Miles Greenwood shops, which at the time employed about 500 men.
Lunkenheimer, then 29 years old, soon decided to establish himself in Cincinnati after he met and married Louisa Meyer in 1855. Children soon came to the Lunkenheimer family: Albert (born 1856 died 1858); Ella (born 1858 survived until her 84th year); Edmund (born 1861 eventually head of the company, lived until 1944); Ottilie (born 1863 died 1864); Marie Louise (born 1867 died 1891); Carl Frederick (born 1869 died 1908); and the seventh child, Clara (born 1871 died 1925).
By 1862, Lunkenheimer had left the Greenwood works to establish his own shop, which he named The Cincinnati Brass Works, where he made brass bearings and oil cups for machinery. The Civil War brought prosperity to the new company, as one of Lunken-heimer's first ventures was the manufacture of brass goods for products built by his former employer, Miles Greenwood. Greenwood had been awarded numerous military contracts including the manufacture of bronze cannon and gun carriages, reconditioning thousands of muskets and building gunboats.
By 1864, the product line had expanded as indicated by an ad in the Cincinnati Directory that stated "globe valves, water, gas, beer and steam cocks of all descriptions, a patent gas burner and general brass work." In 1867 the shops were moved into new quarters in a Jewish synagogue building sold to Lunkenheimer by the congregation of Bene Yeshurun led by Rabbi Issac Meyer Wise. The new premises served the company for the next 13 years, old tablets in Hebrew remaining imbedded in the walls of the factory.
The 1870s saw continuing prosperity at Cincinnati Brass Works, and the company participated in numerous industrial expositions, winning medals that they proudly mentioned in the company catalogs and advertisements.
In July 1880, Lunkenheimer purchased land and started construction of a new building for the company, resulting in a five-story structure that offered twice the space that they had in the synagogue building. This new facility contained a 50 HP steam engine for powering the machinery and was equipped with 12 furnaces in the brass foundry. The move into the new facility was complete by 1881. Consequently, later during the decade Fredrick Lunkenheimer was the first person to purchase a milling machine from Frederick Holz of the Cincinnati Screw and Tap Co., predecessor of the Cincinnati Milling Machine Co.
The prosperity of the company extended into Lunkenheimer's personal life. Shortly after completion of the new factory building, Lunkenheimer constructed a marvelous mansion for his family just north of Eden Park on Lake Avenue (now Luray) in Cincinnati. This was a three-story structure of stone and brick with 20 rooms, a tower, stained glass windows and other decorations, one of which was the word "Ingelheim" (Frederick's birthplace) carved into stone upon the tower. From here Lunkenheimer could see the Ohio River flowing through Cincinnati, which it was said, had reminded him of his boyhood home.
In 1883, Lunkenheimer became a member of the Masonic fraternity, having been raised to a Master Mason in Cynthia Lodge No. 155 on Oct. 19, 1883. Now 57 years old, Frederick was enjoying the fruits of his labor and had become a respected industrialist and a prominent citizen of Cincinnati.
The company survived the decline of the riverboat building industry in Cincinnati in the late 1880s because a new, larger market for industrial, factory steam engine fittings was on the rise. The company employed an average of 100 to 130 workers who earned an average of 17 cents per hour for a 60-hour week.
At the end of the decade, Lunkenheimer decided to incorporate his firm. On Feb. 4, 1889, the Lunkenheimer Brass Mfg. Co. was established with a capital of $250,000. Frederick retained all but four of the 2,500, $100 shares and became president and general manager of the new incorporated firm. Unfortunately, less than 10 weeks later circumstances would change abruptly, because on April 13, 1889, Frederick Lunkenheimer passed away at the age of 63. Frederick Lunkenheimer's shares in the brass company were inherited by his family. At 27 years old, his eldest son Edmund took over leadership of the firm, already having worked in the company for a dozen years. Beginning experiments in 1884, Edmund had patented several improvements for valves and lubricators, and by 1900 had secured 35 patents.
The history of the Lunkenheimer Co. and its founder, Frederick Lunkenheimer, has been researched and documented by Prof. James M. Laux of the University of Cincinnati. The material for this brief review was gleaned from excerpts from Prof. Laux's scholarly article entitled The one great name in valves: a history of the Lunkenheimer company, Queen City Heritage, Journal of the Cincinnati Historical Society, Spring 1983, pages 17-38.
I would also like to thank Larry Spreckelmeier for his continuing assistance with Lunkenheimer Co. history.
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