Christopher Ludwig's carved wooden board for making pressed gingerbread cookies

Christopher Ludwig's carved wooden board for making pressed gingerbread cookies

Christopher Ludwig


Christopher Ludwig was one of the most successful German immigrant entrepreneurs in the British North American colonies and later the United States during the late eighteenth century. Following his arrival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1754, Ludwig converted his savings and culinary skills into a bakery and confectionary shop in the Letitia Court district. The enterprise thrived, which allowed Ludwig to expand his bakeshop and branch out into other business endeavors. Within two decades Ludwig had amassed significant wealth that included ownership of numerous properties in the region.


Christopher Ludwig (born October 17, 1720 in Gießen, Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt; died June 17, 1801 in Philadelphia, PA) was one of the most successful German immigrant entrepreneurs in the British North American colonies and later the United States during the late eighteenth century. During his early life in Europe, Ludwig served as a soldier, sailor, and baker for three different nations. In addition to money earned from his employment, Ludwig collected an inheritance following his father’s death. Ludwig applied his savings to culinary training in London and the purchase of baking equipment before traveling to North America. Following his arrival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1754, Ludwig converted his savings and culinary skills into a bakery and confectionary shop in the Letitia Court district. The enterprise thrived, which allowed Ludwig to expand his bakeshop and branch out into other business endeavors. Within two decades Ludwig had amassed significant wealth that included ownership of numerous properties in the region. He also gained social prominence in Philadelphia during the colonial period. With the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Ludwig put his private businesses on hold to serve the Continental Army as baker general. After the American Revolution, Ludwig returned to Philadelphia, where he liquidated his estate and concentrated on philanthropic ventures. The Christopher Ludwick Foundation, an institution endowed by proceeds bequeathed from Ludwig’s estate, continues today.

Family Background

Born on October 17, 1720, Christopher Ludwig (variously spelled Christoff, Christoph; Ludwick, Ludowick, Ludwigg) was reared in the small town of Gießen in Hesse-Darmstadt (located along the upper Rhine in present-day west-central Germany). Ludwig’s father, Heinrich Ludwig, owned a successful bakeshop in the quaint settlement where Ludwig began working at a young age. In 1732, Ludwig’s mother, Catherine Hiffle Ludwig, died. For two years following Catherine’s death, Ludwig accompanied his father to the bakery each day to develop his trade. However, once he turned fourteen, Ludwig began attending basic reading, writing, and arithmetic classes at a local free school (Freischule). Also at this time, Ludwig received catechism lessons in the Lutheran Church, a denomination to which he remained faithful throughout his life. Ludwig also had a sister, Helena Ludwig, who married Sergeant Loch, a businessman and stocking weaver from Amsterdam.[1]

Unfortunately, no records survive to detail Ludwig’s childhood and young adult life. Sources suggest that in 1737 Ludwig joined the Austrian military to serve as a baker during the Austro-Russian-Turkish War (1737-1739). For Ludwig, the harshest ramification of Austria’s defeat in the conflict was that he had to make his way from Turkey to Vienna — a 350-mile trek — during the Balkan winter of 1739-1740, an ordeal that few soldiers survived. In mid-1741, Ludwig was transferred to Prague, as a result of a French threat against Maria Theresa, empress of Austria. After seventeen weeks of siege by the French under King Louis XV, Prague fell, resulting in the imprisonment of Ludwig and 3,000 other Austrian soldiers. At some point following his capture, Ludwig enlisted in the Prussian Army of Frederick II. Ludwig experienced military success under Fredrick and in the summer of 1742 he received compensation for his services and was discharged from the Prussian Army. Based on accounts of Ludwig’s stay in Berlin, his compensation was limited, which forced him to beg for bread and beer in order to sustain himself. As a result, he soon boarded a ship for England in late 1742.[2]

Once on English soil Ludwig went to London where he may have offered his services as a commercial baker until he joined the crew of the H.M.S. Duke of Cumberland in early 1743. Ludwig spent two years in the Royal British Navy, which meant that he sailed all over the world, gaining exposure to the lucrative business of oceanic trade. Ludwig commonly visited the East Indies and China, where he purchased a luxurious silver-chased china bowl that he had engraved with his name. Later in life, Ludwig enlivened dinner parties by raising the bowl and toasting “Health and long life; To Christopher Ludwick and his wife.”[3]

In 1745, Ludwig arrived in London and collected 111 guineas and an English crown for his duties as baker aboard the Duke of Cumberland.[4] To his delight, Ludwig had earned enough compensation to fund a homecoming journey to Gießen. Having been away for eight years serving three different nations, Ludwig returned home to find his father deceased and the small family estate bequeathed to him. Rather than take up residence at his childhood home, Ludwig chose to sell the estate, a deal which he successfully completed for 500 guilders (Dutch currency) in 1745.[5] With a substantial sum of money accrued from both his earnings and inheritance, Ludwig returned to London that same year. For a short time, Ludwig lived lavishly in the city, spending most of his time in Royal Greenwich (a district of southeast London).[6]

With the majority of his earnings squandered, Ludwig turned once more to nautical pursuits and joined the English merchant service as a common seaman. From 1745-1753, Ludwig labored aboard merchant vessels during the lucrative period of the triangular Atlantic trade.

