The History of the Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, N.Y. - Part I, pages 142 - 146

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The wealthy Americans lived mostly in the lower portion of the city, on Swan, North - and South - Division Streets. Franklin Street gradually put on a stately appearance, and lower Delaware Avenue, which at that time still bore the modest appellation of "street", was the chosen residence street of a few aristocrats, among whom there were as yet no millionaires.

The German immigration in 1849 and 1850 had increased so much that social life was given an entirely different aspect. In the circles of German mechanics at that time there was a strong tendency to found workingmen's unions, and later on, when the causes which led to their founding were removed, Social Societies sprang into life, of which two, the Turn Verein and the Sängerbund, are very active to the present day.

On May 27th, 1849, a Dr. Ciolina, published an article in the "Weltbürger," headed by the summons "To the Proletary of Buffalo," and which began with the admonition. "Proletarians of all lands, unite! Do away with poverty, abolish misery, arouse the strength of a living and working principle, so long oppressed by monopolies."

Whether or not, this appeal was the cause of the founding of the first Workingmen's Union, cannot be positively asserted, because of the very meagre reports in the papers at that time, concerning local happenings. [1] Be that as it may, the first signs of the existence of a Workingmen's Union is found in the following notice, in the "Weltbürger" of July 7, 1849:

"The members of the Workingmen's Union, are requested to attend an extra Meeting, to be held in the usual Meeting rooms."

This notice would indicate that the Union had been in existence for some time. Dr. Ciolina's appeal therefore had not proved ineffectual. Wages at that time were very low, and as money was scarce, workingmen were not paid in cash, but in orders for goods at different stores, where they were obliged to pay exorbitant prices. This highly unpopular method of payment, was called "Store pay."

A clothing establishment in Gothic Hall, still standing on Main Street, between Seneca and Exchange Streets, was one of the worst in pursuing this system of spoils.

In the above mentioned meeting, which took place in Weimar's Hall, at the corner of Michigan and Batavia Streets, (Broadway) an understanding as to the aims of the Society was arrived at, which comprised the following points: Protection of earnings against fraudulent employers; united efforts towards the introduction of a full value method of payment, and the abolishment of the so-called "store pay," the elevation of the social and mental cultivation of the working


[1]Translator's note: The sentence reads "Whether the establishment of the first workingmen's union followed this appeal is uncertain since coverage of local events was scarce in the German newspapers." Return to text

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classes, mutual support, the keeping aloof from all political influences, and the founding of a newspaper organ, to represent the interests of the workingmen. J. Berger was elected President, F. Beuter, Secretary of the Union, which adopted the name of the "German American Workingmen's Union."

In the middle of March, 1850, there originated as a Branch in the Union, the "Workingmen's Sick Benefit Society," but its existence proved of only short duration.

Although the "German American Workingmen's Union," had adopted as one of its aims, the keeping aloof from all political affairs, yet it rose so high in the respect of the politicians that the mayor, the members of the Common Council, and other city officials, accepted the invitation to attend the first anniversary exercises of the founding of the Union.

The Mayor at the time was Henry K. Smith. The city was divided into only five wards, each represented by two aldermen, among whom was Abram S. Swart, the only German American, one of the aldermen of the 4th Ward. The celebration took place in John A. Roth's Hall and Garden, at the corner of Michigan and Cypress Streets. Between the speeches, the singing section of the union entertained the audience with vocal selections; the celebration being concluded with a merry ball.

On July 15, 1850, two hundred German tailors, of whom many worked for the clothing house in Gothic Hall, paraded with a band of music at their head. They had in the procession a wagon, on which was erected a gallows, to which hung an effigy, to represent "Store pay." [1] In front of Gothic Hall, the demonstration became so noisy, that the police stopped the disturbance. C. Jingerich, C. Weser and John Schmitt were arrested as the ring leaders of the affair. As the "Weltbürger" gives no report of the punishment of those arrested, it may be concluded that they were dismissed without paying any penalty. The system known as "Store pay," however became so unpopular, in consequence of this action of the tailors, that it was gradually abolished, to attain which end, the organizations of other trades gave material assistance.

