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John and Lilly Werner papers, 1906-1994


Collection Title:    
John and Lilly Werner papers

Collection Number:    
MSS P:338


1 box (.25 linear feet)

English (bulk), Swedish

Werner, John Oscar, 1888-1994
Werner, Lilly Maria Holm, 1897-1985

Subject Headings:
Werner Automotive Supply Company (Providence, R.I.)
American Union of Swedish Singers--History.
AUSS Cultural Heritage Foundation 
Merchant Marine
Citizenship--United States
United States. Navy.

Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center, Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

This collection contains the personal papers of John and Lilly Werner, both Swedish immigrants, who helped establish and financially support the Cultural Heritage Foundation of the American Union of Swedish Singers. The collection contains legal documents (including citizenship records), Merchant Marine and Navy service paperwork, photographs of the Werner Automotive Supply Company, and documentation of awards presented to John Werner.


Conditions Governing Access:    
The collection is open for research.

Reproduction and Use:    
Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the Swenson Center and the copyright holder. 

Preferred Citation:    
[item identification], in MSS P:338 John and Lilly Werner papers, Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center, Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. 


Source of Acquisition:    
Gift of Donald Ahlm in 2015.

Publication Note:    
Setterdahl, Lilly. A Century of Song: American Union of Swedish Singers, 1892-1992. Chicago: AUSS Cultural Heritage Foundation, 1992. 

Related Materials:    
I/O:61 American Union of Swedish Singers records, 1896-2005 Series VII: AUSS Cultural Heritage Financial Reviews, Treasurer’s Report and Correspondence

Processed By:    
Rebecca Knapper, 2015.


Administrative/Biographical History:    
John Oscar Werner was born in Kristineberg, Västergötland, Sweden on 21 October 1888. He came to the United States with his mother and older brother in October of 1900. In April of the same year, his father came to Cranston, Rhode Island where the whole family settled.  

In 1910, Werner joined the United States Navy, serving for a four-year period. He then enrolled at the Technical Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Having received a license as Marine Engineer from the Pratt Institute, he joined the Merchant Marine and was assigned to Standard Oil of New York.

At the end of World War I, with borrowed money, Werner opened his first automobile supply company in New York. He later bought a formula that solved the problem of grinding soft metal without embedding. He began an extensive advertising campaign, touring the country to promote this product. By 1922, Werner had returned to Providence from his advertising campaign and began to manufacture the compound from the formula he had purchased. In October of 1929, just after the stock market crash, the owner of the compound patent sued him for $60,000. He settled by ceasing production of the formula. He recovered and worked through the Great Depression with success and, in 1930, hired a fellow Swede, Einar Nilsson, who later became a business partner. In 1947, Werner turned over a large portion of company shares to Einar Nilsson and George Sullivan. In 1969, Werner and Nilsson incorporated the Tri-State Auto Warehouse, with Werner as president. 

On 18 April 1940, Werner married Lilly Maria Holm. She was born near Linköping, Sweden on 28 September 1897. Through the urging of two of her sisters who lived in Providence, Rhode Island, she came to the United States in November of 1922. She and John met through one of her sisters and kept in contact from 1923-1939 until they married in 1940. Mrs. Werner died on 11 June 1985.  

As a non-singing member of the Verdandi Male Chorus, Werner took an interest in the history of the American Union of Swedish Singers (AUSS) for many years. In the early 1970s, he proposed establishing an archive where records and artifacts could be kept and displayed. After some investigation, the newly formed Rockford Museum Center and Village (later called the Midway Village Museum) was chosen as the location for this endeavor. 

The AUSS Cultural Heritage Foundation, the body devoted to preserving the history of the American Union of Swedish Singers, was formed and funded by John Werner. In 1992, the Foundation published the complete one hundred year history of the group titled, A Century of Song: American Union of Swedish Singers, 1892-1992. This book contains Werner’s biography and a photograph of John and Lilly Werner together with King Carl Gustaf of Sweden. This book became the only expression of gratitude the modest man would accept. When Mr. Werner died on 4 August 1994 (at age 105), he willed one final generous gift to the Foundation. Interest on that money continues to support the museum and archives, as well as providing contributions to choruses and conventions.
Excerpts for this bibliography were taken from a more complete biography of John Oscar Werner found in A Century of Song: American Union of Swedish Singers, 1892-1992 by Lilly Setterdahl. 

Scope and Content:    
The collection contains legal documents (including citizenship records), Merchant Marine and Navy service paperwork, photographs of the Werner Automotive Supply Company, and documentation of awards presented to John Werner.

System of Arrangement:    
This collection is arranged by the following subjects: Legal documents, Merchant Marine service paperwork, photographs, awards, and the AUSS Cultural Foundation.

Collection Inventory:    

Box 1

Folder 1: Legal documents of John and Lilly Werner, 1906-1994, English and Swedish

Includes citizenship document 1906; Certificate of Citizenship 1955; passport and flyttningsbetyg for Lily Holm 1921; Certificate of Marriage 1940; Certificate of Death for Lilly Werner 1985; Certificate of Death for John Werner 1994.

Folder 2: Merchant Marine service paperwork for John Werner, 1909-1919, English

Includes Seaman’s Certificate of American Citizenship 1918; License to Assistant Engineer of Steam Vessels United States Department of Commerce Steamboat Inspection Service 1918; Honorable Discharge from the United States Navy 1915; letter from Talbot Boiler Company 1917; Navy appointments 1909, 1914; Pratt Institute Mechanical Drawing and Machine Design, evening school credit card; U.S. Department of Labor Immigration Service Seaman’s Identification Card 1917; U.S. Customs Service Seaman’s Identification Card 1918; Navy Yard Orders 1919.

Folder 3: Photographs of John Werner and Werner Automotive Supply Company, 1937 and undated, English

6 photographs (2 portraits of John Werner and 4 photographs of Werner Automotive Supply Company storefront and cars. Also includes article from Globe News (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) from March 1937 titled “These Boys Keep Business Humming.” Includes an image of the business. 

Folder 4: Awards presented to John Werner, 1976 & 1992, English

John Werner was awarded a Knight of the Royal Order of the North Star (also known as Polar Star) (Nordstjärneorden) by King Carl XVI Gustaf in 1976. He also received recognition from the Grand Lodge of the Free Masons of Rhode Island on his 103rd birthday in 1992, includes a photograph of this recognition. 

Folder 5: AUSS Cultural Foundation, 1985, 1994 and undated, English

Includes information on the forming of the AUSS Cultural Heritage Foundation; letter to AUSS members upon the death of John in 1994; obituary for John Werner 1994; obituary for Lilly Werner in Musiktidning September 1985; 2 photographs of John and Lilly Werner and Martin and Don Ahlm and others. 

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