History of Milwaukee Wisconsin

City and County Genealogy 1922 Biographies

Chicago and Milwaukee: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922


The life's story of William George Bruce, like that of many Americans, is one of humble beginnings, cast amid discouraging circumstances and severe struggles. The eldest of a family of nine children, he was at the age of seven stricken with illness which confined him to his home for four years. At the age of eleven, he attended school for one year, and then at the age of twelve, a palefaced boy, limping on crutches, he began the struggle for an existence. He was born March 17, 1856, on East Water Street, near the southwest corner of Johnson Street, within the shadows of the city hall, then a residence district, now covered by business blocks. His grandfather, Frederick Bruce, who came on from New York, settled on this spot in 1842 with his wife and four sons, William, Augustus F., Martin F. and John. The grandparents died of cholera in the late '40s. Their son William died in boyhood. While still a young man, Martin F. Bruce went south and located at Pensacola, Florida. This was before the Civil War. John went to California. Augustus F., who later became the father of William George Bruce, remained in Milwaukee.

The grandfather had been an ocean sailor and upon his arrival in Milwaukee followed the ship carpenter and caulking trade. His sons, after sailing on the Great Lakes for a few years, became ship carpenters, a trade which they followed until the end of their days. Martin succeeded in building large drydocks at Bagdad and Pensacola, Florida, and at Mobile, Alabama. After his death the Bruce interests were concentrated at Pensacola, where the Bruce Dry Dock Company, owned by the descendants, is known as one of the most important on the Gulf of Mexico. John Bruce followed the ship building trade at San Francisco and Oakland, California, until his death. When the elder Bruce came to Milwaukee with his family in 1842 his son Augustus was nine years of age. The latter frequently saw Solomon Juneau, the first permanent settler of Milwaukee, and trailed behind the Indians when these bore the remains of the great pioneer to his grave. He also used to tell his family how, when he was a boy, he had the task of driving a cow which the family kept to pasture over in Kilbourntown, now known as the west side. One day, through boyish playfulness or neglect, he drove the cow into a swamp where she was drowned. The site of this swamp is now covered by the Milwaukee Auditorium, and William George Bruce, who has been directors of that institution since its erection, has humorously boasted that "the Auditorium is a monument to my grandfather's cow."

In 1855 Augustus F. Bruce was married to Apollonia Becker, a native of Trier, Germany. Out of this marriage sprang four sons and five daughters, William George, Albert P., Augustus I., Martin P., Emma, Ida, Clara, Emily and Apollonia. Emma died at the age of fourteen. Ida became Mrs. Raymond Wolf. Clara became Mrs. Alonzo Fowle. Emily became Mrs. George Rinker, and Apollonia (Nina) became Mrs. Carl Marshall. Mrs. Rinker died in 1921. As already stated, William George began the battle for an existence at the age of twelve. After working for a few weeks in a crockery shop and then for a month in a soda water factory, wiring bottle tops, he was apprenticed in a cigar factory. Here he became an adept at rolling cigars. His ambitions toward a more useful career, however, now became aroused. His mother became the inspiration. He attended an evening school and rose early in the morning to read and study thus prepare for a better position.

At the age of fifteen his health broke once more and he spent two years at Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where he was employed at a cigar factory. The climate, however, and an occasional vacation on a nearby farm revived his health considerably. Then he traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked for seven months in a picture frame factory and attended night school. Upon his return to Milwaukee he entered a cigar factory once more and the Spencerian business night school. When Editor E.A. Calkins of the Milwaukee Daily News located in the Ludington Block, where the Pabst building is now located, wanted an office assistant, Robert C. Spencer. the head of the school, recommended young Bruce. "He is a studious boy and the best penman in a class of two hundred and fifty," said the schoolmaster.

