Charles Zentmayer, ca. 1851 - 1891

by Brian Stevenson
last updated December, 2017

Charles Zentmayer was the eldest child of the celebrated American microscope-maker Joseph Zentmayer (1826-1888). Following Charles’ life, it appears that he was intended to inherit his father’s business. Charles was evidently very involved with the Zentmayer optical business. He exhibited Joseph’s instruments at local and international expositions. Both were members of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, whereas Charles’ siblings did not join until after their father’s death. But, for unknown reasons, the Zentmayer optical business was instead continued by one of the younger sons, Frank.

Beginning around 1877, Charles Zentmayer produced a substantial number of microscope slides, evidently for commercial purposes. He sent sets of slides to microscopical groups in the USA and Europe, where they were very well received. Presumably, those gift were intended to be advertisements. Jules Peletan, of Paris, raved extensively on the quality of Zentmayer’s slides to his readers of Journal de Micrographie. Nonetheless, Zentmayer appears to have given up producing slides after only a few years. By 1890, Charles was working as a bookkeeper for his father-in-law’s brewery.


Figure 1. Microscope slides produced by Charles Zentmayer. Historical records suggest that they were made during a period of ten years or less, between the mid-1870s and the mid-1880s. The slide at the lower left, of a honey bee tongue, bears a date of 1892, which was after Zentmayer’s death, and must have been written by an owner.

 

Charles was the oldest of the nine children of Joseph and Catharine Zentmayer. A record of Charles’ birth has not been located, but he was probably born during late 1851. The September 25, 1860 census listed him as being 8 years old, while the November 29, 1870 census listed his age as 19. However, a transcript of his January, 1891 death record gives his age as 37 years old, implying a birth date during 1853, although it is possible that the age was mis-transcribed.

On February 27, 1877, Charles was elected to membership in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. This was a pre-eminent scientific society of the USA. By 1879, he was serving on the Business Committee.

Charles appears to have begun selling his slides at that same time. Distribution to potential buyers was often an effective method of advertising.

At the February 15, 1877 meeting of the San Francisco Microscopical Society, “Mr. Banks also exhibited a box of slides which he had just received from Mr. Charles Zentmayer, of Philadelphia, who has succeeded in doing good work in the way of the double staining of vegetable tissues, as the objects were found to preserve the peculiarities of the cell structure, and the colour was distributed excellently”.

The March, 1877, issue of The American Naturalist included a note about some slides that they had received, “Charles Zentmayer, of Philadelphia, son of the well-known Joseph Zentmayer of the same city, is preparing double-stained vegetable tissues with great success. The coloring is excellently distributed and the cell peculiarity well preserved”.

The Paris International Exposition occurred during the following year, in 1878. Jules Peletan reported that, “Mr. (Joseph) Zentmayer only sent a single stand, and this was his ‘Centennial’. Beside this is a box containing 26 magnificent preparations, by Mr. Charles Zentmayer, mostly double stained”. Peletan expounded through 3 pages of his Journal de Micrographie on those 26 slides, concluding that “dont chacun est un petit chefd'œuvre” (“each of which is a small masterpiece“). It was probably not a coincidence that the Zentmayers had hired Peletan to exhibit their wares in Paris.

When awards were presented for the 8th class, “Methods and Materials of Higher Education”, Peletan protested that almost no microscopic preparations won an award. Prior to the judging, he suggested to the jury that they should examine the preparations with microscopes. Instead, he was told, “Cela ne me regarde pas” (“This does not concern me”), and the judges evaluated all of the slides with their unaided eyes.

Peletan was disgusted, “Aussi, chose étonnante, aucune préparation microscopique n'a obtenu de récompense, aucune, parmi les nombreuses collections que contenait la section anglaise, ni celle de MM. Cole et Sons, de Londres, ni surtout l'admirable collection de M. Edm. Wheeler, que je compte décrire en particulier et qui méritait certainement une médaille d'argent, ni celle de M. Ch. Zentmayer!” (“Also, surprisingly, no microscopic preparation obtained any reward, none of the numerous collections contained in the English section, nor that of Messrs. Cole and Sons, London, and especially the admirable collection of Mr. Edmund Wheeler, whom I intend to describe in particular, and who certainly deserved a silver medal, and that of Mr. Charles Zentmayer!”).

It is not clear how long after the Paris Exposition that Charles Zentmayer continued to commercially produce microscope slides. At the 1881 Exhibition of the Biological and Microscopical Section of the Academy of the Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, only one of Charles Zentmayer’s slides was exhibited by the Zentmayer microscope company. The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science reported that the company displayed “Small Garnets from Virginia, prepared by Dr. J.G. Hunt. Quartz Crystals from Mica, Plumose Crystals of Red Ox. Copper (native), prepared by Geo. W. Fiss. Native Crystals of Copper, prepared by Geo. W. Fiss and Miss Rakestraw. Also Pollen of Portulacca, prepared by Geo. W. Fiss. Tongue of Kitten, prepared by Chas. Zentmayer. Arachnoidiscus Japonicus, prepared by Dr. J.G. Hunt. Arranged Diatoms, prepared by C. Haliger. Lip of Rabbit (inject.), prepared by Bicknell. Leaf of Drosera rotundifolia, prepared by Dr. J.G. Hunt. Anatomy of Mosquito, prepared by Bourgogne. Isthmia Nervosa, prepared by Bicknell. Crystals of Urio ac., Tartaric ac., and Red Prus. Potassa”. Even though Charles Zentmayer was a member of the organizing committee for the exposition, he did not personally present anything.

