Sunday, July 5, 2020

The 1894 Fire in Rogers Park Community of Chicago.

We should all be familiar with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that burned from Sunday, October 8, 1871, to early Tuesday, October 10, 1871, killing nearly 300 people and destroying about four square miles of Chicago. Almost unknown is the "Saturday Night Fire" that struck downtown Chicago ten blocks north of the great fire, the night before on October 7, 1871, leveling four-city blocks.

On April 29, 1878, Rogers Park was incorporated as a village of Illinois governed by six trustees. At one time West Ridge was adjoined with neighboring Rogers Park, but it seceded to become its own village in 1890 over a conflict concerning park districts (known as the Cabbage War) and taxes. The Village of Rogers Park was annexed to Chicago on April 4, 1893, along with the Village of West Ridge, each becoming one of Chicago's 77 communities today.
The Birch Forest extended from about Birchwood Avenue south to Touhy Avenue, about 1/2 mile, and west to just west of where Sheridan Road is today, in the Rogers Park community of Chicago, ca.1900.
By the turn of the 20th century, a lot of Rogers Park lakefront was still Birch and Oak Forests which, not surprisingly, gave its name to Birchwood Avenue. The subdivision of Birchwood Beach extended from Birchwood Avenue south to Touhy Avenue, about 1/2 mile, and west to the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad tracks (today's CTA Red Line) in the Rogers Park community of Chicago. The Birchwood Country Club, a nine-hole golf club was short-lived from 1906-1913 and was limited to 100 individual members living in the Birchwood Beach area.

On Wednesday, August 8, 1894, one-city block of Rogers Park bounded by Clark Street, Market Street (Ravenswood Avenue), Greenleaf Avenue, and Jackson Avenue (Estes Avenue) went up in flames. Clean up and rebuilding took several years.
Shaded area shows burnt district at Rogers Park.
By a fire that broke out in that part of the city known as Rogers Park at 9:30 a.m. yesterday (Wednesday, August 8) an entire block was wiped out, including stores, factories, and dwellings, fourteen in all, while ten families were driven out homeless. The loss of property was $34,550, but during the excitement, many persons narrowly escaped injury, while five were hurt.

The scene of the fire was but a few hundred feet northeast of the Chicago & North Western Railway depot (now Metra) and in the principal business portion of the former village. The burned territory is bounded by Clark Street, Greenleaf Avenue, Jackson Avenue, and Market Street, along which the Chicago & North Western Railway has its right-of-way. At the southwest corner of the block at Greenleaf Avenue and Market Street was the Planing Mill of George Gerner & Sons, composed of one- and two-story Frame Buildings, occupying 100 feet of ground each way. The fire started either on top or within the Boiler Room of the mill, the generally accepted theory being that it was set by sparks from a passing engine on the North Western tracks.

Only a block away, on the east side of Clark Street and Jackson Avenue, stands the old Rogers Park Village Hall, the pride of all citizens there, which is now the headquarters of Precinct 44 of the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Fire Department Truck Company № 25, with two men under the command of Lieutenant Healy. The two pieces of horse-drawn apparatus there consist of a truck, hose wagon, and chemical combined and is of the general variety used in country towns. The alarm at the Gerner factory was immediately sent in for this piece of apparatus, but it is reported that it was fully 20 minutes before the scene of the fire was reached, and, of course, the big mill, dry as tinder, like everything else in the neighborhood was doomed. Moreover, the fire was reaching after three frame cottages standing north of the mill, and for Burbank’s Drug Store, a two-story frame building standing east of the mill and facing Clark Street.

The firemen attached their lines to the hydrants, but the streams issued from them would barely reach a foot from the nozzle. Rogers Park, though annexed to Chicago for nearly a year, has been without city water all that time, and compelled to depend on a private waterworks, which were pumping under about ten pounds pressure when yesterday’s fire broke out. Calls for assistance were quickly sent out by Lieutenant George W. Perry to the Evanston and city departments. Hose companies from Evanston were earliest to respond, but by the time of their arrival, all of the buildings save one in the doomed block had been destroyed, and the fire was endeavoring to grasp the City Hall across Clark Street, as well as a long row of frame buildings containing the Rogers Park Library, several stores, and the houses of many families. The City Hall was set on fire several times, but the Evanston firemen managed to avert the danger, while several young men from the same classic town by hard work prevented one building from going down on the burning block.

