Ghost Signs: Spengler and Company

On the side of the Double Door building at 1572 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park is a ghost sign that reads “Spengler & Company.”

Werner Spengler was born in 1831 in Germany. He arrived in Chicago with his brother John in 1865 and immediately began a retail dry goods business with him called Spengler Brothers, located at 167 Milwaukee. Six years later, his brother John left the business, leaving Werner and his wife Magdalena to run the company, now at 151 Milwaukee.  Werner and Magda had nine children together. In 1878, they moved the business again to 273 Milwaukee. Two years later, they built a house on Beer Baron Row which still stands today. By 1885, his sons John, William and Henry were in charge of most of the business, now W. Spengler & Son, at 369 Milwaukee. Two years later, they made their final move to this location.

Werner wrote in 1890:

“I take great pride in calling at the store daily as I was always used to hard work. I am old and old-fashioned, always preferred the company of plain people who are honest and trustworthy. Was always plain in dress and speech, for I never forgot where I came from. Paid my own way through life and was the only one of the family that assisted my parents upon their arrival to America. It was never my ambition to become a millionaire but always wanted to have something for old-age.”

By 1897, the business became Spengler & Company. It was quite small compared to other major department stores. For example, Marshall Field’s had 2,500 employees in 1897; Spengler only had 20.

The company didn’t last long after the turn of the century, dissolving in January 1901. Werner died in 1910.

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