Portrait of Charles Pfister, no date

Portrait of Charles Pfister, no date

Business and Politics: The Contested Career of Charles F. Pfister


Thought extraordinarily successful, Charles Pfister was in many ways typical for a second generation German-American immigrant entrepreneur in the period between the gilded age and the progressive era: He managed technological and organizational innovations, continued in old branches and developed new ones, had to face the challenges of a political mass market and found himself in a contested situation by a general public, which celebrated successful entrepreneurs as titans and accused them as selfish and heartless forces of wealth.

Charles F. Pfister (born June 16, 1859 in Buffalo, NY; died November 12, 1927 in Milwaukee, WI) was “an outstanding figure in the industrial, financial, and political life of Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin.”[1] As an adopted son of capitalist Guido Pfister (1818-1889), he inherited a broad conglomerate of firms and interests, especially in the tanning branch, in banking and transport, and in real estate and utilities. Charles F. Pfister continued to grow these businesses, acting as a guarantor for Milwaukee’s economic stability during the banking panic in 1893 and the fraud cases at the First National Bank of Milwaukee in 1905. He also established one of first local monopolies in the streetcar business. Pfister developed a passion for politics starting in the early 1890s, acting as a powerful representative of stalwart Republicanism. He established the Hotel Pfister as the headquarters of conservative politics and then bought Milwaukee’s leading newspaper—The Milwaukee Sentinel— in order to turn it into a mouthpiece for his causes. Over time, Progressive politicians, most notably Robert Lafollette, began to undermine his dominant position in Wisconsin’s politics and confronted him with charges of bribery and graft. Although Pfister won several court battles in the 1900s, he withdrew from public life, but remained an important force in the business community in Wisconsin and throughout the entire Midwest. “Uncle Charley,” a life-long bachelor, won widespread respect as a public benefactor, although he remained a controversial public figure until his death.


Charles F. Pfister was born as Charles Frederick Weisert on June 16, 1859, most likely in Buffalo, New York.[2] It is quite probable that he was a child of German immigrants from his adoptive father’s south-western home region and that his parents died during the 1860s—but there is no solid evidence of this. The 1860 census did not mention any children in his later adoptive father’s household.[3] Together with his sister Louisa Francisca Pfister (1857-1948), young Charles was adopted and named heir of Guido Pfister (1818-1889) and his wife Elizabeth Pfister (1829-1896) in March 1870.[4] Subsequently, the 1870 census mentioned “Carl” and “Louisa” as their children and mentioned New York as their place of birth.[5] Knowledge that “Charles Pfister and Mrs. Vogel are not Mr. Pfister’s own children” was spread regularly in the press until the death of Guido Pfister in 1889.[6] From the 1890s, however, Charles was predominantly perceived as a Milwaukeean-born natural child of the Pfisters, information already recorded in the 1880 census.[7] After the turn of the century, business biographies mentioned that Elizabeth Pfister bore both children;[8] and when Charles F. Pfister died on November 12, 1927, his obituaries simply stated: “Mr. Pfister was born in Milwaukee on June 17, 1859.”[9] We do not know why the Pfister family adopted Charles and Louisa, but their decision may have been motivated by the fact that Guido Pfister needed an heir and guarantor of his economic empire.

Already perceived as “the junior member of the firm,” the young heir received an “excellent” education at the Peter Engelmann School, later named German-English Academy, Milwaukee’s leading German-American educational institution.[10] In addition to the elementary-level courses, including German and English, young Pfister was trained in Latin, Greek, French—and bookkeeping.[11] Like many other second- generation immigrant entrepreneurs, he began his business career at the bottom of the ladder at the Pfister & Vogel Leather Company after his graduation in 1876. In 1878, when the leather retail store of Pfister & Vogel’s Menomonee valley plant was moved to a new location, Charles Pfister was placed in charge of sales. Four years later, he became a key figure in expanding the leather business to the east. Pfister went to Boston, New York and Philadelphia, established permanent agencies and initiated long-lasting business relations with New England shoe manufactures, a connection that was crucial for the intensified growth of the tanning business from the 1880s.[12] In 1883, when the capital stock of Pfister & Vogel was increased from $200,000 to $600,000, the young Pfister and his life-long business partner Fred Vogel, Jr. (1851-1936) took a large amount of the new stocks. Already admitted as partner from 1876 on, Charles Pfister now became the treasurer of the centerpiece of Guido Pfister’s family business.[13] Still, it was not it until 1889 that he could act in his own right.

A Rich Heir: Family Background

Charles F. Pfister’s business career was set in motion by his father’s earlier decisions and investments. More than most other second-generation German-American immigrant entrepreneurs, Charles followed the paths paved by the forerunner, Guido Pfister. The latter was born on September 13, 1818, in Hechingen, the center of Hohenzollern-Hechingen, a principality with a population of 15,000 at the time. Hechingen eventually became part of Prussia in 1850. Most of the residents were Catholic, but business life was dominated by a strong Jewish community, comprising nearly one quarter of the residents up to the 1850s. Guido Pfister arrived in New York on September 23, 1845, on the ship Emerald.[14] He declared to have come from Switzerland and, indeed, he had close relations to that country because his later wife Elisabeth Gasser (1829-1896) was Swiss. Shipping lists included one Elisab. Gasser, arriving in 1852, but it is not very likely that this was the later Mrs. Pfister, because this person was accompanied by a man and a baby.[15] One of her obituaries mentioned 1849 as the year of her arrival.[16] Elisabeth Pfister surely had arrived before 1860, when she was counted in the census as living under one roof with her husband and her mother Anna, along with a Swiss servant and a Hessian servant.

Guido Pfister settled in Buffalo, New York, where he worked as a tanner. German immigrants soon became an important element in the commercial life of this emerging port town, which had a population of 42,261 in 1850 and served as a gateway for immigrants heading west. One of these newcomers was Jacob F. Schoellkopf (1819-1890), who had trained as a tanner in his hometown of Kirchheim unter Teck, a mid-sized Wurttemberg town, located 60 km northeast of Hechingen. Schoellkopf had arrived in New York City in 1841. He spent a few years gaining some initial business experience there, and then moved to Buffalo, where he used his own savings and a loan from his German father to open a leather store on Mohawk Street in 1844.[17] Within two years, he purchased a tannery in White’s Corner, which was part of Hamburg village, situated on the Buffalo River and southwestern division of the Erie Railroad, and then a sheepskin tannery in Buffalo.[18] Another Kirchheim unter Teck born immigrant trained in the tanning business was Schoellkopf’s cousin Johann Friedrich “Frederick” Vogel (1823-1892), who arrived in the U.S. in July of 1845 and started working for Schoellkopf after a brief stay in New York City.[19] Vogel was buying hides and skins and selling leather. Soon, he became acquainted with business opportunities in the West, namely in the emerging towns of Chicago and Milwaukee.[20] However, it was Guido Pfister, who first settled in Milwaukee in May 1847 and opened a leather store called the Buffalo Leather Co. on Market Square. His business prospered in the town of 12,000, and his premises were moved in 1849 to a larger location at 413 East Water Street, and then, after 1853, to 349 East Water Street, before Pfister was finally able to buy his own store at 288 East Water Street, likely in 1854.[21] In April 1848, Frederick Vogel arrived in Milwaukee to erect a tannery on the Menomonee River. Afterwards—most sources mention 1848 but there is also evidence for 1853—Pfister, Vogel, and Schoellkopf formed a partnership. The latter, who was praised as “the man who started the Pfister & Vogel tannery in Milwaukee”[22] because he financed the tannery, withdrew his engagement in 1857. Guido Pfister & Co. was continued until 1872, when the Pfister & Vogel Leather Company was incorporated with a capital of $200,000.[23]

Tanning was to become one of Milwaukee’s principal industries. Flour milling led until the 1870s, followed by meat packing in the 1880s, followed by beer brewing, which remained the dominant industry only for a few years around 1890.[24] At that time, tanning and leather manufacturing ranked second among Milwaukee’s most important industries. Iron and steel manufacturing took the lead from the 1890s onwards, although the rapid growth of the leather industry in the early 20th century propelled it to the top around 1910.[25] Until the 1920s, only Philadelphia had a larger leather industry than Milwaukee. Tanning was dominated by German-American immigrant entrepreneurs. In the early 1890s, each of the twelve tanneries in Milwaukee was owned by Americans of German decent.[26] Pfister & Vogel was not the first business of its kind, but it was by far the largest company, and it set the standard. Most of the other tanners, men like Albert Trostel, August F. Gallun, Herman Zohrlaut, Chris Anstedt, the Conrad brothers, A.L. Gebhardt, Joseph Bach, Gustavus Vollhardt, and Oscar N. Stein, were originally employed by the market leader. These immigrants brought their skills, capital, and passion to the Cream City; and they benefited from structural advantages necessary for the growth of the industry.[27] Milwaukee offered superior harbor and railroad facilities and a larger labor-force than other Wisconsin cities. The early packing industry guaranteed a steady flow of hides from the Midwest: “The insides went to packing plants, and the outsides ended up in tanneries.”[28] In addition, hemlock bark, crucial for 19th century tanning, could be cheaply secured.[29] German-American immigrant entrepreneurs used structural advantages of their new homeland to make a living and then a fortune.

Like other local industries, however, tanning developed quite slowly. In 1853, Pfister & Vogel employed 35 men, had a 100-foot chimney and a thirty-horse-power engine to work up to 15,000 sheep-skins annually.[30] The industry was growing quite steadily with the Civil War as an accelerator. In 1860, the annual worth of leather was $217,000; in 1870 it was $934,000; and in 1879 it was $2,101.195. The 1880s saw a rapid rise to $8,430,000 in 1889, the year Guido Pfister died.[31] At the time, Pfister & Vogel employed approximately 700 people in four tanneries and produced 350,000 sides of upper and sole leather and 300,000 kidskins, calfskins, goat and sheepskins annually.[32] This remarkable growth resulted from market expansion to the east, where half of the production was finished by boot and shoe factories in Massachusetts, a connection established by Charles F. Pfister in the early 1880s.

Although Guido Pfister’s name was mostly associated with the tanning industry, he earned most of his money in other branches. Naturalized on February 19, 1855, he invested most of his newly earned money in real estate.[33] He purchased large tracts of land either in hemlock growing areas or close to railroad tracks.[34] In parallel, he engaged in banking himself: together with several Yankee capitalists, he incorporated the Juneau Bank in July 1857 with a capital of $250,000 and served as a director.[35] Pfister, who was enlisted in the 1860 census not as tanner but as merchant, soon became one of Milwaukee’s richest entrepreneurs: in 1865, his annual income was estimated as $42,221, while he and Frederick Vogel each earned $35,515 the following year.[36] The 1870 census listed real estate valued at $250,000 and a personal estate worth $400,000.[37] That year, Guido Pfister had become president of the newly established German Exchange Bank, which eventually became the Merchants’ Exchange Bank in 1880.[38] This institution was another example of the close family connections among immigrants: the bank was established by second-generation Swiss immigrant Rudolph Nunnemacher (1848-1894), son of Jakob Nunnemacher (1819-1876), who was married in 1880 to Emily Vogel, one of Frederick Vogel’s daughters, after her husband Henry Schoellkopf, son of Jacob F. Schoellkopf, had died.[39]

This transition into banking, however, was only one important diversification that was to shape Charles F. Pfister’s business career. From the late 1870s on, Guido Pfister invested heavily in railroads. In 1879, he was among the directors of the Menasha and Appleton Railroad Company, a $150,000 firm.[40] This was the first step in improving the transportation infrastructure in mid-Wisconsin: in 1880, Pfister was one of the buyers of the Milwaukee and Menasha and Appleton railroad, a $1,500,000 company, which was to become the Milwaukee and Northern Railway, connecting Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul.[41] Another component of this line was the $2,000,000 Wisconsin & Michigan Railroad, which was incorporated in 1881, and the $500,000 Iron River Railroad Company, which helped connect Lake Superior and the northern border region.[42] Guido Pfister acted as president and later as treasurer of the Milwaukee & Northern Railway, while Frederick Vogel became director.[43] He also invested heavily in the Cream City street railway, anticipating the business opportunities associated with local lines. Pfister’s engagement in the insurance business was also highly profitable. In 1874, he became director of the Milwaukee Mechanics’ Insurance Company. And again, he expanded the scope of his investments, when he was elected director in the Northwestern Life Insurance Company in 1885.[44]

Guido Pfister was known as a cautious investor.[45] However, he suffered some failures as well. The most prominent case was the 1881 Wisconsin Glass Company, which took over the Chase Valley Glass Works in 1883.[46] As a new president, Guido Pfister used German technology and German fire-clay, extended the capitalization gradually to $150,000 in 1885 and diversified glassware production. These improvements, however, were unsuccessful, and the intense strikes of 1885-86 resulted in the collapse of the firm in 1886.

