A few weeks ago Doug Marsh sent me an email about some information that he found about the Cluthe Hernia Truss. I found it intriguing since when I was doing initial research as to wether a hernia could be cured naturally, I came across some information on this, but ran into a dead end. I wrote a post about it which is linked below. If you haven’t read that one, you might want to read that first to see why it piqued Doug’s interest to begin with. Doug went much deeper into this than I ever could and came up with some really interesting information. I decided to ask Doug if he would like to write a guest post about his findings, and he agreed. I think he did a great job compiling his information. The below is his post:
George’s interesting post, Natural Hernia Cure. Looking For Proof?, dated July 16, 2017, piqued my interest to explore this intriguing story of the Charles Cluthe & Sons company further. How did they create such a successful hernia truss design and why did their business and product seem to suddenly vanish some years later? Searching information available from archived genealogical and business documents of that era has helped solve some of the mystery. However, many unanswered questions still remain
Hernia Truss Testimonials Verified
Before delving into the history of Charles Cluthe Sr.’s business and the development of his hernia truss, I first sought to check the validity of a few Cluthe truss testimonials published in 1912. Four persons who submitted their written endorsements were searched within the U.S. 1910 census database. The census records, which include original scanned images and are available at the FamilySearch website, indeed verified the authenticity of the men selected. Their names and addresses (as well as age or occupation if given) cross checked with the census data.
The first testimonial which I checked – a highly credible endorsement at that! – was entitled, “Prominent Arkansas Physician Cured of Rupture of 49 Years Standing in 8 Months,” by J. H. SPURGEON, M.D., Aurora, Ark. October 4, 1911. (See George’s original post for the full text of the testimonials.) A few pertinent particulars from the census are included below. An image showing his highlighted name, along with family members, taken from the scanned copy of the original handwritten census, is also included.
Similar particulars and census images for the other three men who gave testimonials are provided below.
“This Man, 72 Years Old, Cured in a Few Months by Cluthe Truss While at Work,” by J. F. BYAM, 701 Cherry St., Rome, N.Y. October 12, 1911.
“A Man 79 Years Old Practically Cured in 3 Months,” by JOSEPH DOBINSON, 381 Harvard St., Cambridge, Mass. October 10, 1911.
“This Texas Engineer Gets Instant Relief by Cluthe Truss After Suffering 35 Years,” by O. R. ERWIN,
Mabank, Tex. September 30, 1911. Mabank was a railroad town close to McKinney and it’s presumed that Mr. Erwin moved to Mabank shortly after the 1910 census.
Although this is a very small sampling of the testimonials taken from Cluthe’s advertising book, it is highly probable that all the testimonials were legitimate and could ultimately be cross-referenced with census data. Clearly, Charles Cluthe Sr. was masterful at sales advertising and marketing his truss. Regardless, the sheer number of written testimonials – all unsolicited according to the Cluthes – from people who claimed they were cured of their hernia was quite amazing. It certainly lends a great deal of credence to the Cluthe truss design being very unique and highly effective compared to competitors’ products.
Cluthe Hernia Trusses – The Canadian Era 1871 – 1895
Charles Cluthe Sr. emigrated from Germany at the age of 22; the ship’s passenger list confirms that he arrived at the Port of New York in the United States on July 20, 1870. From there, he travelled to Canada where he established his business as a “Surgical Machinist” in 1871 (according to the date he stated in his later advertising books). For a young immigrant to quickly set up as a businessman in the British Commonwealth was very rare in those days, especially considering that English wasn’t his native language. The majority of immigrants who flocked to Canada at that time were typically from poor backgrounds, with little money and possessions upon arrival. (That was certainly the case for my ancestors who came to Canada in the years 1900 – 1904 from the United Kingdom and Scandinavia seeking a better life. They had little, to no formal education – some were actually illiterate – and worked as laborers and servants.)
