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The William J. H. Boetcker Manuscript Collection

Identifier: SCM 231

Scope and Content

The William J. H. Boetcker Manuscript Collection consists of approximately 13 linear feet of documents, photographs, and ephemera. Inclusive dates of the collection are from 1890 to 1965, with the bulk of the collection running from 1910 to 1960. The collection is divided into 8 distinct series with associated subseries. These series are:

This collection contains information about the life and ministry of William John Henry Boetcker, his early years as a German Reformed minister, his time as a labor negotiator and "troubleshooter," and finally his years as a prolific writer and speaker on solving the problems of society from "the inside."


  • 1890 - 1965

Language of Materials

English, Spanish, Portuguese, German


The materials contained in this collection may be examined by library patrons under the normal rules and conditions of Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary.

Preferred Citation

The following is the acceptable citation for publication: The William J. H. Boetcker Manuscript Collection, Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary.

Biographical Information

William John Henry Boetcker was born in Altona, Germany, a suburb of Hamburg, on July 17, 1873, one of four children. When he was eight years old, his father was seriously injured when beaten up by striking workers at the factory where he was employed. This incident had a profound effect on Boetcker's views on labor relations going forward. At age 14, Boetcker began work on a book of puzzles and riddles, and in 1890, Neuster Ratzelschatz was published. At age 17, Boetcker became Germany's youngest published author. This attracted the attention of the Countess Von Waldersee, whose husband was a member of the military staff of the Kaiser. Impressed by young Boetcker's intellect, and convinced that he could not attain his full potential in Germany, the Countess gave him the $65 necessary for steamship passage to the United States.

Arriving in Chicago in 1891, Boetcker followed his calling to the ministry and enrolled in the Chicago Theological Seminary. He only spoke German, and nobody at the Seminary knew German, so he had to communicate with all of his instructors and classmates in Latin. After two years, Boetcker moved to the East Coast, transferring to the German Theological School of Newark (Bloomfield), New Jersey, where he graduated in 1897. He was ordained as a minister by the Reformed Church of America, South Classis of Long Island, also in 1897.

In 1898, Boetcker became pastor of his first church, the German Reformed Church in the East New York section of Brooklyn. It was there he met Anna Albrecht, the church organist, whom he married in 1899. The couple remained married until Anna's death in 1957, raising seven children and having 14 grandchildren. Overworked in Brooklyn and in generally poor health, Boetcker sought a quieter environment and moved to Shelbyville, Indiana in 1902, becoming the pastor of the First German Presbyterian Church there. During that time, radical labor agitators appeared in Shelbyville, and Boetcker warned about following these agitators from his pulpit. Local Union officials demanded that Boetcker retract his statements under the threat of withdrawal of their financial support from the church. The following week, during his sermon, Boetcker replied, "You can keep your money and go to Hell with it rather than for us to accept it under such circumstances and go with you." The local news media ran headlines reading "Minister Tells Congregation to Go to Hell." The incident had a telling effect on Boetcker, moving him to starting a Shelbyville Citizens Alliance that promoted labor peace instead of labor strife. It also influenced Boetcker to move away from the active pulpit and pursue a life of working with both labor and management from the "inside," in order to prevent strikes and other labor misunderstandings.

Hearing of the events in Shelbyville, President D. M. Parry of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) offered Boetcker a roll in the organization of a Citizens Alliance and Employers Organization. In 1903, Boetcker and 18 others associated with the NAM organized a convention at Kimball Hall in Chicago, attended by over 1,800 delegates, uniting employers against radical union organizers. Out of this convention the national Citizens Industrial Association (CIA) was born. Boetcker moved to Toledo, Ohio in 1905 and served as Secretary of the Toledo CIA through 1913. There were 180 labor strikes in Toledo in the five years prior to Boetcker's arrival. In his nine years there, only six strikes took place. His "Toledo Plan" attracted the attention of national labor leaders, including Samuel Gompers, the President of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

Seeking new challenges, Boetcker moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1914, the heart of the steel industry, and home to much labor strife. He strongly believed that "the problems we have appear on the outside, but the causes we have for our problems come from the inside. If we can correct what's wrong on the inside, we don't have to worry about what's on the outside." He founded his "National Inside Association" and the "Inside Publishing Company," the latter to help deliver his many messages of solutions from "the inside."

While in Pittsburgh, World War I began, and as a prominent German in the community, Boetcker had to deal with the prejudice of anti-German sentiment rampant at the time. To show his patriotism, Boetcker volunteered to help the War Department as chief of the Speaker's Division of the Ordnance Department, covering nine states, where he went "into plants where the workmen were from families who were on the enemy's side over in Europe and bring them to recognize that they were Americans, and that they owed no allegiance to enemy countries." The U.S. Government never reimbursed Boetcker for his travel expenses, and the entire World War I experience in Pittsburgh left him disillusioned and he sought to move once again.

In 1919, Boetcker and his family relocated to Geneva, Ohio, where he would run his speaking and publishing businesses out of Erie, Pennsylvania for the remainder of his life. Boetcker became a prolific producer of written thoughts on a variety of topics, called his "Golden Nuggets," which frequently appeared in newspapers. Boetcker often used the pen name "Tianus Tiorio," acronyms which stood for "Truth in a Nutshell" and his favorite, "Think It Over. Reason It Out!" He also used the pen name "Civis Americanus" at times. Even though he continued as an active speaker promoting labor and other "inside" issues, his major activities through the 1950s were his writings. He corresponded with such notables as former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, William Green, President of the AFL, war hero Eddie Rickenbacker, as well as numerous United States Senators and members of Congress. Boetcker's worldwide visibility peaked in 1936 when he attended, as an official United States delegate, the World Congress for Leisure Time and Recreation at Hamburg, Germany, along with representatives of 52 countries. Boetcker was able to witness firsthand the perceived improvements in living conditions in his home country under Adolf Hitler, and this may have influenced his staunch opposition to World War II and America's involvement in it.

