The Keebler Bakery

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Revised 25 June 2009

(Yes! We are the elf-cookie people. The Keebler Bakery made crackers for the Union Army during the Civil War. (Thank you James Keebler for the wonderful photos and the original Keebler-Weyl label.)

"Keebler Company, a Historical Sketch"

"The following is from a historical write up put out by the Keebler Company of Philadelphia dated 6-21-66. Part of this was written by my Grandmother and part of it by the company historian. Unfortunately, I do not have his name as it is not on the document. There is no copyright mark on the document so I am assuming it is o.k. to copy. If the company notifies us to the contrary, we will have to remove this, so copy it now if you want a record for your files. There may be some inaccuracies and this does not reflect the history after 1966. In case anyone is interested and wants an ego stock, Keebler is now on the stock market. I can't guarantee the results of a purchase, but it might be fun to own some if you are a descendant.)

"In writing the history of a company one encounters many difficulties when during the course of the company's existence there has been no formal chronicling of events. Particularly in the early history, whatever can be learned must come from research and here we find many discrepancies and disagreements. In this history, where such conditions were found to exist, they will be noted. Where presumptions are made, they likewise will be noted.

"Our history starts logically with the man who founded it---Godfrey Keebler. Godfrey was born February 17, 1822 in Wurtemberg, Germany. His father was a farmer who emigrated to this country in 1832 when Godfrey was a boy of ten.

Godfrey's father settled in Philadelphia at first, but later moved to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. While living in Phoenixville, Godfrey farmed for others in the summer and spent his winters at school until the age of 19 when he went to Philadelphia to learn the trade of baking bread and cakes. At the age of 22 he established himself in the baking business which he operated for two years, 1844-1946, and then moved to Columbia, Pennsylvania (this period of 1844-1846 as far as addresses are concerned is uncertain, but he is attributed with having a Buttonwood and High Street address which were probably HOME addresses while Market Street west of 13th was a business address. At this point we can conjecture whether or not the business Godfrey ran was a biscuit bakery. If we dare assume it was, even though on a small scale, they we can say our business was founded in 1844 instead of 1862, which is the generally accepted date. This acceptance seems to be founded on the fact the City Directory between 1862 and 1863 first mentions his name in connection with a biscuit bakery.

"Godfrey lived in Columbia, Pennsylvania from 1846 to 1850. These four years might be said to be four years of mystery as far as known historical facts are concerned. What little we know for sure comes from a son, Horace, by his third marriage, and a Mrs. Robena Keebler, wife of Horace's brother. Between the two one can reconstruct this period as far as marriages are concerned. Godfrey apparently worked for a man by the name of Frank. When Mr. Frank died, Godfrey married the widow Frank and she thus became Godfrey's first wife. It is believed Mrs. Frank had three children when she married Godfrey--one son and two daughters. By this marriage Godfrey had three sons; Walter, Frank and Harry. How long Godfrey lived with his first wife is a big question. We know he married a second time and by this marriage he had several children and only one can be named for certain, a daughter named Anna. Here again, dates are hidden in the veils of history as no one remembers this wife's name, the date of marriage, nor the date of her death. All we know, where Godfrey's marriages are concerned, is that from 1846 to 1860 he married three times. Historical records do show he married his third wife, Emma L. Birdsell of Camden, New Jersey, on the tenth day of May, 1860. By this marriage there were three children--Horrace, Mary and Robeno.

"Back to the Columbia period, there appears in the library of Lancaster County Historical Society a book "History of Lancaster County" in which reference is made to the Susquehanna Lodge No. 80, I.O.O.F. which was organized in the borough of Columbia in December, 1842. Listed among some forty citizens who were members is the name Godfrey Keebler. Godfrey's son Horace, in reminiscing about this period stated'......he became very well acquainted there because the editor of the Columbia Spy sent him a paper years after he got down here.'

"After leaving Columbia in 1850 Godfrey moved to Camden, N. J. Just why he chose Camden is an uncertainty. According to his son, Horace, Godfrey brought with him one of the daughters of his first wife to live with him in Camden. It was through her friendship with Emma L. Birdsell of Camden that Godfrey came to meet and marry her in 1860.

"Godfrey apparently commuted to Philadelphia from 1850 to 1862 where he worked for a man by the name of John T. Ricketts who owned a bakery making ship bread and biscuits. Exactly where this bakery was located in Philadelphia is uncertain as there is disagreement in references. Horace Keebler says it was on the east side of Front Street, below Race. In 1862 Godfrey moved from Camden to Philadelphia where he lived at 12th & Christian. For about a year, according to Horace, his father ran a small bakery at this address. History at this time seems to bear out that it was in this year that Godfrey was phasing out his connections with Rickett, running a small bakeshop and getting ready to open a larger shop on 22nd Street. This separation from Rickett was a peaceful one. Actually Rickett had given Godfrey certain machinery to put in the sop at 258 and 260 N. 22nd Street which he was renting at this time.

In the 1863-1864 period he moved from the Christian Street address to 2222 Brandywine Street at which time he also took title to the property at 258 and 260 N. 22nd Street as well as 262 and 264 N. wwnd Street. In 1866 he purchased these properties as well as 2210 Vine. Between 1866 and 1872 he erected a building on 264 of three stories and added an addition story onto 260, 262 and 258.

