Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Erie, Erie County
German immigrant Ernst Behrend founded the Hammermill Paper Co. Penn State's campus in Erie is named in his honor.
Born in Coeslin, Germany on March 29, 1869, Ernst Richard Behrend moved to Erie, Pennsylvania in 1898 to found the Hammermill Paper Company with his family. In 1903, he and his brother, Dr. Otto Behrend, received a patent for a high-speed watermarking device. He was a founder of the National Industrial Conference Board. Behrend died at home on September 22, 1940.
Ernst Richard Behrend was born on Easter Sunday, March 29, 1869 in Coeslin, Germany to Moritz and Rebecca Wolf Behrend. He was the eldest of seven children including four daughters and three sons, all of whom became engineers. Moritz Behrend ran three paper mills on the Varzin estate of Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. One of these mills, called Hammermühle [hammer mill in German], is where Ernst Behrend started his paper-making career by sorting the rags that would become fine paper.
Before coming to America in 1896, Behrend studied at the Dresden and Charlottenburg Polytechnic Institutes and served as a Lieutenant in the Prussian Mounted Artillery. His first job stateside was as a draftsman and engineer at Pusey and Jones in Wilmington, Delaware. He later moved on to the Nekoosa Paper Company in Nekoosa, WI where he helped start their first sulphite mill.
With his father and his brother, Dr. Otto Behrend, he co-founded the Hammermill Paper Company on the shores of Lake Erie in Erie, PA in 1898. He became a naturalized citizen three years later. Behrend met Newport, Rhode Island debutante Mary Brownell when she was feted at the Erie home of Maud Shannon, a classmate from Misses Ely's School for Girls. Brownell, an accomplished sportswoman, had been the women's golf champion of Rhode Island in 1902. Their 1907 marriage was followed closely by the birth of two children, Warren Moritz in 1909 and Harriet Ellen in 1911.
Meanwhile, as President of Hammermill, Behrend was growing his company at a brisk pace. He and his brother Otto received a patent in 1903 for a revolutionary, high-speed watermarking device. Hammermill also became the first company to manufacture writing paper from all wood pulp instead of cotton and to use super-heated steam Belmer bleachers. He was a Trustee of the Institute of Paper Chemistry and maintained a membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Behrend was one of the twelve founders of the National Industrial Conference Board and he was serving as Vice Chairman at the time of his death in 1940.
Through Behrend's leadership Hammermill became a pioneer in the area of personnel relations. When dealing with his employees his motto was "Teach, Don't Boss" and he offered his workers hourly bonuses and paid vacations at a time when doing so was most unusual. In Hammermill: A Revolution in Papermaking, Donald Leslie, then the company's chairman, summarized Ernst Behrend's feelings about the Hammermill "family" in this way: "Back in those early 1900's he made it a policy that any Hammermill person who had to leave because of illness, sickness or retirement would not be thrown on public charity; Hammermill took care of them."
Behrend was a tireless worker for the welfare of all citizens of Erie through his volunteer efforts with a number of local organizations. During World War I Behrend was one of the Four Minute Men, a government-sanctioned group of prominent local leaders who gave short speeches to shore up support for the war. Later, he received a Distinguished Service Certificate from the Pennsylvania American Legion, the only one given to a citizen of Erie. He served as President of the board of Hamot Hospital from 1920-22 and as Chairman of the 1923 Erie Community Chest campaign. In 1928, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant-Commander in the US Volunteer Naval Reserves. He was a director of the First National Bank and a member of Erie's most exclusive clubs, including the Erie Club and the Kahkwa Club. He was presented an honorary degree from Thiel College in Greenville, PA in 1936.
Outside of his work and civic responsibilities, Behrend enjoyed travelling the world by cruise ship with his family. In 1929, he took possession of the yacht Amida. Custom-built for him in Kiel, Germany, it was 196 feet long and required a crew of 32. On its maiden voyage from Germany to New York where the Behrends were to take possession, the Amida hit a gale. The yacht, which survived but was brutally battered by the storm, rescued the crew of the schooner James E. Coburn and the story was featured in the New York Times.
In December of that same year, Behrend's son Warren was driving with a friend from his school, Deerfield Academy, to meet his family for Christmas vacation aboard the Amida which was docked in Charleston, South Carolina. Near Pleasant Hill, North Carolina, Warren swerved to miss a school bus full of children and was instantly killed. The Behrends later learned that the assigned school bus driver had permitted an unlicensed student to drive that day. The death of his only son devastated Behrend and he sold the Amida in 1932 for less than a fifth of the cost he paid. He remained a trustee of Deerfield Academy until his own death and the family dedicated a lounge in Warren's name on that campus.
In the early 1930s, the Behrends hired prominent Philadelphia architect R. Brognard Okie to design a house for them in Okie's signature Colonial Revival style. It was in that home, Glenhill Farm, that Ernst Behrend passed away from a heart attack on September 22, 1940 and was buried in the Behrend Chapel at Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery.
Eight years later, so that her husband's memory and his love of education could live on, Mary Behrend deeded the 400 acres of the estate to the Pennsylvania State University and it is now known as Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. The farmhouse is still in use as the campus administration building. Other original buildings from the estate, including the barn, carriage houses, and Mrs. Behrend's art studio, are used by the college as classrooms, office space, and a small theater.
"Behrend, Ernst Richard" National Cyclopaedia 312-313.
"E.R. Behrend, President of Hammermill Co., Dies." Erie Times 23 Sep. 1940:1.
"Half Mast." Hammermill Bond 20:10 (1940) 3-5.
McQuillen, Michael and William Garvey. Hammermill: A History of the Company. Erie, PA: Hammermill Paper Company, 1985.
"Reports Details of Tragic Accident." Hammermill Bond 12:4 (1930): 6-7.
Stachelek, Jan. "Frank Knauer: Still a Spring in his Steps." The Log 2:5 (2004): 10-11.
"Yacht Amida Saves Shipwrecked Crew." Hammermill Bond 11:6 (1929): 16.
Photo Credit: Penn State Behrend. "Ernst Behrend." Photography. cropped to 4x3, filled background. Source: Online Resource.