Today, my calendar tells me, is the 141st anniversary of the birth of my Swiss grandfather, Melchior Arnold Zwicky (I am Arnold Melchior Zwicky, Jr.). Born 4/9 in 1879 (and died in 1965 at the age of 86, an age I’m unlikely to achieve). So I muse on 1879, first on others who were born that year, and after that on two notable wars that were waged then.

My grandfather Zwicky spent most of his working life at Textile Machine Works in Wyomissing PA (west of Reading, in fact just west of West Reading). Here he is with my grandmother, Bertha Waelti Zwicky, and my dad, in the early 1940s:


My grandfather had retired from Textile by the time I knew him. He was quite busy in retirement. Visited Zwickys around the country (eventually inspiring my parents to move to California); played chess with other retirees at a center serving Wyomissing Industries employees; spent some time in Mexico to learn Spanish, because he thought Americans should (it was, I think, his sixth language); built my family a cinder-block two-car garage by his own hands; and hunted with bow and arrow, once bagging a huge deer that he then dressed and butchered himself, dividing the meat up for his four children in Pennsylvania (my uncle Fred in North Carolina didn’t get any).

(There’s a truly wonderful photo — which I haven’t been able to unearth — of him with that buck, looking proud. But not smiling; I don’t think he ever smiled for a camera, that would have been unserious, even foolish. But note my father’s face in #1, also the way he’s dressed; he’s a friendly, easy-going American guy, completely assimilated.)

My grandmother and grandfather were, in fact, the picture of very successful respectable European peasants. They had a warm nostalgia for their native land (Radio Switzerland was an important resource, regularly tapped) but a passionate emotional commitment to their new country. Still, no one just seeing them would imagine they were Americans.

My grandfather often seemed stern, and he was Swiss-stubborn to a fault, but he was a good man and fair, without even a sliver of meanness or aggressiveness, and with me he was companionable: well, I was the only one of his grandchildren interested in learning about Swiss history and culture (much of this of course dissipated over the decades, so I’ve had to re-learn it, but it pleases me to come back to it).

About Textile. From the description of a documentary “Wyomissing: An American Dream” made by PBS39/WLVT (in Bethlehem PA) in 2016:

Just west of Reading lies the Berks County borough of Wyomissing. With tree-lined streets, well-appointed homes and ample amenities, the community serves a living legacy to its founding fathers: Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen. The two German immigrants came to Berks County as young men in the 1890’s, forged a partnership and created a textile company that would become a legend in Wyomissing Industries. The company became one of the biggest hosiery mills and machine shops in the world and employed thousands of people around the clock under the leadership of patriarchs who cared about the products they made, the people who made them and community they shared. Together with their families and community partners, Thun and Janssen built homes and hospitals, parks and playgrounds, libraries, museums and even universities. They made things to last whether it was a factory, a house, a business or a community, and in doing so, they left a legacy in Wyomissing: An American Dream.

Thun and Jannsen added Gustav Oberlander as a third partner in Berkshire Knitting Mills, so eventually there were three companies making up Wyomissing Industries:

first, Textile Machine Works: American-made braiding machines; then full-fashioned knitting machines (making hosiery with seams, but later, seamless stockings) [my grandfather worked on making the knitting machines for seamless stockings, eventually in quality control and actual design, taking out several patents along the way]

(#2) From the Berks Nostalgia site: TMW in the 1930s

then Narrow Fabric Co., making braid

then Berkshire Knitting Mills, making women’s full-fashioned hosiery: silk stockings (then seamless stockings and nylons)

The factories are long gone. Berkshire Knitting was eventually sold to Vanity Fair (then part of Rockwell International), and the site is now a gigantic outlet mall.

My dad grew up in Wyomissing Industries housing near the main entrance to Textile. I grew up in a suburb for the working class in West Lawn (further west from Wyomissing), one of many such that originally provided housing for Wyomissing Industries workers.

Born in 1879 along with my grandfather, an idiosyncratic selection from  a much longer list (on Wikipedia):

E.M. Forster, Ruth St. Denis, Francis Picabia, Albert Einstein, Edward Steichen, Thomas Beecham, Ethel Barrymore, Margaret Sanger, Wallace Stevens, Warner Oland, Will Rogers, Leon Trotsky, Paul Klee

The last three make a particularly striking subset. Will Rogers, Leon Trotsky, and Paul Klee walk into a bar, and …

Two conflicts of 1879. The War of the Pacific — Bolivia and Peru together vs. Chile — started in 1879, and the Anglo-Zulu War — the British Empire vs. the Zulu Kingdom — ran its whole bloody course during the year.

From Wikipedia on the first:

The War of the Pacific (Spanish: Guerra del Pacífico), also known as the Saltpeter War (Spanish: Guerra del salitre) and by multiple other names, was a war between Chile and a Bolivian–Peruvian alliance. It lasted from 1879 to 1884, and was fought over Chilean claims on coastal Bolivian territory in the Atacama Desert. The war ended with victory for Chile, which gained a significant amount of resource-rich territory from Peru and Bolivia. Chile’s army took Bolivia’s nitrate-rich coastal region and Peru was defeated by Chile’s navy.