"At this point we will borrow a description of Godfrey's business as it appears in a historical document about 19th century businesses in Pennsylvania.

    'The factory, situated at Nos. 258-264 North Twenty-second Street is large in its dimensions being 70 X 80 feet. It is three stories high, surrounded by a mansard roof and completely furnished with all necessary appliances and apparatus.

    'An engine of twenty horse-power supplied by a boiler of thirty horse-power drives the many novel and ingenious machines now in use.

      'The furnaces are so constructed as to economize fuel by consuming the gases they produce.

      'The mixing, kneading and rolling of the dough are performed by distinct machines in the most perfect manner. When ready, the dough, if designed for crackers, is submitted to another machine, for forming it into pellets, afterwards to be pressed by the stamp, and, thoroughly baked, they are placed for a day in a kiln to dry them.

      'The dough for cakes is treated differently. It is placed on a machine, provided with three aprons, which successively rolls, cuts and stamps it, besides placing it in pans, ready for the oven; while the chips are deposited by a lower apron, in a box they worked over again. The soft dough is pressed, by screws, into moulds, while a knife with a lateral motion divides it into the proper thickness.

      'The moulds are in endless shape, size and variety. A large amount of broken crackers, and crackers made for this purpose, is ground to be used for culinary purposes. The most curious machine is, perhaps, the revolving oven used here.  Two of them are employed, one being twenty feet high by ten feet in diameter. It consists of a chamber, filled with hot air, in which revolves a wheel, having ten shelves attached to it.

      'On these are placed ten pans, of ten feet in length, making 300 square feet of baking surface in all. by this means the cakes are subjected to a uniform heat.

      'Two ordinary ovens have been added to the original number, thus making six in constant use.

      'The machinery is of the most modern patterns, from the factory of Ruger and Co., Buffalo, New York and additions are frequently being made to it.

      'The cellars are capacious and well-stocked with material necessary to the manufacture, while the upper floors are adapted to packing purposes and new machinery is being place in them.

      'The whole factory is characterized by system and neatness, and the offices, wholesale and retail sales rooms, are managed with regularity and order, highly creditable to the proprietor. The business has so increased that at present there are employed fourty-five men in the baking department alone, and a very considerable number of others for distributing the goods through the city and adjacent country.

      'The success of this factory is doubtless to be ascribed to the character of the proprietor, who united to industry and general business the ability a clear insight into the utility of novel machinery and determination to keep pace with the times.

      Clear-headed and sagacious, he is, at the same time, always fair and just in his dealings.'

    "This enlarging from 1866 to 1872 was caused by increases in business and was accomplished before the Jay Cooke panic of 1875.

    "While the Civil War was in progress he was manufacturing hard-tack for the Federal Government, and also sending baked products to Camp Cadwalder, located in up-town Philadelphia.

    'In the fall of 1868 he moved from the Brandywine address to 613 N. 22nd Street where he lived until around 1887.

    "During the period between 1877 and 1890 Godfrey Keebler embarked upon a series of partnerships. From 1877 to 1879 he had a partner by the name of Alfred J. Medlar who when he left him, went into business for himself forming his own baking company bearing his name..

    "In 1880, with his son Walter by his first wife, they launched out in partnership with two men, Christian Muller and John Kahlmus. This lasted until 1883, at which time he went into partnership with Armon D Acheson, which lasted until 1890.

    In 1890 he incorporated the business and took in Augustus Weyl and thus the familiar name Keebler-Weyl came into existence and was to remain so until 1965 at which time it was changed to read Keebler Biscuit Company.

    "What little information we have about Augustus Weyl comes from "Philadelphia and Popular Philadelphians" published by the North American in 1891.

      'Mr. A. Weyl is the oldest of five brothers, he was named for his father, a native of Streilizt, and a baker by trade, who emigrated from that place with his bride, Mary Hafner, and settled in Columbia, Pennsylvania, where Augustus was born February 2, 1835. He first learned the trade of Morocco dressing, at which he earned a livelihood when quite a boy and a resident of Mount Holly, N.J. He left Mount Holly and went to Wilmington, Delaware, and engaged in the baking business with his father and brothers. At the age of 19 he went west, settling in St. Louis in 1854 where he accepted the position of letter carrier. Finally he formed a partnership with Captain John P. Dozier, at which time they bought the Garneau Company's factory which they consolidated with their old place, establishing what was said to be the largest cracker factory in the world, and doing business under the name of Dizier-Weyl Cracker Company. In the fall of 1889,Captian Dozier died, and Mr. Weyl, having amassed a snug little fortune, sold his interest and also his name to L. D. Dozier and then returned to the Quaker City.'

    " Three years after incorporating the business and after an illness of nearly two years, Godfrey Keebler died at his residence at 643 N. 22nd Street on September 9, 1893.

    "Obituaries at the time pointed out that Mr. Keebler's life was marked by many works of substantial charity. He as one of the founders of the German Hospital and was foremost in many benevolent movements. He was president of the Canstatter Volksfest Verein, a member of the Maennerchor and Young Maennerchor and was connected with a number of other German Societies. He was also a prominent member of the Masonic fraternity and took an active part in the work of the Committee of One Hundred and afterwards in that of the Committee of Fifty"