FrouFrou 4 YouYou

Chicago Millinery History: Mandel Bros Department Store February 5, 2017

Filed under: Chicago,Chicago Millinery History,fashion,hat,Uncategorized — froufrou4youyou @ 2:00 pm
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Mandel Brothers started in Chicago in 1855 and has a well documented history.

Much of the information provided here came from online archived Chicago Tribune newspapers. One might think looking for advertisements from Mandels that year would be enlightening. Would be if any could be found. In the four page newspaper the ads perhaps comprised a total of one page, mostly small boxes of tiny print. Carpets, curtains and cod liver oil are likely grouped with menswear and embroideries. Advertising was yet to come into it’s own. For trendsetting, Carson, and Pirie, before Scott and Co, and then Marshall Field had great faith in news advertising; others followed suit.

With a presence on State Street, they ultimately gained even more success and stature, when located in a shopping area known for the retail leader, Field and Leiter, later known as Marshall Field and Co.

The obituary of Leon Mandel in 1911 shares the story of his arrival here from Germany in 1851 at the age of 10, leaving school at 13. He went to work at a large dry goods store, Ross and Foster, for $2/week. Five years later Leon and his brother were assisted by Ross in opening their first store, at Clark and Monroe.

If one consults the Chicago History Museum account, based upon the part of the Encyclopedia’s Dictionary of Leading Chicago Businesses (1820-2000), the story is somewhat different. “This retail enterprise, which would become one of Chicago’s leading department stores, was founded in 1855 by Bavarian immigrants Solomon Mandel and his uncle Simon Klein. Their first store was located on Clark Street. In 1865, after Solomon’s brothers Leon and Emanuel joined the firm, its name became Mandel Bros.”

The newspaper article on the death of Mr. Klein indicates that after the Chicago fire of 1871 that Klein opens his own store, and the Mandels opened their own store. What is actually the truth is hard to pick out from such diverse records.

The first major hurdle to survival for the fledgling entrepreneurs was the Panic of 1857. It seems Leon and Emanuel likely left school to earn money when times were challenging.

Mandels survived two fires, in 1871, the great Chicago Fire, and one in 1874.

During the weeks preceding the 1871 fire, the advertisements were primarily on the front  page of the still four page Chicago Daily Tribune paper. In the month following the fire, more advertising appears as still somewhat intact, tho relocated, stores wanted customers desperate for lost goods to find them, bumping the editions to six pages.

Oct 11 is the day after the fire, and the paper is only two pages. DB. Fisk announces opening at 57 W. Washington about Oct. 17. Hayes, GIbbons and Co had a tiny ad and would reopen within the week on State St. Keith Bros will be at 916 Prarie, which was their home.

Oct. 12, Gage (misspelled Gace, but it seems likely proofreading was sparse just then) has an ad with offices open at 419 Michigan ave, and states they will open at 961 Indiana, about Oct 20. As wholesalers they stocked stores in far away places as well as here.

H. W. and J. M. Wetherell, was advertising wholesale millinery to reopen, and they later did at 369 Wabash. Hard to believe this was so essential, but those were the days no women went out of the house without a hat.

In Nov 1871 Carsons also had reopened south of the burned out center of the city, at 138 22nd St. Mandels opened Nov 6, and was close by at 22nd and Michigan Ave. The fire had burned out both their original store, and the soon to open new store at Harrison and State.

A 1901 account of the life of the youngest brother, Emanuel, credits him with the discovery of the new site, and his successful effort to stock it. He had departed for NY in search of goods, but many others had as well. Instead he went to Detroit and purchased from their wholesale district, having the goods shipped back to Chicago. This allowed the store to reopen a week after the fire. That location was under his guidance for five more years.

“Within two days they had secured funds for reconstructing the State St building and were underway again when another fire in 1874 ruined the new structure.”

Nov 16, 1883 brought a lesser fire, confined to the 4th floor, which was the top floor, and shattered glass and water caused significant stock damage, fortunately insured. This fire was thought to be caused by overheated steam pipes.

Just when Mandels was fire free, on Feb 23. 1899 a massive fire at an adjoining store created a flood of their entire basement, with loss of mostly carpets and rugs. Manels had just opened a tea room in 1898, so they had plans to stay where they were. Perhaps there was a silver lining to the tragedy of the McClurg store, after all. Mandels purchased the land and had a new store ready to be occupied the start of 1901.

In 1911 Leon Madel’s death was marked by a small box ad in the Tribune on page 3.

