Sno-Isle Genealogical Society

The Sounder
Volume 24, Issue 3
September, 2010

Serving Snohomish and Island County Genealogists
for over Twenty Years

Sounder Banner Graphic by David Raney

Researching a Family Business
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The Saiberlich Family

by Margaret Robe Summitt

          When doing genealogical research about a business-owning family, one needs to develop a search strategy using specialized documents in addition to the usual vital records, property and census information.

          This article will develop the case of my 1st cousins-thrice-removed SAIBERLICH brothers, Frank, Oscar, and Edward, sons of German immigrants, whose engineering skills developed two pioneering manufacturers of farm implements: Eagle Manufacturing Company (ca. 1888-ca. 1918) and Fox River Tractor Company (ca. 1918-ca.1936), both located in Appleton, Wisconsin.

          Censuses, both state and federal, often provide clues to a person’s occupation.  The information may be a bit misleading, however.  Federal censuses report only the type of work done by an individual, not necessarily his position within a given firm. The 1900 Census, for example, reports only that Frank SAIBERLICH, residing in the 2nd ward of Appleton, Outagamie County, Wisconsin, was a manufacturer of farm implements.  A city directory would give the further information that Frank was president of the Eagle Manufacturing Company.  Living next door to Frank in 1900 is his brother Oscar, listed as a machinist, although he was also company vice-president.  In the 1910 Census another brother, Edward W. SAIBERLICH, is listed as a manufacturer of gasoline engines, whereas Oscar is listed in the city directory as superintendent of Eagle Manufacturing.   

          County histories or biographical collections like “mug books” often give further details about founders of family businesses.  I found in one such source a history of the Eagle Manufacturing Company (History of Outagamie County, Wisconsin, p. 680).  Eagle began in 1881 by making hayforks and feed cutters, using water power at the Appleton plant which was located on the Fox River.  After 1904, the factory was situated at no. 624 Winnebago Street and expanded into the production of 60- horsepower tractors that ran on either kerosene or gasoline.  Not only did this sketch of the Eagle company give the details of its professional development, but it included genealogical information on the SAIBERLICH family.  In my online searching I have found the surname spelled SAIBERLICH only in the United States, and in the family’s native Germany, I have not seen it spelled SAIBERLICH but SAUBERLICH.    

          The county history also provides the expected biographical sketch of E. W. SAIBERLICH:
“Edward W. SAIBERLICH, president of the Eagle Manufacturing Company, Appleton.  Henry SAIBERLICH, his father, was a native of Saxony, Germany, born January 1, 1828, and came to Wisconsin in 1853, settling on a farm in Outagamie County.  He was married to Miss Wilhelmina ANGELROTH, who bore him ten children, eight of whom are now living.”
“Edward W. who is the oldest son, was born in Ellington, Outagamie Co., Wis., October 20, 1857, and remained at home until he was nineteen years old, working, summers on the farm, and attending school winters.  When twenty-one years of age he commenced learning the carpenter’s trade, and after he had mastered it made it his principal occupation for the next ten years.  In 1888 he purchased a one-third interest in the Eagle Fork Company, at Appleton, which institution became incorporated as the Eagle Manufacturing Company, and consisted then of Richard MILLER, president; E. W. SAIBERLICH, vice-president; William POLIFKA, secretary and treasurer.  In 1891 the latter gentleman sold his interest to Frank and Oscar SAIBERLICH, brothers of Edward, who served one year as secretary and treasurer of the company.  He (Edward) was appointed president in 1893, and in January, 1894, Mr. MILLER disposed of his interests, the firm being now known as Saiberlich Brothers; Frank being president; Oscar, vice-president; and Edward, secretary and treasurer.  They manufacture a full line of haying tools and feed cutters and employ eleven men.  The brothers are energetic, careful business men, and themselves take an active part in the work of the establishment.  The capacity of the plant was small when Edward became a member of the firm; but he added much new machinery and made many improvements, with the result that the business has more than doubled.  He is a Republican, but not classed as a politician, and belongs to the Evangelical Church.  Being the eldest of the family, he naturally had more of the home responsibility upon his shoulders when a boy, and had little opportunity to acquire an education, but made the most of such chances as he had”

