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Biography of William Waltke

William Waltke, deceased, was the founder of the firm of William Waltke & Company, soap manufacturers and promoters of one of the extensive and important productive industries of St. Louis. He was born in Germany, November 22, 1824, and was educated in the schools of his native country. He served his time in the German army during the war of 1848. Following this, or in the year 1849, he came to the United States, attracted by the opportunities he believed he might enjoy on this side of the Atlantic. He made his way at once to St. Louis and here entered the employ of Becker & Brand, soap manufacturers, with whom he remained for five or six years. In these years a number of small renderers ran wagons throughout the city, gathering fats from the family garbage and paying for the same by exchange of soap. Mr. Waltke had learned the business of soap making and determined that his labors should more directly benefit himself. He then formed plans to gather the fat and make his own soap. It was in this modest way that he began his career as a soap manufacturer about 1860, his first “plant” being in a dwelling on Benedict avenue between De Soto and Prairie avenues. Two years later he removed to more commodious quarters at Second and Talcott streets and his business from that time rapidly developed. About 1868 or 1869 he commenced to build the extensive plant at Second and East Grand avenue, which has been the home of the factory since. About 1884 he admitted into partnership his two stepsons and a son-in-law, the firm of William Waltke & Company being thus organized. In 1900 the business was incorporated under the style of William Waltke & Company, Mr. Waltke continuing as the president thereof until his death, which occurred on the 25th of February, 1916. He had come as a poor emigrant boy to this country in 1849 and yet, embracing the opportunities that offered, he built up a business that brought a return in sales of about three million dollars annually, the product being shipped to every state in the Union and to many foreign countries as well.

In 1852 Mr. Waltke was married to Mrs. Anna Steinkamp, nee Kohring, and they became the parents of two children but only one is living, Louis H., who is now his father’s successor in business. Mrs. Waltke was the mother of three sons and a daughter by her former marriage, all of whom have passed away.

In religious faith Mr. Waltke was a Lutheran and was very prominent in the work of the church and in charitable affairs. Among the business men of the city none stood higher in commercial circles. His word was recognized as good as his name to a note. He manifested strict integrity in every relation and his enterprise carried him steadily forward until his position in the business life of St. Louis was a commanding one. Such a record should serve to inspire and encourage others, showing what can be accomplished through individual effort, guided by intelligence and sound judgment.

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