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Is It "Soda" or Is It "Pop"? A Milwaukee ("Soda") to Iowa ("Pop") Business Cover from 1893

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

On January 1, 1893, the US Postal Service released its first-ever commemorative stamps, i.e., stamps issued to celebrate a specific event or person. The occasion was the World Columbian Exposition that was held in Chicago from May through October of that year. Sixteen stamps with denominations from 1-cent to $5 were issued.

The 1-cent stamp on this cover is US Scott #230 (Figure 1). It depicts Columbus in sight of land. It is affixed to a blue envelope that is addressed to "Theo. Baer, Esq." of DeWitt, Iowa. The cover was sent from Milwaukee by the firm of "Ladwig, Schranck & Co.," but the date is unknown. It was received in DeWitt on August 25, 1893 (see the circular date stamp in Figure 2), so it was probably mailed a few days before that. (DeWitt is a little over 200 miles from Milwaukee.) This was probably a 3rd class mail item given that it was franked with a 1-cent stamp, which was the two-ounce-or-less 3rd class mail rate in the 1890s.

I don't have the contents of the envelope but given that Milwaukee-based Ladwig & Schranck produced and sold barbering supplies and flavored extracts for "soda" and DeWitt-based Theodore Baer worked in a "pop factory" (per the 1900 census), it was most certainly business related, e.g., a brochure or sample, which probably explains the 3rd class rate.

Theodore Baer was born in Germany in 1839 and immigrated to the US in 1872 with his sister Caroline, who was five years his junior. DeWitt is located in Clinton County, which was a major destination for German immigrants in the 19th century. Theodore became a naturalized citizen in 1886. In addition to his trade in pop or mineral water (per the 1880 census), he also farmed, at least according to the 1910 census. Theodore died in DeWitt in 1918 at age 79 and is buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery, DeWitt. He never married. Caroline, by the way, died two years later and is also buried at St. Joseph's.

Ladwig, Schranck & Co. was established in 1876 by Francis F. Ladwig and Henry C. Schranck (Figure 3). This partnership continued until 1907, when Mr. Schranck bought out Mr. Ladwig and incorporated as the H. C. Schranck Company.

Francis was born in 1846 in Germany or what is now Poland and immigrated to the US in 1868. He settled first in Chicago and within two years he was living in Milwaukee. He started his career in the drug business in Germany in 1861 and continued that profession when he came to the US. Francis married Elizabeth Kuehn in 1873, and they had 4 sons, one of whom died as an infant. Francis Ladwig passed away in Milwaukee at age 73 in 1920 and is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Milwaukee.

At least based on the public record, Henry Schranck (Figure 4) had a more illustrious career as a druggist or pharmacist.[i] Born in Milwaukee in 1853, he graduated from the German-English Academy in 1868 and immediately went to clerk for a local drug store. In 1872, he took a job with his eventual business partner, Francis Ladwig, before heading to New York to attend Columbia University where he specialized in chemistry. After graduating in 1876, he returned to Milwaukee and formed Ladwig & Schranck with Francis.

He made his mark in the pharmacy profession, for sure, because by the mid-1890s he was president of the Wisconsin State Board of Pharmacy, a position he held for 13 years. But when he bought out Francis to form H.C. Schranck & Co., his business fortunes soared. The company's trade was extensive, extending from the Ohio River to the Pacific Coast and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf. It maintained agencies in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Winnipeg and Montreal. He was deemed "among the foremost businessmen of Milwaukee."[i]

In the community, he was active in politics having been elected a Milwaukee alderman. He also was an outstanding figure in the Milwaukee music scene. He was one of the officers of the "National Saengerfest," or "singing festival," as well as of the Musical Society of Milwaukee. He was known as an inveterate reader, and it was said his house contained one of the finest private libraries in the city.

Henry married twice. His first wife died in 1913, and he had three sons with her. All graduated from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in chemistry.

Henry Schranck passed away in Cook County, Illinois at age 73 in 1927 and was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Milwaukee. H.C. Schranck & Co. continued in business until about 1955, which is the last mention I can find of it in the Milwaukee City Directory.

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Back

Figure 3 - Ladwig, Schranck & Co. storefront, 1892. Source: Milwaukee Public Library.

Figure 4 - Source: Wisconsin State Board of Pharmacy, 1880s

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