As one of Milwaukee’s richest citizens, Guido Pfister felt obliged to contribute to public service. His work as a water commissioner, together with Scottish immigrant banker Alexander Mitchell (1817-1887), meat packer John Plankinton (1820-1891), brewer Frederick Pabst, and others, had a lasting impact on the city. Due to heavy railroad debts, Milwaukee couldn’t establish a central water works; but with the help of the Board of Water Commissioner and after three years of legislative work, the Milwaukee Water Works was organized in 1871. This made it possible to pipe Lake Michigan’s water to households and businesses from 1874.[47] Perhaps even more important was his appointment as Milwaukee’s commissioner of public debt from 1871 to 1886.[48] As a representative of the gilded elite, Guido Pfister accepted many additional positions for organizing and financing local events, for instance the Musical Jubilee in 1875.[49] He was a supporter of the Republican Party and was discussed as candidate for the United States Congress in 1878.[50]

Guido Pfister lived a life for business—and there is little information about his private life. He was recognized as a modest person, a gentleman, a solid entrepreneur with “an honored name.”[51] In public, he was perceived as a German and confronted typical stereotypes, especially their supposed “love of money.” The United States, however, gave him fresh air to breathe. In a report to an uncle back in Germany, he wrote: “everybody in this country who is active, honest and attends to his business will find assistance in contrast to Germany, where only those who can hold their heads high in the air will be helped along.”[52] Guido Pfister was of medium build; he had dark hair, a full black beard, and some eccentric habits: “He walks quite fast, usually with one hand (generally the right one) placed behind his back, and his eyes fixed upon the ground. He seldom looks up when on the street, and yet if you should ask him who he met in his rounds he would probably tell you, as he possesses the faculty to a remarkable degree of recognizing every one he meets with whom he is acquainted, apparently by intuition, and without looking up will give them a nod of recognition.”[53] He maintained close contact with his German home region, which he visited in 1876.[54] Several German relatives were named in his will.[55]

He contributed generously to German educational and social institutions. He was a long-standing supporter of the German-American Academy, and this support culminated in the donation of new buildings dedicated in 1891.[56] Pfister acted as the first president of the Wisconsin Phonological Institute, founded in 1878, an organization completely dominated by German-Americans.[57] For fourteen years, the immigrant entrepreneur served as a trustee and supporter of the Milwaukee Academy of Music, which ran an Opera House with 1,600 seats from 1876 on. In addition, he made regular contributions to several charitable institutions in Germany. Near Hechingen, he had maintained an asylum for the aged poor, run by the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor.[58] He was also among the founding officers of the Odd Fellows’ Teutonia Lodge no. 57.[59]

Guido Pfister died on February 2, 1889, at his home at 429 Jefferson Street in Milwaukee of a bowel complaint resulting from a cold.[60] In his will, written in 1883, he divided his estate of at least $2,000,000 among his wife and his two adopted children, Louisa—meanwhile the wife of Fred Vogel, Jr.—and Charles.[61] The heirs were permitted to dispose of all the property, but had to retain the family homestead.[62] Mrs. Elizabeth Pfister lived there until her death in 1896; Charles F. Pfister stayed there until 1912, when Camp Rest at Lake Five became his new home.

Charles and Louisa’s adoptive mother died December 26, 1896, from a heart attack while attending a Christmas tree lighting at the Fred Vogel, Jr., residence. Apart from some small bequests to relatives, her $1,500,000 estate was divided between her two adopted children.[63] Charles F. Pfister started his business career as a rich heir, who had to continue the work of Guido Pfister and to find new business opportunities in a rapidly changing economic environment.

Business Development

Continuity, diversification, and political engagement became the key characteristics of Charles F. Pfister’s business activities from 1889. Such general developments were closely related to personal relations and networks, which remained crucial for business and politics. Guido Pfister and Frederick Vogel’s partnership was followed by a comparable relationship—both in business and in private—between Charles F. Pfister and Fred Vogel, Jr. Already in 1876, young Vogel had married Charles’ sister Louisa. Such marriages were quite common among Milwaukee’s German-American business elite. Many of the leading breweries were connected through intermarriage. The strategic use of private relations between the Vogel and Pfister families, or the Vogel and the Uihlein families—the principal owners of the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company—was of particular importance for immigrants.[64] While business relations to Yankees and other immigrant groups were intensified, marriages and social networking supported the ethnic coherence of the established newcomers and kept their fortunes together. Fred Vogel, Jr., was a prominent example of Milwaukee’s German-American business elite. Born in 1851 in Milwaukee, he attended neighboring Eight Ward and the Peter Engelmann School.[65] In contrast to Charles F. Pfister, who never returned to Germany, he was trained at the Polytechnic School in Stuttgart, Wurttemberg, where he also acquired a deeper understanding of the tanning business. Returning to the U.S., he worked for one year in a Buffalo leather store and afterwards was placed in charge of the tannery in Two Creeks, which was established by Guido Pfister & Co. in 1860 but held in the sole ownership of Frederick Vogel after Guido Pfister sold it in 1869.[66] From 1872, Fred Vogel, Jr., rose in the management of Pfister & Vogel, eventually became general manager, and remained the dominant figure in Milwaukee’s tanning business until the early 1930s.

Tanning Business

Charles F. Pfister, who became Pfister & Vogel’s general manager in 1890, perpetuated his father’s engagement in the tanning business, though predominantly as a decision maker. Day-to-day business was overseen by the president Gottlob Bossert (1826-1911), his son Gottlob Friedrich Bossert, and other members of the Vogel family, namely Fred Vogel, Jr., and his brother, later vice-president August H. Vogel (1863-1930).[67] Bossert, Sr., was a native of Tübingen, Wurttemberg, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1852 and started his Milwaukee career as a book-keeper, later becoming secretary of the company.

At the start, however, the new German-American board of directors had to contend with an economic depression, which slowed down the rapid growth of Milwaukee’s tanning industry in the 1890s. The value of leather products rose from $8,430,000 in 1889 to $10,268,000 in 1899, mostly as a result of continuous investment and the expansion of Pfister & Vogel’s facilities. The largest tannery, the Menomonee Valley plant, was expanded through land acquisitions in 1889, 1891, 1900, and 1904.[68] A new tannery was acquired in Cheyboygan, Michigan, in 1895, when Pfister & Vogel also purchased Milwaukee’s Bay View Tannery. Growing production capacities allowed global expansion. By 1896, new sales agencies were established in London, Northampton, Paris, and Milan.[69] In 1897, Pfister & Vogel had a labor force of 1,300 people, and processed over 400,000 cattle hides, 450,000 skins and 60,000 horse hides annually.[70] To finance this expansion, the capital stock was increased to $3,000,000 in 1895 and $4,500,000 in 1904.[71]

Pfister & Vogel benefitted immensely from the general rise of industry starting in 1900: in 1909, leather products were valued at $27,484,000. At the time, tanning was Milwaukee’s largest industry and the Cream City briefly surpassed Philadelphia as the dominant leather production center in the entire United States. This resulted in a local leather cluster: in 1918, thirty-one Milwaukee factories produced shoes and boots, twelve produced leather gloves and mittens, and twenty-five factories manufactured other leather goods.[72] This growth was based on a changing and specialized production range.[73] All five tanneries manufactured different raw material and produced a growing number of branded leather goods. Charles F. Pfister still acted as a central and popular link to the boot and shoe men from the East Coast and Europe. His Hotel Pfister became a preferred destination for the representatives of U.S. leather manufacturers.[74]

Although the economic crisis of 1913-14, including the new tariff regime, slowed growth, the tanning industry profited immensely from the growing demand for leather during World War I.[75] Pfister & Vogel’s profits, which reached $830,139 in 1912, dropped to $583,300 in 1913, and then to $558,551 in 1914. Afterwards, however, profits reached new records, with $832,995 in 1915 and $2,824,473 in 1916.[76] In 1919, after the purchase of the Hermann Zohrlaut Leather Company in 1916, Pfister & Vogel’s labor force grew to more than 3,000 employees. In this most successful year, the turnover reached $34,447,614, the surplus $9,700,000, and the capital stock was increased to $8,300,000.[77] Milwaukee’s tanning industry employed around 13,000 people and produced goods valued at $104,630,168.[78]

Pfister & Vogel, the largest independent tanning business in the U.S. made significant contributions to the Allied war effort. As a German-American company, Pfister & Vogel was subject to intense surveillance and its owners felt compelled to make pronouncements regarding their loyalty and patriotism. Whereas Charles F. Pfister remained comparatively silent, Fred Vogel, Jr., served as a member of the Hide and Leather Control Board, appointed by the Council of National Defense in 1918.[79] He supported the Liberty Loan and Red Cross drives, urged rich and well-to-do Americans to do more to support the war effort, and coined the slogan “Save, Sacrifice, Smile.” For his war services, he was awarded with the Liberty Service Medal of the National Institute for Social Sciences in 1919.[80] Tanneries such as Pfister & Vogel were heavily dependent on immigrant labor: initially, German immigrants worked in tanneries to get a foothold in the world, then came Polish, Greek, and Italian immigrants.[81] During World War I, Pfister & Vogel became a sort of educational institution for Americanization. Eight hundred “aliens” were introduced to American life, institutions, and the English language through their employment there.[82] The German-American company now represented American core values.

Pfister & Vogel’s leading position in 1919 was no coincidence; rather, it was the result of entrepreneurial decisions made decades earlier: first, the executives had to deal with extreme scientific and technological change. As discussed previously, Milwaukee’s locational advantages resulted from cheap access to hides and hemlock. In the early 1890s, approximately 350,000 hemlock trees had to be felled annually for the needs of the Milwaukee tanneries, and a large number of wood-choppers, peelers, stevedores and sailors were dependent on this business.[83] Organic chemistry, however, changed the tanning process fundamentally. Natural tannin, available from hemlock or oak bark was—at least in the long run—replaced by synthetic tannin extracts. Similar changes transformed the dyestuff industries and led to the world-wide dominance of German synthetic colors.[84] In the U.S., tanning extracts were introduced in 1884, when mineral salts like chromium, iron, and aluminum were used instead of natural tanning. However, it was more than fifteen years before such tanning agents were used in larger quantities in Wisconsin.[85] Cheap hemlock barks delayed structural change in the industry. It was not until 1909 that the use of tanning extracts outpaced the use of natural tannin in the U.S.—and Wisconsin was far below average.[86] Tanning extracts were introduced at Pfister & Vogel in the early 20th century, resulting in an accelerated manufacturing process.[87] In contrast to the Pennsylvanian tanners who led this transition, the Wisconsin tanners waited until the new materials were already established and the cost advantages were obvious. More important was the use of new machinery and electricity. The latter freed the industry from the confines of daylight operation—and Pfister & Vogel was able to produce twenty-two hours a day before World War I.[88] The growing size of the tanneries resulted not only from the growing output and larger storing facilities for hides but also from greater mechanization of the tanning process. This led to growing productivity and profitability.

The 1890s saw intensified struggles between Pfister & Vogel and unions. In 1892, all union members were fired.[89] The growth of the company was accompanied by the customary establishment of hierarchical social relations. Many workers perceived the 1890s as a transition from the slow and easy-going first generation to the “later generations of owner managers,” namely the Vogels, who “lost their acquaintance” after 1900.[90] The company was led in a quite paternalistic style: in 1913, eight-hour shifts were introduced and the safety standards were comparably high.[91] Stalwart Republican entrepreneurs could care for their employees, but they were not willing to cooperate with labor representatives.

Another challenge resulted from structural change in the industry and the growth of big corporations in the U.S. from the late 1880s. The consolidation and cooperation of the leading Chicago meat packers—the “big five”: Armour, Swift, Morris, Hammond, and Wilson—concentrated the access to hides and led to high raw material prices. Most East Coast tanners joined the “Leather Trust,” the Unites States Leather Company, incorporated in 1893.[92] The growing investments were therefore part of a defense strategy that culminated in 1898, when Pfister & Vogel declined to join the leather trust.[93] Although the offers were improved in 1899, the Milwaukee tanners preferred to stay independent.[94] In parallel, Charles F. Pfister, Fred Vogel, Jr., Frank Bigelow, Henry Payne, and other financiers tried to establish their own mammoth enterprise as a countervailing weight to the leather trust.[95] The conflict was resolved in a friendly agreement in 1904, when Fred Vogel, Jr., was elected director of the leather trust.[96] Like the agreement between the Sugar Trust and the Spreckels interests in 1892, the two conglomerates preferred to act independently but “in harmony.”[97]

This harmony lasted until the end of WWI. In 1919, however, the U.S. went into a deep economic crisis as a result of overproduction, rapidly falling raw material prices, declining exports, and high unemployment rates. In 1920, Milwaukee’s tanning industry operated at only 50 to 60 percent capacity.[98] Pfister & Vogel was hit both by the end of the war boom and by the purchase of supplies at high prices.[99] The decline of the tanning industry had structural reasons: the rise of the automobile industry led to an end of the era of horses, private buggies, and carriages. Specialized leather producers, like Milwaukee’s Jonas Greenebaum, gained importance, while broad range suppliers like Pfister & Vogel lost ground. Charles F. Pfister and Fred Vogel, Jr., tried to improve cooperation within the industry to reduce overproduction, to improve research and development, and to reduce raw material prices.[100] But this meant nothing but the steady decline of output and labor-force. The world economic crisis further increased the structural pressure on the tanning industry. In May 1930, Pfister & Vogel employed only 900 people, a number that fell even lower to 600 in October.[101] At that time, after the deaths of Charles F. Pfister and August H. Vogel, Fred. Vogel, Jr., finally decided to suspend operations and close the factories. Although some of the buildings were converted into warehouses or used for other purposes, and Fred’s son Charles P. Vogel, together with some other investors, established the Pfister & Vogel Tanning Co. in January 1931 with a capital stock of $400,000 and a labor-force of 200 people, Guido Pfister and Frederick Vogel’s legacy was starting to vanish.[102] Pfister & Vogel’s business was finally shuttered by United States Leather Inc. in 2000.[103]


Another element of continuity was banking. Guido F. Pfister followed his father as director of the Merchants’ Exchange bank.[104] A first attempt to consolidate this institution with the Houghton Bros.’ Bank and additional investments by Pfister and brewer Frederick Pabst (1836-1904) and subsequently create the Merchants’ National Bank with a capital stock of $1,000,000 failed in 1890.[105] “National bank” meant that the bank would have been under the control of the U.S. Treasury Department and subject to state legislation. This would have made lending easier.

