Extraordinarily ordinary

This blog is long overdue. Since 2004 I’ve been gathering information about the Meskers, their companies and products and have been trying to figure out ways to continually disseminate the information in an engaging way. But the nice thing about starting this now is that there are several years of backlog research material to post, which means I should have plenty to write about. With nearly 10,000 images of buildings and catalog graphics to date, there certainly is enough visual material to sustain this.

What exactly will this blog be about? Firstly, the title should really be Mesker brothers (with a lowercase “b“) to distinguish it from Mesker Brothers Iron Works (with a capital “B“), operated by brothers Frank (1859–1952) and Bernard (1851–1936) in St. Louis, Missouri. But another brother George (1857–1936), had an equally important and successful iron works establishment in Evansville, Indiana, under the name George L. Mesker & Company (later to be called Mesker Steel). And there were even more brothers, including John Henry Mesker (1855–1898) whose iron fence and railing company complimented George’s architectural iron works in Evansville. While the primary focus of the blog will be on the large companies of Frank, Bernard and George, we will occasionally discuss the other Meskers, including the father John Bernard Mesker (1823–1899), who trained all of his sons in the sheet-metal trades and created a foundation for their nationwide success.

Top row (L to R): John Mesker, Albert Gehner, August Gehner, Willamina Gehner  Bottom row (L to R): George L. Mesker, Anna Schmidt, Frank Mesker, Pauline Gehner Mesker, Bernard Mesker, F. Joseph Schmidt   Sitting on the floor: Oscar Schmidt (Anna & F. Joseph Schmidt’s son). Image courtesy of David Mesker.

Why am I so interested in the Meskers and their products? I suppose there are many reasons including the element of rediscovery of these often forgotten buildings. There is, however, one primary reason that continues to amaze and motivate me. We, both as a society and more specifically in the architecture or historic preservation fields, are often taught to create or seek out the unique, the one-offs, the amazingly not replicable. Mesker facades are the complete opposite and their significance lies in that they are so extraordinarily ordinary.

In regards to the time period, I will focus on the turn of the 20th century when the Meskers shipped their ornamental steel facades all over the country. However, the companies adapted their companies to manufacture other products well into the 20th century and I’d like to touch on these from time to time.

We cannot assess the Meskers in a vacuum and in fact many of their products such as cornices and storefront columns are found in combination with similar products from other companies. By the way, that makes building identification and attribution really fun! So I’ll post about these other companies as well, in order to fully contextualize the time period and building technology. The bottom line is this: if I’ll see an amazing cornice I’ll post about it regardless of whether it’s a Mesker cornice or not.

One of the ongoing aspects of my research is documenting identified Mesker facades throughout the country and as we’re approaching 2,000 facades, I will apprise the readers of the hunt. Many of the buildings I identify on my own, but an equally important contribution comes from others interested in the topic as well as owners who submit photos and information about their buildings. I’d like to feature their successes and challenges as I learn about them. So aside from documentation, I’ll also address proper repair and restoration procedures, sources for replacement parts (not too many out there…), and other relevant issues. I hope to make this blog not just an outlet for my obsessed ramblings, but a useful resource that supplements the already known material.

There are many people who have contributed to and fueled my research, without whom we would not know about many of the buildings or learned how they were constructed and what we should do to preserve them. Special thanks go to Mike Jackson, the Chief Architect at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency for introducing me to this topic and for allowing me to develop the got mesker? initiative. Other people who have immensely contributed are David Mesker, Dennis Au, Arthur Hart, Hallie Fieser, Jim Winnerman, Ruth Kiel, Tom Lonnberg, Tom Hillhouse, Anthony Rubano, Anna Margaret Barris, and many many others. I will continue to look to these people and any other readers of this blog for post ideas.

I apologize if this post sounds too much like a foreword to a book. Maybe that’s next.

5 thoughts on “Extraordinarily ordinary

    1. Jim, I don’t know much about the Schmidts, but Anna Marie Mesker – sister of Frank, Bernard and George – was married to F. Joseph Schmidt. She and her husband and son Oscar are identified on the photo from Frank Mesker’s wedding. I hope this helps.

  1. Pingback: Side by side | Mesker Brothers

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