Die Weihnachtszeit ist nahe. Christmas time is near.
That’s not an ad from overseas. At the turn of the 20th century, Indianapolis had a thriving German-speaking population. The major local German newspaper in 1900, the Indiana Tribüne, also happened to be the third most widely read in the city.
Before the downtown business district died a miserable death at mid-century, you would have done probably all of your Christmas shopping there. Black Friday wasn’t a thing back then, but here’s some ads for a few popular Christmas items.
While most of these are strictly auf Deutsch, many are actually fascinating examples of bilingualism. Though we wonder if there really was no way to say “odds and ends” in German?
Local cigar manufacturer John Rauch, whose name means “Smoke” in German, manufactured a line of Hoosier Poet cigars — out of the finest imported tobacco from Havana, Cuba.
You might not need a smoking jacket this season, and your lungs will probably thank you. How about another garment to keep you toasty as the temperature plummets? Try this chamois leather vest — ein warmes Weihnachts-Geschenk (a warm Christmas present).
Ladies might appreciate the gift of a fancy “perfume atomizer.” Apparently there wasn’t one for men’s eau de Cologne — named after the German city of Köln.
We shouldn’t forget an entirely different but equally desirable “odor” that you might have noticed wafting out of holiday kitchens in 1905. Founded in Chicago in 1890, the National Biscuit Company — later called Nabisco, for short — was employing 1300 men and women at its main plant in Chicago a decade later. The cracker-making giant carried out a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign that extended into the foreign-language press. This led to hundreds of clever ads for cookies, Zu Zu ginger snaps, soda crackers, graham crackers, and the popular “Uneeda” brand. Not to mention a town in West Virginia.
If you don’t read the old Fraktur script, no worries, here it is in plain Roman characters: Essen Sie mehr Uneeda Biscuit, dann können Sie mehr arbeiten, verdienen mehr Geld, können daher mehr Uneeda Biscuit kaufen, mehr arbeiten und immer noch mehr Geld verdienen.”
All right, here’s a translation: “Eat more Uneeda Biscuits. Then, you can work more, earn more money, buy more Uneeda Biscuits, work some more, and keep on earning more money.”
Nabisco wasn’t telling the whole truth, however, when it announced that its crackers were “Gemacht in goldenen Sonnenlicht” — made in the golden sunlight. Obviously, only the wheat was.
Another product that used “light” in a marketing campaign was Der Tröster. “The Comforter” is a Biblical reference to the Holy Spirit, though St. Jacob is actually the one carrying this shining bottle of a popular pain-killer. St. Jakobs Oil was a neuralgic cream thought to increase circulation and reduce nerve and muscle pain. The Indiana Tribüne touted it as “Die alte Mönch Kur” — “the old monks’ cure.”
Maybe you need some household pets for the family this year? R.J. Ward’s Bird Store at 21 East Market Street sold American and Cuban Papageien (parrots) for $10 each. Ward also kept a stock of other colorful songbirds, from canaries and deutsche Drosseln (German thrushes) to Amseln (blackbirds) and Goldfinken (goldfinches). Then there was his stock of Fisch Aquariums. . .
Furniture and other household goods are a popular if somewhat less exciting Christmas gift. The Schleicher & Martens Company on Nord Meridian Strasse once sold an assortment of Läufer (carpets), Hassocks (cushions), Ofenschirme (fire screens), and Tischdecken (table cloths).
Need a Christmas tree? Mistletoe? Bash’s New Seed Store is your Hauptquartier für Weinachtsbäume — your Christmas tree headquarters.
Maybe it’s time for a family portrait session? Picture yourself in 1886, when photographers Cadwallader & Fearnaught — Meister-Photographen — are trying to tap into the German-American market. Bring the babies.
Perhaps the best gift, though — after the gift of love — is a great book.
Here’s some of the Bücher für Weinachten (books for Christmas) on sale at the New York Store downtown. Titles were available in both German and English, with authors ranging from Shakespeare and Charles Dickens to Jules Verne and James Fenimore Cooper — especially his Lederstrumpfgeschichten, “The Leatherstocking Tales.” Also on the list: Indianapolis’ own Booth Tarkington (The Gentleman from Indiana).
With 1899 being the year after the Spanish-American War, you can also buy your kids a commemorative “Spiel Krieg in Cuba” (war game in Cuba), a “Spiel Schlacht von Manilla” (toy battle of Manila), and a “Spiel Blockade.”
The New York Store offered this curious toy — a Surprise Elektrische Batterie.
Booksellers Bowen-Merrill & Co. had plenty of Santa Claus-approved reading material, including a large stock of books in deutscher Sprache. One of their Geschichtenbücher (history books) was “The Legionaries,” which told the tale of Confederate John Hunt Morgan’s Raid through southern Indiana during the Civil War. “Jedermann liesst sie — Everybody’s reading it.”
While Bowen-Merril advertised itself as Weihnachts Hauptquartier (“your Christmas headquarters”), Bannon & Co. was also pretty stoked about Santa Claus’ Ankunft (Santa Claus’ arrival).
If you do too much holiday reading, you might need some glasses. German-American John Wimmer, who died December 2, 1906, was an optician at 16 North Pennsylvania Street. He also sat on the board of the Deutscher Allgemeiner Protestantischer Waisenverein (German Protestant Orphans’ Asylum). Wimmer was the local representative of Kryptok, the first successful variety of invisible bifocals ever produced in the U.S. These glasses macht jung aussehend (make you look young) and are unbemerkbar (unnoticeable).
Whatever you’ve chosen for your family — or as a gift from you to you — we wish you Fröhliche Weinachten!
Valuing = Supporting
Publishing HI every day is more than just a ’labor of love‘ (though we do love it), but takes hundreds of hours each month to create. If you are entertained, inspired, better informed, feel more connected with Indy or just value what you discover here, please consider becoming a supporting member with a recurring monthly donation.
Or, become a one-time supporter with a single donation in any amount you choose.
More old-fashioned? Checks or money orders may be sent to:
Historicindianapolis.com at P.O. Box 2999, Indianapolis, IN 46206
Thank you and HI-5! Love, The HI Team