The first test of the bank’s solidity came in 1893, when the general economic depression resulted in a financial panic, which hit Milwaukee hard. Already in 1892, railroad and construction investments had declined, and the European nations were still suffering from the economic crisis of 1890-91. Declining agricultural prices and the collapse of the Argentine branch of the Baring Bank resulted in a domino effect, which caused a stock market crash, the closure of around 15,000 manufacturing firms and 500 banks, and long-lasting two-digit unemployment rates. Immigration was halved in the following years.[106]

Financial panic hit Milwaukee like a spring tide from May 1893 on. Well aware that the domino effect could affect even the wealthiest citizens and their industrial interests, Charles F. Pfister acted as a stabilizing force from the beginning. After the failure of Frank A. Lappen Furniture Company and real estate speculations by director Frederick T. Day, the Plankinton Bank was the first to suspend services in May 1893. A leading power in the Republican Party, Day had established himself after the Civil War as one of Milwaukee’s most respected insurance, loan, and real estate agents.[107] Second-generation Irish-American immigrant entrepreneur Frank A. Lappen (1861-1936) had built his local business on deception, and after the bankruptcy, he fled to London, where he continued his fraudulent activities before returning to Milwaukee in 1898.[108] Pfister supported Day and cashier William H. Momsen by giving co-sureties to a furnished bond of $800,000;[109] but eventually the failure of the Plankinton Bank could not be avoided. In contrast, this first collapse foreshadowed what occurred at the peak of the banking panic in late July 1893. On July 21, 1893, the Commercial Bank suspended its service.[110] Already affected by the Plankinton Bank failure, the collapse of the Douglas Furnace Company of Sharpsville, PA, was decisive for the insolvency of this $250,000 company. The bank opened its doors but had to close them a few minutes later, due to heavy withdrawals. This was of particular public relevance because all the liabilities of Milwaukee County—more than $300,000—were held by the Commercial Bank. Charles F. Pfister, whose Milwaukee Electric Railway Company held a $200,000 deposit at the Commercial Bank, backed a bond of cashier Albert B. Geilfuss.[111] But such trust-building measures could not stop the panic. By Monday, July 24, the Milwaukee National and South Side Savings Bank had already suspended business: “Crowds soon gathered in front of the German-American, Merchants Exchange and Second ward banks, but at noon the excitement had in a measure subsided and a general feeling of confidence in the security of those places of deposit prevailed. The city, however, was full of wild rumors, impossible to verify, and likely for the most part without foundation.”[112] Charles F. Pfister was directly affected by all of this. To stop the run, he, Fred Vogel, Jr., Rudolph Nunnemacher, and other directors of the Merchants’ Exchange Bank signed a notice stating that they were personally responsible for all deposits and that they would guarantee the solvency of the bank.[113] Similar guarantees were made by the Pabst and Uihlein families, who were in charge of the Second Ward Bank, commonly known as the “Brewer’s bank.” This had a quieting effect but could not prevent Milwaukee’s oldest and largest bank, The Wisconsin Marin and Fire Insurance Company Bank, from suspending service the following day. Charles Pfister, again, gave a bond security of $1,000,000 to avoid additional losses.[114] This helped to stabilize the situation but could not prevent the harsh consequences of the panic: in winter 1893, about one-third of Milwaukee’s labor-force was unemployed and around one-quarter of Wisconsin’s banks had suspended service.[115] Consolidation followed. After long negotiations with the controller of the currency in Washington, the Merchants’ Exchange and First National banks merged under the First National Bank of Milwaukee, a $1,000,000 stock company.[116] This bank combined the financial forces of the Pfister-Vogel families and Pfister’s partners in the streetcar business, namely Frank G. Bigelow and Henry Payne (1843-1904). In the following years, Pfister gave many securities to stabilize wholesale and manufacturing businesses.[117] His wealth and superior liquidity gave him detailed insights into Wisconsin’s business world—and his investments were based on sound expertise. Although precise figures are not available, Charles F. Pfister’s estate was valued at $5,000,000 to $10,000,000 in 1905.[118]

The 1893 panic resulted from a combination of structural economic problems, speculation, and shady business practices. In 1905, Pfister felt the effects of white-collar crime. President Frank G. Bigelow, a friend and business partner for nearly two decades, confessed to misusing $1,450,000 in funds from the First National Bank of Milwaukee for speculation in wheat and stocks in April 1905. Before the news became public, Pfister added $600,000 to a $2,635,000 fund to compensate for the theft. This enabled the bank to sustain the run of 2,000 customers, who wanted to secure their deposits.[119] Fred Vogel, Jr., became the bank’s new president. Bigelow was sent to prison in June 1905 to serve a ten-year sentence. He was released in March 1911.[120] While the number of Wisconsin’s banks grew rapidly, Vogel, Pfister, and his partner formed a strong new institution in 1919: the First National Bank of Milwaukee joined forces with the Wisconsin National Bank to form the First Wisconsin National Bank in 1919, which today, after a series of mergers and buyouts, is known as the Firstar Corp.[121] Pfister was active as a director and as a member of the building committee responsible for the new office structure on East Water and Mason Street.[122] From 1919, he also served as the director of the Firnat Corporation, which acquired assets not included in the merger.[123]

Insurance and Utilities

Charles F. Pfister also perpetuated his father’s interests in the insurance business. He followed him as a director of the Milwaukee Mechanics Insurance Company, and the firm remained one of his principal interests until his death.[124] He was a heavy stockholder of the Old Line Life Insurance Company and the Concordia Fire Insurance Company of Milwaukee. The latter was bought by the Firemen’s Insurance Company of Newark, New Jersey, in 1925.[125] The general trend of capitalism led from regional to national firms, and Pfister followed. He remained heavily interested in railroad activities, especially those in the North American Company, which financed Milwaukee’s streetcar network. He joined the board of directors in 1901.[126] This was of great strategic importance, because the holding firm was also heavily engaged in urban utilities in the Midwest, especially gas and electricity networks.[127] Pfister remained a director until his death. Closely related to this partnership was his engagement as a director of the Badger Illuminating Company. He was among those Milwaukee capitalists who took the places of Eastern investors to prevent legislative interventions.[128]

Hotel Pfister

Today, one of the few remaining monuments of Charles F. Pfister’s business career is the Hotel Pfister, still a Milwaukee landmark.[129] It is a typical expression of representative capitalism. Diversification to hotels and theatres was common among the most successful German-American immigrant entrepreneurs: local examples included Pabst Theatre, Alhambra Theatre, Palace Theatre, the Globe Hotel or the Schlitz Hotel. These buildings symbolized the realization of the immigrants’ American dream. In Pfister’s case, however, the new hotel was built at the beginning of his business career, and it served to represent his position as a legitimate heir and a leading power in local and regional business.[130]

Guido Pfister started imagining a new first-class hotel in 1883, but he was not able to realize his plans.[131] Land for the project was already available at the northwest corner of Wisconsin and Jefferson Streets, and old Pfister had rejected profitable offers to sell his space for other construction projects.[132] After his death, in March 1890, a group of investors, headed by department store owner Timothy Appleton Chapman, incorporated a stock company to erect a new East Side hotel. The capital stock was $400,000, which was to cover the original cost estimate. Charles F. Pfister was one of the directors, as was Fred. Vogel, Jr. They purchased the Pfister property for $205,000 and began preparations to build “a first-class fire-proof hotel on the south half of the property.”[133] This was quite a challenge because in parallel, William Bradley was erecting the European (later Depot) Hotel on Wisconsin Street, which had no fewer than 280 rooms.[134] In June 1890, German immigrant architect Henry C. Koch (1840-1910), who planned more than 300 buildings in Wisconsin, most notably Milwaukee’s 1895 City Hall, presented plans for an eight-story Romanesque-style building.[135] The hotel was to have 165 guest rooms and its cost was estimated at $459,000. Chapman and Pfister subscribed for stock covering the additional costs.[136] Finally, in 1891, Charles F. Pfister took the lead on the hotel project. In April, and again in July, construction was delayed by strikes by hod carriers and construction workers. They fought for union-only labor but were discharged by the contractors.[137] At that time, it was unclear whether the hotel would be able to accommodate visitors by the start of Chicago’s 1893 World Fair. Some months later, Pfister agreed to pay an additional $153,000 from his own pocket to accelerate and enhance construction. At that point, 200 guest rooms were planned, and marble became the dominant material in the representative sections of the hotel. Supervised by architect Herman J. Esser (1865-1957), later one of Milwaukee’ most important architects, the $720,000 Hotel Pfister opened as planned on May 1, 1893—and was perceived as a lavish and luxurious place from the beginning.[138]

For Pfister the opening represented the realization of a dream; but as a business venture, the new hotel faced severe troubles at the outset. The panic of 1893 was still depressing finance and manufacturing, and the fixed costs of the hotel resulted in high losses. Pfister, who loved to sit in the lobby and welcome guests, paid the bills and developed new strategies for attracting more guests.[139] First, he opened the Pfister to his business partners and political friends. In 1894, he offered to host the Republican State Commission and gave a large clubroom and additional suites to party leaders on a complimentary basis. [140] Until the turn of the century, the Hotel Pfister was possibly the most important political meeting place in the state of Wisconsin.[141] Second, Charles F. Pfister established the hotel as a place for celebrities of national and international standing. Marketing and personal contacts were crucial for this endeavor. Already in May 1893, Pfister invited press representatives from the U.S. and Europe to visit his hotspot, and he gave a banquet in their honor.[142] He developed his father-son-story into a broadly recounted narrative—and underscored the importance of his family history by placing a marble bust of Guido Pfister by Italian sculptor Gaetano Trentanove in the ladies’ parlor.[143] Large parts of his own private art collection were exhibited in the hotel. Finally, Pfister utilized his private contacts to invite well-known people to Milwaukee. In the end, he was successful: American presidents McKinley, Taft, Roosevelt, and Wilson, and vice-presidents Marshall and Dawnes stayed at the hotel—along with Prince Heinrich of Prussia. Businessmen such as Thomas Lipton found their way to Milwaukee, as did leading entertainers, for instance, Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, and Jan Ignace Paderewski.[144] These sorts of visitors guaranteed headlines in leading magazines and newspapers—and attracted many less famous people to this place. All of this elegance and luxury, however, could not hide the fact that African-Americans had to pay higher rates than “white” guests.[145]Hotel Pfister became a playground for the white elite of the region and beyond.

For many years, Charles F. Pfister was a daily visitor to the hotel, which served as his official place of residence. However, right before his death, after suffering a stroke in April 1927, the Milwaukee millionaire decided to sell the hotel to a trustworthy former manager. Ray Smith had begun his career as a bellboy at the Hotel Pfister in 1896 and was promoted to manager in 1911. He leased the local Republican Hotel in 1916, and after buying the Hotel Pfister, Smith promised to run the business in the spirit of the founder. Starting in October 1927, the hotel was renovated and reopened as the New Pfister after Charles Pfister’s death.[146]

Streetcar Networks

Guido Pfister had already established close business connections with railroad magnates, among them robber baron Henry Villard (1835-1900).[147] Born as Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard in Speyer, Kingdom of Bavaria, this immigrant entrepreneur was not only the owner of the New York Evening Post and The Nation but also president of the Edison General Electric Company, the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company, and the Northern Pacific Railway Company. In 1890, Villard reincorporated his interests in the holding firm North American Company, which in 1896 was one of the twelve original companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average index. Charles F. Pfister intensified these contacts, when he replaced horse streetcars with electric streetcars in the early 1890s.

Young Pfister was already the president of the “dummy line” in 1887, a steam road, established in 1885 to connect Milwaukee and the emerging entertainment resort Whitefish Bay. [148] It was located near the summer resort and horse stables he had inherited from Guido Pfister. The heir paid $50,000 for the line’s stock majority in July 1890, improved the cars and tracks, and cooperated with Frederick Pabst to develop the Whitefish Bay summer resort. The two German-American immigrant entrepreneurs were even planning to erect a 412-foot high replica of the Eiffel Tower.[149] This entry into public transportation was an important addition to Pfister’s economic activities: the formation of a streetcar monopoly in Milwaukee and elsewhere. This was possible because he had the financial backing of the Eastern investors of the North American Company and of local capitalists, most notably Henry C. Payne, Frank G. Bigelow, and Fred Vogel, Jr. Just how close these financial networks were already became clear in late 1891, when Pfister sold the “dummy line” to the Northern American Company for $200,000.[150]

Street cars were already established in Milwaukee in 1860, when a first mule car line was formed; but in contrast to Germany, where such utilities were communalized to guarantee affordable and efficient local transport, street car franchises were constantly awarded to private investors in the U.S. In the late 1880s, Milwaukee had three different streetcar lines, but all of them still used horses or mules instead of electricity. The North American Company was an early mover in electricity production—and streetcar lines would help to popularize the new form of power. This represented a chance for Charles F. Pfister and his partners. With Pfister’s own money, as well as credits from the North American Company and the Deutsche Bank in Berlin, [151] they first bought single lines to introduce electric streetcars, and then combined the existing lines to form a local monopoly.

The first target was the Milwaukee Electric Railway Company with Francis E. Hinckley (1834-1900), a Chicago railroad magnate, and John A. Hinsey (1833-1911), a railroad man and Milwaukee’s Democratic boss, as the principal stockholders.[152] In March 1890, Hinckley issued bonds in the amount of $500,000 for improvements to the line. Pfister gave a $125,000 credit, pledged with shares of stock. This loan became due, and Pfister took stock and bonds and sold part of them to August Vogel. Although Hinckley went to court, claiming conspiracy to defraud him, the suit was decided in Pfister’s favor.[153] After this freeze-out, Hinsey became the new president, and Pfister assumed the office of vice-president in April 1891.[154] Investments and loans followed, but they couldn’t be met by Hinsey. The Milwaukee Electric Railway Company went into receivership in November 1892, and Pfister, who had a claim of $151,770 against the company, purchased the line at a receiver’s sale in July 1893 for $200,000.[155] Afterwards, the company was sold to Northern American’s subsidiary, the Milwaukee Street Railway Company.[156] Guided by Villard and Henry C. Payne, a leading Republican and good friend of Pfister, control of the other Milwaukeean lines was acquired by similar methods or simply by purchase.[157] To increase the pressure and to close gaps in the streetcar network, new lines were temporarily created by local investors: in May 1890, for instance, Pfister, Pabst, and various Eastern capitalists incorporated the Milwaukee Traffic and Terminal Railway Company to build a belt line around Milwaukee. Pfister became treasurer of the new $3,000,000 company.[158] The consolidation continued with the replacement of Eastern representatives by Milwaukeeans: Charles F. Pfister and Frank G. Bigelow were elected directors of the Milwaukee Street Railway Company in January 1895.[159] The following year, Pfister, Bigelow, Milwaukeean B.K. Miller, Jr. and some Eastern capitalists bought the consolidated company. In total, $8,500,000 were invested to establish the new structure, which became the Milwaukee Electric Street Railway and Light Company in 1896 with Charles F. Pfister as vice-president.[160] Subsequently, the local monopoly was extended to other Wisconsin cities.[161] According to the Wall Street Journal, these take-overs followed “the usual course”: a forced sale and “a bid in byFrank Bigelow, Charles Pfister, and other Milwaukee capitalists.”[162]

