White Brick School Finniwig Studios KebIrish Gazette Ariadne Threads Guild

Volume 7, Issue 3

August 1, 2004


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Singer Mfg. Co.

Margaret Schmidt Grau 1867-1932

Workman's Pride - The Moulding Room at Singers

Singer Sewing Purchase in 1982

Family Favorites - Cinnamon, Raisin, & Caramel Monkey Bread

Photo Questions

Margaret Schmidt Grau


Margaret was the 8th of 12 children born to John Frederick Schmidt, Sr. and Catherine Wilhelmina Euler. She was born July 6, 1867 in Columbus, Ohio. Her siblings were John (died before 1857), Lena, John Frederick, Louise Henrietta, William Richard, Barbara, Charles, Rosina Margaret, Cathrine Mary, Michael George, and George Michael.

Margaret married a cabinetmaker, Jacob Grau. They owned two houses on 4th street in Columbus, Ohio.

Everyone said that Margaret was a wonderful person—worked so hard—took in boarders—cooked for them. She was very close to hers sisters Katy and Rose. She and her husband used to come over to Katy’s for the holidays.

Amelia Herter (daughter of Margarets brother George Michael Scmidt) recalled that Aunt Maggie weighed 220-230 lbs. She was short, real heavy set, real sweet—loved to bake and cook. When Amelia was about 10, Maggie wasn’t feeling too well and she went to stay with her for a while. Maggie taught her to make noodles, homemade soup and to bake. She would send here across the street with food gifts for the neighbors. She said it was too bad she didn’t have children because she would have made a marvelous mother.

Margaret died August 10, 1932 of a Cerebral Hemorrhage. She was buried at the Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.


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Singer Mfg. Co.

Many in our family have worked at Singer as cabinet makers and veneer layers, including Michael Bohr, Charles Juhas, Andrew Keb, Frederick Keb, Ralph Ourebeck, Franz Scope, Joyce Stoddard, and Sally Stoddard. Some long timers are Ernst Scope, a cabinet maker for 40 years, Fredrick Brinkman with 44 years, and Fredric Geissel with 54 years at Singer.

Around 1864, the western agents of the Singer company were having trouble getting machines from their Chicago distributor. The South Bend agent for Singer, E. F. Grettner thought he could get local furniture factories to bid on sewing machine-cabinet construction. At the time, Singer didn’t build its own cabinets; it contracted them out.

South bend was an excellent location for furniture making because black walnut, hickory, white oak and other hardwoods were in plentiful supply. Grettner approached several South Bend furniture makers—such as Smith and Rilling, Montgomery, and B.F. Price—for bids on 5,000 to 10,000 cabinets per month.

The work included construction of tables, box covers and drawers for the machines. But all those approached refused to bid on such a small amount of work.

Then, in 1868, Leighton Pine came from the New York office to establish a Singer Cabinet Works in the South Bend area. He chose a site on the East Race which was available for purchase at $2500.

However, Mishawaka officials, wanting the factory for their city, made an offer to Pine and other Singer officials who had come to inspect the site. They could have better water power, a better site, and 20 additional acres—all free.

The Singer officials decided to accept the Mishawaka offer and even directed Grettner to move his distribution center to Mishawaka. But Grettner decided on his own to raise money for the South Bend site by subscription from citizens, and he persuaded Miller and Greene, proprietors of the water power operation in South Bend, to offer free power to Singer.

He sent this offer to the Singer officials who had returned to New York, and it was accepted. All funds were raised, and the Singer Works came to South Bend.

In May 1868, a three-story brick building 40 feet wide and 150 feet long was build along the east race of the St. Joseph River, bounded by Emerick and Madison streets. Singer began production with 168 men and built $10,000 worth of sewing machine cabinets.

Demand outgrew production facilities by the turn of the century and the now-defunct factory at Cairo, Illinois came close to being enlarged. However, Mr. Pine, who was Works Manager then, prevailed upon the management to relocate in South Bend. In 1901 the Company purchased a 60-acre tract adjoining the foundry of the Economist Plow Company, along Western Avenue, Olive Street, and the Lake Shore &

Michigan Southern Railroad (later part of the New York Central Railroad mainline from Chicago to New York).

