The Week That Was: August 1930
By Anthony Cox
As far as we know Dick Merrill and Johnny Kytle had never been to Greenville. But, the two veteran pilots were part of the main attraction one late summer evening in August of 1930. Merrill and Kytle were making history in Greenville by bringing air mail to the area for the first time ever. Seven hundred fifty pounds of mail, weighed down on the floors of the Chamber of Commerce building, were awaiting the two planes’ arrival. Throngs were expected to meet the Eastern Air Transport Inc. fliers at the municipal airport sometime between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m.
The third week of August 1930 was a busy one for those living in Greenville, a city of just under thirty thousand residents.
The effect of the Depression was emerging across the American stage. Already on cue were newspaper headlines saying millions of dollars in drought relief were approved for the agrarian south. But one headline on August 17th announced the arrival of Greenville’s newest business partner, Claussen’s Bakery. On Monday the 18th, Claussen’s Bakery was to open its doors to the public with a grand opening, introducing the baked goods factory to the Greenville community.
J.C.H. (Johann Christian Heinrich) Claussen opened the first Claussen’s bakery in Charleston in 1842. His son H.H. would add a location in Augusta, Ga., (1888) and a sister location in Columbia in (1928). The Greenville location became the fourth of the Clausen brand. The two-story brick structure along Greenville’s Augusta Street would be equipped with man and machine to bake enough bread in a single hour to feed 5,000 persons for one meal. That is roughly 45,000 loaves a day.
Since the founding of the Claussen’s brand’s in the mid-19th century, J.C. H. Claussen, his son and grandsons developed quite a reputation in the industry. Their plants were recognized members of the Quality Bakers of America, and in 1927, Claussen’s was named winner of the National Silver Trophy for best quality bread in the United States. The endeavor of making fine baked goods was deep in Claussen’s family roots; however, the making of the plant itself was a Claussen signature too.
One of J.C.H.’s grandsons, Henry Claussen, made up half of the Claussen-Lawrence Construction partnership. The company was primarily involved in road construction projects but was instrumental in the design and building of Greenville’s newest factory. Henry decided not to follow in the kitchen and instead became an engineer by trade. Claussen-Lawrence would build in both South Carolina and Georgia. At one point, they won a bid to build a section of Interstate-95.
On the eve of the grand opening, the Greenville News adorned its pages with congratulatory ads from fellow venders welcoming the new age bakers to the Upstate. Tours of the plant were set to begin Monday at 4 p.m., first with housewives and their children, followed by grocers, clerks, their wives, doctors, nurses, teachers and public officials.
Splashed by the natural light from the large square metal windows each adorned with 20 sashes, first time visitors got a glimpse into the innovation of a new decade. This included the Sevigne wrapping machine, made up of 3,000 parts which automatically measured and wrapped 60 loaves per minute–one loaf per second. The Garndt ovens were equipped with discs which revolved for even baking quality and Everedy brand cake machines designed for both cutting and icing cakes.
Following the tour, invited guests would enjoy refreshments and orchestral music. It was estimated that between 3,000 to 4,000 people attended the grand opening. It was evident the owners were out to make a good first impression. Quantity was counted, and quality was measured into an efficient business venture that went beyond the factory floor. Claussen’s employed a staff dietician, Mrs. Mary Babbitt, to provide guidance in meal planning and menu selection for clients. The company purchased a fleet of Ford trucks from W.M. Thompson Inc. on East Washington Street (which happens to be where the Greenville County Historical Society offices can be found today). Drivers would cover 8 different routes throughout the area in a radius covering up to 35 miles.
Eighty-eight years later, the trapezoidal shaped building still towers between the CSX rail line and the narrow passage of Augusta Street. It is again odorless as the whiff of fresh bread no longer lingers over to the playing fields of Greenville High School. Repurposed and positioned in a new economy, it is still adorned with cartouche symbols and the limestone signage that reminds passersby what it once was–The Claussen’s Bakery.
Two nights later on August 20, 1930, that other event I mentioned took place right down the road. Remember the pilots Merrill and Kytle? When they landed, it is estimated that between fifteen and twenty thousand people witnessed their arrival to pick up the first air mail from Greenville. In total 29,700 pieces of mail made up that initial haul. That represents a letter per person in the city population which stood at 29,081. A third plane had to be flown in to carry the load. In all, the bags of mail weighed 1,067 lbs., breaking a previous world record of 563 lbs. set in St. Petersburg Florida. One must wonder after the Claussen’s Bakery opening, did anyone offer bread to these barnstorming mailmen?