Twenty years ago we were in the final countdown to the 1996 Fassbender Family Reunion.
My husband and I planned and held a family reunion back in the early days of home computers, before home internet was common, and “You’ve Got Mail” was the welcome message. Using Creative Writer, a program our children used, and whatever word processing program we were using at the time, I started creating reunion documents.
Never having planned a party of this magnitude, and having no idea how large the task was that we were taking on, Gary and I jumped enthusiastically into planning. The reunion was to celebrate the children, grand-children, great-grandchildren, etc., of Henry and Ida Fassbender. 51 letters were sent out to the families descending from this couple and their eight children: Harold (Fat) b. 1907, Laurine (Ena) b. 1909, Norbert (Red) b. 1911, Bernard (Butch) b. 1912, Mildred (Hunce) b. 1914, Hubert (Cub) b. 1917, Ann (Hank) b. 1921, and Rosemary (Rosie/Foos) b. 1926. 21 responses were returned, and with that, the date was set: July 20, 1996. With the date selected I got busy creating a cute “reunion t-shirt” note using a Creative Writer template, and developing a survey to be included in the mailing. What was asked in the survey? I sadly do not have a copy. But my mother-in-law thankfully saved the t-shirt page.
With the date set, we reserved the Hollandtown Community Park and pavilion, a photographer was asked to take group pictures, we finalized the activities for the kids, the tour of White Clover Dairy, the place to share photos and memories of past reunions, and the dinner which was catered from Van Abels. Chicken, ham, German potato salad and rolls. The family was then broken up into two categories, one group was to bring dessert, the other a snack/munchie of their choice. As the surveys and reservations came in, I diligently worked on compiling the information that I received, into a family directory, preparing to have a copy available for every attendee. Looking back, I am amazed that my curiosity about family, and desire for a sense of order were apparent even then. I color coded the name tags by family, seven different colors adorned the tags, and helped cousins who in some cases had not seen each other in years, quickly identify, and recognize old friends.
As the event drew closer, Butch and Marie, Cub and Dolores, Hank (Ann), and Hunce, the four remaining siblings, and Stella, the widow of Red, began to make their plans. Cub and Hank were coming from out of town, and would stay for the weekend; making it a true reunion, and allowing lots of time for chats and memories. And a bit of cheese and crackers with their evening beer.
We planned the best we could, but sometimes the “best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” On July 5th Butch not feeling well, went into the hospital, and it was discovered he needed surgery. The surgery was successful, but his tolerance for the morphine they gave him for pain was not. He ended up falling out of bed and breaking his arm. This set his homecoming back a few days. His younger sister, Hank, who had been battling cancer for many years, still was planning on driving up for the reunion. Sadly, she passed away, Saturday, July 13th. Her funeral was held July 16.
The date was set, the planning complete, and these events rocked our world a bit, but we moved forward towards reunion day.
The day was a perfect July day. While we only had 21 people respond with an opinion as to the choice of a date, we had almost a 100% RSVP a response of “yes, we are coming!” The day went off without a hitch, and Butch, just home from the hospital, was able to attend for a short period of time. A good time was had by all. For that I am thankful, because I am not sure I would do it again. But I do have to say, looking at the materials that were saved, we did an amazing job. 20 years later, we surprise ourselves.
Yesterday was National Grilled Cheese Day – who thinks of these things? So I am bit behind with a cheese story, it’s a big one! And the Fassbender family was involved.
Quoted from A Snapshot: Peter Joseph Hubert Fassbender “…in 1911, plans were well under way for Nicholas Simon of Appleton to attempt to beat his own record for creating a giant cheese. In 1910 he had built a 4,000 pound cheese for the National Dairy Show in Chicago. For the 1911 National Dairy Show, to be held October 26-November 4, he was awarded the contract by the National Dairy Show Association to build a 12,000 lb. Wisconsin white cheese [cheddar]. The cheese was not to be made as a money-making proposition, but for educational purposes. On July 26, 1911, preliminary work began on the construction of the hoop and platform to hold the cheese. The giant hoop of galvanized iron was eight feet in diameter, and five feet high. ‘Twelve heavy steel bands, 24 feet long, were placed around the hoop to make it withstand the enormous pressure obtained by the immense jack-screws placed on the ends, or “followers,” and pressing agains the frame. Four heavy oak timbers below the hoop and as many above, bound together by twenty heavy steel bolts five feet long, formed the frame that was built upon the lines of the old style upright screw press. The “followers” or ends, were four thicknesses of two-inch oak boards, or eight inches thick. The hoop alone weighed 3,000 pounds.” 
