As it were

Immigrant Peter Ambos was an American success story

Wednesday April 4, 2012 9:04 AM
Enlarge Image
Columbus Metropolitan Library
Peter Ambos
Buy This Photo

In the course of a long and productive life in Columbus, Peter Ambos was a successful banker, manufacturer and merchant.

But to most people who lived in central Ohio 150 years ago, Peter Ambos simply was “the candy man.”

How this rather interesting fellow earned that name is a story worth telling.

Peter Emil Ambos was born in 1814 in a town called Zweibrucken in the Rhineland country of what is now Germany. The name “Zweibrucken” means “two bridges” which gives some idea of the salient feature of this small place near the river Rhine.

It was a hard and difficult time for most German people in the years after the Napoleonic Wars. Germany in its modern form did not exist. Instead, several dozen duchies, margravates and principates existed in the shadow of a few major kingdoms such as Prussia and Bavaria. Wartime enthusiasm or forced conscription over several years had disrupted trade networks and deprived many of these places of most of their young men.

These problems did not end with the Congress of Vienna in 1815. To many young Germans like Peter Ambos who were coming of age in these years, the prospects of life in German-speaking central Europe did not look all that appealing. Much more interesting was America.

For more than three centuries, the lure of a “New World” on the other side of a vast ocean had sent people on a long journey to find a new home. Now in the 1820s, advances in naval architecture and safety had made sailing across the Atlantic much more attractive.

Peter Ambos joined a large number his countrymen seeking a new life in a new land.

In 1830, at the age of 17, he landed in Norfolk. Va. It was a common place to land if one were coming from Germany. And a lot of people were doing just that.

Arriving in America virtually penniless, Ambos scrambled about looking for a job. He finally found one in a confectionary or candy store in Norfolk. This may not have appeared to be the best idea to a young man on the move. But it worked for Peter Ambos.

In 1832, he came to Columbus and promptly opened the first candy store in the capital city. Columbus in those days was really little more than a frontier village of about 1,500 people. Created to be the new capital city, Columbus was linked to the rest of the state by rough dirt roads and the hard paddling of people who wanted to travel on the not-always-cooperative Scioto and Olentangy rivers.

It is not clear today why Peter Ambos settled on Columbus. But he saw possibilities for success and decided to make the new town his home. He was one of the earliest German settlers in central Ohio, but he very soon would not be lacking for neighbors.

The arrival of the Ohio Canal and the National Road in the early 1830s brought hundreds of new people to Columbus. By 1834, Columbus was a city of 5,000 people.

Many of the newcomers were Irish immigrants who settled on the near North Side of Columbus. Many more were German who settled on the South Side of Columbus in an area that came to be called “Die Alte Sud Ende” or the “Old South End.”

Peter Ambos opened his first candy store on South High Street in the block between Town and Rich streets. Because the National Road passed by on its way through the city, the store was located in a good place to do business. In retrospect, one might wonder if it was not rather daring to open a candy store in a town without many stores of any kind. But Ambos was confident that people would buy his products.

They did and he prospered.

In 1841, he left his original location and bought a small store at 49 S. High St., immediately across the street from the brick Statehouse, state office building and federal district courthouse. That site would stay in the Ambos family for many years, first as a candy store and then as a popular restaurant with a candy store within.

He did not do all of this alone. In 1841, he married Dorothea Jaeger. Her father, Christian Jaeger, was an Austrian immigrant who had acquired 140 acres in the area next to the German community and lived there for the rest of his life. Peter and Dorothea had three children. In time, Peter Ambos would build them the house of their dreams at 1201 S. High St.

By that time, he was much more than a confectioner.

In 1854, Ambos sold much of his candy business and became heavily involved in the Columbus Machine Manufacturing Co. Later the Columbus Machine Co., the firm would be a major source of income for the Ambos family for many years. He was later one of the organizers of the First National Bank and served as its president for many years. That bank, after many mergers, survives today as the PNC Bank in Columbus.

Peter Ambos was also heavily invested in insurance, real estate and was a silent partner in a number of local businesses.

It is probably fair to say that for a man who arrived in Columbus knowing only how to make candy, Peter Ambos had been something of a success.

Eventually, the long hours and the hard work began to catch up with him. In 1866, while vacationing with his family, Ambos had contracted a severe cold, which led to bronchitis and persistent congestion of his lungs. He later went to Hot Springs, Ark., for treatment and recovered some but not all of his previous good health. In June 1877, he suffered a stroke and died on June 24. He is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.

For decades, if one wanted really good candy in Columbus, one went to Ambos’ store. All in all, this is a fine remembrance of a great Columbus family.

Comments