Excerpts from The Historical Society of Pennsylvania – Collection 2080, C. Shrack & Co. Records
Christian Schrack established C. Schrack & Co., America’s oldest varnish manufacturers, in 1816 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Over the next thirty-five years, Schrack manufactured and sold many goods, including varnish and paint products, to customers across the United States. After Christian Schrack’s death in 1854, his former apprentice Joseph Stulb managed the business for more than forty years and expanded the product line and reach of the company. Upon his death in 1898, his two sons, Edwin Hutter Stulb and Joseph S. Stulb, oversaw the firm’s operations. Edwin purchased his brother’s shares in the company in 1911, making him the sole owner, and Edwin led the company until his death in 1920. At this point, his sons Joseph R. and Edwin Jr. became the third generation of Stulbs to manage C. Schrack & Co.
Christian Schrack, founder of the oldest varnish company in America, was born about 1790 in Pennsylvania. Little is known about the Schrack family, except that Christian had a wife named Catharine and, they were the parents of at least three children. The most is known about his daughter Sarah, who was born in 1811. She married Davis Pearson in 1831 and died in 1845. Christian also had at least one other daughter and son, whose names are unknown. Christian Schrack, probably a grandchild born to his son, was born in 1840 and employed by the company in the late nineteenth century. Welling Schrack was born in 1829 and was also an employee of C. Schrack & Co. for most of the nineteenth century, but his relationship to Christian is unclear.
By his early twenties, Christian Schrack had established himself in Philadelphia as a premier carriage maker. His business interests changed as people began to admire the high quality of the varnish applied to his carriages, and in 1816 he opened C. Schrack & Co. Previously, carriage makers mixed their own varnishes and paints, but C. Schrack & Co. was able to do the work for them and provided them with high quality products.
The company’s entry in the Philadelphia City Directory echoed its small beginnings: “Christian Schrack, coach painter, oil and colour store, 80 North 4th Street.” Schrack ran the store from the house on North 4th Street and another house at 317 Branch Street served as a manufacturing plant with a horse on a treadmill powering the machinery.
The demand for Schrack’s varnishes, paint, lacquer, turpentine, whiting and other related products grew as did his customer list, which included George Wetherill & Bros., the Philadelphia Prison, and various churches. He soon recognized the need to expand his operations and he enlisted the aid of an apprentice, Joseph Stulb, in 1831. Stulb was born in 1822 and emigrated from Germany shortly thereafter. While he was employed at C. Schrack & Co., he married Mary Ann and together they produced seven children, two of whom would play key roles in C. Schrack & Co. Schrack financed Stulb’s “instruction at night school,” which led to his new position in 1848 junior partner.
Over the next fourteen years, Christian Schrack continued to perfect his varnish formula and to develop his business, expanding its reach into the Midwest and Northeast sections of the United States and Canada by the 1840s. The uses for Schrack’s products evolved, as customers began to apply varnishes and paints to the interior and exterior of buildings and railroad cars. In the meantime, he passed his business experience and knowledge along to Stulb. Christian Schrack died on February 7, 1854, and left his company in the hands of Joseph Stulb, who officially purchased C. Schrack & Co. As the new head of C. Schrack & Co., Stulb would carry on the work of his mentor and bring about important changes in the company.
With firm members Samuel K. Felton, Alfred Stulb, and Welling Schrack, hired in the decades leading up to Schrack’s death, and eight to fifteen salesmen and laborers, C. Schrack & Co. opened new operational locations. In 1852, the company had commenced renovations on their store and factory at 80 North 4th Street and Branch Street, replacing the rudimentary horse-powered plant with an up-to-date steam engine and color grinding plant. With a new look also came a new address as 80-82 North 4th Street was renumbered 152-158 North 4th Street. A factory was also added at 28th Street and Girard Avenue in 1860. These two locations joined the “stable” property at Dilwyn Street, spreading C. Schrack & Co. throughout the city. For the next hundred years, C. Schrack & Co. called 152 North 4th Street its home, with a Stulb family member at its helm.
As the northern and southern states faced each other on the battlefields of the Civil War, the business of C. Schrack & Co. prospered. While the company remained faithful to their original paint and varnish formulas, their merchandise list increased as they began to offer window glass, palette knives and imported goods from Europe. Yet, the “national Affair” that threatened to destroy the union was accompanied by inflation and fewer daily sales. At this crucial time, Townsend Willits, a former clerk in the store, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania became a member of the firm. As a clerk, he handled the correspondence between the company, their customers, and their suppliers. In 1865, as Willits achieved a higher position in the firm, Samuel Felton left to open a new varnish business with Conrad Rau and Edward Sibley. Yet Felton’s connection to C. Schrack & Co. did not end and Felton, Rau, Sibley, & Co. maintained a business relationship with C. Schrack & Co. into the twentieth century.
