Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Jaegers: Doing their Duty in Dubuque

Originating as pioneer immigrants from Germany, three generations of the Jaeger family made and sold whiskey for almost half a century in Dubuque, Iowa.  In 1904 a local newspaper commented:  “Jaeger is so closely identified with the trade that it is a household word.”  The family also was recognized by their sense of duty to their community and adopted country. 

Appropriately christened “Adam.” the progenitor of the Jaegers was born in 1811 in Darmstadt, Germany, and educated in the public schools of that  country.  Of his early life little has been recorded, including his occupation.  When still in his early twenties in Germany he married Margaretha Mueller, a woman about his own age.  Their first son, christened Adam F. Jaeger Jr., was born in Germany just before the young family embarked for America, in 1840 settling in Dubuque, Iowa, shown here.

There Adam Sr. established what the Wine & Spirits Journal referred to as “…The pioneer [liquor] house of Northwest. Its history is dated back to the earliest days of the state.”  He appears to have been successful from the very beginning in building up a strong business in wholesale liquor.  This Jaeger also set the standard for community service.  During the years 1857-1858, he ran and was elected to the Dubuque City Council from the 5th Ward and said to have served “ably.”  During the same period, Adam Sr. expanded from selling liquor to  building Dubuque’s first distillery.

As soon as his eldest son, Adam Jr., reached maturity, the father providently brought him into the firm.  The young man quickly showed an aptitude for the whiskey trade, recorded as establishing his own distillery in 1861 on Bee Branch, a Dubuque waterway.  In 1859 the 21-year-old Jaeger married, his bride Sarah Schaffner, a woman of similar age from Dubuque and the daughter of German immigrants.  Their first child, son Henry, would be born in 1862.

The liquor trade and his family apparently were left behind when the Civil War broke out and Adam Jr. heard his country’s call to arms.  He enlisted as a private in Company E, Iowa 21st Infantry Regiment in August 1862.  For the next three years, this Jaeger would face hot combat repeatedly, participating in 24 battles in Mississippi, including at the siege of Vicksburg (shown above), Texas and Alabama.  The regiment lost 5 officers, 77 enlisted killed, and 168 dead of disease or accident.  Jaeger apparently emerged unscathed and was mustered out in July 1865 in Baton Rouge.

Adam Jr. returned home to assist his father and soon found himself in charge of the liquor house.  In May 1887 Adam Sr. visited his native Germany for six month.  Upon return he became sick and entered a slow decline.  In February 1868, he was confined to bed and died on April 10.  The Jaeger “pater familias,” age 57, was buried in Dubuque’s Mount Calvary Cemetery. His obituary in the local newspaper declared of Adam Jaeger Sr.:  “He was an active and enterprising man, a good citizen, respected by all who knew him, and an honor to the city.”

Adam Jr.’s initial efforts as a distiller were not crowned with success according to a report of the The Wine & Spirits Journal:  In 1865 The distillery was destroyed by a boiler explosion.  Jaeger then entered a new partnership and rebuilt the distillery, which afterward also burned.”  Subsequently, along with his brother-in-law, Liberat Alphonse “L.A.” Rhomberg, Jaeger Jr. joined Paul Traut, Adam’s son-in-law and a local merchant, in establishing a wine and liquor business at 521 Main Street, Dubuque, that claimed to be distillers as well as dealers.

This partnership lasted until 1879, when Traut departed to open a hat shop.  Subsequently, Jaeger and Romberg formed a new firm bearing their names at 465 Main Street, the building shown here.  This association lasted until 1889 when Rhomberg sold his interest to Louis A. Lang and a new business emerged called Jaeger, Lang & Company.  

In the meantime, the liquor dealer was pursuing a political career.  Following in the footsteps of his father, Jaeger Jr. was elected an alderman in 1866.  His credentials as a newly returned Union army veteran and bearing the respected Jaeger name likely contributed to his victory.  He proved up to the responsibility and served multiple terms on the Dubuque council until 1874, becoming a familiar figure around City Hall, shown here.  In September 1872, at the age of 34, he was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the sudden resignation of the mayor, but did not run for the office subsequently.

 Always interested in public causes, Jaeger Jr. organized and led the Illinois chapter of a group known as the Personal Liberty League.   This organization attempted to mediate between so-called “Temperance” groups and brewers and liquor dealers, attempting to ameliorate the worst aspects of the spirits trade.  For example, local chapters campaigned to have saloons close during church hours.

The business of Jaeger, Lang & Co. flourished and the partners saw the need for larger quarters, moving into 356-364 Main Street, shown here.  This building had fifty feet of frontage, three stories, and a sub-basement that served as a wine cellar.  Following the explosions and fires at his earlier distilleries, Adam Jr. apparently was discourage about making whiskey and moved to blending products from outside sources and issuing the results under proprietary labels.  The company flagship brands were “William Penn” and “Dubuque Club.” 


As they reach maturity, Jaeger Jr. brought two of his sons, Alphonse “Ollie”  and Charles F. Jaeger, into the business.  Ollie was the elder of the two, born in January 1862, just before his father marched off to war.  He preceded Charles by two years.  Educated in the schools of Dubuque, both young men served apprenticeships under their father, working as clerks and traveling salesmen.

Jaeger Jr. at 57 year old was still firmly in management control with Lang and apparently in good health in August 1894 when he ventured on an extended fishing trip up the Mississippi River with friends.  Said to have been enjoying the outing, he suddenly had an attack of severe cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting.  Brought home and believed recovering, he suddenly suffered a relapsed and died.  Like his father, he was buried in Calvary Cemetery. 

His obituary in the Dubuque Daily Herald provided this tribute to Jaeger Jr:  “Mr. Jaeger was truly one of God's noblemen. He was the soul of geniality, kind-hearted and ever charitable and pleasant. In his business dealings he has made an enviable reputation. Honesty and integrity have been characteristic of him and few men possessed the esteem and warm friendship of his associates as he did.  He has ever been a public spirited man.”

Despite Jaeger’s death Louis Lang continued the firm under the original name and continued to employ his sons.  In 1905, however, he sold an interest to local merchant, John Brede, and the company became Brede, Lang and Company.   Apparently seeing limited opportunities with Lang, Ollie and Charles in 1904 decided to strike out their own by founding their own liquor house, calling it Jaeger Brothers Company.  They are shown here, Ollie at left.  By this time Ollie was married to Lizzie E., but no children reported.  Charles’ wife was Ida A. (nee Lynburner).  They would have a family of seven.

Charles appears to have managed the operations of the company while Ollie worked as a roving salesman for its products.  The brothers had kept the rights to  their premier label, William Penn Rye.   They issued an advertising trade card for the brand that featured a scantily clad young woman.   As Iowa edged closer and closer to statewide prohibition the Jaegers shut down their operation after 1907. 
Thus came to an end three generations and 53 years of Jaeger productive involvement in the liquor trade of Dubuque.

Ollie went to work as a travel agent, before dying early at 46 years old in 1912.  Charles became a salesman for another Dubuque liquor company, switching to tobacco sales after Iowa’s prohibition.  He died in 1940, age 76.  The Jaeger burial plot where lie the two Adams, their spouses, and other members of the family is marked by a towering obelisk.  It serves to remind us that at a time when Prohibitionists were vilifying liquor dealers as tools of Satan, the Jaegers were serving their adopted country in war and their local government in peacetime, proving to be sterling citizens and honored by their community at their passing.

Note:  This post is drawn from a variety of sources, the principal ones being: The Wine & Spirits Bulletin 1903 and the obituaries of both Adam Jaeger Sr. and Adam Jaeger Jr.

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