Isaac Sanger (1836-1918)

Isaac and Lehman Sanger arrived in Texas six years after the Republic joined the Union. By the end of the nineteenth century, their firm, Sanger Bros., had become the largest department store in Texas and perhaps in the Southwest.

Updated: July 25, 2012

"Where are you from, young man?" inquired a stage coach driver leaving Houston on a spring day in 1857.
"Obernbreit, Bavaria," replied the stranger.
‘"What do you folks over there think of Texas? inquired the driver."
"That Texas is a land of promise, and that Texas has a great future. My brothers and I will open stores in north Texas. We plan to go forward with Texas."
[1]

Introduction

Isaac (born September 26, 1838, Obernbreit, Kingdom of Bavaria; died January 17, 1918, Sea Cliff, NY) and Lehman (born September 26, 1838, Obernbreit Kingdom of Bavaria; died March 10, 1911, Waco, TX) Sanger arrived in Texas six years after the Republic joined the Union and during living memory of the Alamo tragedy and San Jacinto victory. The brothers envisioned the development of the state and invested their money and lives in creating a business, Sanger Bros., that prospered as the state grew. The older brothers encouraged the younger brothers to immigrate to America and settle in Texas. After the Civil War, Isaac and Lehman opened the first Sanger Brothers shop in Millican, Texas, a small town a few miles north of Houston.[2] Their business followed the railroad north, and they eventually opening a grand dry goods store in Dallas. The family endured war, tragedies, and economic depressions but still succeeded beyond their aspirations. By the end of the nineteenth century, Sanger Bros. had become the largest department store in Texas and perhaps in the Southwest. As their company expanded, the brothers never faltered in their belief that fair treatment of customers and employees was the foundation of a successful business. Despite their eagerness to modernize, the brothers, however, failed to see that twentieth century businesses needed modern management systems, and their firm eventually faltered and was sold one year after Alex Sanger (born May 7, 1845, Obernbreit, Kingdom of Bavaria; died September 13, 1925, Dallas, TX), the youngest brother, died.

The Sangers Arrive in Texas

Shortly before the Civil War, German immigrant Isaac Sanger settled on the Texas plains north of Dallas and opened a mercantile establishment. Isaac’s move to Texas became the first step in the creation of Sanger Brothers department stores, and his successes — both before and after the Civil War — motivated his brothers to move to Texas. As soon as the war ended, the Houston and Texas Central Railroad began building a rail line north from Galveston and Houston. As the railroad extended the line, vast sections of inland Texas were opened to development. The Sanger brothers recognized the opportunities created by opening this new territory, and they grasped this opportunity to sell goods to the farmers in the region and to broker or export Texas farm products to the world market. To accomplish their aspirations they opened retail outlets in each temporary railroad terminus along the extending rail line. Beginning in Millican and Bryan, they soon had shops spreading north to Corsicana, Sherman, and Dallas. By 1875, Sanger Brothers Department stores had become the “largest retail and wholesale dry goods and clothing concern in the Southwest.”[3]

The story of Sanger Bros. Department stores begins in 1851 when Isaac Sanger left Bavaria and sailed to America. He spent several years working for relatives in Connecticut and New York. His brother Lehman Sanger arrived in the United States in 1854 and settled in New York. Their younger brother Philip (born September 11, 1841, Obernbreit, Kingdom of Bavaria; died April 22, 1902, Pasadena, CA) arrived three years later and settled in Savannah, Georgia. Each brother spent time learning English and becoming familiar with American customs and commercial practices.

By 1857, Isaac had saved enough money to open his own business. Since he believed that he could achieve economic and social success in Texas, he packed up his belongings and sailed to Galveston, Texas. From there he took a stagecoach, the only form of transportation available, north to McKinney, Texas. His goods followed by ox cart moving slowly over the rough Texas roads.[4] Upon arrival in McKinney, Isaac met another German immigrant who planned to open a mercantile establishment in the area. Realizing that their business prospects would be stronger if they combined their assets, the two men formed a partnership and opened a store under the name of Baum and Sanger.

Prior to the Civil War, adventurous merchants — including Jews — opened trading post and general stores in small communities where nearby farmers exchanged their surplus products and commodities such as cotton, furs, and hides for needed supplies. Baum and Sanger believed that other merchants in the area overcharged for the goods they sold to farmers and offered too little credit for cotton and other products they brokered for the growers. Instead, Baum and Sanger decided to limit their profits to one side of the transaction. They charged what they considered a fair price for their goods and gave credit at nearly the wholesale price.[5]  

Morris Lasker, a one-time partner and long-time friend of the Sangers, explained that in a society devoid of cash, farmers and trappers often bartered with shopkeepers for their needs, and Baum and Sanger and later Sanger Bros. readily participated in this type of trading. The Sangers accepted goods such as hides or cotton at market value less transportation costs and made a profit only on the goods they supplied to the farmer. This method of dealing with customers limited the profit on each transaction but increased their overall sales volume and thus the total profit they earned. Although this policy caused antagonism with other merchants in McKinney, it remained a principal business policy of Sanger Bros. until the end of the century.[6] 

Within a year or so, Baum and Sanger decided to move farther west to Weatherford, Texas, in Parker County. There on the frontier of Euro-American settlement, Isaac found opportunities not available to Jewish men in Europe — business success, adventure, and even danger. Shortly after arriving in Weatherford, he began participating in America’s democratic system and was elected Parker County Clerk. At the same time, he joined the Frontier Rangers, a group of lawmen organized to help protect the “lives and property of the pioneer citizens… from Indians and desperadoes.”[7] Within a few months, Baum and Sanger dissolved their partnership, and Isaac encouraged his brother Lehman to move to Texas. Lehman agreed, and when he arrived in Texas, Isaac sent him to open a branch of Isaac’s store in Decatur, Texas, about thirty-five miles north of Weatherford.

Life in pre-Civil War Texas was perilous and filled with hardships. Farms and settlements were thinly scattered in an arc extending southwest from Jefferson on the eastern Louisiana border to Galveston on the Gulf coast and San Antonio in the interior. In 1850, only about 212,000 people, including slaves (about 58,000), lived in Texas. Farmers from other southern states had migrated west and settled along Texas rivers and tributaries. However, few settlers moved more than 100 miles from the coast because transportation across Texas was difficult.  

In 1850, the old Spanish colonial settlement of San Antonio on the Texas frontier and the port of Galveston facing the outside world on the Gulf of Mexico were the largest cities in the state. Other towns sprang up along coach lines, river fords, and at crossroads. By 1850, just a few years after Texas joined the Union, the population of San Antonio reached 8,000, and the population of Galveston exceeded 5,000. However, no large urban area existed in north or central Texas. In fact, in 1850 the inland capital city of Austin only had a population of 854, and about twenty-five percent of the residents were slaves.

Southern culture flourished in eastern Texas and where cotton plantations proliferated, and Spanish culture survived along the Rio Grande River and north to San Antonio — areas originally inhabited by Spanish colonists. Along with strong southern and Spanish cultures, Texas in the 1850s also contained a thriving immigrant population. Encouraged by the Spanish, Mexican, and Texas governments, many German, Irish, and French settlers came to Texas hoping to find a better life than they could achieve or even imagine in Europe. By mid-century over 11,500 German immigrants called Texas home. At this time, only 5.4% of the total Texas population was German born, but many cities exhibited a strong German cultural influence since thirty-two percent of the urban population in Texas was German. Thus, Germans and German Jews were more apparent than their numbers would indicate, and this circumstance contributed to the visibility of German culture in some parts of the state. Furthermore, by 1860 the population of the state had tripled, and many of these new settlers were also European immigrants. These immigrants made Texas a more culturally diverse state than other southern states.

Most of these new German immigrants spread out in rural areas claiming small farms and forming German enclaves in the larger cities. In some areas, they also created predominantly German communities such as New Braunfels and Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country around San Antonio and La Grange in the area south of Austin. German Jews arrived with other German emigrants, and they all found a welcoming society in Texas. Some Germans, especially German Jews, remained in the port cities of Galveston and Port Lavaca or moved inland to commercial centers such as Victoria, Gonzales, and La Grange.[8]  

Despite the fact that its citizens were of diverse backgrounds, the frontier conditions in Texas created a cohesive white population. Each settler relied on other settlers for aid and protection because farm life was hazardous, and pioneers faced threats from roaming tribes of Native Americans. Farmers also needed urban merchants, often immigrants, to broker their commodities and provide goods the farmers could not produce for themselves. Thus, each sector of the society depended on the other for their welfare and economic prosperity. Such conditions contributed to the acceptance of newcomers no matter where they originated or which religion they professed.