Ludwig travelled to regions such as Ireland, the West Indies, and Great Britain’s North American colonies. Records of the Christian, a Dutch vessel captained by Thomas Brady, indicate the arrival of a “Christoph Ludwig” in Philadelphia on September 13, 1749.[7] Knowing that the Christian departed from Rotterdam, Holland, and that Ludwig was involved in trade in the area, the “Christoph Ludwig” on the ship’s records could have very well been the baker from Gießen; nonetheless, without other information about the passenger, it cannot be proven. However, it is certain that Ludwig arrived in Philadelphia four years later. Perhaps he had visited the city in 1749, for in 1753 he brought with him sixty complete readymade suits that he had purchased for £25 of his merchant pay (approximately £2,970 in 2011£).[8] On his previous visit, Ludwig could have noted the potential market for fine suits among Philadelphia’s genteel class. If so, his entrepreneurial instincts were correct, because, once in the city, he resold the suits for a three-hundred-percent profit. In addition to benefiting from his suit disposal, Ludwig recognized an additional, conceivably more lucrative, potential venture in the city: commercial baking. In the mid-eighteenth century, Philadelphia lacked quality pastry and confectionary shops, a business in which Ludwig possessed experience as well as a willingness to cultivate further baking skills. Remaining in Philadelphia only long enough to collect payments for the suits, Ludwig boarded a ship destined for London, in order to study the fine art of confectionary and gingerbread baking. For nine months, Ludwig trained in London, where he refined his baking skills and collected culinary equipment.[9]

Entrepreneurship in a New World

In mid-1754, Ludwig disembarked in Philadelphia with several gingerbread molds and other European baking instruments. At this stage in his life, Ludwig, a widely-traveled and worldly-wise combat veteran of thirty-four, chose to settle down in Philadelphia, in order to establish his own baking business. The entrepreneurial success that he had experienced in Philadelphia during his previous visit convinced Ludwig to return to the city for permanent residence. In addition, Philadelphia offered Ludwig a promising market for gingerbread production, due to Pennsylvania’s German population, which had grown to account for a substantial proportion of the colony’s inhabitants by the time of Ludwig’s return.

Traditionally, gingerbread had been produced and consumed in Europe for centuries. Reaching the continent during the Crusades, gingerbread consisted of the simple ingredients of flour, honey, and spices. By the seventeenth century, English recipes replaced honey with treacle or molasses, largely due to its availability and cost, since it was manufactured in British West Indies sugarcane plantations. Period European bakers typically produced gingerbread in soft loaf form; however, German bakers devised a thinner and harder cookie form of gingerbread. German soft loaves, known as Lebkuchen (“bread of life”), were formed in large oval designs and sold to common citizens for everyday consumption. The gingerbread cookies, however, derived from small amounts of dough pressed between artistically crafted molds. Commonly, the finished products took the shape of royal figures or other human images, hence the development of the gingerbread man. Originally, bakers and confectionary shop owners decorated the gingerbread cookies with icing and other sweet accoutrements, which they reserved for special occasions such as carnivals or festivals. By the eighteenth century in Europe, gingerbread cookies became more popularized, and artists carved molds that reflected the lives of common people. Images included depictions of trades and professions, ordinary domestic activities, general proverbs, well-known political figures, and religious symbols. As one historian has noted, eighteenth century gingerbread molds provide insight into the daily lifestyle and popular culture of the era.[10]

Ultimately, Ludwig transferred the popularity of the gingerbread cookie from Europe to the colony of Pennsylvania. During the half decade prior to Ludwig’s arrival, Philadelphia experienced a dramatic increase in European immigration. Ships delivered thousands of new immigrants to the city weekly. Many of these immigrants had undoubtedly enjoyed gingerbread in the German lands and in other European nations during the height of its popularity. By capitalizing on the lack of gingerbread shops and bakeries in Philadelphia, in addition to the large influx of German immigrants in the city, Ludwig identified a market with a special interest in gingerbread.[11]

Records of his earliest days in Philadelphia have not survived; however, within a year of his arrival, Ludwig married Catharine England, a young widow of the city’s laboring class. Shortly after marrying, the young couple established residence on Letitia Court, a short Philadelphia street running from Market to Chestnut Streets and between Front and Second Streets. Letitia Court drew its name from Letitia Penn, the daughter of William Penn, who had had the first brick house in the city erected for his daughter in 1683. More importantly, Letitia Court became the home of Ludwig’s gingerbread and confectionary business. Because the baker despised debt, Ludwig likely began his business from the little money that he and Catharine had saved. According to records, Ludwig borrowed money only once during his lifetime; while impoverished in Berlin, he received two pence to acquire a mug of beer.[12]

After obtaining a commercial building on Letitia Court in 1755, Ludwig commenced his gingerbread and confectionary business. Undoubtedly, the required ingredients for gingerbread would have been readily available in Philadelphia. By the mid-eighteenth century, Pennsylvania possessed a surplus of agricultural products, including the most important to Ludwig’s business: flour. For decades, Pennsylvanians had harvested wheat from the colony’s fertile soil and ground the product into flour in the numerous hydro-powered mills that developed along Pennsylvania’s abundant waterways. To obtain the additional required ingredients — molasses or treacle and spices — Ludwig relied heavily on the merchant class of Philadelphia. At the time of Ludwig’s arrival, Philadelphia served as one of the largest ports and leading financial, political, and intellectual centers of colonial America. The merchants of Philadelphia obtained molasses from the British West Indies and spices from Asia via European traders. In addition, the British-controlled colony of Jamaica boasted a plantation system that exported a significant quantity of ginger.[13] For baking bread and pastries, typical ovens of the period were constructed of brick, taking the shape of a fireplace with large openings. Bakers generated heat by lighting wooden fires directly inside the oven. Once the bricks reached the necessary temperature, workers removed the charred coals and loaded fresh dough into the oven. Some ovens included iron doors that could be shut to maximize the oven’s baking temperature.[14]

Regarding the products that Ludwig sold, he probably produced a number of baked goods and pastries. Ludwig’s popularity in Philadelphia is well recorded, which suggests that his products reached a broad strata of Philadelphians. According to Benjamin Rush, “He was much esteemed by all who did business with him, for his integrity and punctuality, and for his disposition to do kind offices.”[15] It is likely that Ludwig baked simple gingerbread loaves for everyday consumption, a product that would have been popular among members of any social class. However, Ludwig also baked more elegant pastries such as molded gingerbread cookies, which were certainly decorated in the style of their European counterparts. Ludwig’s surviving mold, preserved and later donated by his ancestors, represents the baker’s more refined and exclusive products. Likely obtained during his culinary training in Europe, the two-sided wooden mold denotes superior craftsmanship. The obverse side of the mold includes an ornate flower arrangement that ascends from a broad, well-decorated pot. Adorning the reverse side of the mold is a human image, crafted in fine clothing and representative of a royal or superior figure.[16]

As noted, both products — the common bread and sophisticated pastries — were desired by Philadelphians. Immigrants, especially fellow German Philadelphians, purchased Ludwig’s products as part of their national cuisine, as it allowed for the continuation of one component of their European diets. Once in Philadelphia, the immigrants did not have access to the products until Ludwig established his business. Equally as desirous of the gingerbread and pastries were native colonists who discovered novel, sumptuous, and delectable goods. Furthermore, Ludwig reached a broad market in Philadelphia by baking goods that were purchased by all social classes. Working-class citizens could afford his unadorned gingerbread loaves, while more wealthy Philadelphians pursued his ornate confectionary creations.

