Edward C. Hegeler was born in 1835 in Bremen, Germany. His father had visited America and believed that Edward, the youngest, should be chosen to leave his homeland and make his mark in the much newer U.S. He attended the Polytechnic Institute in Hanover and finished his vocational education at the Technische Universitat Bergakademie in Freiberg, Saxony. One of Hegeler’s instructors was a physics professor by the name of Julius Weisbach. The importance of this will soon become apparent. It was at this school where he met Frederick Matthiessen, who would later become his business partner. Upon graduation, they both traveled to America, arriving in Boston in the spring of 1857.
After travelling some time in Pennsylvania, St. Louis, Galena, etc. Matthiessen and Hegeler found what they wanted: good quality zinc. And cheap, too! See, the miners in Mineral Point, Wisconsin weren’t looking for zinc. They were looking for lead. And lead is under the zinc. Zinc was simply being tossed up into huge, ‘worthless’ slag piles. Hegeler and Matthiessen were different. They knew that zinc ore (sphalerite), when smelted in high heat, removes impurities that, upon “rolling”, will transform into a sheet of metal that is strong, flexible, and doesn’t rust. Those sheets of zinc could then be sent across the nation by boat or by train and made into ice box liners, pie box liners, gutters, etc. Zinc could even be used to galvanize nails, making them rust proof. But from where would the fuel be obtained to burn a heat high enough for smelting? Well, that’s where La Salle comes in. Huge, rich coal deposits. Bring up two tons of coal, smelt one ton of zinc, and blammo!
Zinc wasn’t the only thing on Hegeler’s mind. In 1860 he married Camilla Weisbach.
As the daughter of Hegeler’s professor, Camilla was intelligent, well-educated, outspoken, and honest—traits which Hegeler greatly admired.
By the time construction of the Mansion began in 1874, the M & H Zinc Co. was the nation’s leader in zinc production. In addition, Camilla Hegeler had given birth to nine of their ten children.
Fast forward to 1887, when men of science began taking a look at religion. A renaissance of religious fervor began during the bloodiest days of the American Civil War, and people like Darwin were shaking up the ideas of creation. Hegeler, like many of his contemporaries, began looking at religion from a scientific point of view and opening discussion to the precepts of other religions, particularly those of Eastern influence. It should be noted that Edward Hegeler was not at all interested in the fast-growing new ‘religion’ of Spiritualism. In 1887, he founded the Open Court Publishing Company with the idea that anyone could discuss any type of religion and not be judged by anyone—in other words, an open court for dialogue. He hired Dr. Paul Carus to be the editor, edging out the frustrated, increasingly spiritualist Underwoods.
Edward Hegeler passed away in 1910, age 74. He is today remembered and respected as one of the true pioneers of American industry.