The shoemakers organized on August 1, 1850, with Karl Schmidt as President, F. Wilhelm as Treasurer and E. Heidenreiter as Secretary. To give more emphasis to their demands for cash payment and higher wages, the members of the shoemakers and tailor organizations stopped work.

On the evening of September 17th, the striking shoemakers held a mass meeting, in the lot back of St. Mary's Church. The Mayor who


[1] The German text reads "In the parade there was a wagon on which a gallows was erected with a straw puppet that was labelled "Mr. Store Pay." Return to text

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feared disturbances, ordered two companies of the 65th Regiment to assemble at the Arsenal, and hold themselves in readiness to restore order, if necessary. But the militia was given no cause to interfere.

The carpenters and the blacksmiths and wheelwrights also organized. The Secretary of the carpenters association was Louis Allgewähr, the Secretary of the Wheelwrights Association, Lorenz Gillig, as taken from the published accounts in the "Weltbürger" regarding these Trade Organizations.

But the workingmen did not stop with the founding of Trade Organizations to attain their object of better payment for work done. On January 15, 1851, the carpenters opened an Association Furniture Store on Genesee Street, near Michigan St. and soon after, a second one, on May 21, on Main, near Court Street. The shoemakers following the example of the carpenters, opened an Association Boot and Shoe Store on Commerce Street, at that time a very active business street. [1] These many sided enterprises, however, were not of long duration. The Association Furniture Store on Genesee Street went over into private hands, and that on Main Street was destroyed by fire, according to a rumor not without benefit to the manager, who had it well insured.

German women, also, founded a charitable society in aid of the poor, in the spring of 1852. The meetings were held in the Hall of the "German Young Men's Association." This Society, whose exclusive aim was to give aid to needy countrymen, numbered 40 members at the time.

Theatre and Entertainments

Theatre preformances had been held by the "German Young Men's Association," during the first years of its existence with success, artistic as well as financial. But these performances were designed more for the entertainment of its members, than for the general public. The public theatrical performances, taking place from time to time, did not at all satisfy the dramatic tastes of the Germans of that period.

As a consequence, in January, 1850, a "Theatre Company" was formed, composed of people with dramatic talents, or more correctly, of people who imagined themselves possessed of such talent. Its members, with praiseworthy self-consciousness, opened the dramatic campaign with such heavy artillery as "William Tell." The presentation took place in the Eagle Street Theatre, on Monday, February 25. The "Weltbürger" criticises the performance as follows:
"It was the first performance given by the company, and many of the actors were amateurs who had never before appeared on the stage. Judged from


[1] The German text adds that the Shoemaker's Association opened their store on April 11th. The store was open for only 3 months. Return to text

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this standpoint, the production may be called a good one, perhaps a very good one; and from this standpoint, alone, the rendering of the parts of the individual actor and the whole should be viewed. Viewed from an artistic standpoint, it were better to cover the performances of all with the mantle of charity, and if brother Stauffacher does not raise this mantle, we feel no inclination to do so; with but one exception. This exception refers to the Gertrude of the play. Of her, we may say with truth, that according to our judgment, she played by far the best, and deserves the highest of praise."

The reporter has unfortunately neglected to announce the names of the performers who added a new leaf to the wreath of German aspirations at that time, and thus it is denied the historian to fulfill a duty of gratitude in the name of a later generation, towards those who at that period with much labor and perseverance, if not always with talent, planned and carried into effect, the first German Theatre enterprise in Buffalo. Under the name "Union," there originated in a place at the corner of Clinton and Union Streets in the beginning of 1851, a Society, which had for its object, the arranging of declamatory and musical evening entertainments. Several members of the "German Theatre Company" joined the "Union," which held its first dramatic and musical entertainment in the old Barnum Museum on Washington Street, January 21, 1851. At the second evening entertainment of the society, Kotzebue's "Die Zerstreuten" [The Banished] and Koerner's "Hedwig, die Banditenbraut" [Hedwig, the Bandit's Bride] were given. This Society, which later on held its meeting in the "Hall of the German Young Men's Association" in the Kremlin Block, gave five performances in the course of the winter, the last two in the Eagle Street Theatre.

