Adolph Meinecke

Milwaukee Willow Works

Source: History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, The Western Historical Company, Chicago; A.T. Andreas Proprietor, 1881, pg. 1512

ADOLPH MEINECKE is a native of Oldenberg, Germany, on the German Sea, and a son of Dr. Ferdinand Meinecke. His mother's maiden name was Sophia Lubben. He is the oldest of three children, having a brother and sister younger than himself. He came to America at the age of 17 years, in 1848, and engaged as a clerk in the importing house in E. Hen in New York, where he remained seven years. In 1855 he came to Milwaukee and started a toy store on Market Square. From this little store has grown the Milwaukee Willow Works and the large wholesale importing toy house of Meinecke. He continued the toy business with success, and commenced, in addition, the business of willow manufacturing in 1864. The latter business grew into such importance that in 1870 the business was divided, the wholesale toy department being carried on under the name of Meinecke & Co., and the willow works under that of A. Meinecke. The mercantile house with an increasing business moved into the fine store on Huron street, and since the last two years they occupy two stores south of Mitchell's Building on East Water street. It has grown to be one of the largest as well as strongest houses in that trade in the West. The progress of his manufacturing enterprise has been traced in the sketch of the Milwaukee Willow Works. In addition to the founding and managing of a large mercantile business and a prosperous and important manufacturing industry, Mr. Meinecke has established on a large scale as auxiliary to his manufactory, the cultivation of osier willows. He commenced this branch of industry in 1866, and now has thirty-seven acres within the city limits at the corner of Fifteenth and North streets, on which he grows a large part of the willows used in his manufactory. Here he has erected an establishment for the steaming and peeling of the shoots and preparing them for the factory. As a merchant and a manufacturer, Mr. Meinecke has honestly and industriously worked his way to the foremost rank among the business men of Milwaukee, both houses of which he is the head taking the highest rank as to financial ability and extent of business. Mr. Meinecke married Miss Marie Kraft, in New York City, February 25, 1854. They have two sons-Ferdinand, a partner in the willow manufactory, and Adolph, who is in the importing house. They have also an adopted son, Carl Penshorn, a member of the mercantile house of Meinecke & Co., and a daughter, Irma Meinecke.

Milwaukee Willow Works-The manufacture of willow ware in Milwaukee was begun in 1864, by Adolph Meinecke, then keeping a toy store on Market Square. He commenced the manufacture of willow baskets in the same building and employed at the commencement one man and two boys. The business, under the careful management of Mr. Meinecke, proved successful and grew rapidly. IN 1866 he purchased on the dock, in the rear of East Water street, the old flouring mill which, after some years, was torn down and a part of the present works built upon its site. Subsequently other adjoining lots were purchased and built upon. The works as completed cover an area of 180 by 140 feet. The main building at the foot of Mason street, is of brick, and four stories high. Two hundred and fifty hands are employed, and the range of goods manufactured embraces every kind of willow ware made in the country, as baskets, willow furniture, etc., under the foreman, Peter Vollrath, who has been connected with the business since 1858. Besides the hand-working, a large steam-power is used to turn out, under the skillful superintendency of the foreman, Henry Martin, an endless line of baby carriages, boys' sleighs, hobby horses, and all sorts of toys. This is the only establishment of its kind in the Northwest. The products are sold throughout the United States and Canadas. In addition to the benefits directly growing out of the employment of a large number of operatives in the manufactory, it has developed a new branch of agriculture industry that otherwise could not exist; many farmers having now a hitherto unknown source of income from the raising of osier willows, which this factory consumes in such large quantity. The disposal of the products of the manufactory is made largely through the wholesale importing toy house of Meinecke & Co., of which Mr. Meinecke is the senior partner. Seven traveling salesmen are constantly employed by the two establishments. The sales from the willow works amount to $150,000 per year. The permanent investment in the works is upwards of $100,000. The business of the manufactory is conducted under the name of A. Meinecke & Son. His eldest son, Ferdinand, has been partner since 1879.

