Bird's Eye Map of San Francisco, ca. 1864

Photograph of F.W. Dohrmann in 1912

Frederick William Dohrmann


Frederick Dohrmann began his merchandizing career in San Francisco in 1868 as a partner with Bernhard Nathan in a crockery business. Over the next thirty-seven years, he expanded the business to create the Dohrmann Commercial Company, specializing in wholesale and retail sales of china, crystal, flatware, lamps, and fine “art goods.” F.W. Dohrmann also worked tirelessly for the betterment of San Francisco through German and non-German philanthropic boards and associations, and was one of the founders of the Merchants Association of San Francisco.


When San Franciscan Frederick W. Dohrmann (born November 1, 1842 in the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein; died July 18, 1914 in San Francisco, CA) died on July 18, 1914, contemporaries remembered him as a “merchant prince” and a “sterling old citizen” and praised him for his many accomplishments.[1] In 1868, he began his merchandizing career in that city as a partner with Bernhard Nathan in a crockery business. He had arrived in America from Schleswig-Holstein ten years earlier and had learned his trade by clerking first in Davenport, Iowa, and later in Oakland and San Francisco, California. Over the next thirty-seven years, he expanded the business to create the Dohrmann Commercial Company, specializing in wholesale and retail sales of china, crystal, flatware, lamps, and fine “art goods.” The company imported goods from Europe for its retail outlets such as Nathan-Dohrmann Co. in San Francisco (later Dohrmann’s) and subsidiaries in Stockton, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Honolulu. Through Dohrmann Hotel Supply, the partner’s wholesale operation, the company sold imported and domestic china, crystal, and flatware to hotels and resorts across the United States. In addition, Dohrmann consulted with the Emporium department store in 1897, introducing the concept of a middle-class, mid-line shopping destination to San Francisco. At the same time, F.W. Dohrmann worked tirelessly for the betterment of San Francisco through German and non-German philanthropic boards and associations, and was one of the founders of the Merchants Association of San Francisco.[2] After the earthquake and fire of 1906, he was part of a delegation to Germany that convinced insurance brokers to honor the claims of San Francisco’s policy holders, an action some historians believe had international economic repercussions.[3] He always adhered to his personal philosophy: “There are two things that you should do in life. Do your duty by the community and don’t get too much into debt.”[4] Dohrmann’s estate of $750,000 (approximately $17.4 million dollars in 2011$) reflected his monetary success but the praises and accolades he received for his philanthropic work from his contemporaries during his lifetime and after his death indicated their high regard and respect for him. Despite such pecuniary and social accomplishments, however, Dohrmann is rarely mentioned in modern histories of San Francisco.[5]

Family and Ethnic Background

F.W. Dohrmann was born on November 1, 1842, in the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein, then part of the Kingdom of Denmark and later incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia following the two Schleswig Wars of the late 1840s and early 1860s.[6] He was the oldest son of middle-class parents Dr. Wilhelm and Caroline Wilhelmina Frederika Dohrmann. Dr. Dohrmann was educated at the University of Kiel, the capital of Schleswig-Holstein, and served in the Danish Army as a doctor from 1831 to 1834. He enjoyed the friendship of Danish Crown Prince Frederick VII. Undocumented family legends say that his status in the Danish Court fell and he lost his court-appointed position because his wife, Caroline, who he married in 1821, was of Jewish faith. In 1832, a close family friend and patient, Rabbi Nathan, fathered an illegitimate son, Adolph, with the family maid. Wilhelm and Caroline were childless, and they adopted Adolph soon after he was born. Over the next ten years, the couple had five children of their own: first F.W. (Frederick William), born in 1842; then Julius, born in 1844 (died in 1866); Charles born in 1846 (died in 1893); Jacob, born in 1850 (died in 1857); and finally a girl, Blanca, born in 1853 (died in 1922). Rabbi Nathan subsequently married and had another son, Bernhard, born in 1833, with whom F.W. eventually went into business in San Francisco.[7] Wilhelm remarried after his wife, Caroline, died in 1857, but he did not get along with his second wife and called her a “shrew.”[8] Subsequently, he decided to join his son, F.W., in California and lived and practiced medicine across the bay from San Francisco in Alameda, dying in 1886. Wilhelm’s grandson, Robert, described him as a “character” who influenced his son to live a sober, abstemious life.[9]

By the 1850s, like many in the German lands, the Dohrmann and Nathan families suffered economic and social hardship due to the 1848 German revolutions and First Schleswig War, which lasted until 1851. Dr. Dohrmann had already suffered a major financial setback with the loss of his position in the Danish court, and family histories document that the Dohrmann family’s income was too small to support their children. Furthermore, political conditions in the region were uncertain. In 1848, Danish King Christian died and the line of succession for his son, Frederick VII, to rule all the Danish duchies was unclear. Some Danish nationalists who wished to separate Schleswig from Holstein and formally integrate the duchy into Denmark revolted. In turn, German nationalists seeking to defend the territorial integrity of the duchies revolted against Danish rule. Prussian troops supported the German revolutionaries briefly before the warring parties under pressure from other European powers reached a settlement. The 1850 truce resulted in the Danish king extending rule over Schleswig, despite the fact that the majority of its citizens spoke German. The Dohrmann and Nathan families had reason to fear that their sons, Adolph and Bernhard, both in their twenties, could face conscription into the Danish army. Such a prospect was worrisome given the region’s uncertain political and military situation in the early 1850s. Furthermore, prejudices against Jews increased after the 1848 revolutions in the German lands, which may have impacted the Dohrmanns socially and economically. Caroline, like many Jewish women, may have converted to Christianity after her marriage to Wilhelm (her religious heritage is only an undocumented oral tradition), but her family maintained close ties with Rabbi Nathan and his family. The two families became convinced that Schleswig had become an unsafe place to live and looked for an opportunity to improve their situation; therefore, Adolph Dohrmann and Bernhard Nathan joined the wave of immigrants traveling to the United States during the 1850s. Adolph settled in Davenport, Iowa, and Bernhard continued on to San Francisco in 1861 to look for new economic opportunities.[10]

