Friday, December 12, 2014

Amandus Fenkhausen: Christmas and Whiskey in “Frisco”

On a rainy, chilly day in December in the late 1850s, a San Francisco saloonkeeper named Amandus Fenkhausen looked out at the dismal scene on Kearney Street outside his saloon.  He called his wife to the front window.   The roadway was a rutted, muddy mess and the buildings along it were surrounded by mud and pools of standing water as the rain pelted down.  It was a sorry and depressing sight.

Amandus and Wilhemina had come across the Western plains with their first  child to California together with other early settlers, among whom were many of their German countrymen.  As a recent account put it, the Fenkhausens had embarked on a new life “in the desert of sand dunes that later was to become San Francisco. They had high hopes and strong in their hearts was the love of the fireside.”  Recalling how the Christmas was so festively celebrated in their former home in Hamburg, Germany, the couple began reciting the many traditions that surrounded the holiday.  Among them were the Christmas tree or as the Germans sing it: “O Tannenbaum”

Spurred to action by these remembrances of childhood, the Fenkhausen set to work.  Fetching small branches of fir that had been destined for the fireplace, they fashioned a small Christmas tree and decorated it with ornaments they had brought from the Old Country.  They set candles on it and placed the illuminated tree in the show window of their liquor store.  As a result Fenkhausen, an immigrant wine and whiskey dealer, and his wife,  are accounted as the first to introduce the custom of the Christmas tree to San Francisco.  Today hundreds of lighted trees are a local tradition that draw thousands of tourists to the California city each holiday season.  The Fenkhausens clearly started something.

But Amadeus must be remembered for more than his Christmas tree.  He was among San Francisco's most successful whiskey men, a gent who left behind many colorful reminders of his enterprise.  Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1925, Fenkhausen had married the sweetheart of his youth, Wilhelmina, the daughter of a liquor dealer named Johann Frisch.  Bringing along their first child, Caesar, the couple had come to America sometime in the early to mid-1850s, making the arduous overland trip to the West. The 1860 census found the family living in the Second District of San Francisco. The Fenkhausen family now included a daughter, Camina, and a second son, Rudolph.  A third son, Walter, later would be born.  Amandus gave his occupation to the census taker as “wine merchant.”

Fenkhausen’s saloon apparently was a successful enterprise and about 1861, according to one author, he established a wholesale liquor business at 322 Montgomery Street.  With success, by 1865 when his enterprise first showed up in city directories, he had moved to 809 Montgomery, between Jackson and Pacific.  He was billing himself as an “Importer and Wholesale Dealer in Wines and Liquors.”  He also advertised as the local “depot” for “Star of the Union Stomach Bitters,” sold in an amber bottle with an embossed star. His whiskey bottles showed a bear, as at left.

Within two years he had relocated again to the northwest corner of Sansome & Jackson Streets.  He used the occasion for an 1867 ad announcing that he “Respectfully informs his numerous friends that he has removed from No. 609 Montgomery street to the more convenient and larger building.”  After remaining at that address for about three years, he took on C. P. Gerichten as a partner in 1869. Subsequently known as Fenkhausen & Gerichten, the firm moved to 221 California Street, doing business at that location until 1874 when the partners sold the business.  Before long, however,  Amandus was back selling whiskey, his liquor house now located on the northwest corner of Front and Sacramento.
Throughout all these changes of address and ownership, the clear implication is that Fenkhausen was the top dog.  Unlike many other whiskey wholesalers, he featured only a small number of liquors in his inventory, many of them whiskeys that he was blending and compounding on his premises and attaching his own labels.  Among his brands were A.A.A. Eureka,”  Gold Drop XXX,” “Tennessee White Rye” and “Old Pioneer Whiskey.”The latter two were his flagship brands.
Fenkhausen advertised both vigorously.  One of his ads for Old Pioneer Whiskey sparked some controversy when it appeared on a chromolithographed trade card. Shown here, it depicted a young dandy pouring out a glass of whiskey for an adoring young woman in a wooded scene.  It gave the impression that an assignation of some kind might be in the offing.  Even in rowdy San Francisco the image to some seemed risqué.  Other Fenkhausen trade cards were more discrete, including one of a girl dancing with a shorter boy.  (But they do seem a bit close together for the pre-pubescence set.)   Note that both cards have the company trademark California grizzly bear.  

