Date in History: 1844 – 1936
During the 19th century, Fort Atkinson developed a nationally known manufacturing base with industries like Northwestern Manufacturing and Cornish, Cornish & Greene on the north side of town. Though not employing nearly as many men, another industry on the south side of the Rock River was earning a national reputation as well. The Pounder Foundry and Machine Shop, built in 1873-74 by George Henry Pounder, was located along South Water St. E. in the area now used as a parking lot behind Jonas Office Supply. The shop turned out plows, cultivators, and wagons but was perhaps best known for the Pounder Harrow, which was said to have been sold in every state in the union and Canada.
George Pounder was born in 1844 near Milwaukee and attended school only until the 5th grade. He enlisted in the Civil War at age 19 and served in Co. K of the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry – a company that was chosen by Gen. George Custer to be his headquarters’ guard. Pounder came to Fort in 1868 and soon thereafter bought the old Widman store and set up shop as a blacksmith. As he worked he began making improvements to plows and harrows and soon received a number of patents for his designs. He then built the Foundry on S. Water St. E. and began manufacturing agricultural implements of his own design.
Tragedy struck his life in 1872 when he lost his young 25-year-old wife in childbirth followed a week later by the loss of his newborn son. Pounder remarried two more times, outliving his second wife as well. He continued to be successful in his business and became a prominent citizen of Fort Atkinson serving a few terms on the city council and acting as a patron of the Methodist Church. Perhaps his most important post was the one he regularly held at the critical end position of a bucket brigade line. Contemporaries remember him standing on roofs amidst flames and smoke casting the water that was passed up to him. As a blacksmith, everyone reasoned, he knew just how much flame and smoke he could stand.
Pounder was also a stalwart in the state’s GAR movement. In fact when he died in December of 1936 Fort Atkinson lost their last direct link to the Civil War, as Pounder was the last living veteran of that national upheaval.
Surprisingly the favorite hobby of this Civil War veteran, blacksmith, and inventor was poetry. Pounder had a number of his poems published in local and state publications and by the end of his life he was known as Fort Atkinson’s poet laureate. In addition to his literary talents, the museum has a large charcoal drawing of Niagara Falls that is signed by none other than the distinctive hand of George H. Pounder. It is often on display in the museum’s main lobby.