This opened a new career for young Bruce. While he served as an accountant he soon became interested in reportorial and editorial work. After working here for six years he was employed in a similar capacity on the Milwaukee Sentinel. Here he remained for eleven years. During this time he became proficient as a writer and while he served well in the business office, it became evident that his field was more along literary lines. The last six years of his connection with the Sentinel he directed the advertising service and acted as assistant business manager. Horace Rublee, the editor, frequently commented on Bruce's ability to think correctly and write well. In 1891 he established the first publication in the United States devoted exclusively to school administration under the title of the American School Board Journal. This venture proved a highly successful one. At the end of twenty years he turned the enterprise over to his sons William C. and Frank Bruce, who enlarged the publication plant by the addition of the Industrial Arts Magazine, Hospital Progress, and a series of educational textbooks.

For several years Mr. Bruce turned his attention to civic work, serving for three years as city tax commissioner and later as the manager of the Association of Commerce. In 1920 he returned to his publishing business, which had been organized into the Bruce Publishing Company with himself as its president.

His civic and political activities were manifold. While still a young man he was made the president of the Jackson Club and later was elected the head of the Jefferson Club, a time honored democratic organization. After two terms on the board of education and as tax commissioner, he became candidate for the mayoralty but was defeated by a narrow margin. For ten years, beginning with 1896, he served as chairman of the democratic city and county committee, conducting a number of political campaigns. The organization, which had been run down and considerably weakened, was during his administration brought upon a new basis of prestige and influence.

When the project to provide the city with a large Auditorium was conceived, he laid out the plan of campaign and became a directive force in the same. He has been a director of the institution ever since its erection and for two years served as its president. He is now the vice president of the Auditorium governing board.

During the Chicago World's Fair he was the chairman of the educational exhibit committee for the Milwaukee school system and during the St. Louis World's Fair he headed the Wisconsin State Educational Committee which had in charge both the university, high school and common school exhibits.

His leading public effort in recent years has been centered upon the championship of a deep waterway to the sea. When the project of connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean was considered several years ago, he was one of the organizers of the St. Lawrence Tidewater Association and became one of its active directors. In 19191, when the State of Wisconsin was asked to participate in the movement, the legislature sent for Mr. Bruce and requested him to provide complete information as to the feasibility and the desirability of the project, and the manner of the state's identification with the same. When, in response to legislative action, the Wisconsin Deep Waterway Commission was created, Governor Philipp appointed William George Bruce as one of the three members of that body.

In July, 1921, when the International Joint Commission of the United States and Canada called a hearing at Milwaukee in order to ascertain Wisconsin's concern in the great deep waterway project, the duty of presenting the arguments fell upon Mr. Bruce. He presented a comprehensive brief on the subject and demonstrated the extent to which the agricultural, manufacturing and mining interests of the state were concerned in a direct outlet to the sea and to the ports of the world. Since 1910 Mr. Bruce has fought the illegal diversion of lake waters into the Chicago Drainage Canal, thereby lowering the levels of the lakes waters and causing injury to the commerce of the Great Lakes. In 1912 he headed a delegation of lake city representatives which appeared before Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. Again in 1916, when the entire Great Lakes region protested against the excess waters being legalized and representatives from forty-two cities and six states appeared before Secretary of War Baker, he was chosen chief spokesman. In each instance he received a decision favorable to the protection of the lake interests. In April, 1922, he was again chosen as the spokesman when a delegations of congressmen and city officials appeared before Secretary Weeks of the War Department in protest against the illegal diversion of lake waters. For some years Mr. Bruce has also served as a director of the National Rivers and Harbors Congress.

When the Harbor Commission was created he was chosen a member and made its chairman against his own protest. When several years later through legislative act it was transformed into a board with power to direct the construction of harbor work and administer port affairs, he was made its president, in which capacity he still serves. During his administration a comprehensive harbor scheme was devised which was designated by the United States government engineers to be the most progressive on the Great Lakes. The plan, when completed, will serve the waterborne commerce of Milwaukee for the next 100 years. This task Mr. Bruce regards as his best contribution to the material progress and stability of his native city.

He has aside from his capacity as publisher and his civic labors been interested in other commercial and industrial enterprises, served as director in several of them and is at present a director of the American Exchange Bank.

His literary productions have been mainly in the field of political economy, including such subjects as taxation, social insurance, community promotion, national monetary system, foreign trade, etc., etc. He also constantly writes on school administrative topics. In 1920 he prepared a comprehensive work on "Commercial Organizations, Their Function, Operation and Service," now recognized as the first authoritative work on the subject. His latest contribution is the "History of Milwaukee, City and County." Besides, he is bringing to completion this year a large volume entitled "The American School Taxation Problem."

