Tuesday, 17 July 2007 00:00
|Ambrose and Ruth Mayer|
|Interview conducted on 23 March 1997 |
At the Mayer residence in Port Washington, WI
by Alex van der Tuuk
I first became aware of Ambrose Mayer when his name appeared in a 1991 Milwaukee newspaper article. The article referred to him as former mayor of Port Washington, and he recalled how he as a kid sailed Paramount records from Chair Factory # 2, a warehouse near the railroad track in Port. Thousands of Paramount records as well as metal masters lay dormant here until the summer of 1942, when the building was cleared out for scrap drives during World War Two.
It must have been 1995 when I addressed my first letter to Ambrose, asking questions about the Wisconsin Chair Company. I only knew his name and his former occupation, but no address. However, a week later I got his reply by mail and for the next few years we kept writing letters. His wife Ruth helped me to fill in some information whenever they found Puritan records.
In 1997 I made my first trip to Wisconsin for research on the Wisconsin Chair Company and the New York Recording Laboratories. In 2000, during my second trip, I noticed there still was pain felt between the Bostwick and Moeser family of how the company was run after John Martin Bostwick’s death. Bostwick had run the company as president from 1920 until his death in 1935. Otto Moeser was his protégée and vice-president of the company.
The quotes of Bill Moeser which are inserted here to give a better view, resemble much to the thoughts of Howard Bostwick, Douglas Bostwick’ son. The interview I did with him in 2000 can be found in the “Articles” section of ParamountsHome.
I also interviewed Dorothy Larson-Bostwick, John Bostwick Jr.’s wife. Her story will be revealed at a later stage.
Ambrose Mayer interview
“The chair factory WAS Port Washington! Because, I don’t know if I knew anybody who didn’t work there. If you had a population of say about 3,500 in the 1930s and the company had 400 people working there, it didn’t leave much people who didn’t work there.
Old Bostwick [John M. Bostwick (1837-1935), president of the WCC until his death in 1935] did not think that the two boys, John Bostwick Jr and Douglas Bostwick, were up to it running the WCC, so they moved up Otto Moeser to do the job. I am sure that they were more than right because knowing Dougie, I didn’t know John Jr. that well but I knew Dougie real well, and Dougie was just a real nice fellow but not the man to run a big plant. He tried to keep me there and called my mother. If you run a plant you can’t waste your time for some young kid who wants to quit his job. When you run the plant you say: ‘If you want to quit, GO!’ He was not that kind of man.
And Otto Moeser was?
Moeser was touch, very touch. He was a strong, touch minded man. If he made up his mind, it was ‘yes’, there was no arguing. That was just his way. I do remember he had a very beautiful woman, Emma Kratzer-Moeser. I knew his sons Bill, Marshall, Ed and his daughter Ruth Moeser-Hensey-Fox. Ruth was a beautiful woman too and a sharp cookie.
Marshall was pretty sharp. I think Bill was the smartest of all of them. Otto kept Ed down in Chicago at the Merchendise Mart. That’s where Ed and Marshall spent most of their time.
That was a warehouse?
It was a furniture display place. It is the largest furniture warehouse owned by the Kennedy’s. The Wisconsin Chair Company stored their latest furniture there and Ed and Marshall were running that place. The furniture dealers would go there and see what they like and then made their order through Marshall down to the chair factory.
Otto Moeser ran the plant with a tough fist. If you want to make it pay, you got to be tough. And he was able to do that. They just thought that the Bostwick boys would be able to handle it that way.
How did the Bostwick boys respond when they heard that Otto should run the place?
They must have understood that they were not capable of doing it, I would think. Dougie became plant manager and John Jr. was a bookkeeper. Dougie was the plant manager. He had his office right in the plant and he managed the whole place. He still had one of the top jobs, except that Otto was the boss over everything.
(Note: in a letter, dated 22 January 1997, Otto’s youngest son, Bill Moeser, writes: ‘From 1935 on the Wisconsin Chair Company was run by my father principally for the benefit of the heirs of John M. Bostwick. Otto was Mr. Bostwick’s executor and trustee. The Bostwicks did not have the ability to run a company, but did draw their support from it.’)
When the chair factory closed (in 1954), Moeser retired, being in his seventies. Moeser certainly had not the need to work money-wise; financially he was in good shape.
Fred. W. Boerner had a mail-order business. Do you know something about that?
The mail-order business was located on 540 West Grand Avenue, Port Washington. He was with Fred Supper and they got into some salve crème to make black people lighter. They got busted for that for false advertising and using United States Mail for that. I don’t know if Fred Boerner did go to prison, but Fred Supper did go (Fred Supper was Maurice Supper’s son, who initially set up the mail-order business with Boerner).
I knew Maurice Supper. I remember him having outside that store in the back a lot of broken records they got over from handling or shipping. That was way before World War Two, I was just a kid. They were still shipping records then. There were still a lot of records in the back. There was also a lot of that cream, bottles and bottles, bushel baskets full of broken bottles.. At that time we didn’t know what it was all about. It’s only in later years when you hear, see and read what happened there. They were good people though.
During the Depression everybody bootlegged everything for the Dollar and they found a way doing it with that stuff and got busted. Everybody got tangled up the same way with that stuff. Employees of the Wisconsin Chair Company made boxes made under spare time or whenever they could sneak it in that the bosses didn’t see them making them.
Carter McCarthy was the company’s salesman. That’s what he did for the chair factory from 1932 onwards. He was a rough person. They were also one of the biggest school suppliers. Carl Severson was the big wheel there. Harry Wester was a little guy, weighted 90 pounds. He was the time keeper. He checked all the cards and make sure that you came in at 8 o’clock and not at 6 or 10. He also took care of the union dues (the union was allowed by Otto Moeser in 1934). He’d walk around the plant. It cost me 10 cents a week. You got a stamp in you book that you paid for that week as a union member. He didn’t live very long.
There were a couple of strikes there in the Wisconsin Chair Company. There was a bitter union. Jimmie Budrick was a big wheel in the union. He was no gentleman. Jimmie was what you’d say a real union man. Constant scream, holler, swear and really not getting much thumb up to get everybody wire riled up (?). Leon DeBrew was a gentleman and they could speak to you some language. He could go upstairs (to the board of directors) and go talk to people, where Jimmie, you would hear him coming up the stairs swearing and cussing. DeBrew was not that kind of a man. He could sit across the table from you and discuss the problem. Jimmie couldn’t, he just pondered his fist and screamed, a real union man.
In 1934 Moeser gave that penny to all the factory workers (after weeks of strike) and that did satisfy everybody. When you are making 14 or 15 cents a day and now a penny more, that’s 8 cents for the whole day, that was big money.
I do remember the boiler room facing south on Main Street and I can remember that they burnt a lot of coal there, the coal trucks some down there and they dumped the coal right in the street. The coal was hauled in from Milwaukee. From there they shuffled it inside. At that time the boiler room was all steam and sawdust and chips kept the pressure up. Coal kept the heat up in there.
I remember the big engine room, you’d look through the windows and see the big engines with the big flywheel; they were faced up in there.
When I got out the Civilian Conservation Camp I had no money and no job. We did conservation work. When I got out of that I worked for a derry and we would go through the chair factory every morning and we leave a pint of milk, juice or whatever you wanted and they would put their 3 cents here (on the desk) and it took us a couple of hours to go through that plant. I was about 17 years old (circa 1942)
Alex van der Tuuk
Tuesday, 17 July 2007