St. Louis Instrument Makers

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The St. Louis Makers of Surveying Instruments

Since 1830

Hugh A. Parsons, PS    --   Richard L. Elgin, PhD, PS, PE

Elgin Surveying & Engineer

310 East 6th Street

Rolla, Missouri 65401


A Beginning

Since it was published in 1962, the best catalog and most comprehensive source of information about American surveying instruments has been “The Makers of Surveying Instruments in America Since 1700” by the late Charles E. Smart. In this well known, valuable and long out-of-print book, Mr. Smart cataloged what he knew about the American makers of surveying instruments. We now know there were many more makers than he cataloged and we also are aware of errors in his book.

This paper is “Smart” for St. Louis. It lists all the authors know about each maker of surveying instruments who lived and worked in St. Louis. The paper is based on a detailed examination of the St. Louis City Directories from 1838 to 1933, as well as the other reference material, letters, interviews, papers, etc. cited. Another source is the instruments themselves by various St. Louis makers in the extensive collection of Dr. Richard and Robert Elgin of Rolla, Missouri.

As is evident in the rather brief paragraphs about some of the makers, there is very little record of some of these gentlemen’s lives. All that could reasonably be discovered is included. The authors believe this paper is a good initial study. As with “Smart,” other St. Louis makers will probably be discovered, and additional research is needed into the makers included in this paper.

The makers are arranged alphabetically. At the paper’s end is a chart showing each maker’s name and the dates of their entries in the St. Louis City Directories.

Saint Louis

St. Louis was one of the great boomtowns of American History. In the early years it was connected with the settlement of the frontier. In the more immediate past and present St. Louis’ development has demonstrated the problems of modern urban society. The federal census of 1840 recorded 16,469 persons in the city. This represented a growth rate of 181% for the decade 1830-1840, with 77% of the increase coming after 1835. St. Louis was fifth in size among the western cities. Most of this population growth came through immigration. From 1830 until the Civil War, St. Louis was one of the central points that drew immigrants, some of whom settled in the city, but the majority fitted out to claim western lands.

By the mid-1830’s the immigrant tide, both American and foreign-born, was so great it seemed to nearly engulf St. Louis. In the fall of 1834, the Republican reported, “For several days our streets have been crowded with wagons and carriages, filled with apparently substantial and worthy people, bending their course to the Far West.” In the Spring of 1835 the same newspaper observed: “Every steamboat that arrives at our wharves is crowed with passengers - some of the Louisville boats bringing us as many as three hundred at a time. It is a fair computation to say that, within the week past fifteen hundred persons have landed on our shores. Many of these remain.” In the Fall of 1836, the arrival rate was even greater. In a 30-hour period, 600 people landed at the St. Louis wharves. The most significant source of this flow was from the South, particularly from Kentucky and Tennessee. However, as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio filled up, immigration from New England and the Central Atlantic States increased perceptibly. All immigrants to 19th century St. Louis came for the same reasons: opportunities for work and wealth.

During the decade of the 1830’s a new source of population opened up to St. Louis, which was to have a tremendous impact on the ethnic makeup and also helped shape the course that the city was to follow both prior to and during the Civil War. Economic change and dislocation in the post-Napoleonic era had led to the creation of an entire class of impoverished and/or dissatisfied people in the German States. Emigrants began leaving the German States by the thousands. By the end of 1840, 152,454 had come to the United States. In the years 1835-1837, 30,000 German immigrants entered Missouri, of these, 7000 located in St. Louis. In 1837 a German-English school opened on South Second Street, and in 1838 the first German-Language book was published.

Along with the tremendous influx of German immigrants also came a small cadre of master craftsmen. Names like Ryhiner, Blattner, Winzer, Wuger, Holske and Werne were to become the early instrument makers in St. Louis. The principal mainstay of the instrument makers’ trade in the first half of the 19th century was the surveyor’s compass.

The tools for the manufacture of the surveyor’s compass were simple and not too expensive. A typical shop might include one or more turning lathes, a few vices and an assortment of miscellaneous hand tools. The artisan may have worked alone or may have employed journeymen and an apprentice or two. A skilled European craftsman did not need a large outlay of capital to start a business in the New World.

In the two decades before the Civil War, America was in the throws of a technological revolution. The rapid spread of canals, highways and railroads, and the widening use of steam power in industry and perfection of manufacturing on the principle of interchangeable parts was soon to have its effects on what the instrument makers of St. Louis made and how they conducted their businesses. In the 1830-40’s an increased demand for accuracy in railroad construction, civil engineering projects and city surveys led to a rapid acceptance of the surveyor’s transit. This instrument required its horizontal circle be precisely scribed. Unlike the surveyor’s compass, which was graduated to one degree, the transit was graduated to 30 minutes of arc. Where the compass could be scribed with the only the aid of a template, the transit required a dividing engine for the necessary precision.

