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History,Perham

April 4, 2013

How the Schmidt wagon factory came to be

Louis Schmidt was a native of the village of Brucken in the Province of Hanover, Germany and the son of Dieterich Schmidt, a blacksmith. For more than 200 years, the blacksmith trade in the Schmidt family had been handed down from father to the eldest son. Since Louis was the second oldest son and not in successional order to continue the blacksmith trade, he chose the wagon maker trade as his career.

After finishing his apprenticeship as a wagon maker, he obtained work in a large French carriage factory and soon became an adept mechanic. Before long, his employer certified him a master craftsman, which entitled him to start business on his own.

In the 1880s, America was still sparsely settled and known to the rest of the world as a Utopian country with wonderful opportunities. The steamship companies put on an enormous and attractive advertising campaign offering very low fares to the New World, especially to the United States.

Encouraged by these opportunities, Louis immigrated to the United States in 1889, ending up in Perham, a thriving town surrounded by virgin forests where both hard and soft wood were in abundant supply. It was a perfect location for a wagon shop.

In the summer of 1889, Louis bought a wagon shop next to the Henry Tiedjens Blacksmith Shop. In 1890, his brother, Henry Schmidt, the blacksmith, immigrated to the United States and also located in Perham.

The following year, Louis built a three-story brick veneer building on Main Street next to what is now known as the Bauck store building. The Wagon Shop was then moved into the first floor of this new building. In this building, he made the original furnishings for the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Perham, including the altar, pulpit, baptismal font and pews (some of these items are now located at the Pioneer Grounds north of Perham).

Henry Schmidt, who had learned the blacksmith trade in the old country, was a skilled mechanic. After working for Henry Tiedjen for a short time, he purchased the Tiedjen Blacksmith Shop. Henry was kept very busy with general blacksmithing and doing the iron work on the wagons, sleighs, and farm implements manufactured by his brother, Louis.

Both the woodworking and blacksmithing businesses flourished, and by 1887 their facilities were inadequate to handle the volume of business. A new and larger brick building was built and equipped with the latest machinery to give their customers better and faster service. This establishment was known as Schmidt Manufacturing of Wagons and Sleighs, Blacksmithing and General Repairing.

From “East Otter Tail County History Book, Vol. I 1977,” available at HistoryMuseumEOT.org.

Lina Belar is the retired executive director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.

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