Historical inventors were trailblazers in phonograph, cheese tools

Beth Dippel
Carl Schwartz, at right, supervises the loading of curd into his 1954 invention.

When Carl Schwartz came to America in 1904, at the age of 19, he most likely had the inventor’s bug. He certainly had ambition. Born in Hungary in 1885, Schwartz was a prolific inventor once he arrived in Wisconsin. Elkhart Lake was to be his home.

Budapest was part of the waning Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1900. Though a city recently united from the towns of Buda, Pest and Óbuda, it was already a city in its Golden Age, a Belle Epoque (French for for "Beautiful Era") beauty. Schwartz was not what the United States called an ordinary citizen. Someone like Schwartz desired more than his machinist’s position at the local arsenal.

After leaving Budapest, he worked on ships until arriving in the U.S. through New York. He gained experience working for companies like Western Electric Co. and the Cincinnati Tool and Die Works. Mechanically gifted, he also worked for Keuffel and Esser, a firm best known for its mechanical drawing instruments, and later for the Bausch and Lomb Optical and National Cash Register in St. Louis.

After the World War I, he came to Sheboygan Falls, where he worked for Falls Motors Corp., making gasoline engines. It was while there that he invented the Sortograph change sorter used by banks everywhere and decided to go into business for himself, moving to Elkhart in 1923.

A partial list of his creations includes: the gasoline pump computer (1931), the device in the pump that automatically computes and indicated the price of the gasoline pumped by the attendant into a car, and the Measure graph for dry goods counters, a tool that ensures the seamstress who orders three yards of dress material will get exactly three yards, which was the first commercial record changer (1927). The Plymouth Phonograph and Radio Co., no longer in existence, made 700 of the changers, and in 1931 he sold the patent to Radio Corporation of America. 

Passini Cheese Factory, once located on the southeast corner of Highways S and N in the town of Mitchell, Sheboygan County, made the first Italian cheese in the county.

One other invention important to the area was designed to eliminate much of the strenuous hand work in the manufacture of Italian cheese. Though little consumed in the area at the time, a great deal of Italian cheese was made in the state of Wisconsin in the 1950s. A Sheboygan Press article of May 1, 1954, stated that about 70 percent of the six million pounds produced in the country came from Wisconsin’s 163 Italian cheese factories and was shipped to either the east or west coasts.

Italian cheese was first produced here by Silvio and Anella Martinis Passini. Born in 1896 in Italy, Silvio immigrated in 1913 arriving in New York on May 8 aboard the S.S. Chicago. His WWI registration card listed his home as Tarra Vicenza, Italy, an area in the Veneto west of Venice. Anella Martinis was born May 23, 1896, in St. Paolo, Lombardy, Italy. She immigrated about 1919 and was married to Mr. Passini April 23, 1921, in Chicago. They lived in Chicago and Marinette before moving to the Town of Mitchell in 1927 when they bought the Highland Cheese Factory and founded their cheese company. A big year for the family, Silvio also started the process to American citizenship; he took out his first papers for naturalization in 1927.

Silvio Passini grasps the tube of cheese as it emerges from the new cheese processor under 500 pounds of pressure. Carl Schwartz, inventor, is at right.

Silvio trained at Frigo Cheese Factory at Lena, north of Green Bay, where he started out making Asiago cheese. In the early 1930s the Tolibia Co. of Fond du Lac County, who was buying his cheese, showed him how to make Provolone cheese. A new era in the county had begun.

As pizza gained popularity across the nation, it greatly increased the demand for Italian cheeses. Other factories including S& R Cheese Corp., soon followed the trend creating Mozzarella, Romano, Provolone and Parmesan, those varieties we all love.

Passini and Schwartz teamed up to streamline a part of the process. Carl Schwartz’s invention, a year in the making, was unveiled May 1, 1954, at Passini’s factory southwest of Plymouth at the intersection of Highways S and N. The demonstration, heavily covered by newspapers, was given by Passini and his son, John, and Schwartz, and his son, Henry.

Stretching the raw curd, a process much like pulling taffy was one of the hardest in the industry. It involved two men lifting chunks of hot cheese onto rollers where they would work the curd; they would pull, tug, stretch and wrangle the cheese until it was the right consistency and the shape of a thick rope. After which it would move down the line for shaping.

Carl Schwartz’s new machine took the curd from the vat, mixed and kneaded it, permeated it with salt brine and forced the cheese from a three-inch nozzle. Cheesemakers then cut the rope-like stream of cheese into sections. Any size, from the one-pound Orancini to the 200-pound Giganti, could easily be produced.

A copy of a drawing of another of Schwartz’s invention, the Sortograph.

The amazing machine kept the cheese at a stable 170 degrees and through pressure and the use of hydraulics the cheese curd went through its paces quickly and with far less physical effort. Schwartz had another hit on his hands.

Passini expected to produce some 3.5 million pounds of cheese in his three factories that year of 1954 and would do so for another seventeen years. The Passini Cheese Factory remained in business until 1971 when it was sold to the White Clover Dairy based in Hollandtown, near Kaukauna.

After Schwartz died in July 1955, it was reported that he held patents on over 100 inventions, but only sixteen have been found to be directly credited to him. It is more likely that many of his inventions were patented by the various employers he had during his long career.

Whether it involves cheese, phonographs or change, we had two immigrants, two men ahead of their time, two thinkers who left much to Sheboygan County via their inventions and vision.

Beth Dippel is executive director of the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center.