Both Hubert [Fassbender] and Henry [Fassbender] played a role in creating this cheese, which occurred on Tuesday, August 15, 1911. Henry was one of the 18 expert cheesemakers, who with the assistance of 22 experienced helpers manufactured the cheese, and Hubert is credited with being one of the dairies supplying the milk. ‘…All the milk from over 8,000 cows for one day, and furnished by over 1,300 farmers of Outagamie county, went into the giant cheese. The curd was furnished by thirty-two of the most up-to-date and sanitary cheese factories…it took over 1,600 meant to do the milking, and 144,100 pounds of milk, over seventy-two tons or over 18,000 gallons of the richest and purest milk obtainable from the finest registered Holstein, Guernsey and other breed cows in the country, was put into the cheese or was required to produce the curd.’ ‘In addition…it took over 480 pounds of Wyandotte salt and thirty-one pounds of Marschall rennet extract to produce the curd, but not an ounce of coloring was placed in the cheese.’  The 8,000 cows all ‘had to be milked at the same hour. The milk had to be cooled at the same temperature, and the…factories which manufactured the curd had to follow the same process to make the curd uniform.’ 
On October 30, 1911, President William Howard Taft attended the National Dairy Show where he gave a ‘pleasant speech’ and toured the exhibits. Upon reaching the ‘immense cheese which [was] a feature of the show he was given a huge knife and invited to have a slice. He accepted laughingly, cut off a sample of the cheese and at it with relish.’  After tasting the cheese he said ‘I would like to meet the man who made it.’ Upon being introduced to Nicholas Simon, he complimented him by saying he had never tasted better cream cheese. The giant cheese which cost an estimated $5,0000-$6,000 to produce, was sold to the Fair Store in Chicago, where it was sold at retail, Nicholas Simon receiving thirty cents per pound, or $3,7089.10.  Ten pounds of the cheese was shipped to President Taft, arriving in time for Thanksgiving dinner, a gift from Nicholas Simon.” 
The November 1911 issue of Popular Mechanics, p. 650-651, had this to say about the cheese:
“No building in Appleton was large enough for the manufacture and care of the cheese and it was made in the open air. The hoop was placed on a platform in front of six big vats, 15 feet long, 4 1/2 feet wide and 22 1/2 feet deep, in which the curd was washed and mixed.
Under the supervision of the State Dairy and Food Commissioner, 2 3/4 pounds of salt were used to each 100 pounds of curd, and when the salt was thoroughly mixed with the curd it was carried in pails to the form or hoop, where it was packed with heavy iron tampers, which were wrapped with [40 yards of] cheesecloth.
It took five hours to manufacture the cheese after the curd was delivered, and so solidly had it been packed that it pressed down but a few inches under the enormous pressure. Two days later the cheese was trimmed, the bandage of heavy cotton cheese cloth, which fitted the form like a glove was carried over the top and the gigantic cheese was moved into a warehouse by a house mover…it was impossible to find a cold-storage plant…in which it could be stored to ‘cure,’ and itwas necessary to build a special refrigerator, 12 by 15 feet, about [the cheese.] A specially equipped flat car was provided to ship it to Chicago.”
This was not the last giant cheese that Nicholas Simon produced, but it is his most famous.
Susan C. Fassbender, A Snapshot: Peter Joseph Hubert Fassbender (Appleton, WI: self published, 2007): 26-28.
Popular Mechanics, “Giant Cheese Weighs Over Five Tons,” November 1911, 650-651.
The Kaukauna Times, Kaukauna, Wisconsin, “A Mammoth Cheese. Seventy Tons of Milk Used in Making a 12,000 Pounder.” 18 August 1911.
The Kaukauna Times, ” caption: “The Worlds Largest Cheese,” 20 October 1911, front page.