Initially, five rows of four-story brick buildings were built at the new Western Avenue site. At that time, they comprised the largest and finest cabinet factory in the world. The five principal departments housed were: Machinery, Veneer and Veneer Laying, Cabinet, Finishing, and Assembly. But the new Singer Works continued to expand. An extension was built onto the Cabinet Building. In 1914 a modern power plant was built; the baseball park was laid out about 1912. Employment is said to have reached a peak of 3000 during World War I. Over 5 million dollars worth of cabinets were turned out at South Bend every year during that period. The grounds, including lumber storage areas, occupied over 76 acres.

There was an in-factory railroad with about five miles of track which adjoined the Lake Shore & Michigan Railroad.

By 1914, the Singer Works was the largest machine-cabinet factory in the world. It was estimated that three-quarters of all sewing machine cases and cabinets in the world, at that time, were made in South Bend.

But, after 1914, changes came which would eventually bring an end to the South Bend operation. The plants in Scotland and Germany became nearly self-sustaining; they could buy European lumber at a price better than the cost of shipping it from the United States. Plants in Russia were lost as a result of the Russian Revolution.

Within the United States, too, it became more economical to dry and rough cut lumber at the plant near Truman, Arkansas, which was closer to the lumber supply, and to apply the veneer at the plant in Cairo, Illinois. The foundry operation in South Bend which cast machine heads, treadles and stands was phased out in 1931 because new electronic machines didn’t need them.

The Depression years were not good for Singer in South Bend. By 1932, there were 650 employees, and most of these were working only 16 hours per week. There was some growth after this, but it seems that throughout the 1930s, there were only about 800 to 900 employees.

In 1938, the factory was unionized, and Local 917 of the United Electrical Radio and Machine workers was established. By the beginning of World War II, Singer in South Bend had 1,200 employees.

At the outbreak of World War II, our country was unprepared for a global war, and our armed services needed everything right now. Most U.S. factories were order to stop or reduce production for home and farm and apply their talents to manufacturing military products.

Singer did make some special sewing machines for the war effort—for sewing silk parachutes, for making uniforms


for servicemen, and for shoemaking. But it didn’t take long to satisfy those demands.

The company’s first defense order was for 200 wooden chests for the 90mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Director and its Range Finder. But that order didn’t amount to much.

Singer then received a contract to build plywood parts for the Navy twin-engined TDN-1 airplane. They built the wings, ailerons, rudders, stabilizers and fuselages for 50 airplanes by the Vidal process: Strips of wood were coated with a resin and stapled onto a greased, wooden mold. A rubber bag was slipped over the part, and a vacuum sucked the air from the bag, pressing the wooden strips against the mold.

The vacuum bag was sealed, and the whole unit rolled into a huge autoclave. There, the heat of live steam fused the layers of wood into a thin but strong molded shell. Stripped from the mold, it was trimmed and joined to wooden bulkheads or ribs to form the airplane part.

Later, the company made all the wood parts for the Gorgon, a secret, experimental radio-controlled projectile and primitive guided missile. These parts were also made by the Vidal process. In 1944-45, Singer produced 22 complete Gorgons, 77 spare wings, 44 noses and 50 fuselages.

Singer also received a Coast Guard contract for 100 wood channel buoys to mark shipping lanes in harbors and rivers.

Aluminum was a precious metal during World War II, and another way to stretch the existing supply was to make auxiliary gasoline tanks for fighter airplanes from plywood. These tanked were carried under the wings of the fighter planes to extend their flying time. When combat was imminent, the pilot dropped the auxiliary tank so he could fight.

Singer molded more than 500 of these streamlined, 50-gallon tanks until 1944, when the new aluminum refineries of Kaiser and Alcoa went into operation and eased the shortage of aluminum.

