Bethlehem Innovators

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Innovation in Bethlehem

Since the 1700s, Bethlehem has been a city of innovation. From the first American-made violin to the steel mill that forged the U.S. Navy, an entrepreneurial and industrious spirit has always been an integral part of the city’s spirit.

Hans Christopher Christiansen

Point of Interest: 1762 Water Works

A millwright by trade, Hans Christopher Christiansen engineered the Bethlehem Water Works in 1754, America’s first municipal water distribution system.   Using a system of pumps and heavy wooden pipes, Christiansen managed to pump water uphill from the Monocacy River to a reservoir in the young industrial community’s town square. Once in the reservoir, the water was then distributed to homes and businesses throughout Bethlehem.

Although Christiansen’s water works design was not without its flaws (pipes often needed to be replaced because of the occasional burst), visitors marveled at the engineering feat.   In 1761, seven years after the original construction, Christiansen expanded his plant to serve the growing community.   As a result of the inventive mind of one of the Moravian Church’s most industrious sons, Bethlehem was the first American community to build and maintain a municipal water works and distribution system.

J. Frederick Wolle

Point of Interest: Central Moravian Church

A Bethlehem native by birth, J Frederick Wolle is responsible for bringing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach to mainstream America.  Wolle is best known for leading his famed Bethlehem Bach Choir in performing numerous Bach compositions for their first time in the United States.  Most famously, Wolle’s Bach Choir performed Bach’s Mass in B Minor at Bethlehem’s Central Moravian Church on March 27, 1900 – the first time it had been played in the country’s history.

Wolle, a master organist, founded the Bach Choir in 1898.  Under Wolle’s leadership and vision, the Choir grew into one of the most renowned chorale groups in America, as it remains today. The Bethlehem Bach Choir has since been guest to the President and performed on multiple continents.  A central facet in the city’s music culture for over a hundred years, the Bethlehem Bach Choir has been called a national treasure.


Gustavus Grunewald

Point of Interest: Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts

A leading figure in the school of German landscape painting during the mid 1800’s, Gustavus Grunewald brought his intensely European style of painting to the United States, influencing current and future generations of American painters.  A native of the German region of Moravia, Grunewald immigrated to the United States in 1831.  He arrived in Bethlehem two years later in 1833.

During his years in Bethlehem, Grunewald served as an art instructor at the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies, by this time a nationally renowned institution.  Grunewald, a devout Moravian, lived in Bethlehem for the majority of his life, elevating the visual art tradition of a city long recognized for its engagement in the arts.

John Antes

Point of Interest: Moravian Museum

A Bethlehem man who embodied the Moravian musical tradition, John Antes is credited with building the first American-made violin in 1759, as well as being the first American composer of chamber music. His best-known chamber compositions, the Three Trio’s, were written during a extended stay in Egypt.

After spending his early years as a Bethlehem musician and craftsman, Antes was called to serve as a church missionary to Egypt, where he lived for twelve years.  During his time in Egypt, Ottoman Turks captured and tortured Antes, an event that would traumatize him for the rest of his life.  Following the incident, Antes continued to compose many devotional works of music.  Antes is regarded as a pioneer and maverick for both his daring life story and his unique, moving compositions.

Dr. William L. Estes Sr.

As the founding medical director at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Dr. William L. Estes gained national prominence as an innovator in the medical world.  Estes pioneered a revolutionary “plate and peg” method of splinting compound fractures, which he demonstrated at the 1892 World’s Fair in Chicago.

The son of antebellum Southern aristocracy, Estes also initiated the widespread use of first aid kits for the region’s railroad industry in 1886, years before their use became common elsewhere in the country.  Estes served as Chief Surgeon for the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Bethlehem Iron Company where he instituted a first aid training program for industrial workers.  Estes’s innovative practices eventually became the national standard.

