BY SCOTT DIETRICH
For the most part the City of Kitchener has done an outstanding job of preserving its local history. It has a lot of museums relative to its size and has honoured the founders that made the city what it is today.
One of the ways the 19th and 20th century titans of industry are preserved is by attributing their name to local landmarks. Local shoe manufacturer A.R. Kaufman has a YMCA and a middle school named after him, and the influential Breithaupt family leaves Breithaupt Park as their family’s legacy. Yet for all the heritage that has been preserved since the time that the city was called Berlin, local historians seem to have overlooked the contributions of one man.
Thanks to recent discoveries of an old diary coupled with old letters and financial records, one former archivist who worked for the University of Waterloo recently put together a lecture and a report that shows how the contributions of one man made Kitchener the city it is today.
Susan Saunders Mavor recalls how delighted she was to learn about the diary’s existence. “It was an incredible thrill,” Mavor said. One of Rieder’s descendants came across a collection of Rieder’s diary, financial documents and family letters in his attic. He turned it over to Mavor who had experience working with historical documents. “It was surreal to open up the box and see Talmon Rieder’s diary,” Mavor said. Combing through the documents and diary took Mavor and her husband the better part of a weekend. What she found was a legacy and a vision of a man who did more for the city than historians traditionally thought.
Talmon Henry Rieder was born in the small town of New Hamburg on Aug. 10, 1878, the first of nine children. His father Peter was the owner/operator of New Hamburg’s general store, Rieder and Ruby General Merchants. While Rieder was attending high school at Berlin Collegiate Institute, (modern day K.C.I.), he helped his father by working in the store after school. Berlin Collegiate at the time was a far cry from what it is today. When Talmon attended the school there were only 37 male and 27 female students. After completing a year of school in June 1894 he continued to work for his father before the whole family picked up and moved to Berlin.
Talmon’s first job, and one that began his journey as a titan of local industry, was with Berlin Gas Works. Peter Rieder was well connected to rich, well-known families through his local church. After talking with local industry titan William Henry Breithaupt he secured a position for Talmon as a clerk at the gas works specializing in writing shorthand and recording gas meter readings. Peter, by this time, had become a travelling button salesman for the Ontario Button Company. So at the early age of 18 Talmon got his first taste of working in an industrial setting, with work that he seemed to enjoy according to his diary. Staring at a rate of $2 a day Talmon excelled so much at his first position that by 1899 he was making more than twice that.
He soon found himself working with Albert Breithaupt, a man who would later become his brother-in-law. It is clear from Talmon’s and Albert’s diaries that the two often did not see eye to eye, and as Mavor points out, it was this fracturous relationship that helped the local rubber industry grow.
Romance & Jealousy
When Talmon Rieder first met his wife is not clear. He either met her through the local church, or when Talmon was travelling back and forth between New Hamburg and Berlin on a daily basis in 1893. Her name was Martha Anthes and her family was one of the most well respected and socially connected families of Berlin. The family’s patriarch, John, was a politician and businessman who owned the Simpson-Anthes company, a furniture manufacturer.
They likely met at one of the parties held by the Anthes family, which the Rieder family usually attended. Talmon makes reference to one party held by the Anthes family in which he had “a most enjoyable evening.”
What is clear is that by 1899 the young couple was beginning to fall in love. A letter from Louisa Anthes to her sister Martha tells of Talmon’s exploits as an active member of the Young People’s Alliance at Zion Evangelical Church. Louisa encouraged her sister to write to Talmon while Martha was attending Ontario Ladies College in Whitby, Ont. In one letter she says to Martha, “Mill (Martha), aren’t you and Rieder becoming close. The idea of you calling him Talmon!” Yes, in early 20th century relationships the degree of seriousness of the relationship was measured by whether the couple was on a first name basis apparently. Martha’s other sister, Ella, wrote Martha a letter where she says, “Talmon was there, (church meeting), but I have not seen him speak yet. (I put this in because I know you used to enjoy hearing about the dear boy.” It was clear the young pair was falling in love.
1899 was important to Talmon and the city for other reasons too. This was the year that local industrial giants George Schlee, Louis Weber, Jacob Kaufman and Albert Breithaupt started the Berlin Rubber Manufacturing Company. After a trip to the United States Schlee recognized that manufacturing rubber was about to become a very profitable industry and called upon other local businessmen to help him begin his new industrial venture. Talmon agreed to work for Albert Breithaupt and Schlee and did correspondence work for the two business partners, recording and monitoring every transaction and event of each day of the company. The factory had its share of problems getting off the ground. It lost $40,000 in the first year but broke even and eventually recovered from the loss two years later. The owners of the new plant were nervous as they had not yet made a profit in three years of rubber manufacturing.
A year after the factory opened Albert Breithaupt was engaged to Louisa Anthes after gaining permission from the girl’s parents, while Talmon was struggling with the amount of work he was doing for the rubber company. He barely had any time to visit Martha and, as he writes in his diary, “was completely worn out.” Tensions between Albert and Talmon were now on the rise. The two apparently had an argument at the Young People’s Alliance meeting at Zion Church, for which Albert later apologized.
