A century ago, American journalism was buzzing with news of the First World War, which the United States had still not entered. Though jingoistic newspapermen and politicians of different stripes eventually swayed public opinion toward support for the “war against Kaiser Bill,” in 1915 sending American soldiers to Europe was still controversial.
Across the country, but especially in states with a large number of German-American voters, there was opposition to entering the war. Isolationists and Socialists were of a similar mind, though often for different reasons. Wisconsin’s Progressive U.S. Senator Robert LaFollette spoke out passionately against U.S. involvement, earning the ire of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, who delivered a speech in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1917 where he called the senator a “shadow Hun” — the pejorative nickname for German soldiers. Roosevelt toured the Upper Midwest to lash out at U.S. Representative Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota and North Dakota’s Senator Asle Gronna, both of whom later cast their votes against making a declaration of war. (Lundeen was later accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and investigated by the FBI.)
Indiana’s own native son, Socialist presidential candidate and labor leader Eugene V. Debs, also spoke out against what he saw as America’s own involvement in militarism. In 1918, on charges of sedition, President Wilson imprisoned Debs for his vocal opposition to the military draft during a speech in Canton, Ohio.
(If you’re a Newspapers.com subscriber, one of the more fascinating and hilarious journals from the World War I era is The Fool-Killer, a satirical “newspaper” published in the Brushy Mountains of Wilkes County, North Carolina, by James Larkin Pearson. Pearson later became the Tar Heel State’s Poet Laureate.)
Hoosier history is full of strange ironies. One of them is this: early on the morning of October 23, 1917, in the Luneville sector of eastern France, the reportedly first American soldier to fire an artillery shot against the “Huns” was a 24-year-old sergeant from South Bend, Alexander Arch, a Hungarian.
Honored in newspapers in 1917 and again in 1919, after he returned from Europe and appeared in a parade with General Pershing, Arch was an emigrant from Sopron, on Hungary’s western border with Austria. When he was born in 1894, his birth village was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which as an American soldier he was now at war with.
Arch’s parents emigrated to the U.S. in 1899, their children following in 1903, when Alexander was eight. (They may have Anglicized their names. His father appears on the 1910 U.S. census as “Steve Arch,” probably István in Hungarian. Arch might have been spelled “Arcs” or “Arcz”.) Steve Arch worked as a clerk at George Toth’s bookstore in South Bend. Alexander’s mother, Theresa, died in 1910.
In 1910, when he was 16 years old, Alexander Arch was employed at the Oliver Chilled Plough Works, one of South Bend’s major industries. After Our Lady of Hungary Catholic Church was founded in 1916, the family were parishioners there. Before heading to Europe, Arch was briefly stationed on the Mexican border during General John Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa.
A 1919 News-Times article on South Bend’s efforts to get the cannon that fired the first American artillery shell in World War I included this clip from Stars and Stripes, the official publication of the U.S. Expeditionary Force:
The first American artillery shot of the war was fired at five minutes after 6 o’clock the morning of Oct. 23, 1917, from a position about 400 meters east of Bathlemont, in the Luneville sector.
A French 75, dragged by the hands of American artillerymen over 800 meters of rough roads on a pitch black night, roared America’s artillery prelude at daybreak. A heavy fog flashed into flame, a shrapnel shell coursed over the woods and valleys of Meurthe-et-Moselle, crossed a boundary line and fell somewhere in Lorraine.
Battery C of the sixth field artillery is so positive that this shell was America’s first shot that it has just prepared a sworn statement signed by an officer and four enlisted men who were in on the event, telling all the circumstances leading up to it. The statement reveals, incidentally, that the original shell casing is now in Chicago, and that 18 other casings of that first morning’s firing were distributed among Pres’t Wilson, Gen. Pershing, Gen. Sibert, then commanding the first division, and others.
The gun is now at the United States Military Academy at West Point with other newly transported war trophies. Before it left France, though, it had fired 20,000 rounds in action, and none of the gun crew serving it had been wounded.