Within three years of opening his business, Ludwig had perfected his industry to the point of attracting prominent customers. For these men, Ludwig delivered baked goods in large quantities for parties and social gatherings. In 1758, Ludwig signed a receipt for William Fisher, who completed payment for an assortment of items that cost £4 12s 6d (approximately £509 in 2011£).[17] Conceivably, this was the same William Fisher who would serve as the mayor of Philadelphia from 1773-1774. A second of Ludwig’s surviving receipts resulted from the business of Thomas Riche. Having obtained a substantial sum of money as an affluent Philadelphia merchant, Riche purchased £6 worth of Ludwig’s product on February 24, 1769 (approximately £649 in 2011£).[18] In all, the two surviving receipts prove that Ludwig had the ability to generate baked goods on a large scale, thus signifying his authority as a successful baker in Philadelphia. In addition, the receipts highlight the relationship that Ludwig built with Philadelphia’s most influential citizens. Although Ludwig arrived in the city as a working class German immigrant, through his labors in his gingerbread and confectionary shop, he achieved distinction and rapport with English colonists.

Other evidence of his success as a business owner derives from the properties that Ludwig accumulated in Pennsylvania colony. By his gingerbread shop’s twentieth anniversary, Ludwig had purchased nine houses in Philadelphia, a thirty-two acre farm in nearby Germantown, and 123.5 acres in Lancaster County.[19] Ultimately, the proceeds that Ludwig earned from his bakery allowed him to expand his business ventures to include rental properties. In 1775, Ludwig leased his Germantown residence, which he had renovated to include large quarters and outhouses, a barn, a pigsty, a milk house, a smokehouse — all constructed of stone — and a fruit-tree orchard. Being particular about his property, Ludwig did not lease the farm until after he received written references and a security deposit. In addition to his bakeshop and acquisition of rental properties, by 1775, Ludwig had also invested £3,500 in interest-bearing bonds (approximately £348,000 in 2011£).[20] Thus, two decades following the opening of his bakery on Letitia Court, Ludwig boasted a diversified business portfolio, one that included consistent cash flow and potential for growth.

Obtaining Social Prominence in Philadelphia

Throughout the period of 1755-1776, Ludwig’s success as a baker and his growing reputation as a man of good character helped him to achieve social prominence in Philadelphia. Ludwig’s neighbors and regular customers honored him with the title of “Governor of Letitia Court”, a district he resided in until 1775.[21] In 1763, the native German became a naturalized British subject, following an act of Parliament in 1740 which allowed foreign Protestants to achieve naturalization once the individual had lived in the colony for seven years, taken the necessary oaths, and provided certification of receiving the Holy Sacrament. Ludwig willingly paid the required fee of two shillings to certify his British citizenship (approximately £11.4 in 2011£).[22] Although a certified British subject, Ludwig never wavered in his interest in, or advocacy for, the city’s German population. Rather, Ludwig used his naturalization as an advantage in order to serve as the premiere spokesman for Germans in Philadelphia. Unlike the majority of Germans in the city, Ludwig was well acquainted with English; his time aboard English merchant ships and business transactions with English-speaking Philadelphians had nurtured his knowledge of the language.[23]

In an attempt to provide Philadelphia’s German immigrants with an opportunity to succeed — both socially and economically — Ludwig helped organize the German Society of Pennsylvania (GSP), which was officially founded on December 26, 1764. Unlike Ludwig, who paid for his passage to North America, most German immigrants could not afford to do this and, as a result, were forced to sign contracts of indentured servitude. These contracts, written in English, compelled the German passengers to work approximately four to five years — or until their passage was paid in full — for a company or individual.[24] Serving as vice president of the GSP, Ludwig worked to aid his fellow countrymen in an attempt to alleviate their tribulations as impoverished indentured servants. According to the institution’s foremost documents, the founders desired to instruct “the poor, the sick and otherwise distressed Germans… in the English and German languages, reading and writing thereof, and to produce for them such learning and education, as would best suit them in their capacities and genius.”[25] In essence, Ludwig knew that he had achieved success in Philadelphia, in large part, due to his education and ability to speak English. For the remainder of his life, Ludwig would continue to promote education, especially for young children, in an effort to provide them with the same opportunities for success that he had had.