As a public speaker Mr. Bruce has occupied a unique position in both the metropolis and the state. He has probably dealt with a larger variety of subjects than is usually assumed by men. His addresses are usually replete with instructive facts and statements and sound in conclusions. He speaks rapidly, in a spirited manner, and holds his audience to the end with the keenest attention and interest. His audiences have consisted of commercial and civic bodies throughout the state as well as of student bodies in colleges and schools.

On May 4, 1881, William George Bruce was married to Miss Monical Moehring, daughter of Conrad and Renatta Romana (Buehler) Moehring. This marriage was blessed with three children. William Conrad, Frank Milton and Monica Marie. The two sons are associated with their father in the Bruce Publishing Company, the one serving as editor-in-chief, and the other as general business manager.

William George Bruce is known to the people of Wisconsin as an exponent of true advancement and one who has worked unselfishly and incessantly in that direction. He is recognized as a highminded and constructive citizen who has not only been successful in his private undertakings but has also earnestly sought the progress of the metropolis and the state along economic, civic and social lines.

Source: History of Milwaukee: City and County, Volume II, Chicago - Milwaukee: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922, pp. 162-167.


From obscurity to prominence is the phrase that sums up the life record of John Hoffman, who for many years was at the head of one of the largest wholesale grocery houses in Wisconsin. During many years, he concentrated his efforts and attention upon the development of his trade until his business was one of extensive and gratifying proportions and, moreover, he had made for himself an honored name in the commercial circles of the state. While he quietly pursued the even tenor of this ways, building up a business by progressive methods, close application and honorable competition, there is much of inspiration value in his life record, proving as it does what may be accomplished by personal labor intelligently directed.

Mr. Hoffman was born in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, December 4, 1839, and was a youth of seventeen years when in 1857 he crossed the Atlantic to the United States, making his way at once to Milwaukee, with the hope of finding employment in a grocery house of this city, having previously served an apprenticeship to the business in his native land. He did not win the coveted position here, however, and was forced to accept any employment that would yield him an honest living, eventually gaining a position in a butcher shop. He had to learn the trade and while thus engaged saved a little money from his meager wages.

The hope of finding better opportunities further west led him to remove to St. Louis, but he did not see a favorable opening there and proceeded down the Mississippi to New Orleans, establishing a small shop in the old St. Mary's market, where he soon gained a profitable trade.

When Mr. Hoffman saw the war cloud gathering and recognized the imminent danger of hostilities between the north and the south, he sold his business in New Orleans and returned to Milwaukee. This time the city seemed more hospitable from a business standpoint and he opened a butcher shop at 500 East Water street. His trade steadily grew and a little later he purchased the corner of East Water and Market streets, now the site of the city hall.

In 1875 he broadened the scope of his activities by entering into partnership with Jacob Wellauer and establishing a wholesale grocery business, which was conducted under the partnership relation until 1898, when Mr. Hoffman became sole owner thereof. He carried on the business in that way until 1904, when a corporation was formed and the name of John Hoffman & Sons Company was adopted.

Since the death of the father the business has been carried on by the sons, the present officers being: Willibald Hoffman, president; Emil O. Hoffman, vice president; H. J. Hoffman, vice president; Walter Hoffman, treasurer; Edward W. Hoffman, secretary. The sons have followed in the footsteps of the father, becoming most progressive, alert and energetic business men and the wholesale grocery house remains one of the foremost commercial interests of the city. After engaging in the business for a brief period the father began the manufacture of sausage in a wholesale way and was one of the first western manufacturers to make such a shipment in large quantities to New York and other eastern markets.

On the 7th of July, 1861, Mr. Hoffman married Suzanne Schweitzer, who survived him only a few months. Their seven children are the sons already mentioned and two daughters, Mrs. Oscar Schmidt and Mrs. George Salentine. All are residents of Milwaukee. As the years passed John Hoffman became more and more firmly established in the business circles of the city as a prosperous merchant and in the regard of his fellow townsmen as a progressive and highly esteemed citizen.

