Humboldt State University ® Department of Chemistry

Robert A. Paselk Scientific Instrument Museum

 
The following history is provided courtesy of John and Geraldine Shannon, ©1999, and is reprinted with permission. For the original illustrated chapter and additional infomation (including a general history of the precision balance, other manufacturers, illustrations of assay balances, reprinted catalog materials, footnotes, etc.) see their book.
 
© Richard Paselk 2002
 

 

The Henry Troemner Company

John Meeks Shannon and Geraldine Collins Shannon


The Troemner family is an old ancestral line of Germany and "its representatives have distinguished themselves in that country as men of learning, as industrialists, as merchants, as professorial figures, and as educators." (Godcharles, 246) Although it has yet to be confirmed, it is believed that Henry Troemner's parents were Johann Justus Troemner and Catharina Schneider of Elnhausen, jurisdiction of Marburg in the Electorate of Hesse, Germany. Henry was born in 1809, probably in or close to Elnhausen, where he served an apprenticeship of eight years as a locksmith or machinist.

It is thought that Henry, together with his brother John, arrived in the Port of New York on or about May 18, 1832. Sometime between 1832 and 1839 he married Catherine Frederika Ritter, also a native of Germany. According to Godcharles, they lived in Camden, New Jersey until 1844, but this cannot be verified. (One source indicates F. Meyer accompanied them to the United States, but according to other information, he met F. Meyer after coming to the U.S. See paragraph below). As stated by the Philadelphia City Directories, John Troemner worked as a blacksmith at 317 N. Front Street from 1843 to 1845, after which he no longer appears in the listings. Henry is listed as a scale manufacturer at 196 High Street from 1844 until 1852, when the company began moving to different quarters.

Godcharles states that until sometime in 1840, the principal business of Henry Troemner had been the manufacture of sausages and that he was one of the first to make sausages in this country, having brought the knowledge with him from Germany. He is also credited as being the first coffee mill owner in the United States. Both of these claims are certainly subject to more scrutiny; it is hard to believe that no one was making sausage or owned a coffee mill in the United States at that time! It may be that he brought over a special recipe for German sausage and that he gained a reputation for making that. It could also be that he was the first to "manufacture" coffee mills in this country. Certainly, he made coffee mills, as can be evidenced by the accompanying catalogue page. It has also been stated that Troemner worked as a locksmith during the construction of Girard College in Philadelphia, but this cannot be confirmed.

Henry Troemner's friendship with F. Meyer resulted in their going into business in April 1840 as F. Meyer and Company with offices on Decatur Street (now Marshall St.). Records show the company made "prescription, jewelers' and grocers' scales and weights." . After several years, Troemner became the successor to this business and although the name didn't change, one assumes this was the start of the Troemner Balance Company. Sometime around 1844, he decided to establish his own scale and balance manufacturing business and his name appears in the 1844 Philadelphia Business Directory as a scale manufacturer. It is believed he established his first office with $500 he had saved. His first factory was located at 196 High Street where he remained until 1853, when he moved to 240 Market Street. At this time he employed three men and during the year produced goods to the value of about $5000.

During one year, Troemner encountered many drawbacks and was on the verge of discontinuing his business, when he received a most cheering and encouraging letter from a large mercantile house in New York, urging him to maintain his special line of manufacture. This letter inspired him to persevere and he was successful in overcoming his drawbacks and continued to thrive.

Not long thereafter, he received a contract to make the balances for the U. S. Mint at Philadelphia; he performed his work so satisfactorily that he was able to continue making bullion balances for the Treasury Department. "In 1857 he constructed all the balances, weights, etc., required for the U. S. Mint, Custom Houses, and Repositories and several scales for the Mexican Mint. Some of the balances made for the Assay Office in New York, and for the Branch Mint of San Francisco, cost as much as $1,000, and one made several years prior cost $1,250. Besides balances like these, which must turn with the thousandth part of a grain, Mr. Troemner constructs Patent Balances that will weigh twelve tons." (Freedley, 335)

"Henry Troemner probably was the first American [manufacturer] to make scales on the principle of having the load superimposed on, instead of being suspended from the beam, the invention of the French mathematician G. P. Roberval (1602-1675). This system enabled quicker, if not as accurate weighing although the Torsion scale which was later developed allowed much greater precision and accuracy in the type of scale. . . One of his earliest analytical balances is illustrated in the first edition (1888) of 'Iron Analysis', by Andrew H. Blair (1848-1932), the noted chemist who provided America's growing iron and other industries with analytical methods." (Child, 88)

In 1858 he moved to 710 Market Street in Philadelphia, establishing an office and factory. He built his first major factory in 1862 on the northwest corner of 22nd and Master Street in Philadelphia, the office remaining at 710 Market Street. At some time during these early years, a store was located at 911 Arch Street as evidenced by photographs.

