By Theresa Smith, Arts Intern in Collections
The J.G. Braun Company was an architectural, ornamental metal business specializing in producing architectural ironwork such as railings, storefronts, door frames, stairways, fences, and elevator enclosures. The company was founded in 1886 by German immigrant Jacob Gottfried Braun (1857-1921). The Metal Museum’s J.G. Braun Collection mainly consists of 280+ wrought iron ornaments, and about half of the collection is on display in the Museum's Keeler Gallery from October 4th -December 6th, 2020.
Jacob Gottfried Braun was born in Mönchengladbach, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany on February 28, 1857. From 1870 through 1880, Braun received his Certificate of Performance and Expression of Service from an art metalsmithing and ornamental décor school. In 1884, his father, Friedrich Herman Braun sent him to the United States to sell the families “smithing” wares made of iron, bronze, and copper.
Jacob G. Braun founded his firm in Sioux City, Iowa, on October 22, 1886. Originally, his company made metal prison beds; ventilations; markers for cemeteries and churches; and ornamental fences, gates, and railings. In Chicago, orders for “Braun’s superior Wrought Iron Mouldings” skyrocketed. Before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, most of Chicago’s buildings had cast iron elements, the majority of which melted in the fire. Because Braun found his architectural ironwork in high demand, he moved his company’s headquarters to Chicago in 1980.
“My Wrought Iron Mouldings are especially adapted for storefronts, stairways, stringers, elevator enclosures, fences, roller shelving, bookcases, door frames, and the like. Whoever uses the Wrought Iron Mouldings once will never use cast iron for such purposes again, as Braun Mouldings are light in weight, better looking, and much cleaner than cast iron; they never can break because they are made from the best stock and are indestructible, which makes them exceptionally good if work is to be transported from one place to another.” — J.G. Braun (1)
The J.G. Braun Co.’s elaborate architectural ironwork gained recognition all over the world. In 1896, the company was awarded the Nurnberg Silver Medal of Excellence from Prince Leopold for metal shears and punch machines with wrought steel bodies, and two years later, Prince Leopold awarded the company with the Munich State Medallion and Diploma for shears and punch machines that had indestructible bodies and a larger capacity. In 1899, Braun also received U.S. patents for a forged steel punch machine with shear, universal plate and shape iron shear. The company became an important fixture in American business, and by 1904, they were the largest provider of handmade and pressed wrought iron and brass ornaments.
The story of how our J.G. Braun Collection came to the Museum is an institutional legend. According to the Metal Museum’s Founding Director James Wallace, Ernest Wiemann of Wiemann Metalcraft in Tulsa, Oklahoma, discovered a seemingly forgotten warehouse in the early 1970s. There, behind a wall, he found this large collection of wrought iron ornaments that were likely hidden to prevent them from being melted down during WWII. Wiemann later donated the ornaments to the Metal Museum.
The J. G. Braun Collection includes over 280 objects, the majority of which are drop forged, wrought iron ornaments in the shape of rosettes, leaves, crosses, and animal/mythological creatures. The collection also includes nearly 30 perforated sheet metal samples for fire screens and radiator covers, several lighter, stamped steel ornaments, and a group of cast iron finials. An interesting piece in the collection is this wrought iron ornament that resembles a dragon head with an acanthus leaf on top. This object, like many in the collection, was used to decorate architectural ironworks such as railings, door frames, and fences. To view more of the J.G. Braun Collection, please click here.
If you have more information about the J.G. Braun Company, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Theresa Smith is the Summer 2020 Arts Intern in Collections at the Metal Museum. Smith is a senior at the University of Memphis, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in History. The Arts Intern program, which offers paid internships in the arts to undergraduate students in financial need, is one of many arts programs run by the Studio Institute.