The company’s Tennessee White Rye Whiskey ads featured a comely young woman dressed in a Spanish shawl and carrying a fan.  This image appeared on trade cards and in Fenkhausen’s ads.  His pitch for this whiskey was its medicinal value.  The ad shown here calls it a tonic “recommended by physicians.”  A similar ad from 1886 goes into detail about Tennessee White Rye describing it as:  “A pleasant beverage recommended by Physicians as a pure and healthybeverage, free from all injurious substance.” The same ad noted helpfully, however, that the whiskey was for sale in all “first-class” saloons as well as with druggists  To make sure those saloon owners would use his liquor, Fenkhausen provided them with mirrored sign that trumpeted the brand.

By 1879, Amadeus had taken on another partner, Herman Braunschweiger, and once again the business name was changed to reflect addition.  The change occasioned still another move, this time to 414 Front Street where an 1880 San Francisco business directory found the partners.  Son Rudolph Fenkhausen now was working in the firm as a bookkeeper.  He resided at home with his parents at 1123 Sutter.  Also living with them was Caesar Fenkhausen, listed as a clerk for Abrams & Carroll, a wholesale grocer.  

In 1882, Braunschweiger struck out on his own and the business name reverted to A. Fenkhausen & Company.  For the next four years Amadeus ran his liquor operation alone, bringing Rudolph into its management.  His health declined, however, and in March 1886, Amandus died, age only 62.  While his family grieved by his graveside, he was interred in the Laurel Hill Cemetery, shown here. The cemetery was one of San Francisco’s oldest, known for its prestigious burials, including civic and military leaders, inventors, artists, and eleven U.S. senators.  And, we can add, at least one notable whiskey man.

Rudolph took over the operation of the A. Fenkhausen & Co., moving the business one last time in 1892 to 705 Front Street. Two years later the company Amadeus had built disappeared from local directories.  It was followed in 1895, however, by a new liquor business at 5-7 Drumm named R. Fenkhausen & Co.  My supposition is that this establishment was Rudolph striking out on his own.  It appears to have been very short-lived.

The end of the Fenkhausen name on liquor establishments in San Francisco, however, cannot erase from local memory that soggy pre-Christmas day when Amadeus and Amanda Fenkhausen put the their hand-fashioned Christmas tree in the window of their saloon to light up the dark night.  The Fenkhausens clearly knew how to keep Christmas and spread its joy to others. Wrote one newspaper:  “Passersby stopped, stared and gathered to celebrate.  The tree brought cheer to all lonely men far from home.” 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Bernheim Brothers and the Origins of I. W. Harper Whiskey

        At the doorway of  Schenley Industries Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, is an elegant bronze  plaque flanked by a sign reading:

“Bernheim Distilling Company
—as tribute to a man and his family who pioneered
the whiskey industry in America.”

Isaac Wolfe Bernheim, a German-Jewish immigrant, arrived in the United States soon after the Civil War with only four dollars in his pocket. He is shown below as a youth and in his elder years.  By founding a whiskey business, Bernheim had “realized the American dream” by the time of his death 55 years later, making millions and giving his adopted country one of its best known brands of whiskey:  “I. W. Harper.”

Bernheim was born in Schmieheim, Baden-Wurttenberg, Germany, in 1848, the son of Leon and Fanny (Dreyfuss) Bernheim.  His father was a merchant.  At the age of 19, he emigrated to the U.S., arriving in New York in April of 1867.   Following a family tradition, Bernheim first worked as a peddler, selling clothing from a horse drawn cart, traveling around Pennsylvania.  He ultimately settled in Paducah, Kentucky, where he worked as a bookkeeper and later a salesman for a liquor wholesale firm.  His salary of $40 a month allowed him save enough to bring his younger brother, Bernard to America in 1870.  

