FrouFrou 4 YouYou

Chicago Millinery History: Fiskhats History August 14, 2011

Filed under: Chicago Millinery History,millinery — froufrou4youyou @ 12:14 pm

Fiskhats was established long before the Chicago Fire of 1871. That, and foresight allowed it to survive the fire. The Chicago History Museum holds invaluable documents donated by Mr. Bennett Botsford Harvey, the great grandson of D.B Fisk in 1972. Almost a century after the fire the family papers were placed in the museum. Several items stand out.

Papers indicate Daniel Brainard Fisk was born in Upton, MA in 1817, and came to Chicago in 1853. He died in Chicago in 1891.

The Fisk  business was the first wholesale millinery business west of the Allegheny mountains. It became the largest in the U.S. The business liquidated in 1931.Joseph C. Beckmann was an officer of the Fisk Company and bought the company out of bankruptcy in 1931. He operated the company in Chicago into the 1950’s.

Mr. Fisk was an early member of the Chicago Club, and the Director of the Il Humane Society. At the time of Mr. Fisk’s death there was a lengthy tribute to him by the Society.

A glossy black and white photo shows the charred remains of the business on State Street, the current home of the long standing Chicago Theater. Sticking out of the rubble is a small sign that indicates where the business had moved to temporarily, which was on Washington.

Mr. B. B. Harvey wrote “After the fire D. B. Fisk was located in a six story building covering the area where the Marshall Field  Annex Building is now located. Here Fiskhats were made and sold. When Marshall Field wanted to build the present Annex they built a 13 story building at South Water and Wabash for D. B.  Fisk and Co and built the present Annex Building where the Fisk Store originally was. My father Dr. Robert Harvey was President of Fisks at the time. After D.B. Fisk’s death my father headed the firm started by my mother’s grandfather for about 130 years. BH”

But of greatest importance is the letter Mr. Fisk wrote to his mother in the month after the fire. A steady hand wrote six pages of the thoughts and actions during and after this fire.To say it was unnerving to read is an understatement. Fortunately Mr. Harvey included a typewritten copy of the original document.

The pictures above are probably of a 1920’s hat. The view from head on gives one the idea of the two birds facing each other, with pearl button eyes. The hat has a silk lining with the Fisk label. The blue silk ribbon is now very fragile, but still strong in color. This hat had been part of the Linda Feigenheimer collection, acquired in 2009. If only it could tell us it’s story after it left the South Water and Wabash location.


Chicago Millinery History: The First Chicago Milliner? August 7, 2011

Filed under: millinery — froufrou4youyou @ 3:26 am

There are at least two schools of thought about who the
first milliner was in Chicago.

The well regarded author of several
books, Alfred Theodore Andrews wrote in History of
Chicago Vol 3,
< Manufacturers and Trade page 725
“Mrs Daniels, milliner and dressmaker, Dearborn St,
opposite Tremont House” is the form of the announcement
found in Chicago Directory for 1845 and so far as can be
ascertained, this was the first millinery establishment in Chicago,
where that trade is now represented by nearly two hundred and fifty
retail establishments and seventeen wholesaler houses-the latter
alone have a trade amounting to about six million dollars.

In 1847-48 we find Mrs. Daniels, reinforced by four others, supposed
to be proficient in the mysteries of headgear and in 1850 the
number had not increased. Three years later, however, seven
millinery signs appeared, that business of course being associated
with dressmaking, after the manner of small towns, with the
exception of D.B. Fisk which commanded a wholesale business in a
small way.

In 1855, the business was represented by twenty eight
establishments-1 wholesale; and three years later by fifty
milliners and ten dealers in millinery and straw goods, three of
whom were wholesale.

By 1860, the latter had increased to fifteen the ordinary establishments remaining about the same. Five years later we find ninety of the latter and seventeen doing a wholesale
business, the bulk of which was, however, done by the four to five

By 1870 the latter had increased to twenty four, while one
hundred and thirty-two retailers competed for the trade of the fair
sex. Two years later the wholesale trade had been reduced to
twelve. In 1875, these had increased to two hundred thirty and the
wholesale business was represented by twenty firms, whose aggregate
trade amounted to the handsome sum of $5,250,000 as against nearly
$5,000,000 in 1874. There seems to have been a considerable falling
off in the volume of business done by the wholesale dealers during
the following three years owing to the financial depression of the
country doubtless, in 1879 getting back to a little more than that
of 1875.

In 1880, the eighteen wholesale houses show a largely
increased trade, the aggregate then being $6,300,000; the retail
establishment increased to two hundred and forty. The trade of the
former shows a handsome increase for 1881- $6,500,000; and reached
it’s highest point in 1882, when it footed up $8,000,000in
round numbers, dropping down to $6,500,000 in 1883, and to
$5,800,000 in 1884.

In 1885 the aggregate business of the seventeen wholesale houses was about the same as that of the preceding year.
This decrease is easily accounted for by the decline in values,
since 1882, each year marking a lower price for all classes of
goods making it apparent that though an increased volume of
business may have been transacted annually, yet the cash totals
would show a falling off.

In 1885, the total number of retail establishments in Chicago doing a millinery business, not associated with dressmaking, was two hundred and thirty-five, which
business, if added to that of the wholesale trade, would increase
the aggregate to something like $7,000,000. O.B. Tennis &
Company organized in 1884 at 114-116 Wabash, Specialty store-three
worked in Fisk. O.B. Tennis; brother James Tennis, and Gustav
Wittmeyer (married 1875 Lily Born, daughter of Rudolph Born, and
had two children, Gustav and Ella.) page 726 Jules Ballenberg,
importer of millinery arrived in Chicago 1871, began work as a
traveler for Walsh and Hutchins, wholesale milliners with whom he
stayed till 1874. When he entered service of Webster & Co. and
opened and managed their retail establishment at 109 State. In 1878,
having saved some capital, he opened a store at 147 State St, and
moved to 135 State till 3/1885 when he took possession of his present
and handsome store. Employs 42 people with salary $1,000/mo. During
the last four years he has visited, once each year, the best
markets of Europe, notably, Paris and London, to select goods
suitable for the refined tastes of his numerous customers. Many of
his original models are being reproduced and cuts of same appeared
in Fashion Magazines, and Mr. Ballenberg is now quoted as the
correct authority and leader in American fashions. Mrs. A. M.
Pfeifer, dealer in fashionable millinery and hair goods, for
Germany in 1840. To Chicago 1862. Came to Chicago in 1862. In 1864
77 N. Clark St, lost all in fire 1871, the at corner W. Madison
& Milwaukee, then 1881 located at present store, doing a
large business. Married 1872 CH Pfeifer-1 daughter, Cecelia Maia
Pfeifer, a Presbyterian Church member.

That is different than the contents of the Illinois Historical Journal of…

AND to refute all of this is a personal recollection by Edwin Gale, who moved to Chicago in 1835, with his parents and siblings. His father was Mr. Abrahm Gale, and his mother, Mrs. Sarah Gale, who brought her New York Millinery business. This document has served to chisel Mrs. Gale’s name into the marble tribute due her for her pioneer spirit in the face of incredible odds of failure.

Enough of the history from Long Ago. If you read thru this first account it has probably made you cross eyed, or put you to sleep. The remaining version shall follow at a later time.