July 5, 1935
By Peter Stark as told to J.E. Mitchell
One of Fulton's most interesting industries is that of one which most of our residents have given very little thought to, an industry which ranks with some of the oldest business firms here. In 1867, Nick, Peter, and Henry Gerten came to this country from Roehl, Germany, and settled in Fulton. They were clay pipe makers by trade, and while in Germany worked in a shop that was owned and operated by Peter Starck, Sr., the father of the owner and operator of Fulton's present clay pipe factory. Shortly after these boys came to Fulton, Nick returned to Germany, taking with him a sample of Whiteside county clay along with clay from some other parts of the United States. This clay was tested and tried in pipes and found to be excellent for the manufacture of this article.
Therefore in 1869, Nick returned to the United States, bringing with him his nine brothers and sisters and parents, Mr. and Mrs. Methias Gerten. They settled immediately in Fulton in a house that was directly east of where the Water Works now are, and started manufacturing clay pipes. Charles Starck, a brother of Peter Starck, Jr., came with the Gertens and after working a short time in the Gerten shop started in business for himself.
In 1879, Peter Starck, Jr., came to this country from Speicher, Germany, and settled in Muscatine, Iowa, where he, too, entered the trade of his father by starting a factory of his own. He stayed in Muscatine for about five years and then moved to Fulton, and has been here ever since working in his own shop, which he started in 1896. In the meantime, Charlie had moved to Muscatine, and so in 1897 there were four clay pipe shops, here in Fulton owned and operated by Peter Starck, Met Starck, Henry Gerten, and Nick Gerten. Subsequently, all but Peter went out of business or moved away, and since the early 1900's there has been but one shop here.
This plant is the only one of its kind west of Chicago, and the only other one known to be in existence was located in Pontiac, Mich. It is not known whether that one is still in business or not.
In the hey-day of this business about 73,000 pipes were shipped out of Fulton a month, most of which went to Dubuque, Iowa, and other river towns, most of them being shipped by boat.
Mr. Starck has in his possession and smokes it occasionally, a pipe that was made in Germany in 1869 out of Ustick clay.
Excerpts from Fulton Journal article March 24, 1965.
From John Gerten of Spokane, Washington to newspaper in Hollister, Missouri.
Nick Gerten made the last clay pipes in Fulton in 1896 and took up a homestead in Taney County near Cedar Creek here again about a year later, he built a pipe shop of logs. The shingles for the roof were split with a froe so the only expense was a couple of windows.
A kiln to burn the pipes in was also made, the outside made of stone. The brick for the inside and the arches to hold up the floor were also the problem, there was plenty of red clay for them. This same red clay must also now be used for the pipes. There was no white clay near.
The method of getting them to market was also different.
Instead of being packed in boxes by the gross and shipped by boat or rail to wholesale houses, he would after having made a wagon load hire a man with a team to make a trip with him through the surrounding country until the load was sold. He retailed them to the stores at fifty cents a hundred taking groceries when he could not get cash. The driver received a dollar a day and expenses for him and team.
These trips would take perhaps a couple of weeks and after paying the driver, there would sometimes not be very much cash left, but there would be groceries.