Two years later the pair opened their own whiskey wholesale business in Paducah, calling it Bernheim Bros.  They put their life savings, said to be $1,200, to help fund the start-up.  N. M . Uri, Bernheim’s brother-in-law, joined in 1875, and the name of the firm was changed to Bernheim Bros. and Uri.  At that point the partners in the wholesale liquor trade and like many wholesalers, mixing and blending raw whiskeys to achieve a particular taste.  In 1879, Bernheim Bros. took the step that would bring fame to their name:  They registered the “I. W. Harper” name.

As widely recognized, the “I. W.” was derived from Isaac Wolfe’s own name. But there is no consensus on how the partners happened on the “Harper.”  Some think it was derived from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  Others believe it was taken from F. B. Harper, the surname of a famous Kentucky horse breeder.  Still others believe it was “borrowed” from the Harper & Delaney Distillery located near Paducah.  In any case, it is agreed that Isaac wanted a American sounding name for his flagship brand. 

The Bernheims were among the first distillers to see the advertising advantages of winning medals at World’s Fairs and other international expositions.  In many such event just showing up with a display was enough to insure a medal.  Their first medal for I. W. Harper came in 1885 at the World’s Industrial and Cotton Exposition in New Orleans.  They issued a ceramic whiskey container to mark the occasion.  Many other such recognitions would follow.

In 1888, the Bernheims and Uri moved their firm to Louisville, likely in order to be closer to the center of Kentucky distilling and to insure themselves of a steady flow of product for their blends.  In order better to secure that supply the company in 1890 acquired an interest in the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery, seven miles southwest of Louisville, a facility that had been founded in the 1870s by F. G. Paine.  Initially this distillery had a relatively small output, producing only about 500 barrels of whiskey a year.  In June 1891 N. M. Uri, left the partnership and began his own successful liquor wholesale house.  (See my post of August 2, 2012 on Uri.)  The company name reverted back to Bernheim Bros. Co. 

The Bernheims continued to buy out the original owners and by 1896 had acquired full ownership of the distillery and were producing I. W. Harper and other house brands there.  Isaac was president of the corporation.  That same year, however, the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery was destroyed by fire, leaving the firm with  $1 million tax bill on the bonded whiskey that had been stored in its warehouses.  The result was 18 months of litigation until the government dropped its claim.

Rather than rebuild Pleasure Ridge Park, the Bernheims sold the property and built their own distillery in the town of Shively, just south of Louisville on Bernheim Lane and the Illinois Pike.  Known to the Feds as Registered Distillery #9 in the Fifth District of Kentucky, it had mashing capacity of 600 bushels a day and warehouse capacity for 61,000 barrels.  The plant is shown above on an illustration inside an acorn, a familiar symbol for the Bernheims.  Around the nut is the inscription:  “Tall Oaks from Little Acorns Grow.”  The motto suggests how far Isaac and his brother had come in their trade. 

By placing ads for their whiskeys in national publications and using other advertising devices, the Bernheims captured a nationwide clientele for I. W. Harper and other brands.  They made particular use of colorful chromolithographed trade cards, some with patriotic themes, some with risqué implications.  To a degree virtually unheard of in the liquor trade, Isaac and his brother also emphasized the use of giveaway items.  They included wall signs, some on reverse painted glass, others on vitrolite;  back of the bar bottles, often with deeply etched gold lettering; shot glasses,  and bar side tea kettles.  Of the kettles, the numbers and variety provide enough for an entire post (See my for June 23, 2012.)  In total the Bernheims left present day collectors a treasure trove of artifacts.

