The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Poehlmann, John William

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POEHLMANN, John William, wholesale florist, b. in Milwaukee, Wis., 21 June, 1867; d. in Chicago, Ill., 14 July, 1916, son of John George and Caroline (Haffermeister) Poehlmann. His father, John George Poehlmann, b. in Ahenberg, in Bavaria, Germany, came to this country as a young man and established a grocery business in Milwaukee, Wis. John was the second of three brothers. As a boy he attended the public schools of his native city. At the conclusion of his school training his father took him into his business. Here he remained until he was twenty-three years of age, when the course of his career changed in a very different direction. Some years previously, in 1879, his brother, Adolph, who was seven years older than himself, had gone to Niles Center, Ill., where he was employed for three years with a large florist and learned that business thoroughly. In 1885 Adolph had gone into business as a florist with a partner. This partnership lasted two years, when Adolph bought out his partner's business and continued by himself, at Morton Grove, a small town fourteen miles outside Chicago. He had prospered, so much, in fact, that he needed capital with which to enlarge his plant to meet the growing demands of his trade. It was in 1890 that a partnership between John, August, and Adolph was formed. John Poehlmann devoted himself largely to the salesmanship end of the enterprise, applying himself to developing the trade. Taking up his residence in the city of Chicago, he established a distributing station in a basement at 1309 North Clark Street. At the end of ten years, in 1900, the partnership was dissolved for a time, John and his brother, August, buying the interest of their brother, Adolph, in the old plant, while the latter set to work building himself a new plant. A year later they decided to consolidate the two plants and then they founded the present corporation of Poehlmann Bros. Company, John Poehlmann being elected president, Adolph, vice-president, and August, secretary and treasurer. From that time forward the growth of the business was truly phenomenal. The corporation began business with a capitalization of $90,000. Soon afterward the Chicago distributing station was moved to more commodious quarters at 30 East Randolph Street. With great energy John pushed the trade until, shortly before his death, he had not only extended it all over the country, but to Canada as well. By that time the plant had assumed gigantic dimensions; it was the biggest of its kind in the country, if not in the world. There were eight miles of greenhouses, averaging twenty-seven feet in width, a veritable glass-covered street that would have stretched from one end of Chicago to the other. From three to four hundred men were now employed in caring for the many acres of growing flowers and shrubs under glass, the payroll amounting to nearly a quarter of a million dollars per annum. The yearly consumption of coal needed for the furnaces to heat this vast acreage of roofed-in land was 136,000 tons. Then the company went into the palm-growing business and presently they had the largest stock of palms east of Philadelphia. The orchid department alone required eight large greenhouses, each 250 feet in length, to house their treasures. To supply this department collectors were sent to the jungles of South America to seek rare specimens of this exotic and strangely beautiful vegetation. To the Philippines also a collector was dispatched to collect such specimens of tropical plants as are native to that climate. Cut flowers, however, form the main article of trade. Two million square feet of glass is required to cover this important department of the business. In addition the supply department, which was added several years ago as a matter of accommodation to the many customers of the firm throughout the country, has grown to tremendous proportions. It is not merely in size, however, that the business of the Poehlmann Bros. Company stands out remarkably. Its reputation for integrity and fair dealing is equally worthy of remark. Indeed, it is this element that has had not a little to do with the remarkable success of this tremendous establishment. In John Poehlmann as well as his brothers was incarnated this sterling integrity. How he was regarded by other members of the florist trade is indicated by the following resolution, or tribute, which was passed by the Society of American Florists, of which he was a member, on the occasion of his death: “In the death of Mr. Poehlmann the Society of American Florists has lost one of its most successful members. Starting only a few years ago with very limited means, he was largely instrumental in the development of his firm's splendid business, said to be the largest of its kind in existence. He was a hard worker, constantly at his post and always kindly to his associates and employees. Mr. Poehlmann's industry has left deep, lasting imprints on the sands of American floriculture and his many friends deeply mourn the early passing of one so gifted and so unassuming.” In 1898 Mr. Poehlmann married Frieda Ottenbacher, of Morton Grove. Four years later she died. In 1904 he married Emma Parker, a sister of Mrs. Guy French. By his first marriage he had two children: John and Frieda.

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