The first performance by a traveling German Theatre Company, under the management of Deetz and Rodeck from New York, was given in Buffalo on May 24, 1851 in McArthur's Garden Salon, on the corner of Main and Eagle streets. The play produced was "Der häusliche Zwist" [The Domestic Dispute] by Kotzebue, a French comedy, living pictures and several vocal selections completed the programme. Frequently traveling theatre troupes appeared here, supported by obliging home talent, but such performances finally came into disfavor as the productions were of necessity so hurredly arranged that they were very unsatisfactory.

The social gatherings of the members of the Workingmen's Union in Weimar's saloon, after the close of the meetings and also on other evenings, suggested the idea of a social organization. This idea was realised by the founding of the society "Harmonie" on March 8, 1852. Two months later, on May 4, the young society held its first public evening performance. The soul of these evening entertainments was Johann Gottlieb Besser, who had emigrated to this country in 1849,

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who was a good tenor singer, musician and elocutionist, and who was also the father of the German book trade in Buffalo. In his endeavors to give variety to these entertainments he was ably assisted by his three sons: Otto, endowed with musical talents, Ernst a capable singer and Gustav with dramatic inclinations. Connected with these evening entertainments, which were always attended by numerous and appreciative audience, were hops.[1] The credit of having arranged the first German masked ball belongs to the "Harmonie."

Another group of members of the "German American Workingmen's Union" formed a Dramatic Circle, which organized independently as the "Thalia" Theatre Company, during the summer of 1854, with J.G. Scherf, C. de Haas and J.G. Gentzsch as directors. This company appeared before the public, in its initial performance, on October 26, 1854 in Koerner's Tragedy "Toni", on the occasion of the anniversary celebration of the Union. The first four or five of the performances of the "Thalia" took place in Eagle Street Theatre. Later they played in Geyer's Hall on Court Street. Frequently the "Thalia" were assisted in their productions by the Singing Section of the Union, the "Liederkränzen", whose director at the time was Gustav Weitz. An Orchestra under the leadership of Otto Schugens, furnished the music between the acts, and the dance music after the performances. The meeting rooms of the company were located in Roth's Hall, and rehearsals were held in Dorn's place, on the corner of Michigan and Genesee Streets.

When the Turn Verein, which like the "Harmonie" and"Thalia" Societies had also sprung from the "Workingmen's Union" in 1854, moved to Gillig's Hall, at the corner of Genesee and Ash Streets, an amateur theatre also started there. One by one the stage experienced members of the "Thalia" joined this theatre enterprise, and finally the property of the Society was turned over to the Turn Verein.

The most prominent Buffalo actors at that time were: William Lautz, Gottlieb Gentzsch, Karl Krech, Karl Triechmann, Frederick Frankenstein, Karl Becker, Conrad Beischer, Emil Loeser, a saddler by the name of J. Meyer, Augustus Paul, H. Doerffel, two brothers Niemeyer, Gerstenhauer, Duerr, Hofrichter, J.G. Scherf and Carl Graefe. The ladies: Mrs. Pauline Gentzsch, Miss Wessel, later Mrs. Krauskopf, Marie Lichtenstein, later Mrs. Burckhalter, Mrs. Datt and Miss Datt. During the season of 1854, however, all ladies regularly taking part, received $2 pin money, for every theatre evening.

Emil Hugo was the first salaried actor, who was engaged as stage manager, and Miss Buechner, the first soubrette.


[1]Translator's Note: The German text uses the term "Tanzvergnügen", meaning dances. Return to text


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Revised April 9, 2005
Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks