Frederick Kuenning Oral History

January 1977

Family Background

My name is Frederick Cort Kuenning.   In my younger days, I was known as "Cort”. I was born March 21, 1897, the son of Franklin Dicke Künning and Auguste Louise Lehmkuhl. They were married May 21, 1896 in St. Paul Church in New Bremen, Ohio. My mother died in childbirth November 7, 1901 at the age of 27. She is buried in German Protestant Cemetery on the H.F. Künning lot. I have a sister, Hulda, who was born July 13, 1899, and married Gust Diedrich. He died in May of 1976.   Hulda lives in Troy, Ohio.

My father remarried on April 2, 1903, to Alice Anna Wissman. She died January 8, 1910 of tuberculosis. On November 2, 1910, my father married again, this time to Anna (Roettger) Moeller, the widow of F. Franklin Moeller. She died October 23, 1920 of a brain tumor and is buried beside her first husband in German Protestant Cemetery. On May 13, 1922, my father married for the 4th time, to Mary D. (Wehmeyer) Roettger, widow of Henry Roettger. They were married in Fostoria, Ohio.

My father was born April 24, 1873, the son of Herman Friedrich Künning and Wilhelmine (Schulhoff) Lanfersieck, widow of Gerhard Lanfersieck. He died August 27, 1937 and is buried between his first two wives in German Protestant Cemetery. His fourth wife, Mary, died in September 1947, and is buried beside her first husband, Henry Roettger, in Willow Grove Cemetery.


I was just a plain, down-on-the-farm boy and my childhood was not very pleasant.   When I was about 7 years old, I passed out fans for the Huenke Dairy on the grandstand at the Tri-County Fairground for which I would get to see the races free. Louis Huenke lost all his animals to hoof and mouth disease during an epidemic in 1914. It was said that one bull he had just bought for $2500 went to the grave also.

The first trip I remember was to Dayton in 1905 with Grandma Wilhelmine Künning, and my introduction to machine-shop life. Grandma had a brother-in-law in Dayton, Henry Lanfersieck, who was a cabinet maker. He was my hero - he told me all about how he was making a wooden cabinet, which when completed, would be equipped with machinery that, when the electric was turned on, would make the inside of the cabinet cold - the first electric ice-box! Uncle Henry had a son who was a foreman at National Cash Register and he demonstrated how they made automatic brass printing wheels. We also saw the Wright brothers fly over the fence from one field to another. These things have stayed with me and shaped my personality and are the things that made me what I am - a tool and die-maker for 45½ years, retired February 28, 1964.

I have seen many developments in materials, design, and inventing. I have gained much knowledge in gravity at the Toledo Scale Co. I worked with Russian engineers on wind tunnels and on automatic printing devices on scales in 1935 and 1937. In 1946 and 1950, I traveled by plane to the various vendors of the Toledo Scale Co. in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and that cost was paid by the company. While in Toledo during W.W.II, I was on an FBI surveillance crew. We located a German arsenal in lower Michigan in 1942. Here in Phoenix, I do voluntary surveillance for the drug abuse control.

I believe that our dad received a telephone before W.W.I, around 1913. The first telephones were operated by crank. If you wished to call someone on your line, you just cranked the proper signal. Of course, everyone on that line could listen in, especially one party on Dad's line. While they were listening in, you could hear their clock tick.

I am rather sure that the new elevating (lift) bridge was built over the canal (on Monroe St.) in my very young days. We would skate half way toward Minster, meet the opposition and the smallest gang would leave the ice and walk back home. Our entertainment was playing cards - sheephead and pinochle, but the best hobby was fishing, especially when the crappies were biting over at the reservoir. We swam in Dicke's gravel pit and it was either swim or drown. Before 1929, I also enjoyed hunting, but my favorite hobby was just plain tinkering. In the days of the streetcar, many dates were made in front of Schulenberg's Store when the streetcar came into New Bremen from St. Marys.

Once in 1917, the snow was 36" deep. The gang that shoveled the path open in front of St. Peter's Church put a jog in it. I went uptown in the cutter to get some groceries, and when I hit that jog on the way home, over went the sleigh, me, and the groceries! The shaft broke, the horse went home with it, and I picked up the groceries and carried them over to my Uncle Herman Blanke's home.   They telephoned Dad to be on the lookout for the horse. By that time the horse and the shaft had made it home. Uncle Herman said "Freddie is all right. He is here and he will stay all night."