He had reached the age of seventy-nine when death called him in 1919, at which time one of the local papers characterized him as "an ideal citizen and a good man." Rev. S. T. Smythe, president of St. John's Military Academy in Delafield, said at the funeral services: "I am not here to pronounce words of eulogy. John Hoffman needs none such. Writ deep in the hearts and memories of us who knew and loved him is the record of his worth.... We are about to bear away to the quiet of God's acre the mortal remains of a good man. Yea, a good man. Need we say more?"

Portions of Rev. Smythe's remarks omitted due to length.

Source: Biography published in History of Milwaukee: City and County, Volume II, Chicago - Milwaukee: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922, pp. 19-20.

Sidney Orren Neff

father of Lucius Sidney Neff

Sidney Orren Neff, vessel owner and navigator, who for a quarter century was prominent in connection with marine interests in Milwaukee, was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, October 2, 1862, and was a representative of one of the old families of New York, his parents being Samuel and Marcelia (Ellenwood) Neff. The father's birth occurred March 31, 1842, in New Lisbon, New York, while the mother was born April 19, 1844, at Peru, New York. Removing westward in 1855, the family home was established in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where Samuel Neff continued to reside until 1887 when he took his family to Appleton, a year later however removing to Milwaukee.

Samuel Neff was a captain of one of the vessels on the Great Lakes and sailed on fresh water for many years. After removing to Milwaukee he organized the firm of Samuel Neff & Sons, vessel owners, and continued in the business until his demise, which occurred February 21, 1904. For several years he had survived his wife, who died December 15, 1899. Mr. Neff had attained the thirty-second degree in Scottish Rite Masonry and also belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He was survived by two sons: Sidney O. and Charles S.

Captain Sidney O. Neff pursued his early education in the Oshkosh public schools and afterward attended business college in the same city. His interests were directed along maritime lines from his early youth and when still quite young he became a sailor on one of his father's vessels and had advanced to a captaincy before attaining his majority. Following the reorganization of the business after his father's death in 1901 Sidney O. Neff became manager of the company, but in 1905 he and his brother divided their interests, each taking half of the equipment. He then headed his own business enterprise until his life's labors were ended on the 17th of December, 1907.

He was recognized as a man of marked business capability, resourceful, energetic and determined, and his long experience with marine interests brought him to a notable point of success. He was also one of the directors of the Merchants' and Manufacturers' Bank of Milwaukee and for a number of years prior to his demise successfully engaged in the real estate business. He held memberships in and was one of the directors of the Lumber Carriers Association.

On the 20th of December, 1891, Mr. Neff was married to Miss Lucy Jane Olcott, a daughter of John Byron and Mary Ann (Armstrong) Olcott, of Oshkosh, the former a son of Lucius and Laura (Sherman) Olcott, who were pioneer settlers of Wisconsin. Lucius Olcott conducted the old American Hotel of Milwaukee for a year at a very early day and later established a blacksmith shop in Burlington, Wisconsin, and in 1848 he went to Oshkosh. There he again entered the hotel business, in which he continued for a number of years in company with his son John Byron. Finally, however, the hotel was sold and he engaged in agricultural pursuits. John Byron Olcott was born in Essex county, New York, but the greater part of his life was passed in Wisconsin and he became well known through his connection with hotel and farming interests. He passed away December 20, 1904, while his wife, who was born in Genesee county, New York, survived until July 4, 1906.

Mr. and Mrs. Neff became the parents of three sons; two of whom served in the World war. The eldest son, Samuel O. Neff, offered his services at America's entrance into the war but was rejected for physical reasons. In 1918, however, he was drafted and sent to Camp Grant but was again rejected. John Byron Neff served for three months at the Great Lakes Training Station. Lucius Sidney Neff enlisted in April, 1917, in what became the One Hundred and Twenty-first Heavy Field Artillery under Colonel Westfall and sailed for France in March, 1918, on the Leviathan. He served for over two years with the Thirty-second Division, taking part in all of the principal engagements in which that division participated. He received an honorable discharge in 1919.