The firing of the first shot was ceremonial, according to the signed statement, each man in the gun crew performing some task. One soldier set the sights, another the elevation of the range, another the angle of site and another cut the fuse. Twenty men were gathered about the gun when the command “Fire!” was given. Because of the fog it was impossible to observe the effect of the first shot, but at 7 a.m., when the fog lifted, the firing was directed from an observation post to Haut Rioville farm in No-Man’s Land.
Sgt. Arch was chief of the gun crew, and at least one other man, Corporal Lewis Varady, a fellow Hungarian, also came from South Bend.
America’s direct involvement in World War I lasted barely a year and Arch was back in the U.S. in mid-1919. In September, “Thunderous cheers followed by loud applause greeted Sgt. Alexander Arch, South Bend’s history maker, upon his visit to the House of Representatives. . .” Arch and Varady received a three-minute standing ovation before heading on to Camp Zachary Taylor near Louisville, Kentucky, but not before receiving a triumphal welcome home in Indiana.
After the acclaimed veteran was mustered out of the army at Camp Taylor, he worked as a machinist and auto worker, probably at the Studebaker plant. Arch married Julia Rebics in 1924 and the couple had four children. He died in 1979.
During a victory parade in 1919, the Hoosier soldier was literally “profiled” in The Washington Times. The newspaper thought he had a heroic face and a good jaw line, and used his experience as an exhortation to rise and shine, since “there are a good many victories won before breakfast”:
The News-Times had some of the best illustrators in Hoosier journalism. Here are some other historic ads, cartoons, and flashy martial cries — most of it blatantly Germanophobic — published in the South Bend paper around the fateful year 1918.
An entry in Hyman’s Handbook to Indianapolis recently caught my eye. A strange masked man stalks this great guide to the old and now mostly vanished architecture of the city in 1909.
My thoughts raced to Jules Verne’s deep-sea divers, Renaissance plague doctors dressed like bizarre birds, steampunk fashion designers, and of course the epic villain, Darth Vader. Even the name of the company that once manufactured this pioneer fireman’s oxygen mask in the Hoosier State had a science-fiction ring to it: the Vajen-Bader Company.
Smoke, sulfur, and ammonia pose problems similar to those faced by divers and even doctors wading into disease-ridden “miasmas” (the “bad air” mentioned in old medical manuals). So it should come as no surprise that the invention of smoke helmets is part of a much bigger history. The tragedy is that the protective devices used by groundbreaking medical men, underwater explorers, and firefighters evolved into the gas masks used in the chemical warfare that made World War I so uniquely terrifying at the time.
In 1893, Indianapolis hardware salesman and inventor Willis C. Vajen earned his place in the history of masks and life-saving.
Vajen (whose name, I believe, is pronounced “Vie-en”) came from one of the capitol city’s most prominent and wealthy families. His father, John Henry Vajen, emigrated from Bremen, Germany, to Baltimore with his parents in 1836, then moved west with them to Cincinnati, Ohio, and eventually Jackson County, Indiana. (John Vajen, Sr., had been a professor in Germany, a talented organist, and a Lutheran minister, and served as pastor of a large log church near Seymour.) Vajen, Jr., went into the hardware business and made a small fortune in trading and banking. During the Civil War, J.H. Vajen became the thrifty Quartermaster General of Indiana and was known as Governor Oliver P. Morton’s right-hand man. He died in 1917.
Willis Vajen ultimately followed in his father’s footsteps. After attending a seminary in Hamburg, Germany, Earlham College in Richmond, and Wittenburg College in Ohio, he, too, went into the hardware business. His sales knack probably had something to do with his skill in design. (Vajen filed patents for tools and machinery, like this plumb bob and a rein support for horses.) “Vajen & New” was located at 64 E. Washington St., offering Indianapolitans the best selection of lawn mowers, saw vises, rubber hoses, fishing tackle, fly-screen doors, White Mountain Ice Cream freezers, garden rakes, rubber hoses, and roller skates.
