John C. Pritzlaff: From penniless immigrant to hardware tycoon

Researching real can be real cool.

In digging around for information for my upcoming screenplay adaptation of my book, “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher,” I’ve come across a real cool story of an immigrant who came to this country broke and ended up building a virtual hardware empire in Milwaukee.

John C. Pritzlaff (1820-1900)

John C. Pritzlaff (1820-1900)

John C. Pritzlaff, great-uncle to Buddy Schumacher’s father, Art Schumacher, was said to have absolutely no money when he sailed to New York City from Pomerania (an area now divided between Germany and Poland). In fact, he later said that he actually was $10 in debt at the time.

He managed to work his way up to becoming president of one of the country’s biggest hardware companies, on that at one time employed 400 people. When he died in 1900, he left a fortune that in today’s dollars might amount to near $8 million.

It took Pritzlaff a number of years to get where he got, and it started with the humblest of beginnings.

His father died when he was 19 years old, and young John decided to try his luck in America. He sailed to New York with a group of Lutherans, a trip that took four months. He then moved onto Buffalo, N.Y., where he worked for two years on the Genesee Canal.

In late October 1841, Pritzlaff reached Milwaukee. He performed many odd jobs – wagon driver, cook, wood chopper – until he landed a job as a shipping clerk for Shepardson & Farwell, hardware merchants. His salary his first year with the company was just $200 (about $5,600 in today’s money). It is said that he typically worked from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. for this low pay.

Pritzlaff stayed employed at the company through new ownership, and planned to open his own hardware store in 1949. But owner John Nazro convinced him to stay on another year with the promise that he’d help get Pritzlaff started in the business at that time.

Nazro kept his promise, and in 1850, he bought the stock for Pritzlaff and partner August Suelflohn for their downtown Milwaukee firm. Three years later, Suelflohn retired. In 1866, Prtizlaff bought out Nazro. Annual sales of $12,000 grew to hundreds of thousands under Prtizlaff, considered to be unusually honest for a businessman of such stature at that time.

It was said that Pritzlaff “enjoyed universal respect wherever he was known,” according to a story in the Weekly Wisconsin newspaper that was published immediately after his death. He was also “always on hand to contribute to enterprises of public usefulness.”

He was also said to be a zealous Lutheran. He was one of the founders of the Evangelical Lutheran Trinity Congregation in Milwaukee and donated land for a new church to be built at 9th Street and Highland Avenue in Milwaukee. The church is still located there today.

Pritzlaff married while he was still employed by Shepardson & Farwell. His wife, Sophia, preceded him in death by six years. The couple had eight children. One of his children, Elizabeth, married John C. Koch, a vice president at Pritzlaff Hardware who would go on to become mayor of Milwaukee. His younger brother, Henry, is one of Art Schumacher’s grandfathers.

The Pritzlaff Hardware Co. stayed in the family until 1958, when it was sold for $1.7 million.

 

‘This is the way I like to see social history presented’

Here are some excerpts from a pair of emails I received today from Nancy Cavanaugh, a resident of Wauwatosa, a reader of “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher” (she is also the author of a book on boomers and social media and has two degrees in history):Nancy Cavanaugh

   “Just finished reading your book for the third time. The 89th anniversary of the murder has just occurred, and what happened is even more realistic to me because I live within walking distance of most of the locations described in your book.

   “Great research! You not only explain events, but put them into the context of the crime/investigation. I have two degrees in history from UW-Milwaukee, and this is the way I like to see social history presented.

   “It’s interesting to see how a horrible event like a local murder forces change. Today, the village area is full of beautiful parks and the area around the Hoyt Park swimming pool has been maintained very well. No one could possibly know what happened when the area was once more rural.  

   “The Little Read Book down in the village had your book in the front window for months. That’s what attracted me to it in the first place and it was worth every penny!  

    “As you can tell, I love to read books related to history and yours is one of the top ten best I’ve ever read.”

 — Nancy Cavanaugh

Author of “The Boomer’s Guide to Social Media Success: Harnessing Your Inner Expert to Promote Your Business” Buy at The Little Red Book or online at: http://www.boomersocialmediabook.com

Let’s make this book into a movie!

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Since “Murder in Wauwatosa” was published, I’ve debated what direction to go. While still promoting that book with various speaking engagements and book signings, I started on another book … a fiction book aimed at kids ages 10-14 or so … Continue reading

An evening with the Central Indiana Writers Association

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Thanks to all the great folks at the Central Indiana Writers Association for inviting me to serve as a guest speaker Monday night, June 16. I’d especially like to thank Robin Waldron for suggesting to the group that I was … Continue reading

Breaking News of a Big Author Event in Wisconsin

Just confirmed: I’m going to be one of the presenting authors at the Sterling North Book and Film Festival at Edgerton (Wis.) High School on Sat., Sept. 27. Time of my presentation to be announced. I’ll be giving a PowerPoint presentation, complete with sound, on “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher.”

