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   Feature Article on I.H. Thedieck. Topic: PEOPLE & INDUSTRY
Written by Rich Wallace in September, 1997

I.H. THEDIECK  — A MAN OF VISION

After the recent announcement about the dismantling of Monarch Machine Tool Company, the history of this important enterprise was chronicled in the pages of this paper. The creative vision and sacrifice of one man was instrumental in forging the entity that Wendell Whipp and others would make famous. This is his story.

The date was January 22, 1926. The Sidney Daily News carried the somber news: "Sidney Plunged Into Deep Mourning Over The Death of I. H. Thedieck." The lead article declared that "Probably no man had a larger personal acquaintanceship among the citizens of this community.... or has ever been held in such high esteem." Who was this man and what role did he play in Sidney's history? ihthedieck.gif (27411 bytes)

Ignatius H. Thedieck was born in Alfhousen, Germany in 1855. Hishardworking parents were involved in the mercantile trade. Thedieck moved to America with his family when he was just 16. He attended public school in Dayton, where he mastered English and the principles of business. After working as a store clerk in Cincinnati for three years, he moved to Sidney when he was 20 years old. Thedieck started in the dry goods business in 1875. His first partner was Philip Raterman.

After Raterman retired just three years later, I.H. Thedieck entered into partnership with his brother, Joseph. The firm 'Thedieck Bros.' was born. At the same time, I. H. made a decision that was to have many far reaching and beneficial consequences. On October 16, 1878, he married Ida Wagner. Ida was one of the daughters of Mathias Wagner, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in town.

Wagner's sons included Bernard, Louis, William and Milton - the future founders of Wagner Manufacturing Company.

In 1882, with the help of his father in-law, Mathias Wagner, Thedieck made plans for his future retailing empire. Wagner purchased the lot to the north of the court house on Poplar Street to build the most modern shopping facility in town. Young Thedieck shared the newly constructed space equally with his brother in-law, William Wagner.

Virtually from the beginning, Thedieck's vision of retailing encompassed far more than just selling to the Sidney trade. 'Mom and Pop' stores dotted the retailing landscape in the 1880s. Branch stores were virtually unknown. However, Thedieck began to establish stores in nearby villages and towns. The March 14, 1884, edition of the Sidney Journal carried the news that "Thedieck Bros. will soon open a large dry goods store at Piqua. The Piqua store will be the fifth...(with other) stores at Sidney, Lima, St. Marys and Minster." In an understatement, the editor described the brothers as "energetic businessmen."

By employing hard work and novel marketing efforts, Thedieck built a thriving business. In 1884 he advertised in the Shelby County Democrat that "A Crash Is Coming!" and promised to slash prices on goods he had imported from New York by 25 to 50 percent. It wasn't long before his business, now called the Thedieck Department Store, expanded to occupy the entire structure.

By 1900, Thedieck had become well-known throughout the Midwest as a master merchandiser. His Sidney store became a shopping Mecca for a good part of Ohio. The structure had its own steam heating plant, electric light system, and a state of the art passenger elevator. He even offered free telephone service to his patrons.

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To the left is the former Thedieck building (constructed in 1914-1915) which until recently housed the Uhlman’s Dept. Store. It is now home to Furniture Express and is located on the north side of the Shelby County Courtsquare.

 

 

thedieckhome.gif (173047 bytes)

He conducted annual buying trips to New York and Paris. Sidney ladies always had the latest of fashions from which to choose. Biographer A. B. C. Hitchcock commented that "Such concerns as he has successfully established are not built up by weaklings or second-rate men. They are the work of great business generals - commercial Napoleans, so to speak."

I. H. and Ida raised a family consisting of four children: Charles, Frank, Inez and Paul. Frank would later occupy positions of prominence at Monarch. The Thediecks built a fine home at the corner of Walnut Avenue and North Street. It is currently owned by Chester and Peg Morrow. (A picture of the home in earlier years is shown above).

