The Heart Of The
A. S. Aloe Company:|
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Aloe & Company (1860-1959, companies)
Aloe & Company began very modestly as a one-man operation on
the corner of Third and Olive in 1860. The company prospered
and in 1882 published the following ad: "Largest House in
the States....Always on hand a large supply of Engineer and
Surveyor’s Transits, Levels, Compasses, Mining Transits and
Compasses, Drawing and Profile Paper, etc." The growth did
not stop there. A 1905 ad simply stated "...the largest
house in the world." Disregarding the advertising
exaggeration typical of the period, in the early 1900’s, A.S.
Aloe & Company was the largest supplier of surveying,
mathematical instruments and allied goods in St. Louis and
was probably the largest west of the Mississippi River.
company founder, Albert Sidney Aloe was born in 1841 in
Edinburgh, Scotland, son of Sadoc and Nancy Aloe. Albert
immigrated as a child, probably with his parents, to New
York City. His father, Sadoc, was in business there
beginning in 1854 as an optician. The term optician at that
time applied not only to those who sold optical goods, but
also to those who made them. The elder Aloe probably did
1856 the young Albert left New York. He sailed around Cape
Horn working as a deck hand. Albert quit the ship at San
Francisco where he remained for a year, probably working in
the optical trade as a lens grinder. In search of adventure
and fortune, Albert made his way to South America. There he
was employed as a mechanical engineer in charge of the
construction of a sugar mill. By 1860 Albert had amassed, or
so it seemed to him, a young fortune. With this as his
backing, he returned to the United States settling in St.
Louis, Missouri. Across from the Post Office he established
a small business dealing in optical goods.
During this time Albert did not neglect his personal life.
In 1863 he married Miss Isabella Prince. She came from a
notable Belfast family, her grandfather having been a West
Indian governor. This union produced four sons: Sidney,
Louis, David and Alfred. The oldest three became prominent
in St. Louis business circles, and the youngest was a career
officer in the U.S. Army.
1865 Albert and his father, Sadoc, were in business together
as opticians in St. Louis under the name S. Aloe & Son. In
addition to selling eyeglasses, they also sold opera and
field glasses, telescopes, microscopes and magnifiers.
This arrangement lasted only a couple of years and in 1867
Albert was in business for himself as A.S. Aloe. In 1876 he
went into a partnership with William H. Hernstein. From 1876
until 1880 the company was doing business as Aloe &
Hernstein. In 1880 it was changed to Aloe, Hernstein &
Company. In 1885 Albert again decided to go his own way and
established A.S. Aloe & Company. This was the final form of
the company name which was to last 76 years and through two
following generations of Aloes.
Soon the company had grown to such an extent it was
necessary to divide into departments. The surgical
department manufactured and sold all the instruments used in
surgery. The photo branch manufactured photographers'
equipment. The optical department manufactured and sold, at
retail only, optical equipment. The exception to this
practice would appear to be surveying instruments. It is not
known with certainty if A.S. Aloe & Company made any
surveying instruments; however, there is ample evidence the
company resold the instruments of other makers (a common
practice of the period). These instruments were prominently
engraved “A.S. Aloe & Company” with the true maker’s name
(A. Wissler, for example) hidden on the instrument. The
records of the Gurley Company of New York show that on
August 20, 1880, Mr. Aloe of Aloe, Hernstein & Company
ordered (in person), two 18" or 20" wye levels. Possibly
early in the company’s history there was not a St. Louis
supplier of quality instruments. Aloe purchased instruments
from Gurley for many years. Later on most of the Aloe
instruments were made by Adolph Wissler of St. Louis.
Albert S. Aloe personifies the American success story,
landing on these shores as an immigrant child and ending his
career as a prominent citizen. His fellow St. Louisans said
of him that he started in a small way and grew with the
city, becoming an affluent and public-spirited citizen,
readily contributing his full share toward the advancement
of St. Louis. Albert was involved in many clubs, holding
offices at various times in the Masonic Order, Order of Odd
Fellows, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and Legion
Albert Sidney Aloe passed away on Monday, January 30, 1893,
at the age of 51 years. His funeral was held the following
Wednesday with friends invited to attend. The obituary
carried the notice, “New York papers please copy.”
Upon Albert's death the control of A.S. Aloe & Company was
given to his second son, Louis P. Aloe. Louis was born July
20, 1867 in St. Louis. He was groomed from the very
beginning for his leadership role. His education began with
the Stoddard School, was continued at the Wyman Institute of
Alton and he attended Washington University in St. Louis.
