An Entrepreneur and His Grandson: The Schoellkopfs
The name Schoellkopf is found widely distributed throughout the Cornell campus, from landmarks like Cornell’s football field to such far-flung locations as an inconspicuous plaque on the fourth floor of the Lyon Hall dormitory. Two major facilities used by Cornell Athletics bear the name Schoellkopf—Schoellkopf Memorial Hall and Schoellkopf Field. Who was the eponymous Schoellkopf? In this case, the facilities are named after two different members of one family.
The story begins with the immigration to New York of 22-year-old Jacob Frederick Schoellkopf, from Kirchheim unter Teck, Germany in 1842. Jacob was trained as a tanner in the family business in Germany, so it was not unexpected that he practiced this trade in America as well. Making his way to Buffalo, his leather shop was successful enough that he expanded, owning three tannery businesses by 1846. The largest of these employed about 700 people at its peak. If Jacob had stopped there, it would have been plenty enough to firmly establish his story as one of classic American success. However, the young entrepreneur decided that he ought to diversify his holdings, and expanded into flour milling.
Within a few years, Jacob Schoellkopf had become one of the largest millers in the state of New York. Now located in Niagara Falls, NY, Jacob made yet another decision to diversify—this time into a rather risky canal venture. For a total of $76,000, he purchased a mile-long canal near the Falls, a business prospect that had already drained more than $1 million from various investors and had been foreclosed upon. Unable to get a bank loan to finish the project, he raised the money privately. When the canal was finished, a Schoellkopf & Mathews flour mill was installed on one of the 100 lots available for commercial use, and other business soon followed suit.
The newly-named Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power & Manufacturing Co. next began generating hydroelectric power from the Niagara River, an act that has proved to be Jacob Schoellkopf’s most influential business venture. Not content to stop there, he founded the Schoellkopf Aniline & Chemical Co. to manufacture dyes in Buffalo as a project for two of his sons.
Jacob died in 1899 at 79 years of age, having worked until a few days before his death. Many of his numerous descendants still lived in upstate New York and were involved in some way with one of the family businesses.
Jacob Frederick Schoellkopf (From The Schoellkopfs, A Family History)
One of Jacob’s sons, Henry, had a son in 1879 who was also called Henry. The younger Henry Schoellkopf, Jacob’s grandson, would grow up to become the first Schoellkopf to attend Cornell University when he enrolled in 1898.
Henry, nicknamed “Heinie,” was by all accounts well-liked at school. He was an All-American fullback on the football squad at Cornell, lettering in 1900 and 1901. Henry was also a member of the Zeta Psi fraternity and Quill and Dagger.
Upon graduating from Cornell with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1902, Henry received a law degree from Harvard, where he continued to play football. Returning to Cornell, he served as a graduate coach of the football team in 1907 and 1908 before leaving to enter a law firm in Milwaukee, WI. There he married and had a daughter, Catherine.
Sadly, Henry took his own life in 1912 at 32 years of age. He sunk into a depression during a months-long struggle to save a failing business. The failure did not represent a large monetary loss to Henry, but rather a failure of the duty he felt he owed his family, friends and colleagues.
Part of the 1900 football squad. Henry Schoellkopf is seated at left in the center row. (From the Cornell Yearbook, 1901)
A college friend of Henry’s—Willard D. Straight ’01—donated $100,000 to fund the building of the Schoellkopf Memorial on what was then part of Alumni Field. The cornerstone-laying ceremony in 1913 was well-attended and the address given by Cornell professor T.F. Crane was printed in the November 20, 1913 issue of Cornell Alumni News.
“Professor Crane reading his address after the laying of the corner stone of the Schoellkopf Memorial Hall. ” (From Cornell Alumni News, November 20, 1913)
“His absolute honesty, his own unblemished life, his quiet, dignified bearing, impressed all who knew him and elevated the moral standard of his associates… He had been carefully educated, he had inherited many of the sterling qualities of his grandfather, he was in superb physical condition, his family was widely known and respected,— few have ever entered on their professional career with greater promise of success and happiness. He was possessed of a striking and winning personality. His figure stands out vividly in my memory of many thousand students,” Crane said.
Immediately following the account of the ceremony from the issue of Cornell Alumni News was an article reporting on a meeting of the Cornell Alumni Field Committee, in which was noted the need for a further $60,000 to $75,000 to complete a football stadium. The Schoellkopf family, honored by the gift of Schoellkopf Memorial Hall in memory of Henry, decided to provide the funds for a stadium in honor of Jacob. In 1914, they provided the $75,000 required to complete Schoellkopf Field, which opened for use in 1915.
While Jacob Schoellkopf never attended Cornell, he helped shape the region in which it was built, and many of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren became Cornellians. Henry Schoellkopf died too soon, but left an indelible impression on many of his classmates. In 1939, one of Henry’s classmates who had lost touch discovered on a visit to campus that Henry had died, and wrote the school in distress, requesting a photograph of “Heinie” and the address of any of his siblings, so that he might share his “many pleasant reminiscences of Henry Schoellkopf.”