Milwaukee was a model for many U.S. cities—both in forming and challenging local utility networks. From an economic point of view, Pfister and his partners built an efficient structure out of several uncoordinated and often undercapitalized firms. From the perspective of labor and consumer interests, however, such monopolies tended to keep fares high and wages low. This was what happened in Milwaukee. In addition, such streetcar franchises had to pay taxes only on their traffic income. Therefore, the integrated power stations and additional utilities, typical for the holding structure of the North American Company, generated surplus profits. In Milwaukee, this led to intense battles: on May 4, 1896, 750 employees went on strike, supported by the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of the American Federation of Labor, after the company rejected recognition of the union and a wage increase. A sympathy strike by 300 members of the Electrical Workers Union gave them added support.[163] Service was suspended for a week, but at that time the Milwaukee Electric Street Railway and Light Company brought in a sufficient number of outside workers to resume operations. The strike was supported by the majority of Milwaukeeans, and the influx of non-union replacements led to a general boycott of the streetcar system: “The peculiarity of the Milwaukee boycott is that the people of the entire city persist in maintaining it despite the resulting inconvenience to themselves. The cars continue to run, but without passengers.”[164] This caused losses of more than $1,000 per day.[165] The boycott lasted until June 20, 1896, but the streetcar company made only minor concessions.[166] Although the company changed neither the traffic fares nor its strategy, unions and the local Socialist Party gained ground: local politicians, especially in the Republican Party, thought about new municipal franchises and municipal ownerships, and the image of the local “street railway octopus” had suffered severely.[167] Pfister and his partners had to penetrate the political sphere and intensified their activities to do business based on favors and paychecks.[168] During the boycott, any official measures against the company failed: Governor Upham had been supported by Pfister and Payne, Pfister was Sheriff S. William Stanley’s bondsman, and most of the members of the local common council were on good terms with the Republican bosses.[169]

However, the boycott had shaken the Republican Party, and “progressive” ideas about business regulation, higher corporate taxation, and municipal ownership were gaining ground. The election of Democratic Mayor David S. Rose (1856-1932) in 1898 was based on a platform demanding a reduced four-cent streetcar fare and municipal ownership of public utilities.[170] After Rose’s election, the company was basically willing to reduce fares but wanted to consolidate all the different franchises for a period of at least twenty-five years.[171] Intense discussion followed, but parties and representatives could not agree on a common position.[172] This was used by the streetcar company to improve its position, partly in public—Bigelow and Pfister presented their propositions publicly in August 1899—partly behind the scenes.[173] An ordinance presented in December 1899 bundled all the franchises and extended them for fifty years. The company accepted four-cent fares in the morning and afternoon, but basically had to pay only $100,000 for the new legal foundation. This caused a public outcry, and both Payne and Pfister were accused of having paid aldermen for the passage of the ordinance.[174] The public battle continued, but two grand jury investigations in 1900 and 1903 found no evidence of bribery and graft.[175] A majority of citizens, however, believed that there “was some power operating which was stronger than emphatic and exasperated public opinion.”[176] Pfister supported the Democratic mayor during his campaigns for re-election in 1900 and 1902. Although the franchise was questioned later on, even the Socialist mayors could not change the ordinance. [177] The Milwaukee Electric Street Railway and Light Company was on solid ground for a profitable economic future.

Diversified Investments

The tanning, banking, hotel, and streetcar businesses were surely the foremost concerns in Charles F. Pfister’s career. But similar to his father, he invested heavily in additional sectors. He inherited large tracts of land, mostly close to railroad tracks. The 2,500-acre property near Sturgeon Bay demonstrates the extent of his lake shore interests.[178] As president of the Calumet Land Company, he owned most of what is now the town of Fox Point, north of Milwaukee. He held a controlling influence in the St. Paul Avenue Improvement Company, which was active in western Milwaukee, and served as its vice-president. As a director of the City Investment Association, Pfister also invested in downtown real estate, most notably the properties of real estate broker Henry Herman, who left the U.S. in 1905 to avoid prosecution by a grand jury.[179] Today, his Railway Exchange Building is one of Milwaukee’s remaining landmark skyscrapers.[180]

Closely related to his tanning interests were his holdings of timberland. As president of the Ontonagon and Brule River Railroad Company, he had large holdings in the Lake Superior district. He cooperated with the Mariner family, especially John W. Mariner (1868-1930), who owned large tracts of land north of Milwaukee.[181] Pfister was vice-president and largest stockholder of the North Ford Lumber Company, operating in Lewistown, Idaho.[182] Later, German-American immigrant entrepreneur Frederick Weyerhäuser (1834-1914) conducted even larger operations in this region. While some of these interests were inherited from Guido Pfister, Charles F. Pfister and his sister Louisa F. Vogel added timberland to their portfolio. In 1899, they bought John Canfield’s (1830-1899) pine land properties in Manistee County, Michigan.[183] Less successful were Pfister’s investments in the Del Norte Company, a $1,5000,000 firm formed in 1902, which merged in 1920 into the new C & O Lumber Company.[184]

Exploitation of the natural resources of the mid-northern states was also a driving force behind Pfister’s mining interests. As in the streetcar business, he specialized in purchasing basically solid companies in receivership. A good example was the Hadfield Company, which owned building stone and lime properties in Waukeshka, Pewaukee, and Menomonee (all in Wisconsin), and which also ran a small railroad. Charles Pfister, in cooperation with Rudolph Nunnemacher, paid a bond of $400,000, and thereby gained access to a company with assets of nearly $800,000.[185] More spectacular was the case of the Morning Mining Comp., the owner of three quartz and silver mines, as well as land, quartz mills, and a railroad in Shoshone County, Idaho. After the enactment of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1890, it seemed to be one of the best equipped mines in the West. In 1891, Milwaukee investors bought the property, organized the firm with a capital of $500,000 and invested $200,000 into new machinery before being hit by the 1893 crisis and the repeal of the act. Pfister was among the stockholders of the insolvent company. In January 1894, he sold the Morning Mining Company at a public auction for $251,000 and reorganized it with a capital stock of $300,000.[186] Pfister took risks in times of crisis—and he benefited from this immensely. He was also interested in the Odanah Iron Company in Wisconsin, the Sunday Lake and Iron Chief Mines in Wakefield, Michigan; the Raven Mining Company of Utah, a producer of Gilsonite and Elaterate; the Twin Buttes Mining and Smelting Company in Arizona, which searched for copper; and the Northern Chief Iron Company of Wausau, Wisconsin.[187] Critical public attention accompanied Pfister’s engagement as president of the coal-underground Florence Mining Company because it claimed special rights in an Indian reservation in Utah at the turn of the century.[188]

Pfister’s strategy to purchase valuable companies in receivership, to invest and to make them profitable again was not limited to branches developed in the first phase of industrialization. In 1912, he was among the purchasers of the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, a leading producer of machinery. The company’s origins dated back to 1860 when Edward P. Allis and William Allen founded a millstone factory, which turned to the production of flour mill machinery under the name of the Reliance Iron Works from 1864. In 1901, a typical merger between four machinery manufacturing companies resulted in the formation of the Allis-Chalmers Co. with 5,000 employees and an annual turnover of $10,000,000.[189] However, conflicts between Milwaukee and Eastern interests resulted in the decline of the company and its eventual transition into receivership. As a director and member of the executive committee of the board, Pfister was among those who hired former brigadier general Otto H. Falk, who reorganized and mechanized the company and began to build tractors. Elevated by the demands of World War I, Allis-Chambers saw long-lasting growth and high profits.[190]

More could be added: Pfister was vice-director and president of the Northwestern Lithographic Company. He invested in Milwaukee’s emerging baseball scene.[191] The Oshkosh Opera House Association was under his control; he was a stockholder of the Appleton Theatre Company, etc. [192] Charles F. Pfister was a typical financial entrepreneur, who invested his money in profitable endeavors to gain money. Similar to his father, he moved beyond his original chosen sector and became an investor who was no longer interested in one particular profession or industry. Instead, Pfister developed an interest in the power game related to entrepreneurial decision-making. This paved the way for his real passion: politics that could pay.

A Passion for Politics, Politics that Could Pay

For more than a decade, Charles F. Pfister was one of the “Big Four” running Wisconsin politics and the Republican Party. In contrast to his partners, he never ran for public office and remained a backstage power. Philetus Sawyer (1816-1900) was an Oshkosh politician who served in the U.S. Congress from 1865 to 1875 and then represented Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate from 1881 to 1875. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Railroads, he held a strategic position in the U.S. legislature. John C. Spooner (1843-1919), a lawyer and U.S. Senator from 1885 to 1891 and 1897 to 1907, was an even more influential politician, known as one of the “Big Four” Republicans who controlled the Senate and secured the interests of corporations and the gilded elite. While he declined several cabinet posts, Henry C. Payne (1843-1904) served as U.S. Postmaster General from 1902 to 1904. As president of the Wisconsin Telephone Company, he was already on good terms with stockholder Guido Pfister. He was among the Wisconsin representatives of the Northern American Company; he worked closely with Pfister in forming the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company and in running the First National Bank of Milwaukee. These “Big Four” were “stalwart” Republicans. Originally a faction to support U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant’s reelection in 1880, they became the representatives for a dedicated policy in favor of the economic and political elite. Opposed to more moderate Republican “half-breeds” and the “progressive” Republicans, they stood for the dominance of the party machine for nominations, low taxation of citizens and corporations, restrictive governmental spending, a strong position of the states, and a cautious foreign policy that included high tariffs.[193]

Political machines emerged in the U.S. during the Gilded Age. They were an answer to the fundamental changes triggered by industrialization, urbanization, and mass immigration. The Jacksonian ideal of society as a “harmonious collection of people engaged in producing and distributing things”[194] was no longer realistic. Conflict became the dominant theme in political discourse, and the machines were trying to organize and moderate it.[195] The American tradition of electoral offices was an important incentive for machine politics. Led by political “bosses,” political machines were able to organize voters and majorities. The consequence, however, was widespread and systemic patronage and corruption. The rise of big business and corporate interests supported the rise of political machines and bossism because this was an easy way to influence legislation and to push special-interest politics.[196] Wisconsin’s “Big Four” were such interest brokers: “Pfister, a man of almost unlimited means up to a comparatively short time ago, and having a disposition to spend his money freely to maintain control of local political affairs, has always been able to sit in his private office, touch one button, call a Democratic ward worker, give him orders, dismiss him, and then touch another button, call a Republican heeler, tell him what to do, dismiss him, and then sit quietly and wait for results. The results have usually been satisfactory.”[197]

Becoming a Republican Boss

Guido Pfister was involved in local politics, but he was no boss. He did what seemed to be necessary in an emerging Midwest town: those who had the means were forced to contribute to the common good. They had to work on behalf of their hometowns and business interests, because growth and the establishment of modern institutions and utilities were needed in the second half of the 19th century. Charles F. Pfister, however, was a special case: he was in politics for pleasure and excitement and to advance his own business interests.

One of his first deals was related to the practice that state officials had to be backed by bondsmen who were reliable in the case of fraud and embezzlement. When the Democratic Party took state government in 1891, they began investigations against former state treasurers. Among them there were Republican Henry Baetz (1830-1910) and Democrat Ferdinand Kuehn, who served from 1870 to 1878, both of them German immigrants. Baetz’ bondsmen included the German immigrant entrepreneurs Valentin Blatz (1826-1894), Frederick Pabst, Emil Schandein (1840-1888), John C. Pritzlaff (1820-1900), and Joseph Schlitz (1831-1875). Kuehn, a banker and Milwaukee’s former city treasurer was backed by Frederick Pabst, John C. Pritzlaff, Rudolph Nunnemacher, and Guido Pfister.[198] When the trial started, it became evident that the treasurers had deposited state money in private banks and no interest had been paid for it. Kuehn simply argued that the vaults of the state treasury were unsafe to keep state funds in.[199] Courts, however, decided that the treasurers were reliable and had to recover interest money retained in the 1870s.[200] Kuehn was to pay $106,683.88 (1894), respectively $108,263.63 (1895)—and due to the lack of property, the judgments would have been satisfied by the bondsmen, including Charles F. Pfister. According to Robert LaFollette, this was his “advent into Wisconsin state politics.”[201] When the Republican Party won the election in 1894, Pfister managed to launch a bill for the relief of the treasurers, which was passed by the State Assembly in 1894.[202] In July 1895, Kuehn and Baetz were released from further payments.[203] During the extended negotiations, Pfister demonstrated his diplomatic abilities. Through his skill, he had not only prevented high losses but also won the respect of leading Wisconsin citizens and politicians. He was no longer young Pfister, son of the shrewd and successful Guido Pfister. Politics allowed him to become a power in and of himself.

More important, however, was his engagement in local politics, which was necessary for establishing Milwaukee’s streetcar system. Pfister believed in politics as an adjunct to business.[204] The masses had to be led by trained and skilled businessmen who were able to create jobs and ensure a sufficient standard of living. Politicians were useful tools to guarantee rational government in support of business needs. The consequence of such an elitist ideal of politics was the creation and perpetuation of a political machine, a Milwaukee ‘Tammany’, which kept the stalwarts safe from competitors.[205] To achieve this goal, Pfister, “the wealthiest Republican” in Milwaukee, invested large amounts of money.[206] The consequences of Pfister’s institutional position were two-fold: first, he never tried to attain a political office, although he was discussed as a potential Milwaukee mayor and even as a presidential candidate from Wisconsin in 1895.[207] Second, he believed that government regulation, primaries, and general suffrage would undermine the principles of wise government by political and business elites. Pfister was always critical of Robert LaFollette, in his eyes a parvenu and renegade. In his understanding, LaFollette’s reform agenda, the “Wisconsin Ideas,” were nothing more than a private strategy to gain influence and office.[208] Consequently, the “Old Guard” managed majorities for Governor Scofield in 1896 and prevented inroads by the newcomer in 1898.[209] In the late 1890s, Pfister and Payne dominated the political business both in Milwaukee and in Wisconsin. In spite of growing resistance, they decided on the most important political positions. While Payne was a public figure, Pfister enjoyed his position in the background as “a wheel-horse of the organization.”[210] This made him into a mythical figure of sorts: “Everywhere and for everything it is Pfister! Pfister! If one were to believe part of the tales, Pfister is some Colossus who, when he stands up straight, can touch the sky. He could stalk through Milwaukee with the greatest buildings no greater obstacle to him than a blade of grass would be to an ordinary man. He would leave a path as slick and clean as was the virgin soil. A shake of his head would cause a cyclone. Statesmen tremble in their boots when Pfister’s name is mentioned. Women no longer use the bogie man to scare children to quiet, Pfister’s name does it all. All this must be ‘nuts’ for Pfister, but what damphoolism for the rest of mankind, whose lot is cast in Wisconsin. Now, the truth is that Charles F. Pfister is a mortal.”[211] When this article was written, he was already on the defense, after LaFollette was elected Wisconsin governor in 1900. In Milwaukee, he faced severe criticism for allegedly bribing several aldermen in a late 1899 franchise deal. But Pfister fought back.

The Purchase of the Milwaukee Sentinel

Typical of his amalgamation of business and politics was his purchase of the Milwaukee Sentinel, the leading Wisconsin newspaper in 1901. Founded in 1837, it was a predominately Republican journal, first supporting Whigs and liberal Republicans, then—after a change of ownership—Grant stalwarts, a position changed in the 1890s back to “half-breed” and progressive positions.[212] The Milwaukee Sentinel led the public struggle against the franchise for the Milwaukee Electric Street Railway and Light Company and opposed the actions of the common council and the aldermen in late 1899 and early 1900.[213] In addition, the newspaper and its “half-breed” editor Cassius H. Paine published articles directly attacking Pfister and Payne. When the Sentinel reprinted an article from the Indianapolis Press in late 1899, which compared Midwest experiences with local streetcar companies to the Milwaukee case and finally suggested that Payne and Pfister had bribed members of the common council to vote for the streetcar franchise, Pfister and Payne sued both newspapers for libel. Pfister estimated his damages at $100,000.[214] Proposals for a friendly agreement were rejected in early 1900, and a demurrer accepted by the circuit court was overruled by the Supreme Court in January 1900, making the Sentinel’s representative personally liable.[215] However, to avoid a public bloodbath, Pfister had already started to increase his holding of Sentinel stocks in early 1900, and he eventually convinced stockholders to sell “at a fabulously high figure” in February 1901.[216] Contemporaries speculated that he had paid no less than $400,000 for the newspaper—and his estate later showed that he had bought 3,000 shares of the Milwaukee Sentinel Company for $471,310.[217] With this, Pfister had not only avoided a public court battle but had gained control over the most important Republican newspaper. He immediately replaced leading journalists and transformed the “half-breed” organ into the most important voice of Wisconsin’s stalwarts and “the mouthpiece of big business in Milwaukee.”[218] He did not compromise with governor and later U.S. Senator Robert LaFollette.[219] For decades, the Milwaukee Sentinel stood firm against person and program, including his strict opposition to U.S. involvement in World War I, and his many anti-German measures. For Pfister, publishing the Sentinel was also a transition from the backroom politics to a more modern form of public struggle. The “half-breed” response, however, demonstrated their interest in a newspaper foothold in Milwaukee. On June 18, 1901, Isaac Stephenson (1829-1919), a lumber millionaire and later Republican U.S. Senator, founded the Milwaukee Free Press to support LaFollette and to agitate against Pfister and the stalwarts. Pfister sued his local competitor in 1907 for libel and received $25,000 in damages, but he tore up the check in the end, saying “His money is no good and I don’t want it.”[220] He sold the Milwaukee Sentinel in July 1924 for $339,408.96 to publisher William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951).

Bribe and Graft

The growing significance of newspapers reflected important changes in journalism and the rise of the Progressive movement. Technological innovations and the spread of the “yellow press” from San Francisco and New York to the whole country put the press in a position of being both a countervailing weight against backroom politics and a weapon in the political fight. Muckraking journalists started to criticize widespread patronage and corruption. In parallel, fighting against graft and for “clean” politics became a standard weapon in the political mass market. The Wisconsin reformers had a pronounced anti-graft agenda – although the internal mechanisms of their politics were no different from those of other factions. Patronage and bribery were not limited to individual groups and parties; rather, they were a constitutive element of America’s political culture.[221]

Charles F. Pfister engaged in politics with favors and his checkbook. But public claims of graft and bribery had to be based on evidence to have juridical consequences. Closed circle politics caused severe problems for prosecution: people knew about regimes of corruption, were part of it, but not willing to talk or serve as witnesses in court. The passing of the 1900 streetcar franchise triggered no fewer than five grand jury investigations into graft in Milwaukee. One hundred fifty-three indictments were returned, but only two men were sent to prison.[222] Although pursued by investigators of all grand juries, Pfister received no indictment. Alongside this, his name was linked to other ambiguous deals.[223] At the same time, Payne had to handle graft cases in the U.S. post office.[224]

The situation changed in 1905 after the election of District Attorney Francis E. McGovern (1866-1946), later governor of Wisconsin. On August 5, Pfister was indicted by a grand jury and charged with “stealing $14,000 belonging to the Wisconsin Rendering Company.”[225] This was a surprise for the public, although the company was notorious: in 1892, it had started a franchise with the city of Milwaukee for the disposal of garbage. It is very probable that private interests were at play in this decision. The company held its contracts until 1894. Afterwards, the company neglected the collection of garbage and chose not to send garbage to the reduction plant and crematory north of town, but instead dumped it into Lake Michigan, polluting the water and affecting the fishing industry. Although this was proven in an official investigation, the company fought for a renewal of the contract by paying public representatives and keeping rivals from making competing offers. Nevertheless, the city council refused to continue the business relationship and gave the franchise to other firms in 1898. Behind the scenes, however, the Wisconsin Rendering Company formed a conglomerate with the new contractors.[226] Money played an important role in this—and this is when Pfister joined the game.[227] In 1897, the Wisconsin Rendering Company borrowed $32,000 from the First National Bank of Milwaukee and gave this loan to Pfister to spend the money on the company. The indictment of 1905 claimed that he still owed the company $14,000.[228] He declared: “The charge is absolutely false and has no foundation whatever. About eight years ago F.C. Gross, who was president of the Wisconsin Rendering Company, placed money in my hands, and I disbursed it years ago according to his directions.”[229] The headlines of the national press, however, linked his name with “big theft.”[230] Milwaukee’s biggest fish had landed in the net.

But there were no indications of any criminal activities by Pfister. In late August, Pfister’s private case against the Wisconsin Rendering Company was settled.[231] In early September, he presented a detailed list of the disbursements and emphasized that he had merely acted as a depositary without compensation and had no knowledge of the use of the money: “There was never a suggestion that this money or any part of it was to be used for any corrupt or unlawful purpose or to replace money which had been so used.”[232] It took more than four months for Pfister to be released by the grand jury.[233] Again, he had to face headlines that linked his name with theft.[234] Before, however, the Milwaukee millionaire boss had continued the political strife when he sued McGovern for $500,000 damages.[235]

The Milwaukee Free Press continued to incriminate Pfister as a briber. In 1907, he denied at court any criminal activities and this time he was even awarded damages for libel.[236] Although these public trials revealed no juridical evidence of graft, his public image suffered. After 1905, he was perceived as a man of the past. Pfister was still an influential puppet master but he ceased to be a decisive force in Wisconsin’s political scene. He remained a stalwart Republican until his death and supported the Republican Presidential campaigns with relevant contributions.[237] But the power of the “Old Guard” was definitely broken.

Social and Private Life

It is difficult to provide a fair overview of Charles F. Pfister’s private life. Although he was a public figure, he avoided the limelight of publicity. Similar to his father, he maintained his privacy and gave no statements or personal interviews. He was no orator and did not spend his leisure time in institutions or larger social settings. Quite untypical for his generation, he remained a life-long bachelor—and we are lacking the family as the typical institution of biographical memory.

In relative contrast to his widespread business and political interests, he was for most of his life an invalid man. Already at the beginning of his business career, in 1891, he suffered from rheumatism and prostration, and uncorroborated rumors reported a temporary loss of his voice. His strictly planned work schedule was often interrupted by weeks, and even months, of rest and recreation.[238] In 1898, Pfister suffered a stroke of paralysis. Although he went on two month-long health trips to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for recreation, he remained partially paralyzed and never fully recovered.[239] Pfister continued working in a regular manner, but from 1905 on, he reduced his working hours and lived in “semi-retirement”[240] for the last two decades of his life. In April 1927, he suffered another stroke of paralysis and was again taken to Hot Springs, this time in a private railroad car. After several weeks of treatment, he returned to Milwaukee and could again take short walks on the grounds of his Lake Five country home. In early November 1927, however, he suffered another stroke. Unable to speak, he was brought to his sister’s home. This time pneumonia developed in addition, and Charles F. Pfister died November 12, 1927, at age 68.[241]

This end underscored his close relationship with his sister Louisa and the Fred Vogel, Jr., family. Although he owned a permanent suite at Hotel Pfister from 1893 on, he still shared a roof with his sister’s family. In 1880, they all lived together in Guido Pfister’s mansion, while the 1900 census listed “Uncle Charley” together with Louisa and Fred, their five children and their five German-born servants.[242] After his semi-retirement, Pfister enjoyed regular Sunday car tours around Milwaukee, where he explored lakes and forests and spent time with some close male friends. In 1912, he purchased a 150-acre estate at Lake Five, Washington County, twenty-five miles northwest of downtown Milwaukee. “Camp Rest” had a grand house for guests, but Pfister preferred a simple canvas structure for his own needs. Day by day, he drove downtown, went to the Hotel Pfister and his offices and returned in the evening. Camp rest was a quiet place in the wilderness. His canvas house was filled with “pennants, pictures, verses and proverbs which were sent him by his friends—a collection which will always remain a vivid picture in the minds of those who saw it.”[243] The Hotel Pfister and Camp Rest were places where he invited friends and relatives—the hotel a more representative sphere, the country home for closer friends, who shared temporary partial seclusion.

Pfister’s family relations were also an important factor in his Germanness. The Vogel, Jr., family still practiced the German language and Fred Vogel, Jr., not only read the New York Times and the London Times but a few German newspapers as well.[244] In the early 1890s, Charles and his sister Louisa offered the National German American Teacher Seminary a gift of $25,000 in the event that the institution could raise an additional $50,000 within a year.[245] This failed, but Pfister’s adopted children kept their offer and paid the annual interest to the academy. Finally, by June 1899, the seminary had collected $50,000 and received the original gift. In December 1899, Charles F. Pfister became the first honorary member of the Nationales Deutschamerikanisches Lehrerseminar.[246]

The second-generation German-American immigrant entrepreneur supported most German-American educational and charitable institutions, hospitals, orphanages, churches, and other welfare institutions. But Pfister became a general benefactor who gave not only to German-American or Lutheran organizations but to all kind of institutions and events. His charity activities mirrored his acculturation into the American nation. This can be underscored by some of his activities at the turn of century: Pfister offered a trophy for the best rifle practice of the National Guard Association, contributed to the soldiers’ monument celebration on the occasion of Wisconsin’s semi-centennial, granted $1,000 to the University of Wisconsin for new books for the School of Commerce, donated the Pfister trophy to the best Wisconsin National Guard, collected money for the survivors of the volcanic eruptions on Martinique and St. Vincent in 1902, and offered significant help in the wake of the coal famine in 1904.[247] In those years, Pfister gave up to $95,000 a year to charity—and most of it was done in a discrete and quiet manner.[248] In the 1910s and 1920s, his activities concentrated on educational, social, and religious institutions. In his will, he left more than $250,000 for that purpose, and his widespread contributions to various organizations paint a picture of the man he was: he gave to Marquette University, Milwaukee Downer College, the chief Milwaukee hospitals and various homes for the aged, religious organizations, and children’s homes. Outside Milwaukee, he gave bequests to St. Aemilian’s orphan asylum of St. Francis, Wisconsin; the Badger State Advancement Association of the Blind; the Evangelical Lutheran Home of Feeble Minded, Watertown, Wisconsin; the Wisconsin Anti-Tuberculosis Association; St. Columbian’s Congregation of Richfield; the Carmelite Fathers of Holy Hill; the Carmelite Sisters and the Lutheran Children’s Home of Wauwatosa; the Children’s Home Society of Wisconsin; the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary; the Lutheran Altenheim of Wauwatosa; the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Young Women’s Christian Association.[249] Not included were the Little Sisters of the Poor, also supported by his father, who received generous donations every year.[250] Pfister not only gave money to unfortunate and helpless people, he also gave support to dozens of young men who started business careers in retailing or services.[251]

This was more than generous and in deep contrast to his shrewd father. But charity also implies a hierarchy between the giver and the receiver. For Pfister, charity was always an expression of his standing at the top of income and wealth. He expected recipients and the public to be thankful for his open wallet, and he complained about being misjudged in public.[252] He was a man of perfect manners, a gentleman with “tenderness similar to women.”[253] At the same time, he could be sharp and brusque, if necessary. Pfister’s was a class-conscious person who represented the elite, which was running and governing the U.S.[254] He followed clear-cut routines and had inherited some of the pedantic habits of his father: each day his car left Camp Rest at 6:30am, arrived at the Hotel Pfister at 7:30am, drove to his office at the First National Bank by 8:30am—and his car drew up to the doors of the bank at exactly 3:59pm to take Pfister back home.[255]

His social ambitions were also expressed in his early hobbies. In the early 1890s, he owned a larger horse stable located close to Whitefish Bay. He loved fast horses and became a successful breeder of trotters.[256] But even in this case, politics were not far removed, as he strictly opposed the Wylie Bill, which tried to prohibit pool-selling at horse-races in Wisconsin.[257] Pfister was interested in yachting: together with many other German-Americans, he supported the Annual Regatta of the Lake Michigan Yachting Association and the prestigious race for the Canada’s Cup on July 4th.[258] The Hotel Pfister Trophy demonstrated Pfister’s dedicated interest in the sport.[259] Curling was another sport that benefitted from the businessman’s interest. The first Pfister trophy was donated at the Milwaukee bonspiel in 1895, Duluth followed in 1896, and afterwards the trophy became one of the most prestigious in the Midwest.[260] Charles F. Pfister liked art, especially painting and sculpture, and paid high prices for the works of fashionable artists of his time.[261] He made large donations to the local music scene, especially to local choirs and talented young musicians. During the last two decades of this life, he developed an interest in more common middle-class leisure activities. At Camp Rest, he bred Schnautzer dogs and enjoyed their company whenever he took walks. Martins, black-and-white pigeons, ducks, and turkeys lived on his grounds, and Pfister developed a dedicated interest in animals and wildlife.[262]

Although Pfister was not a church-goer, he was of the Protestant faith, knew the Bible and found comfort and inspiration in it. For him, religion was a manifestation of order and selflessness in a world of turmoil and selfishness. Consequently, he supported Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish institutions. Confronted with the Gospel, he could even become humble: “I pray to my God every day,’ he once said, ‘to forgive me my sins,’ […].”[263]


Charles F. Pfister died a controversial but respected person. He left an estate of approximately $3,000,000, the bulk of which went to the children of his sister and Fred Vogel, Jr. He had managed to enlarge his father’s legacy significantly, but he was also able and willing to donate more than he received. His biography serves as a typical example of a second-generation German-American immigrant entrepreneur in the period between the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. He oversaw technological and organizational innovation, continued in old branches and developed new ones, had to face the challenges of a political mass market and found himself criticized by the general public, which celebrated successful entrepreneurs as titans and accused them as selfish and heartless forces of wealth. His career is similar to those of several contemporaries, most notably perhaps to the career of John D. Spreckels (1853-1926), the son of “sugar king” Claus Spreckels (1828-1908), a sugar and shipping magnate, stalwart political boss of San Francisco, and a leading contributor to modern-day San Diego. Such second-generation immigrant entrepreneurs were still connected to their German roots, but they became acculturated before World War I and acted as proud Americans, often more national and elitist than their Yankee counterparts.


