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That perseverance and effort intelligently directed may overcome all obstacles and difficulties is illustrated in the history of Fred W. Gunther, now conducting an extensive canning business and sauerkraut manufactory, a business that brings to him excellent profit although at the outset it seemed that failure would follow the venture. Born in Buffalo, New York, on the 18th of February, 1854, Fred W. Gunther is a son of Henry A. and Caroline Gunther, who in the year 1856 came to Racine. The father, who was a machinist by trade, died in 1912 but the mother is still living and has reached the age of eighty-five years.
Brought to this city when but two years of age, Fred W. Gunther obtained a public school education and afterward learned the machinist’s trade which he followed for sixteen years. In 1882 he began putting up sauerkraut in the hack end of the machine shop, it being his desire to make something for sale. In that year there was little cabbage to be had. A St. Louis man came to Racine and purchased practically all the market supply of cabbage after which he began manufacturing sauerkraut. Mr. Gunther and his father were running a little machine shop and they made a machine for the man to cut cabbage. He left without paying for the machine so that Mr. Gunther took over the machine and he started in the sauerkraut business. He and his father borrowed six hundred dollars from the bank in order to embark in the undertaking. The first year their output was two hundred barrels and the kraut was advertised at eight dollars per barrel. It was worth however, only three dollars per barrel on the market, but Mr. Gunther did not know this. He sent thirty barrels to Baltimore and the buyer failed. His plant was erected on Villa Street at the corner of Sixth Street. In the early days of the undertaking Mr. Gunther realized but little, selling his output at a figure that brought him practically no return. He was ready to abandon the business, but he had in his possession over one thousand empty barrels which he had purchased at a bargain. The next year he again manufactured sauerkraut and then prices were good so that he made money and his output was such that he not only used all of the barrels which he had on hand but bought more. He then built a plant with a capacity of two thousand barrels per year at a cost of fifteen hundred dollars, but the following year the market went flat and he again lost money. He had been paying for cabbage by the head and he originated the idea of buying it by the ton, being the first man to do so. That year he had kraut all over Racine, in steamboat docks, in freight depots, in cellars and other places. In the spring the odor began to permeate and everyone insisted that the kraut be moved. He could not sell it, so took one hundred and fifty barrels out in the lake and fed it to the fish. A week later it was reported that. a wreck must have occurred, for sauerkraut was coming in all along the shore of Lake Michigan and the farmers finding it were peddling it. Times changed, however, and with the next. year Mr. Gunther had better luck. He removed his plant to Asylum Avenue and the St. Paul tracks, leasing the property from Mrs. Murray, and later he purchased the property. His plant now covers about an acre of ground. The first year in his present location he again met almost insurmountable difficulties and hardships and disaster threatened him. Over one thousand tons of cabbage spoiled and was (lumped along the right of way of the St. Paul tracks for miles. During the second year at the present location the business fared better and the equipment was so arranged that the cabbage would not spoil. After that the company rented land and raised their own cabbage, starting with from thirty to forty acres. Something of the growth of the business is indicated in the fact that they now plant over five hundred acres per year and Mr. Gunther individually owns a farm of three hundred acres which is planted to cabbage and beans. They contract with the farmers for the balance of their needs. In 1904 he began a general canning business and now puts up nearly one million cans of beans and sauerkraut annually and also about twelve thousand barrels of sauerkraut, employing five hundred people during the rush season. This has become an important industry of Racine and the business now brings to him a very substantial income upon his investment.
On the 14th of June, 1877, Mr. Gunther was married to Miss Susanna Horner, a native of Racine and a daughter of John F. and Mary Horner. Their children are Henry A., Fred J. and Royal F., all of whom are in business with their father. In 1893 the business was incorporated with Henry A. Gunther, Sr., as president; Emil Gunther, vice president, and Fred W. Gunther, secretary and treasurer. In 1911 Henry A. Gunther, Jr., Fred J. and Royal F. Gunther, the sons of our subject, purchased the interests of Henry A. Gunther, Sr., and Emil Gunther, and the present officers are: Fred J. Gunther, president Royal F. Gunther, vice president; Henry A. Gunther, secretary, and F. W. Gunther, treasurer and manager. In addition to his important interests in this connection Mr. Gunther has become identified with the Helmuth Cooperage Company of Chicago, is vice president of the Racine City Bank and is a large realty owner, holding much city property. He has opened a large tract for factory sites on the St. Paul Railroad, within the city limits, and at the present time he is financing the building of the new Perfex radiator factories, which are being constructed on a part of this addition, and is thereby adding to the industrial development, growth and prosperity of the city.
Mr. Gunther belongs to the United Commercial Travelers and he gives his political support to the Republican Party, but has had little time for outside interests, always concentrating his efforts and energies upon his private business affairs. On many occasions he has been unable to meet his notes to the farmers, but he has always managed to work out some solution for the difficulty o and his creditors, knowing his honesty and intense industry, have given him time. Today he is at the head of one of the big manufacturing concerns in the city and his course is an illustration of what energy, determination and perseverance will accomplish. He possesses a saving sense of humor and at all times is able to see the fun in any situation. This undoubtedly has been one of the elements in his success, enabling him to tide over the hard times, and he is always ready to meet anyone with a smile, while many a humorous story from his lips entertains his auditors. Today he has reached a position of notable success, directing and controlling important interests of wide scope, and his record is one which should serve to encourage and inspire others, proving that there are no obstacles and difficulties in the business world that cannot, he overcome by persistent, honorable and intelligently directed effort.