Bremner Biscuit Company, est. 1871

 

Museum Artifact: Bremner Wafers Tin, 1960s

Made By: Bremner Biscuit Company, 901 W. Arthington St., Chicago, IL [Little Italy / University Village]

The Bremner Biscuit Company was once about as authentically Chicagoan as deep dish pizza and the blues. Unfortunately, the 1980s showed little mercy for such cherished local institutions (even a lot of blues men started recording with synthesized harmonicas), as Bremner abruptly ended its century-long tenure in the city and relocated to Denver—still the company headquarters today.

 

While modern Bremner Wafers might originate in mile-high air, however, the recipe still harks back to the days of David Francis Bremner, a Chicago bread baker who started his business literally as the dust was still settling from the Great Fire of 1871. Rather than seeing a city in ruins, the former Union Army Captain—celebrated for his courage at the Battle of Missionary Ridge—saw an opportunity to serve a devastated public in desperate need of comfort food.

 

Here was an ad D.F. Bremner placed in the Chicago Tribune way back on March 2, 1873:

 

Butter Biscuit and Crackers.

The unprecedented sale which Bremner has for his fine crackers, and particularly his butter biscuit, has proven that his confidence in the people of Chicago—that they would support an establishment devoted to the manufacture of fine crackers—was not misplaced. It has also induced others to imitate his goods. To insure the public the genuine article, he has his name stamped on all butter biscuit manufactured in his establishment, and none are genuine without it. Ask your grocer for Bremner's biscuit, and take no other.

 

Those stamped initials, “DFB,” took on a life of their own in Chicago, re-branded as “Damn Fine Bread.” One of David's secret advantages was fresh milk delivered directly from his father Robert Bremner's dairy farm in Orland Township. Never underestimate having a supplier on the inside.

 

 

As his notoriety grew, Bremner never lost sight of his original commitment to rebuilding the city, either.

 

"Mr. Bremner's activities were many, but he made it a point to take considerable interest in the welfare and up-building of Chicago," The Cracker Baker magazine recounted years later. "[He] took part in many of the movements after the fire to develop important projects in his adopted city. In recognition for his interest in the civic welfare of Chicago he was appointed a member of the Board of Education, which position he held for several years."

 

D.F.B. continue to operate as an independent baker for more than a decade, finally incorporating the D.F. Bremner Baking Company in 1886. Four years later, at the age of 50, he took a much bolder leap, joining a new alliance of leading Midwest bakeries under the banner of the Chicago-based "American Biscuit & Manufacturing Company." With Bremner serving as Vice President under American Biscuit organizer Adolphus Green, a new golden age had begun.


In 1898, American Biscuit merged its bakery alliance with a couple like-minded conglomerates from the East Coast to form the National Biscuit Company, a little start-up you might know better as NABISCO. It was the ultimate cookie and cracker empire, and Bremner was in the catbird seat as chairman of the manufacturing committee. As he neared retirement age, though, he recognized that his four sons wanted and deserved a greater challenge than merely being a cog in the NABISCO machine.

 

[Three generations of company presidents, from left: D.F. Bremner Sr. (founder, c. 1890s), David F. Bremner Jr. (c. 1920s), Edward G. Bremner (1950s)]

 

DFB finally called it quits in 1904, and the next generation of Bremners—led by David Jr.—were ready and eager to carry on the family business in their own way. With NABISCO set to move its headquarters to New York, the decision was made to launch a new baking enterprise in Chicago, with Papa Bremner's blessing. It was called the Bremner Brothers Biscuit Company. The firm was organized in 1905 and quickly picked up where Version 1.0 left off, eventually cementing its legacy by carrying over the wildly popular Bremner Butter Wafer.

 

Through the 1920s, the Bremner Wafers were sold in silver, rectangular containers, but in the early ‘30s, the company introduced its iconic green tins like the one in our collection. The design largely held form all the way through the 1960s. We can approximate our tin to that later era through a wee bit of deductive reasoning— there is a zip code printed under the Bremner Biscuit Co. name: 60612. Five digit zip codes didn’t come into regular practice until the early 1960s.

 

 [Bremner Brothers advertisement, 1946]

 

Back during the Depression, when the green tin was first introduced, the Bremner factory at 901 W. Forquer Street wound up in the middle of newly sub-divided real estate. Forquer Street was renamed Arthington Street, and from that point on, 901 W. Arthington St. would remain Bremner's primary Chicago plant. That original building appears to be long gone, replaced with apartment complexes.

