This is an archived post from “The Aroma of Bread,” and was first published 8 Feb 2013.
On November 21, 1905 Henry John Fassbender took the plunge, and purchased the White Clover Dairy Company in Hollandtown, Brown Co., Wisconsin. Not a young man, as he would soon turn 26-years-old, he knew what it would take to keep a factory of this size running. He would have help, as on January 17, 1906, he would marry the love of his life, Ida Emma Schultz.
Henry had been working in cheese factories all of his life, as in 1887 his father had built one of the first cheese factories in Outagamie County, Wisconsin, not far from the family farm in Ellington. One factory grew to two, and these family factories were now being run by his elder brother, Hubert; their parents, Peter and Elizabeth, had retired to Appleton, Outagamie Co., Wisconsin, in 1901.
One of the tasks of a cheesemaker was to harvest enough ice to last the summer. Harvesting began as soon as the ice was thick enough, usually by mid January, and continued until the house was full. That first year it was reported in the Kaukauna Times on February 9, 1906 that: “Our hustling cheesemaker Henry Faustbender [sic] is harvesting his next summer’s ice.” A couple of years later on January 31, 1908, the entry in the Kaukauna Times reported: “The ice harvest has begun in earnest and our cheesemaker and others who store ice are busy putting up next summer’s supply.”
Reporting on January 13, 1913, the Kaukauna Times stated: “Mrs. E. Van Abel, H. J. Fassbender and Matt Becker were harvesting their ice supply.” Matt Becker was a friend, and business associate of Henry’s, and Mrs. E. Van Abel is the former Ellen Wassenberg, the 71-year-old widow of Martin Van Abel, and grandmother of Wilfred and Don Van Abel. She was harvesting ice for her “Hotel.”
As we move further into the 20th Century, gasoline motors become more readily available, making harvesting ice a much quicker and easier process.
Why am I writing this post about ice? What does it have to do with food? Many years ago I had the good fortune to sit down with Henry’s daughter Mildred (Hunce), and she told me many wonderful stories about growing up in Hollandtown. Two centered around Henry’s ice house.
Always the humanitarian looking out for the people of his community, each year Henry would open up his ice house to the people of Hollandtown. Anyone who had a need for cold storage larger than what would fit into their household ice box, could carve out a niche in the ice house as their own. As Hunce remembered it, many people took advantage of this offer, coming and going throughout the summer.
The second story occurred on Monday, May 22, 1922, when at approximately 10:30 p.m. a boiler exploded at the factory. Hunce remembered hearing her father fly out of his bedroom on the first floor, and out the side door of the house. This door led straight to the factory. Eighty years later she could still hear the shower of sparks and debris hitting the tin roof of the house. An article published in the Appleton Post-Crescent on May 23rd states: “…the farmers were powerless to do much more than prevent flying sparks from communicating with nearby dwelling houses. At one time the sparks had started a blaze on the roof of a stucco house [Henry’s] about 200 yards away, but it was quickly extinguished…” There was nothing that could be done to save the factory, the papers reported the loss at $20,000, only “partly recovered by insurance.” One can only imagine Ida’s fear as she stood helplessly by watching the factory burn to the ground, and as she tried to comfort and protect her children. At the time of the fire Harold (Fat) was 14, Laurine (Ena) was 12, Red 11, Butch 9, Hunce 7, Cub 4, and Ann (Hank) was just eight months old.
Hunce also told me that day of her memory of the ice that was left after the ice house burned to the ground. She had a clear and distinct memory of how tall the remaining ice was, and how long it took for it to melt. Her memory, again corroborated by the newspaper article: “The ice house adjoining the factory also burned to the ground leaving a tower of ice about 35 feet high.”
Work began to rebuild White Clover Dairy began that very summer.
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 Huber 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.