When the good ship Phoenix sailed into Philadelphia in early autumn, 1749, the passenger list contained many of my wife Susan’s Swiss-German Amish Mennonite ancestors, including Ulrich Mishler (1715-1770). Another Ulrich (1705-1759), with wife Elizabeth and daughter Anna, had landed in the same port in 1735 on the ship Oliver. At least two other later Mishlers, both Josephs, immigrated in 1756 and 1761 respectively. Amish Mennonite history books are full of speculation about who was related to whom, but perhaps we’ll never know for certain.
What we are certain of is that Christina Mishler (1734-1817) married Joseph Christoph/Christian Speicher, Sr., who was the first of three generations of descendants in our line with the same name. (See “Our Mishler Family Tree.”) Over a century later came Laura Catherine Speicher (1859-1919) who married Christian F. Lee (1858-1906), Susan’s great-grandfather.
In this article, we’ll look at the origin and various spellings of the name Mishler, in addition to relaying several very inteeresting Mishler family narratives as published through websites of the more famous namesakes.
The surname Mishler probably came from the Middle High German word “mutze,” a type of wheat bread, and thus the carrier of the name could have been a baker. One extension of the word is “mutzen,” meaning to decorate, perhaps the bread or, interestingly enough, even the baker, with a smile signifying pride in his creation. The first recorded user of the name was a Wemher Mutzhart of Esslingen, Baden, in 1366. Since then, the many spellings have included Mutz, Mutschen, Motschenbacher, Motzenberg, Mutzenberg, Mutzenbecher, Mitschler, Michler, Muttschller, Muschler, and of course Mishler. Notice that some include a suffix at the end of the root. Of course, “berg” is a reference to a town, thus a Motzenberg might be one who lives in “the baker’s town.” The most interesting one to me is “bache,” a reference literally to a “dirty stream” or “swamp,” thus a Motschenbacher would be “the baker who lives by a swamp.”
We know that our Mishlers were Swiss German immigrants to America, although some Mishlers remained behind in Europe. For example, today Hans Mischler is credited as the architect of the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Folk Life) in Thun, Switzerland. Their website boasts one unique aspect of that project:
The oldest, still preserved 360° panoramic painting in the world has been exhibited in a rotunda in Schadaupark in Thun since 1961. It is a unique jewel and an extraordinary contemporary document of Thun town 200 years ago.
Thun is the Swiss town where many of our Amish Mennonite ancestors were imprisoned for their faith. (See “Introduction: Speicher.”) Was this Hans a descendant of our old Amish Mennonites that included the Mishlers? Research continues.
Although we don’t know of the connection between our family and Pennsylvanian Isaac Charles “Doc” Mishler (b.1862), his “work of art” is probably most often thought of when the Mishler name comes up in our area. He was the prime mover in the construction of a nearby community playhouse in 1906. It has been said that the Mishler Theater in Altoona was, “the first structure of its kind in America to be completely devoted to theatrical pursuits, as in the early 1900’s theatres occupied the second floor of commercial buildings.” According to the theater’s website, the directors are in the middle of an extensive renovation project after fire devastated the historic venue, from which many said it would never recover, and many even predicted its end by the wrecking ball. The Mishler Theater, now on the National Register of Historical Places, is supported by the Blair County Arts Foundation, the Pennsylvania Museum and Historical Commission, dozens of charitable organizations, and private donors. The theater website promotes it as:
The heart and soul of our region’s cultural life. With exciting promise for future generations, the Historic Mishler Theatre holds a life of its own and is a work of love forever in progress.
A source of wonder and awe for this writer is that Doc Mishler came to the area from Lancaster at age 19, working for the Pennsylvania Railroad. His German work ethic became apparent when, after a few years, he began operating a popular local cigar store, where men would often gather and talk about baseball. Before long, Mishler was sponsoring a professional team, and after that he got into show business, building “The Mishler” with his own money and bringing to town some of the most famous names in American vaudeville. He also owned the Cambria Theater in nearby Johnstown. We’d like to think that we came from the same hardworking family stock as we did.
In another Mishler success story, the website of a multi-million dollar building design and construction company in Frederick, CO, records how and why his enterprise is named to honor the owner’s Mishler heritage:
When founder and President of Mishler [Build Strong], Del Fast, considered a name to incorporate his business, he soon realized that Fast Construction might be a bit too presumptuous! Del comments, I really didn’t want to be known as the company that just built FAST. So, in furthering his search for a name, he found he didn’t need to look any further than his own backyard!