Presumably, Charles Sr. may have had financial and technical backing in Germany to become so quickly established in business. Was his father, or perhaps another relative, manufacturing and selling products such as braces and hernia trusses in Germany? Or were there some German connections already established in Canada before Charles Sr. arrived? Did he also receive some sort of post-secondary technical or business education before emigrating? There are certainly many unknowns.
In any event, Canadian genealogy records show that Charles Sr. married Emilie (spelled Amelia later in official records) Niehaus, also a German immigrant, in 1873 in Berlin, Ontario, a town where over seventy percent of the population was of German heritage. (Berlin, now named Kitchener, is located 166 miles (267 km) west of Toronto. The community name change occurred in 1916 due to anti-German sentiments during World War I. See this Wikipedia article for further details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_to_Kitchener_name_change)
The Cluthes had a family of four sons who were all born in Ontario – Charles Jr. b. 1874, Frederick b. 1876, Herman b. 1879, and Alfred b. 1881.
Charles Sr.’s business was briefly based in Hamilton, Ontario which wasn’t too far from Berlin, Ontario. For the remainder of his time in Canada, he had an office in Toronto and a satellite office across the border in Buffalo, New York.
The Museum of Health Care at Kingston, Ontario currently has possession of two original, hard copy publications from that era by Charles Sr. See the museum website for details of the two advertising booklets dated 1885 (8th edition) and 1887 (10thedition): https://mhc.andornot.com/en/list?q=Charles+Cluthe&p=1&ps=20 . The complete booklets aren’t available as digitized versions; however, four images from the booklets, courtesy of the museum website, are copied below.
Charles Sr. also published an advertising booklet in 1889 with the lengthy title, “Testimonials of What Can Be Done by Mechanical Treatment for All Kinds of Deformities and Rupture.” It is available as a full PDF download from the Toronto Public Library at this link: https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMDC-CA-1889-CLUTHE-VS&R=DC-CA-1889-CLUTHE-VS
The following images from the booklet show how he advertised and priced his hernia trusses:
Charles Sr. probably placed advertisements in various newspapers offering to mail out a sales booklet for free. (That was his marketing strategy when he moved to the United States, which I’ll discuss in the next section of this post.) It appears that he operated as a sole proprietor and spent a good deal of his time as a travelling salesman, periodically visiting a number of towns and cities in Ontario.
His 1887 sales booklet apparently stated that he had factories in Toronto and Buffalo. It’s not known if that’s where all the parts for his various braces, supports and hernia trusses were manufactured. Or, were they simply assembled in Toronto and Buffalo, with manufacturing of the individual parts done elsewhere? What’s puzzling is how he was able to manage the manufacturing process and all the inventory required when he spent so much time with sales, marketing, fulfilling mail orders, designing or modifying trusses, writing patents and handling other correspondence. As well, his travel was all likely by train in those days, not exactly rapid transportation. However, as his sons reached their teens years, they each began learning the craft as young apprentices in the hernia truss guild. Their employment undoubtedly helped the business grow and prosper over the years.
As noted in his 1889 testimonial booklet, Charles Sr. obtained several patents in both Canada and the United States for his hernia trusses. The Canadian patents, including images, are listed at this link: https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/patents-1869-1919/Pages/list.aspx?PatentHolderSearch=Cluthe%2c+Charles&
A list of several of his U.S. and international patents are found at this link: https://patents.google.com/?assignee=Charles+Cluthe&oq=Charles+Cluthe
His patents were very technically detailed documents, with drawings and accompanying text looking somewhat like a set of engineering drawings and specifications. The two images below, taken from an 1896 patent document, show this level of technical detail.
Charles Sr. operated his business in Canada until 1895. At that point, he decided to relocate his business to the larger market in the United States.
Cluthe Hernia Trusses – The United States Era 1895 – ??