In his political views Captain Sidney O. Neff was a republican, interested in the success of his party and earnestly supporting its principles, yet never seeking office as a reward for party fealty. He held membership in the Congregational church, which found in him an earnest worker and he, too, was well known in Masonic circles, becoming a Consistory Mason and a member of the Eastern Star. His life at all times commanded for him the respect and confidence of his fellowmen. A native son of Wisconsin, he always lived in the southern section of the state and for twenty years made his home in Milwaukee, where the sterling worth of his character brought to him confidence and high esteem, while his ability led to the attainment of substantial success.

Source: History of Milwaukee: City and County, Volume II, Chicago - Milwaukee: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922, pp. 344-347. Portrait.


A native son of Milwaukee is Albert Speich, president of the Speich Stove Repair Company, located at Nos. 130 to 134 West Water street. He was born on 25th of September, 1860, a son of Joachim and Marianna (Stocker) Speich, both of whom are now deceased. The father was born in Switzerland about 1826 and passed away in Milwaukee about 1872. He came to this county about 1850 and located in Milwaukee, where he won prominence as a tailor. Mrs. Speich was likewise a native of Switzerland who came to Milwaukee at an early age with her parents.

In the acquirement of an education Albert Speich attended the schools of the second and fifth wards of his native city and after putting his textbooks aside entered the business world as an employee in a basket factory. He received fifty cents a week for his work in that connection but, becoming dissatisfied, resigned at the end of six months and started to learn the tinsmith's trade. He was an apprentice in this trade for some time and received the wage of one dollar the first year, two dollars the second year and three dollars the third year.

Steady habits, ability and energy soon made it possible for him to enter into the same business on his own account, and in 1881 he removed to Hales Corners and for two years enjoyed a substantial success. At the end of that time he returned to Milwaukee and established a business in the third ward which improved and grew so rapidly that he located on West Water street in 1890 and has been at that location ever since. The concern began business as stove repairers but they now do boiler and furnace repairing and do a jobbing business of stoves, furnaces and repairs, their market covering the northwestern states. In 1896, the business was incorporated as the Speich Stove Repair Company, with Albert Speich as president.

In 1888 Mr. Speich was united in marriage to Miss Catherine Haffner, of Hales Corners, who passed away in 1892, leaving three children, namely: Georgiana, now the wife of Eric C. Sternkopf, superintendent of the Speich Stove Repair Company, and the mother of two children, Albert Eric and Richard; Genevieve, the wife of Hugo H. Drath, secretary of the stove company, and the mother of two children, Genevieve and Robert; and Albert F., vice president of his father's company. The last named married Belle McGarigle of Milwaukee and they have two children, Ella Louise and Byron Albert.

In 1898 Mr. Speich was again married, choosing Catherine Wrasse of Milwaukee for his wife. She is a daughter of Fred Wrasse, a well known musician and tailor. Mrs. Speich is a fine vocalist and pianist and made many public appearances as a child and young woman. Mr. Speich's greatest pleasure is his Sunday morning visits with his six little grandchildren who adore their fond grandfather.

Fraternally Mr. Speich is a Mason, having membership in Lafayette Lodge No. 265, F. & A.M.; Calumet Chapter, R.A.M., Ivanhoe Commandery, K.T.; and Tripoli Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S. He has likewise attained the thirty-second degree of the Scottish Rite. The religious faith of the family is that of the Episcopal church. As a man keenly interested in the development and improvement of the community Mr. Speich is a member of the Association of Commerce and socially is identified with the Milwaukee Athletic Club and the Calumet Club, having served as president of the latter body.

For recreation Mr. Speich turns to the great outdoors and is particularly fond of baseball. He possesses inherent musical talent, playing by ear almost any musical instrument. He has learned his lessons in the hard school of experience and is ever ready to lend a helping hand to the young man making his initial step into the business world. Laudable ambition, ability and concentration on business affairs have resulted in his continued success until he is now widely recognized as one of Milwaukee's representative business men and citizens.

Source: History of Milwaukee: City and County, Volume II, Chicago - Milwaukee: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922, pp. 738-741. Portrait.