The Frau Erica Project
Muellers in America:
The first 155 years


Emanuel Lutheran Church, Freedom Township, Janesville, Minnesota, photographed June 7, 2007, by Joel Nickel

Opa makes a bad investment

In 1940, Opa Mueller was convinced to buy 10 shares in a North Carolina mica mine. He never saw his money again. Six years after Opa’s death, H.C. Nickel, his son-in-law, investigated and determined that Opa had been defrauded.

Sometime in the summer of 1940, a man named H.J. Meier, acting as an agent for J.B. Ford & Co., a North Carolina mining company, convinced Opa Mueller to invest in the company’s mica mines. Opa took the bait, whatever it was, and on June 21, 1940, gave Meier $500 — about $8,900 in 2018 dollars — for 10 shares of J.B. Ford stock at $50 a share. He received a receipt and promissory note, guaranteeing a 6-percent interest rate, but no stock certificates were ever issued.

The archive has no record of Opa’s involvement — whether he communicated with J.B. Ford & Co. or pursued the issue with H.J. Meier. Opa died in August 1948. Oma and her caregiver daughter Frieda moved into a small house in Eagle Lake, owned or rented by her son Ernie, who lived with his wife Charlotte across the street a couple blocks south. They were chronically short of funds.

Whether Frieda knew about the J.B. Ford & Co. investment or simply ran across Opa’s receipt and promissory note, she sought advice from H.C. Nickel, her sister Adelheid’s husband, then a broker at James E. Bennett & Co. in Chicago. Was this worth anything?

H.C. researched J.B. Ford in the Bennett & Co. library but could find no evidence that the company was solvent or even existed. He wrote to the North Carolina secretary of state, quoting from the promissory note that “J.B. Ford & Company, incorporated of Franklin, Macon County, North Carolina, ... owns and controls Lyle Knob, Tharn Mounty, Rally Miller and Mack Mica Mines.” His letter was dated January 21, 1954.

On the same day, he wrote his sister-in-law a letter, breaking the news: “Unless the Secretary of State in North Carolina affirms the fact that the J.B. Ford & Company is still in existence, I’m afraid that this whole thing has been a fraud from the start. I’m sorry to have to relay this dismal information to you, but sooner or later the facts must be faced.”

H.C. — Hib to almost everyone — closed with a bit of humor:

I suppose Addie told you of the humorous thing Jim wrote in his religion lesson. He was to write down some thoughts, Important Thoughts, based on the story of Jesus’ birth. His important thought was ... “Jesus was the son of God and sort of the son of Mary and Joseph.”

A week later, the North Carolina secretary of state confirmed H.C.’s worst fears. H.C. forwarded the letter, to Frieda, adding a penciled note:

As I had assumed, the mica investment is a complete loss per above. Therefore, I am returning the original papers. I doubt the honesty and integrity of Mr. Meier, selling something that became bankrupt six months later. It would be interesting for you to correspond with Meier to see what kind of explanation he has to offer. I would imagine his address is the one indicated on the enclosed envelope containing the note and receipt. [The address scrawled on the envelope — possibly 1945 Dreco Avenue South/Minneapolis — is apparently in Opa’s hand.]