After the flames had almost destroyed everything on the block, Fire Marshal Frederick J. Gabriel of the 13th Battalion arrived, followed by the Engine Companies № 70, № 55 from 685 Sheffield Avenue, № 56 from Noble Street and Clybourn Avenue, № 53 from Clybourn and Southport Avenues, and Hose Company № 4 from Clark Street and Belmont Avenue, and № 6 from Balmoral and Ashland Avenues. Some of the companies had driven six miles at full pace, with the thermometer at 95° F in the shade, and men and horses were alike worn out. But the former went to work with a will in a dire emergency. Every building on the block save one had gone down, and the fire had extended to the east side of Clark Street, where the two-story building occupied by W.P. Foote’s grocery store and home and the office of Expressman Anthony Cook had taken fire. Captain A. William Lawson and Lieutenant Quinlan with their men pushed into the building to stay the start the fire had taken for the destruction of another block. While at work Lawson and Quinlan were overcome by the heat and fell into a mass of burning debris on the second floor, whence they were rescued after heroic efforts, both being painfully burned. The building was gutted. Marshal Gabriel and Lieutenant Perry had by this time succeeded in getting the manager of the private waterworks to put on a greater pressure, and after a hot fight at Clark Street and Greenleaf Avenue, the flames were barred from further progress.

At 10:00 a.m. the wires of the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad Company and the Chicago Telephone Company were burned or cut down to avert danger, and there was no telephonic or electric car communication between the city, the northern suburbs, and Evanston until late last evening.

Police Officer John Weldon was the hero of the fire. He is from Summerdale Station. After the Burbank store and residence on the corner of Greenleaf Avenue and Clark Street had been encircled by the fire he rushed up the stairway leading to rooms above. Mrs. Gurney, the mother-in-law of Dr. Lowell, was there with Mrs. Burbank, both women frantic from fear. Mrs. Burbank hurried down the stairway, her clothing taking fire in her progress. She was seized by bystanders, who extinguished the flames on her gown, and she escaped with a few slight burns. In the meantime, Officer Weldon held Mrs. Gurney at a window, from which smoke was issuing freely, and was calling for a ladder. He knew the attempt down the stairway was fraught with danger. Finally, a ladder was placed against the window and the officer carried Mrs. Gurney to the ground where both fell unconscious from the smoke they had inhaled. Officer Weldon was also burned on one side of the face. Other praiseworthy work was done by Lieutenant George W. Perry and the twenty-two men of his command, in the way of saving threatened property and one of their deeds was of particular daring. On the railroad track, less than fifty feet from the blazing mill stood a tank car loaded with oil and wedged in between the other cars on either end of it. There was great danger of an explosion of the oil, which would have added horror to the fire disaster. Lieutenant Perry called all his men together and with desperate strength, they removed the cars from one end of the tank car, which had become heated to a dangerous point, and then they shoved the oil car to a safe distance.

The three cottages north of the planing mill on Market Street, now Ravenswood Avenue went down in a hurry before the flames. Nicholas Stuer and his wife, living in a part of the first cottage, lost everything, while Louis Petrie saved only a pair of trousers. Nicholas Michaels, living in the next cottage, saved part of his effects, while James Michaels, in the third cottage, saved all his furniture. The last building on Market Street, a large livery stable operated by J.P. Goodwin, was quickly destroyed, with a number of sleighs and a quantity of feed. He succeeded in saving his horses, carriages, and hearse.

Fronting on Clark Street, besides the Burbank Building, were a double two-story frame building occupied by John Hinds’ Bakery and John Weas’ Shoe Store, a brick building occupied by Sharp Brothers’ dry goods store, and a brick residence annex, and the frame residence and Butcher Shop of John Lindley. The undertaking establishment of Peter Weimeschkirch, which also constituted the Rogers Park Morgue, was but partially destroyed, the undertaker finding time to save most of his stock. His residence was saved.

George Gerner, in whose planning mill the fire originated, thinks with proper protection the fire should have been extinguished in a few minutes with but little loss.

Serious complaints were made against the private waterworks and the newly-annexed people think the city should take charge of the water supply. Harvey Eugene Keeler is the Superintendent of the works, which are said to have been originally built by the National Tube Company and later delivered to a stock company. The works stand at Touhy Avenue and Sheridan Road and are substantial and well equipped. Citizens complain that besides not being protected in cases of fire the water company charges exorbitant rates.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
Source, Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society.
Source, Chicago Tribune.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The History of Mrs. Japp's Potato Chips; Jays Foods, Inc. of Chicago.

In 1927, Leonard Japp Sr. and friend, George Gavora was able to put $5 down on a rickety Ford delivery truck and buy $22.50 worth of pretzels, nuts, cigarettes, and what saloons needed for sandwiches.

