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Gimme Coffee!

Dec 13, 2010 10:15 AM | 7 comments

Listed in the 1900 Trow Business Directory for Brooklyn and Queens between Coal Miners & Shippers and Coffin Dealers (which listing precedes the now-connotatively-complicated Coke Dealers) you'll find listings for the cleaners, polishers, purveyors, importers, and roasters of coffee. At this time in Brooklyn there were 6 Coffee Cleaners and Polishers; 2 dealers in or makers of Essence of Coffee; 7 Coffee Importers; 9 Coffee Roasters; and 1 dealer in Coffee Pots, Tea Pots & Urns. Not yet listed among these caffeinated capitalists was the name of Edward Dannemiller, a Canton, Ohio native who first arrived in Brooklyn in 1900. Perhaps sensing an opening in this area's coffee trade Dannemiller, already an established coffee merchant, decided to set up a plant of his own at the bustling Bush Terminal.

However, though this company would eventually become one of the world's largest packers of private label coffee and tea, we have very few materials concerning the Dannemiller Coffee Company in our collection -- no trade pamphlets with close-ups of bean-types, no business cards depicting a cherub sharing a sip with a stevedore, no letterheads of fancy type, and hardly an Eagle article regarding the Dannemillers and their trade. Our collection is decidely decaf. And yet, out of this coffeelessness we were able to dredge up one folder of photos taken on the occasion of the company's 75th anniversary (but go figure -- these photos appear from 1953 and Edward supposedly started the company in 1900 -- I guess the Eagle and the Dannemillers were including the Canton years in their operational tally). In any event, these photos, covering everything from procuring the beans to shipping them out to market, give a small glimpse into a once giant Brooklyn business.

Before you could have a perfect cup of coffee you needed to find the perfect coffee bean -- and finding that bean meant tasting a variety of coffees. Here, Edward I. Dannemiller, vice-president of the company and son of the original founder, Edward Dannemiller, gets a good eye-popping spoonful. The man seated to his left, Robert B. Sasseen awaits his turn while the other man, Chester Chapman, peers out from beneath the Eagle photo editor's red grease-pencil 'X.' Sad to say but Chester wasn't just denied a spoon at this taster's round table, he was also cut from the photo that eventually ran in the pages of the Eagle. I suppose Chester's bean just wasn't rich enough.

After the slurping had ceased and the bean had been selected, the processing could begin. Here we see Leo Blessing dumping a sack of South and Central American beans into an air suction elevator which was designed to pull out any "extra materials" from among the beans.

Following the first stage of cleaning, the beans headed off to the roaster where foreman Henry Blessing (Leo's pop?) was charged with the duty of inspecting each batch as they came out of the 400 degree ovens. It was reported in the Eagle that Blessing could "tell at a glance" if the beans had been roasted to perfection.

With roasting done, it was time for another inspection. Here we have Thomas Kehoe of 406 9th St. doing his best to level a bed of freshly roasted beans as they made their way from the oven chutes to the grinding machines. Before meeting their final ground-up fate however, these beans would travel through a magnetic separator removing any "foreign materials" that had managed to slip through the initial refinement process.

After the cleaning, roasting, and grinding it was time for the coffee to be packaged. This was done in two ways: either bagged, as Helen Oleszek and Josephine Massicotte were busy doing here; or canned -- the final vacuum-sealed products of which process we can see Susan Wheat boxing up for shipment in the photo below.

After all that, the coffee was thrown on a dolly and wheeled out of the plant (in this case, by one Bill Shivers of 700 Sackett St.) where, after being roasted, ground up, magnetized, and vacuum-packed, it suffered the last leg of its journey to the innumerable cups of America and Canada: a long, lonely, dark voyage in a truck.


And if the final product proved to be as good and strong as that cup sampled by Edward I. Dannemiller, morning coffee drinkers would likely have had no problem waking up in the morning. However, they may have faced bigger problems, like trying to close their crazy, coffee-charged eyes.



