Christopher Becker and the Becker Companies

Although Ernest Child in his Tools of the Chemist relates that Christopher Becker was the pioneer American balance maker, it may be more correct to state that he was a pioneer in the United States in the making of scientific balances and to a certain extent, other scientific instruments. Henry Troemner began making scales and balances in Philadelphia in 1844, at least eleven years prior to Christopher Becker's introduction to analytical balances in 1855.  Becker was, nonetheless, one of ten balance manufacturers to begin making assay balances in the United States. The Becker companies contributed to the development of not only the assay balance, but also to the analytical balance, the bullion balance, as well as other specialized and general scales and balances.

Christopher Becker was born at Filsum, near Hannover, Germany in 1803 or 1804. He attended school in Filsum and at an early age became an apprentice to his father Folkert Christopher Becker, a well-known mechanic, clock and scale maker. Some of the elder Becker's tower docks are still in evidence in Europe and still appreciated for their craftsmanship. Later young Christopher was apprenticed to a Mr. Humboldt in Hannover. There he acquired the additional training that resulted in his becoming an outstanding manufacturer of balances, scales and scientific instruments. 

For reasons unknown, he left his apprenticeship around 1828, and moved to Groningen, The Netherlands, where he became the associate of a Professor Stratingh. Under the Professor's leadership, he soon established himself by producing many scientific instruments of great variety: air pumps, dividing machines, heliostats, pendulums, and balances, both for a university in Groningen and for paying customers. It seems his brothers Ubbe Werts and Folkert were in Groningen at the same time, but it is not dear whether they were working in Christopher's shop or working on their own. (That Ubbe Werts Becker made balances is evidenced by a known balance with a 20-centimeter brass beam marked ,,UWB"). lt is not dear why Christopher left Groningen, perhaps because of a disagreement with the government and/or the death of his first wife, but he moved to Arnhem, The Netherlands in 1841. There he established an instrument factory in 1842 and became well-known for balances, electrical instruments and barometers.

It was in Arnhem that Christopher met and married Louisa J. Manus, the daughter of a well-known apothecary family. Their marriage produced six sons: Ernest (b. 1843, d. 1892), Christian (b. August 16, 1844), both of whom would become involved with their father in America, Henry Louis (b. 1848) and Julian Johann (b. 1849, d. 1929), who would also come to America with the family, but return to The Netherlands to form Becker's Sons, and two sons who died in infancy. 

There were two other Beckers who should be mentioned, even though there may be no family connection between them and the Christopher Becker family One was August Becker, who apprenticed to Herman Ausfeld in Gotha, Germany and to Wilhem Apel of Göttingen, Germany in approximately 1868. August later owned the establishment of Moritz Meyerstein in  Göttingen, which in turn was purchased by Florenz Sartorius, the famous balance maker. The other is the late nineteenth century balance and instrument maker E B. Becker of London. Since Christopher had no sons named Frank or with the initials E E. ,it was thought that E E. Becker was perhaps a grandson of the original Christopher; however, it seems the son of Christian and grandson of Christopher was Frank C., rather than Frank B. Whether or not these two Becker families are related to the original line of Folkert Christopher Becker remains to be answered.

In Utrecht in 1847, Christopher participated in the Exhibition of Production and National Craftsmanship and Arts by entering several items which included an ,,essaibalans", a wheat scale and a grain scale with horn pans. (Could this latter scale be the original idea for the many hand-held pocket balances used during the gold rush years in the United States? These had horn pans, but no other markings, and were seen advertised in several instrument supply catalogs of the U. 5. during the gold rush era.)

There were six adults and three children working in Christopher's factory in Groningen in 1848 and the company was meeting with some success, but by 1854, he decided to go to the United States and sold his company to the mechanic and instrument-maker Jan Jurrien Buddingh, Jr. This new company in Groningen was named Becker and Buddingh and became very well known, not only for balances, but also for mathematical and natural science instruments. The company was eventually absorbed by W C. Olland of Utrecht.

In 1854 or 1855, the Beckers and four sons emigrated to America, where Chnstopher began manufacturing nautical and astronomical instruments in an observatory at 54 Columbia St. Brooklyn, New York. From here "he gave the correct time to ships in the harbor by means of a ball on top of the observatory. The ball was controlled electrically and coordinated with an
extremely accurate temperature-compensated clock that Christopher had built. The accuracy was checked periodically by astronomical observations."

Sometime in 1855, " the precision capabilities demonstrated by Christopher attracted the attention of Prof J. Renwick of Columbia College, who asked him to manufacture an analytical balance to supplement several British and German ones that he already had. Using design suggestions from Professor Renwick and his own experience since 1836, an instrument was built that carried a distinct advantage in precision construction. The beam arrest was so constructed that the arms were pivoted about a common axis of the center knife edge and moved through the same arc as the supporting points of the beam. The
success of this project resulted in Christopher's devoting his entire business time to the manufacture of analytical balances and weights. Together with Christian and Ernst he formed Becker & Sons.

It was also during these early years that Christian Becker attended Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, which later became Polytechnic University. Records from the school show that he attended the third grade in 1857-58, was in the senior academic department in 1859 and the junior collegiate department in 1860. There is no evidence from those records that he
graduated. He eventually entered his father's factory, and, one by one, mastered every department and detail of the business, thus becoming a practical workman in the manufacture of scales and balances.

