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Emile Van Wanseele

(1854 – 1925)

Emile was the half brother of Felix Van Wanseele. He was the son of Charles Louis Van Wanseele and his second wife. Emile married Maria Theresia Coppens in 1880 in Nevele (East-Flanders). He was a 26 year old farm hand. She a 25 year old maid and two months pregnant. Not married and expecting, it was a shame at that time. But he was not the first one. It happened to Felix as well. And as did Felix, he emigrated to America, shortly after his marriage. We don’t know whether the fact that Felix already lived there, influenced his decision. Anyway, Emile chose another destination and another profession. He moved to Detroit, 400 km South of where Felix lived (Gilmore Township, Michigan).

NEVELE (East Flanders)  – beginning 20th century

In 1892 Emile became an American citizen. In 1890 the family moved to 305 Baldwin Avenue. Emile worked as a stove moulder. His wife Maria Theresia was a housewife. They got 8 children, of which in 1900 6 were still alive. Mary (19) was the oldest. She worked with umbrellas. Lawrence (18) was a press feeder, Julia (16) did housework, but that is crossed out. She was also mentioned as a servant with a family in Seyburn Avenue. August (14) was a poster and John (7) went to school. Achiel, the youngest, was only three.

Just as with Felix, Emile Van Wanseele was a name the Americans had difficulty with pronouncing. When the census was copied in 1900 his surname was changed to ‘Van Wansule’ and Emile became the unrecognizable ‘Amal’.

At that time Detroit was the stove capital of the world. The work of a stove moulder was heavy, unhealthy and not without danger.

In 1910 Emile still worked as a stove moulder in Detroit. His eldest daughter, Marie (Mary C) married Alfred J.P. Willock, a Belgian by birth, on October 17, 1906. Lawrence passed away in 1903. He was only 21 years old. Julia (26) was unemployed. August (24) worked as a moulder. John (17) was an apprentice and Achiel (13) went to school.

– source: Bill Loomis, Special to The Detroit News

How to make a stove in 1898

After a design drawing had received approval, several intermediary steps followed to ensure the stove would look as good as the drawn concept. In pattern rooms the stove was initially molded into wax, plaster, or clay models for further evaluation. Once approved, expert woodcarvers, typically Germans or Swiss, hand carved pine panels based on the original drawings. Wax was pressed onto the wood panels to produce an impression which was in turn cast with plaster. From these impressions were cast the iron “master patterns” used for part production. The iron molds were ground and highly polished and prepared for the foundry.

The immense mold rooms were very popular, and Detroiters were welcomed to take tours; most large firms had viewing galleries above for visitors. The mold room was a kind of dark, hellish environment with pig iron and scrap melted in enormous cupola furnaces, a haze of blue smoke and sudden echoing noises. Most molders were covered with black grime and soot, and due to the heat in the room, few wore shirts. They were paid by the piece, not by the hour; if a cast panel had a flaw it was scrapped and the molder was not paid, so there was intense focus on the process. Few talked.

In 1890 the Michigan Bureau of Labor Statistics surveyed the Detroit iron industry, including some of the stove companies. It found 3,920 men employed. Most plant workers were very young, starting at age 13; the majority were between the ages of 16 and 20, and only a tiny percentage worked past the age of 50. Most were Germans or had German parents. Many supported families. The majority earned between $7.50 and $10 per week, and they worked without vacation, 52 weeks a year.

In the good foundries the molders followed rules of order to prevent accidents; at other foundries foremen might carry billy clubs to keep men on task. Molders worked in teams of two. One man hammered the iron patterns into the casting sand to make a perfect impression of two panels, while the other clamped a wooden box frame (called a flask) around the sand to keep it together when the liquid metal was to be poured.

When the molten iron had reached the right temperature, bells clanged to make everyone aware of the danger. Men moved down the long aisles between the wood frames, picked up the long handled iron ladle which weighed 50 pounds, now filled from the furnace with 40 more pounds of glowing, sparking cherry-red molten iron. Aisles were grated to prevent slipping.

After the parts were cast, they were cleaned, polished and some plated with aluminum or nickel. Another trade group called “mounters” assembled the stoves in “setting up rooms,” after which stoves were then crated and held in vast warehouses until shipped by boat or train.

In 1920 Emile was a 66 year old widower. The family still lived at the same address: 305 Baldwin avenue, Detroit. The boys John and Achiel were single and lived at home. John (26) worked as a purchasing agent at Creamery Co. Achiel (22) was a manager at Branch Bank. And then there was Mary (3), Emile’s grandchild. She was the sick child of Julia, and he took care of her. The girl passed away only a couple of years later, in 1924, at the age of 7. To complete the list, there was Mary Coppens (16), single. She was registered as a servant, and did the housekeeping. Because of her last name, it is possible that she was related to his late wife. Mary was born in Belgium in 1904 and she emigrated to America with her parents at the age of 4.

Son August married Rose Chapoton in 1910 and lived in Kenwood Ct, Grosse Pointe Farms in Detroit. He worked for a while in a stove moulder, but in 1918 he went to work as an engine driver at Detroit Shell Co. From his registration card we can deduct that he was tall and lean, with blond hair and blue eyes. In 1918 or 1919 their son Achiel was born. In 1924 they gave birth to a daughter, Violet.

In the census of 1930 daughter Julia (46) is mentioned to live as a widow in Springfield Township, Oakland, 200 km West of Detroit. She worked as a servant for a certain Thomas Moore, who rented out rooms to 5 male boarders of various ages.

Emile died in Detroit, on October 11, 1925. He was 71 years old. Cause of death: bronchial pneumonia. After working a lifetime as a stove moulder, that is not surprising.


Emigration to America

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