European Jews were accepted into Texas society as equals, something not possible in European countries where laws restricted Jewish involvement in secular society; where rigid social structures prevented upward mobility; and where state-sponsored Christian religions prevailed. Texas had a fluid society and needed literate, hard-working settlers. Jews, who had been outcasts in Europe, felt welcomed in Texas, and because they brought such tangible assets as literacy, mercantile experiences, and financial connections to other markets around the United States and even in Europe, Texans welcomed them.

The Texas stores owned by Phillip and Lehman Sanger thrived until Lincoln was elected president, the southern state seceded, and war was declared. With the Civil War came a northern blockade of southern ports and a disruption of commerce. Even if the brothers had wanted to remain in business, it would have been difficult under such circumstances, especially on the edge of the frontier. Philip and Lehman joined the Confederate forces and Isaac’s ranger unit was soon mustered into the Confederate Army. Phillip Sanger chose to remain in Georgia.

After the end of the Civil War, the Sanger brothers returned to civilian life. They realized that the expanding rail lines were beginning to open up large sections of inland territory throughout central Texas. Prior to the war, Texas did not have reliable roads or railroads, nor were most Texas rivers navigable. Furthermore, in pre-Civil War Texas, the primary way to get cotton to market was to float the bales downriver. Consequently, cultivation of cotton, the primary agricultural product, had been confined to bottomlands near rivers. After the war, spreading railroads facilitated the growth of Texas agriculture and commerce. New communities sprang up as the railroads extended the tracks and as farmers settled farther from the coast. These farmers needed supplies and merchants to broker their cotton, and the Sanger brothers were ready to fill this role.[9]

Family and Ethnic Background

During the first half of the nineteenth-century, Bavarian Jews suffered under civil disabilities just as they did in many other areas of Europe. For example, Jews could not participate in civil life and only first-born sons could marry. Furthermore, Jews were prevented from pursuing many professions. Thus, most Jewish families subsisted as petty merchants, cattle traders, peddlers, and a few as craftsmen such as musicians or tailors. These restrictions, plus the promise offered by a free society in the United States, enticed many German Jews to immigrate to America. Around 1848 after a series of failed revolutions and the repressive crackdowns that followed these attempts to liberalize European governments, German Jews joined other Germans who left Europe. Although German-Jewish immigration had begun in the early decades of the nineteenth century, it increased throughout the middle decades of the nineteenth century because Jewish disabilities in Bavaria were not abolished until 1861, and even after that date, upward mobility was difficult.

The Sanger family originated from Obernbreit, Bavaria. Elias Sanger, the patriarch of the family, was born there about 1799, and he remained there until he and his wife immigrated to America in 1866. In about 1834, thirty-four-year-old Elias Sanger married twenty-year-old Babbette Mandelbaum-Heller from Dennenlohe, Bavaria, a nearby town.[10] Both Obernbreit and Dennnenlohe were small villages with few Jewish families. Most Jewish families in these communities survived as cattle dealers, butchers, and petty merchants.[11] Elias and his family worked on a small farm and cultivated a field and orchard where he grew grapes and other fruit. He and Babbette also owned several weaving looms. All the children learned to weave fabric, which was sold on market days. They also sold their farm produce and wine at the market.[12]   These enterprises provided just enough money to support their ever-growing family, and provide each child, especially the sons, with adequate schooling so they could read, write, and do calculations. While young, the sons were involved in commerce, and each son was expected to become self-supporting when they reached the age of fifteen.[13]   

Babbette’s brother, Jacob Heller, had immigrated to the United States prior to 1843, and he encouraged the Sanger’s older sons to join him in America. Isaac envisioned a bleak future for himself legally, economically, socially and religiously. With few options open to him, Isaac left Bavaria in 1851 and settled in New York. Lehman and Phillip remained at home but also prepared to leave for America to join their brother. Lehman arrived in the United States around 1854 and Phillip three years later. Isaac and Lehman both originally settled in New Haven, Connecticut and then moved to New York. Each brother spent their first few years in the United States learning English and becoming acquainted with American culture. Although Phillip landed in New York, he immediately traveled to Georgia where a cousin took him in.

Most of the Sanger brothers ended their education when they reached the age of fifteen. However, Samuel (born September 11, 1843, Markbreit, Kingdom of Bavaria; died December 18, 1919, Waco, TX) longed for a more advanced education. After his brothers left, he moved to nearby Würzburg, Bavaria, where he found a job to support himself. More importantly, he enrolled at the University of Würzburg and studied a broad range of subjects. In 1865 he left Würzburg to enter the Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, and just before he left Europe he was ordained as a rabbi.[14]

With the Civil War raging in the American South, the remaining family postponed their plans to leave Bavaria.[15] With the conclusion of the war, the brothers believed that they could support their parents through their business activities. In 1866, Isaac, Lehman and Philip sent for the rest of the family: brothers Sam, Alexander, David, and Jacob; sisters Sophia, Eda, and Bertha; and their parents Elias and Babbette. The family sailed on the Hansa from Bremen and arrived in New York on November 6, 1866.[16] Although all nine of the family members traveled on the same ship, they were not listed together in the passenger roster. It is possible that the elder Sangers traveled in a higher class passage than the children.

Business Development

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, settlers spread westward over the Appalachian Mountains. They carved out farms and gradually small settlements sprang up in these wilderness settings. Traders in these settlements created a new, all-purpose mercantile system replacing the prevailing system where various craftsmen sold only their own goods. These new all-purpose or general merchants opened shops in the frontier territory and sold a variety of goods because they were the only outlet in the areas. As the population increased along the East Coast, the all-purpose merchant evolved into specialty merchants.[17] However, specialization was impossible in the South and West and in areas with small populations. Even after the Civil War specialization was not possible in the small communities across Texas, so successful Texas merchants sold anything farmers needed and everything that they could sell at a profit. Some small-town merchants even offered small quantities of luxury goods such as silk or lace cloth or imported distilled liquors, but they primarily sold generic goods such as tobacco, flour, sugar, muslin fabrics, musical instruments, and work boots. The Sanger brothers business began as general-purpose merchants, but by the end of the century their business had evolved into dry-goods stores and eventually department stores.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, the Sanger brothers were confronted with several decisions. Isaac decided to return to northern Texas, but Lehman retrieved his savings from a friend in McKinney and headed south to Galveston.[18] However when he reached Millican, then a boom town at the northern end of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, he stopped to rethink his plans. Recognizing the opportunity available in this thriving market town, Lehman quickly opened a store with a small supply of goods. He sold his first stock of goods in one day and returned to Houston for another load. Within months, his success convinced him to invite Isaac to leave north Texas to join him.[19] 

Each man had some cash saved from their previous endeavors. They reinvested their savings in the Millican store and quickly prospered. Philip had stayed in Georgia after the war, but within a few months Lehman and Isaac persuaded him to join them in Texas. They sold everything a new settler or farmer might need: dry goods, bowie knives, hams, lard, harnesses, pistols, plows, saddles, and even musical instruments. During this time, Sangers preferred to sell for gold since the economic conditions in post-Civil War Texas were unstable and inflation was rampant. When they did accept paper money, they discounted it as much as thirty or forty percent.

Originally the brothers had replenished their Millican store from Houston. But competition in Houston made wholesale prices rise, so Isaac decided to go to New Orleans in search of more advantageous prices and a better selection of goods. From New Orleans, he sent back better quality and less expensive merchandises to his brothers. Thus, Sanger Bros. had an advantage over their competitors and the business flourished. Isaac traveled back and forth between New Orleans and Galveston attending auctions and making purchases for the store. Lehman and Phillip, along with their cousin Asher Mandelbaum from New Haven, Connecticut, staffed the store. The brothers maintained the same business philosophy they had operated under in Weatherford. They sold their goods for a fair, not inflated, price and gave farmers credit for their commodities at the price the brothers received for it in Galveston less the cost of freight. Later Sanger Bros. continued to lower their costs and incorporated a one-price policy and a mail-order system to serve customers who could not travel to a store. These policies broadened the company’s customer base and improved their service.

