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Clemens Vonnegut  

Clemens Vonnegut, Sr., (1824-1906) was a Forty-eighter who was born in Germany but moved to Indianapolis after the 1848 revolution.

Three years later he founded the Vonnegut Hardware Company. That same year he helped create the first Turnverein in Indianapolis (the Indianapolis Turngemeinde).

Vonnegut was an important civic leader. As well as being an active Turner, he was at various times the president of the Maennerchor, the vice president of the Normal College, and the president of the German-English School. He pressed for the teaching of German in public schools and, as a member of the Indianapolis school board, for the introduction of physical education. Vonnegut was also a Freethinker. He outlined the important tenets of the organization in a book he originally published anonymously called A Proposed Guide for Instruction in Morals from the Standpoint of a Freethinker for Adult Persons, Offered by a Dilettante.

H. C. Chandler & Co.'s Business Directory For Indiana 1868
Hardware, wholesale.
VONNEGUT CLEMENS, 178 and 180 e Washington
Hardware and Cutlery, retail.
VONNEGUT CLEMENS, 178 and 180 e Washington

Indiana and Indianans : a history of aboriginal and territorial Indiana and the century of statehood Chicago: American Historical Society, 1919, pg. 2173-5

Clemens Vonnegut. As was pointed out by Mr. Dunn in his History of Indianapolis, no single foreign nationality, was a nationality, had a greater influence in the development of the city than the German. The city owes a special debt to the Germans who came following the collapse of the revolutionary movement of 1848. In that struggle they had lost their father-land, but they brought with them to the New Word a vision and an imp ulse to intellectual and political betterment which meant much to the new nation, as a nation, and to countless communities throughout the Middle West. On the broad prairies and in the forests, in peace and in war, in every branch of human endeavors and human achievement. One of these at Indianapolis was the late Clemens Vonnegut.

At fifteen years of age Clemens Vonnegut, Sr.; was apprenticed to a merchant banker in Muenster, Westphalia. Six years later he entered the business of a manufacture of silk velvet ribbons at Crefeld, on the Holland border. He made rapid progress and after having covered France, Belgium, Holland, England, Austria and the German countries as a commisvoyageur he was entrusted with the task of establishing an agency in America.

Mr. Vonnegut arrived in New York City in the summer of 1851, when twenty-seven years of age. The purpose in hand accomplished, he resigned his position, renounced allegiance to his erstwhile king, and became a citizen of the United States, in all that word implies.

Before we follow him out West let us speak personality of the man, who has now long been gathered unto his fathers. He had quit school before graduating because of ill health and weak eyes. While he did not become robust, he built up his constitution through exercise and gymnastics, and was enabled to endure the hardships, first of a European apprenticeship and then that of the American small-town storekeeper in the days when business hours extended from the crow of the cock until late into the night.

When he left school he decided to improve his interrupted education after business hours, and while his colleagues lounged, he finished his school work, and kept up his music and reading of English, French, and German classics and history. He was never interested in cards, hunting, or fishing, and that may account, in part, for his aversion to the handling of sporting goods, which in the early days consisted mainly of guns and tackle. Golf was not then in vogue. For sociable recreation he joined a singing society and a gymnastic association.

He was earnestly interested in public affairs, especially in educational matters. He was a republican in politics, independent, however, in local affairs, yet he was a member of the School Board for twenty-eight years and but for enfeebled health co uld have enjoyed the honor more years, though he never spent a minute nor a dollar at electioneering. He was willing to serve conscientiously, if called, but willing to retire if another sho uld be found more desirable. It is very fitting and appropriate that one of the public schools of his city is named in his honor.

Before becoming so closely identified with the public schools he assisted in the founding of the German-English Independent Schools, which the German citizens of Indianapolis established in 1859 to supplement the rather meager facilities afforded at that time by the common school system. For a dozen years following the Civil War it was on of the famous institutions of Indianapolis, and for over fifteen years Mr. Clemens Vonnegut was one of the most active members of the society supporting the school; in fact was its president most of the time.

Mr. Vonnegut was also a member of the Indianapolis Turngemeinde, from which was later developed the Social Turnverein of Indianapolis. This characteristic institution of German club life was established in 1851. The members of this organization were the pioneers in introducing physical education and manual training in the public schools. Clemens Vonnegut held a fifty-five years membership in the Turnverein, and his influence and co-operation were vital in the establishment and successful operation of the Normal College of the North American Gymnastic Union, located in the Athenaeum.

It is worthy of note that in 1917 Governor Goodrich and Lieutenant Ord, of the United State Army, found the members, of the college better qualified for drill masters than the members of any other local organization.

When in 1896, at seventy-two years of age, Mr. Vonnegut retired from business, he kept himself in good physical condition through gymnastics and long walks. He continued the study of music and wrote essays on education and moral philosophy, and translations into his native tongue from a favorite American author.

These pastimes were interspersed with help to his grandchildren in their studies of algebra, geometry, Latin and French. Accustomed to close application to work during nearly two generations, he had to keep himself always busy.

