The best of times, the wurst of times
Sausage maker William Karl Wenzel comes to America
By Kris Leonhardt
For centuries, sausage — or wurst to those of German heritage — has been a staple of people’s diets. From bratwurst to Teewurst, each region of Germany has its own specialty.
Before the 19th century, German sausage makers’ quality crafting skills were unparalleled. Their ability to finely mince meat and their knowledge of exotic spices that preserved and flavored the sausages created an industry that was respected and appreciated.
Communities held a sense of pride in their unique and socially significant sausage recipes. Mechanical advancements would make local butchers’ talents for mincing meat less distinctive, but the individual flavoring continued to set them apart.
As German sausage-making technology was advancing, William Karl Wenzel was beginning his young life in the Berlin area. While living with his grandfather, Wenzel attended school for half the day while working the other half.
At the age of 14, Wenzel entered vocational training under his uncle Albert to learn the butcher and sausage-making trade. After three years as an apprentice, Wenzel spent the succeeding two years working in Berlin as a butcher and sausage maker.
In 1893 Wenzel immigrated to the United States with his mother, Marie, and stepfather, William Schwandt. Arriving through Philadelphia, the family settled in Marshfield, staying with Marie’s sister, Louise, and her husband, Ernest Krause.
Wenzel, now 19 years of age, accepted work as a woodcutter for a short time before the family purchased land 12 miles southwest of Marshfield from William H. Upham.
In 1894 Wenzel took employment with the Bauer brothers, Marshfield’s pioneering butchers. He stayed with them just two years before moving to Colby to open his own shop.
Colby would not only bring Wenzel a business opportunity. It would also bring him a bride. The same year that Wenzel moved to the area, he married Marie Fleischauer.
After 13 years of working as a butcher in his native country, Wenzel’s uncle Albert would immigrate to America with his family and join his nephew in the Colby business, which was renamed Wenzel & Wenzel.
In 1901 the Wenzel men sold their Colby store and took their trade to Marshfield, where they opened another shop they also named Wenzel & Wenzel. The partnership would later dissolve.
Next week: William makes a fresh start