Albert Friedrich Nickel: Machinist and Socialist
Al Nickel arrived in Milwaukee as an immigrant toddler just shy of his second birthday. He was the last of the German-born Nickels; his surviving siblings were all born in Milwaukee.
Albert F. Nickel was born in Prussia, according to the 1880 Milwaukee census. The 1900 census finds him at age 21, living with his parents at 607 Potter Avenue — half a block west of St. Lucas Church on Kinnickinnic, and half a block east of the house he would later own on Howell Avenue.
Al’s father was listed on the 1900 census as a homeowner, though the property was mortgaged. Al was no longer an only child then; he had three younger siblings, all U.S.-born: William, 19; Emma, 13; and Hattie, 9. (The census notes that Michael and Wilhelmina [geb. Knoll] had had seven children, only four of whom were living.) Al’s place of birth was now listed as Germany; his occupation was given as “laborer,” just like his father.
There are stories of Al and his younger sister Hattie taking sandwiches to the factory and poking them through the fence to their father Michael when the lunch whistle blew. It was not a happy working life — six-day weeks and 10- or 12-hour days. Factory life led Al toward socialism (as it did most of immigrant Milwaukee, which had socialist mayors until the 1950s), but the working conditions did not change much. He was a machinist and toolmaker. A set of his steel calipers, stamped “A.F. Nickel,” survived in the basement of 623 North Ridgeland in Oak Park, Illinois, as did one of his handmade hacksaws. (That hacksaw was one of few useful tools supporting model railroads in the years before Al’s grandson James received his first electric jigsaw.)
The 1890 census materials for Milwaukee County were mostly destroyed by fire at the National Archives in Washington. Nearly all of what survived the fire was allowed to sit in standing water, thus finishing off the entire historical record. The 1890 census would have included Michael Sr., Al’s grandfather, and possibly Al’s uncle Albert Friedrich, who is said to have emigrated with Al’s father but was killed in a logging accident.
1880 Census for Milwaukee County [misspellings sic]
Marital Father Mother
Relation Status Gender Race Age Born in Occupation Born in Born in
Michal NICHOL Self M Male W 29 PRUSSIA Laborer PRUSSIA PRUSSIA
Whilemnia NICHOL Wife M Female W 28 PRUSSIA Keeps House PRUSSIA PRUSSIA
Albert NICHOL Son S Male W 2 PRUSSIA PRUSSIA PRUSSIA
1900 Census for Milwaukee County: Precinct 2, Ward 7: Milwaukee City
ED 149, Sheet # 6B: enumerated 4 June. Lines 51-56: 607 Potter Ave: Dw 95; Fam 122:
Born/Age Marital Status Mother born Occupation Yrs in U.S.
Nichol Michael Nov 1851/48 married 26 yrs GER/GER/GER Laborer immig 1879/21 *
Wilhelmina Jul 1852/47 married 26 yrs GER/GER/GER None immig 1879/21 **
Albert F May 1878/22 single GER/GER/GER Laborer immig 1879/21
William F Feb 1881/19 single Wis/GER/GER Laborer
Emma W May 1887/13 single Wis/GER/GER At School
Hattie H Aug 1890?/9 single Wis/GER/GER At School
* Has papers. Owns home mortgaged
** 7 children/4 living