Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Levy Wittenberg (1850-1907), Chicago's Matzoh King.

Levy Wittenberg was born in Kolnich, Russia, in February of 1850 to Israel Wittenberg and Sara, nee Cohen. We know that Levy had at least two siblings, Abraham (1865-1934) and Isaac (1880-1937), because they sued Levy for libel in 1903. Levy Wittenberg came to the United States in 1880 and settled first in New York and then finally in Chicago. 

While still living in Russia, Levi Wittenberg married Gitel (Katie) Newman (1850-1940) circa 1870 while both were twenty years old. Katie told the census taker in 1900 that she had seven children, and all seven were still alive.

Louis (1870-1915), born in Russia
Hyman (1873-1911), born in Russia
Leah (1875-1945), born in Russia
Ida (1879-1912), born in New York
Levi "Harry" (1885-1979), born in New York
Moses "Morry" (1888-1975), born in Chicago
Alexander (1889-1941), born in Chicago. Alexander used the surname "Witte"

In later years Levy claimed that he moved to Chicago in 1883, but that may be unlikely unless he to Chicago ahead of his family. Levi was the first matzoh bakery in Chicago and quickly established himself as one of the top Jewish bakers in Chicagoland.
Wittenberg Matzoh Company at 1326 South Jefferson Street, Chicago. Circa 1900.

Levy founded the Wittenberg Matzoh Company at 1326 South Jefferson Street, Chicago, in 1885. Levy Wittenberg became a naturalized US citizen on October 17, 1890.

Wittenberg Matzoh Company's brand name was "Eatmore Matzoh," producing thousands of pounds of Matzoh each year.
Wittenberg Matzoh Company was incorporated in Illinois in October 1901, as L. Wittenberg Company with the capital of $10,000 ($331,000 today), a bakery manufacturing unleavened bread, crackers, and cakes. Officers were Levy Wittenberg, Elijah N. Zoline, and Harris Bisco. 

The Kosher for Passover operation took place in the early years on the bakery's second floor. The ground floor was for retail. When they needed more room, they moved around the corner to Maxwell Street.

Levi was not without controversy. The following article appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune on June 30, 1903:

Chicago Daily Tribune on June 30, 1903  

Charge Him With Libel in Issuing Circulars Attacking Their Business Integrity.

Three brothers are complainants and defendants in a libel case brought before Justice Richardson yesterday. Abraham and Isaac Wittenberg, bakers at 529 Jefferson street, charging Levy Wittenberg with libel. The trouble started shortly before the Passover feast in April. The matzhos for the feast were bought from Abraham and Isaac Wittenberg, at a reduced price. Then, it is charged, Levy Wittenberg issued circulars of a libelous character, attacking the quality of the food sold by his brothers. One circular stated: 

"Do not buy from them what are called matzohs, while in fact when you open the bundle you find the broken fragments of various food articles."

According to the complainants, the circulars were intended to attack their honesty. Justice Richardson continued the case until July 9, 1903. It is not recorded how the case turned out, but Levy Wittenberg's bakery was still producing and selling Matzoh long after the founder was gone.

Levy Wittenberg died on June 12, 1907, at home, 580 North Canal Street, from Lobar Pneumonia complicated by Diabetes. He is buried at Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.

Eventually, they closed due to competition from the ever-modernizing Manischewitz Matzoh Bakery.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.
#JewishThemed #JewishLife

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