Max Fleishmann for the curious: Worth a read - quite a man.
"He had been on a hunting trip and after several days emerged from the woods wearing dirty old clothes and a ten-gallon hat over a besmirched face. He went into a diner for a bite to eat and afterwards tipped the counterman 50 cents. The counterman flipped the coin back to Max saying, “I think you need this more than I do.” "
MOGULS & MANSIONS : MAJOR MAX C. FLEISCHMANN
They float unseen in the air, inhabit the soil, and fall onto plants and our food, where they consume starches and sugars to reproduce madly by primitive budding. Weighing in at 3,500 billion to the pound, these microscopic fungi are ancient and essential food processors.
Tey are yeast, one-celled organisms that come in a host of strains and are the oldest plants cultivated by man. Without them the world would have no bread, no beer, no wine, and no whiskey.
Ruins in ancient Egypt reveal the earliest records of the use of yeast for leavening bread and fermenting beer. Brides in Colonial America received a crock of yeast starter from their Mothers, and wagon train pioneers nourished yeast plants as carefully as stock on the months-long overland journey. Even rugged trappers and prospectors carried a lump of sourdough in their packs as they travailed in the wilderness.
No one had ever seen a yeast plant until 1674 when Anton van Leeuwenhoek of Holland invented the microscope and took a peek at these microorganisms. What the world thought had been causing their bread to rise until then is a mystery. Not until 1859 did a scientist, Louis Pasteur, discover how yeast worked. By feeding on starches and sugars, yeast emits carbon dioxide and alcohol; bread rises from the escaping carbon dioxide and any alcohol burns off in the baking process.
In the early 1880s, American housewives and bakeries usually obtained yeast from local breweries. Yeast could also be captured anew by placing a dish of flour mixed with water in the open air until airborne yeast (and other, less savory organisms) settled in and began devouring the dough and multiplying. All that was to change after 1868 when Charles Louis Fleischmann walked off the gangplank in New York harbor with a legendary vial of Viennese Saccharomyces (a strain of yeast) in his pocket, and a fledgling fortune was conceived.
Making the Dough
Tough born in Austria in 1835, Charles L. Fleischmann was Hungarian and spoke Magyar. As a young man, Charles managed a distillery in Vienna and later became superintendent of the distillery owner’s large estate in Hungary where he supervised the production of yeast.
Charles first came to the United States in 1866 to attend the wedding of his sister Josephine in New York. During his stay, he noticed that American bread was flavorless and heavy. He missed the light, flavorful breads of Vienna made from quality yeast, and he noticed there was very little commercial yeast production in the United States. While in New York, Charles met and married a young Prussian girl, 18-year-old Henriette Robertson, before returning with her to Hungary.
A year later, Charles and his brother Maximilian immigrated to the United States and found work at a New York distillery using the Hungarian process of fermenting alcohol for which Charles later received the U.S. patent. Encouraged to move to Cincinnati, they planned to run a distillery and mass produce and sell compressed yeast. James W. Gaff, of the successful T& J. W. Gaff Company distillery in Aurora, Indiana, sensed a worthy investment and financed the enterprise to the tune of $40,000.
The first plant was opened under the name Gaff, Fleischmann & Company in Riverside, Ohio, where the production of paper-wrapped cakes of compressed yeast was done by hand. The cakes were delivered to customers in baskets and were an instant hit with the foreign population which had been raised on European yeast. In 1871, the brothers were able to open another plant in Blissville, Long Island.
What probably assured the Fleischmann family King of Yeast status, however, was the Centennial Exposition. Tat year, the brothers joined 30,000 other exhibitors spread out over 256 acres in 190 buildings in Philadelphia. An incredible ten million people, over one-fifth the population of the United States at the time, visited the Exposition, where they were lured by the smell of baking bread to the Model Vienna Bakery.
Te company won a prize for excellence and attained international renown. Yeast sales skyrocketed.
By 1881, Charles Fleischmann had bought out James W. Gaff, and Charles and Henriette had three children: Betty (age 10), Julius (age
9) , and Maximilian Charles Fleischmann (age 4). Not only were the Fleischmanns making yeast and operating bakeries, they were also distillers of vinegar and beer and various alcohols, becoming the first producers of gin in the United States. In addition, the Fleischmanns were innovators in mass marketing, being early pioneers in couponing, give-away cookbooks, trade cards, and baking contests.
As the family fortune increased so did the lifestyle of its members. Besides building an estate in the Catskills, Charles collected artwork, became an avid yachtsman and collected a stable of racehorses. He passed on a love for these pleasures to his children, along with a sense of civic and community philanthropy.