In 1918 Del’s father was born out of wedlock and given up for adoption. All of his life he carried the surname of his adoptive family and knew nothing more than he was the son of Peter and Jennie Fast. Though his home life was a good one, Del’s father eventually came to realize he was not a Fast by birth and began pursuing an interest in understanding his roots. In the summer of 1971, a letter written to his adoptive parents from his birth mother was discovered. That letter had the signature of a woman by the name of Mildred Mishler. Over the next 20 years, Del, his father and his family searched for the truth of their roots. It wasn’t until the fall of 1991 when together, they found the lineage of a whole new family!
As Del finalized his thoughts regarding a name to incorporate his new business, it became clear that the name Mishler would not only preserve his new-found heritage, but would also leave a legacy for his family in the years to come. So, in the spring of 1995 Mishler Corporation was born. Thus proving that out of the brokenness of one family can come the strength of another!
From the humble beginnings in the housing industry to the now multi-million dollar commercial development and construction of today, the name Mishler, has become synonymous with a legacy of innovation, built on the strength of quality Professional Construction and Development Services.
Today, it is the strength of the name Mishler that gives our company its heritage. In the future, it will be our legacy in the name Mishler to always Build Strong™!
A little closer to home, a well-known local business carries the Mishler name that undoubtedly came from the 18th century Conemaugh Amish Mennonite community in and around Johnstown, PA. “Schantztown” was the original name, after its Swiss-German founder, Amishman Joseph Schantz. Mishler Auction Service, nearly 70 years old, was named for Merle Mishler and son Dale. This is the tale that their website records:
Merle started auctioneering at the age of fourteen. The initial intrigue was sparked by attending local auctions with his father. Those auctions were conducted by two auctioneers, both eighty-year veterans, Leslie Holsopple and Dave Marteeny. What began as a whole lot of practicing around the hundred and twenty-five acre dairy farm, turned into a community-wide “pretend auction.” Merle sold all of the family possessions, livestock, equipment, and grain. After hearing the buzz of the mock event, Marteeny took the opportunity to put Merle on the stand at the next auction. He was quoted as saying, “That’s the loosest tongue I’ve ever heard.” So it became a popular site in Cambria and Somerset County to see the eighty-year old and this fourteen-year old in action.
My wife and my current bedroom suite was purchased from the Mishlers shortly after we were married 42 years ago. I’m sad to report that Merle passed away in November 2012 and will be sorely missed by family and community.
So it is that the Mishler genes and values have permeated the geography and reputation of America. The names, dates, and stories of other famous Mishlers may be seen and heard by doing a name search on the internet, but let me call your attention to one of the most helpful articles available today, “Mishler Families of Lancaster County, PA,” by John F. Murray. His lengthy, but scholarly, document begins with the 1787 will and estate papers of a Christian Zug of Chester County, who in about 1760 had married Doderea, or Dorothea, Mueller Mishler, the widow of our J(acob?) Ulrich Mishler. The step-children there are listed as Catherine, Jacob, Joseph, Christina, Veronica, and an unnamed daugher. Later naturalization papers by the court in Philadelphia record the older sons, Jacob and Joseph as, “persons being Quakers or such [in this case Amish Mennonites] who conscientiously scruple to take an oath.” Their older sister, Catherine, married Caspar Diefenbach in 1754, where church records in Lancaster state that they both had come from the Derlach region in Germany. Historians believe Catherine died sometime before Caspar remarried and moved west to our Somerset County. Murray further documents that many of our Mishlers came from the Canton of Bern in Switzerland before 1750, first settling in Berks or Lancaster Counties before moving to the tableland of Somerset County in the 1780’s. His Mishler genealogy is full of our ancestors, though not all Amish Mennonites either then or later: Miller, Baer, Zimmerman, Baush, Long, and Speicher. The great irony is that these names criss-cross my wife Susan’s paternal Miller and maternal Krause bloodlines over the course of 250 years. For examples of this phenomenon, have a look at the various family trees accessible from the top toolbar.
This concludes our casual treatise on the Mishler ancestors. Despite questions over name origins, dates, spellings, and immigration, we have enough information to fuel future research. The important thing is that our descendants have a starting place from which they can more easily proceed toward new findings. Stop in from time to time to see what new things we’ve uncovered and what narratives we’ve discovered.
“Kunstmuseum Thun.” 11 Nov. 2012
John F. Murray. “Mishler Families of Lancaster County, PA. Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage Magazine, Oct. 1993
“MishlerBuildStrong.” 11 Nov. 2012
“Historic Mishler Theater.” 11 Nov. 2012
“Mishler Auction Service. 12 Nov. 2012
“Mishler Family Crest & Name History.” 27 Septmber 2012 http://www.houseofnames.com/mishler-family-crest
Hugh F. Gingerich and Kreider. Amish and Amish Mennonite Genealogies.