Seattle residents who had occasion to travel between downtown and the Ballard neighborhood will remember the shell of a once magnificent stone building that stood at the foot
of Queen Anne Hill on Elliot Ave. A sign
on it declared "Boiler Works". That shell was what remained of the Niedergesaess & Son's foundry.
Robert Niedergesaess arrived in the Northwest in 1887 from
Wellington New Zealand. That country had proved too little developed at the time to take advantage of his inventions and improvements in the brick making trade.
Arriving in Seattle he put The Seattle Brick and Tile Company's machinery in operation. Rewarded with the offer of part ownership and the position of general
manager he was able to aid his three sons Wilhelm, Wilson and Otto in founding the Niedergesaess and Sons Electric Co. wherein the brothers engaged in building boats,
motors, (both gasoline and electric), and other associated gear.
It would have been about this time
when one of the brothers, having installed an electric motor and batteries in a canoe, was taking a test run in Puget Sound. Spying another canoe propelled by a crew of
local native americans he indicated his desire to race. These fellows being expert canoemen must have figured on little contest from a single man in a large canoe. Dramatically
dipping his single paddle in the water the brother simultaneously engaged the noiseless motor and quickly sped away all the while making a big show of
his wonderful paddling technique.
In 1906 a foundry was built just to the south of the original
structure so the brothers could make their own castings. It was the shell of this building that stood until recently
just south of the Taco Time on Elliot Ave.
The brothers parted ways in the 1920's. Otto went back east to make propellers. Wilhelm kept the original business and Wilson moved a few blocks south and built
the current Wilson Machine Works building. At that time Wilson moved his first name to the last and became Robert John Wilson.
He painted the new office a shade of light brown, installed a rolltop desk just inside the door and opened for business. The sign
has not been touched, the desk has not been moved, the office has not been repainted and a Robert Wilson has come to work every day since.
Photo of shop exterior courtesy of Chris Metz