Son of the Yeast King
When Max was a teenager, his father took him on a tour of the factory and asked what his son found most interesting about the process. Max mentioned that the great furnaces had caught his eye and from that day forward, when he wasn’t in school, he was required to shovel coal into those furnaces. At age 18, he began working in the manufacturing department, learning the basics of the business. He also attended Ohio Military Institute, played semiprofessional baseball in Cincinnati and became an amateur boxer. In addition, Max was an outstanding polo and tennis player.
In 1897, his father died and his older brother Julius, an astute businessman, took control of the company. Max continued to work in the manufacturing department but joined up when the Spanish-American War broke out. Afterwards, it was back to business as superintendent of the manufacturing department, a position that allowed him plenty of time to pursue outside interests.
Max was the consummate sportsman, outdoorsman and adventurer. In 1902, his love of baseball led the brothers, together with George B. Cox and August “Garry” Hermann” to buy the Cincinnati Reds from John T. Brush for $150,000. In 1905, he found a traveling companion and fellow adventurer when he married Sarah Hamilton Sherlock. Fascinated by flight, he became a hot-air ballooner and won an Aero Club-sponsored race in 1909 from St. Louis to the Atlantic coast.
Fleischmann and Sarah traveled to some of the most primitive regions of the world. His safaris were elaborate affairs; one manifest listed 64 natives: 4 gun-bearers, 1 cook, 4 askaris (native soldiers), 6 horse-anddonkey boys, 3 servants and 46 porters. He witnessed an epic battle between a rhinoceros and a crocodile and captured a lion cub and sent it to the Cincinnati zoo. Trophies from that 1907 expedition numbered fifty including 3 rhinos, 9 waterbucks, 4 kongoni, 2 zebras, 1 silver jackal, 3 impala, and 1 lioness.
Arriving by private rail car in 1911, Max C. Fleischmann showed up in Santa Barbara with a string of polo ponies for a competition at the Santa Barbara Polo Club. Liking what he saw, he decided to establish a residence here, but World War I intervened. He served overseas with the Balloon Section of the Army Air Corps, achieving the rank of major. Afterwards, he became commandant of the U.S. Army Balloon School in Arcadia near Los Angeles and supervised similar programs in Sacramento and San Diego, as well. The time was right to move to Santa Barbara, so in 1919 he purchased 20 acres belonging to Arthur E. Bingham in Montecito as well as 23 acres on Lambert Road in Carpinteria from Arthur E. Ogilvy.
The Fleischmanns had been visiting Santa Barbara periodically since that first sojourn in 1911 and had made their presence felt. When the Daily News and Independent heard he had finally purchased land, his impending residency was met with a great deal of excitement. The reporter wrote, “Te expectation is that with his enthusiastic backing of Santa Barbara’s big plans to develop the ocean resort, this city will not long wait for work to start on the breakwater, that yachting will Become popular, and that hydroplaning and general air flying will be amusements which find ready aid and encouragement.” Tose expecting to benefit from Fleischmann’s largess, however, would have to wait a bit longer. In 1920, he abandoned plans to develop Bingham’s lot and purchased an additional 7 acres on Lambert Road in Carpinteria. He hired Los Angeles architects Johnson, Kaufmann, and Coates to design a modest H-shaped, tile-roofed villa that he named Edgewood for the stands of trees that bordered the property.
While Max was building his house, Julius continued tending and increasing the family fortune until his death in 1925 forced Max to become head of the company. Max did not want to leave Santa Barbara, however, so the company sent his brother’s executive secretary, Julius Bergen, to live at Edgewood. Despite this assistance, the day-to-day running of the business didn’t agree with Max, so a merger was arranged in 1929 by J.P. Morgan & Co. And Fleischmann Yeast Company became part of Standard Brands. Te family retained a significant interest, and Max was a director until 1942. Max, however, was again free to pursue his varied interests.
Edgewood and Serena
Over the years, Fleischmann would add 131 acres to his original purchase in Carpinteria and Edgewood would acquire a five-car garage and several cottages for employees. To rival his contemporaries, he built a conservatory that housed one of the largest organs ever made. Edwin Storr, son of Fleischmann’s valet, remembers that Sarah Fleischmann referred to the Conservatory as the playhouse and that it had a secret, hidden bar. A dummy electric switch plate rotated to one side to reveal a lock into which a key could be inserted. Te key caused a large section of wall to move revealing the bar. Tere was also a small shooting range on the estate and a pet cemetery.
