Milwaukee’s sweetest story

Brix Apartment Lofts

Twenty tons of candy were made each day in this seven-story building at 408 W Florida St. The former home of the George Ziegler Candy Co., it was recently remodeled into upscale housing and is now known as the Brix Apartment Lofts. Carl A. Swanson photo

Although its reputation has more to do with brewing than bon bons, Milwaukee once ranked among the top five candy-producing cities in the United States. Even in the bleak years of the Great Depression, the city′s 16 candy factories employed 2,000 people with annual sales of $7.8 million.

One of the 16 firms, the George Ziegler Candy Co., was founded before the Civil War and lasted into the 1970s. Its annual production averaged 12 million pounds, the Milwaukee Journal noted in a 1920 article. That’s about 20 tons of candy produced each working day.

This is a story about chocolate. And a fire hose. But mostly chocolate.

Did you know the municipal court once ruled that you have a right to turn a hose on workers who pile streetcar rails in front of your business?

Frank P. Ziegler photo

Frank P. Ziegler, prominent local candy maker and hose-wielding maniac.

“There was a flurry of excitement in the municipal court this morning when Frank Ziegler was arrainged on a charge of disorderly conduct. The facts were that the employees of the Milwaukee Street Railway company were unloading rails on East Water Street yesterday afternoon and piled some in front of the Ziegler candy factory in such a manner that the business of the firm was interrupted with, as its teams could not back up. Frank Ziegler remonstrated, and asked that the rails be placed in a different position. The demand was not complied with, and Mr. Ziegler turned the hose on the streetcar men, drenching them thoroughly. Officer Monahan was called on, and arrested Mr. Ziegler on a charge of disorderly conduct. After hearing the testimony, Judge Wallber discharged the defendant, holding that it was one of those cases in which a man was justified in protecting his property by summary process, and that the employees of the railway company had no right to place obstructions in front of a business house against the owner’s protest.” – Milwaukee Journal, April 27, 1892

Who was this hose-wielding, business-protecting guy? Frank Ziegler was a second generation candy maker. His father, George, founded the family business in the years immediately before the Civil War – mostly because he had enough money to buy a barrel of sugar.

George’s family had immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1845 and settled on a farm in Dane County. Young George didn’t care for farming and moved to Milwaukee to learn the leather working trade. After a three-year apprenticeship, he went to work for the Bradley-Metcalf Shoe Co.

In 1851, George married Barbara Boll. Her brothers, John and Andrew Boll, were out-of-work candy makers who had moved back in with their parents. George had saved a little from each paycheck, enough to buy a barrel of sugar and put his brothers-in-law to work. They started making candy in the kitchen of the Boll’s home at 13th and Vliet. The father of the Boll boys, a tailor, helped out by calling on local merchants and urging them to stock the candy.

The Boll brothers proved to be excellent candy makers and their father seems to have been an unstoppable candy selling machine. The new company grew rapidly. For a time, George continued to work at the shoe factory, keeping an eye on the business end of things in his spare time and occasionally dipping further into his savings when the new company needed capital.

Soon orders were pouring in faster than they could be filled and Ziegler quit his factory job. On Jan 11, 1861, the firm of Boll Bros. & Co. was established. In 1865, the candy company moved into its a building on Third Street, then moved again to a building on Wisconsin Avenue. One of the brothers left in 1868, and the firm changed its name to Boll & Ziegler. In 1874, George Ziegler brought out the remaining partner and continued under his own name.

One-by-one, George Ziegler’s five sons joined the business. Frank P., that nemeses of streetcar workers, joined the company at age 11 as errand boy. He worked his way up through the ranks as candy maker, buyer, plant superintendent, vice president, and president.

A fire destroyed the factory in 1882, and although the company quickly resumed operations from a new location on East Water Street, the nervous strain of rushing the new factory into production severely undermined Frank Ziegler’s health. In 1887, he took an extended leave of absence to tour abroad. Returning, he was elected vice president and superintendent of the company. On his father’s death in 1904, he became president.

During his tenure, he turned a small company with 40 employees into one of the largest candy makers in the Midwest – and one of the most innovative. It was the first to offer a chocolate bar containing peanuts. Unimaginatively named the “Milk Chocolate Peanut Block,” it was delivered to merchants in a giant slab. When a customer placed an order, a clerk would break off a piece.

In 1907, the company built a 112,000-square-foot, seven-story factory at 408 W Florida St. In 1920, the company added a 72,000-square-foot addition. In this article, UrbanMilwaukee.com writer Jeramey Jannene noted the candy factory had some unusual features, including two adjacent pairs of staircases. One for men and the other for women.

