Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Ties that Link Immigrant Families: Dietrich Kolbe and Heinrich Justi



            The U.S. has been called a “melting pot” where immigrants from many countries combine to form a common society.  However, migrants aren’t instantly turned into “Americans.”   Even when they aren’t clustered into enclaves of fellow migrants from the same country, they often maintain close linkages with their compatriots.

            Dietrich Kolbe and Henry (Heinrich) D. Justi were masters of their crafts – Kolbe for his design and manufacture of orthopedic devices and fine surgical instruments and Justi for his revolutionary advances in dental appliances.  Both earned a prominent place in the history of their professions.  However, what has not been noted is the close familial relations between these two immigrants.  Both were natives of Marburg, Germany, a university town about 60 miles north of Frankfurt.

            Dietrich Kolbe (1824-1878) arrived in Philadelphia in 1847.  He had spent the previous ten years learning to make medical instruments and orthopedic devices with the finest craftsmen in Europe.  He began at the University of Marburg and then studied in several countries.  He spent the three years before coming to America in Paris.  Kolbe chose Philadelphia because it was the center for medical instruments in America.  After a few years here, he joined with Martin Kuemerle, a syringe maker from Switzerland.  They introduced their business with the publication of one of the first American illustrated catalogues of medical devices: Kuemerle & Kolbé’s Illustrated Catalogue of Surgical and Dental Instruments & Syringes (1855).  The association only last a few years before they returned to their separate areas of expertise.

            Kolbe was probably widowed before he left Europe.  In 1852, his daughter, Marie, arrived from Marburg with her uncle, Louis Kolbe.  She was five years old and was born in France.  In 1850, Kolbe married Hedwig Justi, Henry Justi’s sister, who had only arrived recently.

            Hedwig and Heinrich Justi arrived from Marburg in August, 1850.  Their mother probably joined them much later.  Hedwig was 24 and single.  Heinrich, just 16, was described as a “cuttler.”  Hedwig’s marriage to Dietrich Kolbe may have been prearranged as their son, Louis, was born the next year.   If so, Kolbe probably arranged for their travel.  They travelled from Bremen on the same ship that had carried Kolbe from Le Havre three years earlier.  Henry’s father died when he was quite young so he was apprenticed to a surgical instruments maker at age 13.  He probably started working for Kolbe upon his arrival.  It is in Kolbe’s shop that he might have been introduced to methods for making artificial teeth.  In 1852, Kolbe advertised porcelain teeth made to order and announced he had acquired a machine to make the pins to hold the teeth in place.  Justi apparently operated that machine for him.  Justi also observed the manufacture of the molds for making teeth.  He devised new molds that allowed a colored veneer to cover the Vulcan rubber base.  He presented his method to the Orum and Armstrong Tooth Co. which promptly hired him.  Justi soon became a partner in the firm and bought out his partners in 1864 to form the H. D. Justi Co.


H. D. Justi (1834-1922)

            About 1860, Kolbe moved his growing family to Darby Rd. (Woodland Ave.) near Market St.  A few years later, they moved to a large lot on the east side of N. 32nd St. just below Baring St. (319-323 N. 32nd St.)  At the same time Justi moved to a small adjoining lot at 3106 Baring St.  He started a new family with his marriage to Auguste Schwarzwaler in January, 1862.  Sadly, she died in May, 1863, two weeks after delivering a daughter.  In January, 1865, Henry married Lizzie Kuemerle, the daughter of Kolbe’s former partner.  Mary Kolbe was the maiden of honor and John Kuemerle served as best man.  In the Fall of 1866, Justi purchased the large lot at 3401 Baring St. and the family moved into a grand new home in 1867.

            During the Civil War, Kolbe was a major supplier of high-quality surgical instruments to the Union Army.  However, his specialty was orthopedic instruments and appliances.  His interest in orthotics was fueled by the fact that he suffered from problems with his hip.  Kolbe’s shop was at 32 S. 9th St. across from the University of Pennsylvania.  Cases of club foot and limb deformities were routinely released from the hospital immediately following surgery.  Patients were often sent across the street where Kolbe produced appliances for them.  There was no system of out-patient or continued care.  Kolbe was instrumental in stimulating the organization in 1867 of the Philadelphia Orthopedic Hospital, one of the first in the country.  For its first three years, the hospital was located in Kolbe’s building above his shop.  In 1870, it was expanded to include a clinic for “nervous diseases.”  In early 1872, the hospital moved to a new building which had space for in-patients.  Kolbe died in 1878, but his work was continued by his sons and his wife.  In fact, his wife, Hedwig [Justi] Kolbe, patented a lighter weight, more flexible artificial leg and foot in 1890.

The Justi Dental Engine, 1891

            Justi’s dental appliance company became nationally prominent.  Before his inventions, porcelain teeth were hand crafted for each patient.  His techniques turned it into a more standardized manufacturing process.  He soon opened a new large manufacturing space and dental supply shop on Arch St.  In 1886, the H. D. Justi company announced that they would be building a new large factory on N. 32nd St. north of Spring Garden.  They continued to develop improvement to artificial teeth but also became major suppliers of almost everything related to dentistry.  After his death in 1822, the H. D. Justi company continued under his son, Henry Martin Justi who lived at 3311 Powelton Ave.  (More on Justi’s initial invention and the later family history is given in my earlier blog, “Occupation: “Manufactures Teeth.”)
 
N. 32nd and Spring Garden St.
             The kind of personal and business relationships between these arrivals from Marburg are representative of ties that were, and are, common among immigrants from all over the world.

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