Yardstick: Charles Saeger Lehigh County Commissioner

When we moved into our home in Egypt, Whitehall, PA in Lehigh County, there were a few things left behind from the previous longtime owners. There were a few yardsticks here and there, the kind that are given out as freebies. In the corner of the basement, behind a stack of wood that used to be a pool table, there were four yardstick. Only one in this pile was local. In red bold block lettering it says “Vote to Retain Charles S. Saeger, your county commissioner.” There was no mention of a date or of what county so my curiosity was burning to find out! Plus I wanted to find out if Charles had won the reelection! Here is what I found out.

Charles Saeger’s Life

His obituary showed that Charles Saeger was a Lehigh County Commissioner from 1968-1970 although the newspapers I found showed he was already commissioner in 1966. He was a decision maker during several issues which were brought before the commission:

  • Where should they put the proposed Interstate 78? Charles and his fellow commissioners heard reports from the Joint Planning Commission from Lehigh-Northampton County. The 1970 census had shown a lot of growth in Lehigh County and they suspected a great increase in traffic. They thought an east-west corridor would make the most sense for handling the increase in traffic. They also heard an Environmental Impact Statement regrading the proposed Interstate 78. Having only lived in the Lehigh Valley for 13 years, I cannot imagine the area without Interstate 78. It’s a major route here with both car and truck traffic.
  • Charles and his fellow commissioners incorporated the Lehigh County Authority in August of 1966. It takes care of water and wastewater. I don’t know how wastewater was handled before this decision.
  • He and his fellow commissioners headed a County Covered Bridge tour sponsored by the Theodore Covered Bridge Society in October 1966. Charles Saeger participated in the ceremony at Bogert’s Bridge in the Little Lehigh Parkway.

During Charles Saeger’s time as County Commissioner, he was also a Lehigh County Court Crier for Judge Donald Wieand from 1960-1968. A court crier opens and adjourns the court and maintains order in the courtroom. He distributes case briefs and records and coordinates security in the courtroom. I imagine he would need both a commanding presence and a servant’s heart to hold this role.

After his time as County Commissioner, he was an Allentown City clerk until he retired in 1981. He also served as chairman for the Democractic party of Allentown city for many years. Charles Saeger died in 1999. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Allentown.

Charles Saeger’s Early Years

He was born in Allentown in 1911 and grew up watching a different kind of service from his father. Charles’s father owned Edwin P. Saeger Company Plumbing and Heating on 127 North Franklin Street in Allentown. It seems he and his family lived above the plumbing business and I can imagine young Charles playing around in the showroom while Dad was trying to greet customers. Eventually Dad showed him the ropes and Charles owned and operated the business from 1945 to 1960. But that was not Charles’ only plumbing experience. From 1941 to 1945 he was a steam fitter at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. A steam fitter installs and maintains pipes.

Edwin P. Saeger Plumbing

I found some old advertisements from Edwin P. Saeger’s Plumbing and Heating business from 1915. It appears that Edwin was forward thinking in his advertising campaigns. He was prominently interviewed for an article entitled “Consistent Newspaper Advertising Proves Big Aid in Building Profitable Plumbing and Heating Business: Pennsylvania Merchant-Contractor Uses All Local Papers, Changes Ads Weekly and Develops Large Sales in City and County” for the Journal of Mechanical Engineering on October 2, 1920.

After waxing eloquent on how advertising keeps you before the public and people will only call those they have heard of before when they need your business and how to make your adds seasonal, he makes this interesting comment about how he has made money in the plumbing business. “Carrying a full line of goods…is necessary in building up a profitable plumbing and heating business. As most men know, there is a little money in selling labor; the money must be made on the material.” Is this how successful plumbing businesses work today? I get the impression with the introduction of plastic and easily accessible materials that Edwin’s advice would not hold true today.

Today the building that used to be the Edwin P. Saeger Plumbing and Heating Business is now a laundromat.

The Diehl Family and Charles Saeger

I can’t be sure how the Vote for Charles Saeger yardstick ended up in my house. The Lester and Mabel Diehl family lived here at the time with at least one grown daughter, Brenda. Were they active in the Democratic party? Did someone hand it to them going door to door asking for votes? Was he a friend? Was Charles their plumber? I don’t know, but I do know that freebie yardstick lasted a whole lot longer than anyone thought it would.

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