The 1884 International Naturalists’ Directory listed Charles as living with his parents and siblings, at 147 South 4th Street, Philadelphia. It noted that he was interested in microscopy. He and Joseph were the only Zentmayers listed in the Directory.

Charles probably married during 1885, to Catherine Müller. The 1885 International Naturalists’ Directory then gave his address as 3021 Girard Ave., Philadelphia, consistent with a marriage and move away from his parents. Catherine was a child of Henry Müller, a prominent Philadelphia beer maker. Son Carl H. Zentmayer was born on April 7, 1886.

The 1888 International Naturalists’ Directory presented Charles’ address with a notation that he had not been heard from in 3 years. Until then, he had kept the Directory up-to-date. This suggests that he had ceased an active interest in the sciences.

Father Joseph Zentmayer died on March 28, 1888. Son Frank took over the optical business, which continued to use Joseph Zentmayer’s name. That same year, Frank was inducted as a Contributing Member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He and other siblings continued to live with their mother.

Some time after his marriage, Charles Zentmayer began working for his wife’s family’s brewery. An 1890 newspaper account reported that he “attend to the finances”. But, on July 11, 1890, the Müller’s “Centennial Lager Beer” brewery burned, destroying all but the refrigeration building and the stables. Shortly after the fire, the Müller brewing business was purchased by the Bergner & Engel Brewery, which eventually became the third largest brewing company in the U.S.A.

Charles Zentmayer died on January 17, 1891. He was then between 37 and 39 years old.


Figure 2. An example of Charles Zentmayer’s finesse with double staining: transverse section through the stem of Nerium oleander, the common oleander (the upper right slide in Figure 1). Photographed with a C-mounted digital SLR camera and a 3.4x objective lens.

 

Resources

American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science (1882) Report of the Committee on Exhibition of the Biological and Microscopical Section of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Vol. 6, pages 220-222

The American Naturalist (1877) Note on Charles Zentmayer’s slides, Vol. 11, page 188

Boyd's Blue Book: A Directory from Selected Streets of Philadelphia and Surroundings, for the year ending April (1890) Girard Avenue: “1714 Mrs. J. Zentmayer A drs, 1714 Frank Zentmayer, 1714 William Zentmayer, M.D., 1714 Edward Zentmayer”, page 95

The International Naturalists’ Directory (1882) “Zentmayer, Charles, 147 So. 4th St. Philadelphia. Mic. … Zentmayer, Joseph, 147 So. 4th St., Philadelphia. Manufacturer of Microscopes”, S. E Cassino, Boston, page 120

The International Naturalists’ Directory (1883) “Zentmayer, Charles, 147 So. 4th St. Philadelphia. Mic. … Zentmayer, Joseph, 147 So. 4th St., Philadelphia. Manufacturer of Microscopes”, S. E Cassino, Boston, page 130

The International Naturalists’ Directory (1885) “Zentmayer, Charles, 3021 Girard Ave., Philadelphia, Pa … Zentmayer, Joseph, 147 So. 4th St., Philadelphia, Pa.. Manufacturer of Microscopes”, S. E Cassino, Boston, page 174

Journal of the Franklin Institute (1890) List of Members: Zentmayer, Chas., 3021 Girard av (noted as being a Life Member), Vol. 129, page xxiv

The Naturalists’ Directory (1888) “Zentmayer, Charles, 3021 Girard Ave., Philadelphia, Pa ?… Zentmayer, Joseph, 209 South 11th St., Philadelphia, Pa. Manufacturer of Microscopes”, S. E Cassino, Boston, page 178

Monthly Microscopical Journal (1877) Minutes of the February 15, 1877 meeting of the San Francisco Microscopical Society, Vol. 18, pages 55-60

The Naturalists’ Directory (1884) “Zentmayer, Charles, 147 So. 4th St. Philadelphia. Mic. … Zentmayer, Joseph, 147 So. 4th St., Philadelphia. Manufacturer of Microscopes”, S. E Cassino, Boston, page 150

The Naturalists’ Directory (1886) “Zentmayer, Charles, 3021 Girard Ave., Philadelphia, Pa … Zentmayer, Joseph, 209 South 11th St., Philadelphia, Pa. Manufacturer of Microscopes”, S. E Cassino, Boston, page 178

Oliver, Charles A. (1893) Obituary notice of Joseph Zentmayer, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 31, pages 358-364

Padgitt, Donald L. (1975) Joseph Zentmayer of Philadelphia, A Short History of the Early American Microscopes, Microscope Publications Ltd., London, pages 31-48

Peletan, Jules (1878) Les préparations microscopiques (double stained) de M. Ch. Zentmayer, à l'Exposition Universelle de Paris, Journal de Micrographie, Vol. 2, pages 237-240

Peletan, Jules (1878) Les microscopes à l'Exposition Universelle de Paris, Journal de Micrographie, Vol. 2, pages 260-268

Peletan, Jules (1878) La micrographie à l'Exposition de 1878, Journal de Micrographie, Vol. 2, pages 441-450

Peletan, Jules (1878) The microscopes at the Paris Exposition, The American Quarterly Microscopical Journal, Vol. 1, pages 75-76

Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (1877) Elections during 1877, Vol. 29, page 362

Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (1879) Report of the Biological and Microscopical Section, Vol. 31, pages 444-445

Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (1890) Report of the Biological and Microscopical Section, Vol. 40, pages 443-444

Proceedings of the American Microscopical Society (1893) Joseph Zentmayer, Vol. 14, pages 161-166

The Times (Philadelphia) (1890) Mueller Brewery, July 12, page 1

https://thephillybeergrimage.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/were-brewers-successful-before-prohibition (accessed December, 2017)

U.S. census and other records, accessed through ancestry.com