Family oral histories relate that Adolph wrote home describing the available clerking positions in general merchandise stores in Davenport, and Bernhard wrote about his involvement in a successful crockery business. Both encouraged Dr. Wilhelm Dohrmann to send his son, F.W. Dohrmann, to join them. This action was typical for many of the immigrants from the German lands and led to chain migration, whereby settlers, bound by family ties, wrote to members of their family or home community encouraging them to join the migrants in order to better their financial condition. Those immigrants already in America often sent money home to augment family incomes and to help defray the cost of transportation for future immigrants, as well as to ease the process of locating employment and housing for new immigrants. For Dohrmann, migration was not a “leap in the dark,” as it had been for Adolph and Bernhard. At age fifteen, he left home via the German port of Hamburg and sailed for New York, arriving on April 1, 1858. He immediately traveled to Davenport where he clerked in mercantile and hotel businesses until 1862.[11]

While F.W. Dohrmann was living in Davenport, the American Civil War broke out in 1861. German immigrant participation in the war had much to do with where the immigrants settled. Since Iowa was a Democratic state, and rural in character and partisanship, German recruitment for the northern war effort was poor. Those aligned with the Democratic Party resisted conscription when it was eventually introduced, and, according to a family legend, these political conditions played a part in Dohrmann’s decision to leave Iowa for California. Furthermore, Bernhard Nathan had reported to F.W. that he foresaw a profitable future in importing and merchandising crockery in San Francisco. Its population, both German-speaking and non-German speaking, was growing rapidly because the city was a major port on the Pacific Coast and the center of a growing hinterland. Dohrmann left Davenport on March 1, 1862, and arrived in San Francisco via the Isthmus of Panama on April 1, 1862.[12]

After Dohrmann settled in San Francisco, he met Josephine Runne, and they were married in May 1866, in Oakland, California. They had four children: Their daughter Wilhelmina was born in 1867. She was nicknamed “Minna” by the family and married the eminent San Franciscan eye doctor, Kaspar Pischel. Andrew Bernhard Charles (A.B.C.) Dohrmann, born in 1868, was the couple’s oldest son and joined F.W. at Nathan-Dohrmann Company as a clerk in 1884, and later as a partner in 1888.[13] Their second son, William F., was born in 1870, practiced dentistry in Oakland, and died in Santa Barbara on vacation in 1904. Their fourth child, F.W. Dohrmann Jr., was born in 1872 and served in the California Volunteers in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. He first worked at Nathan-Dohrmann in 1889 and then rejoined the company upon his return from the war. Dohrmann’s stepbrother, Adolph, came to San Francisco and joined him in the milling business. He died unexpectedly on a steamer to Stockton in 1877, and the San Francisco Produce Exchange adjourned as a tribute to him. The F.W. Dohrmann family lived in San Francisco until 1870 when they moved to Alameda where the children grew up. In 1900, they returned to San Francisco and settled in a large home on California Street near Franklin Street where they lived until their deaths in 1914, Josephine on March 25 and F.W. on July 18.[14]

Business Development

When F.W. Dohrmann arrived in San Francisco in 1862, merchants and investors were busy building a regional empire in Northern California. The region’s rapid growth had begun with the discovery of gold in 1848. The city was the largest port on the West Coast and served as the gateway for gold, silver, and agricultural goods leaving California to meet eastern demands, as well as a key entrepôt for manufactured and luxury goods imported to meet the demands of San Francisco’s growing population. The local economy was booming, there were widespread opportunities for newcomers, and a spirit of optimism prevailed throughout the city. The population grew 160 percent during the 1860s and another fifty-six percent in the 1870s. By 1880, forty-five percent of San Francisco’s residents were foreign-born, and those with German roots were often among the merchants who dominated the wholesale and retail clothing, dry goods, and crockery enterprises in the city. Dohrmann always proclaimed that he arrived with practically no money, calling himself a “poor German boy” who was teased about his strange clothes. Despite a lack of formal schooling, he had command of the English language. Because he could readily communicate with native-born English speakers, he was able to build a merchandising/import business for his German- and non-German-speaking neighbors, as well as serve as a volunteer for many of the city’s philanthropic organizations.[15]

Dohrmann’s first job was clerking in a grocery store located at Fifth and Howards Streets in San Francisco. When he first approached the store owner, he was told that someone else had just been hired. Dohrmann did not take “no” for an answer, and instead made himself busy around the store. When the new employee did not show up after two or three hours, the owner gave Dohrmann the job instead. He worked there until September 30, 1862, when he moved across the bay to Oakland and clerked at a store at Third and Broadway near the city’s waterfront. Vendors were always telling him to start his own business, so he created his first “store” with a board across two barrels. He sold five cups and saucers at a profit.[16]

On February 1, 1864, Dohrmann opened his own general merchandise store with a partner, G. Larmarche, at Seventh and Broadway in Oakland. Looking for a profitable site, they situated the shop at the end of the railroad line that started at Hunter’s Point in San Francisco. Three years later, on February 1, 1867, Dohrmann abandoned this enterprise and joined with his step-brother, Adolph, to establish Washington Mills, a manufacturer of breakfast foods, located near the San Francisco waterfront at Washington and Drum Streets. Following the practice of many Germany immigrants, he sought funding for his new business from a banker who he had befriended during his voyage from Panama to San Francisco. He approached his new friend who agreed to loan him the necessary $4,000 to $5,000 (approximately $63,000 – $78,000 in 2011$) in startup capital. Dohrmann wrote out a note for the amount, but the banker, acknowledging Dohrmann’s reputation for honesty and business acumen, handed the note back to him and said, “You keep the note.” Dohrmann sold his interest in Washington Mills to Adolph in October of 1868, who continued the business until his death in 1877.[17]

F.W. Dohrmann’s career merchandising crockery began on October 1, 1868, when he became a partner in Bernhard Nathan’s crockery business, B. Nathan & Company, located at Sacramento and Kearney Streets in San Francisco. In 1863, Nathan had acquired a business founded by Adolph Hirsch in 1850.[18] Dohrmann in later years said he always followed a personal maxim based on a poem, “Will, work, watch and wait,” while conducting his business:

Will what’s right for those around you; They in turn will wish you well. Work in earnest: look before you; Work done well will surely tell. Watch yourself for time will try you; Walk the path of duty straight. Wait! Success will surely meet you; only will, work, watch and wait.[19]

Over the years, he built up the B. Nathan business by expanding its operations and purchasing established businesses, eventually creating the Dohrmann Commercial Company. This parent company had a wholesale component, Dohrmann Hotel Supply, and a retail department, Dohrmann’s (originally Nathan-Dohrmann), located on Union Square in San Francisco. In addition, the parent company oversaw retail subsidiaries in Stockton, Los Angeles, San Jose and Honolulu, Hawaii. The company imported and sold fine china, flatware, and crystal from Europe, principally Germany, to meet both wholesale and retail demands from California’s growing population of business owners and consumers.[20]