When Japp began in 1927 (the Great Depression didn't start until Aug. 1929), his Japp & Gavora Food Co. took off almost immediately by delivering snacks to saloons, some of them owned by Al Capone. Al was a hands-off owner and had managers running his businesses. All these drinking establishments were in need of smokes and something to nosh on. 

According to legend; When Al Capone came home after a trip to Saratoga Springs, New York—the birthplace of the potato chip—and personally requested that Japp bring the salty potato snacks to Chicago. (Salty snacks resulted in more beer sales.) In December of 1927, Capone moved to the property he owned in Saint Petersburg, Florida to get away from the heat that was coming down on him in Chicago.
Note: The 'Urban Myth' that Al Capone gave Leonard Japp money to start his business producing potato chips is false.
I sent a message to my friend, Deirdre Marie Capone,[1] Al Capone's Grandneice. Deirdre wrote back; "I heard that also. My family helped lots of people start businesses that are still going," but she had no knowledge of Japp.
Within two and a half years, Japp had built frying vats, assembled a fleet of 15 new trucks, and was peddling a full line of snack products. But the bubble burst when the Great Depression struck in August of 1929. When they went broke, everyone went broke with them.

During the Depression, Japp, an all-state football and basketball player sparred with Buddy Baer, the heavyweight who twice lost to Joe Louis for the championship, to pick up a little spare money. But then Japp got back into the snack business.

''Got an old vagabond truck. I can't tell you how I got it. Started buying chips, taffy apples, pretzels.'' Japp was buying chips from Mrs. Fletcher's Potato Chip Co. and in 1934, he said, he began putting his name on FletFcher's Potato Chip.

In 1938, he formed a partnership with George Johnson, a salesman for Kraft. Their firm, Special Foods Co., peddled potato chips, noodles, popcorn, spaghetti, jelly, salad dressing, and Rival dog food. ''The grocery stores were all Ma and Pa then and only a few A&Ps. You could park the truck and make three deliveries at once,'' Japp said.

But Japp and Johnson weren't happy with the way Mrs. Fletcher ran her plant. Around the same time, the partners heard about a new automatic plant in Madison, Wisconsin, that produced a better chip.

''It was nice and light, 1000% better than what we were selling. We decided to go that route, and in no time at all, we were doing great,'' he said.

The Madison operation went out of business and the partners began buying a similar product from Blue Star Foods Inc. in Rockford. But as the business grew, Blue Star said the partners would have to go elsewhere because they were gobbling up too much of Blue Star's chips.

''We had been adding trucks, going like crazy and concentrating on chips, getting rid of other items like dog food and jellies and candy,'' he said.

Forced into manufacturing, the partners bought an $18,000 automatic potato chip maker and installed it at 40th Street and Princeton Avenue in Chicago.

''That's how it got started in 1940. We called it Mrs. Japp's. When Japan bombed Pearl Habor in Honolulu, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, during WWII, the grocers started calling us immediately, demanding that we remove our Japp chips from their stores,'' said Leonard.
So they sat down and, within a week, came up with more than 30 names to submit for trademark registration. ''We wanted Jax, but it was taken by a brewing company. The name Jays was available and we renamed the company as Jays Foods, incorporated. It took a couple of weeks, but we started putting tags on plain bags with the Jays name on it,'' he said.
''We had to buy second-hand cartons during the war. Without stamps, you couldn't buy anything. My wife, Eugenia, and I would travel all over the MidwestNebraska, the Dakotas—to barter and exchange for gas and for oil for cooking. We'd buy up all the nylons and trade with those,'' he said.

At some point during or just after WWII, some family members changed their last name from Japp to Jepp.

Mrs. Japp, who was a vice president when she died in 1983 at age 72, also was responsible for starting a practice that has been embraced by the food industry. She began putting recipes on the potato chip packages.

''My wife had run a chain of bakeries and was a fine cook. She kept telling us we had a fine product but we had to tell people how to use it. She came up with a recipe for tuna fish casserole with potato chips,'' he said.

Japp was hard to convince, and so was Blue Star in Rockford. But, as Blue Star's biggest customer, Japp talked them into it, as he put it, ''to get my wife off my back.'' Then everyone put recipes on potato chip bags.

''When the war began, there were about 18 potato chips companies in Chicago. The ones that didn't wheel and deal fell by the wayside,'' he said.

Just before D-Day, Johnson and Japp agreed that they would make a bid to buy the other one out.