[1] “Capitalist and Hotel Man Dies,” Ironwood Daily Globe (November 12, 1927), 1.

[2] “Charles F. Pfister,” Racine Weekly Journal (April 29, 1902), 7.

[3] NARA Washington, DC, Census 1860; Milwaukee Ward 3, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Roll M653_1422; Page 152; Image 158; Family History Library Film 805422.

[4] See Wisconsin State Journal (March 14, 1870), 1; In Assembly. Journal of Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Annual Session of the Wisconsin Legislature for 1870 (Madison: Atwood & Culver, 1870), 979, 1001; Private and Local Laws Passed by the Legislature of Wisconsin in the Year 1870 (Madison: Atwood & Culver, 1870), 1163-1164.

[5] NARA Washington, DC, Census 1870; Milwaukee Ward 7, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Roll M593_1728; Page 133B; Image 270; Family History Library Film 553227.

[6] Weekly Wisconsin (February 9, 1889), 1.

[7] NARA Washington, DC; Census 1880; Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Roll 1437; Page 415A; Enumeration District 122; Family History Film 1255437.

[8] “Charles F. Pfister,” in Memoirs of Milwaukee County, vol. II, ed. by Jerome A. Watrous (Madison: Western Historical Association, 1909), 523-25, here 524.

[9] “Charles Pfister is Dead,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 1, 6, here 6.

[10] James S. Buck, Milwaukee Under the Charter, from 1847 to 1853, inclusive (Milwaukee: Symes, Swain & Co, 1884), 453. Compare Bettina Goldberg, “The German-English Academy, the National German-American Teachers’ Seminary, and the Public School System in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1851-1919,’ in German Influences on Education in the United States to 1917, ed. by Henry Geitz, Jürgen Heideking and Jurgen Herbst (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 177-92, here 180-85.

[11] “A Seat of Learning,” Milwaukee Sentinel (March 15, 1891).

[12] “Gained Fame as Salesman in Early Days,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 6.

[13] Buck (1884), 451.

[14] NARA Washington, D.C., Registers of Vessels Arriving at the Port of New York from Foreign Ports, 1789-1919. Microfilm Publication M237, roll 60, p. 102 [list 805, line 45].

[15] NARA Washington, DC, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, roll 120, p. 5; NARA Washington, DC, Census 1860; Milwaukee Ward 3, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Roll M653_1422; Page 152; Image 158; Family History Library Film 805422.

[16] “Deaths in Milwaukee,” Weekly Wisconsin (January 2, 1897), 7.

[17] Geschichte der Deutschen in Buffalo und Erie County, N.Y. (Buffalo: Reinecke & Zesch, 1898), 119.

[18] On Schoellkopf, see: Benjamin Schwantes and Juliane Hornung. “Jacob Frederick Schoellkopf.” In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, ed. by William J. Hausman and German Historical Institute. Last modified April 09, 2014.

[19] Ancestry.com. Ausgewählte Indizes der Einbürgerungsregister der USA, 1791-199, roll U-451 through V-263. Frederick Vogel married Auguste Juliane Herpich (born June 19, 1825, in Sangerhausen, Prussia; died October 14, 1910, in Milwaukee). She emigrated to the U.S. in 1847 and married on May 13, 1850, in Milwaukee. The couple had seven children; two of them died in childhood. For additional information, see: “Death on the Ocean,” Milwaukee Journal 1892, October 27, 1; “Frederick Vogel,” in Memoirs of Milwaukee County, vol. II, ed. by Jerome A. Watrous (Madison: Western Historical Association, 1909), 699-700, although this biographical sketch includes several factual errors. Vogel’s family history is discussed in “Many of Vogel Family once were in Leather,” Milwaukee Journal 1940, 8.

[20] “Frederick Vogel,” in Memoirs of Milwaukee County, vol. II, ed. by Jerome A. Watrous (Madison: Western Historical Association, 1909), 699-700, here 699.

[21] Buck (1884), 450.

[22] Weekly Wisconsin (September 19, 1899), 2.

[23] “Guido Pfister. Milwaukee,” in The Columbian Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of the Representative Men of the United States. Wisconsin Volume, ed. by D.I. Nelke (Chicago: Lewis, 1895), 43-44, here 43. Schwantes and Hornung (2014) present a quite different story of the early history of Pfister & Vogel, but this has not proven correct.

[24] Compare Paul E. Geib, “’Everything but the Squeal’: The Milwaukee Stockyards and Meat-Packing Industry, 1840-1930,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 78 (1994), 2-23; Uwe Spiekermann, “Family Ties in Immigrant Business: Joseph Schlitz, the Uihlein Brothers, and the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company,” Yearbook of German-American Studies 48 (2013 [2015]), 59-112.

[25] Ray Hughes Whitbeck, The Geography and Economic Development of Southeastern Wisconsin (Madison: State of Wisconsin, 1921), 97-98.

[26] Henry Eskuche, “Leather and the Tanning Industry,” in Milwaukee’s Great Industries, ed. by W.J. Anderson and Julius Bleyer (Milwaukee: Association for the Advancement of Milwaukee, 1892), 157-158, here 157.

[27] As a very general introduction, compare Richard H. Zeitlin, Germans in Wisconsin, rev. and expanded ed. (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 2000).

[28] John Gurda, Cream City Chronicles: Stories of Milwaukee’s Past (Milwaukee: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2014), 127.

[29] Whitbeck (1921), 107.

[30] Milwaukee Sentinel (October 15, 1853), quoted by Buck (1884), 451.

[31] Whitbeck (1921), 107-108.

[32] An Illustrated Description of Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Sentinel, 1890), 133.

[33] NARA Washington, D.C.; Soundex Index to Naturalization Petitions for the United States District and Circuit Courts, Northern District of Illinois and Immigration and Naturalization Service District 9, 1840-1950 (M1285); Microfilm Serial M1285; Microfilm Roll 135.

[34] J.F. Wojta, “The Town of Two Creeks, Manitowoc County,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 25 (1941), 132-54, here 135.

[35] “Juneau Bank,” Oshkosh Daily Courier (June 6, 1857), 1; Milwaukee Sentinel (January 13,1858), 2.

[36] John R. Wolf, Wolf’s Book of Milwaukee Dates: A Condensed History of Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Evening Wisconsin, 1915), 31; “The solid Men of Milwaukee,” Chicago Tribune (August 3, 1866), 4. At the top of the income list were banker Alexander Mitchell and boot and shoe manufacturer Charles T. Bradley.

[37] NARA Washington, DC, Census 1870; Milwaukee Ward 7, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Roll M593_1728; Page 133B; Image 270; Family History Library Film 553227.

[38] “From the Sentinel Files,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 30, 1968), 22.

[39] Maralyn A. Wellauer-Lenius, Swiss in Greater Milwaukee (Charleston et al.: Arcadia, 2010), 64; Henry S. Reuss, When Government was Good: Memories of a Life in Public (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999), 4.

[40] “Menasha and Appleton Railway,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (July 15, 1879), 1.

[41] Cincinnati Enquirer (June 7, 1880), 8.

[42] “From Sentinel Files,” Milwaukee Sentinel (January 31, 1931), 6; “A New Project,” Chicago Daily Tribune (September 29, 1881), 5.

[43] “The Milwaukee & Northern,” Chicago Daily Tribune (June 9, 1882), 6.

[44] “Guido Pfister is Dead,” Milwaukee Journal (February 2, 1889), 1.

[45] Guido Pfister made money in other branches as well. He was a stockholder of the Wisconsin Telephone Company, the Great Western Telegraph Company, vice-president of the Johnson Electric Service Company, and invested into the Metropolis Land & Iron Company, which was engaged in mining (“The Day’s Doings in Milwaukee,” Chicago Daily Tribune (February 3, 1889), 5; “Must Pay Up,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (May 30, 1888), 1.

[46] Milwaukee Weekly Wisconsin (October 3, 1883), 4.

[47] Milwaukee Journal (April 25, 1985), 24.

[48] Wolf (1915), 14. Pfister was reappointed in 1886, but it is not sure, whether he accepted this offer (“Republicans’ Places,” Milwaukee Journal (April 20, 1886), 1.

[49] “Our Neighbors,” Chicago Daily Tribune (June 6, 1875), 6.

[50] “Candidates for Congress,” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 11, 1878), 13.

[51] “Guido Pfister. Milwaukee,” in The Columbian Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of the Representative Men of the United States. Wisconsin Volume, ed. by D.I. Nelke (Chicago: Lewis, 1895), 43-44, here 44.

[52] Quot. by “State’s Leather Industry Owes Start to Pfister & Vogel, Now in 100th Year,” Milwaukee Sentinel (August 15, 1948), 14.

[53] Buck (1884), 452 (the quotation before ibid., 450).

[54] “Our Neighbors,” Chicago Daily Tribune (September 3, 1876), 9.

[55] “Division of Guido Pfister’s Estate,” Chicago Daily Tribune (February 11, 1889), 3.

[56] “Razing an Old Landmark,” Milwaukee Journal (September 7, 1891), 3; Chicago Daily Tribune (June 1, 1890), 14; “A Seat of Learning. Monument to the Memory of the Late Guido Pfister,” Milwaukee Sentinel (March 15, 1891).

[57] The Wisconsin System of Public Day Schools for Deaf Mutes. A Historical Sketch, etc. (Milwaukee: Wisconsin Phonological Institute, 1893) 4.

[58] “The Day’s Doings in Milwaukee,” Chicago Daily Tribune (February 3, 1889), 5.

[59] Rud[olph] A. Ross, Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Herold, 1871), 338.

[60] “Guido Pfister is Dead,” Milwaukee Journal (February 2, 1889), 1.

[61] Michigan, Wills and Probate Records, 1784-1980, Probate Packets, 1891-1900;Michigan. Probate Court (Dickinson County); Probate Place: Dickinson, Michigan, Probate Packets, 222-259, 1898-1900, case 241, 537-554. The will gave some smaller sums to relatives and charitable institutions and divided the rest among the three main heirs without giving detailed sums. The estate was valued between $1,500,000 and $3,000,000—and became available in 1894.

[62] Weekly Wisconsin (February 16, 1889), 4; “Division of Guido Pfister’s Estate,” Chicago Daily Tribune (February 11, 1889), 3.

[63] Michigan, Wills and Probate Records, 1784-1980, Probate Packets, 1891-1900; Michigan. Probate Court (Dickinson County); Probate Place: Dickinson, Michigan, Probate Packets, 222-259, 1898-1900, 555-568; “Millions Willed away in few Words,” Chicago Daily Tribune 1897, January 5, 1.

[64] The social networks of Milwaukee’s brewers are discussed by Spiekermann (2013 [2015]), esp. 74-76.

[65] For this and the following, see: “Fred Vogel., Jr., Dies, Aged 84,” Milwaukee Journal (January 3, 1936), 1, 3, here 3.

[66] Jamie Jaunts, “A Story of a Ghost Town,” Milwaukee Sentinel (August 11, 1957), 34; “Sentinel Files,” Milwaukee Sentinel (August 20, 1869), 18. Frederick Vogel phased out the business in the early 1880s (Interim Historic Designation Study Report: Zohrlaut Leather Company Complex, Pfister & Vogel Tanning Company Complex (Milwaukee: City of Milwaukee, Department of City Development, 2001), 9).

[67] “Gottlob Bossert,” in Ellis Baker Usher, Wisconsin. Its Story and Biography 1848-1913, vol. V (Chicago and New York: Lewis, 1914), 1376-78. Bossert’s son Gottlob Friedrich (1864-1927) served as a Pfister & Vogel general superintendent and—at the end of his career—as a director. Similar to Fred Vogel, Jr., he graduated from the German-English Academy and went first to Vienna and then to Germany to study chemistry and the tanning business (“Gottlob Bossert, Tanner, is Dead” Milwaukee Journal [April 4, 1927], 17). Biographical information on August H. Vogel can be found in “August H. Vogel,” in Memoirs of Milwaukee County, vol. II, ed. by Jerome A. Watrous (Madison: Western Historical Association, 1909), 1031-32; “August Vogel is Dead from Heart Attack,” Milwaukee Sentinel (February 19, 1930), 11.

[68] Designation (2001), 10 (also for the following sentences).

[69] Robert W. Wells, Milwaukee Industry Began with Sawmill,” Milwaukee Journal (January 4, 1976), 12; ”Pfister and Vogel Co. is among the Leaders,” Milwaukee Journal (December 1, 1919), 19.