Henry and Catherine were parents of thirteen children:

One source shows that sometime prior to 1870, Henry Troemner worked for Becker and Sons of New Rochelle, New York as journeyman or agent for their analytical and assay balances. If this is true, it was perhaps from this association that Troemner got the idea for making analytical and assay balances of his own and began to manufacture them; there is a strong resemblance between the assay balances of Becker and those of Troemner. It is possible that a connection between Henry and the Becker Company was established when the Troemners for a short time resided in Camden, New Jersey (when Charles Edward was born). However, Henry is listed in the Philadelphia directory continuously from 1843 to his death in 1873. Additional research has not clarified this situation.

Upon Henry's death in 1873, his wife Catherine inherited the business and, because of the foundation Troemner had built, was able to continue quite successfully. In 1874 the company produced scales and weights with a cash value of $165,000 and gave steady employment to about 65 persons.

On March 1, 1875, Catherine's three oldest sons purchased the business from her and drew up Articles of Co-Partnership, trading as Henry Troemner in the manufacturing of scales, weights and measures. This new partnership was to occupy the premises of No. 710 Market Street and the manufactory at 22nd and Master Street in Philadelphia. Although Henry left a very viable business and Catherine maintained it, much credit must be given to the three sons for continued growth and expansion. The United States Centennial Commission at the International Exhibition of 1876 commended the Henry Troemner Company "for high perfection in the manufacture of balances for mint and assay purposes, as well as of a great variety of scales for druggists, grocers, and other dealers." In 1882 the scale works at 1400 N. 22nd Street employed 50 men.

A quote from an 1889 publication gives evidence of continuing quality of Troemner balances. "All the wood used by the house in the manufacture of its scale-boxes, glass cases, etc., is thoroughly seasoned, and is not used till it has been stored for five years, in order to insure against all shrinkage and warping. All the marble work is the very best that can be procured, and is polished by hand with putty and pumice. Special attention is given to the superior quality of 'agate' bearings, as in damp or moist climates 'agate' is invaluable, as it will not rust or corrode and is indestuctible." (Illustrated Philadelphia, 183)

After the deaths of John L. and Frederick W., the widows were bought out of the company and at the time of his death in 1920, Charles Edward was apparently sole owner. After his death, the company was managed by his wife Sarah and subsequently by their daughter Sarah Edna. Mr. Laird Park purchased the company in 1955, at which time it was incorporated. The business continued to manufacture precision weights, balances and laboratory apparatus at 6825 Greenway Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The company is still thriving today under the name "Troemner Inc.", operating out a 12,000 square foot factory located at 6825 Greenway Avenue in Philadelphia. In addition to supplying weights and laboratory equipment, the company provides a calibration service, checking customers' weights against its own, which are calibrated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Henry Troemner was by far the most prolific of balance manufacturers in the United States, making scales and balances for almost every conceivable use: assay, bullion, analytical, pharmaceutical, egg, yarn, specific gravity, candy, moisture, babies, photographic uses, diamond, cream, butter-fat, silk, hatter's fur, solder testing, sand, hosiery, paper testing, tack - nail - screw count, grain tester, and others. His assay balances have been observed quite often in collections and in various sales and, although the company never seemed to have developed the assay balance to the fine art achieved by William Ainsworth, George Keller and Wilfred Heusser, they were almost as widely accepted. Troemner's early bullion balances with a set of troy weights in the base drawer, although rare, remain a highly desirable and collectible balance and a fine example of the balancemaker's art.

Sources for quotes:

  1. Child, Ernest. The Tools of the Chemist. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation (1940).
  2. Godcharles, Frederic A., ed. Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania Biography. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing., (1934). 246-248.
  3. Illustrated Philadelphia: Its Wealth and Industries. New York: American Publishing and Engraving Co. (1889).

 

Catalogue Listings

 


Vendor Catalog Scans

As a supplement to the catalog information gathered above by the Shannons (some of which is illustrated in their book), a collection of scanned images and descriptions of balances is available via the table below.

The images and catalog descriptions are scanned from vendor catalogs in the curator's collection, beginning in 1910, and ending in 1968, the last catalog to include Becker balances. In each case an effort has been made to scan all of the balances of a given manufacturer in the catalog. It should be noted. however, that the distributors generally show only a selection of balances from any one manufacturer. Catalogs are selected from the curator's collection at approximately ten year intervals, when available, with a second criteria being representation of the specific manufacturer.

Time Period Catalogs 
1910-1920

 Eimer & Amend (1910)

Arthur H. Thomas Co. (1921)

Braun Corp. (1934)


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© R. Paselk
Last modified 27 September 2002