Friday, June 19, 2015

William Ahrendt: Surviving in War, Prospering in Peace

Pedestrians on Monroe Street in downtown Toledo, shown above around the turn of the last Century, might walk past the sign atop a liquor store with the name “Ahrendt” prominently displayed and not have a clue about who the proprietor might be.  His name was William L. Ahrendt,  a whiskey man distinguished for having survived combat service in not just one, but two armies.

Ahrendt came from a German family with a long military tradition.  Legend has it that his father, Jurgen Ahrendt, had watered Napoleon’s horses when the French leader, shown left, was engaged in one of his successful military campaigns.   Born in Mecklenburg in 1838, William, after an elementary education in the Fatherland, as soon as eligible joined the Prussian army.   Even basic training in that military was dangerous.  Many inductees are said to have died during the process.

William survived and although there was no major war during his Prussian service, the army was engaged in constant minor skirmishes, illustrated right, as the German empire consolidated its power over Central Europe.  Trained German soldiers were highly recruited by the Lincoln Administration for  combat participation in the Civil War.   Shown below in German is a recruitment poster promising a bonus and other benefits for Germans who enlisted.   By the end of the war some 200,000 had served in the Union Army, many of them speaking little or no English.  Known dismissively by the Confederates as those “lop-eared Dutch,” most proved to be disciplined and effective soldiers.

Among those accepting Lincoln’s blandishments of was Ahrendt.  Arriving in the United States in 1863, he gravitated to Ohio, where the 182nd Ohio infantry was being organized for one year of service under the command of Colonel Lewis Butler.  The first five companies were recruited in Toledo and then sent to Camp Chase in Columbus to complete the organization of the regiment.  William and his comrades left Columbus for Nashville, Tennessee, on November 1, 1864.  At first the unit was assigned to post and garrison duty but became fully engaged in combat in mid-December in what is known as the Battle of Nashville, shown below.
The struggle lasted two days as the Confederate Army of the Tennessee under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood attacked Federal forces under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas.  In one of the largest victories by the Union Army during the war, Hood’s army was defeated and largely destroyed as a fighting force.  The battle represented the last large-scale fighting in the Western Theater.  Although a number of Union soldiers were killed or wounded in the fighting,  Ahrendt apparently emerged unscathed.  Discharged in Columbus in July 1865,  he found his way back to Toledo. 

Upon his return to Toledo, Ahrendt — now 27 years old — in 1865 quickly married.  His bride was Wihelmina Vick, known as “Minnie” by her family.  He may have known her from his homeland.  Seven years younger, she also was an immigrant from Mecklenburg.  The Ahrendts would have three sons:  Reinhold born in 1874;  Rudolph J. C., 1876; and Arthur, 1888.  The 1880 census found the family living in Toledo on Nebraska Avenue.  Ahrendt’s occupation was given as grocer and saloon keeper.  Three years later he brought his 84-year-old father, Jurgen, from Germany to live with them.

The former soldier first entered public notice in 1890 as a wholesale liquor dealer with a listing in Toledo business directories with the firm of Ahrendt & Hacker, located at 604 Monroe Street.  From the beginning, company seemed to operate with unusual flair.  Shown right is a stoneware jug from the Fulper Pottery of Flemington, New York, that advertises the firm.  These quart containers with their gilded lettering and hand painted floral designs were relatively expensive and their issuance could be a gamble.  The partners were advertising their own brand of whiskey, indicating that in addition to wholesaling liquor they were “rectifying” it;  that is, blending and mixing raw whiskeys from Kentucky and other sources to achieve specific look and taste.  Hacker appears to have departed about 1895, a point when Ahrendt moved his operation to 522 Monroe Street.  
As his sons matured, William began taking them into his business, eventually (1900) changing the name of the firm to Ahrendt & Sons and later (1906) to Ahrendt & Sons Company.  The liquor dealership issued a number of advertising giveaway items to customers like restaurants and saloons carrying their whiskey.  Those included shot glasses for the Ahrendts’ flagship brand, “Crack Shot.”   Even more impressive was a back-of-the-bar bottle advertising that whiskey. The name Crack Shot may well hark back to William’s past as an infantryman in two armies.

With his sons to help, Ahrendt was able to pursue both political and social interests in Toledo.  He was an active Republican, as were many returning Union veterans, and was elected assessor in the city’s then Eighth Ward, the first of his party to achieve office in that part of town.  He was active in the Forsyth Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the politically powerful Civil War veterans’ organization and participated in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the North German Society.  William and Minnie were members of St. Paul’s German Lutheran Church.  

The Ahrendts were a tight knit group.  Married, Reinhold lived at 560 Nebraska Avenue, Rudolph, also married, at 550 Nebraska, and Arthur, unmarried, with his parents at 544.  The sons all were identified as Republican, like their father, and all worshiped at St. Paul’s.  As the Ahrendts prospered they expanded their local investments.  About 1905, they bought a large three story building at 512 Monroe Street, known as the Miller block.  They relocated their liquor business there and rented out other ground level retail spaces.  About the same time they bought from the Piqua, Ohio, owners the brand name and formula of Holtzermann Stomach Bitters. [See my post on the Holtzermanns, April 2015.]  They continued to market this highly alcoholic remedy in its traditional “log cabin” bottle.

Late In 1907, William Ahrendt died at the age of 69.  He had been active in the firm as president virtually up until his death.  As his sons and their families mourned by his gravesite, he was buried in Toledo’s Forest Cemetery.  Reinhold Ahrendt became president of the company,  Arthur H. was vice president and Rudolph J. C., the secretary and treasurer.   They kept the liquor firm profitable until 1916 when Ohio voted statewide Prohibition.  Renamed for a fourth time “The Ahrendt & Sons Co.,” the business William had founded a quarter century earlier closed its doors, never to be reopened.  


  1. This is really a wonderful post.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment. Although I was born (1935) and grew up in Toledo, the Ahrendt firm was long gone but my father who also grew up there may have known it. Jack

  2. Hello! I'm a direct descendant of William L. and had heard many of these stories growing up. Was sure some were tales that someone made up (like Napolean!) but was intrigued that you had found out about them too. Would love to hear more about where you got some of this information. The family opened a paint store years after they closed the whiskey store--but it was still on Nebraska. Thank you for a great post!

  3. Dear MA123. Well the story about Napoleon may be just part of family lore, but the life of William Ahrendt was an interesting one. My principal source for his story was a volume called "Memoirs of Lucas County and of the City of Toledo" (Vol II) by Harvey Scribner, published in 1910. It can be found in its entirety on the Internet. Other material came from city directories and my own background, being born and having lived 20 years in Toledo. Glad you liked the post. Jack