I never danced, and didn't drink. On July 4th, we made big firecrackers with dynamite. We took half sticks, fused them, and took them out in an opening like the Fort Loramie Reservoir, put them on stumps in the lake, and waited for the big bang! One Saturday night before 1918 at Halloween, the neighbors had a card party at Emil Kuenning's. Some of us boys put corn shocks around the lightning rods on a neighbor's barn.   The next morning, everybody got a big laugh as they were going to church.

In 1922, I heard my first radio. Paul Tomhafe, Ray Knipple, and Oscar Scheer were building radio sets in the rear of Curly Wint's place in the shed. I saw my first television in 1950. That was amazing! It was a Zenith, and a large console.

Amanda Dickman had a boarding house over Joe Brucken's Cigar Store (that was quite a hangout for Fred Lang, the Coke salesman. Whenever he came around, he always treated the gang to a free Coke). She was also over Dooley Wissman's Barber Shop. She charged $7.00 a week, including breakfast, dinner, and supper, which were good meals. The rooms were somewhat small, but you are not confined when you are in a small town where you know everybody. You could use the parlor if you wanted to. The Grandma there did the washing and ironing and that cost 50¢ a week.   She did a good job, too.

  Some of the people who stayed there were Urban Schwieterman, the druggist; John Paul, butter maker at the dairy; Schmitty, designer and builder of concrete silos at Kuenzel Mills; and Frank Thompson (he and his brother, Walter, had the dray, but Walter wasn't staying there). Now and then a traveling salesman stopped for a couple of days. Then others would stop for a good meal or two.

I helped George Heinfeld for a couple of seasons, earning 10¢ an hour for 10 hours a day - $1.00 a day, or $5.50 a week. I also worked at the Lock Two Store on Friday evenings till 9:00 which paid $1.00, and on Saturday afternoons till 9:00 which paid $1.50.   I either walked or rode my bike.   In those days, you didn't thumb your way. With room and board at $7.00 a week plus laundry at 50¢, a bath at Wissman's Barber Shop at 25¢ (or 50¢ if you went twice a week), my expenses were $8.00 a week. Wissman's had two chairs and one four-legged porcelain bath tub. Saturdays were the rush days and I think they used Sweetheart soap. I still have a silver half-dime that Grandpa Künning gave to me. It is dated 1835.

Herman Ludwig and I attended St. Paul Church. One time, the minister asked us to go out to Clover Four Road and collect some dues that were in arrears. Since our means of travel was either bicycle or walking, we never got to Clover Four. When I went to parochial school, Rev. Bertram would have a couple of us boys to go over to Schwepe's saloon and get either a nickel or dime's worth of beer.

The Knights of Pythias used to have rabbit suppers. When the Goldsmiths came from St. Marys to attend Rathbone Lodge, at refreshment time a couple of boys went down to Curly Wint's and Curly made them "veal" sandwiches out of pork. They really enjoyed them!

Things I will never forget: William Moeller being killed in a gas station explosion,   Fred Landwehr being killed by the train that ran through their farm, Otto Meyers being killed by dynamite, my dad's funeral. My dad was Mayor of New Bremen at the time of his death in 1937, president of Lock Two Mills, and president of two insurance companies. The funeral was in St. Paul Church and the church could not seat all the mourners, even using the balcony! Toledo Scale Co. sent representatives from the tool room, the heat treat, the personnel office and someone to represent the president of the company. Something like that I cannot and never will forget.

Reading was very important to me, mostly McGraw-Hill publications after I was a youngster. This was after I turned 21 and the question of my being a minister was O-U-T.

On November 1, 1918, I started to work at Streine's. My job was arranged through Frank Streine and my dad who were great friends. At that time, there was only one building and employees numbered about 25.   Their product was sheet metal machinery. We made corrugated roofing, down-spouts, E-troughs, and also tinkered around trying to make machines to make garbage cans, but I don't know how that turned out because I left there. They started you at 10¢ an hour for the first 6 months, and then 15¢ an hour - 10 hours per day, 5 hours on Saturday. I worked mostly on planers or did die work. There were no paid holidays, no insurance, no bonuses, no sick pay, no union, and you would be lucky to find a band-aid, for turpentine and a piece of rag cured almost anything. The products were mostly shipped on flat cars of the railroad.