This is a pretty cool event. Patch Adams (yes, THAT Patch Adams) spoke there last year. This is a FREE family event that promotes literacy and the city of Edgerton, in south central Wisconsin. It consists of a number of interactive literary events. These include featured speakers and authors who share their insight on their writing and the inspiration for their books. The authors include those who have written best-sellers as well as Wisconsin authors.

Sterling North was the professional name of an author born in Lake Koshkonong, Wisconsin, probably best known for the children’s novel Rascal, a bestseller in 1963. In the 1990s, North’s childhood home at 409 W. Rollin St., Edgerton, was restored to its 1917 appearance by the Sterling North Society and transformed into a museum.

I was one of the first authors contacted about presenting this year. All the authors will be listed in the area visitor guide that will go to print on Memorial Day.

Feel free to pass this information along to anyone and everyone.

Date change for Tomah Festival

Autographed copies of “Murder in Wauwatosa” will be available for purchase at the Tomah (Wis.) Rotary Brat and Beer Festival on Saturday, Sept. 13. I won’t be able to attend, but I’m sure you’ll all have a swell time in Tomah! And thanks to Martin Murphy for getting the books to the festival!

The event had previously been scheduled for May 3, but was moved due to a scheduling conflict.

Jennings County library event

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Jennings County library event

Here I am at the Jennings County Public Library Indiana Authors Book Signing Event in North Vernon, Indiana, on March 29, 2014. Had fun mingling with the locals as well as the other authors.

I heard some very interesting stories from some very interesting people. A lady talked about a lot of illness she’d been though as well as some unique ways she was healed. A man talked with me about a case in which he feels he’s been wronged due to corruption in the legal system where he lives.

It’s always interesting talking to fellow authors abut their interests, as well as how their journeys to getting published went.

More info on one of Buddy’s friends

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Eight-year-old Buddy Schumacher left home with two or three older neighborhood boys on the morning of July 24, 1925. He was never seen alive again. One of the boys he was with that day was Arnold Yunk, a 10-year-old boy … Continue reading

Update on my next book

The follow-up to “Murder in Wauwatosa” will be something much different. My first effort was a true story that involved tons of research, interviews and days spent in front of a microfilm machine reading gobs and gobs of newspaper articles.

The book I’m writing now is a fiction kids’ book focusing on a sixth-grade boy who moves to a new town, tries to fit in and encounters a haunted house. Tentatively called “The Hillcrest Heights Kids,” the manuscript is about halfway done … at least the first draft of it anyway.

The main character, Donnie Hart, moves to a middle class suburb from a big city and finds some things about his new town aren’t quite like what he left behind. He tries to adjust to his new school, new kids and new neighborhood, with varying success.

Donnie gets befriended by a boy named Robert Underwood, who is known by most everyone as Woody. Donnie’s new friend isn’t very athletic nor really all that intelligent, two traits Donnie sees himself having an abundance of. But Woody seems to have Donnie’s back pretty much from the start at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, which endears him to Donnie.

He also makes friends with a girl in his class, Annie, a bright, level-headed compassionate soul.

In addition to his own sometimes misguided thoughts about himself and the world around him, Donnie’s main adversary is the school bully, Lloyd Goldberg III, who pretty much doesn’t seem to like hardly anyone.

Here’s the part I haven’t written yet. But I think it’ll go something like this: Donnie and his friends somehow end up going to the creepy old Howard Mansion, the old house owned by and old man and his old wife. Strange things have been going on at the Howard Mansion for years, and our heroes investigate.

Donnie will probably live happily ever after, or at least with a clearer view of himself and the people around him.

Much of this book is inspired by real events that happened in my hometown of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, when I was young. But I stretch the truth, inserting events, places and characters for my own amusement and/or your entertainment.

Most of the characters are based on people I’ve known, sometimes quite loosely. Some characters are even a conglomeration of several people, and some of those folks aren’t even people I knew when I was a kid.

It’s been a fun trip so far as I’m up to about 24,000 words. I’m aiming for close to 40,000, at which point the story better have concluded. Then, I’ll go into editing and rewriting mode. I reserve the right to change the names of characters, streets, schools, towns, as well as change story lines and pretty much everything I’ve done thus far … all in the name of entertainment, of course.

When I feel pretty good about the manuscript, I’ll start looking for a publisher and perhaps an illustrator. I think this book needs some drawings.

I’ll try to update everyone as developments occur.

Thanks for your interest and support!

Paul

Tomah! Tomah!

There’s a new event planned for west central Wisconsin this spring at which folks will be able to purchase autographed copies of “Murder in Wauwatosa.”

The first Tomah Rotary Beer and Sausage Fest is scheduled for 2-6 p.m., Saturday, May 3, 2014 at the Tomah Recreation Park.

I was invited to attend and sell autographed copies of my book. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend due to a previous engagement. But the host said he’d be willing to promote and sell autographed books at the fest as long as I supply him with said books. So, that’s what we’re going to do.

Tomah is southeast of Eau Claire, east of La Crosse and northwest of Portage and Wisconsin Dells. 

If they run out of books, just send $20 to me at PO Box 2611, Columbus, IN 47203 and I’ll get you an autographed copy.