In addition to his campaign to improve education, Ludwig also supported the Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania. The religious instruction that Ludwig received as a child established an ardent bond with the church. Ludwig was active in St. Michael’s Church of Germantown, the first Lutheran church founded in the Pennsylvania colony. The records of Heinrich Melchior Muhlenberg, pastor of St. Michael’s from 1743-1745, indicate that Ludwig lent £400 to St. Michael’s in 1764 (approximately £44,200 in 2011£).[26] Not only did Ludwig’s gesture signify his active support for the church, but it also conveyed his success as a businessman. Having owned his bakery less than a decade, Ludwig could afford to offer a sizeable loan to St. Michael’s. Following its completion on May 16, 1766, Ludwig also supported the Zion Church in Philadelphia. Acting as a representative of the church, Ludwig went before the Philadelphia Board of Properties in April 1775 to discuss the purchase of a burial plot for church members. Six months later, Ludwig joined a Lutheran delegation that met with Thomas Penn, the proprietor of the colony of Pennsylvania, hoping to purchase additional land for a church cemetery.[27]

After two decades of both living in and running their bakery on Letitia Court, the Ludwigs moved to the corner of Fourth and Race streets, where they rented an exemplary house of the era. The property included an eighty foot frontage on Fourth Street and a sixty-eight foot frontage on Race Street, as well as an assortment of surrounding flora.[28] In March of the same year, Ludwig joined the managerial board of the United Company of Philadelphia for Promoting American Manufacturers. Organized by Benjamin Rush, the company focused on expanding the North American colonial economy through woolen, cotton, and linen manufacturers. Rush, Ludwig, and other investors endeavored to extend a “spirit of industry among the poor,” a cause in which Ludwig was already involved through membership of the German Society of Pennsylvania.[29] Furthermore, the Philadelphians wanted to demonstrate to the world that the colonies could facilitate a productive system of industry. Ludwig had the opportunity to invest in the company at £10 a share (approximately £995 in 2011£), with the election of company officers following the sale of two hundred shares.[30] Rush pursued Ludwig to become one of the investors due to his history of entrepreneurial success in Philadelphia. Once elected as one of Rush’s twelve company managers, Ludwig’s duties included regular visits and inspections of the factory, the regulation of daily operations, coordination with the company treasurer for required purchases, and the power to call a general meeting whenever necessary. Employing four hundred laborers, the company prospered for two years until the September 1777 British invasion and occupation of the city.[31]

The subsequent year, Ludwig joined an additional Philadelphia organization. On February 2, 1776, the Philadelphia Society for Assisting Distressed Prisoners was created, with Ludwig serving as one of twelve managers. Setting the annual membership dues at ten shillings each (approximately £52.5 in 2011£), Ludwig and his fellow managers gained numerous supporters.[32] Largely focused on human rights issues, members of the organization struggled to eliminate the archaic modes of English punishment utilized in Philadelphia, such as public hangings and the use of the gibbet.[33] Ultimately, Ludwig participated in the first American attempt at reforming the penal system; however, the organization survived only nineteen months and was dissolved during the American Revolution. On May 8, 1787, a reorganization occurred, in which members renamed the movement the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. Although Ludwig remained in the city, he did not choose to reinstate himself as a manager of the organization.[34]

As Philadelphia’s colonial period drew to a close, Ludwig was elected or appointed to many of the city’s Revolutionary bodies, which allowed him to contribute to the cause of American independence. Although he was a moderate Whig politically, Ludwig held significant influence among the radical Whigs, many of whom were working-class Germans. Due to his influence, Ludwig joined the Philadelphia Committee of Correspondence in May 1774. After only two months, Ludwig abandoned his moderate platform and advocated political sovereignty from the British Crown. Although Ludwig rarely spoke in the committee meetings, he contributed greatly to the movement. On one occasion, when no other member would respond to General Thomas Mifflin’s call for funds to organize the local militia, Ludwig offered £200 of his savings (approximately £19,600 in 2011£).[35] Also in July 1774, Ludwig served as a deputy to the Provincial Convention that met in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Adjourning after three days, the Provincial Convention declared that an assembly of the colonies was essential, and thus inspired the First Continental Congress in September 1774. Four months later in January 1775, Ludwig sat on a committee that approved the proposals of the First Continental Congress as well as orchestrated a system of city defenses for Philadelphia.[36] On August 16 of the same year, the citizens of Philadelphia elected Ludwig along with seventy-five other men to a committee responsible for the organization and security of the city. Essentially, the election came in response to the British Army’s siege of Boston, Massachusetts, which began in April 1775 under the direction of General Thomas Gage.[37]

Throughout the fall and winter of 1775-1776, Ludwig’s responsibility in Philadelphia involved the procurement of gunpowder for the Continental Army. In October 1775, Ludwig received $41.20 from Congress for the transportation of gunpowder to Fort Ticonderoga (approximately $1,250 in 2011$).[38] Two months later, Ludwig exchanged four pounds of saltpeter with Robert Towers, Commissary of Magazine and Military Stores, for two-and-a-half pounds of gunpowder. Also in May 1776, Ludwig inserted a public notice in the Staatsbote, Philadelphia’s German newspaper, which requested the service of gunpowder manufacturers to provide munitions for the Continental Army.[39] Ludwig returned to Philadelphia politics on June 18, 1776, by serving as a member of the “Committee of the City &c. of Philadelphia” at the Provincial Conference. For a week, Ludwig and noted individuals, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas McKean, and Benjamin Rush, collaborated to establish the preliminary mechanisms of the Pennsylvania State Constitution of 1776 that the Provincial Convention would frame a month later.[40] As Ludwig’s support for American independence continued to flourish, the local baker and businessman chose to volunteer personally his services to the Continental Army. Placing his Philadelphia business ventures on hold, Ludwig left the city in the summer of 1776 to assist in the defense of New York under General George Washington.[41]

A Patriot Baker for Independence

Over three decades had passed since Ludwig’s previous military service. At the age of fifty-six, his ability to wield a musket and conduct bayonet charges was limited; however, Ludwig realized that he could contribute to American victory in some fashion. A resolution passed by Congress on August 9, 1776, provided Ludwig with his first opportunity to contribute. The resolution called for a committee to be established to encourage the desertion of King George III’s foreign soldiers, many of whom were from German-speaking regions of Europe. Members of the committee included Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who devised incentives to persuade the soldiers to cease fighting for the British Crown, one of which included an offer of free land. By this time, Ludwig’s influence among Philadelphia’s German population was well known; therefore, he was deemed a premier candidate for forwarding Congress’ resolution to the British Hessians located on Staten Island.[42] Ludwig’s history of entrepreneurial success and his accomplishments over the previous twenty years in Philadelphia would have garnered significant attention from the German men. If the Hessians chose to join the patriots, they could potentially enjoy a life similar to Ludwig’s.[43]