The Army was building up its fleet of WACO CGA-15A cargo gliders for the airborne troops. Singer molded 1,2000 large plywood nose fairings for these gliders.

Singer was given permission to return to domestic production on limited basis in July 1945. Things never really returned to normal for the South Bend plant after World War II. A strike at the New Jersey plant in 1949 cut off the supply of sewing machines and, therefore, reduced the need for the cabinets made here, wages were at an all time high, and there was a shortage of locally available raw material.

A complete shutdown of the Works followed during 1954-5. The Machinery Department closed down first. Next in line were the Cabinet, Finishing, Assembly, and finally the Shipping Departments. In September 1955 the Singer Works was sold to Hammes Enterprises, Inc.

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Workman’s Pride

The Moulding Room at Singers

Come with me when the,

night had ended.

When the lengthened shadows with the light had blended;

Where the river’s southern-most bend is made

And joining the “Great Tin

Lunch Pail Brigade.”

Cross the river to the eastern side

And become an atom in the human tide,

That hurries forward to meet the gate,

Ere the Warning whistle sounds too late.


Walk with me through the waning gloom,

Till we stand inside of the moulding room,

That is filled to the ceiling

with the clatter and clang

And mallets descending with crash and bang,

With flying belts and glistening steels,

Whirling shafting and humming wheels.


Through the dust-covered windows the light creeps in,

Into the dirt and dust and din,

In where the belts sweep o’er the floor

From farthest wall to middle door,

Sweep and sway and twist and wind,

Always fling but

Always behind.


The iron shapers they drive so speedily,

That lick up the wood so fast and greedily,

And I watch its play as it fitfully falls

On the counter shafts, next

the dust-brown walls.

Over my heard in a maddening strain,

Till it seems to turn in my throbbing brain,

Revolves a dust-grimed rattling blower

With a droning hum, now high, now lower,

Till the blood in my brain is turn to chips

And is taken from brow and cheeks and lips,

From all the extremes, from every part

And is driven into the furnace heart.

Down the long line erect they stand,

Grim silent men in dusty band,

Who sway to the left and then to the right

In the dusty shades of the morning light.

He clutches his patterns with a nervous grip,

For he know the dangers of a careless slip,

And the pile of work grows by his side

A workman’s duty and a workman’s pride.


He toils through the shade

and the clear day light,

And meets in the gloaming a welcome bright.

Dear faces at the window as

he goes down the street

While hands wave in gladness

at the sound of his feet,

And who meet him in the evening, when the work of the day is done

In the dull somber twilight,

Lingering after the sun.


Written by a man named Saxon who worked in the moulding room of the Singer Manufacturing Co. in South Bend in 1881.


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Singer Sewing Machine Purchase

in 1892

On August 12, 1892, Herman Scope purchased a Singer Sewing Machine for the price of $60.00 on a payment plan. With a down payment of $10.00 and payments of $30.00, $11.00 and $9.00 the machine was paid off on November 11, 1892. The machines had a warranty for the natural wear of the machine for the natural wear of the machine for family use for the term of

five years, excepting only the wear and breakage of attachments, needles, shuttles and bobbins.

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Family Favorites

Cinnamon, Raisin & Caramel Monkey Bread



2/3 cup sugar

1 Tbs. Ground cinnamon

2 loaves (1 lb each) frozen bread dough, thawed

3 Tbs. butter, melted

10 individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped and quartered

1 cup raisins, divided


Coat 10” tube pan (or 12 cup Bundt pan) with cooking spray (if it has a removable bottom, wrap bottom with double layer of foil). Combine sugar and cinnamon; reserve. Cut each loaf into 16 pieces; shape into balls. Roll each ball in butter; roll in sugar mixture. Sprinkle 2 Tbs. Raisins into pan bottom. Arrange balls over raisins alternating with caramels, raisins and dough balls. Sprinkle with remaining sugar mixture. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Bake 30 minutes; tent with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Cool on rack 30 minutes. Remove from pan; cool.


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Photo Questions

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Keb/Irish Gazette
 Nancy (Keb) Tubbs
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