Biography of Christian Hoffman
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Christian Hoffman. While Kansas had produced many notable business men, the success of none of them had more perfectly represented the outflowing of integrity of character and a tireless energy and good judgment than that achieved by Christian Hoffman, founder of the City of Enterprise in Dickinson County and the founder and upbuilder of a milling and elevator industry which, until it was merged with other similar enterprises, was one of the largest in the entire State of Kansas.
He was a territorial pioneer of Kansas, having arrived at Leavenworth in 1857. During his early years in Kansas he was known as a hard working carpenter and an honest and straightforward young mechanic, and the promise of his large success was hardly appreciated by any of his contemporaries at that date.
The first twenty-nine years of his life he spent in his native country of Switzerland. He was born in the canton of St. Gallen August 1, 1826, a son of Lenard and Agatha (Rohrer) Hoffman. After leaving public school he became an apprentice at the age of fifteen in the baker’s trade, and later acquired a thorough knowledge of the milling industry. When he came to the United States in February, 1855, and located at West Bend in Washington County, Wisconsin, the best opening for him was as a carpenter’s helper, and he thoroughly learned the carpenter’s trade and assisted in the building of several sawmills.
For several years after coming to Kansas he lived at Leavenworth. In 1860 he was joined by his father, mother, and a brother and a sister, who had immigrated from Switzerland to Washington County, Wisconsin, in 1857.
The family being reunited, they set out to find homes on what was then the western frontier. They went from Leavenworth to Dickinson County, and arrived and selected homesteads nine miles south of Abilene. They were among the pioneers who gave complexion to the early activities and civic character of that part of Dickinson County. The name of their home township was selected by Mr. Hoffman in honor of the capital city of his native land, New Berne. There Lenard Hoffman died in 1874, and his wife had passed away in 1860. Their children were: Matthew, who was born in 1824; Christian; Lenard, Jr., born in 1834; Michael, who was born in 1837 and died in 1908; and Appolonia, who married Christian Rohrer, a banker and capitalist at Lawrence, Kansas.
Christian Hoffman had the distinction of building and putting in operation the second flour mill in Kansas erected west of the City of Junction City. He secured the water power rights at Louden Falls on the Smokey River in 1868, and had his flour mill in operation by the following year. It was an old fashioned grist mill, with a capacity of sixty barrels a day, and was operated entirely by water power. It was a big mill for the time. For miles around the country was sparsely populated, and only a beginning had been made of that magnificent development which had transformed this section into one of the richest farming areas of Kansas. Doubtless Mr. Hoffman had prevision of this future growth when he erected his mill. While the plant was in point of size and equipment in advance of the time, Mr. Hoffman realized that in a few years the local demand would justify his investment. He was an expert miller, and by his skill and through his mill he rendered a splendid service to the early settlers of that district. As had happened in so many other cases, the mill naturally became the center of a town. One of Mr. Hoffman’s workmen suggested a name for the village which would typify the spirit of the founder, and from that day to this Enterprise had been on the map and its growth and development have well justified the choice of the name.
As years went by Enterprise became one of the prominent seats of the flour milling industry in Kansas. The old mill, operated by water power and with a capacity of only sixty barrels a day, was supplanted by new mills, new machinery, new processes from time to time, and at the end of forty years the Hoffman plant was grinding 1,200 barrels of flour per day, and this flour was being marketed in most every state of the Union. At first the mill was operated simply under the name C. Hoffman. Later the firm became C. Hoffman and Son, and then C. Hoffman & Son Milling Company. The buying and handling of grain also became an important adjunct of the business, and in 1904 the Hoffman Elevator Company was formed and established and took over the operation of thirty-two elevators, with a combined capacity of 500,000 bushels. These elevators were situated along the Kansas lines of the Union Pacific and the Santa Fe railways.
On December 4, 1911, the Kansas Flour Mills Company was incorporated with a capital of $9,000,000. Under this large corporate title was consolidated some of the largest and best known flour mills of Kansas. The purposes of the corporate of the consolidation were to effect savings and economies in buying, operating and selling costs, in standardizing the brands manufactured, and also making possible, by the additional resources of the company, a competition for an export business. When the Kansas Flour Mills Company was organized the officers included several of Mr. Christian Hoffman’s grandsons. Thus E. V. Hoffman became second vice president; Ralph W. Hoffman was vice president in charge of maintenance; and Thad L. Hoffman was in charge of the grain department and manager of the Hoffman Mill and Elevators at Enterprise.
It was the possession of those qualities which amount to genius which enabled Christian Hoffman nearly fifty years ago to lay the foundation of such a monumental enterprise in one of the sparsely settled and undeveloped districts of Western Kansas. Such a success might be envied but it cannot be begrudged. Honor and material worth came to him in equal proportions, and none would be found to say that he had not deserved all the prestige of position and the esteem which his character and activities have gained.
In 1894 Mr. Hoffman was one of the organizers of the Dickinson County Bank at Enterprise, and for a number of years was its president. In later years he invested extensively in farm lands, in mines in Arizona and elsewhere, and during his active career he showed a very public spirited interest in everything that concerned the welfare of his home community, especially in the early days. In 1865 he was elected treasurer of Dickinson County and re-elected in 1867. He was elected in 1872 and served one term in the State Legislature, declining a renomination. For many years he was trustee of the German Methodist Episcopal Church and gave liberally to its support.
Before leaving Switzerland, on April 30, 1850, he married Miss Elsbeth Senn, who died in 1886. Her only son, Christian B. Hoffman, died in 1915. On November 3, 1886, Mr. Hoffman married Miss Anna C. Herman, who was born in Switzerland, and is still living at Enterprise and had long been active in the work of the Methodist Episcopal Church there. By this marriage there were five children: Walter L., born in 1888; John C., born in 1889; Elsbeth U., born in 1891; Arthur H., born in 1892; and Alma D., born in 1895.