 

The Arthington Street plant helped keep the encouraging smell of fresh baked wafers floating over the Little Italy neighborhood during World War II. Meanwhile, the Bremner family—led by a third generation in David II's son Edward—decided it was time to push its substantial wealth beyond the biscuit business.

 

Major investments were made in real estate and metal manufacturing, wisely recognizing the boom in both markets. After the war, the Bremners had made a big enough haul from those new ventures (including a lucrative magnesium castings factory downstate) that they were eventually forced to split the company into two wings. The snack operation would now be known as the Bremner Biscuit Company under Edward's lead, while the Bremner Brothers name would refer exclusively to his brothers' non-baking pursuits.

 

Edward would remain company president through the years of our tin's creation, finally retiring in 1969. He and his wife Marion would both live well into their 90s, remaining in Winnetka long after the family business moved west. According to his 2003 obituary, Edward traveled the world and learned at least five languages, including Japanese when he was 94 years old. "He was an astute businessman who was bright and loved learning," his grandson Thomas J. Reedy told the Tribune. "[He] was very proud of the business because it is a visible and well-known consumer product that began with his family in 1871 and continues into the present."

 

Edward's son, Edward Bremner, Jr.—generation No. 4—guided the Bremner Biscuit Co. through its centennial celebration and, ultimately, to the Rockies. The family sold the business officially to Dare Foods, Inc. in 1999, although generation No. 5, represented by Neil Bremner, was still involved in managing the Denver baking operation into the 21st century.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Bremner Biscuit Co.

The Cracker Baker, June 1922

Chicago and Its Resources Twenty Years After, 1871-1891

 

 

 

Please reload

Lost Chicago Factory Map

Help Support the

Made In Chicago Project

Artifact Categories
Company Histories

A.B. Dick Company

A.L. Hansen MFG Co.

Abbott Laboratories

Ace Fastener Corp.

Adams & Westlake Co.

Addometer Co.

Addressograph Company

Adjustable Clamp Co.

Admiral Corp.

Airguide Instrument Co.

Albert Dickinson Co.

Albert Pick & Co.

Allied MFG Co.

American Automatic Devices Co.

American Bird Products Inc.

American Cutlery Co.

American Family Scale Co.

American Flyer MFG Co.

American Metal Ware Co.

American Shoe Polish Co.

American Varnish Co.

Ampro Corporation

Anacin Company

Angel Dainty Dye Co.

Armour and Company

Arrco Playing Card Co.

Automatic Pencil Sharpener Co.

B. Heller & Co.

Bally MFG Co.

Bambino Products Co.

Bell & Howell

Benjamin Electric MFG Co.

Bersted MFG Co.

Bloomfield Industries

Bremner Biscuit Company

Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co.

Bunte Brothers Candy

Burke & James

C. Cretors & Co.

C. H. Hanson Company

Cable Piano Company

Cadaco Inc.

Calculator Machine Company

California Beverage Co.

Calumet Baking Powder Co.

Carl Goldberg Models Inc.

Central Waxed Paper Co.

Central Wholesale Grocers Inc.

Chas. A. Brewer & Sons

Chess Records

Chicago Electric MFG Co.

Chicago Flexible Shaft Co.

Chicago Hardware Foundry Co.

Chicago Mail Order Co.

Chicago Printed String Co.

Chicago Roller Skate Co.

Chicago Specialty MFG Co.

Chicago Telephone Supply Co.

Citation Hat Co.

Citrus Products Co.

Claire MFG Co.

Clipper Products Co.

Columbia Medallion Studios

Compco Corp.

Cracker Jack Company

Crane Company

Curt Teich & Co.

Curtiss Candy Co.

D.B. Fisk & Co.

Dad's Root Beer Co.

Damon MFG Co.

Denoyer-Geppert Co.

Detect-O-Ray Company

DeVry Corporation

Ditto Incorporated

Dowst Brothers Company

E.B. Millar & Co.

E.C. DeWitt & Co., Inc.

E.H. Sargent & Co.

E.J. Brach & Sons

E.K. Pond Company

Ekco Products Co.

Electric Clock Corp. of America

Electric Corp. of America

Elgin National Watch Co.