After returning to the Continental encampment, Ludwig received authority over all German prisoners captured by Washington’s army. That fall, Ludwig obtained eight Germans, who he transported to Philadelphia. Rather than subject them to residence in a Continental prison, Ludwig convinced Washington to allow him to:

take them to Philadelphia and there show them our fine German churches. Let them see how our tradesmen eat good beef, drink out of silver cups every day, and ride out in chairs every afternoon; and then let us send them back to their countrymen, and they will all soon run away, and come and settle in our city and be as good whigs as any of us.[44]

Following the prisoners’ stay in the city, John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, wrote to Washington on November 16, 1776, requesting that Ludwig arrange the exchange of the Hessians at Elizabethtown, New Jersey.[45]

Ludwig’s work as a German-American emissary to the crown’s foreign soldiers continued following Washington’s victory at Trenton, New Jersey, in late December 1776. Within a week of the battle, the Hessians were marched through Philadelphia and relocated to Lancaster County. The German-Americans of the region welcomed the prisoners and provided many of them with employment and residences. Several worked on farms or produced shoes and clothing for the Continental Army.[46] Throughout the winter of 1776 and spring of 1777, Ludwig remained in Philadelphia where he oversaw the safety and production of the Hessian prisoners in Lancaster County. Ludwig believed the German prisoners would become productive Americans through their future economic contributions. In a petition to Congress, Ludwig suggested that the use of German prisoners would alleviate the need for laborers and journeymen in the colony.[47]

By late spring of 1777, Ludwig’s involvement with German prisoners was principally over. However, he began his second, largely more significant, contribution to American independence. On May 3, 1777, Congress appointed Ludwig “superintendent of bakers, and director of baking, in the grand army of the United States.”[48] Since the beginning of the war in the summer of 1775, the Continental Army had suffered from an inadequacy of consistent and substantial rations. Receiving one pound of flour daily, soldiers commonly chose to pool their resources together and rely on one baker in the camp. Often times, the baker took advantage of the soldiers by serving them a watered down product in order to sell the surplus flour for profit. Additionally, some soldiers attempted to trade with the local citizenry; however, cordial trade was frequently replaced by outright plunder, which led to a breakdown in locale morale and support for the movement.[49]

As a result, Ludwig, the well-established professional baker, was granted a chief opportunity to contribute to the American cause. Almost immediately after being appointed, Ludwig traveled to the Continental Army’s position at Morristown, New Jersey, where he oversaw the construction of bake ovens. After two months in Morristown managing the erection of ovens, many of which he paid for with personal funds, Ludwig returned to Philadelphia to recruit bakers. Rather than giving a daily allotment of flour to each individual soldier, all flour would be sent to Ludwig and his bakers to be turned into bread.[50] According to Benjamin Rush, Congress ordered Ludwig to deliver one hundred pounds of bread for every one hundred pounds of flour provided. In response, Ludwig remarked “No, gentlemen, I will not accept of your commission upon any such terms; Christopher Ludwick does not want to get rich by the war; he has money enough. I will furnish one hundred and thirty-five pounds of bread for every cwt. of flour you put into my hands.”[51]

During the first six months of his appointment, Ludwig struggled to understand the full extent of his position and his authority to conduct it. Ludwig questioned Congress on issues such as the means to obtain flour, payment for his hired bakers, and reimbursement for personal expenses. Most importantly, Ludwig complained that no system for transporting the baked bread to soldiers had been established. Upon the conclusion of winter quarters at Valley Forge, Congress responded to Ludwig’s petition by reorganizing the Quartermaster Office and making it responsible for transporting Ludwig’s bread. In addition, Congress provided Ludwig with $1,000 (approximately $16,800 in 2011$) to be used for oven construction as well as granted him the authority to obtain flour from any commissary office.[52]

In addition to all of Ludwig’s sustained efforts to construct ovens and provide bread for the Continental Army, he also answered several social and private business requests. Ludwig befriended several individuals, including Continental Army officers Arthur St. Clair, William Irvine, and Anthony Wayne, while attending dinners and parties at Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge.[53] In addition, Ludwig also completed private baking orders for officers and other notable individuals during the war. Ludwig prepared two noteworthy personal bills for Washington. The first was written on April 1, 1778 at Valley Forge and the second on March 28, 1780 at Morristown.[54] Paid in full on February 9, 1779, the ingredients of Washington’s first bill amounted to £13 10s (approximately £1,420 in 2011£).[55] The second bill includes a description of the products that Ludwig prepared in addition to the ingredients used. For “two barrels of rusk two barrels of butterd bisquet and Ginger Bread,” Ludwig charged $144 (approximately $2,440 in 2011$).[56]

Ludwig also served in public office during the war and was involved in the prosecution of individuals who attempted to defraud the government. On October 14, 1779, Ludwig was elected one of the two sheriffs of the City and County of Philadelphia.[57] Ludwig used his office to indict Isaac Hancock, a miller from Reading, Pennsylvania, for deceiving Congress on a flour consignment. Although Ludwig received half of Hancock’s required fine for being sheriff, he still posted a £36 loss for prosecution fees (approximately £3,770 in 2011£).[58] In the summer of 1780, Ludwig testified at the trial of Dr. William Shippen, Medical Director of the Continental Army. Ludwig’s testimony occurred as a result of his friendship with Dr. Benjamin Rush, who had resigned as Physician General of the Continental Army on January 30, 1778. Private disputes between the two physicians resulted in Rush accusing Shippen of not only misusing medical supplies but also maintaining them for his own consumption. Ultimately, Rush convinced Ludwig to support his endeavor and help him convict his personal enemy.[59]

