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Bernard Vonnegut I

Bernard Vonnegut I, WAA, FAIA, (August 8, 1855 – August 7, 1908) was an American lecturer and architect active in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Indiana.[1] He was a co-founder of the locally renowned Indianapolis architectural firm of Vonnegut and Bohn, and was active in a range of residential, religious, institutional, civic, and commercial commissions. He is the namesake and grandfather of scientist Bernard Vonnegut, father of the architect Kurt Vonnegut Sr., and grandfather of author Kurt Vonnegut.

Bernard Vonnegut I
Bernard Vonnegut 1884.jpg
Bernard Vonnegut I, FAIA, photographed in 1884
Born(1855-08-08)August 8, 1855
DiedAugust 7, 1908(1908-08-07) (aged 52)
Known forPartner in Vonnegut & Bohn


Early life and educationEdit

Bernard Vonnegut I was born on August 8, 1855 in Indianapolis, Indiana to Freethinker German-American parents Katarina Blank, a homemaker, and Clemens Vonnegut (1824–1906), a powerful nineteenth-century German-American businessmen in Indianapolis and founder of the Vonnegut Hardware Company.[2][3]

Growing up in Indianapolis, he was described as the opposite of his father: artistic, extremely modest, retiring, unsociable, slightly introverted. "He had no intimates, and took but little part in social activities. He was never a happy...but was inclined to be reticent, shy, and somewhat contemptuous of his environment...and evidently unhappy in Indianapolis most of the time." He briefly worked for his father's firm but disliked it.[3]

His father was on the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis, and young Bernard attended the German-English School and Indianapolis High School with his brothers Clemens Jr., Franklin, and George.[4] Throughout his childhood, his artistic talent was noticed. Family lore relates that he had wanted to work as a theatrical designer after becoming stagestruck, "but learned that almost no one could make a living at that--so he became an architect instead."[3]

On the advice of his father's friend, Alexander Metzger, Vonnegut "took the course in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later studied at the Polytechnic Institute of Hanover, Germany.

After returning from Germany, he lived in New York City during the late 1870s and early 1880s, the city's "Gilded Age." He worked as a draftsman for a number of years in the offices of famous architect George B. Post. There, according to family lore, he became highly productive and more sociable. He felt his creativity and pursuit of arts were appreciated and respected in a way that they hadn't been in Indiana. His happiness was only interrupted when his family ordered his to return to the Midwest and his family's social circle and marry a good German girl.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

Vonnegut married Nanette Schnull, the daughter of Henry Schnull and Matilde Schramm, a well-respected and wealthy German-American family in Indianapolis. The "Schnull-Vonnegut clan was slightly condescending," and considered near the top of "the pecking order in the social hierarchy of the community, and particularly in the German group...."[5] The couple had three children: Kurt (1884–1957), Alex, (b. 1888), and Irma (b. 1890). Although not active in the Indianapolis community, he was a cultured man of the arts, reading the poetry of Heine and heavily favoring German culture. The family frequently lived abroad, and sent their young sons to the American School in Strasbourg.[3][5] While Nanette was educated in music and literature, she did not share most of her husband's interests and by all accounts theirs was not a happy marriage. "Kurt and Irma...identified with their father, while Alex identified with his mother."[3]

Feeling unappreciated in Indianapolis, he returned to being silent and unsociable. He frequently suffered indigestion and headaches and died at the age of fifty-three, only two years after his father, of intestinal cancer, never living to see any of his children married.[3]

Professional career in IndianapolisEdit

In 1886, Vonnegut was "elected a member of the Western Association of Architects," and following their consolidation with the American Institute of Architects in 1889, he became a Fellow. Additionally, he was a member of the Architectural League of America[6]

The German Renaissance Revival-style Athenæum (Das Deutsche Haus), 401 E. Michigan Street, (1893–1894 East Wing, and 1897–1898 West Wing

He founded his own firm in 1883 in Indianapolis before establishing the architectural firm of Vonnegut & Bohn in 1888 with Arthur Bohn (b. 1861). The firm went on to create many landmarks in Indianapolis and greater Indiana, and a number have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places[6]

In 1888, Julia Schnull, the sister of Vonnegut's mother, married J. George Mueller, the secretary-treasurer of the Mooney-Mueller Drug Company in Indianapolis. A Mueller (and probably descendant) joined Vonnegut & Bohn as a partner in the 1940s and the firm was briefly renamed Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller before a 1946 merger that wiped out the latter two names.[7]

List of works attributed to himEdit

Student Building (right, listed on the National Register of Historical Places), Indiana University Bloomington


Photo of Herron Art Institute


  1. ^ a b c d e f g archINFORM Bernard Vonnegut Accessed February 27, 2010
  2. ^ Shaping the Circle Bernard Vonnegut
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Carl Runyon, Bernard Vonnegut, K’s father's father.
  4. ^ Carl Runyon Clemens Vonnegut Sr.
  5. ^ a b "Biographical on Kurt Vonnegut, Sr." Archived 2011-04-11 at the Wayback Machine Lake Maxinkuckee Its Intrigue History & Genealogy; Culver, Marshall, Indiana
  6. ^ a b Society of Architectural Historians, AMERICAN ARCHITECTS' BIOGRAPHIES: Surnames beginning with letter V
  7. ^ Culver Library:Vonneguts
  8. ^ a b c "Vonnegut and Bohn Architectural Renderings, 1896, 1911, Collection Guide", "Biographical Sketch" (PDF). Indiana Historical Society. 2007. Retrieved 2012-11-02.

External linksEdit