Convinced that the business would continue to grow and prosper, the Sanger brothers needed additional help and sent for the rest of the family. Everyone except Jake settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jake Sanger traveled directly to Texas so that he could begin working for his brothers. Soon David, the youngest brother, also set out for Texas. At this same time, Sanger Bros. opened a branch store in Bryan, Texas, the next terminus of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. [20]

As an early terminus of the rail line, Millican served settlers in surrounding areas and offered stage connections to north and west Texas. Additionally, farmers from north Texas sent their produce south by ox trains to Millican where they traded their goods for needed supplies or brokered their goods for cash. Millican also served as a trading post for both itinerant cowboys and Native Americans. With ox trains coming and going and itinerant drifters coming into town looking for work, Millican developed a reputation as a rowdy town. Finally by 1868 as result of violence between the white members of the Ku Klux Klan and black citizens of the town, the population of Millican began to decline. Most businesses, including Sanger Bros., closed their shops and moved elsewhere.[21]

In the fall of 1867 tragedy struck the Sanger family. Yellow fever, a constant summer scourge across the South, hit Bryan, Texas, and within five days Jake Sanger (age twenty-two) and David Sanger (age sixteen) died. Their bodies were transported to Houston and buried in the closest Jewish cemetery. Despite the tragedy, Isaac, Lehman, and Philip remained committed to their Texas business and did not change their plans to continue expanding north to each new railroad terminus.

About this same time Lehman Sanger completed the paperwork to become a citizen of the United States. Isaac had completed his naturalization papers prior to the Civil War, and both men voted in Brazos County elections — something they could not do in Europe. Lehman and several other Bryan businessmen realized that the city needed fire protection, and in July of 1870 they formed the Bryan Fire Department. At this first meeting, Lehman Sanger was chosen as treasurer of the new organization. One year later Lehman and five other Jewish citizens of Bryan received authorization to incorporate the “Hebrew Benevolent Society of Bryan.” The society was established specifically to assist needy Jewish families and to establish a Jewish cemetery.[22]   

About 1867, Sanger Bros. opened a branch store in Calvert, Texas. Lehman managed the Bryan store with the help of Asher Mandelbaum, and Phillip moved north to Calvert to oversee that store. Isaac continued to act as the purchasing agent for the firm. The Calvert branch served customers in outlying areas, areas such as Brownwood and San Angelo which were about 150 and 250 miles to the west respectively. Lehman purchased a city plot for the Sanger’s Calvert store. He was convinced that owning real estate was better than renting space for a shop, and he planned to keep the Calvert store opened for the near future.[23] As the railroad continued north, other area merchants relocated to Calvert, and in its heyday, Calvert supported at least twenty dry goods stores including Sanger’s.  

As the Houston and Texas Central Railroad continued to extend its tracks, Sanger Bros. opened another store in Bremond followed by one in Kosse and then Groesbeck. Groesbeck was another rowdy community. Lehman Sanger related that the Reconstructionist governor of Texas, Edmund Davis, sent the State Police to town to calm a particularly sizeable ongoing disturbance. Lehman believed that instead of calming the situation the governor’s actions actually inflamed the citizens and made the situation worse. Furthermore, he claimed the actions were “entirely uncalled for, “and blamed all the problems on “politics.”

After the tracks were extended and Sangers opened stores in these new towns, Asher Mandlebaum moved north to supervise the stores around Bremond. These outlets, however, were never very successful, and late in 1870 the Groesbeck store was closed. Although each of the brothers and Asher were responsible for managing one store, in actuality the brothers constantly traveled back and forth between all the locations trading goods and double-checking sales.[24] This system created a cohesive family management unit.

Early in 1871, Philip Sanger’s father-in-law and Asher Mandelbaum’s father, Lewis Mandelbaum, traveled from New Haven, Connecticut, to Texas to visit his daughter, her family, and his son Asher. On his way, he visited Sam Sanger who, by this time, had left Cincinnati and settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he was serving a small congregation as Rabbi. Continuing by train, Mandlebaum meet Isaac Sanger in New Orleans. The two men then traveled to Morgan City, Louisiana, where they boarded a steamer headed to Texas. They stayed in Galveston a few days, and then traveled to Bryan. During his stay in Texas, Mandlebaum visited his daughter who lived in Bryan, but he also traveled around the area checking out all the Sanger stores.

In a short diary that he kept during his trip, Lewis Mandelbaum described how the Sanger brothers conducted business. Each Sanger brother traveled back and forth between the cities of Bryan, Kosse, Bremond, and Calvert.[25] Asher Mandlebaum ran the store in Bremond, and while there, the men slept in the back of the store. The Bremond store was a typical small-town mercantile outlet. Approximately twenty-five feet wide and fifty feet long, it had shelves along both side walls with counters placed in the center of the store. The store carried dry goods and fancy merchandises such as velvet ribbons, fine cutlery, perfume, jewelry, pistols, fiddles, plus ladies’ garters, flannel blankets, boots, shoes, saddles, and traveling bags. On one of his circuits around central Texas, Lewis traveled to Bremond and then to Kosse where he stayed with Philip who was supervising things there. He was impressed with the dinner Philip and Isaac served him in the store. It consisted of “New York wurst” and “Bremer Beer.” On the day that Lewis visited the Kosse store, it sold about $400 worth of merchandise (about $7,600 in 2011 dollars).[26]

A few months after Lewis’ visit to Texas, an entire block of Bryan’s Main Street burned. Twelve businesses, including the Sanger’s store, were destroyed. This catastrophe hurt all the merchants in Bryan, and even after rebuilding, the Sanger store never fully returned to its previous profitability.[27]

The Sanger brothers’ business continued to expand, nevertheless, Isaac longed to return to New York so that he could act as buyer and financer for the firm. Isaac’s pre-Civil War debt, however, created a problem because during the Civil War, the Confederate government forbade Southern merchants from paying Northern creditors for the debts the Southerners had incurred prior to the war. Instead, the Confederate government collected these payments. After the war ended, the payments made to the Confederate government were not recognized by either the creditors or by the federal government. Thus, all these obligations remained active. Isaac knew that he needed to resolve all questions concerning his pre-Civil War debts before opening a New York office for Sanger Bros. So he — like many other Southern merchants — paid the debts again. Only after he was relieved of this obligation did he feel free to move to New York so that he could live near his parents and sisters and also represent the business. [28]

The Houston and Texas Central Railroad continued to push north, and in 1871 Sanger Brothers opened another branch store in Corsicana, Texas. With yet another store open, Lehman and Philip needed another reliable partner. Following their business model of only relying on family members, they asked Alex, who had been running a wholesale business in Cincinnati, Ohio, to join the brothers. Because the brothers responded to economic conditions and opened and closed stores as business rose or declined in each town, the Corsicana store was successful, but not permanent. Sanger Bros. never stayed in any town if their business was weak.

By the time they had opened in Corsicana, Sanger Bros. had a large clientele, and customers were happy with the way they were treated by the partners and the sales staff. One observer even described the elder brothers as overly sympathetic to their customers. He wrote. “The business transactions of Sanger Bros.… were based upon such high conception of business ethics as caused [the brothers]… to decide… doubts in favor of the” customers. He continued noting that after Alex joined the business this situation changed. Alex was familiar with “northern ways, hence… more aggressive.”

In 1872, the Sangers reopened their Calvert store, which had burned down in November of 1870, and the brothers hired their sister Sophie Sanger’s husband, Lippman Emanuel, to be the manager. By this time, with branches in Bryan, Calvert and Corsicana, and with plans to open in Dallas as soon as the railroad reached the city, the operational system of the company was established. Moreover the combination of the brothers’ personalities created a well-balanced management system. Even though they employed several extended family members, control remained firmly in the hands of the Sanger brothers themselves. Philip was systematic and understood management and marketing. Isaac was an excellent buyer. Alex, who had experience in wholesaling, was socially bent and a “good mixer,” thus making him a good front man, and finally Lehman loved the art of conducting business.[29]

Before the railroad reached Dallas, Lehman and Philip drove their buggy from Corsicana to Dallas — a two day trip — to inspect the burgeoning city with a population of about 3,000 inhabitants. The brothers stayed in Dallas for a few days searching for a suitable location for their next store. They rented a building facing the courthouse on Main Street. Their first Dallas location was not imposing. In fact, it was built with frame walls and a canvas roof. Despite the apparent impermanence of the building, it was large, approximately thirty feet wide and seventy feet long.[30] The brothers sensed that Sanger Bros. had finally found a permanent home, and while in Dallas, Lehman and Philip advertised that Sanger Bros. would soon open in the community.

