Henry Louis Guenther was born in Germany in 1871 and from an early age, he exhibited signs of a passionately inventive mind. At the same time, across the Atlantic, another inventive young man named Henry was making a name for himself in the new industry of automobile manufacturing-Henry Ford.
Mr. Guenther had become fascinated with his namesake’s use of the assembly line in Ford’s Detroit, Michigan factory. It was done much more quickly and efficiently than could be accomplished using traditional hand-assembly methods. Mr. Guenther’s dream was to employ this same technology for another purpose. The Industrial Revolution had given birth to many innovations during the 19th century and one of them was the use of canning to preserve otherwise perishable food products for long-term use and storage. Mr. Guenther had conceived of a mechanism whereby a single machine could be created that would efficiently seal or close the lids to a series of open cans in an automated fashion. This in itself was not a new concept. What was new, and what was most important for Mr. Guenther, was the fact that he imagined that this machine could in turn be manufactured using Ford’s assembly line technique, allowing rapid production of the device for use in canneries throughout the United States and indeed the world.
Sometime in the first decade of the 20th century, Mr. Guenther traveled to the United States, first settling in Detroit, where Ford’s experimentations with the assembly line were then in full swing. There, Mr. Guenther would be able to witness firsthand how this new technology functioned in everyday practice.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Guenther moved to Los Angeles, California, where, in 1910, he founded the Angelus Sanitary Can Machine Company. Almost from its inception, Angelus became a major and vital supplier to the canning industry, with Mr. Guenther holding patents for his innovative assembly line approach to manufacturing sanitary can-closing machines. It is testimony to Mr. Guenther’s talents that the technology he created in 1910 is still essentially the same technology in use a century later.
Once established in Los Angeles, Mr. Guenther met Pearl Harder, a young woman from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who had come to California in part to pursue her love of landscape painting. They were a devoted married couple and when Mr. Guenther died childless in 1945, Mrs. Guenther continued to serve as symbolic head of the Angelus enterprise. She endeared herself to Angelus employees and their families by hosting an annual Christmas party at the Guenthers’ large Mediterranean-style home in the stately View Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, a home that was decorated with many of Mrs. Guenther’s plein-air landscapes. The culture of the company was a familial one and perhaps because the Guenthers did not have children of their own, Angelus employees were considered to be like family.
Mrs. Guenther’s devotion to her husband, coupled with her own interest in his legacy and her concern for her fellow man, formed the basis of the establishment in 1956 of the Henry L. Guenther Foundation. Due to the financial arrangements that had been made after Mr. Guenther’s death, it took some time for the foundation to take hold in the philanthropic community.
Mrs. Guenther knew that Mr. Guenther’s wish was for the ongoing viability of the Angelus Sanitary Can Machine Company. The company’s legal team thus proposed an estate plan whereby Mrs. Guenther’s assets would be passed into a charitable testamentary trust for the benefit of Guenther family members for their lifetimes. A foundation was also created so that the assets of the testamentary trust would be transferred to it upon the death of all trust beneficiaries. From 1960 to 1994, Mrs. Guenther and the other foundation directors made small grants to various charities. In 1994, when the testamentary trust terminated, the Angelus Sanitary Can Machine Company stock was transferred to the Henry L. Guenther Foundation.
Because Mrs. Guenther had a sister with vision problems whom she cared for very much, the Braille Institute became one of the earliest beneficiaries of the Guenther Foundation. Other Vernon, California area organizations were also early beneficiaries of the new Guenther Foundation, including the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, and Southern California community colleges, to name a few. It was during these formative years that Mrs. Guenther laid the groundwork for what would become the key mission and purpose of the Henry L. Guenther Foundation.
Mrs. Guenther died in 1963 and after her death, the testamentary trust took effect, holding the Angelus stock in trust and disbursing fixed payments to the Guenthers’ surviving relatives. When the last of those relatives died in 1994, the testamentary trust ended and all of its assets (essentially 100% of the Angelus Company stock) were transferred to the foundation. It was at this juncture that the foundation, now fully funded, became a major philanthropic entity. At this time, the Henry L. Guenther Foundation still owned 100% of the Angelus stock, but because of new IRS regulations, the Guenther Foundation sold Angelus to another manufacturing firm in 2007.
To date, the Henry L. Guenther Foundation has donated more than $108 million to charities ranging from large hospitals and universities to smaller organizations that focus on youth, senior citizens, families, veterans, and the indigent. Much of the Guenther philanthropy is focused on charities in the Southern California region where Henry Guenther and his wife lived, worked, and flourished.
In 2010, the Angelus Sanitary Can Machine Company celebrated its 100th anniversary and while it is no longer affiliated with the Guenther Foundation, many members of the six-person Guenther board of trustees are former Angelus executives or their descendants. The Henry L. Guenther Foundation has awarded grants to several hundred Southern California organizations since it became fully funded in 1994. It is a living legacy of two devoted individuals whose love of each other and their fellow man have resulted in generous gifts that help promote the betterment of society.