Biography of Francis George Klein
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It is seldom that one of eighty-three years is found active in business life, but such is the record of Francis George Klein, who still gives supervision to his commercial and manufacturing interests, his sons, however, being his active associates and assistants in the conduct of the interests which are carried on under the name of the F. G. Klein Company at Burlington. A native of France, he was born in St. John, Alsace, February 5, 1833, a son of Francis and Mary Ann (Wagner) Klein, the former born at Eckerzweilver and the latter at St. John, in Alsace. The grandfather always remained a resident of France. The family comes of German ancestry and one of the great grandfathers, whose name was Birgel, was with the French army at the battle of Waterloo, in which he sustained a wound across the side of his face, causing the loss of an eye and permanent disfigurement. He lived to the notable age of ninety-nine years and Francis O. Klein remembers distinctly of seeing him, being rather repelled than attracted to him by reason of the disfigurement occasioned by his wound. Although not a man of great stature, he possessed remarkable strength. The paternal grandfather was a wheelwright by trade and also followed the occupation of farming, owning a small tract of land. He engaged in the growing of grapes and the manufacture of wine, which was the beverage uniformly used. While still a resident of Alsace, Francis Klein, the father of F. G. Klein, became a soldier and was for seven years with the army, and on one occasion he marched for three days, carrying knapsack and gun and averaging seventy-one miles per day. In 1840 Francis Klein started for America, bringing with him his family, consisting of wife, two sons and a daughter. They made the voyage in one of the old-time sailing vessels-a speedy voyage for that day, as they reached their destination on the 18th of October, after but thirty-one days on the water. They continued the journey to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, where they remained until 1855 and where the father followed his trade of shoemaking. Coming to Burlington when work was scarce, he afterward removed to Racine and bought a small house on Sixth Street, near the City Hotel. There he continued to follow his trade until 1860, when he removed to Chicago, where his daughter was married to Frank Schneider, who was then sheriff of Racine County, while another daughter became the wife of Frank Vogt. After a year spent in Chicago Mr. Klein returned to Burlington and purchased a home on McHenry Street, which he occupied until his death in 1884, when he was eighty-two years of age. His wife had previously passed away, dying at the age of sixty-five. They had a family of five children, three sons and two daughters.
Francis G. Klein, the eldest, has in his possession a willow basket which was given him on his first birthday and which was borne on the shoulders, being used to carry chips in. He learned German at home and French in the schools and after coming to America attended school at Pottsville, Pennsylvania. At a very early age he worked at the shoemaker’s trade with his father, but not liking that pursuit, he became an apprentice in the foundry of John Potts Orchard, there learning the blacksmith’s trade during his three years’ term of indenture. He afterward had an additional year’s instruction in Snyder’s foundry at Pottsville and later worked in the shops of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, where he continued for three years. He still has in his possession his recommendation from that employer, dated February 15, 1856, and which speaks in the highest terms of him as an “excellent mechanic, industrious and obliging.” During his service there Mr. Klein made a patent cow catcher, which the older mechanics said it was impossible to do with the appliances at hand. The result of this was an increase in his wages. He afterward went to work for the Mine Hill & Schuyler Haven Railroad Company, from which he also has a recommendation dated June 21, 1856. He then came to Burlington, where he had relatives, but the place was small and he could find no work in his line. He traveled over a large part of the state, but had little opportunity to work at his trade. He then returned to Burlington and soon afterward the family removed to Racine, where all secured employment. Mr. Klein there worked in the car shops of the Racine & Mississippi Railroad and owing to the fact that he voted against the issuance of bonds by the city, the railroad company discharged him. Work was scare and after four weeks he entered the employ of J. I. Case, who was then building threshers, acting as foreman in the blacksmith shop.
It was about this time or on the 4th of February, 1862, that Mr. Klein wedded Miss Mary Ann Prasch, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, a daughter of Phillip Prasch, a native of Bavaria, Germany. The children of this marriage are: Cecelia, who is now the wife of John Rose, proprietor of a bakery and ten cent store; Mary Ann, who is now at St. Francis, Sacred Heart congregation, with her brother; Addie, the wife of J. K Amond, of Appleton, Wisconsin; Celestine, deceased; F. X., now in business with his father as acting manager of the plant; Louisa, at home; Otto, who is also connected with his father in business and is serving as supervisor of Burlington from the third ward, and Eleanora, Emma and Lydia, all at home. Phillip John, the sixth child of the family, was educated at St. Francis and was ordained to the priesthood in Milwaukee at the Cathedral in 1892. He was first assigned to pastoral duty in Kenosha and is now resident priest at Sacred Heart church in St. Francis, having been previously at Whitewater and New Coeln. Seven children have passed away, two sons and five daughters, there having been a family of seventeen.
In the fall of 1862 a daughter was born, and owing to the wife’s extreme illness, the doctor commanded that Mr. Klein should not go to the front as a soldier in the Civil war, so he hired Nicholas Weber to go as his substitute, paying him two hundred dollars. The J. I. Case plant, in which he was employed, closed down during the winter, but Mr. Klein advised Mr. Case to continue work. Mr. Klein had purchased iron at two and one-half cents and he advised Mr. Case to duplicate the order, the wisdom of which was seen in the fact that iron soon afterward advanced to six and one-half cents. Among the recommendations which he holds he has one from the Case Company, dated June 7, 1865, at the close of four years of faithful service, the termination of this relation being caused by ill health. Returning to Burlington, he joined his uncle, Hubert Wagner, in a small shop, their attention being given to the building of threshing machines. He still continued in ill health, but after some time gradually improved and after two years he purchased the interest of Mr. Williams, deceased, and entered into partnership with Mr. McComber in the manufacture of plows and cultivators. They made a cultivator which was patented by the firm of McComber & Klein, continuing in the business for six years. Following the dissolution of the partnership Mr. Klein engaged in selling farm implements for a year and then purchased an interest in the business of John H. Bower, who had been conducting a small pop manufactory. After three years his son, Frank, purchased Mr. Bower’s interests and they have since continued the business under the firm style of the F. G. Klein Company. Their present plant is a three story building, sixty by eighty feet, built in attractive style of architecture and equipped with the latest improved machinery. They also have a branch establishment in Chicago at Nos. 1878 to 1900 Sheffield avenue. Their business has long been a substantial one and a spirit of indefatigable enterprise has characterized Mr. Klein at every point in his career.
Interested and active in community affairs. Mr. Klein served as justice of the peace for a time and was a member of the village board of Burlington before its incorporation. For eight years he served as supervisor on the County hoard from the third ward, making an excellent record in that connection. He belongs to St. Eustachius Society and while residing in Racine he was the promoter of the Singing Club in St. Mary’s congregation, of which he served as president for three years. When the ship Lady Elson sank in 1860, owing to the great loss of life, four hundred children being left orphans, Mr. Klein organized a benefit conducted by the Singing Club which netted a large sum of money for the children. He has always been a man of generous spirit, continually reaching out a helping hand and doing kind acts for the needy. He is a remarkably well preserved man of eighty-three years, active mentally and physically, and he personally attends to the manufacture of all the syrups made by the firm in their splendidly equipped plant, where everything is kept scrupulously clean. He and his wife have lived happily together for fifty-four years. She, too, is splendidly preserved and they are a notable couple, honored and respected by all, Burlington numbering them among her most valued citizens.