Things To Know About Manitowoc & Two Rivers
On The River
Birth of the ice cream sundae
Two Rivers declares itself the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. In the summer of 1881, a visitor from Illinois stopped into Ed Berners' soda fountain in Two Rivers and ordered a dish of ice cream. He spied the bottle of chocolate syrup Berners used to flavor his sodas and asked Berners to pour some on the ice cream. Berners hesitated, the customer persisted and history was made. The ice cream sundae was born.
The craze spread to Manitowoc where George Giffy began selling the concoction at his shop. He is credited with christening the dish a "sundae," because the Sabbath was the only day on which he would sell it -- at first. The spelling may have been altered to appease pious folks who did not think a confection should be named in honor of the Sabbath. It might also have been cooked up by an ice cream bowl salesman who wanted his product to stand out, or it might just be a plain and simple mistake.
Be that as it may, Two Rivers touts itself as the birthplace of the sundae and vigorously defends its title against any one bold enough to mount a challenge.
Sputnik crashed at Manitowoc? Not exactly. A fragment of Sputnik IV, not the famous satellite of 1957, fell out of the sky in September 1962. It landed smack dab in the middle of Eighth Street in front of what is now the Rahr West Museum. Local police were Johnny-on-the-spot, but had to yield custody of the baseball-sized metallic chunk to NASA and the Smithsonian. Members of the Manitowoc Engineers Local later marked the spot by fabricating a brass ring which the city fathers ordered be embedded in the pavement. It is still there today.
In 1938, Life Magazine asked eight architects to design "dream houses" for middle class Americans. Frank Lloyd Wright offered a Usonian model that he likened to "a little private club." Today we would call it an "open plan" with a great room and lots of windows but with roofs that did not leak. The house was slated to be built in Minnesota, but was not. The plans remained on file for years until Bernard Schwartz of Two Rivers contacted the architect and asked him to rework the design for his property. It was built and is now open to visitors and overnight guests who want to experience what Wright called "a freer life than you could possibly live in the conventional house."
Francis Kadow was the colorful founder of Manitowoc's WOMT radio station. He started his career as a showman by managing the Mikadow Theater at age sixteen in 1916. In 1925, the Mikadow, the first theater in the city designed to show moving pictures, was ten years old. To celebrate Kadow brought in radio equipment and stage performers to broadcast from the theater. The stage show went on, but the theater seats were empty. The audience was at home, listening on the radio.
Kadow saw the future and in 1926, established WOMT. The first programming featured a lot of music played on the big theater organ. News was not a part of any radio station's programming in the 1920s but Kadow talked the United Press International into selling WOMT access to its wire service bulletins. When the newspaper publishing association threatened to boycott UPI if it transmitted the news to WOMT, UPI tried to get out of its contract with Kadow. He refused and threatened a suit. UPI went back to the newspapers and said it was locked into the contract and WOMT was only a 50-watt station up in the backwaters of Wisconsin and who would listen anyway? The publishers grudgingly relented. By this means, WOMT became the first station in Wisconsin, if not the US, to broadcast wire service news.
Manitowoc was tinsel town long before Hollywood stole the title, and with better reason. The story starts with Henry Stolze, the unlikely socialist mayor. Far from a wild-eyed radical, Stolze was a businessmen who had founded the National Tinsel Company on the south side. For many years it was the only manufacturer in the country of the sparkly metallic strips draped over the boughs of Xmas trees--tinsel. Stolze also patented a metal clip that presumably allowed candles to be safely attached to Xmas trees so they could be lit without igniting the boughs.
Perhaps it was the candle clip that led him to take up the cause of municipal ownership of Manitowoc's electric and water utilities. Public ownership of basic public services--water, sewers, gas, electric, parks, mass transit--was an important issue in the Progressive decades prior to World War I, but in Manitowoc neither the Democrats nor the Republicans were interested. That made Henry Stolze a socialist, and he ran on the party ticket in 1907. What looked to them like a red tide rising prompted national socialist party leaders to send a young Chicago poet named Carl Sandburg to Manitowoc to rally the working class for the 1908 presidential race. His candidate, Gene Debs, did not do as well as Henry Stolze, who adhered to the "gas-and-water" school of socialism, not the Marxian kind.
Stolze won his first election, but could not muster the necessary council votes to buy the waterworks until 1911. In 1914, the council approved the acquisition of John Schuette's electric utility. The two services have been publicly-owned ever since. After serving eight years as mayor, longer than anyone yet elected, "Comrade" Stolze, the tinsel-town socialist, retired to--where else?--Los Angeles, California.
The Xmas spirit of Henry Stolze returned to Manitowoc in 1959 when an outfit called the Aluminum Specialty Company started manufacturing aluminum Xmas trees. The trees struck a chord in the consuming hearts of millions of Americans and Aluminum Specialty produced 100,000 to 150,00 a year until 1969. They are icons of the oft-ignored, unhip side of the 1960s.