The original E. Steiger & Co. was founded by my great great grandfather, Ernst Steiger, in 1864. Having immigrated from a small town in Germany to New York City in 1855, he devoted himself to his work and became very successful as both a bookseller and a publisher, importing German and other European books, exporting American books, and publishing translations as well as original works.
I had long known the basic facts of Ernst’s life, but as my interest in genealogy deepened I learned more and more about him, and it became striking how much we had in common. It goes well beyond just a first initial and a last name.
Ernst’s work was not just about publishing books. It was about promoting intercultural understanding, which has always been one of my primary drives, and what led me to be an AFS exchange student and later a Peace Corps Volunteer, among other things.
He also cared deeply about education, as I do. He was a major promoter of the work of Friedrich Froebel, and is partly responsible for the spread of the concept of kindergarten in the United States.
He loved languages, was never interested in wild parties, was not shy about expressing his opinions, loved organizing things, and lived his life in a way some might consider eccentric. These are all things that could also be said about me.
Unfortunately, the combination of transatlantic shipping problems and anti-German sentiment in WWI, followed later by the Great Depression, followed by WWII, meant that E. Steiger & Co. filed for bankruptcy in 1934, and disappeared completely by 1943, several decades before I was born. He never knew that sad part of the story, though, having died in 1917 at the age of 84, successful and, as far as I know, happy.
I may not ever have the kind of impact he did, but when I decided to publish books, first the ones I’ve written, and I hope, eventually, those by many others, it seemed natural and appropriate to use the name he used, a name that is mine as much as it was his. It is my way of honoring his legacy and the connection I feel to him.
– Erika Maren Steiger