Empire Spice Mills

Essanay Film Mfg. Co.

Eugene Dietzgen Co.

Excel Projector Corp.

F.B. Redington Co.

F.H. Smith MFG Co.

F.W. Planert & Sons

Fidelitone Inc.

Fitzpatrick Bros.

Flavour Candy Co.

Florsheim Shoe Company

Foley & Co.

G. Felsenthal & Sons

Gateway Engineering Co.

General Television & Radio Corp.

Geo. B. Carpenter Co.

Geo. W. Diener MFG Co.

Gold Eagle Products Co.

Grossman MFG Co.

Hallicrafters Co.

Halsam Products Co.

Halsey Brothers Co.

Hammond Organ Co.

Hanson Scale Co.

Harmony Company

Hedman MFG Co.

Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co.

Hump Hair Pin MFG Co.

Illinois Bronze Powder Co.

Illinois Cosmetics Co.

Indestro MFG Co.

J.C. Deagan Co.

J.P. Dieter Co.

J.W. Allen & Co.

Jas. P. Marsh Corp.

Jays Foods, Inc.

Johnson Publishing Co.

Kelling Nut Company

Kellogg Switchboard & Supply

Kling Bros. & Co.

Kraft Foods Company

L. H. Thomas Co.

Langson MFG Co.

Liberty Dairy Products Co.

Lincoln Logs

Ludwig Drum Co.

Lyon & Healy

M.A. Donohue & Co.

Mall Tool Company

Mars Incorporated

MasterCrafters Clock & Radio Co.

Maybelline Company

Metal Moss MFG Co.

Mid City Uniform Cap Co.

Monark Silver King Inc.

Morton Salt Company

Motorola Inc.

National Washboard Co.

Nestor Johnson MFG Co.

Northwestern Beverage Co.

O-Cedar Corp.

Oliver Typewriter Co.

Olson Rug Co.

Page Boiler Company

Paymaster Corp.

Peerless Confection Co.

Pelouze Scale & MFG Co.

Peter Hand Brewing Co.

Playskool MFG Co.

Princess Pat Ltd.

QRS Music Company

Radio Flyer

Rand McNally & Co.

Reed Candy Company

Regal Musical Instrument Co.

Reid, Murdoch & Co.

Reliable Paste Co.

Replogle Globes, Inc.

Revere Camera Company

Rival Packing Co.

Rock-Ola MFG Corp.

S&C Electric Co.

Sanford Ink Company

Scholl MFG Co.

Schulze Baking Company

Schwinn Bicycle Co.

Sherman-Klove Co.

Shotwell MFG Co.

Shure Brothers, Inc.

Signode Steel Strapping Co.

Simoniz Company

Simonsen Metal Products Co.

Slingerland Drum Company

Spartus Camera Corp.

Sprague, Warner & Co.

Standard Brewery

Steele-Wedeles Company

Stenographic Machines, Inc.

Stewart-Warner Corp.

Stone Medicine Co.

Sunbeam Corp.

Swanberg MFG Co.

Swedish-American Telephone Co.

T.C. Gleason MFG Co.

TootsieToy

Triner Scale & MFG Co.

Turner Brass Works

Turtle Wax Inc.

U-C Lite MFG Co.

Union Publishing House

United Razor Blade Corp.

Universal Medicine Co.

Vail MFG Co.

Val-A Company

Valmor Products Co.

Van Cleef Brothers

Vaughan Novelty MFG Co.

Vee-Jay Records

Victor Adding Machine Co.

Victor X-Ray Corporation

W.D. Allen MFG Co.

W.F. McLaughlin & Co.

W.M. Welch Scientific Co.

Webster-Chicago Corp.

Westclox

Western Electric Co.

Western Fluorescent Light Co.

White Cap Co.

William Cooper & Nephews Inc.

Williamson Candy Co.

Wilson Jones Company

Wilson Sporting Goods

Wm. E. Pratt MFG Co.

Wm. Meyer Co.

Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company

Woodstock Typewriter Company

Zenith Radio Corp.

Zeno MFG Co.

rogers-park-footer_edited.jpg

If you have any insights on this company and its history, or corrections about the details above, please share them below to help us tell a better story.

More Resources

rogers-park-historical-society-logo.jpg

© 2019 by Andrew Clayman. Created with Wix.com