SCHENECTADY – There’s a historic hubbub on the horizon, and it’s heading straight for Schenectady.
No need to worry. There will be no punches. It is strictly an intellectual meeting between reasonable people who have a different view of history.
On one side we have the descendants of John Kruesi, the man who helped build Edison’s Machine Works and later General Electric Co. in Schenectady into one of the greatest success stories of all time. On the other side, there is a long list of Schenectady historians, including George Wise and Chris Hunter, who cannot agree with the Kruesi family tradition of how and why Thomas Edison came to the Mohawk Valley in 1886, transforming a small community. of 14,000 people in the “city that lights up and transports the world”.
More than 50 members of the Kruesi family will gather at the Edison Club in Rexford this Saturday evening and spend the weekend visiting sites such as Vale Cemetery, Union College and the First Reformed Church, all with the aim to learn more about their distinguished ancestor. And that doesn’t mean they aren’t already fully informed. It’s a family that’s done their homework, and according to Jim Frierson of Chattanooga, Tennessee, researching Kruesi is a labor of love he’s enjoyed since he was a kid.
“I remember sitting with all the boys of my generation when I was 10 on New Year’s Day in 1960 and listening to my grandfather tell stories,” recalls Frierson, a great-grandson by John Kruesi. “He would tell us stories about the GE business, but business stories are family stories. At one point he asked us if it was OK if he continued, and we said “yes, we have a very good recorder”.
It was Paul Kruesi, Frierson’s grandfather, who passed on the family’s story that day and on this audio recording he mentions how it was his father, John Kruesi, who, while taking the train to through Schenectady in 1886, spotted two vacant buildings on the Great Flats just west of town which would become the new home of Edison Machine Works and later the site of General Electric in 1892. This story, however, contradicts the long-established story around Schenectady that it was Harry Livor, another Edison associate, who actually saw the two buildings through a train car window and rushed to New York to tell Edison that he should immediately move part of his business to the Mohawk Valley.
While Hunter, vice president of collections and exhibits at miSci, and Wise, a former GE employee who wrote the online book titled “Edison’s Decision,” say they support Livor’s story, there are something they and the Kruesi family all agree on. . John Kruesi was an amazing person.
A Swiss immigrant orphaned as a young child, Kruesi became arguably Edison’s most trusted associate, turning the inventor’s ideas into viable working machines, most notably the phonograph. He is also the man most responsible for developing the Schenectady plant and overseeing its rapid growth, and he has done so while earning the respect and admiration of everyone from the most scientific eminent to the average factory worker.
“Kruesi was Edison’s best manager to survive the consolidation of Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston, and Christian Rach, one of Edison’s first employees, pays Kruesi great homage for his style of management,” Hunter said. “He plays a vital role in the story. Edison trusted Kruesi to finish the buildings and run the factory. Kruesi had one building open in October 1886, then both buildings in December with over 300 employees.
Wise also believes that Kruesi’s role in GE’s early success cannot be overstated.
“He basically ran the business in Schenectady from the start and did an incredible job of getting it up and running,” Wise said. “He deserves a lot of credit and was a very interesting person with high standards. He didn’t oppress the worker and seems to have been a popular guy with everyone.
Hunter and Wise have a handful of sources supporting Livor’s story, including a letter written by Edison to the GE News Bureau in November 1925.
In part, Edison, 78 at the time, writes that “Mr. Livor and others were sent to scout for a suitable location for the Edison Machine Works, as our place in Goerck Street had become too small for us. Mr. Livor found the locomotive shop at Schenectady, and Mr. Insull and I went to examine the property and purchased it.
As for Paul Kruesi’s version, Frierson said his grandfather was just telling the story told to him by his father, John Kruesi.
“My grandfather was around 65 and his mental faculties were still superb,” Frierson said. “He told us all about Edison’s labor issues and all the difficulties they were having with the Goerck Street factory. He also explained how Edison sent several people in different directions and that John Kruesi was given the mission to go north up the Hudson River to Albany and then through the Mohawk Valley. He looked out the window and said, “I don’t know what it is, but it looks perfect. The train didn’t even stop. He had to go to the next stop and hire a horse and carriage to return to Schenectady.
Kruesi, born May 15, 1843 in Heiden, Switzerland, came to America in 1870, met Edison, and began working in his studio in Newark, New Jersey in 1872. He soon became Edison’s chief machinist and, along with creating the inventor’s working model for the phonograph, he also assisted him with the quadruplex telegraph, the carbon microphone, and the incandescent light bulb.
He married another Swiss immigrant, Emily Zwinger, in 1873, and the couple had eight children, including Walter Kruesi, Schenectady’s first charity commissioner in 1912 under the socialist administration of Mayor George R. Lunn. John Kruesi lost his wife in 1897 and reportedly never got over his grief, passing away himself in 1899 at the age of 55.
Although there are no further descendants of Kruesi in the Schenectady area, Charlotte Kruesi Tarr recalls visiting an elderly aunt on Washington Avenue with her mother in the 1960s, as well as her grandmother kindergarten on North Ferry Street, both in the stockade.
“I always valued my family history, and I also felt something grabbed me and pulled me to Schenectady when I was just a young girl,” said Tarr, who grew up in Bernardsville, New Jersey, just outside New York. and now lives in Naples, Florida. “My great-grandfather was a genius who came from humble beginnings, and it was so fascinating to see all the connections his descendants have, especially with Schenectady. There are so many people in our family who are graduates from Union College, somewhere around 45, and we have all these ties to old New York names like the Livingstons and the Schenectady families like the Notts, Potters, Delancey Watkins, Yates and Mynderse.
While Tarr is looking forward to seeing several members of her family and visiting Schenectady again, she is also here to bury her parents, Oscar Rogers Kruesi and Elizabeth Nott Potter Kruesi, at Vale Cemetery. Tarr’s father died in 2010 and his mother passed away last year.
“My mother kept her ashes, so the family had a conversation with her before she died about where she wanted them buried,” Tarr said. “She finally decided, because we have such a strong connection to Schenectady, that she wanted to be buried at Vale. Our family on both sides is so well represented at Schenectady that it seemed like the right thing to do.
Frierson, Tarr’s cousin, couldn’t agree more.
“Family stories are like campfires,” he said. “They need someone to tend the fire so it doesn’t go out, and by getting us all to Schenectady we will keep that fire burning. We’ve had family reunions in the Chattanooga area with descendants of Paul Kruesi, but we haven’t had a big one like this, descendants of John Kruesi, since 1981 in Washington, D.C. I really looking forward to seeing Schenectady, where so much of our family history comes from.
Schenectady Town Historian Chris Leonard will give a short presentation Saturday night at the Edison Club to the Kruesi family, while earlier in the day Niskayuna Town Historian Denis Brennan, also a professor at the retreat from Union College, will take the group on a tour of the Nott Memorial. on the campus of Union College. Also on the program is a tour of Schenectady’s First Reformed Church with Archivist Laura Lee. It was Edward Tuckerman Potter, another connection to the Kruesis, who designed the structure in 1863.
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