History in a Shaving Mug: More than Barbershop Banter

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Although this photograph does not capture the barbers of the Victorian Era, this Babershop Quartet, the “Original Four Quartet,” does depict the longstanding tradition of the “wet shave” and shaving mug. (From the Photograph Collection of the Berks History Center Research Library, Penn Wheelman Folder)

During the Victorian Era, it was common for a man to visit his barber for a “wet shave”.  To perform a wet shave, the barber placed a round bar of soap into a mug, and then scrubbed that bar with a brush to produce a thick lather.  Many barbers kept individualized shaving mugs for their customers, and such mugs became popular gifts for men.

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The Berks History Center is home to a collection of 25 shaving mugs which came from the barber shop of  Fred Messmer (1880-1959).  Messmer was a German immigrant who operated a barber shop on North 11th Street in Reading from about 1900 to 1943.  Each mug is decorated and marked with the name of a customer.  We are fortunate that this group survives to provide unique insight into a local barber’s clientele.

Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith

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Happy National Pretzel Day from Pretzel City!

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Postcard produced by Unique Pretzel Bakery (From the BHC Research Library Postcard Collection)

Reading, well-deservedly, was known as the Pretzel Capital of the World by 1948. Its pretzel bakeries were producing one-third of all the pretzels baked in the United States. The earliest bakery to open in Reading, was on Apple Street in the 1860’s, owned by Benjamin Lichtenhaler who was born in Lititz, Pennsylvania.  Julius Sturgis, also from Lititz, is credited with opening the first commercial pretzel company in the United States in 1861 in Lititz; later moving the enterprise to Berks County in 1924. His plant produced the first hard pretzels. The original recipe belonged to the Moravians. Other pretzel companies followed as the demand for pretzels increased. The Reading Pretzel Machinery Company was founded in 1935, who produced machinery to automate pretzel production–since up to that point pretzel makers did everything by hand!

The origin of the pretzel can be traced back to a 7th century monk in Europe using it to reward children who knew their prayers, calling it “pretiolas”–“little rewards” in Latin. The shape of the pretiola suggested a pair of folded hands.  Later, they were taken over the Alps into Austria and Germany were the name became “bretzel”. In Vienna, pretzel bakers were awarded a coat of arms for uncovering a Turkish plot in the 1500’s.  From its early use as a reward for prayers, it  became so popular in the Middle Ages that it was a symbol of good luck, and the shape was used as a marriage knot in Switzerland. Pretzels were also supposed to ward off evil.

Pretzels have been popular with Americans for centuries Some believe that the Pilgrims brought pretzels with them on the Mayflower. However, there’s little doubt that early German settlers to Pennsylvania (who we think of as the Pennsylvania Dutch) were baking pretzels in their home kitchens in the early 19th century.

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Joseph Kuzminski Mayoral Key for the City of Reading, mid-1970s. (From the BHC Museum Collection)

Although Reading no longer produces one-third of the pretzels in the United States, Pennsylvania remains the pretzel center of America, accounting for 80% of the pretzels made in this country. In 2003, Governor Ed Rendell declared April 26 as Pretzel Day in Pennsylvania in recognize “the importance of the pretzel to the state’s history and economy.” The pretzel still remains an icon for Reading and Berks County. Reading mayoral keys (often called “Keys to the City”) have a pretzel shape at one end! We have a number of these keys in our collection, including the one above from Joseph Kuzminski’s term in the mid-1970s.

Article Written & Researched by Gail Corvaia

Sources and Further Reading:

Play Ball! – Baseball Town Reading, Pa

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Reading Police Department “Base Ball” Team Photo, 1924 (From the Homan Collection, BHC’s Research Library)

For baseball aficionados, nothing says spring as much as the words “Play Ball!” Reading, Pennsylvania has a long history in baseball, dating back to 1875 when the Reading Actives organized one of the first professional minor league teams.  Playing the game at what is now 17th and Perkiomen Avenue, players wore no gloves or other protective equipment.

Over the decades there were changes in both teams and leagues beginning in 1890. The names of the teams included the Coal Heavers, the Pretzels,  the Coal Barons, the Marines, the Aces, the Keystones, the Chicks, Brooks the Indians and the Red Sox. The various leagues Reading teams played in included the Atlantic, the Tri-state, Middle States League, Union Association, International, New York-Pennsylvania, Inter-State, and Eastern.

