About PetersPioneersThe Wander-Buch of Wilibald Koch

By Peter Biggins.

Betty and Gerhard Becker, James Griffin, Carmen and Bernhard Hampl, Thomas Krahn, Hilda Roderick, and Kurt Rosenbaum have made contributions to this story.

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Kingdom of Württemberg
Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Württemberg. Adopted by King William in 1817 and lasting until 1922. Motto: Furchtlos und trew (Fearless and loyal).

Ropemaking Links

Making Rope
Ropemaking Machines

Journeyman Links

Journeyman Years


Traveling Journeymen in Metternichian South Germany, by George S. Werner, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 125, No. 3, (Jun. 23, 1981), pp. 190-219
Cleaving to the Medieval, Journeymen Ply Their Trades in Europe, by Melissa Eddy, The New York Times, (Aug. 8, 2017)

My great great grandfather, Wilibald Koch, was born in 1827 in Andelfingen in the Kingdom of Württemberg. From 1845 to 1853, when he was age 18 to 26, Wilibald worked as a journeyman ropemaker in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Just about every industry had a need for rope (especially masons, shipwrights, teamsters, and timberwrights). Ropemakers created rope, nets, and rigging from raw materials, usually plant fibers.

On April 28, 1845, Wilibald was issued a Wander-Buch by the Kingdom of Württemberg. A Wander-Buch is a literally a journey book. It is at once a passport and résumé. When issued it has many blank pages for local authorities to give their stamp of approval and employers (Masters) to write about the employee (journeyman).

A journeyman must first complete an apprenticeship with a Master craftsman. So Wilibald was likely working as an apprentice ropemaker for a Master ropemaker in Andelfingen or nearby Riedlingen for several years before age 18. When he completed his apprenticeship at age 18, he was issued the Wander-Buch by the government, allowing him to work as a journeyman ropemaker in cities and towns in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. This he did for eight years.

The journeyman would find a Master who needed a help. He would give his Wander-Buch to the Master. The Master would review the work record in the Wander-Buch before hiring the journeyman. The Master would then retain the Wander-Buch and enter at the end of the job a record of the time and place of the work. The Master would sign the entry, and an offical stamp would indicate the city or town where the work was done. Sometimes, the Master would make a statement about the character of the journeyman.

Wilibald Koch's Wander-Buch contains, on pages 9 to 75, entries from Master ropemakers and officials in cities and towns where Wilibald worked between 1845 and 1853. The general area was southern Germany and northern Switzerland, with some work in north western Austria--within a radius of a couple hundred miles around his home in Andelfingen. A Wander-Buch Map has been constructed to show places where Wilibald worked. A total of 112 entries have been identified with the help of Carmen and Bernhard Hampl. An alphabetical list is provided below. The numbers after the place names are the page numbers in the Wander-Buch. The numbers are linked to the map location, which includes an image of the entry in the Wander-Buch.



  • Budapest  34b




  • Augsburg   25c
  • Bad Reichenhall   39b
  • Bad Tölz   43b
  • Freising   24c
  • Lindau   10a, 50a
  • Munich   25a
  • Neu-Ulm  27a
  • Passau   32b
  • Pfarrkirchen  23a
  • Regensburg   53b
  • Schongau   44b
  • Tegernsee  43a
  • Traunstein   41
  • Zusmarshausen   26a
  • Garmisch-Partenkirchen  44a




  • Altona  75
  • Hamburg  74a

Traveling journeymen were not paid for the work they did but received free room and board. They wore clothes that were easily recognizable and functional: a very broad-brimmed hat and very wide trousers in the ankle area. Their few personal belongings were wrapped in a piece of fabric that was hung from their walking stick, which was carried over the shoulder. They had no money for transportation, so they walked from city to city unless they were offered a ride. They had to appear "clean" so as not disgrace their trade.

There were no photographs in those days, so the bearer of the Wander-Buch was described in detail. The decription of Wilibald on page 7 was as follows: average height, oval face, blond hair, ordinary forehead, blond eye brows, blue eyes, ordinary nose, full cheeks, good teeth, round chin, straight legs, clean skin. A medical examination inserted in 1852 indicated that he had no contageous skin diseases and had been inoculated for smallpox.

When a journeyman had worked a certain amount of time, he was eligible to become a master--a full-fledged member of the ropemakers guild. This was easier said than done. The guild was a sort of cartel that controlled the number of masters.

William Koch
1905 obituary photo of William Koch.
After eight years as a journeyman, Wilibald did his last job in Hamburg and decided to go to America. The last date stamped in his Wander-Buch was May 31, 1853. Wilibald immigrated to Grand Rapids, Michigan, changed his name to William, and continued to work as a ropemaker at least until 1860. He was active in founding Saint Mary's Church in 1857 in a German neighborhood on the West Side of Grand Rapids. After the disastrous fire of 1858 which burned a number of factories near the Grand River and destroyed the only bridge across the river at that time, an old wooden structure at Bridge street, he was employed to make the two enormous ropes from which a footbridge was suspended until the old bridge could be rebuilt. Eight days after the fire, William married Regina Theresa Fassnacht, who was born in 1823 in Königheim, 140 miles north of Andelfingen. Machine made rope came into the market and William then turned his attention to upholstering, being the first to set up an upholstery shop in Grand Rapids. William served in Virginia during the Civil War, and fought in the Battle of Bull Run. He was a Sergeant with the "German Rifles"--Company C of the Third Michigan Infantry Regiment. In 1872, he started an undertaking business, which he was active in for 33 years. William died in Grand Rapids in 1905 at age 77. In addition to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), he was a member of the Arbeiter, Germania, and Schwaben societies.

The Wander-Buch was provided by my cousin James Griffin. Our grandmother Rose Smith Drueke, a granddaughter of Wilibald Koch, had given it to Jim when he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army.

The Wander-Buch is reproduced below. There are three panels for each page. The first is an image of the actual page showing the original German script. To get a higher-resolution image, click on the image shown in the panel. The middle panel is a modern type version of the original German script. The third panel is an English translation.

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, Insert
Original ScriptModern TypeEnglish Translation

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