Indicating how tall that tall oak had grown, in 1903 the company incorporated as Bernheim Distilling Co. with $2 million in capital (equivalent to $50 million today).  They continued their expansion in 1906 buying the smaller Warwick Distillery (RD #1, 8th Dist. of KY), located on Silver Creek and Lancaster Pike in Madison County.  It is recorded with an original mashing capacity of 300 bushels a day and storage for 400 barrels.  Under the Bernheims the mashing capacity doubled and the warehouses expanded to hold 9,200 barrels.  The brothers eventually also held ownership in the Mayfield Distillery (RD #229, 5th Dist. of KY), in Larue County.  It could mash 700 bushel of grain a day and warehouse 37,000 barrels.  The Bernheims were being well supplied with product.
During this period the brothers were also getting a reputation for their philanthropy.  In 1901 they gave the city of Louisville a statue of Thomas Jefferson that now stands in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse.  It cost them $60,000 ($1.5 million today).  Recalling their heritage they gave generously to Jewish causes, including the Louisville’s Jewish Hospital and the Y.M.H.A.  But they show similar generosity to the Little Sisters of the Poor, the German Protestant Altenheim, and the Colored Orphans Home.  Their greatest gift, for which they continue to be remembered, was the donation of 14,000 acres of parkland in Bullitt County, Kentucky.  It is known today as Bernheim Forest.

By 1909 the Bernheims largely had divested themselves of their distilleries, selling both the Bernheim and the Warwick plants to an organization of local businessmen called the United American Company.  In 1911 the Bernheim Bros. Shively distillery burned but was rebuilt, expanding the mashing capacity to 1,600 bushels per day.  In 1915 Isaac Bernheim at the age of 67 retired from business, eventually moving to California.  Bernard died in 1925 and was buried in Louisville’s Temple Cemetery, a tall statue marking his grave.  Isaac lived until he was 95, dying in Santa Monica.  His body originally was interred at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville but moved in 1956 to Bernheim Forest where an elaborate memorial, shown below, marks his grave and that of his wife.

Both men witnessed the coming of National Prohibition when both the Bernheim Bros. and Warwick plants were partially dismounted and the property sold.  But Bernheim Distilling Co., under its new owners, operated as a medicinal whiskey distributor.  In 1934 with Repeal, the Canadian Schenley Co. purchased the I.W. Harper brand, ultimately becoming the property of the present-day United Distillers.  As a result, I. W. Harper bottles still beckon from the liquor store shelf to whiskey buyers.  But only, I am told, in foreign markets.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Krogmans of Tell City: Whiskey and "Circumstances"

Exactly what circumstances impelled August Krogman to leave his native Schleswig-Holstein, now part of Germany, to settle in a small Ohio River town in Indiana and start making whiskey, we do not know.  But from press accounts we do know the circumstances that drove the future of the Krogman Distillery and August’s son, William.  Those included murder, blood money, conspiracy and robbery.

August was born in December 1821, the son of Johann and Margarethe Krogman.  He learned the distilling business in his homeland, probably helping  make the popular liquor the Germans call “schnapps.”  He emigrated to the United States in 1855 and worked in a brewery in Davenport, Iowa, for three years.  It was there he met and married his wife, Dora Schubert.  They would have two children, Emma born in 1859 and William in 1863.

 In 1858 Krogman moved to Perry County, Indiana, working for a few years in the coal mines there.  By 1862 he had settled in Tell City, Indiana.  With a partner and a financial stake of $5,000, in 1863 Krogman constructed and opened a plant for “manufacture of bourbon, whiskey, and apple and peach brandies.”  His distillery is shown above in a postcard view.

Krogman had selected well in choosing his state and city of location.  Indiana reputedly had only one other working distillery and there was an active demand for whiskey.  Tell City, shown above as it looked in the mid 1800s, had its origins in a group of Swiss-German immigrants who had come together to purchase the site in the Midwest.  The tract of land they found was in southern Indiana, on the navigable Ohio River and strategically located on a railroad line.   Krogman had easy shipping access for his products to other cities and states.

Those shipments of whiskey most often were made in ceramic jugs.  They came in a variety of sizes and formats.  The one at right was stenciled over a salt glazed jug.  Despite the “s” in distiller being reversed, it recently sold for $1,100 at auction.  Other Krogman jugs included a Albany slip brown body with a reverse stenciled name, a Bristol glaze jug with cobalt label, an even larger label on a two-toned jug, and a quart-sized container with “Krogman Whiskey” in a circle. 