Dohrmann and Nathan began expanding their crockery business four years after Dohrmann joined the company. They purchased the retail business of R.A. Swan in 1872, and Dohrmann and Nathan enlarged their facility to accommodate the new stock. Three years later B. Nathan & Company expanded into a three-story building built for them at 128-130 Sutter Street. By 1881, the wholesale department of the company needed more space, so it expanded into another three-story annex connected to the rear of the store on Sutter Street. The next year, the partners opened a special “art room” for their customers, the first such facility established in San Francisco. When Bernhard Nathan felt that the American manufacturers of pottery could not adequately supply the business, he moved back to Germany in 1881 to set up a permanent headquarters to purchase the necessary stock and then send it to California for sale. Salesmen’s notebooks from that time show that Nathan supervised sales contacts with firms located in Leipzig, Dresden, Vienna, Berlin, Breslau, and various English cities. German immigrants often established international business networks of this type with friends and family overseeing various branches in Europe and the Americas.[21]

In 1886 F.W. Dohrmann’s wife, Josephine, commented to him, “It’s time you got your name up there” on the company masthead. The name was amended to Nathan, Dohrmann & Company and the change was announced to the public on April 1, 1887. At the same time, the company expanded and added R.A. Swan’s hotel and wholesale crockery business to the retail branch that Nathan and Dohrmann had acquired from him five years earlier. On July 1, 1887, the company’s financial statements indicated a net worth of $138,187 (approximately $3.4 million in 2011$) including merchandise valued at $163,845 and receivables worth $59,650.[22] F.W.’s eldest son, A.B.C. Dohrmann, joined the firm as a clerk in 1884 and was made a partner four years later. F.W.’s second son, Fred. W. Dohrmann Jr., joined the firm in 1889. The company was essentially family owned, but F.W. chose to incorporate it as Nathan-Dohrmann Company that year with himself as president, A.B.C. as vice president, Fred Dohrmann Jr. as secretary, H. Weiner as treasurer, and his sister, Blanca D. Paulsen, as an additional director. Blanca had followed F.W. Dohrmann to San Francisco after the death of her husband, Julius, and thereafter was involved in the business as a buyer.[23]

In 1891, the company expanded again by adding the neighboring properties at 122-123 Sutter Street, remodeling the buildings, and dividing the business into separate departments including Dohrmann Hotel Supply. Business continued to be profitable, and by 1899, the Dohrmann management team included F.W. Dohrmann’s sister, Blanca D. Paulsen, and sons Fred Dohrmann Jr. and A.B.C. Dohrmann. In 1903, the company moved into a six-story building connected to the rear of the Sutter Street store, and the following year, the firm’s officers leased a warehouse for the commercial side of their venture. On November 21, 1904, the company reorganized and incorporated as Dohrmann Commercial Company. The firm focused on importing and merchandising fine china, crystal, and flatware. Wholesale business with hotels and resorts was conducted through the firm’s Dohrmann Hotel Supply subsidiary, and retail business continued through the Nathan-Dohrmann subsidiary in San Francisco and through subsidiaries in other California cities.[24]

Besides acquiring businesses within the city of San Francisco, Dohrmann’s strategy for expanding his retail crockery business included establishing subsidiaries in the California hinterland. He investigated growing concerns in other cities, identified ones with a profitable future, and then acquired them while retaining the local proprietors, both German- and native-born, as officers and incorporating them into the Dohrmann management team. The first subsidiary was Yost-Dohrmann Company in Stockton, California, organized in 1895. F.W. Yost became interested in the crockery business as early as 1883 and became manager of the Crystal Palace Store owned by C. Behrns. The business was sold to W.G. Bar upon the death of Behrens in 1885 and in 1894, business was profitable enough to move to larger quarters. In 1895, Nathan-Dohrmann bought the company and named Yost as a general manager and later a partner. In 1898, the company was incorporated as Yost-Dohrmann Crockery Company, but after they expanded the product line to include household items, they dropped crockery from the company name. In 1906 they moved into larger headquarters. They were very successful as their sales increased from $34,514 in 1905 to $53,451 in 1908.[25]

Dohrmann established another subsidiary, Parmelee-Dohrmann Company, in Los Angeles in 1899. Z.L. Parmelee began as a clerk in a grocery store in 1878 under owner C.W. Gibson. In 1891, the establishment converted to glassware and crockery merchandizing, and Parmelee purchased the retail end of the business. In 1898, he was looking to retire, but Dohrmann wired him that he was interested in the business and was sure they could work well together. They created a new firm encompassing both their interests located at 232 South Spring Street. When F.W. Dohrmann retired as a director in 1905, sons A.B.C. and Fred Jr. became directors in their father’s stead. The firm grew from sixteen employees to 125 by 1906. F.W. Dohrmann attended the opening of the new store on Broadway in 1906.[26]

In 1899, Dohrmann created a subsidiary in San Jose, California, and the following year another in Honolulu, Hawaii. In San Jose, he merged with W. Trinkler’s Palace Crockery. Mr. Trinkler previously had been a department head at Nathan-Dohrmann Company in San Francisco. He believed that his company needed Nathan-Dohrmann representation in the English, French, German, and Italian markets. Dohrmann installed Emil Deutsch as manager. Deutsch had been trained in crockery and household furnishings at the Emporium, a department store under the Dohrmann commercial umbrella. Like Dohrmann’s operations in Los Angeles and Stockton, this business was successful with sales increasing from $29,988 in 1905 to $63,719 in 1908.[27] In 1900, Dohrmann bought a controlling interest in W. W. Dimond & Co., Ltd. in Honolulu. In addition to overseeing the business, he was instrumental in organizing the Honolulu Merchants Association. Although he resigned from the boards of directors of these subsidiaries in 1905, Dohrmann kept a close eye on their operations. For example, he made an inspection trip to Dimond Co. on his return trip from Japan in 1908.[28]