[70] “The Pfister & Vogel Leather Co.’s Tanneries,” Western Department 30 (1897), no. 23 fr. March 10.

[71] Weekly Wisconsin (August 17, 1895), 7; Designation (2001), 10.

[72] Data from Whitbeck (1921), 110-11.

[73] Compare An Illustrated Description of Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Sentinel, 1890), 133; Shoe and Leather Reporter 50 (1890/91), 1130.

[74] Orlando Burnett, “Scofield Says Yes,” Eau Claire Leader (September 5, 1897), 3. Pfister was also the president of Milwaukee’s Western Leather company, manufacturer of leather heels and counter, and of the Milwaukee Counter company, a Western Leather subsidiary (“Power, Riches Extended Over Entire Nation,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 6.

[75] “Cuts Time Through Tariff,” New York Times (May 19, 1913), 1.

[76] “The Assembly is Property of the State Profiteers,” Capital Times (June 19, 1919), 1.

[77] “State’s Leather Industry Owes Start to Pfister & Vogel, Now in 100th Year,” Milwaukee Sentinel (August 15, 1948), 14.

[78] “How Two German Boys Started Milwaukee’s Tanneries,” Milwaukee Telegraph (November 6, 1921).

[79] “Federal Leather Control Board,” Wall Street Journal (February 22, 1918), 5.

[80] “Fred Vogel., Jr., Dies, Aged 84,” Milwaukee Journal (January 3, 1936), 1, 3, here 3.

[81] Gurda (2014), 127; Designation (2001), 10.

[82] “Americanization Work in Milwaukee,” Christian Science Monitor (May 26, 1919), 4.

[83] Eskuche (1892), 157.

[84] CompareBright Modernity. Color, Culture and Consumers, ed. by Regina Lee Blaszczyk und Uwe Spiekermann (Houndsmill and New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016 [forthcoming]).

[85] Barbara Wyatt, Cultural Resource Management in Wisconsin. A Manual for Historic Properties. Historic Preservation Division (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1986), quot. by Hide House (Former Greenebaum Tannery) 2625 S. Greeley Street: Interim Historic Designation Study Report June 2009 (Ms.), 7.

[86] Henry S. Graves, Tanbark and Tanning Extract 1909 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911), 4.

[87] CompareLaboratory Manual of Pfister & Vogel Leather Company Laboratories, compiled by Louis Emanuel Levi and August Carl Orthmann (Milwaukee: no publisher, 1918)

[88] “Cuts Time Through Tariff,” New York Times (May 19, 1913), 1.

[89] Robert C. Nesbit, History of Wisconsin, vol. 3: Urbanization and Industrialization, 1873-1893 (Steven Points: Worzalla, 1985), 415.

[90] Robert C. Nesbit, “Making a Living in Wisconsin 1873-1893,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 69 (1986), 250-83, here 270. On the working conditions in the tanning business see, ibid., 261-62, 269-70.

[91] Donald Wayne Rogers, Making Capitalism Safe: Work Safety and Health Regulation in America, 1880-1940 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 78.

[92] “The Big Sole Leather Trust,” New York Times (May 3, 1893), 2.

[93] “Rumors of Leather Trust,” New York Times (December 31, 1898), 10.

[94] “To Buy Boston Tanneries,” New York Times (February 19, 1899), 2.

[95] “Largest Tannery in the World,” Janesville Daily Gazette (August 24, 1901), 1.

[96] “American Hide & Leather Co.,” Wall Street Journal (July 1, 1904), 3.

[97] “American Hide & Leather Co.,” Wall Street Journal (July 2, 1904), 5.

[98] “Upper Leather for Shoes Down 30 to 50 Per Cent,” Milwaukee Journal (August 7, 1920), 3.

[99] This resulted in a final increase of the capital stock from $17,000,000 to $23,000,000. Boston Daily Globe (November 12, 1920), 19.

[100] “Urges Reforms in the Leather Industry,” Wall Street Journal (November 29, 1924), 12.

[101] “Pfister & Vogel Curtail Operations,” Wall Street Journal (October 18, 1930), 2; “Pfister-Vogel Plant Closing,” Milwaukee Journal (October 21, 1930), S3.

[102] “Leather Industry Losing Old Firms,” Wall Street Journal (December 19, 1930), 11; “Form New Leather Co.,” Wall Street Journal (January 29, 1931), 13.

[103] “U.S. Leather to End all Business in Milwaukee; 600 Jobs Lost,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (February 2, 2000), 8B.

[104] An overview of the history of banking was provided by Theodore A. Anderson, A Century of Banking in Wisconsin (New York: Arno, 1980 [1954]).

[105] “News from Milwaukee,” Daily Inter Ocean (September 27, 1890), 9; Chicago Daily Tribune (September 27, 1890), 2.

[106] Compare Douglas Steeples and David O. Whitten, Democracy in Desperation. The Depression of 1893 (Westport and London: Greenwood, 1998), esp. 22-65; Elmus Wicker, Banking Panics of the Gilded Age (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 2000), 52-82.

[107] History of Milwaukee City and County, vol. 3, ed. by William George Bruce (Milwaukee: S.J. Clarke, 1922), 739-40.

[108] “Discovery of Lappen Caused a Sensation,” Milwaukee Journal (December 8, 1898), 1.

[109] “Day in Difficulties,” Chicago Daily Tribune (June 4, 1893), 3; “Frederick T. Day Assigns,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune (June 6, 1893), 1; “It indicts Five Men,”Chicago Daily Tribune (July 12, 1893), 2.

[110] “Commercial Bank at Milwaukee suspends Payments,” Chicago Daily Tribune (July 22, 1893), 3.

[111] “The County Funds Deposited,” Charlotte Observer (July 22, 1893), 1.

[112] “Shut the Banks,” Daily Plainsman (July 24, 1893), 1.

[113] “Milwaukee Banks,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (July 22, 1893), 1.

[114] “Money Runs Short,” Chicago Daily Tribune (July 26, 1893), 3; “Its Doors are Closed,” Weekly Wisconsin (July 29, 1893), 8.

[115] John D. Buenker, The History of Wisconsin: The Progressive Era, 1893-1914, vol. IV (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1998), 11.

[116] Chicago Daily Tribune (December 17, 1893), 14; Chicago Daily Tribune (January 10, 1894), 3.

[117] “Milwaukee Wholesalers Assign,” Chicago Daily Tribune (November 1, 1894), 7; “Receiver for a Dredge Company,” Inter Ocean (January 29, 1895), 10; “Attachment is Released,” Leavenworth Times (August 14, 1897), 8.

[118] “Milwaukee Jury Indicts Pfister,” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 5, 1905), 1-2, here 2.

[119] “$1,450,000 Embezzled by Banker,” Atlanta Constitution (April 25, 1905), 1-2; “President of a Milwaukee Bank Steals Million and a Half,” San Francisco Call (April 25, 1905).

[120] “Bigelow will be a Free Man Today,” Sacramento Union (March 3, 1911), 3.

[121] History of Milwaukee City and County, vol. 1, ed. by William George Bruce (Milwaukee: S.J. Clarke, 1922), 351; Permanent Historic Designation Study Report: First National Bank/First National Bank Building 733-743 N. Water Street (Milwaukee: City of Milwaukee. Department of City Development, 2002), 7.

[122] “Charles Pfister is Dead,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 1, 6, here 6.

[123] “Power, Riches Extended Over Entire Nation,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 6.

[124] Waukesha Journal (March 7, 1891), 5.

[125] “Power, Riches Extended Over Entire Nation,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 6.

[126] “Erhält ein Amt,” Milwaukee Herold und Seebote (January 1, 1901), 7; “To Reduce Capital,” Allentown Leader (January 2, 1901), 5; “North American,” Wall Street Journal (January 22, 1901), 1.

[127] “North American not Selling Out,” Inter Ocean (November 23, 1901), 2; “Big Payment To-Day,” St. Louis Republic (April 16, 1903), 14.

[128] “Resident Directors to Rule,” Inter Ocean (January 16, 1895), 4.

[129] Compared the nice coffee table book by Thomas J. Jordan, The History, Art & Imagery of the Pfister Hotel (Milwaukee: Marcus Corp., 2013).

[130] For a broader perspective, compare Molly W. Berger, Hotel Dreams: Luxury, Technology, and Urban Ambition in America, 1829-1929 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), esp. 177-216.

[131] Denis Pajot, Building Milwaukee City Hall: The Political, Legal and Construction Battles (Jefferson and London: McFarland, 2013), 179 (also for the following).

[132] Description (1890), 128.

[133] “Cream City Happenings,” Chicago Daily Tribune (March 21, 1890), 9.

[134] Chicago Daily Tribune (July 6, 1890), 7. On the “building fever” of this time, see Jay Joslyn, “Late 1800s surge in Building Capped by Pfister Hotel,” Milwaukee Sentinel (June 24, 1992), 4A

[135] On Koch and the City Hall, see Joseph J. Korom, Jr., The American Skycraper, 1850-1940: A Celebration of Height (Boston: Branden, 2008), 203-206.

[136] “Work on Milwaukee’s New Hotel,” Chicago Daily Tribune (November 22, 1890), 13.

[137] Inter Ocean (July 4, 1891), 5.

[138] On Esser, see: Historic Designation Study Report: Edmund Stormowski Duplex 1874-76 North Warren Avenue (Milwaukee: City of Milwaukee. Department of City Development, 2002), 9-11; Davenport Daily Republican (May 3, 1893), 2.

[139] Orlando Burnett, “Scofield Says Yes,” Eau Claire Leader (September 5, 1897), 3.

[140] “Milwaukee’s Vote,” Inter Ocean (May 19, 1894), 9.

[141] Orlando Burnett, “Scofield Says Yes,” Eau Claire Leader (September 5, 1897), 3; Henry Casson, “Hotel Pfister Once Center of Wisconsin Republican Politics, Casson Recalls,” Wisconsin State Journal (January 8, 1928).

[142] “Milwaukee’s Vote,” Inter Ocean (May 19, 1894), 9.

[143] “Works of Art,” Inter Ocean (June 17, 1894), 23.

[144] “Hotel Pfister is Taken Over by Ray Smith,” Milwaukee Sentinel (October 6, 1927), 1.

[145] Appeal [Saint Paul] (October 7, 1899), 4.

[146] “Former Bell Boy of Pfister Hotel is now Proprietor,” Manitowoc Herald-Times (October 6, 1927), 1; “One Time Bell Boy is now Proprietor,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (October 6, 1927), 5; “Hotel Pfister is Taken Over by Ray Smith,” Milwaukee Sentinel (October 6, 1927), 1; “Pfister Leased by Ray Smith,” Milwaukee Journal (October 6, 1927), 2.

[147] Christopher Kobrak, “A Reputation for Cross-Cultural Business: Henry Villard and German Investment in the United States,” in Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman and German Historical Institute. Last modified September 30, 2015; Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave and John Cullen, Villard: The Life and Time of an American Titan (New York et al.: Nan A. Talese, 2001).

[148] “A Dummy to the Bay,” Milwaukee Journal (April 15, 1885), 1; Thirty-Eighth Annual Report of the Milwaukee Orphan Asylum, No. 350 Juneau Avenue, 1887 (Milwaukee: Asylum, 1888), 9; Thomas H. Fehring, Whitefish Bay (Charleston: Arcadia, 2010).

[149] “Bought the Dummy Line,“ Milwaukee Journal (July 11, 1890), 8; “To Build a High Tower,” Logansport Reporter (February 10, 1891), 3; “To Build a High Tower,” Steven Point Journal (February 14, 1891), 4.

[150] “The Dummy Line Change, Milwaukee Journal (January 2, 1892), 4.

[151] “The Milwaukee Boycott,” Kansas Star City (May 24, 1896), 10.

[152] On Hinckley s. Simon Cordery, The Road in the Prairie State: The Story of Illinois Railroading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016), 83-84.

[153] “Hinsey-Hinckley Contest,” Milwaukee Journal (April 8, 1891), 3; “Hinsey Scores a Victory,” Milwaukee Journal (January 21, 1892), 2; “Milwaukee Doings,” Inter Ocean (January 22, 1892), 5.

[154] “Milwaukee against the Railroads,” Chicago Daily Tribune (April 14, 1891), 6.

[155] “Street Railway Litigation,” Inter Ocean (November 27, 1892), 9; “Milwaukee Electric Railroad Sold,” Chicago Daily Tribune (July 1, 1893), 6.

[156] “North American,” Wall Street Journal (June 21, 1893), 1.

[157] To get hold of all the lines, the Milwaukee Street Railway Company was officially willing to pay what was asked. For the West Side Street Railroad—the Becker line—see: “Confesses to Making a Bad Bargain,” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 1, 1894), 5. In this case, however, Payne and his partners managed to get the line for nearly nothing, see: “Permission Given to Bring Suit,” Chicago Daily Tribune (January 24, 1896), 8.

[158] “Cream City Notes,” Daily Inter Ocean (May 29, 1890), 5; Centralia Enterprise and Tribune (June 7, 1890), 1.

[159] Inter Ocean (January 22, 1895), 3.

[160] “Buy Extension of Franchise,” Chicago Daily Tribune (November 18, 1898), 5.

[161] Pfister was strongly involved in the Fox River Valley Electric Railway, incorporated in 1897, which later became the Wisconsin Traction and, Light, Heath and Power Company. “Fox River Valley Railway,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune (July 22, 1897), 15; “Payne Talks Little,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (August 27, 1897), 3; “Transfer is Made,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (September 3, 1904), 3; “Death Claims John I. Beggs, Car Magnate,” Appleton Post-Crescent (October 19, 1925), 1.

[162] Wall Street Journal (November 15, 1899), 5.

[163] Jay Joslyn, “Whole City Walked in 1896 Streetcar Strike,” Milwaukee Sentinel (June 28, 1985), part 3, 1.

[164] “The Milwaukee Boycott,” Chicago Eagle (May 30, 1896), 4. Of course, not all Milwaukeeans supported the boycott. A commission of merchants, for instance, declared: “The boycott is strangling business and it is expected that merchants in all branches of trade will join the counter movement for self preservation” (“Merchants are Tired of it,” Wichita Daily Eagle [May 22, 1896], 2).