The Night the Lights Went Out in Brooklyn

Dec 9, 2010 6:00 PM | 4 comments

It was February of 1946.  Brooklynites were recovering from years of privation and separation brought on by the only recently ended World War II.  Servicemen and women were readjusting to civilian life in the warm bosom of their families just as winter was seizing the borough in its usual icy grip.  And then, on February 7th, Mayor William O'Dwyer declared a state of emergency in the city, ordering strict rationing of coal and fuel oil.  Four days later, another proclamation from O'Dwyer ordered all "motion picture houses, theaters, night clubs, bars and grills, dance halls, bowling alleys, billiard parlors, all places of assembly and other amusement, libraries and museums, all schools and other educational institutions, all commercial, business and industrial establishments... to cease operating and close effective 11:50 p.m. on February 11, 1946."  Following this, the mayor listed what few manifestations of daily New York life were allowed--mostly hopsitals, restaurants and grocery stores, basic utility companies, and limited public transportation.

Brooklyn's citizens had grown accustomed to rationing and blackout drills during the war, but that had ended months ago.  What was this new scourge holding New York under seige?

Consider the tugboat.  

"Ahoy there, Skipper!" - Brooklyn Daily Eagle photograph of a tugboat in the Gowanus Canal

This unsung powerhorse of a ship did much of the heavy lifting that kept New York humming along in the 1940s.  Criss-crossing New York's harbors in their daily labors, 450 tugboats and the 3,500 tubgoat crewmen manning them pulled in the barges that supplied the 24-hour city with, according to O'Dwyer himself, "65 percent of the supply of coal and 95 percent of fuel oil".  When those crewmen, represented by Local 333 of the United Marine Division, A.F.L. International Longshoremen's Association, went on strike in the wee hours of the morning on February 4th, 1946, the city was quickly brought to a standstill.

The sudden lack of coal and fuel oil didn't just mean everybody had to turn their thermostat down a few notches.  These tugs brought in the fuel that powered New York's electricity; a prolonged strike would mean no trolleys, no subway, no lights.  It would also mean lots of garbage, as the same tugboats pulled the barges that hauled trash out of the city.  In the days following the strike declaration, paralysis slowly but surely crept over the fuel-starved metropolis, and each new morning brought news of another piece of the city's machinery grinding to a halt.  On February 6th, the Staten Island ferries suspended service.  On February 8th, O'Dwyer began closing down non-essential public buildings, and ordered the rest keep their thermostat below 60 degrees.  Subways operated without heat, and street lights were dimmed to conserve energy. 

The worsening circumstances came to a climax on the night of February 11th.  Because of O'Dwyer's strict edict issued that morning, mandating that all fun and frivolous gathering places close down at 11:50pm, many amusement-seeking Brooklynites found themselves out in the cold come midnight.  Luckily for us, Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographers were on hand to document the moment when all of Brooklyn was given that old line, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

"Sailor's thirst goes unquenched" reads the Brooklyn Daily Eagle caption for this photograph (which looks a little staged).

Bewildered crowds are turned out of the Paramount movie theater in downtown Brooklyn, minutes before midnight.

As curfew approaches, a cheeky coat-check girl at Enduro's Restaurant (which would very shortly become Junior's Restaurant) passes out coats to patrons who will soon be out in the cold.

Although bars, movie theaters, and nightclubs all had to close early to conserve heat and light, some businesses were allowed to buck the restrictions.  This hamburger stand earned an exemption, presumably because it was a restaurant and, coal or no coal, the people gotta eat.  Despite being one of the few late-night options in town, however, the joint is nearly empty. 

The strict belt-tightening was, thankfully, short lived.  Only 18 hours after O'Dwyer's restrictions went in place, the mayor stepped out of a long arbitration with union officials and tugboat owners to announce, "Boys, the strike is over."  By 8 a.m. February 14th, the strikers were back on the job, again pumping more than 3,000,000 gallons of fuel oil and 60,000 tons of coal into the thirsty veins of New York City every day.  The union's new contract wasn't settled until April 30th, 1946, when negotations earned the crewmen an 18 cents per hour raise and one paid week of vacation.

