Finding Aid to the Frederick W. Dohrmann Family Papers, 1896-1936

Processed by Robin Tremblay-McGaw
The Bancroft Library.
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California, 94720-6000
Phone: (510) 642-6481
Fax: (510) 642-7589
© 1996
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Finding Aid to the Frederick W. Dohrmann Family Papers, 1896-1936

Collection number: BANC MSS 91/29 c

The Bancroft Library

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, California

Contact Information:

Processed by:
Robin Tremblay-McGaw
Encoded by:
Campbell J. Crabtree
© 1996 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

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.

Container List

Carton 1, folders 1-72; Oversize folder 1

Series 1: Emporium Files, 1869-1933.

Scope and Content Note


Arranged hierarchically.
Encompassing the greatest bulk of the collection, this series includes correspondence and memoranda, meeting announcements, financial records, printed material, and clippings which document the Emporium's various mergers and reorganizations as well as personnel and other business matters. These have been divided into six sub-series: Board of Managers/Directors, Correspondence and Memoranda, Subject Files, Stock and Stockholders Records, Financial Records, and Miscellaneous. The chronological, correspondence and Emporium and H.C. Capwell merger files were A. B. C. Dohrmann's.

Board of Managers/Directors Records, ca.1895-1926

Ctn. 1, folder 1

Meeting announcements 1896-97

folder 2

Special meeting announcements 1913-26

folder 3

Synopses of Board meetings 1896

folder 4

Circular letters 1896

folder 5

Committees of the Board 1896

folder 6-7

Finance committee 1896-97

folder 8

Prospectus, Plan of Operation ca. 1895

folder 9

Management Force listing 1899-1908


Correspondence and Memoranda, 1895-1930

Ctn. 1, folder 10

Correspondence and notes 1895-96

folder 11

Notes and memoranda re departments 1896

folder 12-18

Chronological files 1925-30

folder 19

Miscellaneous correspondence 1911-26


Subject Files, 1895-1927

Ctn. 1, folder 20-22

Morton Brothers Suit 1895-97

folder 23

Emporium Tenants meeting minutes 1896

folder 24

Department Owners' Association meeting announcements 1896-97

folder 25-33

Expenses and reorganization 1896-98

folder 34-38

Emporium and Golden Rule Bazaar merger 1896-98

folder 39-44

General and Merchandise Managers miscellaneous 1905-13

folder 45

Mr. Schlesinger's talks 1909-10

folder 46-48

Leases and property 1896-1927

folder 49-53

Personnel 1910-13

folder 54-56

Emporium and H.C. Capwell merger 1925-27


Stock & Stockholders Records, 1908-1933

Ctn. 1, folder 57

Correspondence 1917

folder 58

Notice of special meeting 1917

folder 59

Annual meeting announcements 1926-33

folder 60

List of stockholders undated

folder 61-63

Miscellaneous 1908-27


Financial Records, 1869-1914

Ctn. 1, folder 64

Cost and ProfitChart 1896

folder 65

Accounts and Sales Records by department 1869-97

folder 66

Totals and Averages 1896-97

folder 67

Monthly Reports 1909-11

folder 68

Sales Report 1914


Miscellaneous, 1896-1921

Ctn. 1, folder 69

Printed material by F. W. Dohrmann 1897

folder 70

Holiday Reports 1915

folder 71-72

Clippings 1896-1921

Carton 2, folders 1-20

Series 2: Emporium Capwell Corporation Files, 1913-1937

Scope and Content Note

Arranged hierarchically in three sub-series, consisting mostly of meeting announcements, and printed annual and quarterly reports. Also includes some correspondence pertaining to stockholders and the corporate structure, clippings, and printed material on the Oakland Capwell store.

Administrative Records, 1913-1936

Ctn. 2, folder 1-2

Board of Directors meeting announcements 1913-29

folder 3

General Executive Board meeting announcements 1929

folder 4

Subsidiaries of Emporium Capwell Corporation annual meeting announcements 1929

folder 5

Syndicate Managers meeting announcement 1929

folder 6-8

Finance Committee meeting announcements 1928-29

folder 9-10

Stockholders meeting announcements 1928-36


Financial Records, 1931-1937

Ctn. 2, folder 11

Annual Reports 1931-37

folder 12

Quarterly Reports 1935-36


Miscellaneous, 1927-1937

Ctn. 2, folder 13-14

Correspondence 1930

folder 15-18

Clippings 1927

folder 19-20

Printed Material 1929-37

Carton 2, folders 21-49; Oversize folder 1

Series 3: Nathan Dohrmann Company Files, 1869-1921

Scope and Content Note

Arranged hierarchically. The first sub-series, Administrative Records, contains early partnership Papers of Bernard Nathan, F. W. Dohrmann, and A. B. C. Dohrmann, with various memoranda written by F. W. Dohrmann in his role as President. Correspondence files, detailing a dispute between Nathan Dohrmann and the Emporium and Golden Rule Bazaar, include a memo detailing the executive organization of the company and notes about its reorganization. Early financial records and ledgers are found in the second sub-series, with personnel forms and inventory notebooks. Advertisements are found in Oversize folder 1.

