State Historical Marker Honoring Nickolaus Gerber

(We will install and dedicate the marker  in
1999 after the metal marker has been manufactured)


Nickolaus Gerber deserves special recognition for his far reaching idea of developing a cooperative venture between farmers and the markets known as a cheese factory. Cheese making had been practiced by individual farmers often in the home kitchen but there had been no thought to developing an industry.

Mr. Gerber, a native of Switzerland, was born in Canton Berne in 1836. He learned cheesemaking there and came to Oneida County, New York in 1857. Here he introduced the manufacture of limburger and remained for six years. Next he opened a factory in Wheeling, Illinois but this was not successful.

He came to Green County, Wisconsin where his "know-how" and the Swiss work ethic combined with the New York Yankee form of merchandising led to the success of the cheese industry. He was the one who nurtured the infant business through its growing up years. His first factory was a limburger factory in Section 33, Town of New Glarus in 1868 on the Albrecht Baebler farm and was followed the next year by a Swiss cheese factory on the farm of Dietrich Freitag in Section 1, Town of Washington. He was soon operating several more factories and marketing cheese for the other cheesemakers.

In spite of its humble beginnings this area flourished and became known nation wide for its product. Cheese became a popular choice in the American diet. Cheese factories have become tourist attractions. Today the factories have decreased in number but increased in size providing opportunities for workers some of whom must be skilled in special areas of production and marketing. In 1893 Mr. Gerber left the Green County area and moved to Iowa where he again pioneered in the cheese industry. However, because of ill health he returned to Green County where he died in 1903 at the age of 67.

After his death a poem was found among his effects.

"A Song of Cheese",

written in German by John Peter Luchsinger,
Town of Washington, Green County, Wisconsin.
translated it reads-

I will sing a song of long, long ago,
a story old and true.
When oats and corn were failures
and wheat, through chinch bugs, too.
Our needs were great, and interest
had gone to highest notch-
And farmers all around us thought
that they had made a botch.
Our lands to us no harvest gave,
the ground was almost bare,
earth washed down from every hill
and stones most anywhere.
A savior was surely due
to help us in our need.
And he arrived, and then he said,
"Change your affairs with speed."
"Bid all the chinch bugs go abroad
by seeding your acres down!"
"Keep only cows and feed your hogs
I'll quickly change your frown.
"Plant only corn and nothing more
to feed your hogs and swine.
Build better barns, milk more cows
and riches will be thine."
He started in and showed us how
to turn the milk to gold.
With two or three cheese factories
to which the milk was sold.
Then money soon commenced to flow,
a full, great, golden stream
which all into our coffers came-
It was just like a dream.
Nick Gerber was this hero's name,
who came to us from far,
who was our teacher in this art,
who was our guiding star.
If cows could talk and have some sense
how thankful they would be
and to Nick Gerber as recompense
a monument you 'd see.
But then the calves, they felt not so,
of milk they always had their fill,
But now they bleat a tale of woe,
They 're fed on whey and swill
so let us then all thankful be
to Nick, who did this all.
For he it was, and none but he
who started first the ball.
which rolled us to prosperity
and to our wealth galore;
Therefore we can but grateful be
now and forever more.
Of course I know that I will not
reap thanks from everyone,
for there are some who claim that they
did more than anyone.
But I don 't care! Give praises to
who praises does deserve.
I know that Nick, before them all
came here, and on his nerve
he started this; and now you see
yourself what it became.
Therefore, I say, "Here '5 three times three
to old Nick Gerber's name!

This document was authored by Mrs. Lillian Klassy Hefty, 338 S. Monroe St., Monticello, WI 53570