Cincinnati’s Fascinating Koch Brothers, Pt. 1
Posted On: 12/12/2017 - 12:35pm, Posted By: Christine Engels, Archives Manager, Manuscripts Department
Herbert F. Koch (1894-1971) and his brother Felix Koch (1882-1933) were keen observers and documenters of Cincinnati and the surrounding region. While Felix was busy photographing the people, buildings and natural settings of the area, Herbert was preoccupied with documenting all that he did and saw each day in his diaries and scrapbooks. He generally had one of each for each year, though his diary entries became long enough to justify multiple volumes during the years he was serving in World War I. Herbert’s second wife, Alma Budd (1899-1983), donated these scrapbooks, diaries and other items in 1970.
Herbert was always interested in history, and in fact he served as the director of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio (later renamed the Cincinnati Historical Society and then Cincinnati History Library & Archives) and did radio shows for WLW about history and other topics. Herbert’s career was mainly in banking though he was trained as a lawyer. He was the president of the Guardian Bank and Savings Company before switching to be a professor of Business Administration at the University of Cincinnati (UC) where he taught until his retirement. Reading through Herbert’s diaries from his time as a student at UC you can see his early attraction to tracking his money and investments nearly daily. He was shrewd and careful with his money, a trait that Felix enjoyed teasing him about.
Koch was a prolific writer. Diary from 1918
Herbert was interested in current affairs in Europe prior to US involvement in World War I. His scrapbooks contain programs of lectures he attended, alongside those of all of the plays he saw (while at UC he worked as an usher at the Grand Opera House). One that caught my eye was a lecture given by Norman Angell. Angell (1872-1967) was a British lecturer and Member of Parliament. In 1910 he wrote a pamphlet called The Great Illusion which argued that European countries were so closely related and intertwined through culture and commerce that a war between any of them would be quite futile. Angell, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1933, toured the US in 1914 and Herbert attended the lecture he gave to the University of Cincinnati’s Law School. In his diary Herbert writes that Angell echoed his arguments from his book but added that any US involvement with Mexico right now would definitely not be in its interests.
Herbert’s scrapbooks give a great sense of Cincinnati during the early part of the war. I began by looking in his 1914-1916 scrapbooks which did not mention much at all about Europe but included photographs of troops at Fort Thomas preparing to be shipped off to the Mexican border to combat Pancho Villa’s border raids. Koch also photographed Decoration Day at Spring Grove Cemetery with many Civil War veterans in attendance. Herbert and Felix traveled all over the city, documenting the Old Court Street Market just before it was torn down, the Price Hill Incline and a tornado that hit downtown Cincinnati and Newtown on July 8, 1915. In 1916 President Wilson visited Cincinnati but until 1917 there’s no significant mention of the war in Herbert’s diaries or scrapbooks.
War trophies on display in a storefront in 1917.
By 1917 Herbert included some photographs of his neighbor, Mr. Achert following the war with a “war map.” Once the US entered into the war in April 1917 Herbert was knee-deep in war preparation work. He visited the 3rd Regiment at Lincoln Park (now the parking lot at Cincinnati Union Terminal) and saw that not all of the soldiers had complete uniforms though they appeared to take the drilling seriously. Herbert describes the city as having a “war atmosphere” and took pictures of soldiers drilling in Cheviot, North Bend, Cleves, Westwood, Ault Park, and King’s Mill. At the same time the Red Cross was gearing up for a big fundraising push while recruitment was kicking into high gear. There was even a naval recruitment day at the Sharonville Speedway which was also used as a learning camp for soldiers to discover how to dig, maintain and navigate trenches.
Troops at Lincoln Park in Cincinnati in 1917.
Tune in soon to see the second half of the Koch story.