By January 1781, the tribulations of war waged by an inefficient government began to adversely affect Ludwig. Since the spring of 1776, Ludwig had endured four physically demanding years, in addition to incurring significant personal financial loses. As a result, Ludwig wrote to Congress on January 27, 1781, attempting to resign from his position. In his letter, Ludwig underscored the consequences of his dedication to the war, even mentioning the loss of his right eye. On February 14, 1781, the Board of War responded by not only refusing to accept Ludwig’s resignation, but attempted to rectify his frustrations by providing the baker with additional compensation — ultimately only inflated Continental dollars — and the authority to hire added bakers. Ludwig faithfully remained with the army until the completion of the war. Ludwig accompanied the Continental Army to Yorktown, Virginia, where he witnessed the capitulation of General Charles Cornwallis’ British Army in October 1781. Following the surrender, Ludwig supervised the baking of six thousand pounds of bread so that Washington’s men could celebrate the victory with their French allies.[60]

Post-War Complications and Contributions

After completing his military service at West Point, Ludwig returned to his Germantown farm. There he found his estate in complete disarray, resulting from both British plunder and neglect. Without furniture, dining ware, or clothing, Ludwig chose to endure meager living conditions rather than accrue debt. Initially, he cashed in the bonds in which he had invested before the war; however, Ludwig received highly depreciated money that provided minimal relief. Rather than continue his baking business, Ludwig chose to sell some of his remaining properties in order to purchase furniture and clothing, in addition to investing the remainder of the proceeds in stocks.[61]

The liquidation of part of his estate allowed Ludwig and Catharine to remain in Germantown following the war; nonetheless, Ludwig expected greater compensation from Congress for his efforts as baker general. In March 1785, Ludwig wrote an appeal to Congress, in which he acknowledged the vast sum of money that he had personally invested. Ludwig’s contribution to purchasing supplies and paying his assistant bakers had saved Congress considerable money. For his devotion, Ludwig anticipated “a Compensation or Bounty in Land or otherwise equal with other Officers who have served in the American Army.”[62] To accompany his appeal, Ludwig included affidavits from Arthur St. Clair, William Irvine, Anthony Wayne, Timothy Pickering, and Thomas Mifflin, notable individuals with whom he had conducted business during his time in Philadelphia or during the war. Ludwig also requested a testimonial from Washington in a letter dated March 29, 1785. Washington responded with a letter that moved Ludwig enough that he had it framed and hung on his parlor wall.[63] For Ludwig’s efforts, he received $200 from Congress on June 13, 1785 (approximately $4,770 in 2011$).[64]

For a decade, Ludwig and Catharine remained in Germantown, where presumably they lived off the returns of Ludwig’s stock investments and unsold rental properties. On September 21, 1796, Ludwig suffered the death of Catharine, who Benjamin Rush referred to as “the faithful companion of his [Ludwig’s] labors.”[65] Following Catharine’s death, Ludwig sold all but one of his remaining properties and boarded with Frederick Fraley, a former apprentice and bakery owner in Philadelphia.[66] Robert Aitken’s letter to John Nicholson, dated July 7, 1797, documents one of the property sales. The letter highlights Ludwig’s request for a second payment for a house that Aitken had purchased for a printing office.[67] The proceeds Ludwig collected from the transactions were converted into additional private stocks and bonds.

While residing with Fraley, Ludwig volunteered his services as baker to provide bread for Philadelphians during a yellow fever epidemic in 1797. The following year, Ludwig married Sophia Binder and relocated to a house at 176 North Fifth Street, the only property that he had retained. After remarrying, Ludwig lived leisurely. He regularly read the Bible and other religious works and visited local acquaintances.[68] Even late in his life, Philadelphians retained admiration for Ludwig; while socializing the city streets, he was commonly greeted with “There goes the general!” — a title he obtained following his return from the American Revolution.[69] For the final two years of his life, Ludwig suffered from continual illness. During this time, Sophia remained by his side as both a faithful companion and nurse. However, on Wednesday, June 17, 1801, Ludwig succumbed to “an inflammation of his breast, accompanied by a high fever,” which was most likely pneumonia.[70] Ludwig was interred on June 19, 1801, at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Germantown, following a sermon presided over by Reverend Shaffer (Schäfer).[71]

Philanthropy and the Ludwig Legacy

Although the American Revolution drained Ludwig’s finances, forcing him to end his baking business and sell all but one of his properties, his will included bequests to a number of local institutions. During the post-war period, Ludwig accrued wealth from several investments made following the liquidation of his estate. Having no children and being survived by only his second wife, Ludwig willed £200 to the Guardians of the Poor, £100 to the Pennsylvania Hospital, and £125 to each of the following: the German Reformed Church in Philadelphia, St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Germantown, the German Society of Pennsylvania, and the University of Pennsylvania (approximately £47,500 in 2011£ for all six bequests).[72] One source also suggests that Ludwig willed £50 to a former slave named Rachel (approximately £2,970 in 2011£).[73]

Arguably, Ludwig’s greatest contribution resulted from the bequest of his estate. Valued at £3,000, Ludwig’s remaining assets were bestowed to a fund “for the schooling and educating gratis of poor children of all denominations, in the city and liberties of Philadelphia, without any exception to the country, extraction, or religious principles of their parents or friends” (approximately £178,000 in 2011£).[74] In his will, Ludwig required that the school be established in five years or the remainder of his estate be divided between several churches in the Philadelphia area. Almost immediately, two organizations — the Philadelphia Society for the Establishment and Support of Charity Schools and the University of Pennsylvania — competed to manage Ludwig’s fund.[75]

Ultimately, the Philadelphia Society for the Establishment and Support of Charity Schools earned the honor of carrying forth Ludwig’s design of educating Philadelphia’s youth. The society waited five years until they received Ludwig’s estate, which had been converted into public stocks, bonds, and mortgages that amounted to $10,340 (approximately $179,000 in 2011$).[76] Following Sophia’s death, the society also obtained the house and lot at 176 North Fifth Street, increasing the value of Ludwig’s bequest to $13,000 (approximately $225,000 in 2011$).[77] Fittingly, Benjamin Rush, Ludwig’s close friend, joined the society and aided in the development of the schools. In 1803, prior to the society’s possession of Ludwig’s estate, Rush publically requested donations to be used for purchasing ground and constructing a schoolhouse. By the end of 1804, a two-story brick building had been completed, which held classes for over 275 male students by 1809. Two years later in 1811, a school was added to educate females, and in 1814, proceeds were collected to fund a library. In 1816, the society attempted to expand into the Southwark district of Philadelphia; however, during the same year, the city and county of Philadelphia passed an ordinance to fund the education of poor children. As a result, the Society maintained the two schools that had already been established, but ceased expansion into other districts.[78]