Some weeks after Lehman and Philip returned to Corsicana, the Houston and Texas Central finally completed the tracks and opened the terminal in Dallas. Trusting that Dallas would be the stronger market, the brothers shipped most of the supplies they had on hand in Corsicana to Dallas using the newly operational railroad. The Dallas store opened with a flourish of advertisements. These touted that Sanger Bros. carried anything a citizen might want including Japanese silk, piques, lawn, lace, ladies hats, and men’s furnishings along with other goods.[31]

Early in 1873, Sam Sanger decided to end his rabbinical career, and he and his family moved to Waco, Texas where he opened his own store. A Few months later, the Houston and Texas Central completed a spur line that connected Waco to the main line at Bremond. Continuing with their business plan, the brothers followed the railroad and opened a store in Waco asking Sam to join their business. Thus Sam’s Waco store became another Sanger Bros. branch and he became a partner. [32]

The brothers and their families had always been close and often visited each other using trains to go back and forth between the cities. In the fall of 1873, Sophie Sanger Emanuel traveled from Calvert to Bryan to visit Lehman and his family there. Shortly after she arrived, word spread in Bryan about a Yellow Fever outbreak in Calvert. Fearing Sophie had carried the fever with her, the people of Bryan tried to run her out of town, but the Sanger family had no place to go and was unwilling to leave Bryan. They did not want to return to Calvert where the fever was still spreading and could not find a suitable place to stay out of town. When the members of the Bryan Board of Health visited the Sanger home to try to force the family to leave, Bell Sanger, Lehman’s wife, picked up a gun and announced that she would shoot the first person who cross her threshold. The men backed down, and eventually Lehman was able send the women to Galveston. It is obvious from this incident that both the men and women who made this rugged place their home needed to be strong minded and determined.

During the early 1870s, Sanger Bros. maintained six Texas branches. Alex left Corsicana to manage the expanding business in Dallas. Philip remained in Corsicana, and Lehman traveled around central Texas but lived in Bryan. Brother-in-law, Asher Mandlebaum, managed the business in Bremond. Lippman Emanuel, another brother-in-law, lived in Calvert and ran that store, and Sam ran the Waco store. By this time, Isaac was settled in New York but visited Texas to check on the business and see his family.

The financial success of the businesses in the smaller towns fluctuated, but there was never any question as to whether the Dallas store would succeed or not. The sales of the Dallas store quickly surpassed all the sales of the other stores combined. For example, during the first year Sanger Bros. was opened in Waco, the Waco store’s sales reached about $13,000 (roughly $4,250,000 in 2011 dollars). By contrast during the next year, 1875, sales in the Dallas store reached about $750,000 (approximately $16 million in 2011 dollars).[33] 

In 1874, Sanger Bros. closed the Bryan store for the final time. Lehman packed up his family and all remaining inventory and shipped everything to Waco. The other two central Texas stores were extremely small, and Waco became a center of commerce for central Texas serving not only the farmers in the immediate area but also farmers in the area west of Waco and throughout the Texas Hill Country. The Waco business increased, but Sam and Lehman were the only clerks waiting on customers. As the only employees, the brothers worked seven days a week because the store was open on both Saturday and Sunday. The two men unpacked all the goods they received and were continually reorganizing the stock and shipping out orders to small merchants or rural customers. Furthermore, farmers often arrived after closing time and wanted to scout the goods on hand and plan which purchases they would make in each commercial establishment the next morning. Both Sam and Lehman stayed late into the night to serve these men. If not waiting on customers in the evening the brothers were doing the bookkeeping for the store. Lehman wrote that often they did not get home until after midnight. Moreover the two rarely ate regular meals and actually ate lunch while waiting on customers. The constant work and strain weakened Lehman’s physical stamina and caused him to suffer from dyspeptic ulcers. He decided he needed a vacation to refresh himself. So he and his wife embarked on a trip to Carlsbad, New Mexico Territory. The vacation and break from the constant work solved his medical problem, at least temporarily.[34] 

During 1879 Charles Wessolowsky, a correspondent for the Jewish South, a newspaper based in Atlanta, Georgia, traveled across the South visiting Jewish communities and reporting his observations back to his newspaper. When he reached Texas, he traveled up the rail line visiting Calvert and Waco where he rekindled his friendship with Lehman Sanger. He and Lehman had become friends shortly before the Civil War, and during his visit to Waco, Wessolowsky stayed with the Sanger family.

After visiting Waco, Wessolowsky traveled to Dallas where he visited the Sanger store there. He reported that its grandeur surpassed any establishment he had visited in the South and might even have been more imposing than any in the North. According to Wessolowsky, the store was about 200 feet long and the upper two floors were filled with merchandise for the wholesale business. He claimed that at any time of day there were at least thirty clerks to wait on retail customers. He even commented that Sangers hired both male and female clerks. Since Wessolowsky made a point of mentioning this fact, such hiring practices must have been unusual in the South.[35]

Within less than fifteen years, Sanger Bros. had grown from a few small stores that sold necessities and other surplus items that the brothers were able to obtain in occupied, post-Civil War Texas, to a supplier of both staple goods and luxury merchandise to a large portion of Texas and beyond. This growth could be attributed to both the expansion of their market area and the marketing philosophies of the brothers. During the few years that Sanger Bros. had been established, the brothers had developed several working principles. These included continuing the first strategy established by Baum and Sanger prior to the Civil War: sell the best merchandise possible at a fair price and offer credit on goods brokered, also at a fair price. This idea increased their sales volume and enabled them to lower the profit made on each item but increase the yearly total overall profit. They were essentially decreasing the time needed to turn over merchandise and thus increasing the entire volume of merchandise sold each year.[36] The company also believed in opening branch stores in growing markets, but only maintaining those outlets as long as they were profitable. For example, they quickly closed the Millican and Groesbeck stores when those towns peaked and began to lose population, but the brothers opened stores in Waco and later Fort Worth when they believed the market warranted such a move. Finally, they were fiercely loyal to both their customers and employees and did what they could to improve service to customers and improve the lives of their employees.

Both the Waco store and the Dallas store grew and prospered even during difficult financial times. Lehman considered his brother Isaac the basis of the firm’s financial stability because he managed the firm’s monetary interests. Lehman even stated that Isaac’ astute financial management enabled the firm to pass through several “panics unscathed.” [37] The brothers continued to work together allowing some of the smaller stores to remain open. For example, the Calvert and Corsicana stores were still open late into the 1870s. However, the brothers reconsidered their situation in 1880 when Lehman was again suffering from medical problems. Lehman decided that if he maintained his working schedule his health would continue to decline, and he felt that his only choice was to retire from business. Thus, Lehman sold his interest in Sanger Bros. to his remaining four brothers, Isaac, Philip, Sam, and Alex, and retired at the age of forth-three. Lehman believed that this step prolonged his life, but he also believed that he was giving up an interest in “the best business in the State of Texas.” [38] The sale established the partnership that was to last for the next twenty years, until the unexpected death of Philip Sanger in 1902.

By the time that Lehman Sanger sold his share of the firm, the Dallas store had been enlarged twice, and the business was evolving into a modern department store. In 1879 Sanger Bros. started publishing a monthly journal and added a special service just for Dallas residents — free delivery of packages within the city. The next year they enlarged their Dallas store and established a one-price policy throughout the company. This policy was an important step in modernizing the business because during the nineteenth century many mercantile establishments did not post prices on their goods. Instead, the owner or sales staff would bargain with each customer, and often charge different price for the same goods depending on how the customer planned to pay, who they were, or what kind of bargain they drove. If customers asked for credit, the price would be higher; if they paid in gold the price would be lower. In 1880, however, Sanger Bros. announced the one-price system. That same year, the company began a mail order department to serve customers in outlying areas. Since the firm was already publishing a journal with both literary articles and advertisements, the customers could see the merchandise and have it delivered to them without ever traveling to Dallas or Waco.[39] 

Sanger Bros. also made another promise to their customers. This promise stated that all their invoices would be exact and contain no errors. In referring to this new policy, Alex Sanger claimed that Sanger Bros. was the first store to insist on accuracy in the statements they presented to customers, and the first to “protect customers from the importunity [strong persistence] of salespersons,” and the first to offer a complete return policy for unsatisfactory merchandise.[40] With the beginning of the return policy, customers who ordered goods felt secure in the knowledge that if they did not like what arrived, they could return the merchandise to Sanger Bros and obtain credit for the item.

