Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

Thomas L. Hisgen, trustbuster

Another forgotten Albany success story.

thomas higson

Thomas L. Hisgen

From a 1908 newspaper article:

“[Thomas L.] Hisgen was born at St. Petersburg, Ind., in 1858. When he was 16 years old he removed with his parents and ten other children of the family to a farm near Albany, N.Y. in a few years he and three of his brothers secured employment as clerks in a clothing store. They were successful. It then occurred to Thomas that if they could sell clothing for another man probably they could sell things for themselves, preferably something of their own manufacture.

“Their father, who was something of a chemist, had a formula for making axle grease. Two of the boys made it and the other two acted as selling agents.”

The Hisgen brothers – Thomas, Gustave, Henry and George – started out in 1888 peddling stable to stable until 1889, when they leased a 20′ x 40′ room at as their headquarters. The concern grew, and in 1894 they leased a building on the corner of Dallius [Green] Street and Fourth Avenue, formerly occupied by Standard Oil.

1915 higson brothers

Expanding even more in 1898, they bought the plant of the old Albany Stove Company on Tivoli and Lark. It became the largest axle grease factory in the world.

1900s hisgen letterhead

That same year, Standard Oil, which also sold axle grease, offered them $600,000 for their business. They declined, and Standard set out to ruin them. Standard threatened dealers that their supply of kerosene oil would dry up if they sold the Four Brothers product; the Hisgens countered by going into the oil business.

hisgen stock

The persecution of the Hisgen Brothers at the hands of Standard lasted a decade.

1902 higson brothers

When the oil behemoth cut prices below cost, the Hisgens convinced their dealers to pay from one to three cents more lest they be at the mercy of the oil giant.

Thomas Louis Hisgen’s successful fight against Standard Oil made him nationally famous. A resident of Springfield, he ran for Governor of Massachusetts in 1907, and for President in 1908. Hisgen also played the violin and composed music.

1916 lieb music

The Hisgens retired and sold their business to Sinclair Refining in 1917.

1918 sinclair refining

The Tivoli Street factory closed around 1930. Thomas Hisgen passed away in 1927.

Thanks to http://www.hisgenfamilyproject.com/thomas-louis-hisgen/ for additional information and images.

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