William J.H. Boetcker published his list of "The Ten Cannots" in 1916, which included thoughts such as "You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong," and "You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer." The Committee for Constitutional Government printed a leaflet in 1942 entitled "Lincoln on Limitations," where the "Ten Cannots" were erroneously attributed to Abraham Lincoln. As recently as 1992, Ronald Reagan, in his speech to the Republican National Convention in Houston, attributed the Boetcker quotes to Lincoln.

William J. H. Boetcker died of old age and illness at the age of 91 in Erie, Pennsylvania, on March 12, 1962.

1 Quoted from the transcript of an oral history interview by William Boetcker Jr., about his father's life. The interview was recorded by Gertrude (Trudy) Boetcker, date undetermined, and was sent to family members under the title of "William John Henry Boetcker: 1873-1962."

2 Boetcker, William Jr., previously cited oral history interview.


13 Linear Feet (24 boxes)


The William J. H. Boetcker Manuscript Collection has been grouped into a logical arrangement of eight major series and associated subseries, documenting his ministerial, public speaking and writing careers. The collection contains considerable correspondence with individuals, first with many local civic and business leaders of Shelbyville, Indiana, Geneva, Ohio and Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania, and later with national business and political leaders. Original signatures from General and future President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Senator and future President Warren Harding, Congressman Fred A. Hartley, former President Herbert Hoover, Senator and future President John F. Kennedy, New York Governor and future President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and former President Theodore Roosevelt, as well as other notables, are contained in the collection.

Series I: Personal and/or Biographical (Box 1)

This series contains an early Boetcker family history, written in German, as well as biographical research of William Boetcker Jr. Family correspondence, obituaries, and other post-death documents are also contained in this series.

Series II: Early Life - 1873-1919 (Boxes 1-2)

This series is arranged in four subseries. Subseries 1, Germany 1873-1891, contains autobiographical information as well as the original book proposal form for Neuster Ratzelschatz and correspondence from Countess Von Waldersee. Subseries 2, Seminary to Shelbyville - 1892-1905, contains more autobiographical information, documentation from the German Theological School of Newark, NJ, and correspondence. Subseries 3, Toledo, Ohio - 1905-1913, contains materials pertaining to the Citizens Industrial Association, the formation of the National Inside Association, clippings and correspondence. Subseries 4, Pittsburgh, PA, 1914-1919, contains autobiographical information, clippings and correspondence.

Series III: Geneva, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania Years, 1920-1960 (Boxes 3-5)

This series is arranged in four subseries. Subseries 1, 1920s, contains personal and organizational information, clippings and correspondence from the 1920s. Subseries 2, 1930s, contains personal and organizational information, clippings and correspondence from the 1930s. Subseries 3, 1940s, contains personal and organizational information, clippings and correspondence from the 1940s. Subseries 4, 1950s-1960s, contains personal and biographical information, as well as correspondence from that time period.

Series IV: Writings by William J.H. Boetcker (Boxes 6-11)

This series contains writings by William J. H. Boetcker, arranged by title alphabetically, mostly in typescript format. There are also some published works in this series. At the end are two books; Neuester Ratselschatz, written by William Boetcker as a 17 year-old in Germany, and Picturesque Shelbyville: Representing the Official, Business and Social Relations of Shelbyville, Indiana, compiled and produced by William Boetcker while he was the pastor of the First German Presbyterian Church in Shelbyville, Indiana.

Series V: Booklets, Pamphlets, Post Cards, "Golden Nuggets," and Single Page Quotations by William J. H. Boetcker (Aka Tiorio and Civis Americanus) (Boxes 12-19)

This series is arranged in three subseries. Subseries 1, Pamphlets, booklets, single card or page, is arranged by title alphabetically in the aforementioned formats. Subseries 2, Postcards, is arranged by title alphabetically, with all pieces printed on postcards. Subseries 3, Index Cards, contains Boetcker sayings and quotations, mostly "Golden Nuggets," that were clipped from newspapers and glued to index cards.

Series VI: Published and Unpublished Writings by Others (Box 20)

This series contains articles of interest written by others, and kept by William J. H. Boetcker.

Series VII: Photographs (Boxes 21-22)

This series contains personal portraits, family, photographs, group pictures, and unidentified pictures from the entire date span of the collection.

Series VIII: Ephemera (Boxes 23-24)

This series contains ordination and citizenship certificates for William J. H. Boetcker. It also contains disassembled loose leaf pages of Boetcker "Golden Nugget" sayings that were collected in scrap book form, as well as other scrapbooks containing clippings and correspondence, mostly from 1890 through the 1940s. A scrapbook documenting Boetcker's trip to Nazi Germany for the 1936 Hamburg World Congress for Leisure and Recreation is also contained in this series, as well broadsides and buttons containing Boetcker sayings.

Processing Information

This collection was acquired in September 2012, via William J. H. Boetcker's granddaughter, Ruth Boetcker.

Final processing of the collection, including the writing and publishing of a finding aid, was done by Bob Golon, Manuscript Librarian.

The William J. H. Boetcker Manuscript Collection
Robert B. Golon
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Princeton Theological Seminary. Library. Special Collections Repository

Princeton Theological Seminary
Wright Library
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Princeton NJ 08540 USA