The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Poehlmann, Adolph H.

The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Poehlmann, Adolph H.
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POEHLMANN, Adolph H., florist, b. in Milwaukee, Wis., 24 May, 1860, son of John George and Caroline (Haffermeister) Poehlmann. His father, originally a baker by trade, and a native of Ahenberg, in Bavaria, Germany, came to this country early in the last century and settled in Milwaukee, where he went into the grocery business. Adolph was the eldest of three brothers, with whom he was later to found an establishment which has since become the largest in the world. His early education was acquired in the Milwaukee public schools. Having concluded his studies, he was for a while employed in Milwaukee, but when he was nineteen years of age, he went to Niles Center, Ill., where he found employment in the greenhouses of a large florist business. Here he remained for three years, acquiring a thorough and practical knowledge of floriculture. Afterward he worked a year in Boston and, later, a year in Hoboken, N. J., part of this time with Peter Henderson, at that time the largest florist in the East. At the end of that period he had managed to save up several hundred dollars, and the ambition came over him to enter the business on his own account. The opportunity came presently when he was invited to form a partnership with Otto Mailander, a florist in a small way, at Morton Grove, Ill., who at that time had two greenhouses, each 45 x 10 feet. Mailander contributed $270.00 and Poehlmann $320.00, and together they built themselves a dwelling. The business met a fair degree of success. At the end of two years, in 1887, Poehlmann bought out his partner's interest for $1,270. For the next three years, until 1890, Mr. Poehlmann continued the enterprise alone. During this time he prospered. In fact, so rapid was his success that he was brought face to face with that difliculty which besets many an energetic business man who starts in a small way; his trade developed faster than his capital could increase and he was hampered by his inability to meet the new business on account of the limited size of his plant. It was at this time that he suggested to his two brothers, August and John, that they join him in the enterprise, an invitation to which they readily responded. At this time Adolph's plant consisted of one greenhouse, 20 x 125 feet, another 12 x 125 feet, a third 6 x 125 feet, and six others of smaller dimensions. The plant was then valued at $4,200, which included buildings and stock on hand, 1 June. The other two brothers supplied $3,000 in cash toward working capital, a large part of which was loaned them by their father; Adolph himself having a surplus of $1,200. The partnership was based on a verbal agreement, whereby they were to share equally in the profits of the business, each drawing what amounted to a nominal salary: Adolph, on account of his long experience in the florist business, drawing $35.00 a month; August, $25.00 a month, and John $15.00 a month. For ten years the brothers continued working under this agreement. From the very beginning the business prospered, the previous commercial experience of John and August supplementing the technical training of Adolph. One year after the termination of this agreement the brothers formed a corporation, capitalizing the organization at $90,000, John Poehlmann being president, Adolph vice-president, and August secretary and treasurer. Under the new arrangement the growth of the business became phenomenal. It is now the largest of its kind in the world, its trade extending even to foreign countries, to Canada, and to the greater part of the United States. There are now close to eight miles of greenhouses, and the firm sends its collectors to South America and the Philippines for rare orchids and other exotics from tropical climes. The orchid department alone requires eight large greenhouses, each 250 feet in length. Not a little of Mr. Poehlmann's success has been due to his genuine love of the commodity in which his establishment deals. It was this love of the most beautiful products of nature that attracted him toward floriculture as a boy. It is for this reason, too, that the practical management of the details within the plant itself has been left more largely to his care, while his brothers were more specially responsible for the extension of the trade and actual business management. On 10 March, 1891, Mr. Poehlmann married Katherine C. Ulbright, the daughter of a prominent Milwaukee merchant. They have had four children: Walter G., Vera E., Edna, and Morton Poehlmann.