As August aged, he brought his son into the management of his thriving whiskey business. William Krogman had received considerable education for the times, attending both elementary and secondary schools in Tell City and then spending some period at the University of Indiana in Bloomington.  In 1888, he had married Claudine Voelke, the daughter of Frederick Voelke Jr., well-known owner of the Tell City Brewery.  Their union produced two children.
At age 79 in 1900, however, the father was still giving his occupation to the census taker as “distiller.”  The year before, after more than 40 years of marriage, his wife Dora had died.  August followed her to the grave in October 1905, age 84.  By that time William Krogman was well prepared to keep the Tell City distillery in operation — but he likely was unprepared for the circumstances that were to befall him. 

In 1911 a Tell City man named Joseph Wiegand was feuding with his neighbors next door, the Drury family.  According to press accounts, the problem was “some little difference about chickens.”  Mrs. Drury was standing in the yard of her home one day when Wiegand came around the corner of the house and shot her dead. Convicted of murder, Wiegand, apparently because of advanced age, escaped the gallows and was given a prison sentence.  Left with five minor children and no one to care for them, the bereaved husband sued William Krogman, characterized as a “wealthy man,” for $10,000 in damages (equivalent to $250,000 today).  Drury charged that his wife’s slayer had been drunk on liquor sold him by Krogman.
After legal maneuverings that lasted almost two years, a jury awarded Drury $2,500 in “blood money.”  He rejected that result and filed for a new trial, this time  suing in the name of his motherless children.  On this second time around, after a venue change to an Indiana county where Mrs. Drury had once resided, a sympathetic jury increased the award to $7,000.  A local newspaper headline read:  “Heavy Judgment Rendered Against William Krogman.”

Unfortunately,  William’s problems were just beginning.  As “dry” forces closed in on the production and sale of alcohol, Krogman’s markets slowly dried up along with profits.  Finally, in 1920 the advent of National Prohibition caused the distillery his father had founded 57 years earlier to shut down completely.  Sealed by federal order, the Krogman warehouses were full of aging whiskey  The temptation proved to be too strong for William.  With four others, including two former Tell City town marshals and an ex-sheriff of Perry County, he hatched a plot to rob the Krogman Distillery warehouse in August 1921.  And got caught by federal authorities.  This time the headline read:  “Owner, with Four Others, is Held in Distillery Robbery.”

Arrested and hauled into Federal Court in Indianapolis, William and his four accomplices were charged with conspiracy.  As the presumed ringleader, Krogman’s bail was set at $3,000.  The others paid lesser amounts.  I am unable to find the outcome of the arrests, but in many cases such offenses were treated leniently even by the U.S. courts and the perpetrators let off with fines.  The rationale could reasonably have been that Krogman was only trying to purloin liquor that actually was his.   William continued to own the Krogman properties for some years but never saw the Repeal of the 18th Amendment.  He died in 1932 at age 68 and is buried in a Perry County cemetery.

The Krogman Distillery is recorded on a bank draft as having passed after Prohibition into the hands of the Gerbers, father and son Tell City merchants. In 1941 the Park & Tilford Co. bought the plant.  As testimony to the recognized quality of Krogman whiskey, that company issued a straight bourbon it called “Krogman’s Old Master” and packaged some of it in a fancy ceramic jug, shown here, attributed to the Uhl Pottery Company.  The plant operated into the 1960s when it was closed forever.

This final termination came almost a century after the distillery had been founded by August Krogman.  It had made him and his son rich and well-known in Tell City.  With the exception of certain "circumstances” whiskey-making had been good for both Krogmans.  

Special Note:  This post marks the 300th entry since the Pre-Prohibition Whiskey Men blog began in April 2011.  In the months since the 200th post, it has been possible to reduce to just two — Maine and North Dakota — the states where I have been unable to identify a whiskey man to profile.  Moreover, among the last hundred vignettes two women, Mary Dowling and Mary Jane Blair, have been featured.  Their achievements in the liquor trade definitely marked them as worthy of attention. 