In 1872, the Society was renamed the Ludwick Institute, and again in 1995 to its current status as the Christopher Ludwick Foundation. Overtime, the organization has transformed its mode of educating Philadelphia youth; yet, it has always maintained Ludwig’s original intention. Currently, the Christopher Ludwick Foundation awards annual grants amounting to $250,000. For the 2012-2013 year, the foundation donated $207,000 worth of grants ranging from $2,500-$20,000 to organizations including the After School Activities Partnership and the School District of Philadelphia. According to Rush, Ludwig privately funded the education of approximately fifty children during his lifetime; however, since his death, that number has increased exponentially due to his bequest. Since 1806, it is estimated that Ludwig’s original bequest of $13,000 has grown to over $5,000,000.[79]

For Ludwig, his entrepreneurial success began as an adventurous young adult who disembarked from an English merchant vessel in colonial North America. Had his initial success selling the ready-made suits not occurred, Ludwig may not have returned to Philadelphia for permanent residence. However, once in the city, Ludwig recognized an opportunity to establish his own business and generate a consistent income. By combining his lifelong experience with baking and supplementary training in London, Ludwig forged a solid foundation for success in Philadelphia. Once established, his business thrived, in large part due to a lack of competition as well as the quality of his products. Additionally, the increase in European, particularly German, immigrants to Philadelphia provided Ludwig with a growing number of customers. As Ludwig accrued wealth, both from his business activities and various investments, he did not forget his native patrons; rather, he labored to improve German conditions in Pennsylvania. Overall, Ludwig became a zealous patriot, not only because he served as baker general of the Continental Army, but because he believed in the economic opportunity of life in America. Ludwig’s efforts in the German Society of Pennsylvania and with Hessian prisoners were focused on education and employment, so that German-Americans could have the same opportunities that he had had. Ludwig’s early success allowed him to contribute to American independence both physically — because he could afford to take time away from his bakeshop — and, more importantly, monetarily — because he had amassed such a substantial net worth after two decades of baking. When Ludwig’s service during the American Revolution rendered him financially drained, his investments — properties, stocks, and bonds — provided relief following the war. Furthermore, Ludwig’s investments late in life allowed him to continue his support of immigrants and less privileged individuals posthumously. Ultimately, had the baker from Gießen not recognized the potential for a gingerbread and confectionary shop in Philadelphia, none of the countless philanthropic endeavors of the Christopher Ludwick Foundation could have occurred. Because of that, Christopher Ludwig truly deserves recognition.


[1] Benjamin Rush, An Account of the Life and Character of Christopher Ludwick (Philadelphia, PA: Garden and Thompson, 1831), 6-7, originally published in 1801; William Ward Condit, “Christopher Ludwick: Patriotic Gingerbread Baker,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 81.4 (October 1957): 365-366. A short biographical sketch of Helena Ludwick Loch is located on Condit, 369 n6.

[2] Condit, 367; Rush, 7, 17-18.

[3] Condit, 367-368; Quoted in Rush,16.

[4] Rush, 8.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Condit, 368.

[7] Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, XVII, 284; Condit, 369.

[8] Condit, 369; Rush, 8-9. All currency conversions in this article are based on the Purchasing Power Calculator described on the following website, (accessed 5 November 2012). See Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, “Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1245 to Present,”MeasuringWorth, 2011, for all £ conversions and Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, “Purchasing Power of Money in the United States from 1774 to Present,” MeasuringWorth, 2011, for all $ conversions.

[9] Condit, 369; Rush, 8-9.

[10] For a history of gingerbread and eighteenth century gingerbread recipes see Karen Hess, ed., Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery: And Booke of Sweetmeats (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 200-202, 342-347. For a history of gingerbread molds see Anneliese Harding, The Edible Mass Medium: Traditional European Cookie Molds of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries (Cambridge, MA: Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Press, 1975).

[11] Condit, 369.

[12] Condit, 369-370; Rush, 9, 17-18; William B. Sipes, The Pennsylvania Railroad (Philadelphia, PA: The Passenger Department, 1875), 63.

[13] For analysis of Pennsylvania’s wheat and flour industry see Russell Frank Weigley, Philadelphia: A 300 Year History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982), 20-22, 37-39; Gary M. Walton and Hugh Rockoff, History of the American Economy, 11th ed. (Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning, 2010), 47-48, 53-54. For a history of Philadelphia’s merchant class see Thomas M. Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1986). For a history of British transatlantic trade during Ludwig’s lifetime see Kenneth Morgan, Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Margaret Ellen Newell, From Dependency to Independence: Economic Revolution in Colonial New England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998). For insight into Jamaica’s colonial ginger production see James A. Delle, et al., Out of Many, One People: The Historical Archaeology of Colonial Jamaica (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011), 23, 28, 42.

[14] For a description of colonial baking see Edwin Tunis, Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 43-44.

[15] Rush, 9.

[16] Ludwig’s mold is preserved at the American Revolution Center. See “Christopher Ludwick’s Cookie Board, 1754” on the museum’s website (accessed 3 September 2012).

[17] Condit, 370.

[18] Condit, 370; Discussion of the life of Thomas Riche as a Philadelphia merchant can be found in Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise, 49, 82, 133, 146-148, 158, 162.

[19] Condit, 370-371; Rush, 10.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Rush, 9.

[22] For a description of the naturalization process in colonial America see “U.S. Naturalization Records,” (accessed 11 October 2012).

[23] Condit, 371.