The Evening Telegram, Elyria, Ohio, “President Visits Dairy Show, Makes a Speech, Cuts Big Cheese, and Afterward Lays Cornerstone of Hamilton Club.” 30 October 1911, 2.
Appleton Evening Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, “Extra: ‘This Cheese is Great,’ says Taft.” 30 October 1911.
The Kaukauna Times, “Cheese for Dinner.” 1 December 1911.
Hubert and Henry are the youngest sons of Peter and Elizabeth (Nettekoven) Fassbender, and it would be their youngest sons who would embrace the cheese industry, making it their life work. The boys were just 12 and seven in 1887, the year that Peter began making cheese, and so you could say that they “grew up in the business.”
As I have mulled over the “how” of telling their story, I have decided that I will try to run their experiences in a parallel manner, year to year. The reason is that because their stories intertwine, even in the early years before they were successful business men operating factories just 7 miles apart. Hubert owning and operating the South Kaukauna Dairy Co., and Henry, owning and operating White Clover Dairy. The problem? Their preference for using their initials instead of their full names. Granted, most often Henry would include his middle initial “J” going by H. J. Fassbender, while Hubert would use H. Fassbender, there was still confusion.
Early in my research I was lucky enough to have gotten to know Hubert and Henry’s nephew, Arthur Ellenbecker. Arthur passed away shortly after his 100th birthday in 2003, having shared many stories with me, but leaving me wanting to know more. Arthur is the son of Elizabeth (Fassbender) Ellenbecker Tatro. Elizabeth was the middle sister of Hubert and Henry having been born in 1877, and the three were close as siblings and friends. Arthur admired his uncles “Hoobert” and “Henery,” and he also worked for Hubert in the 1930s. His life story is a part of this story that I will attempt to tell.
This will not be a definitive work, as I have not yet gone to Madison and gone through the incorporation documents, and other items that may be filed with the company records. It is on my list of To Dos, but I do not think that the story will be any less for not knowing these details. As for details, the life of Henry will appear to be more rich with information, but that is because the Hollandtown community section, or what I like to call the “gossip” column, which frequently reported on his comings and goings. Whereas Hubert lived a much more quiet life in the larger community of Appleton. But I have plenty of information for my tale.
I was wrong. I thought that because I had been researching this topic since 1998, that it would be a SNAP to write the story up to oh, say 1918. I was wrong, because even during these early years there is this strange entwining of names, and the question of which man is this story referring to? But to continue the tale.
Peter Joseph Hubert Fassbender was born and raised in Oedekoven, Rhine Province, Germany. In 1856 at the age of 18, he emigrated to Wisconsin, settling with his mother and step-father in Granville, Milwaukee Co., Wisconsin. In 1862 he married the “girl next door” Elizabeth Nettekoven, the Nettekoven’s having settled on the land adjacent to Peter’s family. During their first year of marriage, Peter and Elizabeth lived on a rented farm in the Milwaukee area before packing their ox-cart and making their way north to Outagamie County. When I first read about their five day journey, I had what I thought was an insane image of them walking up Highway 41, but looking at this David Rumsey map of Wisconsin dated 1855, I see I was not too far off.
They made the decision to settle in the town of Ellington, Outagamie County, and on November 12, 1863, Peter purchased a sixty acre plat for $950.00 in Section 25.  Peter worked hard cultivating the land so that it would be in good condition for his crops. In 1868 he added an adjoining 40 acres of Section 26 to the original 60, and in 1883 purchased an additional 40 acres in Section 24, creating a total of 140 acres of good rich farm land. 
Peter and Elizabeth were blessed with nine children. Anna born in 1865, John Mathias 1866, Joseph Peter 1868, Conrad Henry 1869, Mary Francis 1871, Hubert 1875, Elizabeth Mary 1877, Henry John 1880, and Maggie, who was born in 1882. Six lived to adulthood as they lost Conrad in 1869, Mary Francis in 1871, and their youngest daughter, Maggie, the summer of 1900.