Interest in whiskey has grown rapidly in recent years, as has attention to whiskey lore.  The prior posts have allowed me to shine some light on pre-Prohibition whiskey making and merchandising, a little-examined part of American business, social and political history.  It is gratifying that over the past few months several media outlets, history museums, historical publications and freelance writers have been in touch with me for information and other assistance. I am happy to give it.  Also gratifying are the 55 “followers” who have signed up for this blog, another indication of growing public awareness. My ongoing research into the subject allows me to be confident that sufficiently interesting other pre-Prohibition American whiskey men (and women) existed who are worthy to be subjects of vignettes.  My goal is to have profiled one hundred more by sometime in 2016.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The M. Wollstein Liquor Tree — How It Grew and Fell

Before the concepts were common in American business, the M. Wollstein Company was a multifaceted conglomerate liquor dealership, as suggested above in an illustration that listed its various entities.  The management structure was presented in tree form, perhaps to resemble a sturdy oak.  Behind this multi-limbed enterprise appears to have been a man named Theodore Wollstein, who remains a mysterious figure.

Throughout his life, Theodore seemed to have avoided the U.S. Census taker.  He first surfaced in the public record operating a short-lived liquor dealership in Chicago (1877-1878).  About 1880, M. Wollstein Company, a whiskey wholesaler and retailer, was established in Kansas City, Missouri.  While I can find no M. Wollstein involved with this firm,  T. Wollstein was listed as proprietor on a company catalog, along with a partner,  J. G. Seligsohn.
M. Wollstein & Co. was established at 1070 Union Avenue, a location shown right that the firm variously called “Main House” or “Station A.”  There would be many other houses and stations in the Wollstein liquor empire, spread over four states.  Among them were:

*M. Wollstein & Co., West Main Street, Sedalia, Missouri
*M. Wollstein & Co.  1420 East 18th Street, Kansas City
*H  Brann & Co., 304 Main Street, Kansas City
*M. Glass & Co, 1625 W. Ninth Street, Kansas City
*M. Wollstein & Co., 222 North 16th Streets, Omaha
*Chicago Liquor House, 222 16th Street, Omaha
*M. Wollstein & Co., 522 South 13th, South Omaha
*M. Glass & Co., 224 North 10th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska
*H. Brann & Co., 311 Larimer Street, Denver, Colorado
*M. Wollstein & Co., 535 Broadway,  Council Bluffs, Iowa

The corporate structure of these 10 entities is not clear.  Each appears to have had an individual manager.  Several managers were identified, none of them named Wollstein.  According to the company advertising M.Wollstein & Co. sold a blizzard of brands, many of them nationally known.  To those the company added a number of proprietary labels, probably blended and compounded at their Main House address.  Those were  such whiskeys as “Cedar Point,” “Ambassador,” Wollstein’s Pure Rye,” “Wollstein’s Select,” “Wollstein’s Sour Mash,” and “Wollstein’s Special Reserve.”  Records indicate that of these, M. Wollstein & Co. trademarked only Ambassador Whiskey, registering the brand in 1915.

The company presented its whiskey in wholesale quantities using ceramic jugs.  Two shown here have the Union Street “Main House” address.  Those containers would have held a gallon or more of Wollstein’s whiskey to be served out at saloons and hotel bars.  Another jug shown here was issued for the Wollstein’s Omaha area outlets, listing each location on the label.  The company also issued a number of giveaway items to favored customers, in particular shot sizes, both in glass and in metal.  The tin cup shown below contained the names of the Omaha, South Omaha and Council Bluffs M. Wollstein stores.
Although his activities are far from clear, Theodore Wollstein continued to be present in the Wollstein liquor empire.  In 1892, he established a Kansas City establishment under his own name.  From 1892 to 1907 the T. Wollstein & Co. liquor dealership was listed in city directories. In December 1895, Theodore was granted a liquor license renewal for the M. Wollstein & Co. store at 522 South 13th Street.  A newspaper account later had him visiting Kansas City from his Chicago home, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, “Hermie and Gertie.”  Theodore was said to be looking after the Kansas City business block owned by M. Wollstein & Company and visiting the local manager, Sigmund Landsburg.  This was another indication that Theodore  was the chief executive officer running the Wollstein enterprises.

