Walkabout: The Sausage King of Brooklyn, Part 3

The first quarter of the 20th century was a wild ride for Mrs. Ottilie Gobel. She had seen her husband Adolf’s business go from baskets of sausages, sold door to door in Manhattan’s delicatessens, to a multi-million dollar business, with 96 trucks over 400 employees, and several factories in the metropolitan area. Adolf Gobel’s meat products had a stellar reputation for taste and quality, and his products had become so popular that he had earned the sobriquet, the “Sausage King.” This success had resulted in a fine mansion in the Highland Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, and a country estate in Annandale, New Jersey. The couple had four children, oldest daughter Ottilie, son Adolf Junior, and two younger daughters, Helen and Edith.

The Gobels were socially active, especially within the tight-knit German-American community in Brooklyn, and enjoyed the perks that their social status now gave them. Mrs. Gobel liked to entertain, and the Highland Boulevard house was home to dinner parties and other social events. But Adolf Gobel didn’t enjoy his hard earned success for all that long. In 1924, at the age of 60, he died suddenly in his Highland Park home. Ottilie and the children were devastated. Adolf had left a large estate and a detailed will which made Ottilie Gobel the sole executrix of the estate, able to make all of the decisions regarding not only their homes and personal fortunes, but also those of the company.

Ottilie Gobel wanted to honor her husband, and memorialize him in a special way with a monument worthy of his accomplishments. She hired an artist and architect named Sigwart John Reed to design a monument for his grave, which was on the Annandale estate. We’ll never know where Ottillie met Reed, who went by the title “Doctor,” but it later came out that his real name was Josef Rittmeier. He was a classic opportunist who attached himself to this rich grieving widow, and was married to her before the year was out.

Needless to say, this did not go over well with the children, especially the two oldest, Ottilie and Adolf. The new Mrs. Reed started to make some changes in the company, and in the home, and after she replaced two out of the three old managers of the Adolf Gobel Company, the two children filed suit to get their mother removed as executrix. Mrs. Reed had also kept the older children from the houses in Brooklyn and New Jersey. They were worried about how much money their mother was spending on the memorial, and how much she was giving her new husband, and the whole affair came to a head when the Reeds were not invited to Adolf Junior’s wedding.

The case finally was settled in 1926, and the much despised marriage between Ottile Gobel Reed and Sigwart ended, as well. A petition for annulment was filed and granted. Hopefully Ottillie had come to her senses. It’s not known if the monument to Adolf Gobel was ever built. His final resting place is not under an overdone tombstone. That year also saw the sale of Adolf Gobel Company, as well as the Highland Boulevard house, both to Wall Street brokers for unspecified amounts.

The Gobels remained in the public eye for a little while longer, mostly for tragic reasons. By 1930, Adolf Gobel Junior was a family man, with a wife and three children. He had decided to go back to school and make a career of the law, and was enrolled at NYU. The family now lived at 8025 Shore Road, in Bay Ridge. On December 4, 1930, he went out on his sloop, the Dorothy B. with a friend, on Jamaica Bay. The craft’s engine had started to overheat, so they pulled into the marina at Gerritson Beach to see if it could be repaired.

Adolf was passing by the engine with a can of gasoline when he slipped, spilling gas on the overheated engine. The resulting explosion ignited his clothing and he was immediately engulfed in flames. His friend and other passersby came to his aid, and smothered the flames, but Adolf was in critical condition when he was rushed to Coney Island Hospital.

He was given a transfusion, the next morning, but it didn’t help. His mother had flown up to New York from Virginia, her new home, and reached the hospital only minutes before he died. His sisters and his wife were also with him. Adolf Gobel was only 26 years old. His will was filed two weeks later. He left an estate of only $10,000, as most of his money was still in the family trust fund, which passed on to his children. His wife, Alice, would receive another trust in full, if she was not married fifteen years later. If she had remarried, she would receive half of this trust, the rest going to the children. This would have been a considerable amount of money, as the Gobel heirs all had quite a bit of stock in the company, and it was doing really, really well.