[165] Lebanon Express (June 11, 1896), 2.

[166] “Boycott is Ordered Off,” Rock Island Argus (June 20, 1896), 1.

[167] “Milwaukee’s Street Cars,” Kansas City Star (June 2, 1896), 5. Compare Forrest McDonald, “Cars and Politics in Milwaukee, 1896-1901,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 39 (1956), 166-70, 206-12, 253-57, 271-73.

[168] “Milwaukee’s Street Railway Sold,” Courier-Journal [Louisville] (January 30, 1896), 2.

[169] “The Milwaukee Boycott,” Kansas Star City (May 24, 1896), 10.

[170] “Democrats Name Judge Rose,” Chicago Daily Tribune (March 15, 1898), 4.

[171] “Milwaukee Wins it Long Fight against the Street Railway,” Chicago Daily Tribune (November 17, 1898), 1. The request for another streetcar franchise by a group of Chicago investors undermined the position of the streetcar company as well, compare “Chicago Men Bid for Right to Build Car Lines in Milwaukee,” Chicago Daily Tribune (December 6, 1898), 3.

[172] Compare McDonald (1956), 253-57, 271-73.

[173] Inter Ocean (August 29, 1899), 4.

[174] “Suit to Kill Ordinance,” Chicago Daily Tribune (December 22, 1899), 1.

[175] “Milwaukee Jury Indicts Pfister,” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 5, 1905), 1-2, here 2.

[176] “Hunting the Briber,” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 6, 1905), B4.

[177] Karen Woolley, Missed Connections: The ‘Progressive’ Derailment of Public Transport in Metropolitan Milwaukee during the Electric Street Railway Era (Milwaukee: Proquest Dissertations, 2011).

[178] “Swamp Land Scheme,” Weekly Wisconsin (February 8, 1896), 6; “Protect Home Companies,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (April 1, 1901), 8.

[179] William F. Hooker, “The Story of Graft in Milwaukee,” Inter Ocean (July 9, 1905), 27-28, here 28.

[180] “Power, Riches Extended Over Entire Nation,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 6.

[181] “John Mariner Burial to be Held Friday,” Milwaukee Sentinel (June 26, 1930), 4.

[182] “Power, Riches Extended Over Entire Nation,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 6.

[183] “Ends a Noted Suit,” Weekly Wisconsin (May 6, 1899), 2. On Canfield, see: Shannon McRae, Manistee County (Charleston et al.: Arcadia, 2006), 23-24.

[184] Duane D. Fischer, “The Short Story of the Del Norte Company,” Forest History 11 (1967), 12-25, esp. 14, 18.

[185] Daily Democrat [Huntington] (December 16, 1891), 4; “The Hadfield Fail,” Weekly Wisconsin (December 19, 1891), 1.

[186] Chicago Daily Tribune (September 3, 1893), 4; “Mining Company in Court,” Inter Ocean (September 30, 1893), 12; “Mr. Pfister Purchases it,” Milwaukee Journal (January 27, 1894), 1; “Morning Mine at Receiver’s Sale,” Chicago Daily Tribune (January 28, 1894), 12.

[187] Ironwood Times (January 16, 1897), 7; “Big Transfer of Iron Mines,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (November 10, 1898), 2; “Power, Riches Extended Over Entire Nation,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 6.

[188] “To Investigate the Uintah Mining Scheme,” New York Times (January 9, 1902), 1; “Secretary of the Interior Transmits more Uintah Documents,” Salt Lake Herald (January 29, 1902), 2.

[189] Robert W. Wells, “Milwaukee Industry Began with Sawmill,” Milwaukee Journal (January 4, 1976), 12.

[190] Richard L. Pifer, A City at War: Milwaukee Labor during World War II (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2003), 4.

[191] Dennis Pajot, The Rise of Milwaukee Baseball: The Cream City from Midwestern Outpost to the Major Leagues, 1859-1901 (Jefferson: McFarland, 2009), 175; “Milwaukee for Sale,” Denver Rocky Mountain News (September 9, 1890), 7; Logansport Pharos-Tribune (September 17, 1892), 7.

[192] “Charles F. Pfister,” Racine Weekly Journal (April 29, 1902) , 7; Post-Crescent (September 24, 1926), 4.

[193] “Gov. Scofield’s Record,” Centralia Enterprise and Tribune (October 22, 1898), 12.

[194] Walter Nugent, Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 7.

[195] Martin J. Schiesl, The Politics of Efficiency: Municipal Administration and Reform in America, 1880-1920 (Berkeley et al.. University of California Press: 1977), esp. 6-45.

[196] Compare Glenn Porter, The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1920, 3rd ed. (Wheeling: Harlan Davidson, 2006).

[197] William F. Hooker, “The Story of Graft in Milwaukee,” Inter Ocean (July 9, 1905), 27-28, here 28.

[198] “They Cannot Pay,” Postville Review (February 9, 1895), 4.

[199] “Financial Secrets,” Logansport Pharos Tribune (November 20, 1891), 1.

[200] “Badger State Wins,” Inter Ocean (August 2, 1894), 10.

[201] “Siebecker Death Recalls the Dramatic Attempt Made to Influence Him through Money,” Capital Times (February 13, 1922) 1.

[202] “Ex-Treasurers,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern 1895, March 15, 1 “Interest Wiped Out,” Weekly Wisconsin (April 20, 1895), 5.

[203] “Treasury Cases End,” Centralia Enterprise and Tribune 1895, July 20, 6; “Treasurers Go Free,” Weekly Wisconsin (July 20, 1895), 5.

[204] Capital Times (February 27, 1923), 12.

[205] W[illiam] F. Hooker, “Political History not all Told,” Inter Ocean (October 2, 1901), 5.

[206] “Milwaukee May Move,” Inter Ocean (October 9, 1895), 2.

[207] “Pfister for Mayor,” Inter Ocean (July 1, 1895), 3; “Lively Discussion on,” Inter Ocean (December 23, 1895), 3.

[208] On LaFollette’s rise to a progressive reformer—not before 1897—see: John D. Buenker, “Robert M. LaFollette’s Progressive Odyssey,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 82 (1998), 2-31.

[209] Compare Allen Fraser Lovejoy, La Follette and the Establishment of the Direct Primary in Wisconsin 1890-1904 (New Haven: Yale UP, 1941), 28; Nancy C. Unger, Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2008), 106-17.

[210] “Charles F. Pfister,” in Memoirs of Milwaukee County, vol. II, ed. by Jerome A. Watrous (Madison: Western Historical Association, 1909), 523-25, here 524.

[211] “The Pfister Superstition,” Milwaukee Journal (April 5, 1902), 6.

[212] “The Milwaukee Sentinel: Its History from 1837 to 1864,” Milwaukee Sentinel (January 1, 1864), 1; Buenker (1998), 10-22.

[213] “Victory for Charles F. Pfister,” Inter Ocean (January 9, 1901), 5.

[214] “Driven to Suicide: Alderman George Hill of Milwaukee Shoots Himself,” Inter Ocean (December 28, 1899), 4; “Milwaukee Sentinel Sued,” Eau Claire Leader (December 30, 1899), 4.

[215] “Will Drop the Suit: C.F. Pfister to Accept Retraction from Indianapolis Press,” Inter Ocean (January 2, 1900), 2; “Many Reversals,” Minneapolis Journal (January 8, 1901), 1.

[216] “Milwaukee Sentinel Sold,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (February 14, 1901), 1; “Sale is Confirmed,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (February 15, 1901), 1.

[217] “Court Decides in Important Tax Questions,” Milwaukee Sentinel (April 2, 1930), 3.

[218] Capital Times (February 27, 1923), 12.

[219] “Little Evidence of a Compromise,” Inter Ocean (April 26, 1902), 2; “Will Prove a Boomerang,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (May 10, 1902), 4.

[220] “Pfister Case is now in Hands of Jury,” Milwaukee Journal (November 21, 1907), 1, 5; “Editor Swallowed Sentinel Hoax,” Milwaukee Journal (April 28, 1975), 1, 19, here 19; “Must Choose another Leaders,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (November 16, 1903), 4.

[221] Compare Edward Balleise, “The Ambiguities of Business Fraud and Entrepreneurial Reputation in Progressive-Era America,” Business History Review 87 (2013), 627-42.

[222] William F. Hooker, “The Story of Graft in Milwaukee,” Inter Ocean (July 9, 1905), 27-28, here 27.

[223] “That Kronshage Deal,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (September 23, 1902), 4.

[224] “A National Graft System,” Charlotte News (June 11, 1903), 4; “Mrs. Lorenz is Indicted,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (June 22, 1903), 1.

[225] “Bribery and Larceny,” Washington Post (August 5, 1905), 1.

[226] Finally, in 1898, the city council decided in favor of a municipal garbage plant, which was opened in 1902 (Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (London and New York: Continuum, 2011), 69.

[227] Judith Walzer Leavitt, The Healthiest City: Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 139-51; “Milwaukee Jury Indicts Pfister,” Chicago Daily Tribune (August 5, 1905), 1-2, here 2.

[228] For details, see: “Pfister Defies His Accusers,” Iowa City Press-Citizen (August 3, 1903), 4.

[229] “Bribery and Larceny,” Washington Post (August 5, 1905), 1.

[230] “Accused of Big Theft,” Salt Lake Telegram (August 5, 1905), 6.

[231] “Criminal Case against Millionaire Charles Pfister will be Affected,” Grand Forks Daily Herald (August 26, 1905), 1.

[232] “Defense for Pfister,” Washington Post (September 2, 1905), 1.

[233] “Pfister Freed,” Milwaukee Journal (December 15, 1905), 1, 4.

[234] “Millionaire is on Trial for Theft,” Duluth News Tribune (December 12, 1905), 1.

[235] “Charles Pfister Charges Conspiracy in Indictment,” Chicago Daily Tribune (September 9, 1905), 5; “Sues His Opponents for $500,000,” Rock Island Argus (September 8, 1905), 1; “For Half Million,” Grand Rapids Press (September 8, 1905), 1.

[236] “May Purge Themselves,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (October 7, 1907), 1;“Charles Pfister’s Answers are Plain,” Janesville Daily Gazette (November 12, 1907), 1; “It Clears the Air,” Eau Claire Leader (November 24, 1907), 4.

[237] “Millions Spent by Republicans,” Miami Herald 1920, 1, 8, here 8; Campaign Expenditures, February 3 (Senate, 68th Congress, 2nd sess., Report 1100 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1924).

[238] “Charles Pfister Ill,” Milwaukee Journal (September 30, 1891), 5; Chicago Daily Tribune (October 16, 1891), 7; Chicago Daily Tribune (October 17, 1891), 7.

[239] “Charles F. Pfister, Philanthropist, of Milwaukee, is Dead,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (November 12, 1927), 1, 19, here 19; “Pfister Goes to Hot Springs,” Chicago Daily Tribune (March 2, 1899), 3; “C.F. Pfister Returns,” Wisconsin Weekly Advocate (June 15, 1899), 1.

[240] “Charles Pfister, Hotel Man, Dies At Milwaukee, Sheboygan Press (November 12, 1927), 1.

[241] “Pfister Dies in Milwaukee after Stroke,” Post-Crescent (November 12, 1927), 1; “Charles Pfister is Dead,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 1, 6, here 1.

[242] NARA Washington, DC; Census 1880; Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Roll 1437; Page 415A; Enumeration District 122; Family History Film 1255437; NARA Washington, DC, Census 1900; Milwaukee Ward 7, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Roll 1801; Page 7B; Enumeration District 0050; Family History Film 1241801.

[243] “Camp Rest at Lake Five was a Loved Spot,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 7.

[244] “Fred Vogel., Jr., Dies, Aged 84,” Milwaukee Journal (January 3, 1936), 1, 3, here 3.

[245] “German Teachers Meet,” Daily Inter Ocean (July 8, 1892), 8; Inter Ocean (July 3, 1895), 2.

[246] “Vom Seminar,” Pädagogische Monatshefte 1 (1900), no. 2, 35.

[247] “They Honor the Flag: The National Guard Association Adopts a Patriotic Resolution,” Milwaukee Journal (March 20, 1896), 1; “For Soldiers Brave,” Inter Ocean (February 13, 1898), 33; Science NS 12 (1900), 896; “The Pfister Trophy,” Weekly Wisconsin (February 26, 1898), 2; “The Pfister Trophy,” Eau Claire Leader (December 21, 1901), 3; “A Central Committee,” Minneapolis Journal 1902, May 13, 1; “Echo of the Coal Famine,” Minneapolis Journal (February 1, 1904), 1.

[248] Hooker (1905), 28; “A Tribute to Mr. Pfister,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (November 14, 1927), 8.

[249] “Education and Charity Benefited by Bequests of Late C.F. Pfister,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (November 22, 1927), 1.

[250] “Needy Found Mr. Pfister Real Friend,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927).

[251] “Power, Riches Extended Over Entire Nation,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 6.

[252] Hooker (1905), 28.

[253] “A Friend of Men,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 1.

[254] Victor L. Berger, “Berger Praises Pfister Fairness,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 14, 1927), 4.

[255] “Fleet Horses Pfister Hobby,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 7.

[256] Ibid.

[257] “Pfister for the Racehorses,” Chicago Daily Tribune (March 20, 1897), 7; “Bright for Wylie Bill,” Chicago Daily Tribune (March 20, 1897), 7. Parallel, however, he supported dry candidates and gave money to the Anti-Saloon League.

[258] Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (March 11, 1901), 6; “Launching a Gala Affair,” Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (June 3, 1901), 8.

[259] “Good Yachting Promised,” Inter Ocean (June 23, 1901), 1.

[260] Chicago Daily Tribune (January 13, 1895), 13; Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (January 13, 1896), 6; “Curlers Reach the Final Draws,” Chicago Daily Tribune (January 26, 1901), 6.

[261] Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (May 9, 1906), 6.

[262] “Camp Rest at Lake Five was a Loved Spot,” Milwaukee Sentinel (November 12, 1927), 7.

[263] “Generosity of Pfister Lauded at Last Rites,” Milwaukee Journal (November 14, 1927), 8.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Business and Politics: The Contested Career of Charles F. Pfister
  • Coverage 1859-1927
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date June 15, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018