I. H. Thedieck was now a wealthy man. However, his greatest contributions to his home town were yet to come. Thedieck always placed the welfare of Sidney first. As the Daily News would note later at the time of his death: "Few names will ever be as intimately connected with the development and industrial expansion of Sidney as that of I. H. Thedieck." He personally brought several new businesses to Sidney to increase the economic well being of the town, including the Sidney Machine Tool Company. Thedieck shared his vast business experience with numerous businesses, including Whipp Machine Tool Company, Anderson Body Company, and the First National Exchange Bank. Thedieck was also the driving force behind the founding of the Sidney Telephone Company. His most significant contribution, however, was the creation of Monarch.

In 1909 he became convinced that Sidney needed another source of employment. Joining Thedieck as incorporators of the new business were J. O. Amos, W. H. Wagner, and E. E. Kah. Thedieck chose his associates carefully. These men, and others who served on the original board of directors, were the 'who's who' of the Sidney business community. Wagner, for example, was simultaneously the president of Wagner Manufacturing Company, the First National Exchange Bank and the Sidney Telephone Company.

There was never any question that the inspiration and leadership for the venture came from Thedieck, however. As the editor of the Sidney Journal noted in June 5, 1909 edition: "The credit for this new factory belongs to Mr. Thedieck, who has had numerous offers from other cities, but his desire to see Sidney grow larger and greater would not permit him to consider a deal from outsiders, hence the locating of it here."

The men raised funds in the community by hiring a driver and wagon to go around the courtsquare, soliciting investors for the venture. The capital was raised in a few weeks. A potential site was secured on Oak Street in Sidney. However, the company needed machines and supplies, and it had none. The story behind the acquisition of the needed equipment shows a different side of I. H. Thedieck.

In 1898, Thedieck loaned a sum of money to his wife's cousin, A. P. Wagner, the owner of A. P. Wagner Tool Company. Wagner moved his company to Detroit, and apparently carried on his business in a satisfactory manner, but never repaid the loan to Thedieck. In 1909 Thedieck foreclosed on the loan, had all of the company's assets seized, and moved them to Sidney. He sold it all to his new company for $25,000 in Monarch stock - making him the majority shareholder. That decision was to reap significant dividends over the next few years. . For example, in 1916, the company paid out nearly $450,000 in cash and stock dividends to the shareholders.

Thedieck became the first president of Monarch. During the first few years, he had to loan the company money with regularity to meet the weekly payroll. The company slowly began to grow. He realized from the beginning that his talents lay in retailing, not manufacturing. Thedieck hired his son in law, Wendell Whipp, as general manager of the business in 1912.

Despite his numerous successes, Thedieck experienced hardships as well. In 1914, fire destroyed his department store and his vast supply of merchandise. Undaunted, he vowed to rebuild. He erected a modern, fireproof building which subsequently became the home of the Uhlmans Department Store. The grand opening for the building was held on September 22, 1915.

Since Monarch was his 'baby', and he was the majority shareholder, it was understandable that Thedieck kept close tabs on the business. His unannounced inspections were legendary. One of the employees at that time described him as a 'tight-fisted Dutchman'. For example, he would scold those responsible for leaving an unneeded light bulb burning.

Monarch's company history records an embarrassing but humorous incident that no doubt convinced Thedieck to leave the operation of the company in the capable hands of Wendell Whipp. Many employees considered 'Mr. Thedieck' stuffy and a bit autocratic. While inspecting the progress of the most recent building addition in 1918, Thedieck began to walk boldly across the concrete floor, only to realize that the concrete had not dried. Too proud to let the watching employees know he had made a mistake, he trudged on to the other side before he discovered that he could not exit from that point. He repeated his trek back across, to the delight of those watching.

As his activities in his various businesses slowed, his involvement in civic affairs increased. He was an active member of Holy Angels Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus. Thedieck was also president of the Sidney Commercial Club. The Democrat once commented: "He was in the forefront of every movement that had for its end the advancement of this community. His material support of every enterprise that touched his imagination was liberal and unstinted."

His death in 1926 in many ways marked the end of an era. General Amos, proprietor of the Democrat, realized that fact. He penned a special tribute to Thedieck that was printed the day after his death. "He highly graced and honored this community," Amos wrote. "Through his activities he did more in a sound, creative way than any other man to here build an industrial community, which, without his efforts, would not have existed."

In his farewell comment, General Amos summed up eloquently how the community felt about I. H. Thedieck: "The work a good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green. By that will this man be remembered."

 

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