The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Piel, Michael

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The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Piel, Michael

PIEL, Michael, brewer, b. in Stoffeln, Düsseldorf am Rhein, Germany, 29 March, 1849; d. at Lake Parlin, Me., 12 June, 1915, son of Heinrich Hubert and Gertrud (Gispé) Piel. He was descended from an old Rhenish stock of farmers of singular attachment, whose members successively aimed to expand their patrimony of tillable lands. To the original and extensive Stoffeln Farm his father and uncles added the great Mörsenbroich-Düsseldorf tillages, which now border the residential section of the Lower Rhenish financial capitol. Michael was born in an environment of industry, thrift, and enterprise. His early youth was devoted to the farm at Mörsenbroich-Düsseldorf. At the age of eighteen, he began his military service in the Kaiser Alexander II Regiment of the Imperial Guards at Berlin. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 broke out just as he had completed this duty. As he was not, therefore, subject to the call of the Fatherland, his family sought to hold him back. He promptly volunteered, however, and served throughout the war, participating with his regiment in several engagements, the battle of Gravelotte and the siege of Paris. The impressions on the country boy of his years of service at Berlin, which had already begun to modernize its industries, lingered and served constantly to stimulate his natural gifts of invention. While for several years after the war, true to the family tradition, he worked at Mörsenbroich with his elder brother, he continually sought expression for his native talents. The arduous discipline of farm-labor from sun-up to sun-down, — valuable preparation though it was for the early trials of his later life career — could not check his inventive spirit. Gradually, making the most of his opportunities on the farm, his successes won him away from the family calling. In the creation of new rose-cultures and, particularly, in the perfection of a new and highly productive breed of bees, for both of which, after but two years of experimentation, he was voted the government's highest awards, he found the encouragement he needed for the growing determination to carve out his own future. It was, however, his invention of a centrifuge for the extraction of honey, awarded special governmental recognition and immediately adopted into general use, that decided him. As the protégé of a machine manufacturer, he visited the industrial centers of the progressive Rhineland and soon chose the ancient German industry of brewing as the one offering the best opportunity for his talent of applying machinery to natural processes. He found a fertile field. The new science of modern refrigeration had just come into practice, and the suggestions which it offered in his chosen field fascinated him. He began his novitiate in the old-style subterranean cellars at the breweries of Dortmund, Westphalia. In 1883, his apprenticeship ended, he welcomed the call of a younger brother, Gottfried, then already established as an export merchant in New York, to found with him in East New York, at its present site, a typically German brewery, to be conceived on modern and scientific principles. The brothers, as a partnership, secured title to a small old-style brewing plant, then in disuse, and found the problem to convert it to newer ideas a fight against tremendous odds. At the outset, Michael was its brewer, superintendent, and engineer, his accumulated experience fitting him admirably for the multiplicity of his duties. In the early days of the converted plant, Michael found that his hours were from four o'clock in the morning till ten at night. At last, in 1888, the ability of his brother as the financial head of the firm and the excellence of his own products assured success and the long struggle was won. The country which had offered him his opportunity for success he gladly and promptly adopted as his own, being admitted to citizenship in 1888. The enterprise prospered and the partnership became a corporation in 1898, with an established business of national reputation. The popular demand for the products of the plant, — then a novelty in the American brewing industry: a typical German beer, — necessitated enlarged facilities. A new era began. The acquired plant was demolished and a new plant, offering Michael the long-sought opportunity for the application of his talents, was erected. Subterranean cellars made way for a building of cellars above surface, under modern refrigeration. The plant, completed, represented a new achievement in brewing construction; it continues to serve as a model of the German-type plant. New principles were easily adopted by him and many ideas of his own creation were applied. Continued success justified this enlargement of facilities, and twice more during his lifetime the plant was expanded in size and facilities. The brewery's reputation spread abroad, and for years brought brewing academicians, experts, and scientists from Europe and South America to note his work. Many of his ideas were copied abroad. The plant enjoyed the distinction, as the result of Michael's constant scientific advances in his field, of the continued exchange with European authorities of German brewing ideas, a unique achievement for an American manufacturer. He retired from active management as the technical head of the corporation in 1900, devoting his last years to the acquisition of German paintings of hunting scenes. He was an enthusiastic sportsman, and was particularly devoted to hunting, fishing, and yachting. In 1901 he acquired the Parlin Farm, situated in a basin of the Maine Boundary Mountains, on the Quebec-Portland Highway, on the line of Arnold's Retreat. It is recognized as one of the most attractive residences of the State. He married 19 March, 1882, Maria Gertrud, daughter of Josef and Agnes (Holz) Herrmann, at Bochum, Westphalia. His widow and nine children survived him.