Talmon was working hard for Berlin Rubber and was not happy with his compensation. He quietly observed the board of directors quibbling about making the company profitable and at the same time, felt his work was going under appreciated. He had worked his way into the favour of the board of directors and sometime around May 1901 they were beginning to ask Talmon’s advice on business matters.
In October 1901 Talmon took a trip to New York City. It was here that he was able to fine-tune his business skills and natural sense for how things ran, and he observed the busy streets of New York. It was on this trip that Talmon gained most of the knowledge he would need to begin a business of his own.
A few weeks after his trip to New York Talmon attended the wedding of Albert Breithaupt and Louisa Anthes. Talmon was one of five non-family members who attended the event, which included William Lyon Mackenzie King as a groomsman. It appears from diary entries that he and Martha strengthened their relationship again after it was strained by Talmon’s long work schedule and lack of time to spend with her.
Shortly afterward, Talmon began to complain to management that he was not being appreciated for the amount of work that he was doing for the company. Management assured Talmon that if he waited one more year there would be room for advancement at the company. By this time Talmon and Martha were continuing their relationship with Talmon being totally smitten. “My mind is continually of rubber business and Martha’s welfare.” He wanted to ask Martha to marry him but also wanted to know that he would have a good job at the factory.
By 1902 he and Martha were in a “will-they, won’t-they” kind of scenario. The factory was in the same situation, with each of the founding members arguing over control and funds of the company. Louis Weber left the company and Albert purchased his stock. Talmon was visiting the Anthes house more frequently to talk to Martha, something which annoyed Albert to no end.
Talmon wrote in his diary of a Jan. 15 fight with Albert. “Had quite a pointed discussion with Mr. Breithaupt in which matters were dealt with in pretty plain words. He said his position in life is not such to be treated as a subordinate. He had many points of censure against me and I in return against him. I felt afterwards to drop all interest and to do only what I was told to until I obtained another situation.”
Albert was angry that Talmon, who began on the low rung of the ladder, was climbing closer to Albert’s social status and family. This was the period of time that the future of Kitchener would be decided.
That November Martha and Talmon decided to get married. They declared their love for one another and realized they were meant to be together. Talmon wrote extensively about the day and taped two full pages of extra paper into his diary on Jan. 9 to describe how he felt. The young couple would defer their marriage for three more years as Talmon was increasingly busy with factory work.
In 1903 Talmon, still frustrated with his standing in the company, was gaining more confidence in his abilities and began to consider moving out on his own into the business world. Although the board did not want to lose him they did not want to give in to Talmon’s request that he be paid better.
Finally on April 25 Talmon decided to leave the Berlin Rubber Manufacturing Company in favour of starting his own company. He had already been in discussions with one of Berlin Rubber’s board members, Jacob Kaufman, about venturing into another rubber factory. Talmon was confident he could run operations better than his employers because of his trips to the United States and his years with Berlin Rubber.
Setting up the new factory did a number of things for the town of Berlin. It brought one of the most profitable and sought after manufacturing sectors to the city, greatly helping the local economy. The building of the new factory also meant an increase in population and made Kitchener the city it is today.
What Talmon’s diary reveals is his contributions to industry and to the city itself. If it weren’t for Talmon, Merchant’s Rubber would have never existed, and the population and size of Kitchener today would be vastly different.
In addition to creating Merchant’s Rubber Company Talmon saw the merger of the town’s two rubber factories into the huge corporation Canadian Consolidated Rubber (CCR), the company which one day he would be vice-president of.
Local historians knew that Talmon was instrumental in the merger and that Talmon had brought a third factory to the area which would become The Dominion Tire Company, whose shell can still be seen on modern day Strange Street in Kitchener.
CCR wanted to move all rubber operations out of Berlin and to Montreal where the company was based. Instead, thanks to Talmon, the factories remained and a third factory was built. The entire destiny of a city was shaped by one man, who until now was seen as only having minor contributions to the process.
Not only did Talmon probably save Berlin Rubber from collapse through his hard work, he brought more factories to the area and made Berlin the rubber capital of Canada, modernizing and revolutionizing the economy that eventually became a prominent Canadian city.
Rieder was also responsible for the building of the Westmount subdivision, a prominent Kitchener neighbourhood named after his Montreal neighbourhood, when he and his family moved there after he became vice-president of CCR. Rieder, unfortunately never saw the completion of the subdivision, as he passed away on April 14, 1922, at the age of 43.
It is strange that for all of Talmon’s work, the Rieder name is hardly recognized in the region. As Mavor stated in her lecture, there is no Rieder Boulevard, Rieder Park or Rieder Public School. The man who strengthened the economy, increased the city’s growth and built an important neighbourhood from nothing but farmland and wilderness, would not be recognized in a photograph or even by name by most Kitchener residents.
Mavor says she, together with the Westmount Neighbourhood Association, want to erect a plaque honouring the life and legacy of Talmon Rieder somewhere in the Westmount neighbourhood. They will be submitting a recommendation to the Kitchener Heritage Committee that the plaque and the region hall of fame (which Talmon is already a part of), recognize that Talmon was more instrumental to the success and prosperity of the city than previously thought.
When Mavor was told that Westmount Public School is, in the next couple of years, to be torn down, rebuilt and may be a suitable way to honour the Rieder name, she smiled and said, “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”