Streine's was a good place to work if you thought the proper thing should be to do the same thing day in and day out for 50 years. It was a good place to pick up knowledge for further use, but the pay was too low. In April of 1925, I went from 37½¢ in New Bremen to 85¢ in Toledo.

When I left for Toledo, Thompson Brothers hauled my pack and sack to Wapak, then via B.& O. to Toledo. I started at Toledo Machine & Tool at 85¢ per hour, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week from 4:00 P.M. to 12:30 A.M. It was dirty work. I worked there for 2 years, then moved over to National Supply for 2 years at the same rate. This was a heavy but clean job and I worked days. The Superintendent at National was a middle-aged man from Minster.   His first name was Jack, but I've forgotten his last name. He was familiar with the Herkenhoff gang in Minster.

Toledo Scales was across the street. When I watched the people come out, they were all clean and a lot of them wore white shirts, so I sneaked over there one noon, got next to the tool window and talked to the guys and inquired if there was any chance of getting in.   They said Yes, they needed a couple of die makers, so the next morning I ate my lunch on the run and I hightailed it across the street to the employment office. They said "Yes, we need a couple of men.   When can you come in?" I said I would finish the week out at National and then I'd be over. So I started at Toledo Scale Co. on September 24, 1929 at $1.00 per hour, 8 hour days, 5 days a week. It was very clean - all the machinery was painted gold. I repeat "All the machinery was painted gold."

On February 28, 1964, I had to retire with compulsory retirement at 66. Marie also worked there and she had to work 2 years longer to catch up, so she retired on my birthday in 1966. We sold our place at Four Mile Lake in Michigan and moved to Phoenix.

In November of 1918, word came out that the war was all over. Everybody dropped everything and went up town. I heard of some guys that got pretty well lit up.   The next morning we went back to work and another rumor was out that that was the end of the war, so everybody dropped what they didn't drop the first day, went up town, and a lot of them hit all the beer joints. However, the next day we went back to work and when we again heard "the war is all over", Mr. Streine came out and he said "It is probably just a fake - we'll stay on the job all day." That evening, we discovered it really was over. The date was November 11th.

In 1926, I bought a new Ford roadster from Earl Kuenning for $406. It was the first Ford with round fenders, quick demountable rims, and the first roadster with 2 doors. The first long trip (we called it long in those days) was to Ansonia, Ohio, with none other but my second cousin, Beata (Klanke) Isern, and my first cousin, Esther (Quist) Fearing. We had a flat tire and we tried out the quick demountable rims. What do you suppose the girls said that it would be all right for me to say?...

I was one person that was hard to get acquainted with. If you talked business, all right, but this hanging over the fence does not meet my approval. My first marriage occurred when I was 29. She was from Toledo, Oregon and she passed away in 1949.

I have spent 28 years in and around New Bremen, 43 years in and around Toledo, and 8 years in Phoenix. My 2nd wife, Marie, and I have been in 26 states and we've been to Las Vegas.   You've never seen the Grand Canyon until you fly over it and down through it in a plane like I did in 1966.   Here in Phoenix, the Mexicans get together and jabber Spanish and if I happen to be amongst them, I start off with my Dutch, and they look at me and I look at them. They don't know what I said and I don't know what they said, and generally it doesn't take long to say "What kind of language is that?" Well, that is just plain wooden shoe Holland Dutch, and then I say "It is wonderful to be able to speak two tongues", to which they agree.

I was worthy patron of the Eastern Stars in 1943, and was a wise man in a white shrine of Jerusalem up to 1950. In 1947, I received a medal from the lodge for above quota sales of Liberty Bonds for Victory Loan in Toledo and across the state line in Michigan.   I received a citation from the U.S. Ordinance Dept. place for achievement for the sign and supervision of dies for a scale used on anti-aircraft guns. I also received the highest award from the suggestion system in the scale plant. I was one of the Trustees of the CIO-UAW, Scales   Trade Div. I retired from them in 1960. This gave me the opportunity to assist in getting recognition for the trade group by appearing at the convention.

