Canton Repository

July 24, 2006

Timken gets back to roots

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

BERLIN - William R. “Tim” Timken Jr. had to become ambassador to find his long-lost German relatives.

Timken’s great-grandfather was an immigrant from Tarmstedt, a village near Bremen in northern Germany. But past efforts by the Timken family in America never succeeded in finding any relatives in the old country.

Earlier this year, as Timken prepared for an official, first-time visit to his great-grandfather’s hometown, the embassy turned up two descendants of Timken’s great-great aunt and uncle, he said.

“They don’t have the name Timken, but they’re clearly my relatives back to 1780,” he said.

Timken and his wife, Sue, visited the relatives during the trip to the Bremen area in early July.

They were “very nice people and we presume that maybe there were more,” he said. “But it wasn’t a terribly prolific family, particularly on the male side.”

Timken frequently tells German audiences about his great-grandfather, Henry Timken, a German immigrant who came to the United States at age 8 with his farmer father and brothers. He made a fortune after inventing a buggy spring that could handle the rugged roads of the West before he came up with the tapered roller bearing that launched the Timken Co.

But Timken said he never appreciated the courage it took to make a journey to the New World in the early 19th century until he toured a new German Emigration Center museum in nearby Bremerhaven.

“I saw the absolute — how to describe it — unbelievable conditions that they endured in crossing the ocean and the deaths,” he said. “And I also went to the church where they probably went for the last time.”

Visiting the former family plot, Timken said he wondered why anyone would leave it for the uncertainties of a new land. “Those people must have been absolutely courageous because they didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “For them, it was like a leap into the unknown.”

He said it was rewarding for him to “better understand the people that laid the foundations for me.”