What the Eck? Web detective needed.
Some event in the 1925 apple marketplace resulted in a $75,000 loss to a fourteen year old Chicago produce brokerage. Though seemingly healthy prior to 1925, the company didn't survive the mystery loss and filed for bankruptcy in 1928. Perhaps your web detective skills will turn up information that mine did not. Free magnet to whoever figures out what Eck's 1925 $75,000 "apple deal" was about.
They had experience
After immigrating to America from Germany in the late 1860s, apples became the Eck family business. Henry Eck (1852-1930) became an apple grower in St. Joseph, Michigan and John A. Eck (1858-1934) brokered them in Chicago.
A 1922 newspaper advertisement boasted the John A Eck Co fruit retailer was founded in 1871 but John would have been twelve years old then so his business probably consisted of hawking apples on a street corner. Henry's occupation as a fruit grower in 1900 is established by census records and an 1898 incorporation filing substantiates that John then owned a piece of a newly formed Theo C. H. Wegeforth company. It's safe to say that John Eck's adult experience in produce began in at least 1880, so when he formed his own brokerage in 1914, it was founded on at least three decades of experience for John and another couple for Henry.
Eck Eck & Eck
The John A. Eck Company was incorporated with $100,000 in capital when the Eck, Wegforth Co. was dissolved. (Wegforth had previously been the L.B. Smith brokerage.) The new company had three Ecks at the helm - John, Henry and Henry's son, Henry. The company specialized in fruit and potatoes, as well as bread, butter and eggs, but also dabbled in other categories, including cantaloupes, cucumbers and Christmas trees. The Ecks were paid a commission by growers, mostly on the west coast, to wholesale produce to Chicago-based grocers and food processors.
Their product was in high demand
America's love affair with apples is longstanding, going back to the pilgrims planting apple trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Mangoes and bananas are #1 elsewhere in the world, but in America, the apple has always been top banana.
They were at the right time and place
The development of refrigerated rail transportation (1895-1925) meant apples could be shipped long distances and Chicago was hungry. In addition to a population growth of around 25% a decade from 1900 to 1930, there was a feverish demand from processors. The city was a busy crossroads where raw materials came in, were turned into goods then railroaded out across the country. Heinz, Calumet, Emery, Libby, Armour, Kraft, Oscar Mayer, Quaker Oats and Nabisco were all there, making Chicago THE place to sell and produce food. Washington apple growers were ramping up yields and middlemen like Eck connected buyers and sellers.
From 1914 until 1924, Eck's company apparently flourished. The firm had two units in the South Water street market in Chicago, had begun branding boxed and barreled apples and was building a presence among west coast growers. In 1919 Eck boasted of shipping 600 acres of their trademark Revelation and Siwash Buck apples from Washington, consisting of Jonathan, Delicious, Rome Beauty and Winesap varieties. In 1921 they opened an office in Los Angeles. That same year, they solicited contracts from Oregon apple growers by erecting a building in Portland for grading, packing and canning apples. The 8,000 sq. ft. structure was located on Central avenue, east of the Southern Pacific depot. Later that year, in September, Eck purchased the P.A. Comstock ranch in Sutherlin, Oregon for $15,000. The 75-acre mostly wooded property grew peaches, pears and prunes. Eck planned to build a home in which to spend summers.
They lacked sufficient capital to survive a large loss
In 1927 Eck had been forced to give up one of their two units at the South Water Market. The unit, at 51 South Water Market, had been used to conduct retail sales. It retained the second unit that was used for car lot (train cars) sales. That didn't produce enough capital, however, and on Aug 11, 1928 the John A. Eck company was forced into receivership, their assets estimated at $45,000 and debts at around $75,000.
The losses were attributed to:
"...heavy losses during the wind-up of the apple deal, coupled with minor reverses in potatoes." Which sounds like the apple deal was a well known event in the 1925 apple market, so there should be something about it on the web, right? Right?
The receivership was forced when the Commerce Trust & Savings Bank withdrew the company's credit. A. H. Welch of the South Water Market Credit Association was appointed receiver....or Elwyn H . Johnson of the First National Bank. Both names were reported. Eck reportedly owed the bank $39,000 and owed $15,000 to four railroads and a cold storage provider. The firm's lawyers, Pritzker & Pritzker, were preparing a schedule of assets and liabilities. No small task because a large proportion of assets on Eck's books depended upon favorable verdicts in pending lawsuits and upon likely noncollectable advances to growers.
It sounds like the company was stretched too thin, maybe for a long time, and there is nothing mysterious about under capitalization. That does not explain the $75,000 "apple deal" in 1925 that was the final straw.
Henry passed in 1930. John remarried a woman twenty years his junior, moved to Canyon, Washington, bought an apricot farm and died in Wenatchee, Washington in 1934.
After 1921 the web reveals a loose collection of facts, none of which would seem to lead to a $75,000 loss in 1925.
- Sep 1923 Eck brought a $20,000 suit against the Benchley Fruit company of Fullerton, California for failure to deliver 100 cars of onions.
- Dec 1923 Eck brought a replevin suit against New York, Chicago and st. Louis Railroad company, charging that 746 boxes of apples worth $1,021 were unlawfully detained.
- Mar 1925 the company started brokering California-grown cantaloupes.
- Apr 1925 a criminal case was due to start in the district court of judge W. H. Poorman against a John A. Eck. No information was found about the nature of the suit or whether it moved forward. This seems like the most fruitful area to search but I didn't find anything.