[24] Minute book from 1764 in the manuscript records of the German Society of Pennsylvania. The date Ludwig joined the Society is indicated in Oswald Seidensticker, Geschichte der Deutschen Gesellschaft von Pennsylvanien(History of the German Society of Pennsylvania) (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Graf & Breuninger, 1917), 616. For more information on the history of the German Society of Pennsylvania see their website, (accessed 11 September 2012).

[25] Quoted in Condit, 372.

[26] Condit, 371; For more information on the history of St. Michael’s see their website, (accessed 20 September 2012).

[27] Condit, 371; For more information on the history of Zion Church see their website, (accessed 20 September 2012).

[28] Condit, 370.

[29] “Monthly Intelligence: Petersburgh, Dec. 2. London. January 10. King Arms Tavern,” Pennsylvania Magazine, March 1775, 138.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.; Condit, 373.

[32] “Sketch of the Principal Transactions of the ‘Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prison’ from its Origin to the Present Time,” Journal of Prison Discipline and Philanthropy 14.2 (April 1859): 96.

[33] A form of public execution in which the prisoner in hung inside a metal cage and left to die.

[34] Ibid.; For more information on the history of prison reform in Pennsylvania see the website of The Pennsylvania Prison Society, (accessed 2 October 2012).

[35] Condit, 372-373; Rush, 9-11.

[36] Condit, 373.

[37] “Philadelphia. In Congress. Tuesday, August 1, 1775,” Pennsylvania Magazine, August 1775, 392.

[38] Condit, 373.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.; “List of the Members that met at the Provincial Conference,” Pennsylvania Magazine, June 1776; Roland M. Baumann, “The Pennsylvania Revolution,” The Independence Hall Association of Philadelphia, July 4, 1995, (accessed 22 October 2012).

[41] Condit, 373-374.

[42] Condit, 374-375; Rush, 11-13.

[43] Condit, 375; Rush, 12-13. It should be noted that author and historian Rodney Atwood deemed the account of Ludwig’s journey to the British headquarters on Staten Island improbable. For his analysis see Rodney Atwood, The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 186-187 n13.

[44] Quoted in Rush, 12.

[45] Condit, 375.

[46] Condit, 376-377.

[47] Condit, 377.

[48] Quoted in Condit, 378.

[49] Peggy Robbins, “Washington’s Baker General,” Early American Life 8.5 (October 1977): 56-57.

[50] Condit, 379; Robbins, 57, 82.

[51] Quoted in Rush, 14. The addition of water to the flour allowed Ludwig to achieve his promise of providing 135 pounds of bread for every 100 pounds of flour. According to Rush, the members of Congress simply failed to take into account the addition of water when giving Ludwig his original order.

[52] Condit, 380-382.

[53] Condit, 381; Rush, 15.

[54] Condit, 382, 385.

[55] George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799, Series 5: Financial Papers, Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 1, Christopher Ludwick to George Washington, February 9, 1779, (accessed 11 September 2012).

[56] George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799, Series 5: Financial Papers, Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 1, Christopher Ludwick to George Washington, March 28, 1780, (accessed 11 September 2012).

[57] Pennsylvania Archives, Sixth Series, XI, 349.

[58] Condit, 383.

[59] Ibid.; For more information on the trial of Dr. William Shippen see Louis Caspar Duncan, “Medical Director Shippen,” in Medical Men in the American Revolution, 1775-1783 (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Medical Field Service School, 1937), 276-301.

[60] Condit, 383-385; Rush, 15.

[61] Condit, 385-386; Rush, 17-18.

[62] Quoted in Condit, 386. Ludwig’s reference to “Land” reflects the incentive of bounty land grants used during the American Revolution to encourage service. For more information on bounty land grants see Lloyd Dewitt Bockstruck, Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants: Awarded by State Governments (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1996).

[63] Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, 29: 200-1; Rush, 19. The date of Washington’s response to Ludwig is different in both sources cited. In the The Writings of George Washington, the response is dated April 12, 1787; however, in Rush’s biography the response is dated April 25, 1785. The text of Washington’s response is identical in both sources.

[64] Condit, 386-388.

[65] Rush, 19. The date of Catharine’s death conflicts with Rush’s account of Ludwig’s life, which states that Ludwig buried his wife in 1795. The date given (September 21, 1796) was obtained from a transcription of Ludwig’s tombstone compliments of the German Society of Pennsylvania.

[66] Condit, 388; Rush, 19.

[67] Robert Aitken to John Nicholson, July 7, 1797, Archival collections of the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

[68] Condit, 388-389; Rush, 19-20.

[69] John Fanning Watson, The Annals of Philadelphia, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: King and Baird, Printers, 1850), 2: 56.

[70] Rush, 20.

[71] Condit, 389; Rush, 21. According to James Mease and Thomas Porter, Picture of Philadelphia, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Robert Desilver, 1831), 1: 255, the 1810 treasury report of The Philadelphia Society for the Establishment and Support of Charity Schools indicated a $20 fee for “Ground occupied by C. Ludwick’s tomb, Germantown.”

[72] Rush, 23.

[73] Condit, 389. In Rush’s account of Ludwig’s life, the author mentions that three slaves, who had been emancipated by Ludwig, were present at his funeral. Therefore, it is possible that one of the three may have been Rachel, or that Ludwig had an interest in aiding other emancipated slaves, thereby providing Rachel with £50.

[74] Quoted in Rush, 23-24.

[75] Condit, 389-390; Rush, 25-26.

[76] “An Account of the Origin, Progress, and Present Condition, of The Philadelphia Society for the Establishment and Support of Charity Schools,” Hazard’s Register of Pennsylvania 10.4 (July 1832): 62.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Ibid.

[79] A short history of the Christopher Ludwick Foundation can be found on the following website, (accessed 25 September 2012); A complete list of all the recipients of grants during the 2012-13 year can be found at the following website, (accessed 25 September 2012).

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Christopher Ludwig
  • Coverage 1720-1801
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 26, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018