No mere humble merchants of garden tools and sporting goods, the Vajens married into great families. Willis Vajen was wed to Anna Claypool, daughter of the wealthy Connersville businessman Edward F. Claypool. (Ironically, the majestic Claypool Hotel, named for the inventor’s father-in-law and once one of the great landmarks of the city, was destroyed by arson in 1967.) Vajen’s sister Fannie Belle married Charles Stewart Voorhees, son of Senator Daniel Voorhees. (Charles Voorhees represented Washington Territory in Congress.) The Vajens often vacationed at their summer cottage on Lake Maxincuckee in northern Indiana, loaning it to the Hoosier novelist Booth Tarkington and his wife Laurel Fletcher in 1902.
Yet Willis Vajen’s claim to fame is the “smoke protector” that he perfected with William Bader in 1893. Apparently one or both of these men had witnessed a tragic hotel fire where rescuers were unable to reach the fourth floor due to smoke, the inspiration for their efforts at invention. A German immigrant, Bader was a piano maker by profession and may have come up with the idea first. Testimony from a lawsuit filed in U.S. Court in 1899 has it that Vajen first saw a photograph of the device in the music store where Bader worked, and the two worked together to improve efficacy of the mask, meanwhile helped along by Dennis Swenie, Chicago’s fire chief. A clip in the Los Angeles Herald suggests that “William Baders” was the real genius, Vajen only “furnishing the capital for the enterprise.” The court’s verdict, however, was that Vajen deserved most of the credit.
The struggle to perfect a mask that can ward off the assault of smoke, water, noxious fumes, and even the plague goes back centuries. News articles heralding the Vajen-Bader Patent Smoke Protector often remarked that it looked like a sea-diver’s helmet. This, too, was a new invention. English brothers Charles and John Deane had been inspired to invent their famous copper diving helmet in the 1820s after witnessing a fire at a smoke-filled horse stable. When the Deanes attached a leather hose to pump fresh oxygen into their firefighting helmet, scuba-diving took a great leap forward. (While wearing such an outfit in 1836, John Deane discovered Henry VIII’s long-lost warship Mary Rose, sunk off the Isle of Wight three-hundred years before.)
Another fascinating European forerunner of the Vajen-Bader mask was the plague doctor’s costume. While these seem like creatures of the fantastic imagination to us today, in the 17th century doctors venturing into epidemic-ridden cities sported masks resembling bird beaks, along with heavy protective suits that they believed gave protection from “miasmatic air.” Filled with scented herbs and spices like ambergris, myrrh, mint, cloves, and rose petals, the doctor’s elongated “beak” was designed as a kind of air filter. Credited to the Parisian doctor Charles de l’Orme, these ornithologically-inspired plague garments were in use as early as 1619 and later became a feature in the Venetian carnival.
When Willis Vajen and William Bader undertook work on their smoke helmet, other innovators had already tried out an array of devices, ranging from primitive sponges and lightweight “respiratory veils” to more sophisticated contraptions, like the one invented in the 1870’s by Irish physicist John Tyndall, who incorporated a cotton filter saturated with lime, charcoal, and glycerin. A different device was the respirator pioneered by Bernhard Loeb, who attached metal air canisters to the mask’s mouth.
Some two years ago Willis C. Vajen, an Indianapolis inventor, brought me a smoke helmet or protector and asked me what I thought of it. He will himself, no doubt, admit that it was a crude and cumbersome affair. The principle material in its construction was sole leather, and its window was of a single thickness or pane of glass. It did not have facilities for enabling the wearer to hear, and the tank for the compressed air was fully six times larger than was necessary.
However, it was clear that the inventor was on the right track. . . As it stands now, the weight of the helmet is practically nothing, resting upon the shoulders. The protector is made of asbestus tanned horsehide and is securely fastened by means of two straps which pass from the back under the arms and snap into rings in front. Its top is padded and is also re-enforced with transverse seams of the hard leather, which stand up to the height of about an inch. This makes it capable of withstanding a very heavy blow and forms an almost perfect protection against falling bricks and small stones.