Charles Sr. and his family first moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1895, and that’s where they stayed for the next three to four years. The image below is an advertisement he placed in an 1896 directory (Medical and Surgical Directory of the United Statesavailable at this link: https://archive.org/details/medicalsurgicald00detr/page/n8)
The Charles Cluthe Company’s next and final relocation was to the city of New York. At that point, Charles Sr. appears to have focused solely on selling hernia trusses, as they were obviously high volume sales in comparison to his other support products and braces. The New York City Directory of 1899/1900 listed the company location at 29 East 14th Street. The entire Cluthe family initially resided in New York as well; however, the family soon moved to New Jersey a few years later, as the 1905 census recorded the family home there. The business office remained at the same New York location.
About 1909 or 1910, the company relocated the New York office to 125 East 23rd Street, and this building was called the “Cluthe Establishment … where all personal fittings are made.” It’s unknown when Charles Sr. purchased the property in Bloomfield, NJ, which he named the “Cluthe Rupture Institute” in his sales booklet, Cluthe’s Advice to the Ruptured. Perhaps that coincided closely with the timing of the family residence move to New Jersey. The sketch of the “Institute” in the booklet appears to be that of a large, brick and mortar style building. The image is copied below:
It turns out that the artist’s perspective sketch was quite misleading in scale. The actual building, located at 230 Broad Street in Bloomington, NJ, is not so imposing, as noted in the following Google Earth street view image:
This building was essentially a mail order clearinghouse – certainly not a research or academic facility that the name suggested. Charles and his sons received large numbers of hernia truss mail orders that they processed before shipping personally-sized trusses to customers. The company must have had an impressive filing system to handle the sheer volume of orders and keep accurate records and correspondence for all customers. In later years in their sales booklet, the sons eventually referred to the building as the “Cluthe Truss Establishment,” likely to steer clear of the “Institute” name.
Charles Sr. may have has had his own printing press in the Bloomfield building as well, as the company printed hundreds of their free hernia truss sales booklets that they updated frequently. They advertised in many major newspapers throughout Canada and the U.S., and perhaps other countries as well. The following is just one example that was published in the Washington Herald newspaper in 1913:
In the 1910/11 New York City Directory, the company name was listed as Charles Cluthe & Sons. Although the four Cluthe brothers had been employed with the company for many years, the name change was perhaps the result of Charles Sr. soon reaching retirement and turning the company over to his sons.
The 1922/23 New York City Directory showed that the company continued to be in business, as they were listed in both the white pages and the yellow pages. Charles Sr. was retired and temporarily living in Germany at that point, so wasn’t listed.
Although Charles Sr. was retired, archived passport records confirm that he still had a vested interest in the future of the company. Shortly after World War I, he travelled to his homeland of Germany to try recovering personal business property and documents that he’d left behind before the war. With the prospect of war looming, Charles Sr. had travelled to Germany in 1914 but had to hastily leave the country without his business possessions. His handwritten notes in his 1920 passport (images which follow below) describe the reason for his trip to Germany. It’s uncertain if he had a separate business in Germany, or if the parts for all his trusses sold in the U.S. were manufactured in Germany. His rough notes (including inadvertent spelling errors much like what occurs in email correspondence nowadays) are transcribed as follows:
“Why I should go to Germany or have people come to Switzerland in order to get possesion of value I left there at war? Leaving full preparation to manufacture my Patd Devise as Moulds for Hard Rubber Dies + Stamped parts + * at Germany in 1914, which where also and soley gotten up for the use in America. I left Germany at the knick of time, to get into Switzerland. I left all my Cloth Two Trunks filled, as well as many Valuable tools Moulds for all parts of a Truss for Rupture. Also a great many Documents Patds for all Europe, Deeds, Insurance + *. The State Dept. Washington made an Investication at Englands Headquarters and advised me that none was mailed to me. My proposition to recover my property which I believe is possible (no use to any one) as Value is, 1st to try Switzerland communicate with partys and have it sent to Switzerland. Or 2nd. To get Passport, to go to the different Factorys, which means Frankfurt, Hanau, Erfurt, Gotha, Hildesheim (near Brunswick), where Moulds Dies for Stamping are whole or partley done and paid for. Also a Machine for Complete Belt for Truss without sewing the loom brings it perfect and Americanised finish* and is intended to be utilized here on my return, which will be shortley say 4 months. [signed] Charles Cluthe Sr. New York City Jany 16/1920.”