Very Early Künning History

In a long (6-foot) letter from the Queen of Holland, it is stated that our fathers were the servants of the King & Queen of the Netherlands, and that our name was then other than it is now. The original name started with the letter "R". This was back in the year 1411. The Dutch government kept genealogical records from one generation to the next, bringing us to the period of the 1600s.   This is when the name was changed to Künning.

As there were no more sons born to the "R" family, the King decreed that the first two sons born to two designated daughters of the "R" family would receive a new name. When this occurred, the King selected 4 letters from a word that had something to do with the servants. This word was UANKUEN. To complete the name, the King chose 4 letters from another word, NENGAYNING. In the year of 1669, the King gave each servant a piece of land to keep as his own.

Now, we continue to 1829. One of the great-grandfathers moved across the border into Germany. (This is probably why most people think that the Künning family came from Germany.) The Künnings in Germany were not pleased with the selection and decided to cross the water to America in 1835. The grandfather, Herman Heinrich Künning, had 4 sons and 4 daughters. Three sons and four daughters made the trip and landed near what was then Amsterdam, Ohio, between Minster and New Bremen. In 1849, the small town of Amsterdam was wiped out completely by the cholera plague.

Around 1933 or 1935, before the Kuenning's centennial celebration, Earl Kuenning discovered the lost (4th?) son in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the centennial celebration, the letter from the Queen of Holland was read by the Honorable Judge Harry Wittenbrink to the 300 families attending this gathering. A photo was included with the letter. It is not known what became of the photo.

Verification of Dutch Origin

Around 1956, when we were in Morenci, Michigan to look at a display of furniture, the furniture dealer, Herman Meyer, asked us our name, then asked us to spell it.   When he looked at the name, he said "That has something to do with the Dutch government." Mr. Meyer was from Holland, so this seems to be evidence that the Künnings did indeed come from Holland.

In another incident in Phoenix, Arizona, where we lived, a man and woman came up to me in a market and the lady asked "Kommst de from Holland?" I said "Nie." The lady then told her husband "He looks like so and so from Holland." I told them I was born in Ohio and the reason I am in Phoenix is that I retired, the snow shovel wore out, and we had to do something, so we moved to Phoenix so we didn't have to buy a new snow shovel."

Kuenning businesses

Earl Kuenning's grandfather had a brewery, my grandfather had a brickyard, a sorghum mill, a whiskey distillery, and was connected to the Lock Two Mill. (A revenue agent told Granddad "You have to pay 10¢ tax on a gallon." Granddad said "I only get 15¢ a gallon." So Grandpa went out of the whiskey business.)

My Life in Phoenix

Out here, you learn to associate with Indians, Mexicans, Slovacs and others.   The town is full of adult theaters, adult book stores, massage parlors, horse racing and dog racing.

They have the most beautiful churches there are. One is an outdoor church - the cars park in the parking lot and they have speakers for each car. The church faces the parking lot and that is all glass. Of course, there is some seating in the church, especially for the choir, and of course they also pass the basket.

Many people think this town is a desert. Every property has shade trees, fruit trees, shrubbery and flowers.   Incidentally, you need a permit to destroy a tree. The Street Dept. will move a tree to some other place without any cost to the owner.

The coldest temperature we had this winter was 34º. When it gets to 112º-116º in May, we just stay in the house from 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. When the sun drops behind the mountains, the cool air starts rushing in and cools it down.

Phoenix has 5 large canals crossing through the city. Eventually they find their way to the Colorado River. They supply water for irrigation of the farm land. There are many large open spaces. Some city blocks have alfalfa grown in them.

We think of New Bremen often, and we hope the Museum builds up to be something real successful. I will sign off for now. Thanks for listening and Goodbye.

Fred Kuenning – Phoenix, Arizona (1977)

Note by Harry Wittenbrink: According to this letter, members of the Künning family served the Kings and Queens of Germany prior to 1411. Records of the origin of the Künning name have not been found, however there are Künnings in Holland.

The following is the translation of a letter from Mr. Fritz Lohmeyer, teacher
Düste, Barnstorf - June 18, 1935

TO HARRY F. WITTENBRINK, Judge of the Probate Court – Wapakoneta, Ohio:

[Harry Wittenbrink was the son of John & Martha (Kuenning) Wittenbrink]

The homestead of the Künning family is in the village of Dreeke in the parish of Barnstorf. The local pastor there, Rev. Theodore Hahn, has gone to much trouble to determine the names of descendants, but you will find no one by the name of Künning.