Lewis David Von Schweinitz

Point of Interest: Moravian Museum

Known as the Father of American Mycology, Lewis David Von Schweinitz made significant advances to the U.S. school of botany during the early 19th Century. Over the course of his life, Von Schweinitz classified over 1,000 new species of American fungi. Written publications of Von Schweinitz compose the foundation of the American school of mycology, or study of fungi.

Born in the famed Gemeinhaus near the heart of Moravian Bethlehem, Von Schweinitz was the grandson of Benigna Von Zinzendorf, founder of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies.  During his life, Von Schweinitz served as a Moravian bishop in Bethlehem as well as headmaster of the Moravian Seminary for a time.  A dedicated scientist, religious leader, and educator of youth, Von Schweinitz brought Bethlehem to the front lines of scientific discovery and innovation, a position the city would hold for centuries to come.

Charles M. Schwab

Point of Interest: National Museum of Industrial History

Charles Schwab, one of the greatest industrial and business minds of the 19th and 20th Centuries, was the first steel baron to produce the Grey beam, a continuously rolled steel beam that revolutionized the production of structural steel. Known for his breathtakingly risky investing habits, Schwab invested heavily in the manufacturing of steel armor plating prior to the Great War.  As a result, Bethlehem Steel capitalized on the international arms race and became the second largest producer of steel in the world.

Schwab moved to Bethlehem in 1903 to begin his role as president of Bethlehem Steel, the city’s industrial anchor.  Using his impeccable business intuition and innovative management practices, Schwab transformed Bethlehem Steel from a small town steel manufacturer into an international industrial empire.  Without the presence and guiding hand of Charles M. Shwab, the small city of Bethlehem would not have known the industrial glory that became its calling card.

Dr. Hal Folander

As a result of nurturing an agreement with General Electric, radiologist Dr. Hal Folander is responsible for making St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem a national leader in pioneering new and innovative medical technology.  Since 1999, St. Luke’s has been the only U.S. General Electric showcase hospital for new medical technology.  Because of Folander’s work, St. Luke’s Bethlehem has led the way in bringing lifesaving medical technology into the 21st Century.

As a G.E. showcase hospital, St. Luke’s receives and implements new, procedure-altering technologies before any other hospital.  Most notably, St. Luke’s Bethlehem holds distinction as being the first hospital in the country to implement a hybrid operating room.  Other technologies incorporated as a result of the agreement include endovascular stroke treatment, 3D imaging using multiple modalities, low dose CT imaging, advanced, silent wide-bore MRI imaging, and the development of a new national strategy for breast cancer detection.

David Tannenberg

Point of Interest: Single Brethren’s House

David Tannenberg is one of the most renowned early American organ makers, and a driving force behind the German organ culture of the greater Northeast United States.  Tannenberg, a German immigrant who settled in Bethlehem in 1749, first learned the art of organ building as an apprentice in Bethlehem.  The aspirations and craftsmanship of Tannenberg soon eclipsed that of his mentor, German organ maker Johann Clemm.

Tannenberg crafted his first organ for the Moravian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1765.  Reportedly, the Lancaster organ was soon admired by Betsy Ross, future designer of the American flag as well as by husband George Ross, to-be signer of the Declaration of Independence.   The two gave Tannenberg a contract to repair the organ in their own home.  Tannenberg went on the build about 40 organs in total, dying in process of crafting his last.  He built organs as far south as Salem, North Carolina.  Many are still admired and played today.

Ray Glemser

Ray Glemser, who founded Bethlehem-based Glemser Technologies in 1986 during the heart of the tech boom, pioneers new and innovative computer programs that assist some of the largest pharmaceutical and medical companies to get their products to market quicker than ever.  In essence, Glemser has streamlined the technical process of obtaining FDA approval for many of the most influential pharmaceutical and life science firms in the world.

Glemser, the product of a working class Philadelphia family, has become an influential member of the Bethlehem community beyond his game-changing work in the programming industry.   In 2003, Glemser served on the Historic Bethlehem Partnership Board, an organization dedicated to maintaining the historic nature of the Christmas City.  Ray Glemser, a pioneer by all means, has worked to restore the glory of his city’s industrial past, while also ushering in the industry of the future.

