George Gerhardt – From Blacksmith to Selling Refrigerators

Today’s post once again sent me off on some more tangential research (down some extra rabbit holes).  This time, I was off on a journey to learn the history of refrigeration and tractor trailers.  I had actually done some of this research a while back on refrigeration when I was writing my Wittenberg ’03 book.  I had asked myself the question, “How did people keep or make drinks (like beer) cold back in those days before electricity?”  I will share a little of that research in this story.

George Bernard Gerhardt would have been 130 years old today.  He was born on March 6, 1890, the son of Edward and Hulda (Palisch) Gerhardt.  He was the firstborn child in this family.  George’s baptism record can be found in the Trinity Lutheran Church books in Altenburg, but there are some documents which say George was born in Wittenberg, so I am thinking his father’s farm may have been located between Altenburg and the Mississippi River.  Here is the baptism record for George.

George Gerhardt baptism record Trinity Altenburg MO
George Gerhardt baptism record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

We also have a Perry County birth record for George.  I will show it in two images.  This is a document that lists George’s place of birth as Wittenberg.

George Gerhardt birth record Perry County MO

George Gerhardt birth record 2 Perry County MO
George Gerhardt birth record – Perry County, MO

We find George in the 1900 census for Brazeau Township at the age of 10.

George Gerhardt 1900 census Brazeau Township MO
1900 census – Brazeau Township, MO

The next document we have for George is his confirmation record from 1904.  He was confirmed at Trinity, Altenburg.

George Gerhardt confirmation record Trinity Altenburg MO
George Gerhardt confirmation record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

I was unable to find George in the 1910 census.  I do know that he was not found living with his parents in that census.  They had moved to the Union Township by that time.

Edward Gerhardt 1910 census Union Township MO
1910 census – Union Township, MO

The 1915 land map shows the E.M. Gerhardt farm located in the Schalls area.  George’s parents would later move to Kansas.

E.M. Gerhardt land map 1915
E.M. Gerhardt land map – 1915

Let’s take some time to look at George’s future wife, Louise Schamburg.  She was born on October 20, 1885, the daughter of Adolph and Magdalena (Gaebler) Schamburg.  That makes Louise about 5 years older than George.  Louise was baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg.  Below is her baptism record.

Louise Schamburg baptism record Trinity Altenburg MO
Louise Schamburg baptism record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

Louise was 14 years old before we find her in her first census in 1900.  Her father was a cooper, and I believe this family lived in Wittenberg.

Louise Schamburg 1900 census Brazeau Township MO
1900 census – Brazeau Township, MO

After St. Paul’s Lutheran Church was established in Wittenberg in 1903, the Schamburg family can be found in their communicant records.

Schamburg family communicant records St. Paul's Wittenberg MO
Schamburg family communicant records – St. Paul’s, Wittenberg, MO

Next, we find Louise in the 1910 census.  She was a nurse for the family of Jay Smith, an investment banker in St. Louis.

Louise Schamburg 1910 census St. Louis MO
1910 census – St. Louis, MO

On June 1, 1913, George Gerhardt married Louise Schamburg at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Wittenberg.  Here is the church record for that wedding.  It was the only wedding for that congregation in 1913.

Gerhardt Schamburg marriage record St. Paul's Wittenberg MO
Gerhardt/Schamburg marriage record – St. Paul’s, Wittenberg, MO

The marriage record states that George was living in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri when this wedding took place.  The next few years after their marriage were quite eventful for this couple.  In 1915, Adolph Schmidt of Altenburg was elected as a county judge.  Adolph had been a blacksmith in Altenburg.  Below is a  photo of his blacksmith shop which still stands in town.

Adolph Schmidt's blacksmith shop
Adolph Schmidt blacksmith shop

Adolph moved to Perryville in 1915 after he was elected, but kept his shop in Altenburg.  He rented it for a while to George Gerhardt, who by that time was in the blacksmith trade.  We have a letter written by George on his business’s stationery which describes how he is paying the rent for the shop and house that he had been using.  The letter is dated 1917, which must have been the time when he was leaving Altenburg after running that blacksmith shop for a few years.