Administrative Records, 1887-1910

Ctn. 2, folder 21-22

Partnership Papers 1887-98

folder 23-27

President's Letters 1908-10

folder 28-30

Plans & Problems Memos 1905

folder 31-35

Correspondence 1895-1909


Financial Records, 1869-1907

Ctn. 2, folder 36-37

Annual Balances 1886-99

folder 38

Appendices to Analysis and Review 1903-07

folder 39

Table of Sales 1869-1900

folder 40

Table of Profit and Loss 1869-92

folder 41

Percentage of Sales Estimated as Gross Profits 1900-03

folder 42

Increase and Decrease of Purchases, Sales and Expenses 1888-91

folder 43

Business Statistics 1869-98

folder 44-45

Cash Sales Comparison 1883-97

folder 46

Disbursements Ledgers 1898

folder 47

Profit and Loss Ledger 1869-90


Miscellaneous, 1910-1921 & undated

Ctn. 2, folder 48

Inventory Notebook undated

folder 49

Personnel Forms 1910-21

Carton 2, folders 50-65

Series 4: Dohrmann Commercial Company Files, 1869-1936

Scope and Content Note

Arranged hierarchically in three sub-series containing memoranda and correspondence written by F. W. Dohrmann, in his capacity as president of the company, to A. B. C. Dohrmann, vice-president. Also includes financial correspondence and records, including a comparison of syndicate stores, and invitations and menus for company anniversary dinners.

General Correspondence, 1879-1934 & undated

Ctn. 2, folder 50-51

Correspondence 1910-34

folder 52

To the Hotel Department 1909

folder 53

Company history 1879, undated

folder 54

Report on Trip to Sacramento undated


Financial Correspondence and Records, 1869-1935

Ctn. 2, folder 55-56

Correspondence and reports 1907-09

folder 57

Stock correspondence 1917-18

folder 58

Tax correspondence 1917-19

folder 59

Comparison of syndicate stores 1913

folder 60

Financial program memo 1935

folder 61

Miscellaneous 1869-1913


Miscellaneous, 1913-1936

Ctn. 2, folder 62

Convention of the Affiliated Stores 1913

folder 63

Notes of the Dohrmann Hotel Supply Company, Credit Men's Conference 1936

folder 64

Testimonial Reception Invitations and Menus 1927

folder 65

Golden Jubilee Dinner Invitation 1934

Cartons 2, folders 66-68; Carton 3, folders 1-4; Oversize folder 1

Series 5: B. Nathan Company Files, 1863-1928

Scope and Content Note

Arranged hierarchically and consisting of early agreements, annual balance sheets, various financial ledgers, supply notebooks organized by country, and printed advertisements.
Ctn. 2, folder 66

Agreements 1863-64

folder 67

Annual balance sheets 1874-81

folder 68

Capital Stock Ledger 1869-74

Ctn. 3, folder 1

Financial Ledger 1869-93

folder 2

Notebooks undated

folder 3

Printed Ephemera 1887

folder 4

Miscellaneous 1878-1928

Carton 3, folders 5-20

Series 6: Files Regarding Related Organizations, 1894-1922

Scope and Content Note


Arranged hierarchically.
The first sub-series contains correspondence pertaining to syndicate stores and their leases. Numerous files for unidentified companies include financial records, comparative building information, and a lovely, early inventory book with pen and ink sketches of crockery and crystal. The third sub-series consists of correspondence and memos of various merchant associations.

Records Of Syndicate Stores, 1906-1922

Ctn. 3, folder 5-7

Howell Dohrmann 1907-09

folder 8-10

Parmelee Dohrmann Company 1906-22

folder 11

Yost Dohrmann Company [1920?]


Records Of Unidentified Companies, 1894-1911 & undated

Ctn. 3, folder 12

Miscellaneous correspondence undated

folder 13

Inventory book undated

folder 14

Miscellaneous financial records 1894-99

folder 15

Financial charts 1897-1911

folder 16

Christmas donations 1910

folder 17

Comparative Building Information undated


Records of Merchant Associations, 1908-1911 & undated

Ctn. 3, folder 18

Retail Merchants of San Francisco 1910-11

folder 19

Merchants' Association 1908

folder 20

Retail Association of Greater San Francisco undated

Carton 3, folders 21-38; Oversize v. 1

Series 7: Personal Papers of F. W. Dohrmann Family, 1841- 1938

Scope and Content Note

The bulk of the records in this series consists of items pertaining to F. W. Dohrmann's death and funeral, including obituaries and clippings, lists of clippings and flower arrangements received, as well as estate and personal ledgers, various memos written by F. W. Dohrmann about estate and business planning, and speeches. Also included are a brief biography of A. B. C. Dohrmann, ledgers for the memorial account established in the name of Mr. Dohrmann's deceased son, W. F. Dohrmann, and the papers, including letters of introduction, wills, and passports of various other family members—Josephine (F. W. Dohrmann's wife), Julius Dohrmann (F. W. Dohrmann's father) and Blanca Dohrmann Paulsen (F. W. Dohrmann's sister). Some of the latter records are in German.
Ctn. 3, folder 21

Biography of A. B. C. Dohrmann 1938

folder 22-23

F. W. Dohrmann memos 1905-06

folder 24

F. W. Dohrmann Plans and Problems—estate planning 1914

folder 25

Unitarian Club Dinner Speech 1909

folder 26-28

Death and Funeral 1914

folder 29

Obituaries and Clippings 1914-15

folder 30

Clippings 1900-26

folder 31

Accounts procedure ledger 1893

folder 32

Ledger 1911-14

folder 33

Estate ledger 1914-17

folder 34-35

W. F. Dohrmann Memorial Account ledgers 1905-15

folder 36

Beneficiaries of Blanca Dohrmann Paulsen 1928

folder 37-38

Dohrmann Family personalia 1841-1924

box Oversize, folder 1

Clippings 1897


Advertisements [1869]-1901


Annual Balance sheets 1882-1886

folder v. 1

Resolutions of the Merchants' Association upon the Retirement of President F. W. Dohrmann—scrapbook 1901