Edward C. Hegeler
|Edward C. Hegeler|
|Born||13 September 1835
Bremen, German Confederation
|Died||4 June 1910
La Salle, Illinois
He was the son of Herman Dietrich and Anna Catharine (von Tungeln) Hegeler. His father, originally of Oldenburg, had traveled in the United States and wished one of his sons to settle there. He selected for this his youngest son, Edward, and had his education mapped out with this purpose in view. Edward was educated in the academy of Schnepfenthal and then attended the Polytechnic Institute at Hanover (1851–53), and later the School of Mines at Freiberg, Saxony (1853–1856). In Freiberg, Hegeler met F. W. Matthiessen, a fellow student, who became later his partner in the zinc business. Having traveled together on the European continent, and in England, they embarked for America and landed in Boston in March 1857.
While looking over the country for a suitable place to settle, they learned of Friedensville, Pennsylvania, where a zinc factory had been built, but it stood idle because the owners had not been able to manufacture the metal. Matthiessen and Hegeler, then 21 and 22 years old, respectively, stepped in, and with the same furnace succeeded in producing spelter, which at that time was pioneer work in America, for hitherto this metal had been imported from Europe. On account of the financial stringency of 1856, which still persisted in 1857, the owners of the Friedensville works refused to put more money into the enterprise, while neither Hegeler nor Matthiessen felt justified in risking their own capital, mainly because they had no confidence in the mines, which actually gave out eight years later.
Having investigated conditions in Pittsburgh and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and also in southeastern Missouri, Hegeler and Matthiessen finally settled in La Salle, Illinois, because its coal fields were nearest to the ore supply at Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Here they started the Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Works on a small scale. The few employees of the original works grew in a comparatively short time, to upward of one thousand men, and the modest smelting plant developed into one of the most modernly equipped smelters in the Middle West. His success in life has been attributed to a combination of two qualities in his character: first, the thoroughness with which he investigated from all sides the minutest details of a case when he had to take a stand; and second, the insuperable persistence with which he stuck to it until he had achieved the desired result.
In February 1887, Hegeler founded the Open Court Publishing Company, intended to serve the purpose of discussing religious and psychological problems on the principle that the scientific world-conception should be applied to religion. Hegeler believed in science, but he wanted to preserve the religious spirit with all its seriousness of endeavor, and in this sense he pleaded for the establishment of a religion of science. He recognized, for instance, that man with all his complicated psychical activity was a mechanism, but to him this truth was not derogatory to man, but an evidence of the great significance of machines. The mechanism of thinking is language, and so the speaking animal becomes the rational being. He maintained that through investigation and scientific criticism, religion must be purified, and the result would be a closer approach to truth on the path of progress. Hegeler rejected dualism as an unscientific and untenable view and accepted monism upon the basis of exact science, and for the discussion of the more recondite and heavier problems of science and religion he founded a quarterly, The Monist, in October 1890.
He visited Germany in 1860 where, on 5 April, he married Camilla Weisbach (died 28 May 1908), the daughter of his admired teacher, Professor Julius Weisbach, of Freiberg, Germany. In July of the same year they settled in La Salle, Illinois, where they resided until the end of their lives. They had ten children. Hegeler was survived by Marie Hegeler Carus of La Salle; Camilla Bucherer of Bonn, Germany; Julius W. Hegeler of Danville, Illinois; Annie Cole of New York City; Herman Hegeler of Danville (died August 1913); Baroness Zuleikha Vietinghoff of Berlin; and Olga Lihme of Chicago.