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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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John Ellwanger. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

ELLWANGER, John Peter. (Hesse-Darmstadt,Germany, May 24, 1849--Dubuque, IA, Apr. 22, 1917). John Peter Ellwanger was the fourth of eight children of Agatha Jaeger Peter Edward Ellwanger. The Ellwangers boarded the ship, Venice, in Le Havre, France, in 1852 and sailed to New Orleans. John Ellwanger was only three years old. (1)

Upon arrival on American soil, the family quickly traveled to, and settled in, Dubuque. Members of Agatha’s family, the Jaegers, had preceded them to the city. Peter found work as a piano teacher and piano tuner to support his growing family. (2)

John Peter graduated from the BAYLESS BUSINESS COLLEGE at the age of thirteen and immediately went to work. He began his business career as a bundle boy in the dry goods company of WOOD, LUKE AND COMPANY until they sold out to Sheffield, Wood, & Company, who changed the business to a strictly wholesale establishment. Ellwanger then entered the employ of merchant James LEVI and remained with him about a year, leaving to become a clerk in a clothing business. (3)

In 1871 at the age of 22, having served a nine-year apprenticeship in several mercantile establishments, Ellwanger eventually went to work for his older cousin, Francis JAEGER, already a successful Dubuque businessman. Jaeger had begun as a co-partner in a wholesale grocery business, eventually bought out his partner, and shifted the company focus to a wholesale liquor dealership. Joining Jaeger as a bookkeeper, Ellwanger proved to be a “quick learner.” (4)

In June 1875, Ellwanger, in partnership with Michael Brady, purchased two-thirds interest in the wholesale liquor firm founded by Jaeger. The company was renamed Brady, Ellwanger and Company until the death of Brady in 1899. The firm was then incorporated on May 8, 1899 as the JOHN ELLWANGER COMPANY. (5)

In 1887 the DUBUQUE WAGON BRIDGE was constructed across the MISSISSIPPI RIVER linking Dubuque with East Dubuque, Illinois. Replacing the need for ferries, it was popularly called the DUBUQUE HIGH BRIDGE because it was constructed high enough to allow steamboats with tall smoke stacks to pass underneath. The bridge opened up new commerce for Dubuque and Brady, Ellwanger, attracted customers from Illinois and close-by Wisconsin -- an area sometimes called the “Tri-States.” (6)


Ellwanger incorporated the business as the John Ellwanger Company and then began on a campaign to become Dubuque’s largest and finest liquor dealer. He featured a series of brands, including "Old Knapsack Rye", "Pap Poose","Saddle Bags," "Real Merit", and "J.E.T." These were advertised through expensive lithographed signs for saloons. He also ordered expensive containers for his whiskey, like the Thuemler Pottery-made canteen for Old Knapsack Rye and an unusual glass bottle for Saddle Bags Rye. Among his giveaways to saloons and other special customers were shot glasses, including a twelve-fluted glass with an etched “Pap Poose.” (7)

Ellwanger was involved in multiple political and business activities. He served as chairman of the County Democratic Central Committee and was an elector for the Democrats in the 1900 Presidential election where he voted for William Jennings Bryant. Ellwanger served as president of the DUBUQUE FIRE AND MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY, secretary of the DUBUQUE BRIDGE CO., part owner of the GOOSE HORN MINE, and a director of the DUBUQUE ALTAR MANUFACTURING COMPANY. He was a director and major stockholder of the UNION ELECTRIC COMPANY prior to its purchase by the DUBUQUE ELECTRIC COMPANY. (8)


After years of trying, the forces of PROHIBITION in Iowa prevailed and in 1916 the state completely banned alcohol. Just across the river, however, Illinois was still wet. Ellwanger wasted no time in moving his operation over the bridge to East Dubuque. A shot glass memorialized that move across the Mississippi. (9)

On the first “Dry” Saturday in 1916, the movement on the High Bridge from Dubuque going east was so intense that vehicles had to be stopped until traffic snarls could be cleared. The number of East Dubuque liquor licenses soared despite the town government doubling the fee. Little effort apparently was made to apprehend those bringing liquor back into Iowa. (10)

1329 Main.

Following the death of his wife, Sophia, in 1904, Ellwanger married in 1906. This time it was to Mrs. S. Fannie Lewis Buckman, possibly his widowed sister-in-law. In 1915, they moved into a large home at 1329 Main Street. (11)

William Edward ELLWANGER, Sr., his son, took over operations at the John Ellwanger Co. (12)

Photo courtesy: Jim Massey



1. Sullivan, Jack. "Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men," Online: http://pre-prowhiskeymen.blogspot.com/2012_02_01_archive.html

2. Ibid.

3. "John Ellwanger Call by Death," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Iagenweb. Online: http://iagenweb.org/boards/dubuque/obituaries/index.cgi?read=46187

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Sullivan

7. Sullivan

8. Goodspeed, Weston Arthur, History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911, p. 631

9. Sullivan

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.