Directly at the back of the neck is a small air tank, which can be filled by means of an ordinary force pump such as the bicyclists use for inflating their pneumatic tires. It will hold 100 pounds of compressed air and has a tiny gauge attached which registers the pressure of air within. The first five or ten minutes at a fire generally determines the result, and the total capacity of the air tank is sufficient to last a man for 40 minutes.
“Delicate mica diaphragms” for the ears and eyes helped with vision and hearing, as a did a double-paned window. “Both eye and ear pieces are protected by strong wire guards. . . On the front exterior, where it may be easily reached, is a signal whistle, which does not consume any of the pure air from the reservoir. The operation of the signal, which is loud and sharp, makes no drain upon the breathing resources of the fireman.”
An article in Fire & Water Engineering in 1906 adds: “It is neat; it weighs only six pounds; it can be put on as easily as a coat. . . There is no hose attachment which is liable to kink or break and thus impede the movements of the wearer.”
The Vajen-Bader Company’s life-saving invention caught on fast. Praise came not only from American fire chiefs, but from international clients. Operating out of a space on the second floor of the old Indianapolis Public Library a block north of Monument Circle (and later at a factory in Richmond, Indiana), the company filled orders from customers as diverse as meatpackers, mining and gas companies, breweries, and the British and Chilean navies. Overseas agents in Johannesburg, London, and Yokohama marketed the smoke protector around the globe. In 1897, fire fighters from Dublin, Ireland, to Wellington, New Zealand were “using them with entire satisfaction.”
The masks sold for $100, a large investment for some municipal fire departments, but Hyman’s Handbook claimed that “during the first year an estimated $3,000,000 worth of property was saved by the use of this new device.”
A contemporary article from the Los Angeles Heraldtouts the value of the smoke helmet in preventing minor fires from turning into major ones.
Often a fire of insignificant proportions causes such a dense volume of smoke that it is quite impossible for its location to be discovered, and it smoulders thus until it has gained such headway that it is impossible to extinguish it.
When Willis Vajen attended a firefighters’ convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1896, his cutting-edge device was the star of the show. The Salt Lake Herald reprinted testimony from the fire department in Kansas City, Missouri, which had already put the mask to a rigorous test. As KC’s Fire Chief George C. Hale (a great innovator himself) wrote, firemen found a house “which had a cellar underneath, with no ventilation whatsoever.”
In the cellar was dug a hole, in which was placed one of the worst smelling conglomerations of combustibles ever heaped together — sulphur, feathers, tar, wooden and cotton rags and burlap sacks. Hardly had the match been touched to the pile, until a dense volume of smoke began to roll up out of the single trap door that led down into the cellar. When the penetrating fumes of sulphur set everyone to coughing, there were many who shook their heads and said no one could possibly live five minutes in the cellar. The smoke pushed its way up the brick wall and was coming out at the crevices.
Second Assistant Chief Henderson was selected to wear the helmet. The cylinder was filled with air until there was a 100-pound pressure. The whistle was tested to see if it would sound. The helmet was dropped over Henderson’s head and strapped around his body.
“If you grow weak or begin to suffocate,” said Chief Hale, “blow your whistle vigorously and we will come after you.”
The rap door was then raised and the fireman disappeared into the sickening, penetrating smoke. The door was shut tightly. Not a breath of pure air could reach the man in the helmet.
Then the crowd began to wait. Watches were looked at and after a couple of minutes had elapsed without hearing any sound from the fireman, several began to grow nervous, thinking that the sulphur fumes might have gotten in quick work and strangled him. The door was partly raised and Chief Hale called to Henderson to blow his whistle. A far-off sound came from the cellar, telling that Henderson was in good shape. . .
The smoke continued to grow denser and blacker, and the odor more vile. Henderson’s whistle sounded frequently and no uneasiness was felt. Eighteen minutes had elapsed from the time when he had gone into the cellar, when he knocked on the door. . .
“How did you stand it, Alec?” queried everybody.
“Stand it! Why, I could have stayed down there all day. It was dark as midnight, but I could breathe as easily as I do now. . .”
When the pressure gauge of the air cylinder was examined it was found that only ten pounds of air had been used, ninety pounds being left.