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The Reading Actives (From The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 8, no. 4, 1943)

From 1907 until 1941, Reading professional teams played at Lauer’s Park Stadium at 3rd and Elm Streets. 1919 to 1932 were great years for the International League- but not for the Reading team, which only posted winning records in two seasons during that time, before the team moved to Albany. During the 1922 season the Reading Aces, later called the Keystones, were managed by Charles Albert “Chief” Bender, who would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and is credited with inventing the slider.  In 1929, George Quellich, playing for the Keystones, set a professional baseball record that still stands: 15 hits in 15 consecutive at bats.

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A Game at Lauer’s Park (From the Photograph Collection, BHC’s Research Library)

Poor attendance caused teams to leave Reading, on a number of occasions. Following the departure of the Brooks at the end of the 1941 season, and the demolition of Lauer’s Park in 1943,  Reading was without a team or stadium until  construction of a new stadium-  Reading Municipal Stadium (now First Energy Stadium)- was completed in 1951. The first ball was tossed out in the new park on the date of its dedication, July 15, 1951, for a game between two local American Legion teams. Professional baseball did not come to the stadium until the Reading Indians of the Eastern League began play there for the 1952 season. In 1957 the Indians were league champs. Notable Reading Indians players included Rocky Colavito, Herb Score, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, and Roger Maris.

Concession stand items from the 1955 Reading Indians:

  • Hot Dogs                        .20
  • Coca-Cola                       .10
  • Cracker Jack                  .15
  • Y-B Cigars                      .10 +  .25
  • Cushions                        .25  (Rented only)

The Indians left town after the 1961 season and were replaced during the 1963 and 11964 seasons by a Red Sox farm team. When the Red Sox left town after the 1964 season, the Indians returned for the 1965 season, but left town after the season ended. The revolving door was a result of low attendance at most games with only a few hundred fans.

The Philadelphia Phillies then moved their AA franchise to Reading, beginning play in the 1967 season as the Reading Phillies. The relationship with the Philadelphia Phillies has continued for more than 50 seasons, even after the Reading team changed its name to the “Fightins” a few years ago. Among the notable future major leaguers whose names appeared on  Reading’s  roster are Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, Bob Boone, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Greg Luzinski,  Willie Hernandez, Ryne Sandberg,  George Bell and Marlon Byrd.

The state’s approval in July 1973 of the sale of beer at the stadium helped turn things around financially for the franchise, along with the Phillies. Crowds increasing dramatically as improvements and repairs throughout the stadium were made, including construction of a roof over the grandstand, installation of individual seats which replaced wooden benches, a beer garden, several picnic and buffet areas, a swimming pool, and a new video scoreboard. The team was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, and is the oldest team in the Eastern League to play in their original city with the most seasons under their original name. Reading and Philadelphia Phillies are tied for the longest affiliation in minor league baseball.

Sources and Further Reading:

Books:

  • Tales from Baseballtown: Vignettes from the Storied History of Baseball in Reading, Pennsylvania and Baseball in Reading: Images of Baseball (Arcadia Publishing, 2003) both by Charlie Adams
  • Reading’s Big League Exhibition Games (Arcadia Publishing, 2015) by Brian Engelhardt

Articles:

  • “Early Baseball in Reading,” by Bruce K. Gerhart, The Historical Review of Berks County 8, no. 4, 1943.
  • “Berks Players in Major League Baseball, Part I,” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 31, no. 4, 1966.
  • “Berks Players in Major League Baseball, Part II,” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 32, no. 2, 1967.
  • “A Reach Too Far- Reading’s Colorful Adventures In the International League,” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, Vol. . 63, Issue 3 (1998)“The League that Failed,” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County,64, Issue 2 (1999)
  • “Broadway Charlie Wagner’s Magnificent Obsessions.” by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 64, Issue 3, (1999)
  • “Randy Gumpert’s Baseball Odyssey,”by David Q. Voigt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 70, Issue 3, (2005)\
  • “The Reading International League Baseball Team — 1919 to 1962,” by Jack Linton, The Historical Review of Berks County, vol. 55, no. 3, 1990.
  • “Reading’s First Two Pennants — Outlaw and Otherwise,” by Kevin Tully and Brian Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 80, no. 4, 2015.
  • “The 1926 Reading Keystones: A Season of Shame,” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 68, Issue 3, (2003)
  • “And in the Beginning of Baseballtown….” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 77, Issue 3, (2012)
  • “Before Screwball, Before Bucky, Before Quak, Before Blooper, and Even Before the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor and Ruth & Judy, There Was Silly Phillie,” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 80, Issue 3, (2015)
  • “The World Heavyweight Chapmpion…At First Base in Reading?” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 81, Issue 3, (2016)
  • “The Night the Lights Were Lit at Lauers Park.” Charles J. Adams III, The Historical Review of Berks County, 82, Issue 3, (2017)
  • “The Ever So Brief Reign in Baseballtown of the First Clown Prince of Baseball,” Brian C. Engelhardt The Historical Review of Berks County, 82, Issue 3, (2017)
  • “Baseballtown’s Time of Troubles: When Reading Lost Three Teams in Five Years.” Brian C. Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 78, Issue 2, (2013)
  • “The Days of Grin and Heck.” Brian C. Engelhardt The Historical Review of Berks County, 79, Issue 3, (2014)
  • “When the Big Leagues Came to Reading.” Brian C. Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 77, Issue 3, (2012)
  • “July 5, 1898: Miss Arlington Twirls for the Reading Coal Heavers,” Brian C. Engelhardt The Historical Review of Berks County, 76, Issue 4, (2011)
  • “Grand Dames of Berks County Softball,” Brian C. Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 72, Issue 2, (2007)
  • “Anything But a Bonehead: Fred Merkle’s Adventures with the 1927 Reading Keys,” Brian C. Engelhardt, The Historical Review of Berks County, 71, Issue 2, (2006)

Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia.  Thank you to Brian Engelhardt for providing additional research and information for this article.

Industry in Berks: W.H. Luden Candy Company

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W.H. Luden Candy Company was established in 1879 by William H. Luden when he was twenty. During his first year in business at 35 N. Fifth Street as the sole employee, he produced 30,000 pounds of candy. He continued to add employees and relocated to larger manufacturing facilities twice, finally locating to 200 North Eighth Street. He invented the menthol cough drop eliminating the need for the menthol vials that cold sufferers had carry with them to relieve their symptoms.

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Not only did he employ high standards, but he was a great innovator as well. He invented a peanut shelling device, lined packages with wax paper to keep his candy fresh and was great at marketing his products. He sold his candy door-to-door and persuaded shopkeepers to display and stock his wares.  He gave cough drops to railroad workers, gaining national exposure for his product.

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Photo taken in the Berks History Center Museum’s Trades to Industry Room

In 1927, he sold the business to Food Industries, the Dietrich family ,under whose leadership the company continued to grow. Employing more than 1200, they produced 500 varieties of candy, introducing  the 5th Avenue Bar in 1936. Luden’s strove to provide customers with quality products at affordable prices. Post War years saw the introduction of Coc-O-Nut-O, Almond Royal, Raspberry Royal, MelloMint Patty, MelloCreme Patties and Mrs. Miller’s Cup.  In 1967, Frank Zappa wrote a sound track for a Luden’s cough drops TV commercial.  Luden’s was sold to Hershey’s Food Corporation in 1986 who sold the name and brand in 2001.

Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia

The First Defenders: Reading’s Famous Response to the Civil War

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April 14th marks the 156th anniversary of the First Defenders’ response to Lincoln’s call to arms, following the attack on Fort Sumter. They departed Reading on April 16, 1861, arriving in Harrisburg that evening. The Ringgold Light Artillery, commanded by Captain James McKnight, was part of the Pennsylvania Companies.  The Pennsylvania Companies were mustered in Harrisburg before taking the Northern Central Railroad to Baltimore where they were met by angry, violent mobs.

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First Defenders Monument, Reading City Park from BHC’s Research Library Postcard Collection

Upon arrival in Washington, the Ringgold Light Artillery met with Lincoln and his party first as they were first to volunteer and leave Reading.Their assignment was to protect the White House and later Washington itself. They remained at the Washington Arsenal as guards until they were mustered out on July 23, 1861 where many joined other units.

 

Scholla: Building Towns in Berks

Building Towns in Berks

Most of the older towns of Berks County had their beginnings during the middle of the 18th century. Just as land hunger sometimes grips whole communities and sends land values into a spiral, so there are periods when people want to found towns. This is the account of the efforts to build three towns in Berks.

In 1756, the soldiers stationed at Fort Henry in Bethel Township planned to build a town near the spot where the Seven Star Hotel now stands on Route 83. It was to be known as Snavely, because the building lots were cut out of Hannes Schnabele’s farm. Twenty lots were surveyed and a quit-rent of seven shillings was fixed as the price. In a letter from Colonel Busse of Reading to Conrad Weiser, January, 1757, the information is supplied that the soldiers at another fort planned to lay out a town on Eperecht’s farm. We do not know where that was. Can anyone supply the information?

