Jacob Zettler came to the United States in August 1837 with his wife, Cornelia, their nine children and little, if any, money.
A successful wine merchant and owner of milling interests in Germany, Zettler had met with what one account called "business reverses" in 1835. Two years later, he made his way to Columbus and decided to make a fresh start.
Columbus at the time was a small Midwestern capital that, three years earlier, had become a city of 5,000 people. The arrival of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road had transformed a quiet village into a bustling and growing community. Immigration to the city from Europe, especially Germany and Ireland, was increasing. An Irish neighborhood was emerging north of the town, while a large German community was growing on the south side of Columbus.
To the Zettler family, it seemed to be a good place to stay.
Jacob Zettler soon found work, and as his five sons grew older, they all did, as well. One of them found commercial success that would last into our own time.
Louis Zettler was born in 1832 in Monsheim, Germany, a town on the Rhine River. After his arrival in the United States, he attended local schools in the Alte Sud Ende, or Old South End, German community of Columbus. It is the place we call German Village today.
In 1844, at the age of 12, it was decided that he'd had enough schooling and it was time to get to work.
What followed was a career that illustrates what perseverance and determination in an open economy can accomplish.
Louis Zettler first went into the retail grocery business with his brother, Jacob. Grocery stores in this period were not like the stores we have today. For meat, fish, fresh vegetables and fruit, customers went to the local public market, where various vendors sold such items. Staples such as flour, sugar and other goods were found at the grocery.
The brothers apparently did well enough in the grocery business that by 1856 they were able to branch out into pork packing and the grain trade. In 1861, with the outbreak of the Civil War, they left meat packing but continued buying and selling grain, developing a wholesale grocery concern to complement their retail grocery business.
In 1868, Louis Zettler and his brother dissolved their partnership. In 1870, Louis went back into the grocery business with his brother-in-law, James Ryan. That partnership continued until Ryan died in 1875. Undeterred by the loss of his partner, Louis Zettler stayed in the grocery business.
In 1860, Zettler married Catherine Rose, a native of Aachen in what was then Prussia. The couple had 10 children -- nine boys and a girl. In time, the boys became old enough to be brought formally into the family business.
In 1885, Louis Zettler admitted his oldest son, J. Bernard, as a partner; two years later, Bernard's brother, Edmund, became a partner, as well.
With two generations now working well, the family continued in the wholesale and retail grocery business. They also expanded into retail chinaware and wholesale and retail hardware. By 1890, five of Louis Zettler's sons were working with him in what had become a set of large enterprises.
Louis Zettler was active in civic affairs as well. A War Democrat in support of the Union in the Civil War, Zettler served on Columbus City Council and as police commissioner for a time in the 1870s. He also was a prominent supporter of the Roman Catholic Church in Columbus and Holy Cross Church, in particular.
When Bishop Rosecrans of Columbus was working to establish St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum in Columbus, the location selected was the site of the original Zettler family homestead on East Main Street. Louis Zettler immediately donated $10,000, then a large sum of money, to the institution.
The family companies continued to operate after the turn of the 20th century. The business that became most prominent was retail hardware.
That business in various forms of organization and administration became a reliable retail landmark in Columbus, with the Zettler name atop many hardware stores to this day.
At the end of a long career in business and civic service, Louis Zettler could look back in pride on the accomplishments of his family in only three generations.
Zettler died Oct. 14, 1907. He is buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Columbus.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.