Firemen wearing the novel smoke helmets came to the rescue after an ammonia explosion at Schmidt’s Brewery, a subsidiary of the Indianapolis Brewing Company, nearly killed a number of workers on the night of September 31, 1896. The Indianapolis News reported:
The fire that started in the second story of the building in the malt mill was subdued by the fire department. It was a hard fire to reach as the fumes of ammonia were strong, and it was almost impossible for a man to get near the building. The firemen say that this is the first difficult fire they have had since the Vajen-Bader smoke protector was adopted by the department, and that these helmets made it possible for the men to enter the building and reach the fire with the chemical engines. They say that although the fumes of ammonia were strong enough to render an unprotected fireman unconscious, the men wearing the helmets suffered no inconvenience from the fumes.
Aged 49, Willis Vajen, who suffered from life-long anemia, died at his home at 23 E. Vermont St. on July 22, 1900 and was buried at Crown Hill. In one of history’s bizarre twists, all the houses on Vajen’s block were demolished around 1921 to make way for the mammoth Indiana World War Memorial, the city’s enormous Egyptian-inspired temple to the veterans of World War I.
These soldiers, of course, were the first to use the terrifying invention whose evolution was partly due to the Vajen-Bader smoke protector. Early in the 20th century, the gas mask wove its way into sickening nightmares, both dreamed and awake, as Europe — and then the whole world — caught on fire.
In a previous post, I featured an example of “text speak” published in the Vincennes Western Sun way back in 1849. Here’s a few more linguistic oddities from early Hoosier newspapers.
If you drink German beer from a bottle, you might have seen a label on the side saying something like “Brewed according to the German purity law of 1516,” a reference to the famous “Reinheitsgebot” that regulated the brewing of beer (i.e., only water, barley and hops could go into it.) But since 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the German beer law, in the meantime let’s talk about a different kind of “purity.”
Denglish is a term used today in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria to refer to the mixing of “Deutsch” with “English.” Globalization has made English the dominant language on earth, and it’s not at all uncommon in Germany to hear things like ich habe den File downgeloadet (I downloaded the file) or catch someone ordering ein Double Whopper mit Bacon und Cheddar Cheese. Why? German certainly has perfectly good words for bacon and cheese. Maybe since McDonald’s isn’t German and is even an exotic novelty for some Europeans, asking for einDoppelwhopper mit Speck und Cheddar-Käse just sounds too traditional or even too strange. Better to just leave it in English. (And, by the way, we don’t always translate, either: look at sauerkraut, apple strudel, bratwurst. . .)
Though English and German are related, outside the realm of food, not many words have ever come from modern German into modern English. Linguistic purists in Europe, on the other hand, go through “periodic bouts of angst“ (a German word!) about the influx coming from the other direction. (I wonder if this kind of angst exists in Sweden, where Paul Dresser’s On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away became a very popular song when it was translated into Swedish as early as 1919. You can listen to Barndomshemmet — a.k.a., “Childhood Home” — over on YouTube.)
The influx is nothing new. In Indianapolis, Indiana, just after the Civil War, the town had a large German population and several important German-language newspapers — the Täglicher Telegraph (the weekly edition was called the Indiana Volksblatt und wöchentlicher Telegraph) and the Indiana Tribüne.
The Tribüne survived until World War I, when anti-German feeling helped silence it in June 1918. An advertisement in the Indianapolis Star on May 31, 1918, called on American boys to ““Kill Germans – kill them early, late and all the time but kill them sure.” Even Hoosiers with German names joined in the irrational hatred of everything German, like William Leib of Elkhart. Others supported the war against the Kaiser, like Richard Lieber — an immigrant from Düsseldorf, the founder of Indiana’s state park system, and a reporter for the Tribüne.
At one time, the Hoosier State also had a small number of other newspapers published in languages besides English. (The Macedonian Tribune began in Indianapolis in 1927 and is still published today in Fort Wayne. South Bend once had papers in Hungarian and Polish.) Today, La Voz de Indiana, a Spanish-language paper, is printed in the capitol city.
