German Architect builds America’s first Skyscrapers

German Architect America’s Skyscrapers
Paul Gmelin was born in 1858 in Ulm, Germany. He assisted in planning several of New York’s first skyscrapers.

He began his career in New York as a draftsman with the Bridge Builders Magazine. While with that periodical was asked by the late Charles McKim to make a perspective drawing of the Boston Public Library, afterward known as a skilled designer, he was employed in consecutive periods with several prominent architectural firms in New York, including Babb, Cook & Willard, Cyrus Eidlitz, and Eidlitz & MacKenzie. With the latter, he worked on the New York Times Building plans and was credited with having much to do in preparing the original design.

Beginning professional practice in 1910, Mr. Gmelin joined Andrew MacKenzie and Stephen Voorhees in a partnership that was maintained for sixteen years. Following Mr. MacKenzie’s death in 1926, Mr. Ralph Walker took his place in the firm with a subsequent name change. In an early phase of his career, Mr. Gmelin assisted in planning several of New Yorks’s first skyscrapers, and during the busy years of his later practice was identified with the design of the following structures: New York Telephone Building at Albany, 1913; Walter Lispenard Building, New York, 1914, and the Brooklyn Municipal Building, 1924. He died in 1937 at his home in Cranford, N.J., at the age of seventy-nine. German Architect Builds America’s Skyscrapers

German Architect Builds America's Skyscrapers
The Brooklyn Municipal Building is located at the southwest corner of Joralemon and Court Streets. It houses many City offices, including the City Clerk (where marriage licenses are obtained), and offices for the Departments of Buildings, Probation, Finance, and Environmental Protection. The building was designed by McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin and completed in 1924 at $5,800,000.

Voorhees, Gmelin, and Walker was a prestigious New York architectural firm. The firm had an illustrious heritage, the parent company being founded in New York City by Cyrus L.W. Eidlitz in 1885. In 1900 he added partner Andrew C. McKenzie, and when Eidlitz left the firm in 1910, he was replaced by Stephen Francis Voorhees (1878-1965) and Paul Gmelin. Following McKenzie’s death in 1926, Ralph Walker, who had been employed for several years with the company, was added as a partner, and the name was changed to Voorhees, Gmelin, and Walker. In 1938, reflecting new changes in the partnership, the name was changed to Voorhees, Walker, Foley, and Smith, and in 1955 to Voorhes, Walker, Smith, and Smith. Mr. Voorhees held a senior partner position until January 1959, when he became a consultant. Following Perry Coke Smith’s retirement in 1968, the firm’s name was changed to Haines Lundberg Waehler, and in its current form is known today as HLW. The firm was well known for its Art Deco buildings. See also the book: “The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940: A Celebration of Height” German Architect Builds America’s Skyscrapers.

The Passport German Architect America’s Skyscrapers

A red standard U.S. passport with 32 pages was issued on 6 June 1930 for him, Rosa, and his son Stephen. Page six shows an American Consulate Stuttgart entry by Vice Consul Shiras Morris Jr., where Stephen was excluded in 1932. Page seven had a British double visa from 1930 when Stephen was still included. Page eight has a Swiss border stamp, and page nine has a German visa from 1930.

In October 1931, his passport was renewed until 1932 at the American Consulate in Stuttgart by Vice Consul George. C. Minor¹. Page eleven has a German visa dated Aug 1931. Page 31/32 border stamps from Italy and Switzerland. The last mark is from 16 April 1932, leaving Italy. Minor, George C. — of Charleston, Kanawha County, W.Va. U.S. Vice Consul in Tirana, as of 1927-29; Stuttgart, as of 1931-32; Moscow, as of 1934-38; Toronto, as of 1940; Ottawa, as of 1940-43.

The passport comes in excellent condition and is a fantastic example of Germans building a new nation – America. Around 50 million German Americans live in the U.S. today, according to a 2010 census. The largest self-reported ancestry group in the States, their numbers beat Irish, African, English, Mexican and Italian Americans, making up around 17% of the American population in 2009. Not bad for a colony that began with just 13 families from Krefeld.

The first Germans arrived in the U.S. as early as 1608 – but it was the 1683 movement that indeed marked the beginning of America’s German settlement. This was when a group of religious dissidents approached Francis Daniel Pastorius in Frankfurt am Main.

As a trained lawyer and agent for the German Society – a group of German land investors – Pastorius seemed like a good bet to help them buy land in Pennsylvania. They wanted to build a settlement there. And when they arrived on American shores, that’s precisely what Pastorius enabled them to do. Pastorius negotiated the purchase of 5,700 acres of land from William Penn – the Englishman who had founded Pennsylvania a few years earlier. On this land, Germantown was born.

Of course, those early settlers didn’t come from Germany as it is today. In 1683, Germany didn’t exist as a country. It wouldn’t do so until 1871. Instead, separate German-speaking states mostly ruled themselves as parts of the Catholic Holy Roman Empire. But religious tensions in the German states had exploded since Martin Luther published his ninety-five theses in Wittenberg in 1517, calling people to follow the Bible rather than the Pope. The Thirty Years’ War, which broke out in 1618, was one of the most destructive in European History – and it was against this backdrop that many Germans decided to emigrate.

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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...