''We wrote our bids on a piece of paper and agreed the higher one would win. I wanted to bid $120,000, but Eugenia said that if we wanted to keep the company we should bid $150,000. When we turned over the bids, George had bid $145,000,'' Japp said.

At that time, Jays was doing about $750,000 in business a year, only in the Chicago area. They changed the name to Jays Foods and in the next five years, continued to expand the company's distribution.

The leading chipmaker at the time was Mrs. Klein's, Japp said. ''Mrs. Klein's only worked the main streets. We worked the side streets. One day, Mrs. Klein's walked out and found we were at her front door. By 1950, we were the top potato chip company in Chicago,'' Japp said.

At about this time, Jays came up with the slogan for which it is almost as famous as Schlitz was for ''The beer that made Milwaukee famous.''

''At food shows, people would write down their comments on our potato chips. The most frequent comment was 'Can't stop eating 'em.' So we began using that,'' he said. Arch rival, Frito-Lay, now a subsidiary of giant PepsiCo. Inc. liked the sentiment so much, it started daring the public in 1963: ''Bet you can't eat just one.''

Flushed with success and demand, Jays expanded throughout the 1950s. In 1957, Japp's son, Leonard Jr., joined the firm after six years in the Marine Corps.

''I had always worked at the plant at various jobs. I started when I was 13,'' said Leonard Jr., the firm's president. When he was in the marines, he said, he would work at the company on his leaves.

In the 1960s, Jays switched from tin cans of potato chips to less expensive boxes.

''They used to deliver those cans to the back door and we'd fill 'em and load 'em out the front door. There's no way you can store that many cans. They just became too expensive,'' the younger Japp said.

Through the years, Jays has added to its snack foods, but potato chips constitute 70 percent of sales. Pretzels, corn chips, cheese dips, and other products are made elsewhere. Only potato chips and popcorn are made at the South Side plant, at 825 E. 99th St. But that keeps Jays' 400 employees there busy on three shifts a day. The company grew to 850 workers.

''We make potato chips and popcorn for the first two shifts. Then the whole place is scrubbed down during the last shift. We like to say that the place is clean enough to eat off the floor. One television reporter did,'' Leonard Jr. said.

Besides the Chicago plant, the firm has 14 distribution plants and 5 distributors in Illinois and parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana.

Jays faced a constant battle to get the right amount of shelf space at grocery stores. ''I don't want more shelf space than I can sell in a store, but I want it where I can be representative. Generally speaking, I think we could do more. If you have too much, you have too much spoilage,'' said Leonard Jr.

Competition always is lurking. Years ago, General Mills Inc. introduced Bugles and Whistles; Procter & Gamble Co. served up Pringles.

''We fought them by stressing that our potato chips are all-natural ingredients, made with no preservatives. We use pure polyunsaturated corn oil,'' he said.

John Cady, the president of the Potato Chip/Snack Food Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based trade group of snack firms, knows the Jays story.

''Jays had expanded its original markets into other states to increase its growth and set up distribution centers in areas outside Chicago to reach out farther than if it just was in the Chicago market,'' Cady said. And it's working, he said. ''Overall, the consumer must think they've got a pretty good product because they have grown. There's a certain amount of brand loyalty, and people are apparently loyal to Jays, grown up with Jays, and keep buying that brand.''

Japp & Gavora Food Co. 1927-1929
Leonard Japp's Depression 1929-1934
Selling Rebranded Fletcher's Potato Chips 1934-1938
Special Foods Company 1938-1940
Mrs. Japp's Potato Chips 1940-1941
Jays Foods, Inc. 1941-1986
Borden, Inc - Jays Foods 1986-1994
The Japp Family Reacquired Jays Foods 1994-2004
Purchased by Ubiquity Brands - Jays Foods 2004-2007
Snyder's-Lance of Hanover - Jays Foods 2007-Present

Snyder's-Lance of Hanover bought Jays in 2007 and made a promise not to change Jays Foods methods for the manufacture of their snacks, and so far—so good!

Leonard Japp (1904-2000) buried at Oakridge-Glen Oak Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois.
Irene Day Japp (1905-1938), 1st wife died 11 years after they were married in 1927. Irene is buried at Oakridge-Glen Oak Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois.
Eugenia Peszynski Japp  2nd wife married in 1939 - died in 1983.
Janice M Japp - 3rd wife (Dates unknown)

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] Deirdre Marie Capone is a writer and producer, known for Al Capone, the Untold Story, Capone: The Man That Knew Too Much and The Making of the Mob (2015) IMDb.

Deirdre Marie Capone authored; "Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story from Inside His Family."