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Finding Aid to the Frederick W. Dohrmann Family Papers, 1896-1936
BANC MSS 91/29 c  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Frederick W. Dohrmann Family Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1896-1936
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 91/29 c
    Collector: Dohrmann, F. (Frederick)
    Extent: Number of containers: 3 cartons, 1 oversize folder, and 1 oversize volume. Linear feet: 3.75
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Collection contains incomplete corporate records from various companies the Dorhmanns were involved in; containing portions of each company's and Mr. Dorhmann's personal records relating to his business interests. These early California department store companies reflect San Francisco business history and the management and personnel tensions of the day. Collection includes a commemorative scrapbook documenting F.W. Dohrmann's career.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English and German

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of the Manuscripts Division. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], F. W. Dohrmann family papers, BANC MSS 91/29 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Related Collection

    Title: Dohrmann Family Papers, 1914-1915,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 79/22 c

    Materials Cataloged Separately

    • Printed materials have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library.
    • Photographs have been transferred to Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The F. W. Dohrmann Family Papers were donated to The Bancroft Library in two installments, on May 15 and July 5, 1991, by Mrs. Ava Jean Brumbaum.


    Frederick W. Dohrmann was born in Germany in 1842 and came to Davenport, Iowa in 1858. In April of 1862, he settled in San Francisco where he worked as a clerk in a grocery store located at Fifth and Howard. He became involved in the general merchandise business in Oakland and in the manufacturing of breakfast foods.
    In 1868, Mr. Dohrmann gave up the milling business and entered into a partnership with Bernard Nathan of B. Nathan Company, engaged in the selling of fine crockery. From this organization, in 1887, evolved Nathan, Dohrmann & Company. At the helm were Mr. B. Nathan, who spent most of his time abroad scouting suppliers of fine china, and Mr. Dohrmann, who remained as manager in San Francisco. The Dohrmann Commercial Company, with Mr. Dohrmann serving as president, appears to be contemporaneous with the Nathan Dohrmann Company. In 1898, Mr. Dohrmann's son, A. B. C. Dohrmann, became a partner in the Nathan Dohrmann Company. From this time forward, he was closely connected with and played an important role in the various Dohrmann stores.
    The Emporium, the first department store in California, was founded in 1896. It operated for a year as a group of individually-owned shops in a building owned by the Parrott estate. However, in 1897, due to difficulties ensuing from the lack of centralized management, the Emporium merged with the Golden Rule Bazaar, becoming the Emporium and Golden Rule Bazaar. In 1898, Mr. Dohrmann's son, A. B. C. Dohrman became officially involved in Mr. Dohrmann, along with others, was instrumental in the reorganization of the new Emporium and was president of the company at the time of his death in 1914. In 1927, the Emporium merged with the Oakland store, H.C. Capwell.
    Mr. Dohrmann was also one of the organizers of the San Francisco Hotel Company, which operated the St. Francis Hotel, and one of the founders and president of the Merchants' Association. He held a directorship in the Savings Union Bank and Trust Company of San Francisco and served, at various times, as a director for several of the Dohrmann Commercial Company's syndicate stores.
    In addition, Mr. Dohrmann was involved in a number of civic activities, including serving as a member of the Park Commission and as a University of California regent. He worked in the Relief and Red Cross effort at the time of the San Francisco 1906 earthquake and fire, and was deeply interested in the Red Cross Society, the German Benevolent Society and the German Altenheim and served in a number of capacities on various charitable committees.

    Scope and Content

    The Frederick W. Dohrmann Family Papers contain materials from Mr. F. W. Dohrmann's personal files and consist of materials remaining after family members retained various items of personal interest. As a result, the records are spotty and incomplete, with the collection containing only a portion of each company's and Mr. Dohrmann's personal records. These consist of correspondence, memoranda, meeting announcements (nearly all addressed to either Mr. F. W. or his son, A. B. C., Dohrmann), minutes, legal agreements, financial records and reports, inventory and supplier notebooks, personal papers, printed ephemera, and clippings.
    The collection contains files of interest to researchers of San Francisco business history and includes records documenting the origin and various reorganizations of the Emporium, California's first department store. The records document the several crises experienced by the fledgling department store, including a dispute between the departments and the Emporium over the sharing of expenses and the difficulties of defining management responsibilities and fair compensation. Also of interest are numerous files pertaining to personnel matters, specifically related to women employees and their compensation and opportunities for growth in the Emporium where, prior to 1911, there were only male sales clerks.
    The collection has been arranged, as nearly as possible, to duplicate Mr. Dohrmann's arrangement which was largely subject oriented. In addition, an effort has been made to identify the company to which the records pertain. This has presented certain difficulties since both Mr. Dohrmann and his sons, A. B. C. and F. W. Jr., served simultaneously in numerous capacities at a number of the companies. In fact, this is also the case with a number of the other key employees, with fathers and sons and brothers often engaged, in some fashion, in the same area of business. It should be noted that correspondence for which there is an index or on which can be found pencilled notations, indicating an order or an arrangement, has been kept together, despite differences in salutation and address, suggesting that the material had been addressed to Mr. F. W. or A. B. C. Dohrmann in their varying roles.