This change in technology marked the beginning of the end of the small instrument shops run by a single artisan with the help of a few men. The capital and the work force necessary to successfully operate a modern instrument manufacturing facility were beyond the scope of the traditional single craftsman shop. Those who wished to remain in the business were faced with the choices of expanding their operation or going to work for some one else.

Modern manufacturing methods, along with the necessity of economic viability, had ended the heyday of the Old World artisan-craftsman. But, even though they are no longer a part of the American scene, these artisans left a tangible record of their enterprise: wonderful handmade instruments.

A.S. Aloe & Company (1860-1959, companies)

A.S. Aloe & Company began very modestly as a one-man operation on the corner of Third and Olive in 1860. The company prospered and in 1882 published the following ad: "Largest House in the States....Always on hand a large supply of Engineer and Surveyor’s Transits, Levels, Compasses, Mining Transits and Compasses, Drawing and Profile Paper, etc." The growth did not stop there. A 1905 ad simply stated "...the largest house in the world." Disregarding the advertising exaggeration typical of the period, in the early 1900’s, A.S. Aloe & Company was the largest supplier of surveying, mathematical instruments and allied goods in St. Louis and was probably the largest west of the Mississippi River.

The company founder, Albert Sidney Aloe was born in 1841 in Edinburgh, Scotland, son of Sadoc and Nancy Aloe. Albert immigrated as a child, probably with his parents, to New York City. His father, Sadoc, was in business there beginning in 1854 as an optician. The term optician at that time applied not only to those who sold optical goods, but also to those who made them. The elder Aloe probably did both.

In 1856 the young Albert left New York. He sailed around Cape Horn working as a deck hand. Albert quit the ship at San Francisco where he remained for a year, probably working in the optical trade as a lens grinder. In search of adventure and fortune, Albert made his way to South America. There he was employed as a mechanical engineer in charge of the construction of a sugar mill. By 1860 Albert had amassed, or so it seemed to him, a young fortune. With this as his backing, he returned to the United States settling in St. Louis, Missouri. Across from the Post Office he established a small business dealing in optical goods.

During this time Albert did not neglect his personal life. In 1863 he married Miss Isabella Prince. She came from a notable Belfast family, her grandfather having been a West Indian governor. This union produced four sons: Sidney, Louis, David and Alfred. The oldest three became prominent in St. Louis business circles, and the youngest was a career officer in the U.S. Army.

By 1865 Albert and his father, Sadoc, were in business together as opticians in St. Louis under the name S. Aloe & Son. In addition to selling eyeglasses, they also sold opera and field glasses, telescopes, microscopes and magnifiers.

This arrangement lasted only a couple of years and in 1867 Albert was in business for himself as A.S. Aloe. In 1876 he went into a partnership with William H. Hernstein. From 1876 until 1880 the company was doing business as Aloe & Hernstein. In 1880 it was changed to Aloe, Hernstein & Company. In 1885 Albert again decided to go his own way and established A.S. Aloe & Company. This was the final form of the company name which was to last 76 years and through two following generations of Aloes.

Soon the company had grown to such an extent it was necessary to divide into departments. The surgical department manufactured and sold all the instruments used in surgery. The photo branch manufactured photographers' equipment. The optical department manufactured and sold, at retail only, optical equipment. The exception to this practice would appear to be surveying instruments. It is not known with certainty if A.S. Aloe & Company made any surveying instruments; however, there is ample evidence the company resold the instruments of other makers (a common practice of the period). These instruments were prominently engraved “A.S. Aloe & Company” with the true maker’s name (A. Wissler, for example) hidden on the instrument. The records of the Gurley Company of New York show that on August 20, 1880, Mr. Aloe of Aloe, Hernstein & Company ordered (in person), two 18" or 20" wye levels. Possibly early in the company’s history there was not a St. Louis supplier of quality instruments. Aloe purchased instruments from Gurley for many years. Later on most of the Aloe instruments were made by Adolph Wissler of St. Louis.

Albert S. Aloe personifies the American success story, landing on these shores as an immigrant child and ending his career as a prominent citizen. His fellow St. Louisans said of him that he started in a small way and grew with the city, becoming an affluent and public-spirited citizen, readily contributing his full share toward the advancement of St. Louis. Albert was involved in many clubs, holding offices at various times in the Masonic Order, Order of Odd Fellows, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and Legion of Honor.