Meinecke & Co. - This firm was established by Adolph Meinecke in 1855, the business being for many years carried on in Market Square. In 1867 the firm moved into the commodious store Nos. 93 and 95 Huron street, and in 1879 again moved to Nos. 348 and 350 East Water street. In 1878 Carl Penshorn and Fred J. Goetz became partners, the style of the firm remaining unchanged. The firm does the largest importing business in toys and fancy goods of any house in the State, and sells large quantities of the products of the Milwaukee Willow Works. It does an exclusively wholesale business. Charles Penshorn goes to Europe as purchasing agent for the house.

Men of progress. Wisconsin : a selected list of biographical sketches and portraits of the leaders in business, professional and official life : together with short notes on the history and character of Wisconsin / edited by Andrew J. Aikens and Lewis A. Proctor. Publisher Milwaukee : Evening Wisconsin Co., 1897, pg. 106

MEINECKE, Adolph, one of those men to be found in every considerable community, who, while building a fortune for themselves, contribute to the comfort and happiness of scores of others, and also to the public welfare, was born in Burhave, in the grand duchy of Oldenburg. He received what educational advantages the place of his nativity afforded, and in addition thereto private instruction and direction from his father, who was a physician and well qualified by his own scholarly acquirements to aid his son in his studies. When the lad had reached the age of thirteen years he was sent to the high school at Oldenburg, and then to the commercial college in Osnabruck. With this training he was well equipped to make his way in the world. But his means were meager, and naturally his thoughts turned to the "land of promise," America; and, in the spring of 1848, he took passage for New York, which he reached on the 10th of June of that year. Soon after arriving in New York he found his money gone, and to live he must find work. In this crisis in his personal affairs, he was so fortunate as to secure a position in the importing house of Edward Hen of Liberty street, where he remained for seven years, rising ultimately to a position of trust. Here he probably might have remained indefinitely, but for the fact that he was not content to remain in a subordinate position--he saw larger things before him, if only he could put his own hand upon the wheel of some enterprise. He, therefore, came to Milwaukee in 1855, and opened a store for toys and fancy goods. In 1864, when importation of foreign goods was at a low ebb, owing to the high duty on most articles and the large discount on currency, Mr. Meinecke thought it a promising time to establish a factory in Milwaukee for children's carriages, baskets, toys and the like. But this was not all; he found it necessary, or at least advisable, to begin the cultivation of osier willow for use in the factory. His willow crop soon proved insufficient for the demand of the factory, and farmers

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in the vicinity of Milwaukee began to add the willow to their crops; and ere long they found it very profitable, the factory having grown to such proportions that it consumed all the willow offered that was suitable for the purposes of manufacture. The factory thus begun steadily grew in size and importance until it has now covered the whole block along the river front from Mason street to Oneida, and has become the most important factory of the kind in the west, the articles that it manufactures being of the very best in the market. Mr. Meinecke's sons now control the business under his general direction, Ferdinand having the management of the factory, which employs some two hundred and fifty persons, and Adolph Meinecke, Jr., and Carl Penshorn having in charge the toy department. The various departments of the factory are a most interesting subject of study, as showing what useful and beautiful things are made there, not only, but how great a business may grow from small beginnings.

But Mr. Meinecke is not simply a manufacturer. He is a most public-spirited and intelligent gentleman, and has been conspicuous in connection with educational measures. He was one of the commissioners from Wisconsin to the Centennial exposition in Philadelphia, in 1876, has been one of the trustees of the Public Museum ever since it was established, and has done a large amount of work in promotion of its interests and aims, and has made many important donations to its collections, which alone would entitle him to public gratitude. His contributions to German papers both here and in Germany are evidence that he is an accomplished man not only, but one who thinks deeply upon public questions. He is such a citizen as Milwaukee may well feel proud of, whether he be considered simply as a man of business or in the broader character of one who thinks for the welfare of the public.

Politically he is a pronounced Republican, but is not one for revenue or honors, as may


be readily inferred from what has already been said of him. As to religious faith, he was brought up a Lutheran. On the 25th of February, 1854, he was married to Mary Louise, daughter of George Kraft of Heilbronn, a woman of many virtues and unusual culture. Two children were born of this union. Mrs. Meinecke died three years since, to the unspeakable grief of her husband.

Mr. Meinecke's native town recently paid him the compliment of conferring upon him honorary citizenship therein.