Henry Sauerbier was a leading manufacturer in Newark during the city’s rise as an industrial power in the late nineteenth century and is best known today for the swords he made for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Sauerbier was a toolmaker by trade who was born in Hesse Cassel, Germany, in January 1822, and he came to the U.S. in 1839, settling in Newark.
By his mid-20s, he was running in his own business in Newark and later brought two of his sons into the operation with him.
Over the years, Sauerbier manufacturing facilities were located at a number of different locations in Newark, primarily on Mechanic Street. In an era strikingly devoid of health and safety regulations, these were sites fraught with inherent dangers.
On July 25, 1860, The New York Times reported that Sauerbier’s tool factory sustained $50,000 losses in a fire.
Sixteen years later, a boiler explosion blew apart a brick plant of Sauerbier’s, killing two and leaving more than a dozen injured, some seriously, including Sauerbier himself and one of his sons. The disaster made national news.
Sauerbier was held in high regard for his skills as a toolmaker in what was a crowded field in Newark at the time, and he received a number of patents in the 1850s and 1860s for tools he made.
In a book entitled The Industrial Interests of Newark published in 1874, author William F. Ford wrote that Sauerbier manufactured tools and machines for all kinds of uses, everything from making saddles, trunks, carriages and shoes to tanning and currying leather. “No other house in the country manufactures so great a variety of tools, and it is the largest in their lines,” he added. “For the purposes named they supply a great
art of the tools required in the country, and their productions are also sold in foreign countries.”
While he may have employed his sons and dozens of workers in his tool-making businesses throughout his years in Newark, Sauerbier was always the brains of his operation.
“In order to supply the continued demands of the trade for new and improved tools, much inventive skill is required,” Ford wrote in his book. “This has been fully supplied by the elder Mr. Sauerbier.”
Sauerbier’s lasting renown came in August 1861 when he was given a contract for the Union Army swords, for use both in the field and at presentation.
The lot was small, around 100 swords. But there is research indicating Sauerbier also made swords on commission for individual soldiers, especially for members of the Union Army’s famous Irish Brigade, because his swords were so finely crafted and distinctive.
He would also make them to give as gifts on occasion.
“He (Sauerbier) was noted for his use of precious stones, his ornate pommels and his silver and pewter decorations on the hilts and scabbards of (his) swords,” according to the book New Jersey Cutlery.
Sauerbier is the only swordsmith from Newark listed in The American Sword: 1775 – 1945 (by Henry L. Peterson), the definitive guide to the swords and sword-like weaponry made in this country from the Revolutionary War to World War II.
Today, Sauerbier swords are highly prized by collectors of Civil War artifacts and regularly sell for thousands of dollars.
Sauerbier was married twice. His first wife, Hannah, died in 1853. They had four children together from 1846 to 1850. He had six children with his second wife, Augusta Rose, who lived from 1826 until 1905.
Sauerbier lived both in Newark and Clinton Township in an area that later became Irvington.
By 1870, as he was approaching 50, Sauerbier had pretty much turned over the day-to-day operation of his business to the sons. Henry Jr. oversaw the finances, while Theodore managed the manufacturing.
Even as he stepped into semi-retirement, Sauerbier remained a figure appreciated and admired in Newark for his ongoing efforts to advance the city’s industrial interests.
“The elder Mr. Sauerbier is prominent in all movements for promoting the prosperity of Newark,” William F. Ford wrote in his book. “He has a just degree of municipal pride in the city which supplies so large a part of those articles of utility and ornament which the wants of the age require.”
In that vein, Ford described Sauerbier as a driving force behind the Newark Industrial Institute, an outgrowth of the city’s first industrial exhibition in 1872 that was set up to promote Newark’s products and manufacturing capabilities.
Sauerbier died at the family home on Pennington Street in Newark on July 8, 1886, and he was buried in Woodland Cemetery in a family plot that also holds Augusta Rose and several of the Sauerbier children.
His newspaper obituary couldn’t have been briefer, mentioning little of his life or achievements. But before his death, the local papers said Sauerbier was one of Newark’s oldest German-born citizens.
He’d also been one of the best known. The Jersey Journal reported that in June 1869, when he donated $100 to the Clinton Hill Grammar English School, Sauerbier was one of the most popular Germans in all of Newark.
His generosity, no doubt, played a big part in the prominence he enjoyed. But it also did not go unrecognized.
A story in the Newark Daily Advertiser in early January 1860 noted that Sauerbier had just thrown his annual dinner party, this one for 80 guests, most of whom were his employees.
At the end of the evening, Sauerbier was surprised with a gift from his workers – a dining room serving set.
“It consists of ten pieces – coffee, tea and water urns, milk cup, sugar bowl, slop bowl, two goblets, a castor and cake basket – and is a fitting testimonial of the esteem of the workers for their employer,” the article concluded.
More than two decades after Sauerbier’s death, his grandson petitioned a court in Newark for a change of his last name.
Julius Charles Henry Sauerbier was about to be ordained an Episcopalian minister, and he said he didn’t think “Sauerbier” was a suitable name for a man of the cloth.
The name had been a continuing source of annoying jokes over the years that had deeply upset older family members, he claimed.
The court agreed, and with the stroke of a pen, “Sauerbier” quickly became “Sauber.”