By Peter S. Adam
In 1839, Nicholas Schaeffer founded Schaeffer Manufacturing Co., which has manufactured lubricants in America longer than any other company.
Childhood and Early Travels
|Born in 1814 in Germany, where he worked for a soap and candle maker, Schaeffer emigrated to America with his mother and three brothers. They arrived in Baltimore in 1832 and headed westward. Not far into their journey, their horse was stolen and he and his brothers had to cross the Allegheny Mountains on foot. He settled for a few years in Cincinnati doing various jobs, then moved on to St. Louis, where in 1839 he established his business.
St. Louis was founded just 75 years earlier, in 1764. By the mid 19th Century, it had become an important Mississippi River port. Steamboats brought goods here from all over the world. They hauled mid-America's agricultural bounty from here to far-away markets, sailing to and from Pittsburgh and other river ports, connecting with ocean-going trade at places like New Orleans. Steam engines and steam cylinders demanded lubricants.
The City's First Millionaire
Nicholas Schaeffer saw the opportunity St. Louis offered. He became its first millionaire. One of his contemporaries in the city was Eberhard Anheuser, founder of the Anheuser-Busch brewing empire.
|Merchants of St. Louis faced bad economic times as well as good. During the economic panic of 1875, Schaeffer, who had generously co-signed notes for his German friends whose mortgages collapsed, was financially ruined.
However, he held on to Schaeffer Manufacturing, as did his sons later-on. Oldest son Jacob became president in 1880, upon Nicholas' death. The company that Nicholas started became the largest soap and candle maker west of the Mississippi. Boss was the company brand name adopted for its laundry bar soaps and Star for its candles.
The Legend of Black Beauty
|Stories are told of how miners in Alaska in the 1850s used Black Beauty grease on their faces to protect themselves from wintry weather where temperatures reached down to 60 below zero. Because the grease was made of animal fats, it was said that miners even used it to fry their eggs making Black Beauty one of the earliest multi-purpose greases.
After 1859, the company turned to petroleum as the base of its lubricating products which improved its performance in transport and industrial applications but precluded its use in food preparation. Pioneer lubricant marketers faced some unusual challenges.
The 20th Century
|When Jacob died in 1917, William Shields, who was married to Jacob's only daughter, Marie, became president. William remained president until his oldest son, Tom, succeeded him. World War I, the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression and World War II impacted the St. Louis area much as they did other parts of America. "During the depression year, it was very, very slow and we were just holding on," says John Shields, who credits his brother Tom Shields with breathing new life into the company. "The business had a rebirth in 1947, when my brother Tom came back from the war and instituted new products," recalls John. Tom was a glider pilot during World War II. "We went aggressively into direct selling," he remembers. According to John, Tom also initiated grease products that contained "moly" (molybdenum disulfide). Another brother, Gwynne Shields, was in charge of production. Mike Ryterski was master grease maker.
Impressive Sales Force
When Gwynne died, Ryterski became vice president of production. John Shields became actively involved with the company after Tom's death in 1982.
Present Day Leadership
Tom Herrmann, CEO
Mike Ryterski, Gwynne Shields