Eager to be up to date and use new equipment, Sangers had telephones installed in their stores in 1881 — as soon as they were available in Dallas. The Sanger family alone almost monopolized the first available telephone exchange in Dallas. Of the fourteen phone lines connected throughout the city, Sangers claimed eight. Each brother received a phone in his home and the company bought six for the store.[41]  As phones became available to the general public, customers could place phone orders and have the orders delivered to their homes. Sanger’s also installed gas lines in the building so they could illuminate the stores without using kerosene lanterns. Two years later they installed a Lamson cash system. This was an early means of transferring cash from the sales floor to the office and then sending change back to the floor for the customers. This equipment eliminated the need for sales clerks or cash boys to constantly run back and forth between the sales floor and the office. Later this system would be replaced by canisters in vacuum tubes. [42]

In 1886, Sanger Bros. became embroiled in a national labor controversy involving the Knights of Labor and the Stetson Hat Company. The brotherhood struck against the Stetson Hat Co. headquarters and demanded that all merchants selling Stetson hats cease doing business with the firm. The Knights of Labor maintained a large membership in Texas, and between 1880 and 1885, most towns had one or more chapters of the organization. Furthermore, during the previous year, the Knights of Labor had initiated over 100 strikes in Texas. The controversy in Texas peaked when the union promoted a boycott of the company and pressured all merchants throughout the state by demanding that they cease selling Stetson products. Texas chapters of the Knights of Labor contacted local merchants in most towns across the state warning that the union members would withhold their business from the merchant unless the merchant stopped carrying Stetsons. The union claimed that by the beginning of February 1886 most of the larger merchants in Galveston and many others around the state had agreed to their terms and were no longer selling Stetsons — even though most customers considered Stetsons the best hats available.

After a meeting with the representatives of the Knights of Labor, Sanger Bros., which in reality meant Alex and Philip, issued a statement refusing to submit to the demands of the boycott. The Sangers listed three reasons why they would not agree with the demand, and had the reasons published in the Dallas paper:

1.   As a matter of principle, we hold it to be the most sacred privilege of American institutions that each individual be permitted to carry on his business in his own way, as long as in so doing he is not illegitimately infringing with the rights of others.

2.   From a standpoint of prudence we believe that to do a successful business it is the duty of every merchant to keep the best of goods and sell them at the lowest possible price. To ostracize the Stetson hat from our establishment would disenable us form handling an article which fully answers these requirements.

3.   From consideration of self-respect we refuse to submit to the management of our business being taken out of our hands, which would be the case if we submitted to dictation from any quarter as to what goods we should purchase or sell, or how we should act in the general conduct of our business.

The Sanger’s statement continued explaining that the brothers and their business had been in Texas since 1858 and “Grown up with the country.” Furthermore, the firm ‘believed that it had conducted its business to the satisfaction of both friends and customers which was the firm’s main obligation.[43]

Sanger Brothers’ stand proved to be successful, and the company received letters from customers, both individuals and merchants, across the state supporting its position. One merchant from Eastland, Texas, wrote that he “endorsed the manliness, honesty… and justice of your proceeding.”[44]  John Wright from Garza, Texas wrote that he admired “the course that you have taken.” Another general merchant said he respected that Sanger Bros. would not be “ruled by others.” W. D. Milliken from Lewisville wrote that he thought that because Sanger Bros. had taken a stand, the merchants in Denton County felt strong enough to do likewise. Merchants from other small towns including places like Carroll’s Prairie and Tyler supported Sanger Brothers’ stand against the Knights of Labor.[45]

By the end of February some Galveston merchants announced that they would no longer participate in the boycott. This statement contradicted the statement made by the union which declared that the Galveston merchants had agreed to the union’s demands.[46] Moreover by this time, some of the union chapters themselves had even decided not to support the boycott. For example, the Berry Creek Farmers Alliance voted not to support the actions taken in Dallas, and its leaders wrote that Sanger Bros. had become “victims of this unwarranted action [which was] humiliating.” The announcement made by this small union chapter continued by asserting that Sanger Bros. had “been foremost in every enterprise calculated to benefit the country and always opened handed and charitable to the needy. They have done more to assist the working classes than any other firm in Texas.”[47]

This last statement proved prophetic since the next year, 1887, Sanger Bros chartered an Employee Free Loan and Savings Association and organized a mutual aid association to aid ill or destitute employees. The Employee Free Loan Association purchased land and made it available to Sanger workers who wished to build houses in the Sanger subdivision.[48]  Furthermore Sanger Bros. treated their employees with more respect than other large department stores of the time. In an era when women who handled cash were routinely searched and employees were fired for the smallest infractions, Sanger Bros. “rarely questioned and never searched” their employees. Instead, Alex preferred to use persuasion on young offenders telling them that he knew they wanted to be good citizens and explaining that the firm was there to help them. Only after repeated offenses were Sanger’s employees dismissed.[49]  The firm’s treatment of its customers and employees built a bond of respect with both groups. The brothers trusted their customers when they accepted returned merchandise and the customers trusted them to supply high-quality goods. Furthermore, the brothers formed a bond with their employees by the way they treated all their workers. Both actions created a pattern of respect that built a bond between the customers, employees, and owners of the company.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Sanger Bros. undertook an expansion plan. The Waco branch purchased a three-story building to house the sales departments, showrooms, and office. The company also rented both the Waco Opera house and a large warehouse to use as the wholesale department. The Dallas branch also continued to expand as the company built a new building on vacant land adjacent to the store on Elm and Lamar Streets. The expansion provoked the first known disagreement between the brothers. Philip wanted to continue the expansion and purchase an adjacent piece of real estate that was offered to the brothers for $35,000 (approximately $850,000 in 2011 dollars). Isaac, however, disagreed and blocked the purchase. Eventually, Philip himself bought the land and built an impressive building using his own funds. The building was called the “Philip Sanger Building,” and after its completion Philip leased the space to Sanger Bros. proving that Isaac had been too cautious in rejecting the offer. This difference of opinion might have been the first significant disagreement between the brothers. Moreover, it is possible that Isaac’s caution might have indicated that he was becoming too conservative or that he was unconnected to the economic situation in Dallas and could not judge the city’s potential.

It was also during this time that the Sanger brothers entered into their only completely unsuccessful business venture. In late 1888, iron ore was discovered in Cherokee County. A new city, New Birmingham, Texas, was planned and platted. Local landowners built a furnace to process the ore and planned for a town of about four hundred families. Within a short time, the Sanger brothers and several other businessmen had rushed to the boomtown, which was touted as a second Dallas, and opened branches of their businesses. Despite the discovery of ore, no major railroad built a line to connect the city to the main rail lines, and within three years, the ore had played out, the furnace had suffered an explosion, and the population which had only reached 2,000 had withered to 200.[50]

The Sanger brothers took the failure in stride and continued to pursue new technological innovations to improve Dallas and their business. The innovative gas lighting system which had been installed in 1885 did not last long because Sanger Bros. converted to electric lighting as soon as electrical power became available.[51] Philip and Alex had decided that their store would be the first store in Dallas to be electrified, and true to their plans their store turned the lights on the same night that Mayer’s Beer Garden was lighted. The two businesses had been vying for the honor of being the first to have electric lights illuminating their establishments. Other businesses and even churches wanted to be electrified, but Philip and Alex had invested in the electric company so their business was the first to receive power.[52] 

As the century waned, Sanger Bros. was regarded as the largest dry goods outlet in the South. The Dallas store covered 65,000 square feet. It carried a large stock of dry goods, clothing, boots, shoes, trunks, hats, notions, linens, blankets, house furnishings, gloves, hosiery, and other items in thirty-seven retail departments.[53] The company employed not only a sales staff but also thirty skilled dressmakers who earned between about $10 and $20 per week ($275-$550 per week in 2011 dollars). Unskilled seamstresses in this department earned between $5 and $10 per week. These ladies made outfits for the general market, crafted high-fashion women’s clothes, and created special-order wedding dresses and trousseaus. The company also employed fifteen women in the millinery department.[54] The wholesale department employed traveling representatives who visited retail merchants all across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Indian Territory (Oklahoma), Louisiana, Arkansas, and even Mexico.[55]   

In 1897, Sanger Bros. celebrated the firm’s twenty-fifth anniversary in Dallas and published a letter to their “friends” thanking everyone for their patronage. The brothers also noted that they hoped to continue serving the public with finer merchandise and improved service for another twenty-five years. By the end of the century the Sanger Bros. building in Dallas extended 200 feet on Elm Street and 135 feet on Lamar Street, 50 feet on Main Street and 100 feet on Austin Street. The firm encompassed fifty-five departments and the building was fitted with steam powered elevators and electric lights. Electric lighting and elevators were not the only convenience provided by the steam powered generators, however. The building was heated by the generators in winter, and in summer, the steam generators powered large fans which circulated air throughout entire building.

