This Day in Jewish History

1871: Dashing Yeast Baron Who Would Reform Cincinnati's Police Is Born

The American public probably didn't know which it liked more, commercial bread or watching Julius Fleischmann's antics.

Charles Fleischmann, along with brother Maximilian, revolutionized baking by commercializing wheat production, 1835-1897.
Wikimedia Commons

June 8, 1871, is the birthdate of Julius Fleischmann, a second-generation head of the vast Fleischmann Yeast empire, who also happened to be the youngest man to serve as mayor of Cincinnati. Additionally, Fleischmann was a great sportsman who for some time was owner, with his brother, of the Reds baseball club. In keeping with his dashing persona, Fleischmann died with his boots on, and a polo mallet in hand.

Introducing Americans to 'bread'

Born in Cincinnati, Julius Fleischmann was the son of Charles Louis Fleischmann and his wife, the former Henriette Robinson. Charles (1835-1897) was a Moravian-born Jew who, shortly after his arrival in the United States in 1865, set up a yeast-manufacturing plant on the banks of the Ohio River, in Cincinnati, together with his brother Max and a third partner. Cincinnati at the time was the country’s third largest manufacturing city.

Bringing with them knowledge amassed by Charles as a yeast maker back in Hungary, the brothers had taken on the mission of accustoming the American public to bread made with commercially made starter. Aided by the success of the “Vienna Model Bakery” they operated at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, Fleischmann’s Yeast became the standard both in bakeries and in private homes.

Eventually the Fleischmanns had 14 plants around the country and a rail-based system for the rapid distribution of their time-sensitive product. They also produced vinegar, and gin, the latter made from the grain alcohol that is a byproduct of yeast production.

Julius attended public schools in Cincinnati before transferring at age 15 to the Franklin Preparatory School. Instead of attending college, however, at age 16, he began working at the family firm.

After working his way through every department in the company, Julius became its general manager in 1894, and three years later, with the death of his father, president of the company, which continued to expand and diversify.

Julius continued the practice of his father, which was to distribute, via a bread line at the family bakery in New York, all the unsold bread left at the end of a workday, to people in need.

Unconflicted mayor of Cincinnati

Apparently conflicts of interest were not the concern that they are today. Julius was actively involved in Republican-party politics at the same time he was running the company, serving as an aide to three Ohio governors, one of whom, William McKinley, later become U.S. president.

Even after he was elected mayor of Cincinnati for the first time, in 1900, Fleischmann continued to run the company as president.  (In that year’s election, he competed against one Alfred M. Cohen, meaning that both candidates were Jewish.)

As mayor, Fleischmann was known for his reform of the police force, and for encouraging the expansion of the rail network serving the city’s industries.

Julius was also still mayor in 1902, when he and Max bought the Reds, formerly the Red Stockings, baseball club.

Although the team’s play was undistinguished during their term of ownership – they sold their interest in 1915 -- Julius was active in National League affairs, and was known for his attempts to strengthen fair play and sportsmanship in the game.

He was a bon vivant, and the American public enjoyed tracking his private life. He was married three times, with his first union, to Lillie Ackerman, ending in 1920, leaving her with then-generous alimony of $25,000 a year, plus a flat sum of $2 million. A day later, Julius married wife number two, Laura Hylan Heminway. Her settlement, when they divorced four years later, was a reported $5 million.

Fleischmann was also famed for his love of yachts, thoroughbred horses and polo. He was wintering in Miami in 1925, and in the middle of the fourth chukker (out of six) of a polo match, at the city’s Nautilus Polo Field, when he suffered heart failure and died, on February 5, 1925.

At the time of his death, Fleischmann’s estate had an estimated value of $60 million.

Julius’ brother Max took over leadership of the company after his death, but sold it to J.P. Morgan’s Standard Brands in 1929, for stock valued at $20 million.