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          More on Ropp's commercial calculator

    After I published the page on the Ropp Commercial Calculator, I was delighted to get a message from Mr. Joseph Staker, who is a relative of the author of this handy little reference book.
Mr. Staker was kind enough to send me detailed information about the roots of Mr. Ropp and his family, and to permit me to publish it here for the benefit of others. To my mind, this is the essence of what the Internet should really be about -- connecting us to people and things we'd never meet otherwise!

    Here is Mr. Staker's complete message, then:
 

Feb. 3, 2006        

Nathan:

    The Ropp family is descended from Rupps who were among the original Amish Mennonites. Jacob Amman's mother was Anna Rupp.
    Several male Rupps brought their families out of the Lake Thun region of Bern (now a canton in Switzerland, the a city-state in the Swiss Confederation) after 1692. This was the result of the religious division between Jacob Amman and more lenient Anabaptists. They went to the mining town of Ste. Marie-aux-Mines in Alsace. The French government halted the increase in their numbers in 1712, and they spread out to other locations. Most of the Ropps went to the Principality of Salm, an enclave within Alsace. A minister named Johannes Rupp (about 1740-1788) died in Alsace, leaving his children orphans. One of them was Andreas Ropp (a French variation of the spelling) 1776-1868.
    Now this may not all seem relevant, but it is.
    Andreas and the other children lost possession of their only inheritance -- part ownership of a grist mill. He was force to "work for strangers" (i.e. take work outside the Amish Mennonite community) until his marriage in 1805 brought land. But far from being prosperous, he suffered through the Napoleonic Wars, the French occupation of Switzerland, the 'Little Ice Age' winters of 1814-1817, periodic epidemics, etc.
    In 1826 Andreas took his family to Philadelphia, with little or no savings. He worked a year in Lancaster County, just long enough to be paid for the working as a laborer on the fall harvest.
    From there he moved on to the German Block of Wilmot Township, Ontario. This was the 'low income housing' of the day; the English government let settlers occupy lots for no down payment, and promised later ownership if they would build a house, cultivate, and clear a portion of road.
    The settlers expected to buy adjoining lots at a low price, and eventually own reasonably-sized farms. But the government gave the back lots to a university, which raised the asking price. In 1831-32 the Ropps and others moved south to the Amish Mennonite communities in Butler County, Ohio.
    The Ropps lived in Ohio one year, where Andreas's wife died. Presumably they cleared a farm, then sold it to buy land for $1.25 an acre in Central Illinois.
    They cleared a number of small areas above Morton, Illinois before eventually settling in Elm Grove and Pekin. The sons cleared timber and worked as teamsters hauling freight during the construction of the railroad east of Pekin 1836-37.
    To make a long story short, land in Illinois proved to be incredibly fertile, and the Ropps prospered. Their fortunes increased with the invention of the Deere plow that could cut through hardbaked prairie topsoil -- making inexpensive land suddenly valuable.
    Two of the sons became Amish Mennonite elders (also called bishops). One was Christian Ropp (1812-1896). He purchased land for as little as 25 cents an acre and as much as $15 an acre between 1837 and 1864. He was one of the first local farmers to move out from the creeks and timberlands and onto the prairie. He first farmed prairie land at White Oak Township near Carlock, using a 10-oxen hitch and a plowshare that he had smithed himself.
    Although the use of labor-saving tools was hotly debated among Illinois Amish Mennonites, the Ropps had already gone through the adversities of clearing at least four homesteads/farms with primitive hand tools. They never objected to their use.
    Christian's oldest son Christian Ropp Jr. (1837-1929) devised the Commercial Calculator, which became a million-seller. He moved to Chicago to be closer to his publishing interests, and is buried there in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
    I guess the point is, you could not find a pioneer family that went through more hardships than the Ropps. It is not surprising that an instrument that could make life easier for farmers came out of their experiences.
    They are such a good example of adversity and success that in July the Ropps will be the first family chosen for what will be an annual series on Illinois pioneers. Presentations are to be given at the University of Illinois. It will coincide with the annual reunion at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Metamora, which brings 1,000-2,000 people each year.

    Joseph Staker

    Mr. Staker also sent me some additional information from which we learn that the pocket-sized book was first published in 1875, then went through several versions up to 1919. The title page of a later version called it "Ropp's new commercial calculator and short-cut arithmetic, containing a new, complete and comprehensive system of useful tables."
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