Dohrmann believed that employees should be treated with justice tempered with kindness, and his philosophy informed his relationship with his workers. In 1901, for example, during a strike of restaurant workers, metal workers, and teamsters, he reminded San Francisco merchants that they generally should not reject the right of labor unions to exist and represent their members. Despite Dohrmann’s retirement from management, he used his influence to create an employee association within the Dohrmann business constellation in 1910. The association oversaw working conditions for employees. New employees had thirty days in which they could join the association. Initially, a small number joined but by 1913, almost all the employees had become members. In 1912, on the fiftieth anniversary of Dohrmann’s arrival in San Francisco, he, together with Bernhard Nathan and Blanca Paulsen, sent up a pension fund for the benefit of Dohrmann Company personnel. On Nathan’s eightieth birthday a year later, Dohrmann and his sister set up a $60,000 fund to benefit employees in case of illness or emergency.[29] He bequeathed $18,000 to be distributed to the employees of the Dohrmann companies.[30] Employee Penelope Murphy recalled that he maintained a very close relationship with all his co-workers. She reported that he called the women, “my girls,” demonstrating his personal interest and concern for their welfare.[31]

F.W. Dohrmann looked for other potentially profitable enterprises in San Francisco in addition to his successful Dohrmann Commercial Company. The movement towards creating major department stores reached Northern California in the late nineteenth century, and Dohrmann realized that it was an opportune time to open one in his new home. He believed that the convenience of one building with separate departments, luxurious amenities such as attractive restrooms, resting and sitting rooms, art rooms, and beautiful – often fantastic – décor would appeal to middle-class shoppers, not just the very wealthy. Marketing would target the middle class with such attractions as a tearoom where customers could dine while listening to an orchestra. He was attracted to the system of marked and fixed prices and money-back guarantees that signified a degree of trust between merchants and customers. Dohrmann joined with German and non-German associates to establish the Emporium department store in 1896. The partners approached an existing business, the Golden Rule Bazaar, and persuaded the owners to expand and incorporate new tenants, including some Nathan-Dohrmann departments. Although the public saw a united store, the various departments operated initially as tenants, paying the Emporium rents that covered such costs as advertising and janitorial services. Located in the Parrott Building on Market Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets, the Emporium was “gigantic” with each department larger than a single establishment offering the same goods outside the store.[32]

While managing the Emporium, the tenants and employees of the company recognized F.W. Dohrmann’s honesty and sense of justice and enlisted his aid in righting perceived wrongs on several occasions. In August of 1896, there was a conflict between the Emporium Department Store Owners Board of Managers and the tenants over rental charges. Tenants believed the Emporium should pay a larger share of the overall costs for operating the store. Dohrmann offered to resign his position on the board in order to mediate the conflict, but his fellow directors refused to accept his resignation. A compromise with the tenants was reached on December 8, 1896. Dohrmann ultimately stepped down from the Board, but he stayed in close touch with board matters through his son, A.B.C. Dohrmann, who was elected in his place. The second instance was in the spring of 1897. F.W. Dohrmann joined with tenants critical of President Feist and General Manager Harper’s management of the store. They stated that Feist and Harper were impossible to work with. Dohrmann prevailed on the board to fire both men. Dohrmann exercised his influence a third time in May of 1897, when tenants asked him to work out an arrangement with the Parrott Building owners, and executives from the Golden Rule Bazaar, to accommodate tenants when their leases expired. He remained at the Emporium running the crockery department during the negotiations and eventually presented a reorganization plan that fully merged the Golden Rule Bazaar under the Emporium umbrella. The purpose of the plan, he explained, was to operate with a harmony of purpose. The new corporation included family members, plus Colonel M. Hecht, Albert Dernham, Henry Dernham, and William Kaufman. F.W. returned to the board of directors. Another test came in 1909 while F.W. Dohrmann was serving as a director of the Emporium and A.B.C. Dohrmann was overseeing the store’s operations. When one of the founders, Col. Hecht, died, President Henry Dernham felt he was not treated fairly. F.W. Dohrmann disagreed and said if Dernham would not rescind his complaints, he would quit. The board rejected his resignation and instead forced Dernham to resign. A new president was announced in the San Francisco Chronicle in November.[33]

Another successful business venture for F.W. Dohrmann was the organization of the San Francisco Hotel Company on May 11, 1901, to open and operate the famous St. Francis Hotel. He served as the first president of the company until 1905. The trustees of the estate of Charles Crocker commissioned the hotel for the benefit of Crocker’s three young grandchildren. Located on Union Square, they aimed to create a luxury destination that would make San Francisco the “Paris of the West.” At the opening of the Hotel on March 24, 1904, politicians, businessmen, and society leaders marveled that each room had an outside window, telephone, and bathroom. When he left for Germany in 1905, Dohrmann resigned as president of the hotel company but remained on the board of directors.[34]

On October 3, 1903, the San Francisco Chronicle described F.W. Dohrmann as “the busiest man in San Francisco… [he] does the work of ten men without turning hair.” The article quoted him as saying, “I learned long ago that there are no such things as details… Everything is a matter of importance.”[35] All this activity took a toll on F.W. Dohrmann’s health, forcing him to resign as an officer of Dohrmann Commercial Company in 1905 and a director of the company’s various retail subsidiaries. He left for Germany on April 22, 1905, for a vacation and a respite from the stress of his many business activities, but he remained a company director and maintained a strong interest in the firm’s continuing expansion.[36] San Francisco’s fire and earthquake on April 18, 1906, however, cut short his European holiday.

The catastrophe destroyed the facilities of Nathan-Dohrmann and Dohrmann Commercial Company. It was not the first time that fire had damaged these businesses as a blaze on Sutter Street the previous year had caused heavy losses. Although Dohrmann was in Europe, he kept in constant communication with his son, Fred Dohrmann Jr. When fire broke out following the earthquake, Fred Jr. went to the yet unburned facilities on Sutter Street and met with the heads of the departments and the company’s teamsters. They gathered papers and records and sent them to different parts of the city. As the fire spread, Fred Jr. relocated the company to the home of J.F. Plagemann, his father-in-law, at 1090 Page Street. A notice in the newspaper informed employees that they should report to the Page Street address. Dohrmann Commercial Company and Nathan-Dohrmann Company rented the home from Mr. Plagemann and conducted business there until the end of June when Nathan-Dohrmann moved to Van Ness Avenue near California Street. Illustrating the chaos in the city following the disaster, one of the directors would travel across the bay to Oakland each day to bring back foodstuffs and the janitor would walk to the foot of the hill below the house to fetch water so that the employees could be assured a lunchtime meal. F.W. Dohrmann rushed back from Europe and arrived in San Francisco on May 18, 1906. He reported that many in Germany were panic stricken by the prospect of losing remittances sent to them by family members living in San Francisco. He was a firm believer in the future of the city and became involved heavily in financing its reconstruction. Dohrmann Commercial Company, through its insurance coverage and financial assets, was able to rebuild quickly and continued its acquisition program by purchasing the stock of the Albert Fick Company in 1907. That same year, the paid capital of the company increased from $750,000 to $1,000,000 with earnings of $150,000.[37] In 1908, Dohrmann moved the firm’s headquarters to a leased facility at Geary and Stockton Streets and situated the retail business there the following year.[38]

