It Runs in the Families

The Spirit of Creative Invention

The first exhibit of 2018 at the Old Aurora Colony Museum explores how creativity and innovation gradually altered the structure of the colonies of Bethel and Aurora, and perhaps contributed to the demise of the communal society’s structure.
This idea is specifically explored as it manifested in the highly innovative Bier and Forstner families.

The Bier and Forstner Families of the Bethel and Aurora Colonies

The first exhibit of 2018 at the Old Aurora Colony Museum explores how creativity and innovation gradually altered the structure of the colonies of Bethel and Aurora, and perhaps contributed to the demise of the communal society’s structure.
This idea is specifically explored as it manifested in the highly innovative Bier and Forstner families.
When the Bethel Colony was organized in 1845, the first members agreed to give their worldly possessions to the Colony itself. Caspar Bier, for example, donated just over $282 in money and valuables to the communal treasury. This donation included funds from the sale of his house near Pittsburg, a variety of barrels from his cooper shop, and a paintbrush.

Other Colony members built furniture, made baskets and shoes, and created all manner of textiles. Barrels made by Caspar Bier were used for shipping cider and whiskey to other non-colony communities. In particular, the colonists were known for making and selling “Golden Rule” whiskey.

As the children of the first colony members came of age in the 1860’s and 1870’s — and especially with the colony’s move from Bethel to Aurora —they became more reluctant to give up some of the fruits of their labors.
Benjamin Forstner, Jonas’s first cousin, was brought to the Bethel Colony by his parents in 1845 when he was 11 years old. He learned all manner of the construction arts and in 1865 he decided to go out on his own. He moved to Salem, Oregon to open his own gunsmith shop. Nine years later in 1874, Forstner patented the “Forstner Bit” and won a first premium on this design at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia. As a non-colony member, Benjamin became personally wealthy from his patents.

One fascinating feature of this exhibit is our demonstration of how an inventive streak remains consistent in some of the Bier and Forstner descendants of John and Sophia Bier. Their son Benjamin Bier became a gunsmith, his son Leo patented many products, and Leo’s grandsons are dentists who designed the Isolite system that provides light within the mouth for dental procedures.