Albert Sidney Aloe passed away on Monday, January 30, 1893, at the age of 51 years. His funeral was held the following Wednesday with friends invited to attend. The obituary carried the notice, “New York papers please copy.”

Upon Albert's death the control of A.S. Aloe & Company was given to his second son, Louis P. Aloe. Louis was born July 20, 1867 in St. Louis. He was groomed from the very beginning for his leadership role. His education began with the Stoddard School, was continued at the Wyman Institute of Alton and he attended Washington University in St. Louis. Louis interrupted his education to work in the family business and was listed on the company masthead as secretary/treasurer at the time of his father’s death.

The company was incorporated in 1893, the same year as Albert’s death. With incorporation came a new modern letterhead for each department. These letterheads carried a list of major items sold by that department and an appropriate engraved logo, i.e. a wye level for the mathematical instrument department, a camera on the photographic department stationary and the ubiquitous spectacles for the optical department. A.S. Aloe continued to be carried as president on the letterhead through the year 1895, possibly to reflect a period of mourning. Later the masthead was changed to read, "L.P. Aloe, Prest. & Treas.; D.B. Aloe, Vice-prest.; T.D. Benjamin, Secretary."

Under Louis' leadership the company continued to prosper and grow. It became necessary to separate the optical and surgical departments. The optical department remained at 5th and Olive and the surgical department moved to 1921 Olive. The company suffered a disastrous fire in 1912; however, they soon rebuilt and were doing business as usual.

Louis Aloe not only ran A.S. Aloe & Company with a steady hand, but was active in the business community as well. He was president of the National Association of Surgical Dealers of U.S. and Canada, a member of the executive board of the Business Men's League of the City of St. Louis and president of the Columbian Club," of the largest and most representative social clubs of the city." He was a member of Temple Shaare Emeth and was noted for his untiring work for Jewish organizations.

Besides being an astute business leader, Louis was from an early age involved in politics. He was secretary of the Young Republicans of Missouri, a member at large of the Republican State Committee and for four years he was a Republican member on the Board of Election Commissioners. He also was given the honor of serving as delegate to the National Republican Convention, at which he participated in the naming of both McKinley and Roosevelt as the Republican candidates for president.

Being involved in local politics, he was instrumental in writing the city charter, and in 1915 was elected president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. In this capacity he proposed many sweeping changes. He backed a comprehensive city plan to control development and to protect residential areas from the encroachment of industry. To assist the working people he proposed an all night "lawyerless" court. He also advocated strict enforcement of the eight hour work day and payment of union scale wages in all city departments.

St. Louis Mayor Henry Kiel became suddenly ill and Louis assumed the post of Acting Mayor. In this position, Louis focused St. Louis on helping the country win the war. Louis was reelected President of the Board of Aldermen in 1919. In this position, Louis helped muster support for 87 million dollars in bond issues for civic improvement projects. In 1921, the issue was passed, at that time it was the largest bond measure of any American city. In 1925, Louis ran for Mayor of St. Louis. He stood on his record as a member of the Board of Aldermen and as an ordinary businessman, stressing common sense. In heavily Republican 1920’s St. Louis, the only thing between Aloe and the Mayor’s office was the primary election. With the support of several local newspapers and in expectation of support from his alderman work and the Jewish vote, Louis was confident of a win. He was deeply disappointed when he finished second in a three-man race, laying anti-Semitism as a contributing factor to his loss.

Louis and his wife had four children, all girls: Clarable, Viola, Isabel, and Louise. The fate of the company was to revolve around Isabel, who, while attending Smith College, met (on a blind date) Howard F. Baer. Howard was the son of David Baer, a German-Jewish immigrant who had made his money as a whisky wholesaler before prohibition. Howard and Isabel were married in 1926. Howard graduated from Princeton and worked for his uncle in Charleston, West Virginia until Louis' failing health brought Howard and Isabel to St. Louis in 1927.

After only 24 months on the job, Howard found himself as head of A.S. Aloe & Company, with the death of his father-in-law, Louis Aloe. Faced with the responsibility of a large successful company at the onset of the Great Depression, Howard said, "I was scared to death...I worked like hell and cut the budget." And cut the budget he did. By 1930 he had sold all departments except the surgical supply. The medical supply unit went on to become national in scope and eventually merged with the Brunswick Corporation in 1959.

Thus ended the largest and most notable supplier of surveying equipment in St. Louis. A.S. Aloe & Company fell victim of the Great Depression, along with many other corporations large and small.