By the end of the century the brothers had become accustomed to each other’s work styles, and they shared responsibility for the growth and stability of the firm. Lehman had sold his share of the business and the remaining brothers kept busy with their own duties. According to Leon Joseph Rosenberg, the brothers ran the business according to the “marketing concept” of management. Using this formula, all decisions were made to maximize the service to customers and minimize expenses. The two larger stores, Waco and Dallas, had annual sales of one million dollars and two million dollars respectively (approximately $28 and $56 million respectively in 2011 dollars), and, although the stores had grown in volume, only immediate family members where part of the management system of the company. Furthermore by this time, extended family members Asher Mandelbaum and Lippman Emanuel were no longer working for the firm.[56] 

As the new century commenced, Isaac turned 64, Philip 59, Sam 57 and Alex 55.[57] The brothers believed that each could contribute to the profitability of the firm, and they believed that they could still manage the business as a family unit without outside administrators. This idea was important to the Sanger brothers who had worked cohesively as a unit for many decades. The ease of interacting with family members who were trusted and dependable created a bond that, to the brothers, was more reliable than trained managers or even their own children. The firm employed several sons and nephews in lower-level positions such as sales associates, traveling sales representatives, and credit managers. Three of the second generation cousins (two of Sam’s sons — Charles (32) and Asher (26) — and Philip’s son Elias) worked with Isaac in New York. Two more of Sam’s sons who remained in Texas worked as clerks in Waco. None were division managers. In fact, Woolf W. Sanger, Lehman’s oldest son worked as a traveling salesman, and his brother Isaac was listed as a buyer. Despite the fact that each brother, except Isaac who had never married, had sons who were old enough to be moved into managerial positions, none of the true decision-making authority had been shared with these young men. [58]   

The firm faced the new century still operating under the slogan “Forward with Texas since 1857,” which expressed the brothers’ belief that they would continue to bring modern technology to their facilities and the newest fashions to their customers. From their actions, it was obvious that the brothers believed that they could continue as before for the next several decades. Moreover the brothers believed that they had become prosperous as Texas grew and felt that they should give back to the state and the city. One of the ways they gave back was to make their business an attractive part of downtown Dallas. By 1901 Sanger’s building reached six stories and the front had been refaced with terracotta trim. Within a few years, it would increase by another two stories. [59] 

Between the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, the firm’s profitability fluctuated. This instability was caused by unstable population growth in Dallas, bad weather, and a general economic depression. Between 1880 and 1890 the Dallas population had almost quadrupled, growing from 10,385 to 38,067 (over 350 percent). However, between 1890 and 1900, the population only increased by about 4,498 residents or about 12 percent. Furthermore, drought and the harsh winters late in the century contributed to a decline in profit growth. Sanger Bros. overcame these difficulties but could not overcome the blow that struck the business in 1902. By the end of 1901, Philip Sanger began feeling unwell, and he decided to take a vacation and visit the west coast. He and his wife left for an extended stay in California. While visiting Pasadena, he was stricken and died on April 22, 1902.[60] 

As Alex was the only person in any position to take over Philip’s responsibilities, he moved into that position even though he had never handled any of the merchandising duties. He tried to follow Philip’s plans and never considered bringing in another administrator or promoting a second-generation family member to fill Philip’s position. Alex continued adding departments and maintained the plans to modernize the business. He also continued to increase the amenities available to the employees. For example, in 1910 Alex began a night school for all his employees who had not completed high school. At the store’s expense, he hired teachers who taught evening classes so that workers could continue to work while improving their lives. Later, friends commented that Alex was spending money on these benefits that the firm could no longer afford.

Expansions continued and between 1901 and 1910 the Sanger Bros. building in Dallas continued to evolve. Alex was always interested in making his buildings comfortable and stylish. He sought out the newest available equipment installing new elevators and conveniences in the dressing rooms. One department would no sooner be remodeled or enlarged before another renovation would begin causing merchandise to continually be moved and rearranged. By 1910, the last renovations done under the auspices of the brothers had been completed. The first floor was filled with display cases illustrating what type of goods could be found on the upper floors. The men’s departments were also located on the first floor making it easy for the businessmen to shop without going through all the other departments. The second floor held the piece goods and seamstresses, and ladies ready-to-wear occupied the third floor. The fourth and fifth floors contained the large bulky items such as furniture, carpets, and draperies along with other household goods. The sixth floor was turned over to non-sales conveniences. This floor was outfitted for women shoppers and was the place where they could find a reading room and restrooms. It also accommodated a small emergency “hospital” and “silent room” set aside for the “comfort and convenience” of the “nerve racked weary women.” The Tea Room occupied the seventh floor. It was the loftiest dining area in the state and provided a place to dine under fans and away from the dust, flies, and mosquitoes found on lower floors.[61]

By 1910, Isaac reached his seventy-fifth birthday, Sam was sixty-seven, and Alex sixty-five. These men were well over the average age of retirement and had been working all their lives. Instead of handing over their responsibilities to others, each assumed more responsibilities as the business grew and became more modern. Yet, the business began to falter. Despite being overwhelmed by business responsibilities, Alex did not relinquish any civic projects, trying to manage both his job responsibilities as head of the firm’s Texas branch and all his community obligations.

By 1915, Alex faced the reality that war in Europe had depressed the price of cotton, which had caused a general depression and decrease in sales volume. Furthermore throughout the depression, Sanger Bros. had made a bad business decision by continuing to extend credit to small merchants in rural Texas. Many of these merchants could not pay their debts to Sanger Bros. and these unpaid debts weighed heavily on the Sanger Bros. balance sheet. Alex persevered, however, and eventually the economy began to improve after the war.

After the war, the three surviving brothers faced the reality of operating a large business in a world that was swiftly changing. In 1918 the company, which had been owned solely by the brothers as a partnership since 1857, filed papers to become a corporation with $10,035,000 in capital stock (approximately $150 million in 2011 dollars). On December 17, 1918 the company received its charter. The stockholders and the value of the shares they held were listed as: Alex Sanger $2,416,400; Cornelia Sanger, Philip’s widow, $2,117,900; Sam Sanger $1,583,200; and the estate of the Isaac Sanger who had just recently died in New York, $3,917,500. Alex Sanger was named president and Sam Sanger chief executive of the Waco offices. In the incorporation papers, several second-generation Sanger family members were included as members of the board of directors — but none were involved actively in any managerial decision making. The incorporation papers listed eighteen board members. Seven of the second generation cousins or cousins-in-law were included in this list. Since Isaac had died shortly before the incorporation papers were finalized, Alex and Sam were the only original owners left. Four of Sam’s sons were listed as directors. Alex’s only son and one of Philips’ sons were included in the list along with one of Lehman’s sons. Two nephews, Max Emanuel and Eli Newburger, sons of the Sanger sisters, were listed as directors also. Both Max’s and Eli’s fathers had worked for the Sanger brothers in the 1870s and 1880s but left before the end of the century. These young men were living in New York and being tutored by Isaac Sanger. Finally, Clarence Linz, owner of Linz Jewelers in Dallas and Philip Sanger’s son-in-law, was also named to the board. The day after signing the papers to become a corporation and after signing Christmas bonus checks for all the Waco employees, Sam Sanger died — leaving Alex as the sole remaining Sanger brother.

