Historical Overview

Harry L. Hussmann's Biography

 

Harry Louis Hussmann was born on May 24, 1877, in St. Louis, Missouri, an only child of his mother, Louisa Geyer Hussmann, and father, Heinrich Ludwig Hussmann, who died when Harry was just five years old. On November 6, 1901, Harry married Caroline Louise Lienhop, and together they had seven children: Harry Jr., Edna, Edith, Mildred, Elmer and his twin brother Roy, and John.

As an adult, Harry worked as a clerk at the Gus V. Brecht Butcher Supply Company. It was there that Harry became inspired to start his own business, which he did in April 1906. Harry opened the Harry L. Hussmann Butchers' Supply Company in St. Louis, Missouri, with capital for his brand new business amounting to just $35.00. Working from his home and doing business out of a traveling bag, Harry sold knives, cleavers, meat slicers, grinders, butcher's blocks and aprons to shops and markets.

Although the field was already crowded, Harry saw the opportunity for a company to grow by providing high quality products, value and service to customers. Harry expanded from his bag of samples to a large five-story showroom located at 911-913 North Broadway in St. Louis. The unique showroom, which offered butcher, packer and restaurant supplies of all kinds, was described in the St. Louis Globe Democrat newspaper as "probably the only one in the country". 

As Harry continued to make sales calls, he recognized the need for his customers to display poultry and precut meats "in view" for shoppers. True to his mission to provide quality, value and services to his customers, Hussmann began developing an idea for a refrigerated meat case that would allow butchers to cut meat in advance and display it to customers in a clean, attractive setting.

In 1917, Hussmann patented the food industry's first refrigerated meat display case. The glass-front wooden case, which was cooled by using salt and ice, created a revolution in the sale of fresh meat, opening the imagination of anyone involved in merchandising food. It allowed butchers to spend less time in cold meat lockers and to display meats under sanitary conditions. It gave shoppers a chance to actually view the cuts of meat prior to purchase, make quicker selections and enjoy a wider variety of products. The Hussmann Patented Refrigerated Meat Display case later led to a joint project with Clarence Birdseye to develop display cases for frozen food.

Upon the introduction of the Hussmann Patented Refrigerated Meat Display case, Harry was quoted as saying, "The days of meat hanging from hooks on the wall are numbered. I expect butcher shops and even grocery stores all over America, to display all their fresh cut meats in refrigerated cases like mine."

As interest in the refrigerated display case grew, so did the Harry L. Hussmann Refrigerator & Supply Company. In 1919, construction of a new manufacturing facility, at Leffingwell and North Market in St. Louis, was completed. The block long, 130 ft. wide, two-story facility contained one of the largest wood-working plants in the city of St. Louis. The buildings located on Broadway were retained for supply, sales and accounting departments, as well as sales and display floor.

The Hussmann Leffingwell plant manufactured Hussmann Patented Refrigerator Display cases for meat dealers, delicatessens and restaurants. Throughout the 1920s, new designs of the case were introduced. They included a deluxe model with oak exterior and a genuine marble base, a thrift case for meat and perishables in small stores, a heavy duty line that could use ice and salt bunkers or be adapted to mechanical refrigeration, a full line for mechanical refrigeration only, and a case designed for delicatessens, restaurants, coffee shops, and drug stores to be used for milk, butter, cheese and soft drinks.

The Hussmann Refrigerator & Supply Company continued to grow and Harry continued to innovate. In 1926, the first independent Hussmann distributor was established. Earnings that year were up to $277,439.24, with the Hussmann building, machinery and equipment appraised at $311,828.54. And in 1927, Hussmann worked with Frigidaire Corporation to develop an automatic electric refrigeration system, introducing the Frigidaire-Equipped Hussmann Patented Freezer Display Case.

In 1928, however, Harry's leadership of the company he founded came to an end, when his wife, Caroline, was advised to move to a warmer climate for health reasons. Harry sold his shares in the Hussmann Refrigerator Company, and he and his wife moved to El Paso, Texas. In Texas, Harry bought and managed the Hotel Hussmann. The hotel was located on the Plaza in El Paso, and billed as being at the center of everything. Advertising for the establishment boasted 300 outside rooms, each with a bath, circulating ice water and servant doors.

It was in El Paso, Texas, that Harry L. Hussmann died on January 27, 1949. Today, Hussmann's entrepreneurial butcher supply company, founded in St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the world's largest producers of refrigeration systems and merchandising display cases for the food industry … and Harry's innovations are acclaimed as crucial elements in the development of the modern supermarket.