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.