The Next Page: The life and legacy of Sebastian Mueller

PAUL KOVACH tells us how one of Pittsburgh's largely forgotten industrial titans championed food safety and the decent treatment of employees at the H.J. Heinz Co.

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

Related Media:

Ask any Pittsburgher to list the giants of the city's industrial age and the names flow off the tongue -- Carnegie, Frick, Mellon, Jones and Laughlin, Heinz. But there are many unsung individuals from the late 19th century whose accomplishments were sometimes overshadowed by the feats of others and by the passage of time.

Chatham University is the proud steward of the legacies of two of those widely forgotten giants -- one being Thomas Marshall Howe, builder of the Howe-Childs Gate House at Woodland Road and Fifth Avenue, co-founder of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, Civil War recruiter, congressman and one of the Pennsylvania delegates who helped to elect Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. Chatham recently inherited the legacy of another notable 19th-century figure through the gift of Eden Hall Farm from Eden Hall Foundation.

Eden Hall Farm was built outside of Pittsburgh as the summer home of Sebastian Mueller, cousin to Henry J. Heinz and one of the first vice presidents of the H.J. Heinz Co. Although Mr. Mueller's name still resonates with many Heinz employees, past and present, his paternal generosity to generations of working women and his philanthropy are unknown to many Pittsburghers.

Humble beginnings

Sebastian Mueller was born in the small village of Kallstadt in Bavaria (Germany as a nation did not yet exist) on July 4, 1860. He would experience more than his share of heartbreak, and it started early. His father abandoned the family and his mother died when he was 9, leaving him and his older brother, Wilhelm III, to live with relatives in nearby Kirchheim. Sebastian excelled in chemistry and English while in school -- two subjects that would play key roles in his future career at the H.J. Heinz Co.

With limited work opportunities in the pastoral Bavarian farmlands, Sebastian contacted his cousin Henry J. Heinz, who had established a food company in Pittsburgh. Immigration documents reveal that at the age of 24, he arrived in New York on Nov. 10, 1884 and three short days later began his career at what was then known as the F&J Heinz Co.

Mueller began as a laborer and moved up the ranks to senior vice president, in which position one of his duties was monitoring food safety. Meanwhile, the company was fast becoming one of America's first global enterprises as Henry Heinz traveled throughout Europe, expanding his company's reach. When Heinz was away, Mueller would run the company, where he showed particular concern for the health and welfare of its largely female work force -- a sensibility no doubt influenced by his many personal losses.

Family tragedies

Sebastian Mueller would marry Henry Heinz' youngest sister, Elizabeth, in 1888 and they soon became parents to Elsa Marguerite and Alma Eleonore. But it wasn't long before Elsa was exposed at a birthday party to diptheria, which Alma also contracted. The girls died a week apart in 1892 at the ages of three months and 20 months.

The next calamity was not long in coming. Mueller's brother Wilhelm, who had joined the Heinz company a short time after he had, disappeared during a sea voyage from Holland to Baltimore. Witnesses saw him on board; no one saw him get off.

At least the Muellers experienced some countervailing joy during this period with the birth of a son, Stanford Leland Heinz Mueller, in the fall of 1893. Later to graduate from Shady Side Academy, Stanford was his father's pride. But his life, too, was cut short. At 19, Stanford contracted scarlet fever and pneumonia, and died in 1912.

Seeking retreat

After Stanford's death, Mueller returned to Germany to recuperate at a Wiesbaden spa. Upon his return to Pittsburgh, he established what later became Eden Hall Farm.

In late 1912, Mueller purchased two small farms in Richland Township, just north of Pittsburgh's soot- and smoke-filled skies. He planned to build a summer estate where he could raise horses. The property eventually would grow to 450 acres and become a showplace for his award-winning mounts, but it also became a special place for Heinz employees. Mueller created a recreational get-away to accommodate company outings, at which he served as the consummate host.

Life on the farm

Sebastian Mueller's generosity toward the working women of the H.J. Heinz Co. was evident at Eden Hall Farm in Richland. There he built a small farmhouse, Stanford Lodge, and a cottage, Elsalma Lodge, named after his deceased children, which he soon turned into a retreat center for the company's employees.

Knowing that few of the workers could afford the 20-mile trip from Pittsburgh, Mueller even purchased a bus to transport them. Later, his summer home was used to house guests, and a new lodge was constructed in 1951. Thousands of "Heinz Girls," as the women called themselves, would enjoy decades of retreats, picnics and gatherings at Eden Hall Farm.

During this time Mueller also began to consider his legacy. With no heirs, and following the death of his wife in 1934, he began to envision a retreat center to benefit the working women of Heinz.

Two days after Mrs. Mueller's death, Mr. Mueller celebrated his 50th anniversary with the Heinz company. He would continue working there four more years, including through the company's first labor strike in 1937, an event that tore at his soul. He died on Nov. 17, 1938 at his home in Glenshaw.

The Mueller legacy

In his will Mueller spelled out his wishes for a nonprofit corporation whose purpose would be to "maintain a vacation home where working girls and women of proper character may go from time to time" for "rest and recreation." The Eden Hall Farm Foundation not only maintained the property, it also provided health care for Heinz' female employees until the company established its own insurance programs.

Mueller's bequest blossomed further in 1983, when Eden Hall Foundation was established as a separate organization to benefit the arts, education, health care and social welfare. Eden Hall Foundation assumed responsibility for Eden Hall Farm this year.

It was the shared legacies of the foundation and Chatham University that brought the two organizations together -- concern for women, social justice and the environment. (Remember, Rachel Carson graduated from Chatham.)

On May 1, the foundation transferred the 388-acre Eden Hall Farm -- and Sebastian Mueller's legacy -- to Chatham.

The original mansion, built in 1912, and a horse barn where Mueller kept his show horses, remain on the property. Furnishings in the residence lodge built in 1951 evoke that era, and the bowling lanes, swimming pool and hiking trails have been enjoyed by more than 6,000 women who have vacationed there.

Chatham University plans to honor the memory of Sebastian Mueller by transforming Eden Hall Farm into a campus that promotes environmental sustainability and empowers with knowledge women from our community and from around the world.

Paul A. Kovach is vice president for university communications for Chatham University ( ). The Next Page is different every week : John Allison, , 412-263-1915 First Published July 27, 2008 4:00 AM


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?