After his return, and as a member of the board of directors for the Emporium, F.W. Dohrmann had a strong interest in rebuilding the department store he had helped to found. Although the earthquake and fire destroyed most of the original Emporium building on Market Street, its façade proved so strong that the dynamiters attempting to create firebreaks to extinguish the conflagration were unable to bring it down. President Henry Dernham moved quickly to recover from the disaster and took immediate steps to rebuild the store. Less than a week after the fire, a temporary store was situated in a mansion located on Van Ness Avenue. A porch was quickly constructed around the house to provide additional space. Signs proclaimed that it was California’s largest and America’s greatest department store. The Emporium was rebuilt in its old location on Market Street, one of the first large stores to return after the fire, and the new structure included a large dome on the main floor covering a café and pavilion where bands gave concerts on Saturday nights. The rebuilt store included a basement with lower-priced goods gathered from every department. New policies regarding customer relations included eliminating price comparisons in advertisements and stressing that the Emporium was a “money back store.”[39]

After the old and elegant St. Francis Hotel was destroyed in the April 1906 earthquake and fire. the trustees were anxious to rebuild it. F.W. Dohrmann was still on the board of directors of the firm, but the trustees enlisted him to serve as vice president. After joining the company in June 1906, he helped oversee its reconstruction, and he was among those who attended the opening of the “new” St. Francis on December 1, 1907. The city’s leaders marveled that the rebuilt hotel recaptured all the glamour and splendor of the old hotel. Dohrmann continued serving as the firm’s vice president and a director until his death in 1914.[40]

When Dohrmann joined Bernhard Nathan in 1868, he used the lessons he had learned both as an immigrant and as an observer of American consumer marketing practices to build their business. Like other successful newcomers, he merged the German qualities of a family-focused, community-involved life with the aggressive merchandizing practices of his Yankee contemporaries. He saw the growth potential of marketing imported fine china, crystal, and flatware in San Francisco and elsewhere in California and used the strategy of acquiring existing concerns to expand his business. He also met San Franciscans’ demands for luxury and middle-class marketplaces in the Nathan-Dohrmann and Emporium stores, as well as through the St. Francis. At the same time, Dohrmann did not forget his experiences in troubled Schleswig or while clerking in stores in Iowa or California, remembering to treat fellow workers and employees with respect. When acquiring companies, for example, he always kept the local partners involved rather than supplanting them with outside authorities. Dohrmann ultimately succeeded by balancing successful marketing with a concern for, and involvement in, developing San Francisco’s future.

Personality, Social Status, and Networks

F.W. Dohrmann faithfully followed his personal philosophy of giving back to his community through voluntary and financial contributions to German and non-German philanthropic organizations in San Francisco. The Chronicle quoted him as saying, “I alternate business with public duties.”[41] German immigrants led many of San Francisco’s volunteer organizations by participating in their causes and supporting them financially. They gained ready acceptance by the broader population of the city due to their involvement in these activities and their dedication to hard work and moral behavior. The native born did not feel threatened; therefore, the Germans could operate actively in San Francisco’s public sphere.[42] As a founder, member, or officer of both German and non-German philanthropies, Dohrmann was not reluctant to play a leading role with the organizations in which he was involved.

Immediately upon his arrival in San Francisco in 1862, Dohrmann joined the German General Benevolent Society and remained active in its causes throughout his life. The society was founded in 1854 to help San Francisco’s German-speaking immigrants find work, shelter, clothing, and health care. Anyone who spoke German was invited to join and interact with fellow newcomers. Dohrmann served as secretary and vice president and was elected as a director in 1870. Both he and his wife joined the German Ladies Benevolent Society auxiliary when it was organized the same year. In 1876, fire destroyed the Society’s German hospital, and newspapers reported that thousands of people had to rush to the scene to transport the patients to safety. Dohrmann was instrumental in raising the $18,241 needed to rebuild the hospital, which reopened in 1878.[43] In 1903, he was named a director of the German Benevolent Society’s Golden Jubilee, and the following year, he served on the executive committee of the society. The Golden Jubilee celebrated fifty years of philanthropic work, and Dohrmann helped the society to host a celebration where seven thousand participants gathered at the Mechanic’s Pavilion for orchestral music, choruses, and peasant dances. Four thousand members of the society attended, and to show their loyalty both to their new and old homes, all rose in response to strains of “America” and “Die Wacht am Rhein.”[44]

Another German-language association, the Deutsches Altenheim von San Francisco, was founded in 1890 to build a retirement home for German immigrants. Dohrmann was an active member in the association from its beginning. His leadership of the association’s 1894 Midwinter Fair was instrumental to its great success as a fundraising activity. In 1908, the retirement home was destroyed by fire, but Dohrmann and the leaders of the Altenheim raised funds to rebuild it in the same location.[45]

F.W. Dohrmann was also active in causes dedicated to improving San Francisco’s physical landscape. In 1887, he founded and chaired the Alameda Improvement Association. In 1890, Mayor James Phelan appointed him temporary chairman of the California State Association for the Storage of Flood Waters in San Francisco. In 1898, he became a charter member and treasurer of the California Water and Forest Association and was designated a life member in 1901. His German-American heritage influenced his city beautification efforts. He played a role in situating and constructing a memorial monument to German literary greats Goethe and Schiller in Golden Gate Park in 1901. It was called a “testimonial of the love of our fatherland” in the San Francisco Call. In 1905, Dohrmann became a charter member of the Association for the Improvement and Adornment of San Francisco. In 1909, Mayor Edward Taylor appointed him president of the San Francisco Park Commission, and he served in that office until he was removed by Mayor Patrick McCarthy in 1910. The same year, U.S. President Howard Taft appointed him to the San Francisco Endowment Commission.[46]

Close to his business interests was Dohrmann’s involvement in organizing and founding the Merchants Association of San Francisco in 1894. He served as its president until 1901. He remained actively involved in the association both before and after his retirement as an officer in the Dohrmann companies in 1905. At the organization’s tenth anniversary celebration, Dohrmann spoke and described himself as only one of the initial organizers, disclaiming the title of founder. By that time, membership had grown to 300 participants. In 1911, he engineered a merger between the Merchants Association, the Downtown Association, the Board of Trade and the Merchants Exchange to form the California Development Board to advertise and promote California products. At his death, the Merchants Association passed a resolution of condolence for his family, which described him as a man of “exceptional ability, unselfish devotion, public spirit, [and] a patriotic citizen.”[47]