After a bit of trial and error,  Ziegler perfected a way, in 1911, to mold and wrap individual bars. The “Fox Trot Bar” was the first to be marketed under a distinctive name. The company also introduced the chocolate and peanut “Ziegler Giant Bar.” It was the first candy maker in the state to manufacture marshmallow, and the firm invented Candy Raisins, a regional favorite for many years.

Frank died in 1939 at the age of 83. He was the firm’s chairman of the board at the time of his death, having worked for the company for 72 of its 78 years in operation.

With a new generation of family – Joseph E. Ziegler – at the helm, the company continued to turn out tons of candy each day from its Florida Street factory. In 1951, the company mailed 7,500 Giant Bars to wounded Korean War veterans recovering in overseas hospitals. The City of Milwaukee was one of its customers in those years, purchasing Ziegler Giant Bars at a steeply discounted price to supply Halloween programs for youngsters. In 1960, for example, 365,000 bars were purchased at a cost of $9,836.

The George Ziegler Co. remained in operation for more than 100 years, but all things must end. In 1971, the company was sold to an investment group. Three years later it was out of business.

Candy making is no longer a major industry in Milwaukee, but Wisconsin is still the fourth-largest candy producing state, with $850 million in annual sales in 2015 and more than 2,000 employed in the industry. The leading companies are: Nestle in Burlington; Clasen Quality Coatings in Madison; Consumer Packaging Group, Hartland; and Impact Confections, Janesville.

Ziegler Giant Bar

Although the company has been gone since the mid-1970s, Ziegler Giant Bars are still made. A local candy store makes the bars using the original recipe and original molds. Carl A. Swanson photo

And you can still buy a Ziegler Giant Bar.

In 1990, Bill and Mary Ziegler, the fifth generation of Ziegler candy makers, opened Half Nuts, a candy store at 9617 W Greenfield Ave, West Allis. Among a range of other products, the store also makes and sells Giant Bars using the original recipe – and even the original molds.

Carl_sig

Advertisements

10 comments

  1. As a kid , I used to love eating the Zeigler candy bars !
    I haven’t even given them a thought untill I read your blog on this this excellent chocolate company.
    I wish I could get some of them right now. Yummy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Was this the same Zeigler family that had a Zeigler as Mayor of Milwaukee(circa 1916). I only ask because my great Grandfather was a Alderman at that time and was friends with the Zeiglers.

    Like

  3. A Giant bar or a Fifth Avenue were the best when growing up in Milwaukee. Hershey’s was a distant third. If I remember right the Giant bar would sometimes have a one panel cartoon on the small cardboard wrapper inside the package.
    I see they sell them now for $1.79 a bar. Gotta get some soon!

    Like

      1. I can’t wait to buy some of them. They were always my favorites when I went to the movie houses as a kid on the north side ! .
        Thank’s for the tip and the great article Carl.

        Like

  4. Thank you for this history. The Wisconsin Ziegler family has long and deep roots and many of us don’t know much more than what was passed down from generation to generation. Myself, I am of the aforementioned farmer stock from Western Wisconsin. George’s father, John George, is buried in the local Catholic cemetery there. Summit Ridge in Monroe County, to be exact.

    My father remembers receiving beer and chocolates from the relatives in “Milwaukee” at the holidays. My grandmother once told me she and my grandfather honeymooned at the family “compound” near Columbus, WI.

    Next Ziegler story: The Ziegler Brewing Company, Beaver Dam, WI?

    Like

  5. I just received this article from a friend of the family and it is quite interesting. I am a “distant” relative of the Ziegler Family. My grandmother married Robert Ziegler who also worked at the candy company. My mother Karen Ziegler would tell us stories about how her dad use to come home with a bag of candy almost every day. It was the candy that was not able tobe sold to the public because of damage. They would take this to school to share with their friends. What is also funny is that as a young woman and pregant with my son, I was introduced to the candy raisins. Became addicted to these. I would drive to a small candy store in Hartford, Wi to just get these. Was so sad when they no longer were available and then about a year ago we found out that they came back. Of course had to go get a bag. Almost as good as when they made them back in the day. Was shock to find out that it was the Ziegler Candy company who made then. FUNNY must of been in the genes!! LOL My brother and I did go to the candy store HALF NUTS and got to meet Mary Ziegler. Was an interesing time.

    Now I want to find out more about my side of the family ❤

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s