Benigna Von Zinzendorf

Point of Interest: Single Sister’s House

As a young woman, Benigna Von Zinzendorf founded the first school in the colonial United States to educate women.  Built in the heart of Bethlehem, the Moravian Female Seminary held a prestigious position in the colonies.  George Washington famously enrolled his niece at the school following a visit to Bethlehem.  Multiple educational institutions in Bethlehem can trace their lineage back to Benigna’s original institution.

The Moravian Female Seminary was founded in 1742, soon after the christening of Bethlehem by Count Nicolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, founder of the Moravian Church and father to Benigna. The daughter of an immensely influential figure in the region’s history, Benigna has played an equally weighty role in the history of the region, and of the country, as her father.

Rozi Gosztonyi

In 1905, Rozi Gosztonyi became the first female bank president in Pennsylvania’s history.  Arriving in Bethlehem in 1892 with husband John, the two soon opened a bank aimed at helping immigrants who like themselves had made their way to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Tragically, however, John died several years later, leaving management and leadership of the bank to now widowed Rozi Gosztonyi.

Under the leadership of Rozi Gosztonyi, the Gosztonyi Saving and Trust Bank thrived for decades.  The business saw its peak during the prosperous 1920’s.  The Great Depression did not spare the Gosztonyi bank, however.  In 1934, the bank was forced into reorganization, being eventually sold five years later.  Rozi Gosztonyi stands as a symbol not only of the perseverance that guided many immigrants to find success in America, but of the courage to succeed when others think it cannot be done.

Dr Lynn S. Beedle

Point of Interest: Lehigh University

Throughout his distinguished academic career, Dr. Lynn S. Beedle established Bethlehem’s Lehigh University as a mecca for the study of structural steel engineering.  Beedle is best known for founding the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 1969.  The Council brings together experts of diverse fields to study the effects that buildings can have on urban environments.  The first headquarters of the Council was on the campus of Lehigh University, right in the heart of Bethlehem.

Beedle is hailed as a pioneer behind the modern understanding of urban buildings and living.  As written by the Berkeley Engineering Alumni Society, “In founding the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, he [Beedle] brought together architects, engineers, environmentalists, social scientists, artists, and politicians, blazing a trail to the creation of better designed, more livable cities.”  Beedle, a visionary, spent his life designing a better world for everyone on it.

Dr. Ned Heindel

Serving as professor of chemistry at Lehigh University since 1972, Dr. Ned Heindel has impacted the nation’s higher education system far beyond his work in the fields of chemistry and pharmaceuticals.  In 1992, Heindel headed a team at Lehigh University that founded the first distance-learning center of any college or university in the country.

Distance learning, now an integral offering at many leading U.S. colleges and universities, allows students unable to attend classes at the institutions the opportunity to benefit from a top quality education.  Lehigh’s Office of Distance Education averages between 400 and 500 students, some living and studying globally.  As a result of the work of Dr. Ned Heindel and his dedicated team, a pioneering trend that will continue to transform the world of higher education found its spark in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


Dr Xuanhong Cheng

Point of Interest: Lehigh University

Dr. Xuanhong Cheng, a current Lehigh University assistant professor in the department of material sciences and engineering, is developing an inexpensive method of diagnosing HIV in the field.  In an effort to combat the virus, Cheng and her team are working to create a handheld diagnostic device for use by health workers in the most heavily HIV stricken regions of the globe.  The device would allow relief workers a far more efficient, quicker alternative to diagnostic options currently available.

Cheng, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School before her arrival at Lehigh, focuses research on biomaterials, biological microelectromechanical systems, and global health diagnostics.  Her novel HIV test, now in development for field testing, utilizes microfluidic chips developed by Cheng to test whole blood cells without the need for cell preparation.   Due to the work of Cheng and her team of medical researchers at Lehigh University, a future end to the globe’s AIDS crisis could be closer than ever.