While I haven’t run across any examples of Indiana writers mixing English and German grammar, here are some great examples of Denglish from the early Hoosier newspapers. I culled these from random issues of the Indiana Tribüne and the Täglicher Telegraph between the years 1866 and 1910. Any issue from those days will turn up plenty of Denglish.
The old German Fraktur script can be a challenge to read if you’re not familiar with it, but if you can read any German at all, see if you can figure these out!
If you had Durst in Terre Haute in 1866,you might go to ein Saloon.
Habst du Hunger? (Und by the way, was sind Wahoo Bitters?)
This ad has more English than German in it. Buy ’em by the bushel crate:
While on Georgia St., you might be interested in grabbing some
Like seafood? Your slimy lunch was just delivered fresh all the way from Baltimore, even in the 1860s:
For dessert, treat yourself to something sweet. “All kinds” of this treat are available:
Rauchst du? It’s a bad habit, but if you’ve got to do it, make it a Hoosier Poet, and make sure it’s a real Havana:
Hausjacken on sale right now, $4.75:
Do you give your kids any of these before bed? Probably shouldn’t.
Und was trinken Sie? Before Prohibition, hundreds of breweries, many run by Germans and Czechs, dotted the American landscape. (A lot of these were rural areas, but city folk, of course, drank beer, too. The 1855 Lager Beer Riots in Chicago erupted partly because Mayor Levi Boone, descendant of Daniel Boone, didn’t like Germans boozing on Sundays. But he also he hated their radical politics and wanted to keep them from getting together at their watering-holes, where they talked about socialism and Chicago politics.)
At one time, the Terre Haute Brewing Company, founded in 1837 by German immigrant Matthias Mogger, was one of the largest beer-producers in the United States. The company’s nationally-famous beer “Champagne Velvet,” begun by Bavarian immigrant Anton Meyer, was recently resurrected by Upland Brewing in Bloomington. Germans enjoyed this and many other local beers on tap over a century ago in the Hoosier State:
Wait, too much drinking for you. Better make a special trip upstairs to see this technological wonder of the nineteenth century:
If you’re ready for another binge, hey, be family-friendly now and take them out on one of these:
Yes. That says “Big Picnic of the German Military Union.” Sound scary? Many German immigrants fought in the Civil War while serving in Hoosier regiments. This 1903 ad announces low rates for a train trip down South to erect the Indiana Monument at the Shiloh Schlachtfeld:
On your stopover in Paducah, grab a bottle of the finest Kentucky whiskey.
Plan on having the family portrait taken? Take the kids to Cadwallader and Fearnaught, Meisterphotographen, at their studio on Ost Washington Strasse in downtown Indy.And “bring the babies”:
Maybe you need a job. If you get an office job, you’ll also need some stationery.
(Office tape! In 1866!)
If you bite down too hard on one of those Star Pencils, or if einPaper Clip gets stuck in your teeth, here’s a German-speaking Zahnärzte at your service:
There was even a female dentist in Indianapolis back in those days, Mary Lloyd, across from Fletcher’s Bank and the New York Store:
Dentists also dealt with problems caused by this stuff:
Got oil in your headlights? This brand is geruchlos (odorless):
ACHTUNG!! Watch out for das Manhole!
Keep your precious treasures safe. Bank with Mr. Fletcher:
Or keep your fortune safe at home with this hefty beast:
You can also protect your money by doing some bargain-shopping. Germans are famous for thrift, aren’t they?
Or skip shopping altogether and just take your kids to see Santa Klaus and let him provide the gift. Hier ist dein Ticket:
If Santa is in the neighborhood, that means it’s getting cold outside. Get a “honey comb quilt” or some serious old-school heating:
If you do get sick this winter, try one of these handy home remedies:
OK, that’s enough Denglish for me. I’m off on the Eisenbahn. And I’ll be traveling in style.
Run across any other great examples of Denglish? Have any personal stories to share? Bitte schicken Sie mir eine E-mail: Stephen Taylor at staylor336 [at] gmail.com