Charles Sr. had intended to return to the U.S. within four to six months; however, this didn’t pan out, as it’s presumed he mustn’t have located the business possessions he’d left behind in 1914. While still in Germany, he applied for an extension of his passport in 1921 (images follow below). The brief notes explaining his reasons are transcribed as follows:
“I desire to remain in Germany to develop my invention to overcome hernia and rupture troubles. So far I have been unable to complete my contract with the Anitplan-Werke, Alfred Stiefel, Frankfurt, a/M, and wish to remain until the full production of my invention which requires various sizes.”
Charles Sr.’s passport extension application made it sound as though he was starting a hernia truss business from scratch! This is a very puzzling part of the story. A passport application of Charles Jr. in 1923 (submitted before he took a pleasure trip to Europe for several months with his wife) stated that his father was still living “temporarily” in Germany. It’s at that point that the trail for Charles Sr. goes cold in the archives. The fate of both Charles Sr. and his business interests in Germany is unknown.
The Manhattan Telephone Directories of 1940 and 1946 showed that the company still appeared to be in the business of selling trusses. However, the business address had changed to 21 East 40th Street:
Were there different owners in 1940 and were they even selling the original Cluthe truss? A current search in the Corporation and Business Entity Database for New York State shows that the corporate name, CHAS. CLUTHE AND SONS, is active as a foreign business corporation that was originally filed in 1938. Has the business been closed for decades with only the corporate name still being active?
|Current Entity Name:||CHAS. CLUTHE & SONS|
|DOS ID #:||55676|
|Initial DOS Filing Date:||
DECEMBER 14, 1938
|Entity Type:||FOREIGN BUSINESS CORPORATION|
|Current Entity Status:||ACTIVE|
|Address||CHAS. CLUTHE & SONS
21 E. 40TH ST.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 10016
Official New Jersey death records are available for five members of the Cluthe family. Amelia d. 1924, Alfred d. 1934, Frederick d. 1966, Charles Jr. 1967 and Herman d. 1972. A death record search for Charles Sr. comes up blank in current genealogy databases, so it’s unknown when and where he died.
Whatever became of Charles Sr. and his renowned hernia truss product? All those years of knowledge about truss patents, designs, manufacturing, and the customized fitting process seems to have vanished. Has it all been lost, or did some of the information and inventory get passed along or transferred to someone else?
If there are any sleuth types reading this post, perhaps you may be able to dig into other archives and find out more information to help solve the mysteries that remain about Charles Sr. and his hernia truss business and products.
Those with manufacturing or business law backgrounds may be able to find more traces of what eventually happened to the Cluthe’s hernia truss business in New York and New Jersey.
Those with a German heritage, or currently living in Germany, might have the means to trace Charles Sr.’s business dealings in that country. Could there be some archived information about the patents and manufacturers of the Cluthe hernia truss parts and components in Germany? As well, if Charles Sr. died in his homeland, is there an official record to confirm this?
If you have a mechanical engineering background (or, by chance, biomedical l engineering), perhaps the Cluthe patents could be re-engineered and manufactured to recreate the original truss. In 2013, some individuals put a great deal of work into trying to re-engineer one of the Cluthe truss designs. They reported (in choppy, machine-like translated English) the results of their project on this post, but no further updates were provided since then:
Research targeted at re-development would be highly worthwhile, seeing that the original product had a stellar reputation as a very effective product that naturally cured the hernia for countless numbers of people.