The Brooklyn, New York city directories classify Christopher an instrument maker living at 25 Hicks in Brooklyn from 1856 to 1859. From 1859 to 1862 the directories show that he lived at 54 Columbia. Shortly after the beginning of the American Civil War, the family returned to The Netherlands, where they established a balance factory in Antwerp. Here they were joined by other sons who bad not accompanied the family to America in 1854

After the Civil War in the United States, Christopher, along with his wife and Christian and Ernst, returned to the United States and established a new factory in Hudson City, New Jersey. (The other two sons stayed on the continent and established Becker's Sons in Rotterdam and Delft, Holland and H. L. Becker Fils, in Brussels, Belgium. The trademark or logo used by Henry was the American eagle and flag. Might this have been the source for the many pocket balances used during the early American gold mining era and sold by literally all the instrument and mining suppliers of that time?)

Meanwhile, after 1865, Christopher moved his factory twice, first horn Hudson City, New Jersey to Newark, New Jersey and then in 1875 to New Rochelle, New York. "(Christopher's) excellent workmanship and his honest dealing soon won him a liberal patronage, and his trade constantly increased. This enabled him to employ a considerable force of skilled workmen, and his scales gained a wide reputation for accuracy, durability and fineness of finish." As further evidence of this increasing reputation as a balance maker, the 1878 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica refers to a ,,very excellent instrument (i.e., balance) made by Messrs. Becker and Company of New York..." In addition to the statement, the article includes a drawing of a Becker balance and a drawing of the end of a Becker balance bearn.

In 1870 Christian Becker married Anna C. H. Alker of Jersey City, New Jersey and they had five children: Christopher A., who became associated with his father in business; Cora Florence, Anita, and Frank C.

At least between 1879 and 1884, Becker & Sons also had offices on Murray Street in New York City, first at No. 4 and later at No. 6. (See section regarding Herman Kohlbusch and the financial district )

In 1884 Christian and Ernst left their father and started their own business as Becker Brothers and Christopher changed the name of his company to Christopher Becker; for a short while there were two Becker companies doing business in the Westchester County area. Boyd's Westchester County Directory for 1884-85 lists "Christian Becker (Scales NY) with his home on Banks near Prospect and Christopher Becker, scales with his home on Church near Trinity." Christopher Becker continued to be engaged successfully in business until a short time before his death in 1890, when the firm of Christopher Becker ceased to exist.

Upon the death of Ernst in 1892, the name Becker Brothers was changed to Christian Becker. It continued as such until February 8, 1915 when The Torsion Balance Company bought the company and formed the New York corporation Christian Becker, Inc. At least at one time during the era of Christian Becker, Inc., a factory was located at 147-149 Eighth Street, Jersey City, New Jersey, while an office was located at 92 Reade Street, New York, New York. Later the factory address became 147-153 Eighth Street, Jersey City, New Jersey, suggesting a major expansion.

Perhaps one of the best known products of the Beckers was the ,,chain-o-matic" system of weighing. "Christopher A. Becker, son of Christian, was granted in 1915 a patent for the chain-o- matic system. This provides the beam with a special chain attachment by means of which the use of a rider is obviated and permits weights between 0.01 and 0.0001 gram to be rapidly ascertained. The principle of the system was conceived and patented in 1890 by Serrin, a Frenchman, who previously had applied it to electric arc regulators. The first balance to employ his chain principle was made about 1900 by Demichel of Paris, who sold his business in 1903 to Poulenc Freres, later Prolabo Poulenc, the present French makers of these balances. A similar patent was granted in 1891 to an Englishman, G. P Bidder, Q. C. (1836-1896), hut on the advice of a prominent English scientist, its commercial application was not pursued. The principle was applied to a scale, however, by the famous Egyptologist, Sir William M. Flinders Petrie, in his work of weighing thousands of ancient weights."

Richmond's Annual Directory of New Rochelle, Larchmont, Pelham and Mamaroneck, New York of 1913 tells that Christian Becker (a scale maker), along with Christopher A. and Frank C. Becker, were living at 7 Davenport Avenue.

In 1943, Christian Becker, Inc. was dissolved and became a division of The Torsion Balance Company. The name of Christian Becker, however, was registered as a trade-mark with the U. S. Patent Office. Vertex Industries, Inc. purchased The Torsion Balance Company in 1975, and in 1983 Vertex Industries Inc. merged with its subsidiaries and The Torsion Balance Company became the Torbal Division of Vertex Industries, Inc.

As recently as 1961, there was an American Balance Corporation, manufacturers of Analytical Balances and Precision Weights, which had as its president H. C. Becker. The firm was located at 48 Potter Avenue, New Rochelle, New York. A direct connection with the previously-mentioned Beckers could not be established, hut since a letterhead of the company states, "Fourth Generation of Integrity and Service", it is assumed this company was an offshoot of Christian Becker, Inc.

Although obviously biased for a local company, the following statement indicates how widespread was the use of Becker products. Becker scales and balances have been "used by pharmacists and in government assay work, and were at one time adopted in all the leading colleges of the United States. They were also shipped to every part of the civilized globe, and the company received the highest compliments concerning the accuracy and finish of their scales and balances, which at one time were considered preferable to the finest London manufactures.

The Becker family may be considered a major force in the small hut important balance manufacturing industry in the United States. They preceded by many years the efforts in the western states of Ainsworth, Smith and Thompson, Franow, Keller and Heusser, all of whom developed their companies around the turn of the century. In addition to providing for businesses many accurate and very well-made balances and scales so important to early trading, Becker also afforded the opportunity for others to learn the trade and establish their businesses in turn. Primary in this category are Gottfried Voland, Henry Van Zelm and
Herman Kohlbusch, who have already been mentioned and whose stories are discussed.

Thanks to J.M & G.C. Shannon. Text source " The Assay Balance "

contact for this great Book. Please do not use some of this information's without permission from J.M & G.C. Shannon

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