Storr also remembered that African artifacts were displayed on the patio walls and lush flower gardens covered the spacious grounds. Fleischmann even kept a herd of wild deer in a six-acre corral. He had a practice polo field on the estate, which later became a lemon orchard.
Inside, the stuffed heads of game festooned the trophy room where an elephant’s foot served as trashcan and a tiger’s skin as table cover. Each year at Christmas time, Max and Sarah Fleischmann sat in chairs flanking the fireplace and passed out gifts to the servants and their children while the trophy heads looked on.
In addition to Edgewood, the Fleischmanns owned a beach cottage at Serena, a fishing lodge on the Klamath River, and the Olivos Adobe in Ventura, which he saved from destruction and used as a duck hunting lodge.
Polo having brought him to Santa Barbara in the first place, Fleischmann was determined to add his name to the growing number of polo fields in Santa Barbara. He purchased land near Serena and began construction on his own field. He then acquired two partially completed polo fields that adjoined his and soon Fleischmann Polo Fields helped purchased Hope Plantation near Charleston, South Carolina where he hunted birds. He also acquired two ranches and a dairy farm just outside Reno and became active in philanthropic work in the area. He continued to be active in Santa Barbara and usually spent fall and spring here.
Known as a multifaceted, multitalented man, Fleischmann was a manufacturer, explorer, naturalist, conservationist, capitalist, investor, aviator, yachtsman, hunter, author, banker, consummate outdoorsman, and philanthropist. In evaluating his family for the forward of P. Christiaan Klieger’s The Fleischmann Yeast Family, Max Fleischmann’s great grand nephew, Christian R. Holmes IV, wrote, “I see this reappearing drive to live large lives, sustained by unusual energy and creativity… I have found some to possess an unusual elegance and intelligence, many of them to be quite caring.”
His assessment fits Max Fleischmann, who lived large and gave generously to causes that captured his interest. Even after his death, and for 20 years after the death of his wife Sarah in 1960, the Fleischmann Foundation gave $192 million to charities mostly in Nevada and California. Dewy Schurman, writing in the June 2, 1978 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press, said, “Some of those gifts literally helped shape the cultural and historical character of the community.”
Probably his most enduring gift was the formation of the Santa Barbara Foundation. Like his parents before him, Fleischmann supported local band concerts and paid for a summer series in Santa Barbara in 1926. As his philanthropy to his adopted community grew, he saw the need for an agency to fund worthy causes. In 1928 he invited 25 prominent Santa Barbarans to join with him in founding the Santa Barbara Foundation. Accepting the call were well-known names like Chase, Storke, Hoffman, and Murphy. To get the Foundation going, he gave 3,400 shares of his family’s business as seed money. In 1930, he deeded the Carrillo-Hill adobe, which he had purchased in order to save it from demolition, to the Foundation as its permanent headquarters. Appropriately, the Foundation’s first grant was to fund the Santa Barbara Band. Over the years, Fleischmann continued to donate generously to the Foundation.
Santa Barbara’s waterfront was forever changed due to another of Fleischmann’s gifts. For years before his arrival, residents had been advocating and arguing about a harbor for Santa Barbara. Opponents to the idea believed it would strip the sand from eastern beaches. When Fleischmann arrived on the scene, enthusiasts of the harbor project took heart. Fleischmann was an avid yachtsman having built 22 yachts in his lifetime.
Fleischmann wanted to help finance the harbor and offered the City $200,000 if it held a bond election to raise another $200,000. When Officials agreed to those terms, Max spearheaded the bond issue campaign. When the project ran over budget, he added more of his own money and paid to have the breakwater extended to the shore when sand began filling the harbor.
When warnings about the effects of interfering with the littoral drift proved to be accurate and the beaches to the east saw their sands evaporating, Fleischmann contributed a total of $160,000 for dredging solutions to the problem.
Max was an avid amateur naturalist and sponsored several scientific expeditions. During his association with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, he financed the Sarah Hamilton Fleischmann Bird Hall and Laboratories, the new auditorium, and construction and furnishings for a new library loosely based on the trophy room at Edgewood. In addition, he donated the Hall of Mammals and purchased the Kramer property across the street for the museum to use for future expansion. He served on the board of trustees for many years and was its president from 1934 to 1947.
Cottage Hospital was another major recipient of Fleischmann’s charity. He donated funds for an entire wing in 1929. In 1962, the Fleischmann Foundation paid to enlarge this wing, add a five-story surgical wing, and fund cancer research.
