In 1849, my great-great-great grandfather, John Semler, came to America with his parents. He was about fourteen at the time. They settled in Somerset, Pennsylvania.
They had come from the German state of Hessen-Darmstadt, from a small town called Nieder-Ohmen. John (or Johannes, as he was known in German) was the sixth son and eighth child of Johann Martin Semmler and Maria Elisabetha Hedderich. Johannes the son was born on January 28, 1836 in Nieder-Ohmen. Next to the record of his parents’ marriage in the local church is a notation that reads: “ist 1849 nach Amerika ausgewandert” (i.e., “emigrated to America in 1849”).
Sometime during the early 1850s, John moved to Hamilton, Ohio, near Cincinnati. It was there, in 1858, that he married Catherine Erb. Catherine’s parents, who were also immigrants from Germany, were well-known as early pioneers of the Hamilton area.
John became a foreman in a mill in Hamilton. After their marriage, John worked and he and Catherine began raising their family. They added eight children: Catherine (1861), Conrad (1863), John Lewis (1868), George (1870), Harry (1872), Phillip (1875), William (1877), and Mary (I’m not sure when she was born, and she probably died very young).
After over a decade of working in a mill, John founded the Semler & Company Mill–also known as the Eagle Mill–at 234-242 North B Street in Hamilton. The original mill was built in 1875, along the Great Miami River. It was water-powered and produced 75 barrels a day. In 1884, the original mill burned down.
A new larger mill was built on the same site that very same year. It was steam-powered and had a capacity of 100 barrels a day. Over the next ten years, the capacity increased to 350 barrels a day. In 1895, a newspaper article called Semler “one of Hamilton’s energetic firms [which through] enterprise and up-to-date hustling… has built up an enormous business.”
The newspaper reported that in its heyday, the firm sold flour “all through the south and east, where it comes in competition with the finest grades of flour made in the world. It holds its own because it is among the best flour money can buy.”
As was common for mills of the time, Semler & Company suffered many damaging fires. In 1895, there was a $50,000 fire; in 1900, $35,000; in 1901, $75,000; in 1903, $40,000; and in 1910, $75,000.
John died in 1892 and passed the business to his eldest son, Conrad. At some point in the early twentieth century, the Semler & Company Mill changed hands. By 1912, it was called the Prince Milling Company. Even then, Conrad’s brother George was still the treasurer and general manager of the company.
Today, not much is left of the Semler Milling Company’s site. At the bottom of the page is a video of the site taken recently by my friend, Mike Surber (thanks, Mike!)
John and his family left Germany right after the Revolution of 1848. A German emigre wrote the following in 1851 about life in America: “The German emigrant…comes into a country free from…despotism…privileged orders and monopolies…intolerable taxes, [and] constraint in matters of belief and conscience. Everyone can travel…and settle wherever he pleases.”
John found freedom in America. He was able to work, to build a business, to provide a future for his family.
The book goes on, “in such a country the talents, energy and perseverance of a person…have far greater opportunity for display than in monarchies.”
Through hard work and consistent effort, John was able to display his talents, energy and perseverance in America in a way that might not have been possible in the Old World.
A copy of a stock certificate from the Semler Milling Company is available in the “Documents” section of this blog.
The video below shows the site where the Semler & Company Mill was. I think the brick building that is in the middle of the frame at the end may have been a part of the Semler Mill. Thanks to my friend, Mike Surber, for shooting this video last fall.