Clemens Vonnegut was liberal in religion, but essentially religious in temperament and venerated all scared things. He was humane, prudent, scrup ulously honest, always willing to advise and to help any who had gained his confidence, and these qualities secured for him a host of friends who truly loved him. When he died in 1918 Indianapolis lost a worthy citizen, whose life the people should long cherish in memory.

Mr. Vonnegut came to Indianapolis in the year of his landing, 1851, on invitation of a schoolmate, Charles Volmer, who had preceded him a few years. He formed a partnership with his friend, a relationship that continued until 1858, when Mr. Vonnegut bought the interests of Mr. Volmer, who went to California, and from that time Mr. Vonnegut conducted the business alone until he associated his sons with him.

Successively, as they left school, the German-English School and the Indianapolis High School they entered the store, beginning with broom and duster, and when they arrived at majority, respectively, they were admitted as partners.

The original venture was a general merchandise store. When Mr. Vonnegut took over the business alone he closed out the sundries and carried only hardware, tools, leather, and findings. In those days in order to get leather from the tanner the dealer had to furnish a reasonable quantity of hides, and these hides, bought from butcher friends (who made one understand that they were bestowing a favor) were trimmed, sorted, and bundled by candle light after the store closed. In 1867 he closed out the leather business and devoted himself to hardware and tools, factory, foundry, mill and machine shop supplies and kindred goods.

In 1898 the business was moved to its present location, 120 to 124 East Washington Street, and it was incorporated in 1908 as the Vonnegut Hardware Company. The officers are: Franklin Vonnegut, president; Clemens Vonnegut, vice-president; George Vonnegut, secretary and treasurer.

Clemens Vonnegut on January 24, 1853 married Miss Catherine Blank, who died April 13, 1904. They were the parents of four sons, three of whom are still living.

The eldest, Clemens, Jr., born November 19, 1853, entered his father's establishment in 1869. After an intermission of twenty years, 1890-1910, during which time he was manager of the Indianapolis Coffin Company and the National Casket Company, he returned to the hardware business. As a republican he represented Marion county in the State Legislature in 1895. He married Emma Schnall of Indianapolis. They have three children; ELLA is the wife of W. K. Stewart, and they have one child, Susan. ANTON married Ina Holleweg, and their three children are: Louise, Richard, and Antonette. WALTER married Margaret Potts. They have one daughter, Irma Ruth.

The second son was Bernard Vonnegut, who was born August 8, 1855, and died in August 1908. After a short trail of the mercantile business he entered an architects office, but after a year sought to restore his failing health by working as a carver with mallet and chisel in the Ittenbach Contracting Company's stone yard. Then after an apprenticeship with a manufacturer of mathematical instruments he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Boston, of which he was a graduate, and took advanced work in the School of Technology in Hanover, Germany, and later in a similar institute in Berlin. On returning to Indianapolis he entered upon a long continued and successf ul career as an architect, establishing the firm of Vonnegut & Bohn. He married Nannie Schn ull. They had three children: KURT married Edith Lieber. They have two children: Bernard and Alice. IRMA is unmarried. ALEX married Ray Dryer.

Franklin Vonnegut, the third son of Clemens Vonnegut, was born October 20, 1856. He has been uninterruptably identified with the hardware business for forty-six years. Mr. Franklin Vonnegut is a director and was president of the Citizens Gas Company during the first eight years of its existence. He is also president of the trustees of the Normal College of the North American Gymnastic Union and president of the Patriotic Gardner's Association during the recent campaign to urge all city people to produce sufficient war needs, having been chairman of the Vacant Lots Cultivation Committee. He succeeded his father as a member of the Board of School Commissioners, but after five years of service was obliged to resign in order to look after has [his] private business affairs. He has served as president of the Commercial Club and as director of the Chamber of Commerce. In politics he is a republican.

Mr. Franklin Vonnegut married Pauline Von Hake, who died May 12, 1890. She was the mother of three children: THEODORE F. married Lucy Lewis. They have one child, Pauline. FELIX married Edna Goth. ARTHUR married Lillian Fauvre, they have two children: Franklin Fauvre and Virginia.

The fourth son, George Vonnegut, born October 22, 1860, has been connected with his father's business since 1876 except for a period of two years when he was a student in the Seminary of the North American Gymnastic Union, at that time located at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For several years he taught gymnastics in the Athenaeum. He married Lillie Goeller, and their three children are: Erwin, Ralph and Carl. George Vonnegut is an active member and was for several years a director in the Commercial Club, president and director in the Merchant's Association, is active in other civic organizations and is a member of the Board of Directors of the North American Gymnastic Union.

Indianapolis City Directory, 1889. Indianapolis, IN: R.L. Polk and Co., 1889 & 1890
Name: Clemens Vonnegut
Location 1: 184 and 186 E Washington
City: Indianapolis
State: IN
Occupation: Wholesale and Retail Hardware
Year: 1889 & 1890
Location 2: 504 E Market

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