April 2015 Business History: F.X. Baumert and Co.

A family dairy dynasty

Above, the F.X. Baumert and Co. cheese factory and  office, Antwerp. At the turn of the 20th century the factory was the largest of its kind in the country. Photo from Watertown Daily Times archives.

Above, the F.X. Baumert and Co. cheese factory and office, Antwerp. At the turn of the 20th century the factory was the largest of its kind in the country. Photo from Watertown Daily Times archives.

F.X.Baumert and Co. introduced Muenster cheese to the U.S.

By Lenka Walldroff, NNY Business

From the mid-19th century until about 1930, Jefferson County reigned as the “Cheese Capital of the World.” In fact, at the time, more cheese was bought and sold on the Watertown Cheese Exchange than anywhere else in the world. Jefferson County’s cheese notoriety came from humble origins, however, with the first dairy farm opening in Rutland in 1834 with 20 cows. As road conditions were often poor, or roads were non-existent, travel took significantly longer in previous centuries than it does today. In pre-refrigeration times, this proved problematic for farmers trading in perishable goods like milk.

American author Clifton Fadiman once quipped, “Cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality”— and indeed it is. Cheese making was a solution to a problem north country dairy farmers faced. Cheese became a way for dairy farms in the remote areas of Northern New York to ship their product to more densely populated downstate markets without spoiling. Cheese making also proved to be a profitable home industry for small farms that sold their milk locally. The manufacturing of artisan cheeses was so popular in the north country, in fact, that most villages had their own cheese making cooperatives. Cooperatives pooled milk and resources from several neighboring farms, which made the production and marketing of cheese more affordable. ルイヴィトンバッグ

Considering the gender roles and socio-economics of the 19th century it may surprise some to learn that women were front and center in the north country’s cheese-making tradition. Perhaps it was because “home industries” fell under the purview of women anyway, or maybe men were occupied with other aspects of farm life, but for whatever reason there is a history of women managing cheese production in Northern New York. Historical accounts abound of women living on and managing cheese cooperatives with their families and even the occasional example of dairy farms and cheese factories run solely by women.

One such “cheese mistress” was Christine Baumert. This dynamic, competent, and determined woman was the second wife of Francis Xavier Baumert, a German immigrant and dairyman who opened a cheese factory in the village of Sanford Corners, now Calcium, in 1857. In addition to his cheese interests, which resulted in the production of the very first Muenster cheese in the United States, Mr. Baumert was also a furniture maker, tobacconist, and real estate speculator. In August 1861, shortly after the death of his first wife, F.X. Baumert married 24-year-old Christine Ackerman. Between 1863 and 1875, Christine gave birth to seven children — six boys and a girl, which, in addition to the children from F.X. Baumert’s first marriage, brought the family’s grand total to 10 children. Besides running a busy household in Sanford Corners and another home in New York City, Mrs. Baumert also commuted back and forth to New York with her husband to assist with business matters. Within the span of a few years, under the Baumerts’ watchful eyes, the small family cheese factory in Sanford Corners flourished and expanded.

In addition to her family and business endeavors, Mrs. Baumert was also a devoutly religious woman. A strong German Catholic, she had a priest come every morning to the Baumert household to celebrate Mass in the family’s chapel. She also arranged for Mass to be celebrated regularly at the cheese factory for the convenience of the workers there. Mrs. Baumert’s pious and charitable example was not lost on her daughter, Mary Christine Baumert, who eventually made her religious professions and joined a convent in Montreal, Quebec.

When F.X. Baumert died in 1882 at age 60, he left behind six minor children, 11 cheese factories in Northern New York, and one in Quebec. In fact, between the years of 1890 and 1920, the Baumert’s Antwerp factory had the distinction of being the largest cheese factory in the United States, employing approximately 100 people. The Baumert family legacy couldn’t have been left in more capable hands.

Mrs. Baumert carried on after her husband’s passing, deftly managing her large family, multiple households and various business interests. She continued to and from New York City to market the family’s cheese and upon her return home didn’t hesitate to roll up her sleeves and get back to overseeing cheese making. In addition to the Muenster cheese that her husband introduced to the American markets, in the years after her husband’s passing, Christine Baumert herself developed local varieties of Camembert, Neufchatel, and cream cheeses. ルイヴィトンアウトレット

Mrs. Baumert died in 1897 at age 60. After her death, the Baumert cheese empire was successfully run by two of her sons for the following 30 years. In 1928 the company and its holding were sold to Borden Inc., at the time one of the largest producers of dairy and pasta products in the United States.

Christine Baumert’s life was a picture of the American Dream, a vivid example of the fruits of hard work and self-determination, both in business and in family life.

F.X. and Christine Baumert. Photo from Watertown Daily Times archives.

F.X. and Christine Baumert. Photo from Watertown Daily Times archives.

Lenka P. Walldroff is former curator of collections for the Jefferson County Historical Museum. She is a former museum specialist and conservator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. She lives in Jefferson County with her husband and two children. Business history is a monthly feature. Visit watertown dailytimes.com to access digital archives since 1988, or stop by the Times, 260 Washington St., Watertown, to research materials in our library that date back to the 1800s.