The management of C. Schrack & Co. also took part in many religious and civic activities in Philadelphia. Townsend Willits was a vestryman at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, which Christian Schrack and the Stulb family also attended. Also, Christian Schrack donated funds to aid in the construction of St. Matthew Church at 4th and New Streets in 1828. Religious institutions were not the only societies to which the firm members donated their time and money. Throughout the 1870s, Willits was treasurer of the Board of Trustees for the Northern Home for Friendless Children, which many orphans of the Civil War called their home in the nineteenth century.
During the 1870s and 1880s, Joseph Stulb, Welling Schrack, and Townsend Willits led the firm, during which time it experienced three turning points. Just as the company began to expand into Europe and other parts of the United States, it suffered a severe financial loss due to the “burning of the varnish factory.” July of 1870 saw the destruction of the factory building that they had established at Girard Avenue just ten years earlier. After the fire, C. Schrack & Co. relocated some of their manufacturing operations across the Delaware River at 15th and Mickle Streets in Camden, New Jersey, and sent Welling Schrack to oversee this branch of the business. Meanwhile, twentyfour year-old Edwin Hutter Stulb, Joseph Stulb’s eldest son, joined the firm and became the second generation of varnish manufacturers in the Stulb family. Edwin was older brother to Joseph S., Theodore, Robert, Catherine, Emily, and Mary, and was named after Edwin Hutter, the pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, co-founder of the Northern Home and a close friend of the company.
By the end of the nineteenth century, two generations of Stulbs ran C. Schrack & Co. and the number of Stulbs on the firm’s payroll soon grew. In 1895, both Joseph S. Stulb and his brother Theodore joined their father and brother in the varnish manufacturing business. Joseph S. entered the business in the 1890s, while Theodore had held a sales position at 152 North 4th Street since 1875. Shortly thereafter, the Stulb family and C. Schrack & Co. experienced a loss when Joseph Stulb, head of the firm for over forty years and apprentice to the founder of the company, “died suddenly of heart failure November 23, 1898.” After his death, his sons Edwin H. and Joseph S. ascended to the top ranks of the firm and Theodore left to pursue other interests. Less than a year after the death of the eldest Stulb, C. Schrack & Co. experienced its second fire, this time at its Camden location. An explosion occurred in the early days of August 1899, killing one employee, Henry Upjohn. Joseph S. Stulb was present at the fire and Christian Schrack Jr. tried to save Upjohn by pulling him from the fire. The loss was estimated to be 50,000 gallons of varnish and $25,000, but the company had no insurance. Following the fire, the firm faced economic hard times as they wrote letters to customers explaining their “dire financial situation” and asking for bill payments on open accounts.
The Stulb brothers and their sales and labor force of about a dozen men carried the work of the company, which was becoming as famous for its paint as it was for its varnish, into the twentieth century. Manufacturing operations remained in Philadelphia and Camden, where new factories were built at 15th and Federal Streets and 15th and Carman Streets. Lit Bros., John Wanamaker, and the Winnipeg Piano Co. joined C. Schrack & Co.’s customer list, which continued to expand. With the production of automobiles in the early twentieth century, customers found a new application for C. Schrack & Co.’s varnish. In 1911, Edwin H. and Joseph S. Stulb decided to “mutually dissolve their partnership” and, with the purchase of his brother’s shares, Edwin became the sole owner of C. Schrack & Co. In turn, a new generation of firm members emerged as John Dexter, J.M. Nyce and Joseph Hutton replaced the older generation of Townsend Willits and Welling Schrack. C. Schrack & Co. maintained a healthy business, domestically and abroad, well into the first quarter of the century and the Stulb family reaped the economic benefits. On September 2, 1920, Edwin H. Stulb passed away and his will gave his sons with wife Ada Reichert, Joseph R. and Edwin Jr., equal shares in the firm. Stulb’s sons worked under their father in the years preceding his death and they became the third generation of Stulbs to own C. Schrack & Co. Joseph R. Stulb was a graduate of Germantown Academy, a Freemason and a member of both the Union League and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. As of 1933, he and Edwin Jr. controlled the company and the main operations remained at North 4th Street until 1945. At some point after 1945, the building at 152 North 4th Street was demolished and the Stulb family relocated the business to Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. In 2004 under the name Old Village Paints, a fifth generation of Stulbs continues to manufacture paints and varnishes, mostly for homeowners interested in making their eighteenth or nineteenth century dwellings historically accurate. While the paint has been altered to meet current safety codes, it is similar to the product that gave Schrack & Co. its superior reputation in the nineteenth century.