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Latzer, Louis (1848 – 1924)

March 21, 2017

Last modified: February 5, 2019

Louis Latzer (1848-1924), often called “The Father of Pet Milk,”((Highland Historical Society, Latzer Homestead, n.d. (accessed February 11, 2017).)) helped define the community of Highland as a key producer of dairy goods and commerce. He served as president (1887-1924) of Helvetia Milk Condensing Company (now Pet, Incorporated), which was founded in 1885 in Highland. His leadership and innovative techniques revolutionized the process of milk production and preservation.

Louis Latzer

Louis Latzer
From the Highland Historical Society

Louis Latzer was born on a farm two miles south of Highland on November 11, 1848.((W. T. Norton, Hon. N. G. Flagg, and J. S. Hoerner, eds., Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois and Its People 1812 to 1912. Vol. I, (Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1912), 1061.)) His father, Alois Latzer (1808-1891), was a native of Austria while his mother, Margaretha (Gaduff) Latzer (1819-1874), was from Switzerland.((Margaretha (Gaduff) Latzer, Find A Grave, record added May 24, 2013. (accessed March 17, 2017).)) His parents separately immigrated to Madison County around 1846 and met while living in Highland.((Norton, Flagg and Hoerner, eds., 1061.))

Louis Latzer was educated at McKendree College in Lebanon, Illinois, and at Illinois Industrial University in Champaign, Illinois (now the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). He later specialized in chemistry through private instruction.((Ibid.)) In 1869, his father returned to Austria((Louis Latzer, (From the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, New York: James T. White & Company, 1925), 1.)) so Louis Latzer had to leave college to take over the family farm.((Highland Historical Society, Latzer Homestead, n.d. (accessed February 11, 2017).))

On December 10, 1874 he married Eliza Luehm (1852-1933). Together they had seven children, of which six lived to adulthood.((Norton, Flagg and Hoerner, eds., 1061.)) They were Alice Bertha Latzer (1875-1954), John Albert Latzer (1877-1952), Jennie Latzer Kaeser (1878-1986), Lenore Latzer Gilloon (1884-1934), Robert Louis Latzer (1887-1974), Ada Carolina Latzer (1888-1892), and Irma Latzer Gamble (1892-1966).((Louis Latzer, Find A Grave, record added April 13, 2007. (accessed February 14, 2017).))

In 1885, Louis Latzer represented Helvetia Township on the Board of Supervisors.((A. P. Spencer, Centennial History of Highland, Illinois 1837-1937, (Reprint, Highland: Highland Historical Society, 1978), 200.)) This was a position he held for eleven years.((Norton, Flagg and Hoerner, eds., 1061.))

On February 14, 1885, John Baptist Meÿenberg (1847-1914) organized Helvetia Milk Company with Louis Latzer and other local farmers and businessmen.((Martin Bell, A Portrait of Progress: A Business History of Pet Milk Company from 1885 to 1960, (St. Louis: Pet Milk Company, 1962), 29.)) Latzer invested as a stockholder in the company and was elected as a founding director.((Spencer, 196.))

As a founding director, Latzer assumed the role of technical director.((Ibid.)) By the end of 1885, the company gained recognition in the area for its canned evaporated milk. It was popular because the can did not need refrigeration until it was opened and the milk had a reputation for helping sick infants.((“Pet Incorporated”, Pet Incorporated – Lehman Brothers Collection, 2012. (accessed February 13, 2017).))

In 1886, the company experienced a set-back when a large portion of its milk spoiled, much of it on grocers’ shelves.((Ibid.)) After some debate about whether the spoilage was caused by John Baptist Meÿenberg’s sterilization process or improper sealing of the tin cans, Meÿenberg left the company.((Spencer, 201.))

Dr. Werner Schmidt (1841-1900), a local physician proficient in chemistry, was hired to perform experiments on the spoilage problem. A room in the factory was set-up for this purpose and Latzer spent much time in the lab with Dr. Schmidt.((Ibid., 203)) They found the spoilage was caused by bacteria and that the solution was to improve the milk sterilization process.((“Pet Incorporated.”)) This was done by obtaining a supply of milk that was uniform and uncontaminated, properly heating and maintaining the temperature of the milk, continuing research into the chemical properties of milk, and by not letting all the air out of the cans.((Bell, 36.)) Latzer also automated the company’s plants, which led to lower costs, faster production, and safer canning.((“Pet Incorporated.”))

Louis Latzer was elected as the third president of Helvetia Milk Condensing Company in 1887.((Spencer, 200.)) Over the next five years the process of condensing milk was perfected. The company became a huge success as their product became known world-wide.((Ibid, 206.))

Latzer took interest in civic affairs, promoted the good of the community, and was a model farmer.((Ibid, 200.)) In 1889, he served as the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Madison County. He also served as highway commissioner for six years and school trustee for twenty years.((Norton, Flagg and Hoerner, eds., 1061.))

In 1923 Helvetia Milk Condensing Company was renamed Pet Milk Company and moved their main offices to St. Louis.((“Pet Incorporated.”)) Louis Latzer continued to work for the company and maintained an office and lab in Highland until his death.((Spencer, 214.))

For 37 years Louis Latzer ran this innovative and successful business in Highland, Illinois. It brought many benefits to the local community including jobs and outside money to its economy.((Ibid.))

Louis Latzer died on March 27, 1924, and is buried at Highland City Cemetery in Madison County.((Louis Latzer, Find A Grave.)) After his death, his children erected the Louis Latzer Memorial Library in Highland in his memory. It was dedicated in 1929.((Spencer, 269 – 271.))

In 1977 the Pet Milk Company deeded Louis Latzer’s home and forty acres of his farm to the Highland Historical Society.((“Roland Harris oral history interview conducted by Jeffrey Edison in Highland, Illinois, October 15, 2016.” From Madison Historical: The Online Encyclopedia and Digital Archive for Madison County, Illinois. MP3.)) This became the Louis Latzer Homestead which is open to the public for tours and events.((Highland Historical Society, Latzer Homestead, n.d. (accessed February 11, 2017).))

Cite this article: Angela Little, "Latzer, Louis (1848 – 1924)," Madison Historical: The Online Encyclopedia and Digital Archive for Madison County, Illinois, last modified February 5, 2019,
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