Matthiessen & Hegeler Zinc Company

In 1856, Edward Hegeler, a 21-year-old graduate of the School of Mines in Freiberg, Saxony, Germany, immigrated to the United States with a classmate, Frederick Matthiessen, and established a zinc manufacturing empire.

The two young entrepreneurs moved west across the country until they reached La Salle, Illinois, where the ready availability of coal and access to Wisconsin-mined zinc ore provided the perfect setting for their business venture: a zinc smelter or refinery. Their timing was impeccable as the Matthiessen & Hegeler Zinc Company (M & H) was to become a major provider of zinc used in the production of armaments during the Civil War.

By 1880, M & H had become the largest zinc company in the U.S.; a manufacturing empire on the Illinois prairie. It maintained that distinction until 1910. Several inventions and innovations contributed to the success of the M & H Zinc Company. Edward Hegeler invented a zinc smelter, known as the Hegeler Furnace, and patented a kiln that came to be used by zinc manufacturers the world over. The company pioneered the recovery of sulfur dioxide to manufacture sulfuric acid which M & H distributed nationally.

In 1915 Edward Hegeler Carus, a grandson of Edward Hegeler founded Carus Chemical Company. Carus family members continue to manage the business today.

Open Court Publishing

The Hegeler Carus Mansion was also the birthplace of Open Court Publishing Company, which Edward Hegeler launched in 1887.

The goals of Open Court were to provide a forum for the discussion of philosophy, science, and religion, and to make philosophical classics widely available by making them affordable. Hegeler was truly interested in an honest exchange of ideas and would print books and articles that he didn’t necessarily agree with. Shortly after Open Court’s inception, Hegeler hired the German scholar Dr. Paul Carus as managing editor of the publishing company. Carus shared Hegeler’s interest in the relationship between science and religion. During his lifetime, Carus also wrote 75 books and nearly 1,500 articles on philosophy, religion, history, literature, politics, poetry, and mathematics.

As well as publishing works by the world’s great thinkers, Open Court introduced two periodicals, The Open Court and The Monist, featuring essays from scholars around the globe. Thousands of philosophers, scientists, and authors including John Dewey, Clarence Darrow, Alexander Graham Bell, Upton Sinclair, and Ezra Pound corresponded regularly with Dr. Carus.

Open Court Publishing was housed on the ground floor of the Mansion for over 80 years. The publishing company continues its original mission today by printing important works in the fields of philosophy, psychology, history, education, and popular culture.

Parliament of the World’s Religions

In September of 1893, the Parliament of World’s Religions met at what is now the Art Institute of Chicago.

This heralded the first time religious diversity had been addressed. It was, as C. C. Bonney the president of the World’s congress Auxiliary indicated, “Something higher and nobler . . . demanded by the enlightened and progressive spirit of the age.”

The Parliament was held in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition. Speakers and participants assembled from a wide spectrum of religious traditions. Leaders from the ten great religions of that time spoke. Represented were Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

At one of the sessions, Paul Carus spoke on Science, a Religious Revelation. In his conclusion, he said, “Religion is as indestructible as science; for science is the method of searching for the truth, and religion is the enthusiasm and goodwill to live a life of truth.”

Nothing like the Parliament of World’s Religions had been seen in the history of the world, and nothing like it was to be seen again for many years. It was a turning point in American life, presaging the multiculturalism of a century later. For information on the continuing work of the Parliament, visit

Paul Carus returned to La Salle from the Parliament of World’s Religions with a lasting interest in Buddhism and by 1894 had completed the definitive Buddhist text, The Gospel of Buddha According to Old Records. Keichyu Yamada was commissioned to do the illustrations, but they were not used in the book until its most recent reprint in 2004. This book is available through the “Little Shop in the Big House.”

Carus began corresponding with Shaku Soen, whom he had met at the Parliament. Shaku Soen visited the Hegeler Carus Mansion. He introduced Paul Carus to D.T. Suzuki. Suzuki was invited to come to work for Open Court Publishing as an assistant editor and as a translator of Asian religious and philosophical classics. It was Suzuki who first translated Carus’s Gospel of Buddha into Japanese for use in Buddhist seminaries in Japan. He stayed at this job for 11 years during which time he and Carus worked in tandem to bridge Eastern and Western philosophies. Suzuki is now revered as one of the world’s great Buddhist scholars.

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