With the tragic death of Adolf Gobel, the family recedes from public scrutiny. With one exception: the eldest daughter, Ottilie. A forceful woman who quite dominated her siblings, (it was she who “forgot” to invite their mother to Adolf’s wedding) Ottilie made the New York Times once again in 1930, when she returned from a trip to France in the third class section of an Italian liner. She had been on the Riviera, but had lost a lot of money due to the devaluation of the dollar. This was the Great Depression, after all.

She decided to come home early, and booked herself, her five year old daughter Dede, their Italian maid, and her Scotty named Pansy, on an Italian liner. Pansy went first class, and had a kennel of the top deck, where she was waited on by a valet, who fed her fancy biscuits, cream chicken, and other goodies. Ottile, daughter, maid, and fifteen trunks were in steerage with immigrant families from Greece, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Albania and other Eastern European countries. The dog’s ticket cost $201, Ottile and the maid had $118 tickets, and little Dede’s only cost $59. Ottile Gobel Moore saved $1000.

The Gobel family faded from the public eye. Ottilie Moore became a well known breeder of poodles. After World War II, she bought a large camp in the Adirondaks and for a time, ran a refugee camp for children. She sold the property in 1949. Ottilie Gobel Moore died in France, in 1974. Today, Adolf and Ottile Gobel and their son Adolf Junior are buried under a single, rather simple stone in the Thompson Memorial Cemetery in New Hope, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I would imagine that Ottilie had something to do with that. The family is together again, and all is forgiven.

The company the Sausage King established grew by leaps and bounds after it was sold to a group of unnamed Wall Street bankers in 1926. The company was incorporated as Adolf Gobel Inc. that year, and a year later purchased George Kern, Inc. for $10 million. Like Gobel, George Kern had also started his career as a meat peddler, in 1888. His business had grown to become only second to Gobel’s. With the acquisition of Kern, Gobel Inc. gained more meat packing and distributing plants and a fleet of 81 trucks.

1927 also saw the expanded company buy four other regional meat packers. In 1928, they formed the Playland Refreshment Corporation, which operated the concession at Rye Playland. The company began bottling and selling sauerkraut and frankfurters, all with great success. More acquisitions followed, so that by the end of 1928, the company was pulling in over $21 million in sales a year. In 1929, Gobel Inc. purchased 96 percent of the common stock of Jacob E. Decker & Sons, of Mason City, Iowa. Decker had the capacity to process 5,000 hogs per day, and had branched throughout the Midwest, with revenues of $16 million. The end of 1929 saw combined sales of over $46 million dollars.

Adolf Gobel, Inc. kept expaning in the years leading up to and through World War II. Its fortunes waxed and waned, but remained very profitable. But disaster for the company was in the wings, personified by a man who was called “The Salad Oil King of Wall Street.” He was Anthony ‘Tino’ DeAngeles, one of the 20th century’s most notorious commodity traders and rip-off artists.

Tino bought a controlling interest in Gobel after the war. He learned about the federal government’s National School Lunch program, which was enacted in 1946. The program was touted as a lunch program to feed hungry children a balanced meal in the nation’s schools, but was really a move to shore up farm and produce prices in the postwar years. The feds would pay big bucks for foodstuffs, and many unscrupulous vendors unloaded substandard goods on the government, which paid them anyway. It was a great opportunity to make money, and that was what DeAngeles was all about.

He used Gobel, Inc. to get a huge government contract for meat products. He then turned around and overcharged the government by $31 thousand. On top of that, he authorized the sale of two million dollars’ worth of uninspected meat. The feds may have been lax, but they weren’t comatose. If that meat had been bad, it would have been a disaster of major proportions.

In 1953, they filed suit against Gobel for the potentially tainted meat. Gobel went to court and right into bankruptcy, the sale of their stock suspended. DeAngeles would go to jail in the 1960s for a massive Ponzi scheme involving salad oil. It didn’t have anything to do with Brooklyn, but I may have to tell the story of this one, it’s quite a story. In 1960, what was left of Adolf Gobel, Inc. was sold, and merged with a group of other diverse companies to form Universal Automated Industries. What a sad end for the company founded by a man whose tasty sausages made him the undisputed Sausage King of Brooklyn. (Photo:Findagrave.com)

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