Jacob Blattner (1812-1888, life)

Jacob Blattner was born in Berne, Switzerland on May 21, 1812. He was thoroughly trained in his homeland in the art of manufacturing precision instruments. He immigrated to New York City sometime in the 1830’s and married Maria Kleiber in the German Reformed Church of New York City on December 19, 1836. The couple returned to Switzerland where Jacob probably pursued his craft. In 1839, Jacob and his wife, along with his foreman and his foreman’s family immigrated to the United States. The group traveled by ship to New Orleans and presumably by riverboat to St. Louis. The voyage from Europe was not uneventful. The Blattner’s daughter, Louisa M., was born September 29, 1839 on the high seas en route to the United States.

Blattner opened a shop at 24 Chestnut and was first listed in the St. Louis City Directory in 1840 as a mathematical instrument maker. This address was next door to where Charles Ryhiner was doing business in the same trade in 1839. It is unknown whether the two men knew each other previously. One may speculate that Blattner may have bought out Ryhiner, for after 1839, Ryhiner is not listed in the city directories.

Jacob Blattner’s business grew, prospered and expanded in scope during the following years. Only two years after opening his shop he won a silver cup at the St. Louis Mechanics Fair. An 1850 full-page ad listed Blattner as a maker of mathematical and surgical instruments, a dealer in guns, pistols and sporting materials and offered a repair service “ short notice in the best manner.” Some of the items listed in the ad included surveyor’s compasses, chains, leveling instruments, pocket compasses, spy-glasses, barometers, thermometers, hydrometers, drawing instruments, spectacles, scales, protractors, hour glasses, microscopes, magnifying glasses, and magic lanterns. He also carried a line of non-mathematical and non-optical goods such as dental instruments, dissecting cups, syringes, lancets, forceps, tailor’s shears, druggist scales, powder flasks and game bags.

In an illustrated catalog published after 1867, Blattner offered a large range of surveyor’s compasses. They included a plain compass with a 4” needle and 12-1/2” plate selling for $30.00 ($365 in 2000 dollars) and a top-of-the-line vernier compass with a 6” needle and 15-1/2” plate for $50.00 ($610 in 2000 dollars). Also offered was a railroad compass with a fully divided circle outside the compass-box with two one-minute verniers for $80.00 ($975 in 2000 dollars). According to the catalog, this configuration “ the surveyor the power of laying off the variation of the needle, while the graduated circle enables him to take horizontal angle with great accuracy and minuteness, entirely independent of the needle.”

Repair service was an important part of Jacob Blattner’s business. His catalog stressed “particular attention paid to repairing and adjusting instruments.” We know the Surveyor General for Missouri and Illinois, Meriwether Lewis Clark (son of William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame), was a Blattner customer. Mr. Lewis mentions in a letter to his son “Lewdy” that he was “...having some alterations made to my instrument at Mr. Blattner’s shop....”

Another service offered by Mr. Blattner was special ordering. His catalog stated that he was willing " furnish on short notice any piece of apparatus, illustrated or described in the catalogues of other maker or dealer, though it may not be specified in this catalogue."

Jacob Blattner was in business in St. Louis for 33 years. During this period his business was located at least in eight different locations. Four of these changes of location took place in the time span between 1840 and 1854, a period of economic growth and expansion in the United States. One may assume these relocations were the result of needing bigger and better quarters as the business became established and grew. In 1857 the Blattner shop moved to 43 North 2nd Street, a location previously occupied by Mr. Blattner in 1853. This may have been in response to the sharp economic downturn brought about in the Panic of 1857. During the Civil War the shop was on Market Street and in 1868 it was relocated to 220 North 2nd Street where it was to remain through the rest of Jacob Blattner's tenure and also through out the existence of the successor company, Blattner & Adam.

Jacob Blattner, as were most members of the German-American community in St. Louis, was a staunch Unionist. He was probably a member of Blake’s militia, for he enlisted as a private in Company C, 3rd Regiment, U.S. Reserve Corps, Missouri Volunteers on May 8, 1861. Two days later the Missouri Volunteers surrounded and captured the encampment of southern sympathizers at Camp Jackson outside of St. Louis, which was instrumental in keeping Missouri from seceding from the Union.

Jacob and Maria had at least two other children besides Louisa. Daughter Mary Margaret was born August 19, 1843. She married during the Civil War, was widowed, and later married Theodore Henry Kleinschmit, who became prominent in Montana history. Jacob and Maria also had a son, Henry, who was to continue the business with Louisa’s husband, Frank Adam after Jacob’s retirement.

