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Fred Reinsmith – Barry County Electrical Pioneer

Thursday, January 07, 2010

My grandfather, Frederick Martin Reinsmith, was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1882. Fred’s father, Leopold Reinschmidt, a German immigrant who had served with distinction in the Civil War, brought his family to Barry County sometime before 1890, where Leopold farmed near Monett.

Fred was an articulate young man, well-read and very adept at mathematics. It is ironic that he quit school at age fourteen to leave home and pursue a variety of jobs, from Harvey House cook at St. Louis’ Union Station to Bell Telephone line worker. Though these pursuits would lead Fred far away from Barry County, he would periodically return to his home between jobs.

In 1908, Fred’s interest in and acquired knowledge of electricity led him to found “Fred Reinsmith – Anything Electric” in Monett. This later became the Reinsmith Battery Company, manufacturer of the Reinsmith and Victor brands of automobile batteries. In its heyday, Reinsmith employed over fifty people; with a factory in Monett and stores in Monett and Aurora.

Fred’s passion for business and, no doubt, the experience of an unhappy family life in childhood, were the likely causes for him to postpone marriage and family until 1927, when, at age 45, he married 18-year-old Georgia Edith Fleetwood. They had two daughters: Georgia, who died in 1929 at age 1; and Frances, my mother.

The early 1930s were a time of misfortune, as Fred and Edith experienced a bitter divorce. Determined to raise his daughter, Fred sought and spent thousands of dollars in gaining complete custody. Frances was not allowed to have any contact with her mother until adulthood. As the divorce battle raged, Fred had other legal troubles and lost much of his business. He ran a downsized Reinsmith Battery Company with a handful of employees until very shortly before his death.

Fred was credited with innovations in automotive battery design and manufacture. His products were known for their quality and reliability. Although he could be short-tempered and pugnacious, he had a reputation throughout Barry and Lawrence counties as a man of integrity.

In the days when the Ku Klux Klan held rallies in downtown Monett, he regularly met black friends at the train station. These were railroad workers with whom he had made acquaintance during his travels as a youth. He didn’t give a second thought to how the people of Monett might react. For his entire life, he was puzzled by American racism.

Fred would often visit with some of the German ‘old-timers’ who lived near Monett and Freistatt, and converse with them in German. He was an accomplished angler who loved to fish the streams of Barry County.

Fred lived in Monett until the last month of his life, when his daughter and son-in-law took him to the hospital in Harrison, Arkansas, to be near them as he suffered from the final ravages of leukemia. He died in 1962 and was buried in the Spring River Cemetery, near Verona, Missouri. — Paul E. Jackson, Sr.

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