Tag Archives: Sterling Furniture Co.

The Wolfinger Brothers

William Penn and Herman Wolfinger mid-1880s

Found this pair of attractive young men in a local antique shop waiting to be taken home. The names scrawled on the back are W.P. and H. Wolfinger and they appear to be brothers to me. The picture, taken about 1885, was taken in San Francisco by William Shew (1820-1903), a fairly well-known photographer whose story was told previously.

At first glance, I am drawn to the casual stance of the young man on the left, leaning on the column. He looks completely comfortable while his brother on the right is trying very hard to appear distinguished, using a popular pose for gentlemen of the day. Some folks believe it was an imitation of Napoleon’s  famous pose but in reality people had a hard time keeping still while waiting during the long exposure times. For those who had trouble keeping their hands still, they held them inside their coats. This was to prevent the picture from being blurred in case they moved their hands during the exposure time. The long exposure times are also why it appears as if our ancestors were permanently depressed in their photographs. They weren’t depressed, it was just easier to hold a relaxed face then a constantly smiling one. You try smiling for 15 minutes…. I bet your jaws will be aching  afterwards!

They were brothers and both were born in Pennsylvania to Mary Wolfinger. Their father’s name is currently unknown as it appears he died soon after William was born. The 1860 US Federal Census shows the boys living with their 30-year-old mother and 10-year-old sister Louisa in Pennsylvania. Herman was 8 and William Penn was 7. The mother’s  birthplace is listed as Baden, which confirms later census reports.

It appears young William caught the gold fever rush. In 1870, at the age of 17, William is listed as Penn Wolfinger and is found living in Little York Township in the county of Nevada, California on his own. He is living in a hotel ran by Peter Drunzer and his wife, Mary, and his occupation is recorded as a miner.  Nevada County was the home of the second-largest gold-mining district in California. First discovered in 1850, for the next 100 years, the county produced over 68.4 tonnes of gold.

Born in February 1852, 28-year-old Herman, a cabinet maker, was residing in San Francisco, California along with his 24-year-old wife Julia, a long way away from her home state of New York in 1880. Also living in the home were son Herman M. Wolfinger, aged 4 and Julia’s mother, 60-year-old Catherine Smucker and her 27-year-old sister, also named Catherine. By 1880, William, who was born in May 1853, seems to have given up on prospecting and is living in the home of his sister and brother-in-law, Louisa and Theodore Erdin, in San Francisco, along with their four young daughters, Emma 8, Mary 6, Clara 4 and Julia 1. His occupation is listed as a cabinet maker.

In 1900,  at the age of 47, William was married to a 27-year-old Irish wife named Georgina. They had four children living at home – stepdaughter Margaret Stelling 7, daughter Eva 15, son Fred 13 and 11-year-old Elsie. He was still a cabinet maker and worked at Sterling Furniture Co., located at 1107 Treat Ave. and did quite well for himself. The company made educational furniture, such as the combination school desk and chair. The family was living at 5 Oak St., San Francisco, CA. Herman was living close by his brother at 786 1/2 Stevenson St. in a 3-storey flat. Herman was a widower, living with his children Herman M. 23, Raymond E. 16, Ethel T. 18 and Mabel J. 14.

Between 1900 and 1925, Herman and William moved residences quite a bit. One wonders if perhaps cabinet making wasn’t as lucrative as they had hoped. In 1904, Herman was living in room 13 on the 3rd floor of 100 Jones. In 1905, Herman marries again, a fellow Pennsylvanian named Bertha L.  and they are living at 152 Church Street in 1907. This is the second marriage for them both. William was living at 571 Duboce Ave in 1907. In 1912, records find William Penn living at 1751 Market Street. In 1916, he had moved once again to 20 12th Street. In 1923, he’s shown living at 2242 22nd Ave., still working as a cabinet maker.

In 1910, the federal census finds 58-year-old Herman and his wife of five years, living in Beaverdam, Hanover, Virginia. He has given up cabinet making and is recorded as working a home farm that he proudly owns. His 38-year0old wife, Bertha, tends to the home.

William Penn, 56, is living with his 23-year-old son Frederick at 1752 Market Street, which appears to be a boarding house in San Francisco. Both William and Frederick are listed as married, not widowed, but their wives are not recorded as living with them. The son doesn’t have an occupation listed but William is identified as a carpenter for the telephone service company.

Probably feeling lost without his old trade, 1920 finds Herman listed once again as a cabinet maker. At 67, he works from home to provide for his wife of 15 years. They are still living at their farm in Beaverdam, Va.

In 1920 William and Georgina, 66 and 47 years-old respectiviely, are living next to their son Frederick W., who also became a cabinet maker, and his family.  Fred is married to Catherine, and has two sons, William F., 9 and Raymond, 6 and a 4-year-old daughter, Delores.

William  and his wife, Georgina, are shown on the San Diego County voter registration list for 1940. His occupation is still listed as cabinet maker, although by now, William would be 86 years-old. They are living at 1874 O’Ferrell St.

Although, I haven’t found out exactly when they died, it is deduced that Herman Wolfinger dies sometime between 1920 and 1930 and William Penn Wolfinger dies after 1940.


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