Jacob’s retirement was forced upon him in 1872 by failing eyesight. The business was turned over to his son Henry and his son-in-law Frank Adam. They continued at the same address on North 2nd Street doing business under the name of Blattner & Adam. Jacob’s early retirement went well. He had been successful in business and had accumulated enough money to live comfortably. He had a two story brick home at the southwest corner of Mississippi Avenue and Rutger Street. But apparently by 1877 he must have become restless in retirement and took a job as a machinist for G.B. Allen & Company.

This return to work was short lived however as his health continued to fail. He went to see Doctor Louis Hauck and was treated for “anaemia of the brain,” which would probably be considered depression today. His eyesight worsened, which he corrected with powerful glasses, but he now had problems with black spots. A partial recovery was affected; however, he continued to show signs of eccentricity for the remainder of his life.

Jacob’s health stabilized for a period of time but by the mid-1880’s began to deteriorate again. His eyesight was becoming worse and blindness was inevitable. His doctor stated in a newspaper interview, “Frequently, while walking along the street, he would have to grasp at some object for support.” He was troubled with insomnia and increasing depression. Jacob told his doctor on Monday, November 12, 1888 that “he was an old man, and had lived his time, and if there was no hope that his conditions would become better he wished that death would relieve him of his sufferings.”

On the morning of November 15, 1888 at 7:00 am, Mr. Blattner’s housekeeper went to wake him. She found him lying on the floor with a revolver by his side. She immediately sent for his son Henry, son-in-law Frank and Doctor Louis Hauck. The Doctor later told the papers, “When I arrived his body was still warm and he could have not been dead more than three quarters of an hour. The bullet had pierced the heart and he had suffered no pain, death being instantaneous.” The Post-Dispatch stated “The theory of his relatives is that he was unable to sleep last night and restlessness and worry put him in such a condition in a moment of despair he resolve to end his life.”

Thus ended the career of one of St. Louis’s earliest, most prolific and very talented instrument makers. The Globe-Democrat said of him “Mr. Blattner was one of the early merchants of St. Louis and quite widely known and respected generally.” A modern scientific instrument restorer has said of Jacob Blattner’s work “the hand engraving on compass face, circle and vernier was the work of a master.”

Blattner & Adam (1872-1891, company)

The successor to Jacob Blattner’s operation of 30 years was the company, Blattner & Adam. It was formed around 1871, upon Jacob Blattner’s forced retirement due to failing eyesight. The principals were Henry Blattner, Jacob's son, and Frank Adam, Jacob's son-in-law. The business remained in the same location as before, at 220 North 4th Street.

The firm sold optical goods and manufactured and sold mathematical instruments, surveyor's chains, plumb bobs, compasses, levels and transits. Blattner & Adam also specialized in repair. Their 1882 catalog stated: "Our facilities for the manufacture and repair of engineering and surveying instruments are unexcelled." They probably took trade-ins, for in the same catalog the customer was advised to send for their monthly bargain list of second-hand transits, levels, compasses and other engineering instruments.

They advertised in their catalog an "Engineers Y level of most approved form and construction...has an 18" telescope with large, strong Y's made of the best bell metal. The level bar is made...of well hammered brass as to possess the greatest strength...." This level was priced at $135 ($2477 in 2000 dollars). Also in the catalog was an engineer's transit which "...has a telescope of 10" or 12" constructed with the finest lenses, has two verniers at right angles to the telescope reading to single or 1/2 minute." They also offered a surveyor's transit for the same price, $180 ($3302 in 2000 dollars). This transit featured a vernier on the compass plate for setting off magnetic variation.

Diversification soon came to Blattner & Adam. Because of their technical experience and skill, they installed and serviced some of the first electrical equipment in St. Louis. Frank Adam was very interested in electricity and was one of the first men in St. Louis to be properly called an electrical engineer. He undertook to install signal fire alarms for the city and after 1876 performed this work exclusively. Electrification was also applied to Blattner & Adam's own operation. In 1888 a two-horsepower electric motor was installed to drive the machinery for the manufacturing end of the business.

Frank Adam was born February 2, 1838 in Freiburg, Baden, Germany, one of the twelve boys and one girl born to Frederick and Maria E. Adam. He was educated in Germany but immigrated to the United States at the age of 15 in 1853. He first worked as a watchmaker’s apprentice in Newark, New Jersey and then as a journeyman watchmaker in Richmond, Virginia. He proved to be so skillful that his employers, Mitchell and Tyler, paid a substitute to take his place in the Confederate Army. He then relocated in Montreal, Canada, where he worked with Learmont. He came to St. Louis in 1865 and was employed by Jehu Sylvester. 1869 listed him in the St. Louis City Directory as having a position with Jacob Blattner.

