Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)
Baier, Joseph G.
Mathias Schwalbach: Milwaukee's master mechanic, inventor, and tower clock maker, pp. 20-24
Mathias Schwalbach. Milwaukees Master Mechanic, Inventor, and Tower Clock Maker By Joseph G. Baier Mathias Schwalbach has been recognized by several writers for his contributions as a master me- chanic and inventor, primarily in connection with the early develop- ment of the sewing machine and the typewriter. But recognition for his major work as a church and tower clock manufacturer and an inventor of a related escapement mechanism is only now coming to the fore. The story of the type- writer has been told many times, and the part played by Christo- pher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glid- den, Samuel Soule and James Densmore forms the major part of that story. But here and there, Mathias Schwalbach is given cred- it for his role as the fabricator of experimental parts and for certain design features, some of which were unique and patentable. It was while searching for infor- mation on early American clocks and clockmakers that the writer discovered several Wisconsin resi- dents who had been involved in clocks and clock mechanisms. Of these, Mathias Schwalbach made the greatest contributions over the longest period of time. During his lifetime he made and installed over fifty-five clocks in some eleven states, probably a record for a small manufacturer working inde- pendently and in a small shop. Mathias Schwalbach was born in Germany on December 17, 20 1834, and died in Milwaukee on February 29, 1920, at the age of eighty-six. He outlived three wives and fathered twenty-three children, many of whom died in infancy or early childhood. Several sons join- ed him and succeeded him in his machine shop and tower clock manufactory, a business which be- gan in 1875 and continued until the years immediately preceding the depression of the late nineteen twenties. Mathias Schwalbach arrived in Milwaukee in May of 1863 and located work in Kleinsteuber's Machine Shop, which was then at 322 West State Street. Frederick Heath, writing in the Wisconsin Magazine of History on "The Typewriter in Wisconsin," states, "The old Kleinsteuber Machine Shop-it was located between third and fourth streets-was a favorite place for Milwaukee's early inven- tors and would-be inventors." Fur- ther, "at the kleinsteuber shop Sholes had the assistance of the head machinist Matthias Schwal- bach, an able workman.... He was himself something of an inventor. " Also writing in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, Richard N. Current, in his article" The Original Typewriter Enterprise," says, "to make their models, they, (Sholes, Soule and Glidden) hired one of Kleinsteuber's machinists, Matthias Schwalbach, who had got much of his experience as a blacksmith and tower clock maker in German." Current further states, "He (James Densmore, the founder and editor of Oshkosh's first news- paper) helped coordinate the ef- forts of several inventors-Sholes, Glidden, their machinist Matthias Schwalbach, and others . .. " in their work on the typewriter. Schwalbach said of himself, ac- cording to Current, "while he con- tinued to work for Mr. Sholes for $3.00 a day, during the winter of 1870, he took up the work in- dependently in his home." And, again, Current says, "Working for them (Sholes, Glidden and Soule) was one of Kleinsteuber's men, Matthias Schwalbach, formerly a builder of tower clocks in the Rhine country. These four-Sholes, Glid- den, Soule and Schwalbach-had constructed the writing machine that was displayed in the shop on that September day in 1867." A diorama of that event is on exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum Joseph G. Baier is Michael F. Guyer Professor of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a past president of the Wis- consin Academy. A member and fellow of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Prof Baier is also a licensed watchmaker.
Copyright 1974 by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.| For information on re-use, see http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/Copyright