From Immigrant to Entrepeneur

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).


The Semler Family. (Front row: Johannes, George, Phillip, Catherine. Back row: Catherine, Harry, William, John, Conrad.)

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.

Picture of Semler & Company Mill from "The Centennial Anniversary of the City of Hamilton, Ohio" (1891).

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.”

Ad for Semler Milling Company in a 1901 newspaper.

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.

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13 Responses to From Immigrant to Entrepeneur

  1. bronxboy55 says:

    I think you know more about your family of 150 years ago than I do about the people in my family living now. These stories are so interesting. Thanks for telling them!

  2. Julia says:

    I’m glad your family was full of intrepid pioneers and entrepreneurs because they got you here to me. I’m also glad we don’t work at a mill that’s likely to burn down a few times, or have so many children that we run out of names for them and have to start recycling our own.

    • I am glad my family got me to you. But my family stopped here in Ohio/Indiana. Yours made it all the way to California. And you were the one that came back for me. For that I am eternally grateful.

      We did recycle one name: Brice.

      Thank you for indulging my interest in family history. And thank you for cropping, refining and otherwise tinkering with the photos I use for the blog. They always turn out looking better after you’ve done your magic.

  3. Susan Semler O'Neal says:

    This is terrific information! My grandfather was Conrad Semler (1863). My understanding is that my grandfather was married twice. His second marriage was to my grandmother (Maude Ryon–from Cincinnati, OH). He was part of the flour mill. I heard from my father (Conrad Martin Semelr, Jr.) about the family falling out over the flour mill. My grandfather moved to Latrobe, PA where my Dad was born (1911). My grandfather lost everything during the crash of ’29 and then died. My grandmother took her savings and informed my father that he was to attend Yale University. He told me that at that time he hadn’t even heard of such a school! Anway, he was a test pilot for the army air core during WWII and after the war went into banking and enjoyed being a bachelor until he married my mother (then 26) at 48. I was born in 1961, my sister (Constance) in 1966. My father didn’t talk about our family history that much. I just heard about our ancestors coming from Darmstadt. So how would you and I be related? Thank you for all of this research. Now I can share this with my children. Hope to hear from you. Susan Semler O’Neal

    • Susan,

      Thank you so much for commenting! I too have heard about the falling out over the mill, but I haven’t heard a lot of details. I would love to exchange information with you. I will email you privately right now.

      I am planning on doing at least one more blog post about the mill. I have a little information I’ve found online, but I’d love to add anything you or your family has about Conrad’s tenure as owner of the mill.

      John Lewis Semler (Conrad, Sr.’s brother) was my great-great grandfather. So if Conrad, Sr. was your grandfather, that makes you my grandmother’s second-cousin. Which makes us second-cousins, twice removed (even though we’re only 11 years apart in age). Or we can just say “cousin.”

      Thanks again for commenting. I look forward to corresponding with you!

    • Clinton Piper says:

      I am reseraching Conrad M. Semler’s house in Latrobe, Pennsylvania for the 2012 Westmoreland County Historical Society’s House Tour. The house was built in 1926 and designed by local architect Charles Sorber. Do you happen to know how long the house was in the family or any stories about it?


  4. dmb says:

    Earlier today I stood looking at an old framed photo with my grandmother while she explained that the man in the middle of the back row is her father’s father, whose family came from Darmstadt and owned the Semler Mill in Hamilton, Ohio.

    You can imagine my surprise then when I googled ‘Semler Mill’ and came to find the very same family photo here on your blog!

    I would love to hear more about how you gathered the images and documents relating to the Mill.

    • Your grandmother’s father’s father (William) is standing right next to my grandmother’s father’s father (John) in the back row of the picture. I think that makes us fourth cousins. Nice to meet you!

      I’m glad you found my blog. The family picture is one that we’ve had in the family. The other information in this blog post was all compiled from web searches and general research. I do have some information on the Semler family from some research that was passed down to me, but not much.

      I was hoping by putting this information on the blog that I would make connections with some Semler cousins who might be able to shed more light on the family. I am particularly interested in the end of the Semler Mill company. I have heard rumors, but don’t really have any details about how it all ended (see the previous comment and my reply).

      Thanks for reading this post. I’m going to try to do another one on the Semler family soon.

  5. Robert semler says:

    I’m a Semler there aren’t to many Semlers in the world my grandfather was also named Conrad and my family went to New York city my father was born in 1941 William Conrad Semler if my grandpa was alive he’d be at least 110 . I’m trying to find out more about my family on both sides my other side is Polish and u never know we could all be related . it’s a small world. I’m Robert Semler and I was born in 1971 didn’t realize that there were that many people with my name

  6. Robert semler says:

    I also forgot to mention my grandfather Conrad was a sanitation man for for the city of New York . Many of us seemed to follow in this tradition law enforcement and other agencies I’ve been told that my family came to the lower East side of manhattan from Germany in the late 1800s not exactly sure but the Semler family name has indeed a rich history

  7. Janelle Farringer says:

    I don’t think my johann martin is the same as yours but very likely related. My ggg-grandfather was johan peter semler. He settled
    In hancock ohio. His father was johann peter semmler from darmstadt whose father was johann martin semmler. If you could connect the family I’d be so pleased. Janelle (semler) farringer.

  8. Kim Hammergren says:

    I am the great granddaughter of William. I was born in Hamilton, OH. I had a wonderful “time machine” connection (the grand daughter of George) who was giving me information. However, in the last 20 years I haven’t had a chance to do any research and I’m not sure she is still alive. If anyone could fill in the blanks of what happened she would be the one. She was very close to other family members that I never connect to but they might be helpful. Please let me know if this is still a live thread and I would be happy to share what I know.

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