Even after his retirement from the business sphere, Dohrmann sought to promote international trade. In 1908, he traveled to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce as part of a thirty-member delegation from ten chambers of commerce along the Pacific Coast. The trip’s purpose was to secure improved trade relations between the two nations. He traveled via Honolulu, visiting the W. W. Diamond Company on his return in December.[48]

Dohrmann also traveled to Berlin in August 1912 as a delegate of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Company. San Franciscan businessmen were anxious to promote trade along the west coast of California that would result from the completion of the Panama Canal in 1915. They planned to create a major international exhibition showcasing the reconstruction of the city following the 1906 earthquake and fire with exhibits from both the United States and around the world. Dohrmann was heavily involved in organizing the exposition. He was appointed chairman of the committee to nominate the company’s thirty-member board of directors and was a member of the five-member board of trustees, which held voting power over all the shareholders, as well as a member of the exposition’s ways and means committee. Unfortunately, Dohrmann died before he could see the international festival’s successful display of exhibits from the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America.[49]

Although he lacked formal schooling, Dohrmann was keenly interested in the field of education and played an active role in the governance of the University of California at Berkeley after he was appointed regent in 1903. He was a member of the Wheeler Gesellschaft, a society instituted by the university’s president with the goal of investigating international standards of instruction. In 1911, he became a life member of the College Equal Suffrage League, the University of California auxiliary of the National Women’s Suffrage Association. His will included a $5,000 bequest to faculty members at Berkeley. He also joined both the Southwestern Historical Quarterly and the American Academy of Political and Social Science a year before his death.[50]

Like many German newcomers, Dohrmann was not interested in pursuing an elected position in the San Francisco city government but he maintained an interest in government operations in the city. In 1896, he helped found the San Francisco Charter Association and served as vice president of the Committee of 100 that formulated the new city charter adopted the following year. In 1907, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approached Dohrmann about serving as mayor following their ouster of Mayor Eugene Schmidt due to an extortion conviction, but Dohrmann refused for health reasons. In 1911, he became a member of the municipal conference that ultimately nominated Mayor James Rolph. In 1912, he became a member of the Endorsement Committee of Charitable Associations.[51]

Despite major volunteer and financial commitments to philanthropic institutions, Dohrmann still had time to enjoy memberships in both German and non-German cultural organizations. In 1900 he joined the San Francisco Art Association perhaps due to the instillation of artwork at Nathan-Dohrmann and the Emporium. Pursuing an interest in music, in 1903 he joined the Loring Club, San Francisco’s oldest musical association, and he became an associate member in 1909. The officers of the Saengerfest, a German singing competition, named him an honorary member in 1910. He joined the Unitarian Club in 1898, and members enjoyed his addresses such as the one he gave in 1908 on the relationship between merchants and the law in Germany based on his experiences there while pursuing equitable insurance payments.[52]

The most public expression of F.W. Dohrmann’s concern for his city was his volunteer work related to the reconstruction of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. After he returned from Europe in May, he was immediately appointed to the finance committee for the city’s restoration. Although the committee attempted to use judiciously the funds available to them, $3,600,000 in cash and $3,000,000 in pledges, they could not fulfill all of the 8,900 applications for financial relief from local citizens.[53] As chairman of the rehabilitation committee, Dohrmann appealed to the city and the nation for more money. In November, he traveled to Europe as part of a delegation representing the Policyholder’s League to meet with German and Austrian insurance companies that had not honored claims from city residents and businesses. Dohrmann felt that the European companies had abandoned San Francisco. The delegation met with success, and many of the German policyholders received payments. The inflow of capital, together with payments from British insurance companies, helped to accelerate the reconstruction of the city, but also reduced the flow of gold into the United States for investment purposes, which may have contributed to the severe recession of 1907.[54]

While serving on the finance committee, Dohrmann also served as chairman of the board of trustees of the Relief and Red Cross Funds. The National Red Cross granted him the Red Cross medal to recognize his work on December 8, 1908, and he was chosen as a special representative to the International Convention of the Red Cross, which met in Washington, D.C., in May 1912. He served as president of the San Francisco Chapter of the Red Cross until his death in 1914.[55]

Dohrmann consistently used his fund-raising skills both before and after the 1906 disaster but he also advocated for victims of other disasters during his lifetime. In 1875, he persuaded the Dohrmann Company to donate $5,000 to flood victims in Marysville, California.[56] In 1910, Governor Gage appointed him to the Committee for the Sufferers of the Galveston, Texas, flood. He served on committees for assisting sufferers from the Italian Earthquake in 1908, the Mexican Flood in 1909, the Paris Flood in 1910, and the Ohio Valley Flood in 1913. Perhaps motivated by his son’s service as a member of the fighting force, he helped raise funds to facilitate the return of the California Volunteers from the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.[57]

F.W. Dohrmann, despite his many business and philanthropic activities, was devoted to his family first. His descendants remembered him as both cheerful and fun loving, yet sober and thoughtful where important issues were involved. He and his wife, Josephine, were always close and loving. They created a home in which initiative was encouraged but where German discipline was also lovingly administered. They ran a German household and insisted that their children and grandchildren become fluent in both German and English. Descendants recalled gathering on Sundays at the F.W. Dohrmann home to enjoy midday German dinners and listen to performances and recitations in German and English by the various Dohrmann children and grandchildren. His son, A.B.C. Dohrmann, recalled F.W.’s devotion to his wife. He reported that after Josephine died in March 1914, F.W. lost the will to live, his health deteriorated, and he finally passed away a few months later in July.[58]


On July 18, 1914, the German-language newspaper in San Francisco, the CaliforniaDemokrat, printed a tribute to F.W. Dohrmann:

The somber majesty of death has yesterday dealt a blow which wounded not only one of our best known families, not only the members of our German colony but our whole community when it took from us one of our most honored citizens, F.W. Dohrmann.[59]

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce described him as a “strong and foremost leader in the upbuilding [sic] of the city… a moral, philanthropic civic force in the commercial life of San Francisco who bequeathed to us the height of ideals, the depth of convictions and the breath of his interests.”[60]

Family members received accolades and memorials from cities across California and the nation, from New York to Honolulu, and from Berlin, Hamburg, London, Milan, Dresden, and other communities in Europe. Dohrmann was praised in Japanese newspapers, and the family received letters from Tokyo and Yokohama. An emissary of Kaiser Wilhelm, Franz Rapp, attended the funeral services in full uniform and presented a floral wreath.[61] Dohrmann personified the German immigrant who could merge his inborn industry and care for others with an American-style interest in business and culture to create opportunities for success for himself and his fellow German and non-German San Franciscans.