You will be pleased to learn that the ancestral home of the Künnings who emigrated in 1835 still remains.   It was built in 1770 on the site of another home built in 1691. A picture taken in 1931 shows the name of the builder, Johann Heinrich Künning, nee Ihlbrock – 1770. The building is 30 meters long. The living quarters portion was rebuilt in 1825. The roof is of thatched straw and decorated according to an old German custom with carved horse heads. This place was in possession of the Künning family in 1411. At that time, Henke Künning was a free-holder under the Count of Diepholz.

In 1570, Robbe (Robert) Künning lived in this courtyard where there was the dwelling, a bake oven, a barn, a fire-proof granary and a sod shed.

The Künnings of that day were compelled to keep in repair for the Count or Earl of Dreeke the roadway that leads to the Forest of Dreeke, and for this service were permitted to pasture hogs in another timber lot. The Count of Earl received as a rental or fee, one tenth of all grain produced. This duty was in effect until 1833, and at that time a cash rental was collected by the Hannoverian king annually.

In 1600, the courtyard was divided into three parts. No doubt two younger sons of the household received one half of the courtyard and established two farms and were both known as Künning, but these homesteads or courtyards or farms have now fallen into the hands of others. This explains why the farmer in the ancient courtyard received the name of Halbbauer or half-farmer.

There is no doubt that the bad economical conditions and the plight of the farmers in Germany in 1830 caused the Künning family to seek a more prosperous future across the sea.   The grain prices at that time were lower here than at any time prior or since, except 1930-1933.   Everything is moving upward now, for Adolph Hitler has kept his word and the farm folks are supporting him as one man. May the good God spare us for many days this blessed, democratic Hitler.

If you desire to come here, then I suggest that you get in touch with a descendant of the Künnings here, namely Erbhofbauer Heinrich Behrens in Bremen.

[Fritz Lohmeyer, teacher]

The following was compiled from church records by Pastor Theodore Hahn of the Evangelical Lutheran parish in Barnstorf on June 18, 1935 and summarized by Judge Harry F. Wittenbrink:


Rev. Theodore Hahn: Concerning the ancestors of Harm. Hinrich (Herman Heinrich) Künning, the first known owner of the Künning farm was Diedrich Künning.   He died in 1670 at the age of 57.   His son and heir was Arend Künning who died in 1705 at the age of 51. Arend’s wife, Gesche Frerking of Doustorf, died in 1723. Their oldest son and subsequent owner of the farm was Johann Dietrich Künning. He died in 1770 at the age of 76. His wife, Anna Metta Warnke, died in 1775 at the age of 72.

Because Johann Dietrich Künning had no surviving male descendants, the farm passed to his daughter, Helena Christena Künning, born in 1737, and married November 23, 1752 to Johann Heinrich Ihlbrock of Kirschspiel.   Helena Christena Künning Ihlbrock died of diabetes in 1764 at the age of 28 before the death of her parents. Her daughter, Anna Margarethe Künning (1760-1824) married Johann Hermann Behrens (1753-1804) on January 8, 1779. He died of consumption.

The above named Johann Herman Behrens Künning and Anna Margarethe Künning are the parents of Harm Heinrich Künning who left Germany for America in 1835.


Judge Wittenbrink: The most interesting feature of the genealogy of the Künning family is the fact that a woman named Helena Christena Künning, who at the time of her marriage with Johann Heinrich Ihlbrock on November 23, 1752, retained her name of Künning, as according to early custom, a woman could retain her maiden name if her dowry and the estate she inherited or possessed was greater than the estate owned or to be acquired by her husband.

In the next place, her daughter, Anna Margarethe Künning, again followed the example set by her mother and kept the name of Künning alive when she married Johann Hermann Behrens. These are the two people we recognize as the parents of Hermann Heinrich Künning, farmer of Dreeke, who was born August 4, 1780, and on July 14, 1809 married Kathrina Margarethe Koop, born July 24, 1789. They are the ones who emigrated to America in 1835 and were the common ancestors of all the Künnings who celebrated the Künning centennial on June 30, 1935 at Kuenning’s Grove north of New Bremen.