Alex, acting alone, managed to add several more innovations to the business. In 1919 he introduced air shipments between Dallas and Waco. He also sent buyers to Europe to enlarge the merchandise selections. The business the brothers had built, however, had reached its apex. Alex Sanger no longer had the stamina to manage the company, and he was overwhelmed by the constant demands made upon him. On September 13, 1925, eighty-year-old Alex Sanger died. None of the sons were able to take over management of the business and save it. Within less than a year, the board, now headed by Philip’s son-in-law, Clarence Linz, sold the business to investors for $14,000,000 (approximately $180 million in 2011 dollars). The heirs retained a portion of the stock but lost managerial control of the company to the buyers. Twenty-five years later, in 1951, Federated Department Stores, Inc. took over the company, still operating as Sanger Bros., in a stock swap valued at over four million dollars (approximately $35 million in 2011 dollars). Prior to this sale, the largest stock holder had been E. P. Simmons who had served as president of the firm. Simmons died early in 1951 triggering the sale of the company. No Sanger family member was mentioned in the transaction.[62]

Sanger Brothers as Community Builders

As soon as the Sanger brothers settled in Texas, community building became an important part of their lives. The first initiative toward aiding the community in which they lived and conducted business was in Bryan when the Sangers worked to establish a volunteer fire department. Later this imperative was continued when Philip and Alex settled in Dallas as the brothers worked to improve both Dallas and Waco in many ways. Their contributions improved business conditions, brought better educational facilities and health facilities to the city. Furthermore, the brothers worked with secular and religious organizations — both Jewish and Christian.

As soon as Philip and Alex Sanger became settled in Dallas, they worked diligently not just to establish their business but also to enhance the Dallas community. For example, one year after moving to Dallas and opening a branch of Sanger Brothers in there, Alex Sanger was elected to the City Council from Ward One.[63] This step marked the beginning of Alex Sanger involvement in Dallas public affairs. Two years later he was selected to serve as president of the volunteer fire department. Since fires were a constant threat in the city, this post was not just ceremonial. Alex continued to serve as the head of the fire department for many years and in his later life, he reminisced about how physically demanding it was to fight fires.[64]  To protect their own firm, Sanger Bros. organized their own fire brigade within the store. Each employee had an assigned job, and the precise responsibilities for each position were defined in a small booklet that each employee received. This action provided not only some protection for their firm but also protected the property of other merchants and businessmen in nearby buildings.

The Sangers’ store in Waco had only been open for a short time when Sam began encouraging local agriculture. In 1874 the Texas Agriculture and Industrial Association sponsored an annual agricultural fair, and Sanger Bros. offered a large cash prize to the farmer who brought the first bale of cotton to market.[65] Such actions became part of the Sangers’ civil contributions to the local economic activities in the cities in which they did business and they repeated this award in following years.

Although Philip was more formal in his demeanor and daily actions, he was, nevertheless, interested in Dallas development, and during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Philip’s name appeared regularly in the reports of the Dallas City Council deliberations. Additionally, the council often turned to Philip Sanger for help, appointing him to serve on committees or to oversee specific projects. For example, he served on the committee responsible for having the streets paved, and he also served on the committee to build a municipal water works. He also often spoke at the council meetings representing businessmen and their views about city development.

In 1886 a group of businessmen including Alex and Philip Sanger chartered the Dallas State Fair and Exposition. Alex continued to serve on the board, and in 1894, he was selected as the president of the State Fair Association, the organization that eventually became the State Fair of Texas. Alex also contributed $1,000 (approximately $25,000 in 2011 dollars) of his own funds to help finance the fair organization. Additionally, he, Philip, and other businessman were instrumental in arranging for the purchase of land which became a permanent home for the fair.[66] 

Around 1890, Sanger Bros. donated one thousand dollars to promote the establishment of a Dallas public library and Alex became the trustee of the funds being raised to support the library. At the end of the century, both Alex and Philip participated in establishment of an organization which became the United Way. [67] Furthermore, from the very beginning of the business, the brothers were interested in the wellbeing of their workers. In July of 1887 during an extremely hot spell, Sanger Bros. readily agreed to a petition sponsored by the Dallas shop workers to close businesses on Saturday afternoon. As previously mentioned, they treated their own employees with care and respect. Each brother also served on the boards of various charitable associations. Alex served as a director of the Oak Cliff Female Academy Association, and Philip served on a committee to bring a non-sectarian hospital to Dallas. In perhaps the culmination of his civic service — and likely in recognition of Alex’s previous civic service — Governor O. B. Colquitt named him as a member of the board of the University of Texas. Alex served on the board for six years from January 1911 to January 1917.

Citizens of Dallas were not the only people to benefit from the brothers’ good deeds and hard work. Shortly after the Galveston hurricane of September 1900, Sanger Brothers’ collected funds from its employees and the firm itself donated 100 suites of clothing to the citizens of Galveston along with $250 (approximately $7,000 in 2011 dollars) in cash from the brothers.

Alex Sanger's life in Dallas spanned the years between 1872 and 1925, half a century during which the population grew from slightly over 2,500 to 250,000.[68] Sanger had quickly involved himself in the affairs of his adopted home town, and he made important contributions to city growth and development. All his life, Alex Sanger remained active in both city politics and municipal development. At Sanger's death, John Simmonds, chairman of the City Planning Commission, attributed much of the city's growth to Alex Sanger. He declared that if "it had not been for Alex Sanger, Southern Methodist University would have been located in another city.” Additionally, Simmonds acknowledged that Sanger was a driving force behind locating a Federal Reserve branch in Dallas, and credited Sanger with introducing modern city government to Dallas because  he encouraged the city to hire George Kessler who formulated a modern city plan for Dallas.[69] George Dealey also spoke at the funeral saying that Alex Sanger was “a man of vision who loved his city and was willing to sacrifice much for its benefit. Alex Sanger not only imagined a greater Dallas, he, for many years, was active in building it.”[70]

Retrospective

After the death of the brothers, the firm continued to operate under the name of Sanger Bros. and from 1961 onward as Sanger–Harris, but it was not the same company as the firm begun on the Texas plains in 1857. Sanger family members retained part ownership of the new business, but the brothers were gone and soon all the members of the family were removed from the management of the company.

When the early Sanger Bros. stores opened they inhabited a world where single owners or partners could manage an entire company, but by the turn of the century the world and merchandising had changed. The brothers never trained any members of the family to fill their jobs, nor did they hire outside managers. Perhaps no members of the second generation wished to continue in such demanding positions, and the brothers could not bring themselves to hand over any control or responsibility to an outsider. In the present era, such problems lead to the failure of many family owned businesses. Often when family businesses outgrow family management or when no second generation family member steps forward to assume all the responsibilities held by owners, the owners of the business must turn to outside managers and administrators. Furthermore in a modern business, these managers need to be professionally trained.

As a common business failure, these management problems were described by business historian Alfred Chandler who studied family firms in both America and Europe. Chandler concluded: "Family firms were reluctant to recruit nonfamily managers and even slower to bring salaried executives into top management” positions."[71] Similarly, Chandler’s colleague Harold Livesay has recognized the difficulties family owned firms encountered as the original entrepreneurs aged.[72] 

It is impossible to determine just what happened to Sanger Bros. that led to the decline of the business. Did the older generation refuse to relinquish any authority; did the younger generation fail to demand more responsibility; did the older generation overlook the need to put younger managers in place; or was the age difference between the brothers and their sons or nephews so great that the second-generation men just were not prepared to take charge of the firm?[73] It is difficult to say, but the failure was apparent. The innovative, dynamic firm created by five immigrant brothers died as a result of poor planning and eventually lack of vision — something Isaac, Lehman, Sam, and Alex Sanger all had in 1866. Although the Sanger name did not disappear immediately, and in fact continued until 1961 and even after that as Sanger-Harris until 1987, by this time, this firm had become a part of the Federated Department Store chain and was no longer the firm “going forward with Texas.”     

Notes

[1] Educational Department, Sanger Bros., “A Brief History of Sanger Bros.,” n.d., Dallas Public Library, Sanger Harris Collection, Box 25, Folder 1, Dallas, Texas. This booklet was probably written between about 1920 and 1930. Although this event might not have happened as described in this account, it provides a vision of how the Sanger brothers felt about Texas and why they came.

[2] In the Handbook of Texas History this town’s name is spelled Millican, but in at least one copy of a Brazos county map it is spelled with only one L.

[3] “Isaac Sanger Dies at Home in New York,” Dallas Morning News, January 17, 1918. Hereafter DMN.

[4] “Well-Known Merchant Celebrates Birthday,” DMN, August 13, 1911. The only alternative to having goods travel by ox cart from Houston was to bring the goods by boat up the Mississippi River to the Red River and then up the Red River to Jefferson, Texas. From Jefferson goods were taken by ox cart west to Weatherford or other towns. Either way this journey was arduous and long.