The third account has to do with the founding of Reading. Conrad Weiser, as one of the commissioners for the town to built on the widow Finney Farm (now Reading), had it as his duty to see to it that purchasers of lots erected houses upon them within the stipulated period of time. His methods were not always tactful but they got results. On March 16, 1752, Richard Peters informed Thomas Penn as follows:

“It is very fortunate that I gave the management of that town (Reading) to Conrad whose imperiousness has been of great service, for they build regularly, or if they don’t, or are in any way abusing, Conrad deals about his blows without any ceremony and down drops the man who dares to resist his ponderous arm. But with all I must say that it is guided by good sense and a necessary fortitude.

Along this line, it is interesting to note one of Weiser’s own statements in which he reveals his methods. Two men, Jacob Heller and Michael Greter, both for lot No. 310 in Reading. “I gave Jacob Heller the return,” says Weiser in a letter to Richard Peters, “and ordered him to go and get a patent or be kicked – which he would (have been), I was then quite out of humor.” Decidedly.

Reading, PA looking over the Lebanon Valley. Source: https://www.crywolfservices.com/readingpa/
Reading, PA looking over the Lebanon Valley. Source: https://www.crywolfservices.com/readingpa/

A Brief History of Berks County, part 1

After 5 1/2 years assisting researchers in the Henry Janssen Library, it is interesting to learn how little people know of their ancestors and the time in which they lived.  The following is a brief history of Berks County, as I have learned it, by answering research request.  All of us at the Henry Janssen Library, have reviewed and interpreted multiple resources to formulate answers to help researchers understand the early history of the county. We are not expert historians writing a thesis, just teachers trying to make connections for people so they understand their family’s history.  I will not be citing those sources, however if you are interested in learning more, please contact me and I can point you to some books that may be of interest.  Many of the early histories are online at https://archive.org/, which is an online book database.  You can view these editions on your kindle, as a pdf, or just on your computer.  If more researchers understood the time their ancestors lived, I truly believe they would have a greater appreciation of their ancestors and realize you do not need to be famous to make history!

Statement: “My ancestor was born in Berks County in 1684.”

Answer:  No, not likely.

Why:  In 1684, the only people in Berks County were the Lenni Lenape, also known as the Delaware Indians. On February 28, 1681, King Charles II granted a land charter to William Penn as a payment for a debt owed to Penn’s father.  We celebrate this transaction every year.  Charter Day, celebrated on March 9 this year, is sponsored by PHMC and is a free event at the Daniel Boone and Conrad Weiser Homesteads.  Pennsylvania turned 333 years old in 2014 and the original charter went on exhibit at Pennsbury Manor.  William Penn instituted the colonial government on March 4, 1681.  In 1682, Penn signed a peace treaty with Tammany, leader of the Delaware tribe, which allowed for the settlement of Philadelphia.  The Philadelphia area was originally the Delaware village of Shackamaxon.  In 1701, Penn issued a Charter, establishing Philadelphia as a city.

While today, Philadelphia encompasses roughly 141.6 square miles, in 1701, it was considerably smaller and surrounded by forests. Eventually, as immigrants began arriving from Germany (mainly), Sweden and beyond, the population pushed out and began exploring the wilderness.  On October 21, 1701, William Penn granted, Swedish Lutheran Minister, Andreas Rudman 10,000 acres along the Manatawny Creek.  This area, as it turns out, was a significant economic center for the Delaware Indians with trails leading to Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania.  The first settlers to reach Berks County established Morlatton Village, now Douglassville in 1716, fifteen years after the land grant.  From Morlatton Village, settlers begin buying up land in the Oley Valley, forming what are now Oley, Earl, Pike, District and Rockland Townships.  In 1723, Conrad Weiser arrived with a group of settlers from the Schoharie Region in New York and started the settlement of what are now Bern and Heidelberg Townships.

Something to remember: Berks County is still Indian Territory and all land belongs to the Delaware.  As more settlers arrive, they start taking more land not covered in the earlier treaties.  In 1737, the Penn Family and the Delaware signed the highly disputed Walking Purchase Treaty.  Because of the Treaty, the Penn’s gained ownership over 1,200,000 acres of land, which encompasses the present-day counties of Bucks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, Pike and Schuylkill.  This left Berks County open for settlement.

Your ancestors might have been in Pennsylvania in the late 1600s, but they were not in Berks County.

Coming up…How your ancestors came to Berks County

Image of the Charter to William Penn from the PHMC website: