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Emanuel Sternberger collection

Emanuel Sternberger was born in Nedlingen, Germany, in 1859, the seventh child of Jonas and Blanche Emanuel Sternberger. Sternberger’s father was a schoolteacher, and Emanuel was educated first at the local village school and later at a preparatory school in Grunstadt. When Emanuel was thirteen, his older brother David returned to Germany from South Carolina to marry. Some time after David’s return to America, young Emanuel Sternberger joined his brother at Florence, which he reached by way of New York and Charleston. While teaching himself English, Emanuel Sternberger worked as a clerk in his brother’s store.

Emanuel Sternberger returned to Germany in 1878. His father gave him $250.00 to establish his own business. With two brothers in South Carolina—David at Florence and Herman at Darlington—Emanueil decided to locate in the Marlboro County community of Clio. At the age of nineteen in 1879, Sternberger rented a small building, which served also as a residence. Profits from his general merchandise and cotton-buying business enabled Sternberger to become actively involved in acquiring and selling land. Sternberger purchased land in Clio in 1889 on which he later built a two-story brick store that the merchant claimed was the largest department store in South Carolina.

At some point, Sternberger invited his brother Herman to join him in business after the failure of the latter’s store in Darlington. Emanuel Sternberger also began to expand his business interests beyond South Carolina. He had traveled in the North and, with his brother David, acquired a shirt factory in Philadelphia. While living in Philadelphia, Sternberger continued to diversify his business interests in South Carolina. In a letter dated 17 June 1895, written from Philadelphia, Pa., Sternberger wrote to J[ames] L. Medlin, Clio, S.C., discussing at length plans to finance railroad construction to Clio and the desire to secure a cotton mill and bank for the town. The letter assures Medlin of Sternberger's willingness to furnish up to $700 in cash, more than his one-fifth share of the $3000 investment, but insists "it is not fair that we should do it all, and others who derive as much or more benefit of it than we do, do nothing."

While living in the mid-Atlantic area, Sternberger met and began a friendship with Baltimore wholesale grocer Moses H. Cone. Sterberger returned to Clio after selling the shirt factory in Pennsylvania but left again to manage an Asheville, N.C., shoe factory owned by Cone. Sternberger left the business after a year and returned to Clio. In 1898 Moses Cone invited Sternberger to join him in Greensboro, N.C., where they organized the Revolution Cotton Mills. Emanuel Sternberger served as president of the company; his brother Herman served as secretary and treasurer. Emanuel remained in Clio while Herman moved to Greensboro to oversee construction of the mill.

Emanuel Sternberger married Bertha Strauss in 1900. He and his family stayed in Clio until 1902 when they moved to Greensboro. Sternberger remained in Greensboro as president of the Revolution Cotton Mills until his death in 1924. Operations of the Clio mercantile firm were turned over to his nephew Joseph Strauss, and the business was later incorporated as Emanuel Sternberger & Company. Although the business remained successful, it apparently did not long survive Emanuel Sternberger’s death.

The one hundred twenty-six volumes and two and three-quarter linear feet of unbound business records and correspondence provide a detailed history of the business from 1897 until 1927. The ledgers, cash books, inventory books, fertilizer books, cotton books, gin books, and day books indicate the wide range of mercantile operations in which the company was involved. The records provide an excellent example of the cotton economy in the Pee Dee section of South Carolina and of the credit system by which the agricultural economy operated. The earliest volume in the collection is a stock inventory book dated 1 January 1897. In addition to inventory, the volume lists liabilities, real estate, real estate mortgages, shares, notes, new accounts, and store accounts. A less complete inventory dated 1 January 1898 is also found in the same volume. There are a number of volumes containing accounts with wholesalers from whom Emanuel Sterberger & Company purchased goods. Emanuel Sterberger & Company also operated a cotton gin and sold shares of stock in the Clio Ginnery Company. There are indications that the company may have engaged in the insurance business as well. One volume is a policy register for the Palmetto Insurance Company of Sumter, Joseph Strauss, agent.

In addition to buying and ginning cotton and selling seed and fertilizer, Emanuel Sternberger & Company sold millinery, shoes, staples, and many other items that were needed by their customers in Clio and the surrounding area. The daily record of sales is documented in forty-six day books which span the period from 6 October 1904 through 31 December 1924.

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