Russell Keller Laros

An industrial Renaissance man of sorts, Russell Keller Laros patented and produced a synthetic blood plasma, known as plavolex, during the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Plavolex, short for plasma volume expander, was used heavily during the Korean War when a blood shortage made the product an invaluable asset on the front lines.

Beyond his lifesaving medical innovation, Laros served as a leading figure in the region’s booming silk and garment industry of the early 20th century.   The R.K. Laros Silk Company pioneered multiple innovations for the silk garment industry, including the first female slip to fit multiple body types, and patenting the strongest seam in the women’s undergarment industry.  At its peak, the company employed over 2000 workers and was the largest user of Japanese silk in the world.

Dr John W. Fisher

Point of Interest: Lehigh University

During his highly decorated career as professor of civil engineering at Lehigh University, John W. Fisher made major advances in the field of structural steel engineering.  Between 1969 and 2002, Fisher used his expertise in the structural integrity of steel to analyze nearly every major failure of large steel structures in the United States.  His analyses resulted in improvements that would prevent similar failures from being repeated in the future.

In 1989, Fisher established the ATLSS, a National Science Foundation sponsored research center at Lehigh University focused on studying steel and other infrastructural building materials.  Fisher, who has lived and worked in Bethlehem for the duration of his academic life, has received many of the most prestigious awards the engineering world has to offer.  Fisher represents the latest installation in a long line of steel visionaries who found their home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Marjorie Nemes

As one of the few female scientific researchers of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Marjorie Nemes made advances in the medical understanding of causes and possible preventions for numerous viruses including the common cold.  As a supervisor and research scientist for Bethlehem’s Merck Center for Therapeutic Research, Nemes served on the front lines of the medical revolution in motion during her career that led to an unprecedented global understanding of medicine and biology.

Marjorie Nemes, a Bethlehem native, lived and worked in the city for the majority of her life.  Graduating from Liberty High School in 1939 and St. Luke’s School of Nursing in 1942, Nemes’s intellectual curiosity drove her to push boundaries throughout her entire career.  For years, Nemes made bi-annual trips to the Amazon for ecological research in the name of medicine.  Late in her life, she made numerous expeditions to the Arctic.  A pioneer through both intellect and habit, Nemes lives on through her life-changing research and an endowment created in her name at Lehigh University.

John Fritz

Point of Interest: Lehigh University

Industrial genius John Fritz made significant advances to iron and steel refinement processes during his highly regarded career. Early on, Fritz invented the “three high rolling mill,” a new iron rolling design that drastically increased the efficiency of the existing method.  Fritz brought the Bessemer process, a revolutionary method that made the mass production of steel a relatively inexpensive process, to Bethlehem in the 1870’s. Because of his vision and intuition, Bethlehem was able to become a world-leading center for production of steel.

As Charles Schwab guided the business success of Bethlehem Steel, John Fritz   impacted the technical side.  Throughout his career, Fritz paved the way for the success “the Steel” would have in years to come.  He revolutionized the company’s procedures, brought innovative production techniques, and urged the company’s direction to encourage industrial expansion and risk taking.  By the time of his death in 1913, the name John Fritz was recognizable around the world as a leading expert in the iron and steel industry.

Dr. Sam Niedbala

As co-founder and leading chemist of Bethlehem-based medical technology firm Orasure, Dr. Sam Niedbala pioneered new medical technology to quickly diagnose infectious diseases using oral swabs rather than blood tests.  Although the tests produced by Orasure since the early 2000’s have impacted the treatment of innumerable diseases in offices and homes alike, Orasure’s largest impact has been on the global AIDS epidemic.  Worldwide, millions have benefitted from the revolutionary testing procedures created by the Bethlehem technology firm.

