William Cermak, a master potter and son of master potter Josef Cermak,
was born in 1856 in Kasejovice, Blatna, of what is now the Czech Republic,
and came to the United States in 1886 at age 30. Several other Cermaks
seemed to have come at about the same time, people who were probably
cousins or brothers of William. One settled in the midwest and his
branch of the family produced Mayor Anton J. Cermak of Chicago, who
died in 1933 of an assassin's bullet intended for President Franklin
William lived on the East
Side in New York City in a cold water flat, one bathroom to each floor.
He found work at a foundry or pottery in the lower east side, and
sent for his wife and three sons, Frank, Edward, and Charles. They
lived somewhere in or near downtown Schenectady. There exists a picture
of the Cermak boys on the porch of a school described as being "on
lower Union Street." William soon came to the attention of a
"head hunter" searching for good artisans and invited him
to move to Schenectady to become the head of the porcelain division
of the new Edison Electric Co., which merged with the Edison Machine
Works to form General Electric in 1892.
Up through the early 1890s,
electrical insulators were made of glass,
which was fragile and not capable of with- standing high voltages.
In 1893, William Cermak, working with his subordinate John J. Kraus,
developed the petticoated porcelain insulator usable with
10,000 volt transmission lines, a breakthrough that enabled the rapid
growth of electrification in the United States. In 1904, after the
Cermaks moved to Fourth Ave in Schenectady's Mont Pleasant area, a
neighborhood where many other Czechs lived, William was appinted Alderman
for the Ninth Ward. At the time, Frank was 24 and working at General
Electric, learning from his father and helping him. He later became
an Alderman himself, and his son, also named Frank, was a Councilman
in the Schenectady County Town of Niskayuna at the time of his death
In 1905, William became
ill, so he and his wife and son Edward went back to Kasejovice for
his health, leaving Frank
to care for the ceramics building. Kasejovice is near the famous baths
at Marienbad. But the intended respite did not
help. William returned to Schenectady, continued to decline, and died
two years later. He is buried in Vale Cemetery.
This biography was compiled with the gracious assistance of Dr. Ethel
Cermak Tomkins, William's granddaughter, who provided the photograph
and the clippings from which the information was taken.