About 1905 a major corporate change occurred in the liquor dealership.  While maintaining the Union Street address, the company altered its name to the M. Wollstein Mercantile Company, as shown by the logo below.  The change may have resulted from increasing recognition that prohibitionary forces, through local (dry) option laws that allowed municipalities and counties to ban alcohol, were gradually squeezing the Wollstein retail outlets.  Wollstein Mercantile seems to have emphasized mail order sales.  Until after 1913 it was still legal to send liquor by mail into dry areas.

As the Anti-Saloon League and its allies marched forward, however, one by one individual states were making alcohol sales totally illegal.  At the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1916, Colorado enforced statewide prohibition through what were known as “Bone Dry” laws.  The Wollstein’s H. Brann store on Larimer Street in Denver shut its doors.  That same day the Iowa outlet followed suit.  The Wollstein’s liquor dealership in Council Bluffs was closed.  Nebraska as early as 1891 had passed a local option law that allowed municipalities to vote dry.  In 1915 the state legislature banned liquor sales altogether. On New Years Day 1916 the Wollstein empire also lost its outlets in Omaha and South Omaha.  Four stores shut down on a single date.

Ever resilient, however, Wollstein’s Nebraska operations moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, locating at Fourth and Felix Street.   For its opening day on May 19, 1917, a newspaper advertisement promised a souvenir to every visitor.  The Missouri based dealer also was pricing quarts of nationally name brand whiskey for as low as 95 cents.  Although Missouri remained friendly to liquor until National Prohibition in 1920, other states continued to battle against mail order sales.  In November 1917, according to newspaper accounts, George W. Ringo who lived in a secluded spot near the Platte River outside Springfield, Nebraska, was arrested by state agents after “a large amount of liquor was found about the place.”  The packages bore the name of M. Wollstein Mercantile of St. Joseph, Missouri. 

The heavy pressure of prohibitionist forces apparently caused Theodore Wollstein to sell out about this time.  The Union Street address disappeared from Kansas City directories in 1914 to be followed by a new one at 23-25 East 24th Street.  In 1919 M. Wollstein Mercantile listed another new address at 1414 Grand Avenue in Kansas City.  Its directors were listed as H. T. Kemper, a Kansas City banker, and H. F. Helm, owner of a local commission house. 

This Wollstein Merchantile Co. found itself under investigation by the U.S. Attorney General and the Department of Justice. The cause was alleged German “enemy interest” in the firm during World War I.  At the same time Wollstein Merchantile came under scrutiny by a congressional committee investigating undesirable German influences in wartime America. Those "Hun" interests were set at 36 percent of Wollstein’s authorized capital, a foreign investment of roughly $135,000 in today’s dollar.   By 1820, Kemper and Helm had resigned their posts, possibly under political pressure.  With the advent of National Prohibition that same year, M. Wollstein Mercantile Co., as the Germans would say, went kaput. 

The Wollstein “tree” that looked so firm and healthy, as illustrated to open this post, had suffered considerable damage.  The company’s mail order sales had been severely curtailed by Congressional action in 1913.  Five retail “limbs” had been sawed off in 1916 as Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska all went “dry.”  During World War One and after, U.S. government forces had began hacking at the company’s sturdy trunk with accusations of enemy influence.  National Prohibition provided the final blow of the axe. The Wollstein tree toppled to the ground.  With its demise went all further traces of Theodore Wollstein, back into the mists of history.

Note:  Deducing the timing and places of the various entities involved with the M. Wollstein interests was a difficult research effort.  Although this post is based on available records, my instinct is that there are corrections to be made. Particularly frustrating was ferreting out the ownership, including the role played by Theodore Wollstein.  My hope is that a Wollstein descendant will see this piece and help fill in the gaps.