On January 7, 1869 Frank Adam married Jacob Blattner's daughter, Louisa. The union produced four children: Frederick B., William, Anna M., Harry C. and Edwin C. The eldest child, Frederick Blattner Adam, was raised in the business, starting work at the age of 16, making links for surveyor's chains. Young Frederick later was promoted to making plumb bobs and compasses using a foot powered lathe.

Henry Blattner learned his trade under the tutelage of his father, Jacob Blattner. Henry had an inventive turn of mind. In 1882 he was granted patent number 264,061 for a surveyor’s transit with folding standards for easier transport and storage. Henry was also one of the early developers of dry plate photography.

In 1891 the Blattner & Adam store was obtained by a real estate developer for the site of the Rialto Building. The firm was dissolved and split into three parts. Henry Blattner took the optical business and moved to 706 Olive. Frank Adam took the electrical department and established Frank Adam Electric, doing business at 807 Market. Adolph Wissler, who set up shop at 202 North 6th Street, acquired the instrument-manufacturing department.

Henry Blattner eventually sold the optical business and concentrated exclusively on special photography. Frank Adam died September 12, 1922. He was survived by his four children and was interred at Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Fink Instrument Company (1905-1929, company)

Frederick B. Fink was the manager of Keuffel & Esser’s St. Louis sales office in the years 1904 and 1905. In 1905 he incorporated the Fink Instrument Company with capital assets of $12,500 and began doing business at 105 North Eighth Street. Fink was the president of the Fink Instrument Company from 1905 until 1914. Sometime between 1911 and 1914 the company moved their operation to 804 Pine Street. After 1915 Frederick Fink no longer appears in the St. Louis City Directory. Frederick J. Feineman is listed as president in the years 1916 through 1918. The company was listed as a manufacturer of surveying and mathematical instruments in both Gould’s Red Book for 1912-1913 and Gould’s Red-Blue Book for 1918.

Hernstein & Prince (1885-1887, company)

Hernstein and Prince appear to be a partnership of two ex-Aloe employees. William H. Hernstein was in business with A.S. Aloe from 1876 to 1885. In 1885 the Aloe and Hernstein partnership was dissolved and Aloe established A.S. Aloe & Company. William Hernstein first appears in the St. Louis City Directory in 1874, with his occupation listed as a druggist. Beginning in 1876 he is listed as a principal of Aloe & Hernstein. David Prince first appears in the city directory in 1869 and his occupation is listed as a stencil cutter. Prince next appears in 1878 as a salesman for A.S. Aloe and as a clerk in 1879-80. In 1881 Aloe, Hernstein & Company is organized and Prince is listed as principal of that firm even though he is not included in the firm name.

David Prince was probably a nephew of A.S. Aloe and most likely a son-in-law to Hernstein. Prince lived with Hernstein in 1882. In 1884, when Hernstein moved from Pine Street to Laclede Avenue, Prince moved with him.

Hernstein & Prince is listed in the 1885 directory as doing business at 317 North 4th Street, in the same block, but across the street from the former Aloe, Hernstein & Company. The business was apparently short lived. Neither of the men, nor the business is listed in the 1889 directory. David Prince is not listed in the St. Louis directories after this time. By 1891 William Hernstein had returned to A.S. Aloe & Company where he was employed as a clerk and manager until 1898.

Mahn & Company (1891-1906, company)

Herman Mahn operated Mahn & Company between 1891 and 1906 located at 212 Locust Street in St. Louis. The company was listed in 1891 as dealing in surgical instruments. By 1893 Mahn & Company's catalog listed a line of transit-theodolites, transits, levels and custom made scientific and geodetic instruments. The company also made astronomical instruments but only to order "...each customer having ideas of his, to which the constructor must adhere...." They boasted of a complete and modern manufacturing facility, "...consisting of the latest and most improved machinery and tools, with the advantages of steam power...we are enabled to compete with the best makers in quality of work as well as in prices."

They also repaired instruments of other makers as well as their own. A notice in the shop carried the warning that with the exception of Mahn & Company and other first rate makers, they were only responsible for their own work. The reason given was that many instruments of lesser quality simply could not be made perfect.

It appears Mahn targeted the western market. The introduction of the company’s 1893 catalog states, "We are very confident that hereafter Western Engineers, Colleges, and other Education Institutions need not go further for their instruments; for in prices, as well as in quality, we are enabled to compete with the oldest and best known factories in the eastern market."