A partial list of other recipients of Fleischmann’s generosity includes Saint Francis Hospital, Santa Barbara Boys’ Club, Boys’ Club of Goleta, Santa Barbara Commission on Alcoholism, YMCA, Santa Barbara Trails, Botanic Garden, Museum of Art, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara Symphony, Santa Barbara Girls’ Club, Camp Drake for Boy Scouts, Hillside House, AWVS Senior Citizen Center, Peabody Stadium (lights), Museum of Natural History, and St. Vincent’s School. Fleischmann sponsored scientific publications, funded the restoration of the Old Mission after the 1925 earthquake, and formed Ducks Unlimited – a wetlands conservation group.
The Many Faces of Max
Friends and acquaintances report that Max Fleischmann was gruff and determined but not arrogant or pompous. He once said, “I pick my own charities. It doesn’t do anybody a damn bit of good to write to me.” Nevertheless, he gave quite lavishly to those causes that interested him.
Max valued people based on character rather than wealth. When he and Sarah moved to Lake Tahoe, Max befriended a young teacher and avid fisherman, Sessions S. Wheeler, who was living in a one-room cabin he had built for nineteen dollars. One day the two were going fishing at a secret hot spot and Sessions (Buck) needed to pick up some bog sticks from his house. A bit embarrassed by his humble living situation, Sessions dreaded having Max see it. Max inspected The cabin and said, “Tat’s a compact little cabin. How in the hell did you build it for nineteen dollars?” After Buck’s explanation, he said, “It’s a good example of what a guy can do for a little money.”
At Lake Tahoe, Max convinced the local authorities to swear him in as a deputy sheriff. He wore his star and carried a pistol and spent his days trying to discover criminals who frequently let the air out of his tires when his back was turned.
One story he liked to tell about himself occurred during the Depression.
He had been on a hunting trip and after several days emerged from the woods wearing dirty old clothes and a ten-gallon hat over a besmirched face. He went into a diner for a bite to eat and afterwards tipped the counterman 50 cents. The counterman flipped the coin back to Max saying, “I think you need this more than I do.”
Max’s sense of humor is revealed through the journals of his hunting trips. During the 1907 safari to British East Africa, a local chief sent presents but excused his absence saying his nephew had smallpox. Max wrote, “…his absence was entirely excusable and the only thing that would not be excused was his presence.” On the same expedition they were traveling by boat on the Red Sea and he noticed that the German band, which provided their entertainment, was much improved. His fellow travelers had begun taking turns buying kegs of beer and treating the boat party, including the band, each evening. “This, I think, in great measure accounts for their improvement,” Max quipped.
In 1928, he and Sarah took a disappointing trip to Indochina where a good day was described thusly, “Again no ants in bed last night.” Giving An account of a day spent hunting, he wrote, “We jumped a Sambar coming through the jungle and the writer also jumped a bunch of biting tree ants which fell down his neck and in his shirt. It was necessary for the writer to stop and rip his shirt off.”
In August 1951, Max and Sarah invited their Tahoe friends, Sessions S. Wheeler and his wife to join them on a month-long fishing excursion on the Haida in Alaska. As the days progressed, Fleischmann seemed to weaken and grow unsteady. When Sessions was enlisted to talk him out of fishing one day, Fleischmann said, “Buck, why in the world are they worried about me? I’ve had a damn good life. I’ve been every place I’ve wanted to go and done everything I’ve wanted to do. Most of these things I can’t do anymore, I won’t fall out of that boat, but if I did, I’d rather die here than in a hospital. And when I die, no one should feel badly about it.”
Several days later, Fleischmann collapsed in his office aboard the Haida. The boat sped for Seattle. When he regained consciousness, he insisted on walking off the boat. Then ensued a series of doctors and hospitals until he was flown to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara where surgery revealed inoperable pancreatic cancer. He insisted on being moved home to Edgewood. On October 16, 1951, after inviting his doctor to dinner, Max Fleischmann went to his room and shot himself. Sessions Wheeler and other close friends believe he did so to spare Sarah further agony.
In his will, he gave his entire estate but one million dollars to the Fleischmann Foundation centered in Nevada. He stipulated that the Foundation would last 20 years past the death of Sarah at which time all money must be spent.
For 28 years after his death, Max Fleischmann continued to benefit the communities he had loved.
(The author wishes to express appreciation to the following for their assistance: Michael Redmon, director of research at the Gledhill Library of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum; Kathi Brewster, local historian; Janet O’Neill, Public Affairs, Cottage Health System; Alixe Mattingly, vice president, Communications and Marketing, Santa Barbara Foundation; and Terri Sheridan, librarian, Museum of Natural History; and to acknowledge as a source Sessions S. Wheeler’s book, “Gentleman in the Outdoors.”)