Any good story starts with a beginning. While still studying in Freiberg, Edward Hegeler developed a friendship with fellow student Friedrich Wilhelm Matthiessen in 1835 in the province of Schleswig-Holstein, then part of Denmark. The two friends had numerous things in common: similar economic backgrounds, values, and goals. They formed a most successful association that lasted until the death of Edward Hegeler in 1910. And both were America bound, determined to seek their fortunes in the New World.
After graduating from the Mining Academy with the degree of “Mining Engineer” in the spring of 1856, Mr. Hegeler remained in Freiberg to perform a specific mine surveying job, while Mr. Matthiessen took the opportunity to attend a series of lectures by the already-famous Professor Bunsen at the University of Heidelberg. Later that year, the two mining engineers jointly toured the mining districts of Germany, Belgium, and England. They crossed the Atlantic and landed in Boston, Massachusetts. Then traveled to New York, Friedensville, Pittsburg, and St. Louis trying to find the perfect location for their dream of an up-and-coming business.
Their search led them to La Salle. They found that in Wisconsin the zinc ore was suitable for smelting. The nearest coalfields were in Northern Illinois, so they focused on the La Salle, Illinois area. Since the smelting process required more coal than ore, it made sense to locate the smelter next to the coal supply and to transport the ore from Wisconsin to La Salle.
Mr. Hegeler then discussed the prospect of the zinc manufacturing facility with the La Salle businessmen who were very receptive to the idea. La Salle also had several other promising aspects to it: work was being completed on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the Illinois river was adjacent to the city, the Illinois Central Railroad ran through it as well as a couple other major railroads. The Illinois Central RR would run to Warren, Illinois, and the Mineral Point RR would run south to Warren. This is most likely the method of transport they used to get the zinc to La Salle. The land for the factory was obtained with the help of the Mayor of La Salle, Alexander Campbell, from the Illinois Central Railroad. The deal was very promising in Matthiessen and Hegeler’s favor: the land was essentially inexpensive, and the Matthiessen and Hegeler Company (M&H) would have to promise to do all their product transportation with the Illinois Central Railroad.
On December 24, 1858, the first shovelful of dirt was turned up in the construction of the new plan. And Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company (M&H Zinc) was born.