(Commemorative Biographical Record of the Fox River Valley Counties of Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago, part II, p. 640, Chicago: J. H. Beers, 1895; facsimile rpt. Heritage Books, 1995).
          These biographical sources bring the story of the company up to the date of publication.  If I had chosen to stop searching after consulting these early biographical histories, I might have missed some other key information about the business’ later development.  Spin-offs into related fields often occur as businesses target more profitable markets.  By 1908, Eagle’s catalog lists an extensive line of equipment, including single cylinder gas engines, engine/saw combinations, silage cutter/blowers, sweep-type horse powers, power jacks, saw rigs, burr mills and grain grinders.  After 1913, in the case of Eagle, the firm wanted to expand into the emerging market for gasoline-powered tractors, but the difficulties in capturing this market led to an eventual spin-off.  The coming of World War I was further incentive for expansion of tractor production, but the firm lacked the necessary capitalization.  The then general manager, Charlie HAGEN, encouraged the SAIBERLICHs to offer shares in the company as a way to raise capital.  The increase in the number of shareholders, however, meant that eventually the SAIBERLICH family lost control of the company.  Frank SAIBERLICH chose to leave around 1918 and went on to start the Fox River Tractor Company.  His brothers were to follow him.
          This spin-off prospered because of technological innovations.  Look in online resources for patents that indicate the direction of a company’s development.  Google Patents has the original printed text of U. S. Patent No. 1,713,094 dated May 14, 1929, granted to Erwin W., Raymond A., Oscar, and Frank SAIBERLICH, assignors to Fox River Tractor Company, of Appleton, Wisconsin, for an ensilage cutter that featured major advancements in technology.  These four brothers represent the second generation of entrepreneurs and designers.  Erwin in 1930 was Chief Engineer of Fox River Tractor.  He continued to tinker with silage equipment design and was instrumental in the design and development of the Pickup Forage Harvester. By 1931 his essential design for the harvester was in place; further improvements were made the following year, and a redesign came in 1936, at which point Fox began selling it.  “His design was so fundamentally correct in principle that all the machines built 50 years later were still very similar.  More than 600,000 such harvesters had been built by 1986,” reads in part a plaque erected by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers in 1988 at the University of Wisconsin to mark the invention of the Pickup Forage Harvester as a historic landmark of agricultural engineering. Full text is online at <>.

          With the development of this fundamental new technology, the company was at a crossroads.  Fox River Tractor had been developed, of course, toward the sale of tractors.  So successful was the line of silage harvesting equipment, however, that it soon became the company’s main focus, and remained so until another period of general economic change.
          A parent company, and the company or companies that spin off from it, often get bought up and assimilated by other companies.  The business may survive for years under a different name or as a division of something else.  Eagle Tractor halted production during World War II but never started its assembly line again; it was sold in 1941 to the Four Wheel Auto Drive Company of Clintonville, Wis. after fifty years of operation.  Fox River Tractor became part of Koehring Farm Equipment, which ended production in 1986.  If I had wanted to pursue the records in detail, I could have traced the present ownership of the company’s assets and inventory, using documents such as city and business directories, documents of incorporation or sale, ledgers, invoices, receipts, and correspondence.
          Online research was essential to developing the timeline of the business.  It showed me, through the years, the names of those family members who were involved in the business and to what extent.  The Implement Blue Book for 1912 (found through Google Books) showed that Frank SAIBERLICH was President of Eagle Mfg., Oscar was Vice-President and Edward W. was Secretary-Treasurer. Another Google Book source (Tractor World, June 1919) told of the retirement of Frank and Oscar from Eagle in 1918.  The Outagamie County Historical Society in its online archive had a photo of the original Eagle plant, reproduced below. 

Eagle Plant

          Since the products that were produced are now collectors’ items, the internet also provided me with correspondence between collectors.  About thirty years ago, one of the collectors had interviewed some of the family members about the company.  Another collector had posted transcriptions of newspaper articles about the Fox River Tractor Co. from the 1920s (

          One thrilling bit of video available on YouTube put me behind the wheel of a 1917 Eagle tractor-- for all of 45 seconds (see it at  Well, to ME it was thrilling, and to the collectors who uploaded it.  It would thrill you, too, if you were to find a similar connection with a business in your own family tree.


1900 and 1910 U. S. Censuses for Appleton, Outagamie County, Wisconsin.

The Agricultural Tractor, 1855-1950.  Compiled by R. B. Gray.  St. Joseph, Michigan: American Society of Agricultural Engineers, revised edition 1975.

“Ag Depression Moved Fox in Unplanned Direction,” at, retrieved 12 August 2010.

American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, “Invention of the Pickup Forage Harvester,” online at, retrieved 12 August 2010.

Commemorative Biographical Record of the Fox River Valley Counties of Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago, part II, p. 640, Chicago: J. H. Beers, 1895; facsimile rpt. Heritage Books, 1995.
“Eagle Collectors Club,” online at, retrieved 5 September 2010.
“Eagle Manufacturing Company,” article at, retrieved 12 August 2010.

“Fox River Tractor Company” discussion on, retrieved 12 August 2010.



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