Ewald H. G. Gerstmann was born September 19, 1918 in Bremerhaven, Germany. At the age of eight, he emmigrated to America with his mother Johanne and older brother Reinhold (his sister having died during the trans-Atlantic voyage), arriving in New York on October 4, 1926, aboard the S.S. Hamburg. The family settled in Franklin, New Jersey and Gerstmann left school after the 8th grade to go to work. On January 1942 he joined the Army and served in India, Egypt and elsewhere. He met Helen Kotnok, a New Jersey woman, and they were married on May 28, 1943, while he was still in the military. After returning home from the war, Gerstmann and his brother Reinhold began the Gerstmann Bottle Gas Company, retailing propane gas. Eventually he also became a chief power operator at Newton Memorial Hospital and at Morristown Memorial Hospital.
In 1954, when Gerstmann's daughter Karen was in high school, she received a science assignment: to collect some minerals near her home in Franklin, Sussex County. Gerstmann remembered seeing some minerals in crates in the basement of a local miner, and so he paid him a visit and was allowed to select a boxful for his daughter's project--only to be astounded to learn that he had to pay $60 for them. Afterward Karen's project was completed the minerals ended up in several buckets discarded on a back porch. As it happened, a local mineral collector came by and offered Gerstmann $100 for the specimens. That got his attention again, and he developed an interest in Franklin minerals.
Gerstmann became a dedicated mineral collector focusing on Franklin and Sterling Hill specimens. He bought books and educated himself on minerals; he studied the Franklin collection at the nearly Paterson Museum and at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Honest, generous and straight-forward, Gerstmann made many friends among local collectors and among mineralogists and curators, including the man who became his principal mentor, John L. Baum. In 1963 he purchased the Lang and Riker collections, and by 1964 Gerstmann had established himself as one of the leading collectors of Franklin and Sterling Hill minerals.
During the next 15 years Gerstmann purchased over 500 private mineral collections in order to get the Franklin/Sterling Hill minerals they contained. He even encouraged and trained local miners to look for interesting specimens, and he freely supplied research specimens to any scientists who asked for them; in doing so he was instrumental in the description of over 30 new species. After supplying Paul B. Moore with an unknown mineral he had found, Moore named the new Sterling Hill mineral gerstmannite in his honor in 1975. Gerstmann was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Harvard University.
Gerstmann set up display cases in a building adjacent to his house on Walsh Road in Franklin and opened it as the Gerstmann Mineral Museum in the early 1960's. The museum had on display more than 1,500 specimens. In 1980 Gerstmann sold his enormous collection to Spex Research Company on the condition that it be permanently housed at the Franklin Mineral Museum in Franklin, New Jersey, where it remains today. Ewald Gerstmann died December 14, 2005, at the age of 87, in Andover, New Jersey.
References: HAUCK, R. (2005) Ewald Gerstmann, expert in minerals [obituary].