Leonard N. Nutz (1848-?, company)

Leonard Nutz first appeared in the St. Louis City Directory in 1848. He is listed as a machinist, residing at 158 Olive Street. He is next listed in 1851, giving machinist as his trade. In his 1852 listing Nutz is again listed as a machinist, located at 10 Second Street, between Market and Chestnut. This address is only one block from Jacob Blattner’s establishment at 43 Second Street, between Chestnut and Pine. After this there is a five-year hiatus in the listings for Nutz. In 1857 Leonard Nutz is listed as a mathematical and philosophical instrument maker, doing business at 21 North Washington and residing at 109 St. Charles. Also residing at 109 St. Charles is William R. Nutz, whose occupation is given as machinist. The relationship between them is unknown. After 1857 Nutz is no longer found in the St. Louis city directories.

Louis Ruckert (1852-1910, life)

Louis Ruckert was born in Germany on March 29, 1852, the son of Herman and Ungar Ruckert. He married Philippine Witter and was the father of Edward Gisler Ruckert. Ruckert died November 1, 1910 in St. Louis.

Ruckert sold drafting supplies and surveying instruments in St. Louis from 1900 until his death in 1910. He was first listed in the St. Louis directory in 1890 as a clerk and was listed in 1897 as being in the employment of Keuffel & Esser. He was listed as President of the L. Ruckert Company beginning in 1901.

It would appear Ruckert never manufactured the instruments which bore his name. Joseph E. Dietzgen, president of the Eugene Dietzgen Company of Chicago, believed Peter Heer of Chicago manufactured the transits sold by Ruckert. Howard Bay of Howard Bay Instruments, St. Louis has stated that Adolph Wissler of St. Louis also made instruments for Ruckert.

Charles Ryhiner (1808-?, life)

Charles Ryhiner was born on May 1, 1808 in Basel, Switzerland. He immigrated with his older brother Frederick to the United States in 1835, landing in New York on May 27, 1835. He subsequently settled in St. Louis and was listed as a mathematical instrument maker in the 1838-39 directory doing business at 26 Chestnut. This area may have been attractive to craftsmen, for Jacob Blattner had his shop next door at 24 Chestnut in 1840. Charles (along with his brother, Frederick) became a naturalized citizen of the United States on August 14, 1838.

Seiler Instrument Company (1945-Today, company)

Eric H. Seiler was born in Jena, Germany on April 30, 1899. In 1918 he graduated from the Carl Zeiss School of Fine Optics as a “Fine Mechanic.” After service in the Navy in World War I, he returned to Jena to further his education, earning the degree Master of Fine Optics. In 1924 Eric H. Seiler immigrated to the United States, settling in St. Louis, Missouri where he was employed by Wissler Instrument Company. In 1926 he was promoted to Manager of the Company.

In the late 1930’s the Wissler Instrument Company was bought by the David White Company, but it continued to operate under the name of Wissler Instrument Company. In 1944 the David White Company closed Wissler Instrument Company and moved only Eric H. Seiler and Ervin Schmidt to their home office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At the time of the closing Wissler employed about 100 employees in St. Louis, mostly due to World War II military contracts.

After leaving David White in 1945, Eric H. Seiler founded Seiler Instrument Company in a small facility at 922 Pine Street, St. Louis, Missouri. Its primary service was the repair and overhaul of surveying instruments and microscopes. The company continued to grow and was soon manufacturing instruments designed by Eric H. Seiler. Most were levels for the construction industry, but later included Dumpy levels and transits. In 1956 the company outgrew its facility and moved to 1629 Washington Avenue. At this larger facility more room was available for manufacturing. Due to competitive pressures from overseas manufacturers, the company concentrated more on military optics.

In 1968 the company moved to a new facility designed to accommodate a complete optical manufacturing environment on one floor. At 170 East Kirkham, Webster Groves, Missouri, Seiler has since purchased two adjoining buildings to accommodate expansion. Today the company occupies 50,000 square feet, employs about 100 people, and has five other offices, selling surveying instrumentation in seven midwestern states.

Eric H. Seiler died in 1981. His son, Eric P. Seiler now directs the business. His sons, Eric P. Seiler, Jr. and Tom Seiler also are active in the business.

George Winzer (1837-1905, life)

George Winzer was born in Germany April 1, 1837. William J. Young of Philadelphia employed him prior to moving to St. Louis.

Winzer established his business of scientific optician and manufacturer of surveying instruments in St. Louis in 1860. He manufactured all types of optical goods and scientific instruments. His stock included surveying instruments, opera glasses, eyeglasses, magnifying glasses, microscopes and thermometers. His son, George Jr., joined him in the family business in 1882 as clerk, and 1884 listed George Jr. as an optician. The senior Winzer’s business location at 22 South Fourth Street was well known in the St. Louis community. His clientele included the Union Pacific of Pacific, Missouri and many other railroads. Surveyors and opticians in St. Louis held him in high regard

He predeceased his wife Mary, numerous children and grandchildren on July 12, 1905. A private interment was held.

