Legendary Members: Hart O. Berg

By Edward Werner Cook. From The Retort, April 2011.

Hart O. Berg was a longtime foreign member of The Chemists’ Club, having joined about the time of the opening of the Club Building in 1911 and was still a member in 1939 with a Paris address in the fashionable 8th Arrondissement or Élysée section, a fitting complement to his New York Club address: 50-54 East 41st Street.

The Chemists’ Club has always had very eclectic membership and Hart O. Berg is ample evidence of a grand entrepreneur.

A native of Hartford, in 1897 he was Director of External Affairs for Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Liège, Belgium and returned to Hartford to investigate latest techniques of bicycle manufacture as FN had considerable spare capacity and skilled workers. At Colt’s in Hartford he met John Browning and secured European rights for FN to manufacture his newly designed gun, eventually known simply as FN’s le Pistolet Browning. Years later, an FN Browning pistol was used to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, plunging Europe and America into war.

Berg later founded the Berg Automobile Company in Cleveland in 1903 and sold the firm in 1905.

However, Berg’s most notable adventure was with the Wright Brothers. Following dismal response to their invention in America and disbelief in Europe – particularly with the French – Wilber Wright travelled to Europe with one of their aeroplanes and retained Berg as agent. Berg arranged for Wright’s flying exhibitions at Le Mans Aero Club in 1908 with admission tickets personally signed by him and all of Europe was electrified by the performances. Hart’s wife, Edith, was the first woman ever to fly when she went aloft with Wilber. Tying the bottom of her ankle-length skirt for modesty, she inadvertently invented the famous hobbled skirt.

The eventual commercial success of Wrights’ aeroplanes was due to Hart O. Berg’s commercial acumen, in true
Chemists’ Club spirit!

Berg was a Chevalier Légion d’honneur.

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