Fortunat Weigl

In 1913, looking for a better life in America, Ironworker Fortunat Weigl, Sr. along with his wife Anna and their sons Lee and Herbert, left Bavaria, Germany. The family loaded their belongings inside a makeshift box made out of their kitchen table and boarded a ship called the SS Breslau.

After arriving on Ellis island with the twenty dollars required of immigrants, the family steamed south to Galveston, Texas, where they finally boarded a train and landed in Austin. Fortunat supported his family as a construction worker until 1922. It was in that year Peter Mansbendel, a Swiss woodcarver, approached Fortunat and asked if he would be interested in creating iron wall fixtures for a project in San Marcos, Texas. Fortunat agreed and Mr. Mansbendel advanced him $75.38 for a few tools, a sack of coal, and some flat iron. Fortunat used his new found fortune to start his new business,in Austin, Texas, located in the Ironworks building at 100 Red River and 1st Street.

Herbert Weigl described how they came to know Peter Mansbendel "A young Swiss woodcarver came to Austin from New York city and married one of the Shipe daughters. M.M. Shipe was developing a real estate addition in northeast Austin, and Peter Mansbendel, the woodcarver, opened a small business of his own. He did woodcarvings, made chests and cabinets, and other work of this nature. It so happened that Pop (Fortunat Weigl) went to work for him one time, and here again a new friendship developed. Peter Mansbendel, Bill Dieter, Anton Stasswender, and Fortunat Weigl became firm friends. It stayed that way until each had died.

"Peter Mansbendel found that a new hotel in San Antonio needed fancy handmade iron light fixtures. A young architect named Roy L. Thomas was drawing iron handrails on his outside porches and steps. The old Hireman Industry did some steel fabrication in Austin at that time and had a smith that did some ornamental ironwork. The handrails and grills that he made (and that) were used at that time, were made of heavy materials and costly to make. Pop knew a better way, lighter, cheaper and strong enough. Mansbendel and Pop began to think ornamental iron. Mansbendel talked to the San Antonio people, told them that he knew of an iron smith that came from Germany that could do that type of work, and that he would be glad to submit a sample or pattern. Mansbendel also loaned Pop the money to buy an anvil, vise and small forge. The old perfume factory became a smithy, and the F. Weigl Iron Works was born. Lee and I, (and) my mother, spent the afternoons after school cutting out sheet iron leaves and rosettes for Pop to forge into light fixture parts after his work and at night and most of the time on Sunday. Needless to say we got the job in San Antonio...."

All information is provided by Fritz Weigl ©2005

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