Louis interrupted his education to work in the family
business and was listed on the company masthead as
secretary/treasurer at the time of his father’s death.
company was incorporated in 1893, the same year as Albert’s
death. With incorporation came a new modern letterhead for
each department. These letterheads carried a list of major
items sold by that department and an appropriate engraved
logo, i.e. a wye level for the mathematical instrument
department, a camera on the photographic department
stationary and the ubiquitous spectacles for the optical
department. A.S. Aloe continued to be carried as president
on the letterhead through the year 1895, possibly to reflect
a period of mourning. Later the masthead was changed to
read, "L.P. Aloe, Prest. & Treas.; D.B. Aloe, Vice-prest.;
T.D. Benjamin, Secretary."
Under Louis' leadership the company continued to prosper and
grow. It became necessary to separate the optical and
surgical departments. The optical department remained at 5th
and Olive and the surgical department moved to 1921 Olive.
The company suffered a disastrous fire in 1912; however,
they soon rebuilt and were doing business as usual.
Louis Aloe not only ran A.S. Aloe & Company with a steady
hand, but was active in the business community as well. He
was president of the National Association of Surgical
Dealers of U.S. and Canada, a member of the executive board
of the Business Men's League of the City of St. Louis and
president of the Columbian Club,"...one of the largest and
most representative social clubs of the city." He was a
member of Temple Shaare Emeth and was noted for his untiring
work for Jewish organizations.
Besides being an astute business leader, Louis was from an
early age involved in politics. He was secretary of the
Young Republicans of Missouri, a member at large of the
Republican State Committee and for four years he was a
Republican member on the Board of Election Commissioners. He
also was given the honor of serving as delegate to the
National Republican Convention, at which he participated in
the naming of both McKinley and Roosevelt as the Republican
candidates for president.
Being involved in local politics, he was instrumental in
writing the city charter, and in 1915 was elected president
of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. In this capacity he
proposed many sweeping changes. He backed a comprehensive
city plan to control development and to protect residential
areas from the encroachment of industry. To assist the
working people he proposed an all night "lawyerless" court.
He also advocated strict enforcement of the eight hour work
day and payment of union scale wages in all city
Louis Mayor Henry Kiel became suddenly ill and Louis assumed
the post of Acting Mayor. In this position, Louis focused
St. Louis on helping the country win the war. Louis was
reelected President of the Board of Aldermen in 1919. In
this position, Louis helped muster support for 87 million
dollars in bond issues for civic improvement projects. In
1921, the issue was passed, at that time it was the largest
bond measure of any American city. In 1925, Louis ran for
Mayor of St. Louis. He stood on his record as a member of
the Board of Aldermen and as an ordinary businessman,
stressing common sense. In heavily Republican 1920’s St.
Louis, the only thing between Aloe and the Mayor’s office
was the primary election. With the support of several local
newspapers and in expectation of support from his alderman
work and the Jewish vote, Louis was confident of a win. He
was deeply disappointed when he finished second in a
three-man race, laying anti-Semitism as a contributing
factor to his loss.
Louis and his wife had four children, all girls: Clarable,
Viola, Isabel, and Louise. The fate of the company was to
revolve around Isabel, who, while attending Smith College,
met (on a blind date) Howard F. Baer. Howard was the son of
David Baer, a German-Jewish immigrant who had made his money
as a whisky wholesaler before prohibition. Howard and Isabel
were married in 1926. Howard graduated from Princeton and
worked for his uncle in Charleston, West Virginia until
Louis' failing health brought Howard and Isabel to St. Louis
After only 24 months on the job, Howard found himself as
head of A.S. Aloe & Company, with the death of his
father-in-law, Louis Aloe. Faced with the responsibility of
a large successful company at the onset of the Great
Depression, Howard said, "I was scared to death...I worked
like hell and cut the budget." And cut the budget he did. By
1930 he had sold all departments except the surgical supply.
The medical supply unit went on to become national in scope
and eventually merged with the Brunswick Corporation in
Thus ended the largest and most notable supplier of
surveying equipment in St. Louis. A.S. Aloe & Company fell
victim of the Great Depression, along with many other
corporations large and small.
Information Provided By; Survey History Website,
Link To Page
St. Louis Makers
Hugh A. Parsons, PS
is Chief of the Office for
Elgin Surveying & Engineering, Inc. He holds
a BA in History from the
University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR).
Richard L. Elgin, PhD, PS, PE
is President of
Elgin Surveying & Engineering, Inc. He has BS and MS degrees in Civil
Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR) and PhD from the
University of Arkansas. Dr. Elgin owns one of the largest collections of
early American surveying instruments in the United States.
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