The store published their own newspaper for employees. The Chicago History Museum had three issues, from June 26, 1912, Sept 18, 1912, and April 16, 1913. In a column they wrote called Personal Mention there were only three millinery staff included. In June 1912 we learn that Miss Frances Watkins of basement millinery would leave July 2 for a month in Kenosha, WI, and Miss Lee Mohr, “a faithful worker in basement millinery,” leaves July 2 for a month rest. She would be traveling to Canada and also her home in Buffalo, NY. In Sept the good news was shared that Miss Catherine Cornwall married George LeMeiux and left for a NY honeymoon. They would return after Oct. 15, to reside at 1035 N. Lawndale. These extended time off periods are a bit of a mystery. It is highly doubtful these were paid vacation times. Perhaps slow seasons allowed staff to take time off on their own. The April 1913 issue had rankings of the store departments for March sales leaders. Of 148 depts millinery came in number 41, and another millinery group came in 62. Spring sales of Easter wear would have accounted for their success.

On Sept. 21, 1930 the death of Fred Mandel, Leon’s son, was covered in an article. Before he left for Paris he had cut the cake back in March to celebrate the 75th anniversary. Most stores close upon the death of the founder, but this was a founder’s son, so the show had to go on. In this situation there was a 6 page ad running for the 75th anniversary. Hats were $10, and in the Subway Store, the bargain basement, the values were at $3.50.

A centennial celebration for the enterprise in 1955 was covered with an article, mentioning the original brothers Soloman, Leon, Simon and Emanuel joined in 1865, to carry forward the store of Simon Klein, their uncle, which had changed into Klein & Mandel in 1855. 1

Mandels was a leader in many ways, with the first live models for fashions, and in 1934, a unique shopping experience for a niche group, nuns.

“From the perspective of the secular world, one effect of religious practices and identities has been to define potential markets. Mandel Brothers, a downtown department store, took out a full-page ad in a 1934 publication of the Archdiocese of Chicago to announce the existence of private shopping accommodations for nuns.”

In 1929 a ladies life included the essential pastime of bridge. Mandel Bros was not to miss a marketing opportunity. They held presentations by a bridge authority in the new Bridge Shop in the Foreign Shop on the 9th floor. Ladies were encouraged to select tallies, prizes, even bridge tables to impress their friends.

Of course one could also shop for a stunning new hat to wear to the favorite bridge game. The KNOX “Piquant” felt hat could be fitted to your head in a choice of four colors for $15. Then again the newspaper reader may already have been even far more impressed by the full page ad from Marshall Field and Co that day. They offered a 2 hour commitment to make your hat, also fitted to your head, for a mere $11, but in SEVENTY-FIVE colors! Not everyone may have been tempted by those options. There was an ad for Charles A. Stevens with a clearance of 200 hats for $2.50, with values to $25.

For the careful reader of the page of school advertisements, there is one tiny box at the bottom of the Vogue School, for fashion. It is listed as held at Millinery Modes 116 S. Michigan Ave. One wonders how many customers thought it would be a swell idea to learn to make their own hats, and perhaps have a career as well. This might be a good idea if you did not love bridge.

The Vogue School was successful, an entity of the The Commercial Art School, started in 1916, and evolved into the Ray-Vogue School of Design. It lastly became the Illinois Institute of Art. (Not to be confused with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.)–_Chicago

The lives of the Mandel Bros were anything but dull. If fire did not cause havoc, crime had an impact.

In December 1935, the father Leon and  son Frederick, with their wives, were returning from the Stevens Hotel to the yacht, which was the home of  the Leon Mandels. Gunmen accosted their car, and a shootout ensued. The shootout was on the part of the robbers, the watchman from the yacht, and Mr. Mandel as well. Since the robbers had grabbed Mrs. Mandel as a shield, Mr. Mandel pulled a pistol from the car’s glove box. No one was caught, and fortunately no one died.

Certainly one would hope never to experience another gun battle, but such was not the case. At the top of this blog is one front page from the Chicago Tribune from Apr. 1957. A planned major burglary of the store was tipped off to the police and an undercover operation was in place. It had an ugly outcome.

What remains of buildings which held hats for Mandels? Perhaps only a warehouse at 3254 N. Halstead, where the name is in granite.

For an excellent overview of the company, this blog tells much the same as included above, plus far more.

Perhaps you wonder what the Mandels did with their wealth? Plenty of things, many philanthropic, but also fun related. In 1940 Fred Mandel, director of Mandel Bros. department store bought the Detroit Lions. (Since today is SuperBowl Sunday, it seemed fitting to add that timely tidbit.)