Remarkably, Dohrmann appears solely as a footnote in contemporary histories of San Francisco, despite belonging to one of its largest, non-native populations in the nineteenth century. According to historian Kathleen Neils Conzen, scholars have done a poor job of integrating Germans into histories of the West.[62] In addition, the emotional upheavals of World War One caused Germans to subsume their culture so that they “eventually ‘sank’ into the American landscape… winds of war blew it down.”[63] This phenomenon may explain Dohrmann’s disappearance from accounts of San Francisco’s past. In addition, he died less than one month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, and he may have been unjustly identified with the United States’ eventual World War One adversary through the memorial sent by Kaiser Wilhelm. The accolades he received at his death celebrated his activities and achievements in the commercial, social, and cultural world of San Francisco, and he deserves to be remembered because of them.


[1] San Francisco Bulletin, September 9, 1914; San Francisco Chronicle, July 9, 1914.

[2] “Crockery” was a nineteenth-century term used to describe china, crystal, and sometimes flatware employed at the dining table, as well as some object d’art. Dohrmann was usually referred to by his initials, a common practice at the time. His family usually called him “Fritz.” Frederick W. Dohrmann Family Papers, 1896-1936, BANC MS 91/29c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (hereafter Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library); Robert W. Dohrmann, interviews by Carole Cosgrove Terry, September 18, 1998, and July 17, 1999 (hereafter Robert W. Dohrmann, interviews).

[3] See Kerry A. Odell and Marc D. Weidenmier, “Real Shock, Monetary Aftershock: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the Panic of 1907,” Journal of Economic History 64:1 (December, 2004): 1002-1027.

[4] Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library. Robert W. Dohrmann, interviews.

[5] San Francisco Bulletin, September 9, 1914. All currency conversions based on Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present,” MeasuringWorth, 2015, using the Consumer Price index.

[6] Prussia and Denmark both claimed possession of the duchy, and the Danes ceded it to Prussia in 1864. Historian Benedict Anderson explains that cultural and ethnic ties did not necessarily confirm to political boundaries but united similar people together. The Dohrmann family actively participated in German activities, learned the German language, and joined German-language associations despite F.W. Dohrmann’s birthplace in Denmark. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), 6-7, 14, 19; William Carr, Origins of Wars of German Unification (New York: Longman, 1991), 45; Rűdiger Hachtmann, “Success and Failure: The Revolution of 1848,” in Richard Rűrup, ed., The Problem of Revolution in Germany 1789-1989 (Oxford, Oxford International Publishers, Ltd., 2000), 27-44, here 45; Frank P. Tipton, A History of Modern History since 1815 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 86, 109.

[7] Carole Jane Cosgrove and Emilie Dohrmann Cosgrove, California Potpourri: 1852-1936 (Los Angeles; Privately Printed, 1966), 93.

[8] Robert W. Dohrmann, interviews.

[9] California Journal und Sontags, August 11, 1872; Robert W. Dohrmann, interviews.

[10] Carr, 34, 38-42.; Cosgrove, Potpourri, 93; Kathleen Neils Conzen, “Germans,” in Stephen Thernstrom, ed. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 410; Hachtmann, 45; Tipton, 86, 109; Richard Mack Walker, Germany and the Emigration: 1816-1885 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), 153- 155.

[11] Conzen, “Germans,” 411; Cosgrove, Potpourri, 83; Frederick W. Dohrmann, Business Events and Activities, May 20, 1912, F.W. Dohrmann and B. Bickel Papers, MS 460, Library of the California Historical Society (hereafter CHS Library), San Francisco, California; Josiah Flynt, “The German and the German American,” Atlantic Monthly 78:479 (November 1896): 655-664, here 656; Walter D. Kampoefner, Wolfgang Helbich, and Ulrich Sommer, News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home. trans. Susan Carter Vogel (Ithaca: Cornell University of Press, 1991), 10; San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1914;

[12] F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Kamphoefner and Helbich, Germans in the Civil War: Letters They Wrote Home, trans. Votel (Chapel Hill: The University of North California Press, 2006), 5-6; Eugene P. Moehring, Urbanism and Empire in the Far West (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2004), 5.

[13] Although his given name was Andrew Bernhard Charles Dohrmann, he was always referred to publicly by his initials, A.B.C., and his family called him Bernhard. Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library. Robert Dohrmann, interviews.

[14] Cosgrove, Potpourri, 94, 103; Fred Dohrmann, Jr. Letter to John F. Forbes, May 27, 1935, Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, October 25, 1886.

[15] According to the United States Censuses of 1852 and 1860, the population of San Francisco was 13,785 in 1852 and 56,828 in 1860, an increase of 43,000 over the eight years. The German-born population increased from 1,634 to 9,550, and represented 16.81 percent of San Francisco’s 1860 population. Carole Cosgrove Terry, Die Deutschen in Kalifornien: Germans in Urban California, 1850-1860 (Ph.D. diss., University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2012), 10; Carl Abbott, How Cities Won the West: Four Centuries of Urban Change in Western North America (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008), 58-59; Peter Randolph Decker, Fortunes and Failures: White Collar Mobility in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 147; Rachel Davis-Dubois and Emma Schweppe, The Germans in American Life (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1972), 169, 171, 179; Annie Laure, “The Man Who Was,” San Francisco Examiner, July 22, 1914; Doris Muscatine, Old San Francisco: The Biography of a City from Early Days to the Earthquake (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975), 222.

[16] F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Robert Dohrmann, interviews; Laurie, “The Man Who Was,” San Francisco Examiner, July 22, 1914.

[17] Other than the general description, “breakfast foods,” the product produced by the Washington Mills is unknown. F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; San Francisco Abend Post, June 4, 1873; San Francisco Evening Bulletin, October 25, 1886; San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1914.

[18] F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library. Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1914.

[19] F.W. Dohrmann, Address at Parmelee-Dohrmann Co. opening, March 17. 1906; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library.

[20] The Co-Operator. (San Francisco: Dohrmann Company), August 1, 1914; Robert Dohrmann, interviews; Muscatine, Old San Francisco, 223.

