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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

Page 20

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,
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
  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.

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