Information for Researchers
Scope and Content
Collection Title: Frederick W. Dohrmann Family Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1896-1936
Collection Number: BANC MSS 91/29 c
Dohrmann, F. (Frederick)
Number of containers: 3 cartons, 1 oversize folder, and 1 oversize volume.
Linear feet: 3.75
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.
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
[Identification of item], F. W. Dohrmann family papers, BANC MSS 91/29 c, The Bancroft Library,
University of California, Berkeley.
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.
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.