Geiselman, Samuel (1832–1895)

By: Ron Bass

Type: Biography

Published: August 26, 2020

Updated: August 26, 2020


Samuel Geiselman, merchant, tanner, and butcher, was born in Pennsylvania to Johan Michael Geiselman and Anne Marie (de Wolfe) Geiselman on May 19, 1832. On May 22, 1850, he married Sarah Spahr, and the 1850 census recorded them as living in Hamilton Township in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Geiselman was listed as a merchant. They soon moved to Frederick County, Maryland. Samuel and Sarah Geiselman had five children.

In 1857, twenty-five-year-old Samuel Geiselman and his twenty-nine-year-old brother Jacob moved with their families from Maryland to Houston. By 1860 they became merchants in Houston and lived in adjacent homes in the Third Ward. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 restricted commercial activity in Houston, and many merchants had no stock for their stores. In response, some Houston merchants opened other businesses. Samuel Geiselman acquired a tract of land in the Second Ward at the north end of Buffalo Street (present-day St. Charles Street) on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou, where in 1862 he built a tannery.

Geiselman’s tannery had one large building for tanning and two storehouses (for hides and bark). The tanning building had twenty-nine vats for tanning operations. A mill with seven heavy hammers softened the hides prior to processing in the currying room and finishing room. A twelve-horsepower engine powered the machinery. The plant fired up a large boiler to extract tannin which went into two large liquor vats. By May 1862 Geiselman’s tannery employed thirty workmen who produced 300 sides of leather each week. He supplied harnesses, shoe soles and all varieties of upper leathers to Houston residents. Geiselman continued to operate the tannery after the war. He also operated a saddlery and leather goods shop, located on Travis Street between Franklin Avenue and Commerce Avenue. His high-quality leather goods later won an award in the Best Dozen Texas Upper Leather, Tanned category, at the 1871 Texas State Fair.

Both Samuel and Jacob Geiselman served as aldermen from their respective wards—the second and third—in 1866. By 1870 Samuel Geiselman also owned a beef packing business. During this time he increasingly focused on the food business. For the next twenty-five years, he operated a meat market in a City Market stall.

Geiselman was a devout member of the Presbyterian Church. In “observance of the commandment to keep the Lord's Day holy,” around 1867 he began to keep his meat market closed on Sunday mornings. Over time, many other business owners in the City Market followed suit. In doing so, Geiselman was credited with introducing a Houston tradition—the blue law movement. In the nineteenth century, Texas and many other western states enacted blue laws that restricted shopping to enforce religious observance of Sunday as a day of worship and rest. Enforcement was controversial, and blue laws often went unobserved but stayed on the books well into the twentieth century. In a 1961 decision, the United States Supreme Court upheld the rights of states to pass blue laws if the purpose was not religious. In 1985 the Texas legislature repealed the blue law that prohibited the sale of forty-two products on consecutive Saturdays and Sundays, but some blue laws still remained in effect.

On March 29, 1895, Samuel Geiselman, at age sixty two, died at his family home in Houston. He was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in that city.

Louis F. Aulbach, Buffalo Bayou: An Echo of Houston's Wilderness Beginnings (Houston: CreateSpace, 2011). “Samuel Geiselman,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/85106524/samuel-geiselman), accessed June 25, 2020.

Categories:

  • Business
  • Food Related
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Company Founders

Time Periods:

  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

Places:

  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ron Bass, “Geiselman, Samuel,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 26, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/geiselman-samuel.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 26, 2020
August 26, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

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