[21] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; F.W. Dohrmann, Jr., Letter, Bancroft Library; San Francisco Abend Post, January 10, 1871.

[22] Approximately $4 million dollars and $1.5 million dollars, respectively, in 2011$.

[23] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; Cosgrove, Potpourri, 193; F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library. Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; San Francisco Chronicle, October 4, 1903.

[24] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library.

[25] Approximately $910,000 and $1.35 million dollars, respectively, in 2011$. The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library.

[26] F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library.

[27] Approximately $791,000 and $1.6 million dollars, respectively, in 2011$.

[28] F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; San Jose Mercury News, September 13, 1900, and February 5, 1905.

[29] Approximately $1.4 million dollars in 2011$.

[30] Approximately $418.000 in 2011$.

[31] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; Robert Dohrmann, interviews; William Issel, “Business, Power and Political Culture in San Francisco, 1900-1940,” Journal of Urban History 17:1 (November 11, 1989): 52-77, here 52; Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1913; San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, September 8, 1914; San Jose Mercury Herald, March 4, 1915.

[32] Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; Margarie Rosenberg, “A Sad Heart at the Department Store,” American Scholar (Spring 1985): 183-193, here 184-185; T. M. Watkins and C. R. Olmsted, Mirror of the Drum: An Illustrated History of San Francisco (San Francisco: Schrimshaw Press, 1976), 155.

[33] Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; Robert Dohrmann, interviews; San Francisco Chronicle, November 18, 1910.

[34] David Seifkin, Meet Me at the St. Francis: The First 75 Years of a Great San Francisco Hotel (San Francisco: St. Francis Hotel Corp., 1979), 10.

[35] San Francisco Chronicle, October 3, 1903.

[36] Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; Robert W. Dohrmann, interviews.

[37] Approximately $18.5 million to $24.7 million dollars and $3.7 million dollars, respectively, in 2011$.

[38] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; Cosgrove,Potpourri, 193; F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library.

[39] Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; Watkins and Olmsted, Mirror. 198.

[40] Seifkin, St. Francis, 10.

[41] San Francisco Chronicle, October 3, 1904.

[42] Decker, Fortunes, 243, 258; Glenna Mathews, “Forging a Cosmopolitan Civic Culture: The Regional Identity of San Francisco and Northern California,” in Many Wests: Place, Culture and Regional Identity, edited by David M. Wrobel and Michael Steiner (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997), 29.

[43] Approximately $400,000 in 2011$.

[44] Heinrich Kaufmann, Sixty Years of the German General Benevolent Society of San Francisco (1854-1914) (San Francisco: German Benevolent Society, 1914), 10, 20; Doris Linnenbach (Historian, German Ladies Benevolent Society) interview with the author, October 2, 2009; California Medical Center, “Making Milestones in the History of Healthcare” (accessed September 14, 2014); San Francisco Chronicle, September 12, 1903, February 5, 1904, and February 8, 1904; San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, January 22, 1870.

[45] Monica Clyde, “Germans and the California Dream,” (Paper presented at St. Mary’s College of California, January, 2009); The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1914.

[46] The Co-Operator, August 11, 1914; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; San Francisco Call, August 9, 1901, August 12, 1901; San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1914; San Jose Evening News, January 14, 1890.

[47] San Francisco Call, May 26, 1904; The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; “Oversize” Dohrmann Family Papers, 1896-1936, BNC MSS 91/29c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; Issel, “Business, Power and Culture,” 52; William Issel, “Citizens Outside the Government: Business and Urban Policy in San Francisco,” Pacific Historical Review Vol. 57 (January 1, 1988): 117-146, here 132.

[48] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1914.

[49]400th Anniversary of the Discovery of the Pacific Ocean by Balboa” (accessed April 28, 2014); Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1910; Overland Monthly and American West Magazine 11:1 (January, 1914): 1; San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1914.

[50] Approximately $116,000 in 2011$. The National Women’s Suffrage Association was founded by Maud W. Park and Inez Hays Gilmore in 1890 to recruit young, well-educated women to the cause of women’s suffrage. The College Equal Suffrage was established at the NWSA convention in 1906 and looked to establish chapters on college campuses. The University of California organization was formed in 1911. Sara H. Graham, Women’s Suffrage and the New Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 45-46; The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; San Jose Evening News, April 1, 1903; San Francisco Bulletin, September 8, 1914.

[51] Conzen, “Germans,” 421; Issel, “Citizens,” 132; San Francisco Chronicle,July 19, 1914; San Jose Mercury News, May 17, 1907, May 18, 1907.

[52] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; San Francisco Call, March 20, 1895.

[53] Approximately $93 million dollars and $77 million dollars, respectively, in 2011$.

[54] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914, F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; Odell and Weidenmier, “Real Shock,” 1003; San Jose Mercury, July 8, 1906, August 15, 1906.

[55] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; F.W. Dohrmann, Business Events, CHS Library; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library.

[56] Approximately $106,000 in 2011$.

[57] The Co-Operator, August 1, 1914; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library; San Francisco Bulletin, January 23, 1875; San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1914; Submission to the National Cyclopedia of America Biography, F. W. Dohrmann and B. Bickel Papers, MS 460, California Historical Society Library.

[58] Helen Dohrmann Van Blair, interview with the author, April 6, 1998; Robert W. Dohrmann, interviews.

[59] Translation of an article in the California Demokrat, July 19, 1914. Translator Anonymous. F.W. Memorial Scrapbook, author’s collection.

[60] Tribute by San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, July 24, 1914; Dohrmann Family Papers, Bancroft Library.

[61] F.W. Dohrmann Memorial Scrapbook; Oakland Tribune, July 21, 1914.

[62] Conzen, “Germans,” 406; Kathleen Neils Conzen, “Phantom Landscapes of Colonization: Germans in the making of Pluralist America,” in The German-American Encounter: Conflict and Cooperation between Two Cultures, 1800-2000, edited by Frank Trommler and Elliott Shore (New York: Berghahn Books, 2001), 10-11; Robert Dohrmann, interview; Issel and Cherney, San Francisco, 50; Roberta J. Park, “German Associational and Sporting Life in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, 1850-1900,” Journal of the West 26:1 (January, 1987): 47-65, here 48; San Francisco Bulletin, September 9, 1914.

[63] Conzen, “Phantom Landscapes,” 13.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Frederick William Dohrmann
  • Coverage 1842-1914
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 26, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018