Adolph Wissler (1866-1926, life)

Adolph Wissler was born in St. Louis on August 10, 1866, the son of Ludwig Louis Wissler and Johanna Wissler both formerly of Baden, Germany. Beginning in 1881 he worked as a machinist before going into business for himself.

With the dissolution of the firm of Blattner & Adam in 1891, Adolph Wissler bought their mathematical instrument division. He conducted business under several names through the years. In the 1900 city directory he was listed as "Wissler, Adolph, Surveying Instruments", by 1905 he was doing business as the Wissler Instrument Works. That company was sold to David White of Milwaukee in 1929 but continued in St. Louis as the Wissler Instrument Company until 1944 when it was moved to Milwaukee and absorbed into the David White Company.

The Wissler Instrument Works was dedicated exclusively to the manufacture and repair of engineering, surveying and scientific instruments. He stressed they combined in their instruments the accuracy and finish of European craftsmanship with the lightness and durability desired by American engineers. They stood firmly behind and believed in their products. In their catalog was the statement, “We positively guarantee the accuracy and workmanship of all instrument of our make.”

Adolph Wissler, although trained in the Old World tradition, was progressive, open to suggestions for improvement and innovation. His literature stated he was willing to incorporate suggestions regarding details of construction that his clients found desirable. On July 24, 1917 he was granted patent number 1,234,520 for a combination level and transit. The principal feature of this instrument was fixed trunnions (unlike earlier combination instruments) on the telescope, which allowed the rapid conversion from level to transit without the necessity of carrying extra parts to perform the conversion. Many examples of this instrument are existent today.

Wissler not only manufactured instruments under his own name but also provided instruments for other dealers including A.S. Aloe & Company and Louis Ruckert. He put the Aloe name on the eyepiece assemblies of at least some of the instruments sold to them. There are A.S. Aloe convertible levels with “Made by A. Wissler” stamped on the back of the tab that contains the horizontal circle vernier.

Adolph never married. When he died in St. Louis on January 9, 1926, he was survived by his brothers Jacob and Louis and at least two nephews and four nieces. He was interred at the Bethania Cemetery.

Konrad Wuger (?)

Konrad Wuger operated as a mathematical instrument maker in St. Louis before the Civil War. In the 1854-55 city directory his business address is listed as 112 South 2nd Street. In the 1857-60 directories both the business and residence address is 63 North 2nd Street. There were no directories published during 1861-1863. Wuger does not appear in the 1864-65 directory.

Other Makers

In a special class of makers, the following is a tabulation of individuals or companies that were listed in the St. Louis City Directories as either a “surveying instrument maker” or as a “mathematical instrument maker.” No biographical or company information could be found concerning these makers. There are no instruments known to the authors that were made by these makers, with one exception: There are known instruments marked “Kuhlo & Mahn.”



Blattner & Gury


Erker Brothers Optical

William Holske 1857-1858
Theodore Kessel 1898-1929
Arnold Kuhlo 1885-1889
Kilo & Mahn 1890
William Sprengnether 1903-1929
Phillip Werne 1857-1858
John Zeiser 1901-1918


**New Information**

We now have pictures representative of William Holske's work.  

Further Research

As researchers with special interests in the St. Louis makers, the authors would appreciate receiving information about the lives or instruments of the makers listed in this paper.


Hugh A. Parsons, PS is Chief of the Office for Elgin Surveying & Engineering, Inc. He holds a BA in History from the University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR).
Richard L. Elgin, PhD, PS, PE is President of Elgin Surveying & Engineering, Inc. He has BS and MS degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR) and PhD from the University of Arkansas. Dr. Elgin owns one of the largest collections of early American surveying instruments in the United States.

Copyrighted 2000, Elgin Surveying & Engineering, Inc.


wisslermidtransit.JPG (34366 bytes)  
Wissler Transit  
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Rhyner Compass  
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Blattner & Adam Transit  
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Hernstein & Prince Compass  
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Aloe Compass  
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Aloe Convertible Level  
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Blattner & Adam Telescopic Compass  
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Blattner Wye Level  
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Blattner Compass  
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Aloe Transit  
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Wissler Combination Level  
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Wissler "Midget Transit"  
wisslermidlevel.JPG (30349 bytes)  
Wissler "Midget Level"  
Mvc-064s.JPG (31566 bytes)  
Mahn Dumpy Level  

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