In Search of the Brooklyn Gridiron

Dec 5, 2010 4:29 PM | 0 comments

Footbal Try-outs at Boys High School, 1951

Having watched a lot of football in my formative years, particularly as a college student, I am always in search of local football stories.  Yes, we have two professional teams to root for here in New York.  Yet, sometimes the distance to New Jersey takes away that "hometown" feel - hence my desire to search for traces of actual Brooklyn ball in our collection.  (I should take a moment to note that not everyone feels as I do.  For my neighbors who honor every Giants game with a party and backyard BBQ, the NJ/NY divide is no such hurdle.) 

The early origins of any sport are difficult to determine.  The term football was used in the 19th century to describe all variations of rugby, soccer or any other game that involved throwing and kicking.  An image in our collection from the 1870s entitled "Football in Fort Greene Park" could depict any manner of football play.  Is the dark spot just above the trees a ball or a smudge?  Are these boys playing football as we know it or some other variation?

Football in Fort Greene Park

Football history tells us that by the 1870s, colleges were working on a set of official rules that would become our current interpretation of the game, but it took some time to catch on nationally.  In 1871, the Eagle described one version of a pick-up football game in which the teams "failed to observe any system of either attack or defense, and hence the games were nothing more than scrimmages in which those who could stand the most punishment had the best chance of winning." (ouch!) 

In 1884, the Crescent Athletic Club of Brooklyn was founded as a "football club."  It took another two years for the organization to include other sports (the club remained open until bankruptcy in 1939).  The Crescent Athletic Club became one of the leaders of Brooklyn football.  The Crescent team faced other clubs around the city and even hosted visiting games, such as the Yale Freshman versus the Brooklyn Hills match in 1886. Crescent Football Team, 1884 Crescent Champions for 1891 of the Amateur Football Union

It didn't take much longer for football to enter Brooklyn schools.  In the early 1900s, we start to see images of Boys High School, Pratt Institute and Brooklyn Prep teams in uniforms that are slightly more official than their athletic club counterparts.  Many of Brooklyn's student athletes went on to play outside of the borough, including two brothers from Troy Avenue in the 1940s.  Joseph and George Paterno, sons of Angelo and Florence, were recruited from Brooklyn Prep to play at Brown University. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1947

While George became the head coach at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, Joe moved to Central Pennsylvania to work his way up to the head coaching position at Penn State University--a job he is still hesitant to relinquish after 61 seasons and 400 victories

Gambling Card, 1949With sports in schools, came controversy.  In 1949, the Eagle published this image of a gambling card used during high school football games across New York City for "fans who want to back their choices with hard cash."  In 1950-51, a strike by the Public Schools Athletic League Coaches Assocation put all school sports, including football, on hold for 18 months while coaches (who were also teachers) negotiated a raise with the Board of Education.  The end of the strike, according to the Eagle, was a "dream-come-true" to student athletes, who saw football and other sports as adding "zest and spice to everyday classroom routines." 

Believe it or not, Brooklyn even dabbled in the professional arena.  During the periods of 1930-43, 1946-48 and 1966, the Brooklyn Football Dodgers were the official professional football team of the borough.  The team played for various leagues, including the NFL, and played in multiple venues, including Ebbets Field.  Although not nearly as well known (or as successful) as their baseball counterparts, the football Dodgers' claim to fame was none other than Jackie Robinson.  The great baseball player served as the general manager for the Football Dodgers for one terribly unsuccessful season in 1966. 

The Football Dodgers' star player Ace Parker, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1939

The football Dodgers did make one notable contribution to the sport; their battle against the Philadelphia Eagles at Ebbets Field on October 22, 1939 was the first professional football game to be televised.  According to an article in Football Digest, an estimated 1,000 television sets tuned into the game in New York City. However, most people in the stadium, including star player Ace Parker (pictured), had no idea they were making history.