Clemens Vonnegut Sr. (November 20, 1824 – December 13, 1906) was a German emigrant to the United States and successful businessman. He was the patriarch of the prominent German-American Vonnegut clan (later Schnull-Vonnegut) of Indiana – he was the father and grandfather of architects Bernard Vonnegut I and Kurt Vonnegut Sr., respectively, and great-grandfather of scientist Bernard Vonnegut and author Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Vonnegut was born in Münster, Westphalia, to a tax collector father who was an official for the Duke of Westphalia. He was educated in Hanover to the equivalent of a bachelor's degree, speaking French and German fluently and having familiarity with Latin and Greek. He was raised Roman Catholic but rejected organized religion, claiming at one point to be an atheist and later a freethinker. Instead of continuing his university education to Ph.D. level, he decided to work as a salesman for a textile firm in Amsterdam. In 1848, at the age of 24, he emigrated to the United States, and arrived in Indianapolis in 1850. Another source states that he arrived in New York City in the summer of 1851.
Vonnegut Hardware Company
In Indiana he formed Vollmer & Vonnegut retail hardware and sundry merchandise store with a German immigrant named Charles Vollmer (who left for the Wild West in 1852). After 1852, the firm was renamed Vonnegut Hardware Company, and remained under his family's control after his death.
He married Katarina Blank in 1852 and moved to a modest house on West Market Street, Indianapolis. He had four sons: Clemens Jr., Franklin, Bernard, and George. He was the sometime chairman and chief administrative officer of the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis. A city school was named for him. "He greatly admired Benjamin Franklin, whom he called an American saint, and named his third son after him...." He died aged 82 on December 13, 1906, in Indianapolis. He was buried March 29, 1907 at Crown Hill Cemetery in the Vonnegut family plot.
Derivation of name
The family name is derived "from a distant forebear who had an estate, "ein Gut," on the little River Funne, hence the surname FunneGut." Subsequently, Funnegut was changed to Vonnegut; "Funnegut sounded too much like "funny gut" in English."