Recognize This Name? Zeno Ostenberg

Ostenberg Gas Engine SignThere is no Milpitas street, school, or park named after him, but Zeno Ostenberg was an early Milpitas business- man and city official who was also a nationally recog- nized chemical and medical researcher. He worked at the gas engine manufacturing company advertised in the sign above, along with his father, John, and his brothers until World War I.

Zeno Ostenberg
Zeno Ostenberg

Zeno Ostenberg was born in 1890 in Iowa and came to Santa Clara County by train from Vermont at the age of nine with his parents and his brothers Pontus and Nero and sisters Grace and Daisy. He graduated from San Jose High School in 1907 and earned a degree from Stanford University and a graduate degree from MIT. During World War I, as a lieutenant in the Naval Aviation Service, he taught aerial navigation to pilots in San Diego and Pensacola, Florida.

After the war, he returned to Milpitas in the early 1920s. He opened a factory in Milpitas around 1922 that produced leatherette for the Star automobile, which was built in Oakland. He later gave up leatherette manufacturing and started a rendering plant here processing discarded meat and bones into tallow.

According to a later article in the Milpitas Post, he wrote about the virtues of Milpitas in the Oakland Tribune in February 1923. He served Milpitas in several capacities in the 1950s and helped organize the city’s first sewer district, served on its board of directors, and was a board member of the Water District that brought Hetch Hetchy water to our newly organized town. In 1954, he became the first Milpitas building inspector.

Zeno Ostenberg died at 81 in June of 1971 and was buried in San Jose’s Oak Hill Cemetery, as are both of his brothers and his sister Daisy, none of whom ever married. His other sister Grace, who did marry, died in 1943 in the Napa mental hospital.

by mhs June 2015