George Gerhardt blacksmith letter to Adolph Schmidt
Letter from George Gehrhardt to Adolph Schmidt – 1917

It was during his time working at this blacksmith shop that the only daughter in the Gerhardt family was born.  Her birthday was May 11, 1915.  It is recorded that Eloria Gerhardt was born in Cape Girardeau.  On first look, that appears incorrect.  However, in a Palisch family binder we have in our research library, we find a notation that Eloria was adopted by the Gerhardt’s.

George Gerhardt information Palisch family binder
George Gerhardt family info – Palisch family binder

This document says Eloria was born in 1916, but we have a baptism record for Eloria that says she was born in 1915 and baptized on February 27, 1917.

When George had his World War I draft registration completed in June of 1917, he was back living in Ste. Genevieve and working as a blacksmith there.

George Gerhardt – WWI draft registration

As the 1920 census rolled around, George and his family were living in Cape Girardeau, Missouri where he was working as a machinist in a garage.

George Gerhardt 1920 census Cape Girardeau MO
1920 census – Cape Girardeau, MO

This family was still living in Cape Girardeau when the 1930 census was taken.  This time, George was a salesman for a refrigerator company.

George Gerhardt 1930 census Cape Girardeau MO
1930 census – Cape Girardeau, MO

This is what caused me to look into the history of refrigeration.  The first electric refrigerator was developed in 1927 by General Electric.  Fridgidaire developed a version that used freon in 1930.  Prior to these developments, most households had “ice boxes” to keep food items cold.  They involved using harvested ice blocks to make the ice box cool.  If you’re as old as me, you likely heard your parents refer to their refrigerators as ice boxes all the time.

One of my most satisfying discoveries was finding out that has a collection of old Sears catalogs on their site.  I searched in a 1930 Sears catalog using the key word “refrigerator” and found these two images.  They showed ice boxes.  Most of these ice boxes were wooden cabinets.  I suspect that George was a salesman of ice boxes in Cape Girardeau in 1930.

The Gerhardt’s were still living in Cape Girardeau in 1932 because we find their daughter, Eloria, in a yearbook for that year at Central High School.  She is indicated by a green box.

Eloria Gerhardt Central High School Yearbook Cape Girardeau MO
Eloria Gerhardt – 1932 Central High School yearbook – Cape Girardeau, MO

George would experience a tragic death in 1936 at the age of 46.  His death certificate says that after an inquest, a jury declared his cause of death to be injuries as a result of a crash with a tractor trailer.  This death certificate also shows that George and Louise were living in St. Louis on Cherokee St.

George Gerhardt death certificate
George Gerhardt death certificate

Their address on Cherokee St. is not far from Holy Cross Lutheran Church in St. Louis, and we find a record of George’s death in their church books.

The above death certificate also piqued my interest in tractor trailers that may have existed in 1936.  I found this photograph of a 1930’s tractor trailer.

Tractor Trailer 1930's'
1930’s tractor trailer

His death certificate also states that George was still a refrigerator salesman when he died in 1936.  A Sears catalog entry for that year showed this picture of what a modern kitchen might have looked like.  It included an electric refrigerator.

Kitchen 1935 Sears catalog
Modern kitchen – 1936 Sears catalog

Louise and her daughter can be found in the 1940 census in St. Louis.

Louise Gerhardt 1940 census St. Louis MO
1940 census – St. Louis, MO

Louise Gerhardt died in 1966 at the age of 80.  According to her death certificate, she died at the Hamilton Nursing Home.

Louise Gerhardt death certificate
Louise Gerhardt death certificate

Both of the above death certificates state that these two were buried in the Concordia Cemetery in St. Louis. lists these two as being buried there, but there are no gravestone photos.

George’s life story took me on a wild ride.  It took me on a trip to find blacksmith shops, a garage, refrigerators, tractor trailers, and so forth.  Gerard Fiehler assisted by finding the letter to Adolph Schmidt.  And for a while, I had to absorb the shakes in our museum as they continued to break up concrete outside the building’s walls.  Now I sit comfortably in my recliner as I finish this story.  Time for a nap.



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