As Peter decided to add cheese manufacturing to his mix of business, he enlisted all four of his surviving sons to work with him in the factory, and this allowed him to expand until he was running three factories as part of his family business. His eldest son, John, began working at age 16 as a laborer for cheese factories in the area. He returned home in 1887 when his father built his first factory, remaining with him till 1890 when he “embarked on the business himself, conducting a factory for five years.” In 1895 John married and soon moved to Appleton “where the next five years were spent in various occupations” until 1902 when he returned to farming, purchasing land in Black Creek, Outagamie Co., Wisconsin.  While John lived in Appleton for those five years, I believe he must have retained ownership of the factory, as I find him listed as “John Fastbinder” in the Biennial Report of the Dairy and Food Commissioner of Wisconsin, as owning and operating an unnamed cheese factory in Greenville, Outagamie Co., Wisconsin in 1899. 
Peter’s second son, Joseph’s first love was for the land, and although he spent time working in the factories, he soon returned to farming. He “always remained on the home place, of which he took charge at the age of thirty years, and three years later he bought the land.”  He married in 1902, and remained on the family farm for the remainder of his life.
Peter’s youngest sons were Hubert and Henry John. Funny, I have yet to find a middle name for Hubert, although I have found reference to the letter “F” being used. Hubert and Henry literally grew up with their father making cheese in addition to farming, and the cheese industry became their chosen profession, both men owning and operating successful factories in the Fox River Valley. This is their story.
“Wisconsin, Outagamie County Records, 1825-1980,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-22093-43526-77?cc=1463639 : accessed 01 Apr 2014), Land and Property > Deed record, 1863-1864, vol. 16 > image 416 of 609; citing Outagamie County Courthouse, Appleton.
Thomas H. Ryan, History of Outagamie County Wisconsin (Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911), 767.
Thomas H. Ryan, History of Outagamie County Wisconsin. (Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911), 764-765.
Wisconsin. Dairy and Food Commission, Biennial Report of the Dairy and Food Commissioner of Wisconsin. (Michigan: University of Michigan, 1899) www.books.google.com : accessed 26 Mar. 2014.
Cheesemaking at the end of the 19th Century was very different from what we know today. Wisconsin cheese factories did not operate year round; they closed in December and didn’t open again until April. It wasn’t until farmers were introduced to silage, and began housing their herds in barns during the winter months, that they started to milk year round.
As the number of cheese plants and creameries grew within the state, the need for regulation became apparent. To serve this need, the Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association was formed in 1872 to aid in the improvement of dairy products, and to promote safe lines of the dairy industry.  By 1876 the Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association listed five dairies in Outagamie County, and by 1891 there were six creameries and 63 cheese factories listed in Outagamie County alone.  As the number of factories in the state grew, it became apparent that if the owners wanted any control over the manufacture and marketing of a “prime product” they would be required to form an association apart from the Dairymen’s Association, and so they formed the Wisconsin Cheese Maker’s Association, which was formally incorporated in 1899. Although many of the cheesemakers were members of the Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association, they felt that “the special problems cheese makers faced required a separate association.”  This new organization was formed to educate the farmers in the “improved techniques of milk handling and, more generally, in the ways of business society.”  They encouraged members of the Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association to meet the following criteria to join: “Any person who is a practical cheese maker, and such other persons as are directly or indirectly interested in the manufacture and sale ofunadulterated cheese may become members of the corporation by paying one dollar annually in advance of signing the roll of membership.” 
The Association ensured a quality cheese product, but much work was now needed to educate the farmer in how to deliver clean milk, as “farmers were reluctant to adopt procedures ‘dictated’ by factory men.” Farmers were paid for their milk by weight, the richer the milk, the more it would weigh. In order to increase weight, some farmers were adding water to their milk, or mixing the milk of the more productive Holstein cows with the richer milk of the Jersey or Guernsey cow to create a heavier load. This created such inconsistencies in the quality of the milk brought to the factories that in some counties “the cheese makers were obliged to set up ‘protective associations’ in order to compel the adoption of the Babcock test as the official basis for milk payments. 
The Babcock Test, developed in 1890 by a professor at the University of Wisconsin named Stephen M. Babcock, allowed cheese makers to easily and inexpensively determine the amount of butterfat in their milk. His invention, which he never patented, ensured that farmers were paid fairly for the milk they were selling, and that dairies were able to manufacture and market the “prime product” they desired.