Founded in 1987 by Niedbala and two close friends, Orasure began as a small start-up supported by local investment firms.  Through the guidance and expertise of its founders, the company soon grew from a niche medical laboratory into a publicly traded firm with an international reputation of innovation and a dedication to the global welfare of humanity.  Even today, the oral test first pioneered by Niedbala and Orasure remains the most widely used HIV/AIDS screening test used in the Western World.

Dr Ned Heindel

Point of Interest: Lehigh University

Serving as professor of chemistry at Lehigh University since 1972, Dr. Ned Heindel has impacted the nation’s higher education system far beyond his work in the fields of chemistry and pharmaceuticals.  In 1992, Heindel headed a team at Lehigh University that founded the first distance-learning center of any college or university in the country.

Distance learning, now an integral offering at many leading U.S. colleges and universities, allows students unable to attend classes at the institutions the opportunity to benefit from a top quality education.  Lehigh’s Office of Distance Education averages between 400 and 500 students, some living and studying globally.  As a result of the work of Dr. Ned Heindel and his dedicated team, a pioneering trend that will continue to transform the world of higher education found its spark in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Samuel Wetherill

A wealthy Quaker, chemist, and inventor, Samuel Wetherill discovered the first process for refining zinc ore to create zinc oxide, thus bringing the zinc industry to the eastern United States in the late 1840’s.  Before Wetherill, the zinc ore that could be mined in the mineral-rich regions of the Northeast United States were essentially useless.  Wetherill, coming from a family who made their fortune selling lead-based paint, sought an alternative to the dangerous chemical.   He found it in the zinc deposits of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Wetherill built on his new procedure by also pioneering a new type of furnace to create white oxide directly from zinc ore, another first of its kind.  Before Wetherill, Bethlehem lacked any large degree of industry beyond what the town needed to sustain itself.  With his new advances for the zinc trade, Wetherill primed the charge that would eventually lead to Bethlehem becoming one of the most powerful industrial centers in the world.

Dr Clay Naito

Point of Interest: Lehigh University

As Lehigh professor of civil and environmental engineering, Dr. Clay Naito is designing the next generation of infrastructure protection against natural and human disasters.  Currently, Naito is working to assess the damage caused by tsunamis, earthquakes, and explosions to concrete structures. In collaboration with a national team of experts and international groups in Japan and Europe, he is also designing stronger and more efficient disaster resistant buildings and evacuation centers.

Through funding from the National Science Foundation, Naito’s research has the capacity to allow the nation’s aging infrastructure, and that of the world, to withstand disasters that have leveled past civilizations.  In a time plagued with uncertainty, the work of Clay Naito strengthens the durability and adaptability of the man-made world.

Jesse Reno

Point of Interest: Lehigh University

While studying electrical engineering at Lehigh University, Jesse Reno invented the inclined elevator, a moving staircase that is grandfather to today’s escalator. Reno received the patent for his invention a year before completing his undergraduate studies in 1883.  He eventually sold the patent to the Otis Elevator Company, with whom he produced the nation’s first commercial escalator, installed as an attraction at New York’s Coney Island amusement park in 1896.  Reno’s inclined elevator was reportedly still in regular use as recently as 1994 in the Boston subway system.

Dr Arup Sengupta

Point of Interest: Lehigh University

A decorated Lehigh University chemical engineering professor, Dr. Arup Sengupta invented the first polymer-based arsenic selective absorbent that is used in water filtration devices to remove poisonous arsenic from drinking water.  Sengupta’s innovation filters arsenic from well water without the use of chemicals or electricity, making it not only a viable option for developing and developed countries alike, but also makes it environmentally friendly.

Owner of seven U.S. patents, Sengupta leads the way nationally as an innovator in the environmental engineering world through education and research.  Sengupta has received numerous awards in his field, and is a member of many national organizations that foster collaboration in the environmental technology and engineering world.  Globally, millions of people now have daily access to clean, arsenic-free, drinking water because of the work of Lehigh University professor Arup Sengupta.