[5] In Memory of Sam Sanger, A Record of Telegrams, Letters, Resolutions, Press Comments, Together with Some of the Events of His Life and Those of His Brothers, unpublished, 13-14 Sanger collection. This manuscript was located at The American Jewish Archive, Cincinnati, Ohio; however, that archive received it from the Texas Collection, Baylor University Archive. This collection of writings and a short “History of the Firm of Sanger Brothers” by Lehman Sanger provide the primary first-hand account of the story of how Sanger Bros. began in Texas.

[6] Leon Joseph Rosenberg, Sanger's Pioneer Texas Merchants (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1978) 19-20.

[7] “Isaac Sanger Served in Army of Confederacy,” DMN, January 18, 1918.

[8] Robert A. Calvert, Arnoldo De Leon, Gregg Cantrell, The History of Texas (Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 2002), chapters 5 and 6. In 1850 roughly the same number of German surname citizens as Spanish surname citizens lived in Texas. Furthermore in urban centers, about 29% had French surnames. This large immigrant population created a welcoming culture for immigrants.

[9] Marilyn Kay Goldman, “Jewish Fringes Texas Fabric: Nineteenth Century Merchants Living Texas Reality and Myth,” Ph.D., diss (Texas A&M University, 2003).

[10] “Death of a Noble Lady,” DMN, November 26, 1886.

[11] Rolf Hofmann, Historian of the Jews of Dennenlohe, Germany, email correspondence, December 18-19, 2011.

[12] Anne Corman, Sanger family member, email correspondence, December 16, 2011. Industrialization and mechanization dramatically impacted the cloth manufacturing. The price of cloth decreased dramatically. Thus families that depended on cloth manufacturing for their livelihood lost much of their income.

[13] Between about 1834 and 1851, Babbette gave birth to at least ten children: Isaac born in 1836, Lehman in 1838, Sophie in 1839, Philip in 1841, Samuel in 1843, Eda also 1843, Jacob in 1845, Alex in 1847, Bertha in 1849 and David in 1851.Although most of the dates can be confirmed by more than one source, the dates of birth for Eda and Samuel are in conflict. Family records indicate that Sam was born in 1843, but on the ship passage he was listed as born in 1840.

[14] In Memory of Sam Sanger, 9-10.

[15] One source claims that Sam arrived at the beginning of the Civil War, but most records indicate that he remained with the family in Germany until 1866. Immigration records for 1866 show that Elias Sanger age 66 arrived with B. Sanger.

[16] Although all nine of the family members traveled on the same ship, they were not listed together in the passenger roster. It is possible that the elder Sangers traveled in a higher class passage than the children.

[17] Glen Porter and Harold Livesay, Merchants and Manufacturers: Studies in the Changing Structure of Nineteenth-Century Marketing, Elephant Paperbacks, (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 1989), see chapter II 13-29.

[18] Prior to the Civil War banks were unknown in Texas, and commonly a man would entrust a merchant or close friend with his savings. Eventually this evolved into a banking system and explains why many merchants became bankers.

[19] “Isaac Sanger Dies at Home in New York,” DMN, January 17, 1918.

[20] Lehman Sanger, “A History of the Firm of Sanger Brothers”, originally from the Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco Texas received by author from American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio.

[21] Millican, Texas,Texas State historical Association Digital Gateway. This happened during Reconstruction when Texas was occupied by the Union army.

[22] This information was collected by Bill Page, librarian at Texas A&M and came from voter registration records, Texas Special Laws and other documents. Provided to the author by email, February 13, 2012.

[23] This was a common step with most Jewish immigrants. Since they could not own property in Europe, they eagerly bought land in the United States.

[24] In Memory of Sam Sanger, 9-10.  

[25] Either this visit took place before the Grosbeck store was opened or it took place after it was closes since Mandelbaum never mentioned that store.

[26] L. Mandelbaum, “Diary of L. Mandlebaum of New Haven Conn. Describing Trip to Texas and Return, January 11, 1871 to February 18, 1871,” American Jewish Archives, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio.

[27] Dallas Weekly Heral, May 11, 1871.

[28] In Memory of Sam Sanger, 9-10.  

[29] In Memory of Sam Sanger, 22-23.  

[30] “D’s Final Story,” Typescript, Sanger-Harris Collection Box 23 Folder 14.

[31] Lehman Sanger, 14.

[32] Rosenberg, 41.

[33] Rosenberg, 41-42.

[34] Lehman Sanger, “History of the Firm of Sanger Brothers,” 11-12.

[35] Louis Schmier ed. Reflections of Southern Jewry; The Letters of Charles Wessolowsky 1878-1879, (NP, Mercer University Press, 1982), 111-115.

[36] This policy is the basis for some modern merchants who make lower profits on each transaction but sell many more items each year, thus turning over the merchandise more often and selling a larger quantity of items which enables them to make larger total profits.

[37] Lehman Sanger, 14.

[38] Lehman Sanger, 13.

[39] “Throughout All these Years With Texas,” Sanger Harris Collection, Dallas Public Library, Box 23 Folder 14.

[40] “Alex Sanger, Reviews of the Record,” DMN, October 1, 1910.

[41] Rosenberg, 69.

[42] “Throughout All these Years With Texas,” 14.

[43] “More About Boycot,” February 6, 1886, and “Farmers Alliance Meeting,” February 24, 1886 DMN.

[44] Letter from J. H. Calhoun, February 27, 1886 MA 83.18 Box 23 Folder 2.

[45] “More About Boycot,” DMN, February 6, 1886;, and “Farmers Alliance Meeting,” DMN, February 24, 1886.

[46] “The Stetson Boycott,” DMN, February 12, 1886

[47] “Alliance Men, Read ThisDMN, March 18, 1886.

[48] “A Unique and Interesting History,” DMN, July 5, 1886.

[49] Rosenberg, 72.

[51] “Throughout All these Years With Texas” 14.

[52] Rosenberg, 69.

[53] “A Unique and Interesting History,” DMN, July 5, 1886.

[54] “Factories of Dallas”, DMN, September 30, 1888.

[55] Dallas Times Herald, Special Edition, Saturday, September 14, 1889 Section II.

[56] Rosenberg, 59-60.

[57] This was already several years past the average length of life expectancy for the men.

[58] See United States Census for 1880, 1900 and 1910 Waco, Dallas and New York.

[59] “Twenty-five Years After,” DMN, December 5, 1897, 7.

[60] Rosenberg 75.

[61] Typed and Edited short history of Sanger Bros. written after December 31, 1910. Dallas Public Library, Sanger-Harris Collection, Box 24, Folder 3.

[62] “Sanger’s to Retain Independent Status,” and “Stock Holder Approved Sale of Sanger Bros,” DMN July 11,1951 and August 1, 1951.

[63] Sanger File, Texas Jewish Historical Society Collection, Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

[64] Rose G. Biderman, They Came to Stay: The Story of the Jews of Dallas 1870-1997, (Austin Texas: Eakin Press, 2002) 24-25.

[65] Patricia Ward Wallace, Thomas Charlton, Rebecca Jiminez, Waco: Texas Crossroads, (Waco, Texas: Windsor Publications, 1983), 36.

[66] Alex Sanger Obituary, The obituary and tribute to Sanger covered multiple pages of the newspaper. DMN, September 14, 1925.

[67] Rosenberg, 73 & 75.

[68] Alex Sanger Obituary, DMN, September 14, 1925.

[69] "City Builder Simmons Says," DMN, September 14, 1925.

[70] Biderman, 29.

[71] Alfred Chandler, Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism; (Boston: Harvard University Press 1990), 390.

[72] Harold Livesay, American Made: Men Who Shaped the American Economy, (New York: Longman, 1979) 83 &165.

[73] Lehman’s son was born when Lehman was over thirty years old, moreover, his brothers were between 35 and 40 before their sons were born.

 

Cite this Entry

APA Style

"Isaac Sanger." (2018) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved November 17, 2018, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=116

Chicago Style

Goldman, Kay. "Isaac Sanger." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified July 25, 2012. http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=116

MLA Style

"Isaac Sanger," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2018, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 17 Nov 2018 <http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=116>

Isaac Sanger, n.d.

  • Lehman Sanger, n.d.
  • Samuel Sanger, n.d.
  • Alex Sanger, n.d.
  • Philip Sanger, n.d.

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