The Tiedtke Brothers
The Tiedtke brothers were active members of the Toledo community and during their lives experienced financial success in their business pursuits. Harry founded a printing company, while Charles and Ernest owned the well-known Tiedtke supermarket on Summit Street. The store was a Toledo institution for 79 years, and when its doors finally closed in 1972 it marked the end of an era for Toledoans.
The Tiedtke store was an innovation in the food retailing business. Instead of following in the style of specialty stores it sought to enable shoppers to buy all their needs in the one place, from bread, to produce, meat and vegetables. The Tiedtke store was also important nationally as the first supermarkets of its kind in the United States. It is widely assumed that the first supermarket was the Piggly Wiggly store which opened in 1916, in Tennessee. This was opened nineteen years after the Tiedtke store was established in Toledo. Tiedtke was also first in the development of multiple supermarket chain stores and the cash method of sales. (Victor Ullman, Tiedtkes: The First Supermarket, (1977) unpublished manuscript held at Toledo Public Library Local History Collection, p.32).
The Tiedtke store occupied seven acres at its peak and owned 130 horses with which home deliveries were made in the yellow Tiedtke wagons. An example of the innovative methods employed by the Tiedtke supermarket was their efforts to install the first air conditioning system in a food store. They did this by piping cold water from the Maumee River and Swan Creek into the meat department of the store. This helped to reduce some of the summer temperatures but proved ineffective in air-conditioning the whole store. The store finally closed in 1972 and was completely gutted by fire in 1975 dashing all hopes that the store would reopen. The store was a civic institution in Toledo and is associated with the heyday of Toledos downtown district. (Ibid., pp.4-5, 1). The Tiedtke brothers used their years of experience in the business, hard work ethics, and good nature to become one of Toledos major businesses of the twentieth century. The Tiedtke brothers also owned a chain of Thrift grocery stores. In 1924 48 of these units were sold to Krogers. (Ibid., p.14).
The brothers were born on a farm in Wood County to poor German immigrants. Their parents, August and Justine Tiedtke, emigrated to the United States in 1860 to escape the militarism that became a feature of Prussia. August was a baker by trade, but sought farm land as he hoped this would provide the kind of life he sought. After arriving in New York the Tiedtkes boarded a train that was going west. Once they arrived in Toledo August discovered that he did not have enough money to purchase the farm land he desired and instead re-entered the baking trade. In 1866 August was able to buy 15 acres of farm land in Millbury. (Ibid., p.8).
The Tiedtkes had six children, three boys and three girls. The family moved to Toledo in 1881 when Augusts health began to fail, and he died six years later of apoplexy. In his will August left each of his six children shares to the family farm, but the three boys gave their shares to their three sisters, and left the farm to find their fortunes elsewhere. (Ibid.,p. 9)
Charles was born in 1863 and was the oldest of the brothers. Ernest, the youngest brother, was born ten years later in 1873.("Civic Leader Succumbs to Pneumonia," Toledo Blade, 24 December 1928). Together the two brothers established one of Toledos landmark stores, Tiedtkes. Charles received a certificate from the Davis Business College in 1889 after completing a preliminary course in book-keeping. Before opening his own store Charles experienced twelve years of work which included six months as a bakers helper, six months cleaning up Tyron & Roud grocers, and a year of similar work at Secor, Berdan & Co. wholesale grocers. He worked for ten years at the E. G. Ashley grocer. These ten years were later recognized by Charles as the hardest years of his life.( Ullman, p.4).
Ernest was employed by an upholsterer in Toledo named Waldvogel. After a brief time there Ernest left Toledo for Boston, Massachusetts, where he believed he could find better pay. In Boston he worked for the National Casket Company but returned to Toledo in 1893 when he was nineteen years old to help his brother in the supermarket business. (Ibid., p.4). Charles and Ernest pooled their funds, equaling only $350, and used this to open their grocery business. This marked the beginning of a life-long venture.
The Tiedtke's prospered and in 1910 opened a larger grocery store at Adams and Summit. They continued to add clothing, furniture, and other merchandise to their store which eventually expanded into a department store. The Tiedtke store featured pipe organ concerts during the day and was known for its efforts to make shopping a pleasurable experience.("Ernest Tiedtke, Once Farm Boy, Became Store Co-Owner," Toledo Blade, 3 February 1950). Their business grew until they had opened 65 thrift stores in addition to their Toledo department store.
Charles and Ernest became known for traveling on different trains when they wintered in Florida. The reason for this was Charless idea that if one of the Tiedtke brothers was killed in a wreck, there would still be one left to run the business. When the two brothers retired in 1925, they sold the Tiedtke store for $4 million. This was the largest business transaction in Toledo up to that time.
Charles was known for his gifts to the Toledo Zoo and for his quiet, generous donations to the city's poor.("Charles Tiedtke Succumbs After Pneumonia Attack," Toledo News Bee, 24 December 1928). After the Tiedtke department store was sold he still visited his oldest employees at the store. Charles died of pneumonia on December 24,1928.("Civic Leader Succumbs to Pneumonia." "Tiedtke Will Leaves Gifts To Relatives," Toledo Blade, 31 December 1928).
Ernest Tiedtke was a director at Woodlawn Cemetery and Toledo Trust Company. As president of the Tiedtke Realty Co. he was one of the largest real estate holders in Toledo. Ernest Tiedtke was a member of the Rotary Club, Inverness Club, Toledo Club, and the Toledo Country Club. After selling the store Ernest, as Charles was, could be seen visiting old employees and wandering through the store. Ernest Tiedtke was married to the former Mamie Meyer. He died on February 3, 1950.("Ernest Tiedtke, Once Farm Boy Became Store Co-Owner." "Ernest Tiedtke Rites to be Held Here," Toledo Times, 4 February 1950).
Charles and Ernest Tiedtke's brother, Harry, achieved prosperity in the printing business. Harry Tiedtke was born on November 12, 1870. After graduating from Toledo public schools he became a printer's apprentice at the B.F. Wade Company.[Charles S. Van Tassel, ed. Harry E. Tiedtke. The Story of the Maumee Valley, Toledo and the Sandusky Region, vol. 3 (Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1929), p.547]. As a young man he was a member of the Orlo Male Quartet which achieved a small amount of fame. At the age of twenty he was one of the founders of the Van Wormer & Tiedtke printing company. The company name was changed to the Harry Tiedtke Printing Co. when he bought out his partner.(Van Tassel, p.347). After his business became successful Harry also invested in valuable downtown properties.
Harry Tiedtke became renowned in Toledo for his church and philanthropic work. He was an avid supporter of the Sunday school movement and for 33 years he was the superintendent of the First Westminster Presbyterian Church Sunday school.("Death Calls Harry Tiedtke," Toledo Blade, 7 July 1924). He was also on the managing board of the Toledo Sunday School Association (TSSA). He loved the children so much that when he went on vacation he often sent them postcards. During W.W.I, Harry Tiedtke helped pay for bibles that the TSSA sent to soldiers.(Van Tassel, pp.547-548). His work with the Sunday schools also extended to the American Sunday School Union.
Harry Tiedtke worked for better social and living conditions in the city of Toledo. He was a member of the anti-saloon league and worked with John E. Gunckel to establish the Toledo Newsboys' Association. Harry was also an organizer of the Toledo City Mission. He and his wife had one daughter, Justina. Mrs. Tiedtke died in 1917, while Harry Tiedtke died of pneumonia related heart failure, seven years later, on July 22, 1924.("Death Calls Harry Tiedtke.")
The Tiedtke family mausoleum
(Photography of Woodlawn Cemetery by Josef Schneider.)