The Schoellkopf Family of Buffalo, NY - Table of Contents
Jacob F. Schoellkopf
Jacob F. Schoellkopf was born in Kirchheim below the Teck, a small town of Wurttemberg, Germany, in 1819. After attending the schools of his native town until he was fourteen years old, he began his business life by becoming an apprentice in his father's tannery. Both his father and grandfather had been conspicuously successful in the business.
Having served as an apprentice the full term of five years, he broadened his industrial training by following a clerkship in a mercantile house for about two years.
European emigration to the United States had already begun on a considerable scale, and in December, 1841, when twenty-two years old, he landed in New York city. When he landed in New York his knowledge and ability allowed him to find a position whereby he saved his money in order to be self-supporting when he came to Western New York.
He settled in Buffalo in 1844 and established a leather business on Mohawk Street with money he saved and some lent to him by his father. His business was exceedingly prosperous,and he reached the point where he could buy a small tannery in White's Corner near Buffalo. After only a couple of years he was able to enlarge the business and acquire a sheepskin tannery in Buffalo. He established a tannery in Milwaukee in 1848 and another in Chicago in 1850. In 1853 he established a tannery in Fort Wayne, Indiana and another in North Evans, New York in 1854.
For a long time he was the senior partner in the largest tannery in the United States, which as located here in Buffalo. Later he became involved in other ventures, among those he established the North Buffalo Flouring Mills. In 1870 he bought the Frontier Mills of Buffalo.
He was vice-president of the Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia Railroad before it transferred to the hands of the Western New York and Pennsylvania Company. He was President of the Third National Bank and a director of various banks in Niagara Falls. Further he was director of the Buffalo Citizen's Gas Co. and trustee of the General Hospital of this city.
Schoellkopf purchased interests in flour mills and lager beer breweries. in 1877, in an effort to provide power for these investments, he bought the Niagara Falls Hydraulic canal and water and power rights for $71,000. and he bought out three businesses that had been attempting to produce electricity in Niagara Falls. The new company he formed, the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power & Manufacturing Co., was the first to produce electricity using Niagara Falls. As president of this company in the 1880s and 1890s, he was known as the King of Electricity.
Soon water was flowing over the edge of the gorge to the turbines below, a sight that was as spectacular as the Falls themselves. When Schoellkopf took control of the hydraulic canal, power was transmitted by a combination of belts and drive shafts. Electricity was still in its infancy and used only for telegraphy and the newly invented telephone. Schoellkopf realized the future in harnessing the power of Niagara was in the commercial production of electricity. He adapted this available electrical technology to his powerhouse turbines and one of the first hydroelectric generating stations in the world was born. Ironically, on Schoellkopf's 77th birthday, his competitors beat him to the task of transmitting electricity from Niagara Falls to Buffalo.
Illumination of Niagara Falls had been an attraction since 1860. Calcium flares were used originally to light the area however they were expensive and did not last long. In 1881, Charles Brush of Euclid, Ohio arrived in Niagara Falls with 16 electric carbon arc lights and a generator to illuminate the Falls. Schoellkopf offered the power from his water turbines to power Brush's generator. This marked a milestone in the history of the illumination of Niagara Falls.
By 1882, Schoellkopf had attracted seven mills along the high bank (the top edge of the Niagara Gorge north of the American Falls) all producing power from the hydraulic canal.
Schoellkopf owned multiple tanneries in Niagara, Milwaukee and Chicago. He was also very successful in the business of milling flour.
Schoellkopf visited his native Germany a number of times beginning in 1853.
In 1867, he was on the board of directors for Buffalo German Insurance Company with Henry Persch and William Hellriegel. He was also on the boards of Merchant Bank of Buffalo, The German Bank of Buffalo and Farmer and Merchant's National Bank. In 1882 he was president of Buffalo's Board of Trade.
Family Life: In 1848, Schoellkopf married Christine Sophie Dürr of Kirchheim below the Teck (where Jacob was born and raised). They had six sons -- Heinrich, Louis, Arthur, Jacob, Alfred, and Hugo -- and one daughter, Mrs. Helene Schmidt.
In 1879, Schoellkopf started the Schoellkopf Chemical and Dye Company for his two sons.
Continuation of the business: After Jacob Sr. died in 1899 his sons took over the operation of the power business.
In 1904, a second power station was built boosting power output to 34,000 horsepower.
In 1918, Schoellkopf's Hydraulic Power Company merged with the Niagara Falls Power Company owned by Edward Dean Adams. The Niagara Falls Power Company name was retained.
By 1928, three electric companies dominated Upstate new York:
1. Buffalo,Niagara & Eastern served the western quarter of New York State. Founded by the German immigrant Jacob Schoellkopf, the company grew from the first fledgling development of power at Niagara Falls to a vast corporation controlling power plants on both the American and Canadian sides of the falls. The plant on the American side was the largest hydroelectric station in the country.
- Men of New York," Vol. I, Buffalo: George E. Matthews & Co., 1898
- Niagara Falls: History of Power: Jacob Schoellkopf
- Newspaper article about Schoellkopf House razing