Biography of Charles Wilhelm
Bronx County, NY Biographies





CHARLES WILHELM is at the present time (1926) in his seventy fifth year, and he is as active both mentally and physically as most men twenty five years his junior. He is a retired construction machinist, in which field of endeavor he was very successful; but he is also the present treasurer of three important organizations of The Bronx, all of which have to do with the Volunteer Exempt Firemen's associations, and the distribution of the benevolent funds of those organizations. Altogether, Mr. Wilhelm is one of the well and widely known men of The Bronx, and since his many activities keep him young and robust, it is hoped that he will continue to be such for many years to come.

Charles Wilhelm was born in the family home on Sixth Avenue, New York City, on September 1, 1851, the son of John A. and Catherine (Starke) Wilhelm, the latter, who was born in 1818, departed this life in December, 1900. The father, John A. Wilhelm, was born in Germany in the year 1816, came to America when he was about eighteen years of age, and died in the year 1898. The mother was also a native of Germany.

Charles Wilhelm received his education in the New York City Public School at College Avenue and One Hundred and Forty eighth Street, following which he attended the Third Avenue Public School. He then embarked upon his business career by becoming a machinist, which work led him by degrees into the field of invention. Since a boy he had had an inventive turn of mind, and before his retirement from active business he had become interested in about thirty two different patents, the majority of them pertaining to the mechanism of watches and clocks.

The second phase of his career began when he became a member of the original Hopkins Morrisania Fire Department, of which only two members besides Mr. Wilhelm are now living. From that time (1870) until the present (1926) Mr. Wilhelm has been actively engaged and deeply interested in the work of the local volunteer hose companies. Mr. Wilhelm became a member of Hopkins Hose Company No. 3, of the Morrisania Volunteer Fire Department, located at Robbins Avenue and One Hundred and Forty ninth Street, in the year 1870, and served as foreman of this company until it was dissolved in 1874. Now, at the age of seventy five, he finds himself the treasurer of three organizations, all pertaining to the volunteer exempt firemen benev. olent funds. Mr. Wilhelm is the youngest member of the Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Fund Association of the Twenty third Ward, and is treasurer of this veteran Bronx organization, with headquarters in the old firehouse, a relic of the 1850's, which is located at One Hundred and Forty seventh Street and Third Avenue. He is also treasurer for the board of trustees of that organization, as well as treasurer of the trustees of the Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Benevolent Fund of the Borough of The Bronx. In each of these three positions, Mr. Wilhelm handles thousands of dollars annually, and in two of them he dispenses money monthly and bimonthly among the needy widows of Bronx Exempt Firemen of volunteer days, as well as among the needy and indigent members of the organizations themselves. But not one cent of these moneys goes to Mr. Wilhelm himself, because, he explains, he is not needy, neither is he indigent nor unable to provide for himself.

Mr. Wilhelm is the only living member of the twenty eight charter members of the Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Fund Association of the Twenty third Ward, which in the old days of volunteer hose companies comprised the fire department of Morrisania. Mr. Wilhelm sadly recalls the friends of yesteryear who have passed on, as does he also when he recollects the little two story frame dwelling on Third Avenue, between One Hundred and Fifty second and One Hundred and Fifty third streets, which his father built and into which the family moved when Mr. Wilhelm' was but two years old. This old landmark of his younger days now houses a motion picture theatre. It was here that Mr. Wilhelm resided until his twenty fifth year, when he married a Bronx girl and established a home of his own.

The Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Fund Association of the Twenty third Ward has been in existence for more than fifty years, and Mr. Wilhelm has served as its treasurer for thirty five years, for at the end of each term he is prevailed upon by his associates to serve another. He has likewise served as treasurer of the board of trustees of the organization for the same length of time. As treasurer he pays all incurred bills and handles the interest received from mortgages and bonds which comprise the organization's funds. As treasurer of the board of trustees of the same organization, he pays once every two months, to the widows of deceased exempt firemen who were members of the organization and who do not benefit from the Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Benevolent Fund of The Bronx, fifteen dollars each; and to members of the association who are in need and who also fail to benefit from The Bronx Fund, twenty dollars each.

The Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Benevolent Fund of the Borough of The Bronx was organized in 1915 by an act of the Legislature. Under the provisions of this act the fund was placed in the charge of a board of trustees, and Mr. Wilhelm has served as treasurer of this board since its organization. Under the act all fire insurance companies whose home offices are situated outside of Greater New York and who operate in the section of The Bronx, are taxed two per centum of their earnings in the borough, Ten per centum of this tax goes toward the maintenance of the State Home for Firemen at Hudson, New York; forty per centum is turned over to the Relief Fund of the New York City Fire Department; and the remaining fifty per centum is given to this Bronx Benevolent Fund. Similar provisions are made in all other boroughs of the city. The act provides that from the moneys received, the needy widows of members of the former volunteer fire departments of the sections now comprising The Bronx, as well as the living and needy members themselves, be aided in a financial way, providing that these volunteer firemen were in the service of the various departments for a term of at least one year. Of the two hundred and eighty seven firemen who formed the benevolent fund of the Twenty third Ward, less than forty are alive today, and all are members of the association. Many of these, however, had been in service for less than a year when the volunteer service was abolished in 1874, and therefore do not participate in The Bronx Fund. For this reason the association was organized in the same year, and a separate fund established. Mr. Wilhelm, acting for the association, at the present time pays twelve members thirty dollars and five widows twenty dollars every two months. In the event of a member's death, the widow is given two hundred dollars. In 1923, for example, Mr. Wilhelm paid out for deaths and benefits more than $6,000.

As treasurer of The Bronx Fund, Mr. Wilhelm distributes monthly thirty dollars among forty widows and forty dollars among twenty seven former volunteer firemen. In 1924 the fund received $20,958.14 through the tax on outside insurance, and paid out $18,750. Mr. Wilhelm files an annual report of all receipts and disbursements with the Fire Commissioner. Other trustees of The Bronx Fund are Daniel P. Murray, president; Samuel S. Miller, vice president; William Wallace, secretary; Joseph Rice, and Charles Kirk, who is also president of the Exempt Firemen's Benevolent Association of the Twenty third Ward. Mr. Wilhelm is an active member of Charter Oak Lodge, No. 306, Independent Order of Odd Fellows; the Southern New York Firemen's Association; a life member of the State Firemen's Association; and one of the organizers of the Old Timers' Club and The Bronx County Property Owners' Association. His religious affiliation is given to St. Matthews' Lutheran Church, at One Hundred and Fifty sixth Street and Melrose Avenue, The Bronx.

Charles Wilhelm was married in The Bronx, on June 2, 1878, to Elizabeth Frees, a daughter of Berard and Elizabeth (Springer) Frees Charles and Elizabeth (Frees )Wilhelm are the parents of the following children: 1. Elizabeth. 2. Charles, Jr., in the drug business in Brooklyn, New York. 3. Catherine. 4. John A., associated with his brother in the drug business. Mr. Wilhelm also has two grandsons: John A. and Warren.

From:
The Bronx and its people
A History 1609-1927
Board of Editors: James L. Wells,
Louis F. Haffen
Josiah A. Briggs.
Historian: Benedict Fitspatrick
Publisher: The Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc.
New York 1927


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