The need for a protective union was soon seen in Outagamie County, and so on December 27, 1894, a protective association which they called the Cheese Makers’ Protective Union was organized with G. Lightheart, president; J. L. Murphy, secretary, and P. Fassbender, treasurer. The object of the union was to “protect cheese makers against cutting of prices; to prevent the violation of contracts, and to fight filled cheese.” The association was to “remedy the abuses in the way of contract breaking, unfair competition and dishonest cheese-making which have begun to be felt in the trade here.”  Filled cheese was cheese that was made from skim milk, and then had lard or stale butter added to make up for the lack of butterfat. Filled cheese when fresh was hard to distinguish from whole-milk cheese, but aged poorly, losing its flavor with time.
During the years 1894-1895 the Cheese Makers’ and Dairymen’s associations were “absorbed” in the lobbying for the anti-filled cheese bills at both the state and federal level. In 1895 the “Wisconsin legislature outlawed the manufacture and sale of cheese from skimmed milk.” The following year in 1896, a federal statute was adopted taxing and branding all filled cheese.  One of the men who proposed this bill to fight filled cheese was Samuel Andrew (S.A.) Cook a U.S. Representative from Neenah, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and the bill that he introduced “became a law by his efforts against great opposition.” 
With the regulations provided by the protective associations insuring a quality product, and farmers now milking year round, the cheese industry in Wisconsin was growing. Production reached 60 million pounds in 1900 and by 1915 the state was producing nearly 235 pounds annually. How did this compare to the rest of the country? in 1899, Wisconsin produced 26.6% of the nation’s cheese, in 1909 it was 46.6%, and by 1919 the state was producing 63.1%. Wisconsin cheese production was so high that it overtook New York as the leading cheese producing state in 1910. 
Over the next 60 years technology would dramatically change the way that cheese was produced. In 1913 pasteurization of milk began on a commercial basis, by 1916 all Wisconsin cheesemakers were required to have a cheesemaker’s license, and in 1921 Wisconsin became the first state to institute mandatory grading for all major cheese varieties. Rural America was rapidly changing as trucks and cars replaced horses, tractors began pulling plows, and most importantly, electricity became available to provide light, power equipment, and to run refrigeration. All of this new technology made life easier, yet it was to change the way cheese was manufactured to such a degree that it was to affect the life and the business practices of both the cheesemaker and the farmer.
I first started researching this topic in 1998 at the request of my father-in-law who wished to know more about his grandparents. It still saddens me that he did not live to enjoy my findings, but even more so, that I was unable to discuss the stories, and to ask what he remembered about the events that I was uncovering. The prompt to blog this history is the fact that these stories are disappearing. That the successful cheese factories that were built by the Fassbender men and later sold to large corporations, have had the story of their origin either altered or deleted from the company’s history. I can’t let that happen.
Peter Joseph Hubert Fassbender had been residing in Ellington Township, Outagamie Co., Wisconsin for approximately 23 years when he decided to enter the cheese and butter manufacturing business. He chose a site across the road from the family home to build his first factory. The factory began operation in 1887 and had a capacity of 11,000 pounds of milk per day, which Peter obtained by purchasing milk from his farming neighbors, and from 24 of his own cows. Peter’s eldest son, John, returned home to work along side his father. As a 20 year old, he was an experienced cheesemaker, having worked in various cheese factories since the age of 16.  Peter also enlisted the help of 19 year old Joseph, and two years later in 1889, 14 year old Hubertjoined the family business.  Showing remarkable skill and interest in the making of cheese, Hubert would be in “full charge of the factory” by the time he turned 16 in 1891.  It was at this time that John left his father’s factory and “embarked on the business himself, conducting a factory for five years.”  The youngest son, Henry, just seven years old when his father began making cheese and butter, literally grew up in the factory and would follow in his elder brothers footsteps, and in time become a cheesemaker in his own right.
Thomas H. Ryan, History of Outagamie County Wisconsin (Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911), 764.
Ryan, History of Outagamie County, 958.
The Appleton Post-Crescent, “Rotary Club Hears Talk On Creamery Business.” 18 April 1929.