Battles were fought in the Pacific Ocean, the Atacama Desert, Peru’s deserts, and mountainous regions in the Andes.

Bolivia was the instigator, and lost badly — consequently ending up as a land-locked country.

Then, from Wikipedia, one of many episodes illustrating the things that made Britain great and admirable:

The Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom. Following Lord Carnarvon’s successful introduction of federation in Canada, it was thought that similar political effort, coupled with military campaigns, might succeed with the African kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa. In 1874, Sir Henry Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as High Commissioner for the British Empire to bring such plans into being. Among the obstacles were the presence of the independent states of the South African Republic and the Kingdom of Zululand and its army.

Frere, on his own initiative, without the approval of the British government and with the intent of instigating a war with the Zulu, had presented an ultimatum on 11 December 1878, to the Zulu king Cetshwayo with which the Zulu king could not comply, including disbanding his army and abandoning key cultural traditions. Bartle Frere then sent Lord Chelmsford to invade Zululand after this ultimatum was not met. The war is notable for several particularly bloody battles, including an opening victory of the Zulu at the Battle of Isandlwana, followed by the defeat of a large Zulu army at Rorke’s Drift by a small force of British troops. The war eventually resulted in a British victory and the end of the Zulu nation’s dominance of the region.

But who am I to slam the British for their vicious perfidy in ravaging peoples to exploit their resources? The hands of my ancestors, on both sides (Swiss and Pennsylvania Dutch), are scarcely clean.

I refer of course to the Helvetian Rhine Campaign of 1400 and the Interfluvial War of 1760. Dreadful stories.

In the Helvetian Rhine Campaign of 1400, the massed forces of the Swiss Old Confederacy (the three Urkantonen, plus the cantons of Zug and Glarus — Zwickyland — and the cities of Lucerne, Zürich, and Bern), aggressively seeking Lebensraum (and broad rich plains for farming, plus a path to the sea), swept through the valley of the Rhine from the Alpenrhein in Switzerland all the way to the North Sea coast in the Netherlands, devastating the landscape and cruelly enslaving the inhabitants.

A few hundred years later, in the Interfluvial War of 1760, hard-bitten Pennsylvania Dutch troops under Gen. Donald ‘Strubbly’ Hinnershitz took full possession of the Pennsylvania territory between the Susquehanna and the Delaware, with victory capped in the autumn when the PD forces massacred most of the English and Welsh settlers in the Lehigh Valley.

Linguistic notes on PDE (Pennsylvania Dutch English). Two things: the name Hinnerschitz and the adjective strubbly.

On the first, among the PDE names familiar to me from my childhood: Dreibelbis, Finefrock, Hinnerschitz, Fenstermacher, Diefenderfer. Of these, Hinnerschitz has some wider fame, at least in certain circles. From Wikipedia:

Thomas (Tommy) Paul Hinnershitz (April 6, 1912 – August 1, 1999) was an American race car driver. Hinnershitz was active through the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s on dirt, asphalt and boards, driving Sprint Cars, at that time slightly smaller versions of Indianapolis cars that could be raced on half mile dirt race tracks. [He first became popular near his Pennsylvania home, racing at the Reading Fairgrounds and Williams Grove Speedway.]

On the second, from my 11/30/12 posting “Nightmare stories”, about the protagonist of a 19th-century calamitous German children’s story Struwwelpeter (sometimes translated into English as ‘Shock-Headed Peter’):

In the variety of Pennsylvania Dutch English I grew up with, this would be Strivvely Peter, where the adjective strivvely refers to uncombed or stringy hair, sometimes translated as ‘unruly’ or ‘tousled’.

([PDE] is largely unstandardized; it comes in many varieties, both spoken and written. The Wikipedia article offers a more standard written form Schtriwwelich, with palatal [ʃ] before [t], where my version has an Anglicized [s], and with -lich pronounced [li], without final [x] or [k]. The article offers strubbelig as the colloquial Mod. Gm. equivalent.)

Among the PDE variants is strubbly.

4 Responses to “1879”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    The last three make a particularly striking subset. Will Rogers, Leon Trotsky, and Paul Klee walk into a bar, and …

    Almost any combination of three from that list is similarly intriguing. E. M. Forster, Albert Einstein, and Ethel Barrymore…

    • Joseph shaulis Says:

      My grandfather worked at the Textile Machine Works for 43 years and he retired in 1955. I’m looking for photos of him. I did find one picture in the Yarn Carrier, a magazine from the Textile Machine Works and the Berkshire Knitting Mills.

  2. Jacqueline Dufresne Says:

    My great-grandmother was Margaret Zwicky Weber, of Glarus.

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