WHO WAS MALT MAID AND WHY WERE THEY PICKING UP PUMPKINS?

This picture was recently sent to me via the descendants of Florence Catherine “Kate” Bell, who grew up in Schaumburg Township in the 1920’s and 30’s.  Her father, James Austin Bell, was, for the times, a voluminous photographer and took many photos of Stratford Farms, a Schaumburg Township farm he managed on Roselle Road that supplied poultry, produce and dairy to the Stratford Hotel in Chicago.   This was a prime example of the photos he took.

His children often appear in his photos and this one is no exception.  A young Kate is sitting on a pumpkin next to a Malt Maid Co. truck that is being loaded.  It struck me that it is rather odd that a truck advertising “Made of Malt and Hops” is picking up pumpkins.  Malt is made from cereal grains and hops come from the hop plant.  Pumpkins don’t fall into either one of those categories. Who was Malt Maid and why was a Chicago company driving all the way to rural Schaumburg Township to pick up a truck load of good-sized pumpkins?

It seems that Malt Maid was connected to the Manhattan Brewing Company, a city block sized brewery at 3901 South Emerald Avenue and Pershing Road in Chicago, that was purchased by the infamous mob boss Johnny Torrio.  According to an April 24, 1977 article written by reporter Richard J. La Susa of the Chicago Tribune, Johnny Torrio bought Manhattan Brewing, “a brewery of minor importance” in 1919.  In The Legacy of Al Capone, author George Murray states that Torrio purchased the brewery in the spring of 1919.  This was but a few short months before the Volstead Act was passed in October that gave us prohibition.

After Torrio bought the brewery, La Susa states he “changed the name of the business to Malt Maid and controlled it until 1924, when he was forced to ‘retire’ from the Chicago scene by a faction of his mob led by Al Capone.”  The timing of the name change differs in various articles and books used as research for this posting, but it is universally agreed that Malt Maid was also co-owned at various times by other mob bosses Dion O’Bannion and Hymie Weiss.  It would have obviously been a good move to change the name from Manhattan Brewing to Malt Maid with prohibition in full effect.

We know that Florence Catherine, the young girl in the photo, was born in 1917.  She looks to be about 4 or 5 years old.  This would mean the year would be either 1921 or 1922.  And clearly it’s the fall, judging by the size of those pumpkins.  Having found no mention of local breweries using pumpkins in the beer making process, I contacted John J. Binder, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor, who wrote Al Capone’s Beer Wars in 2017.

He told me that in “that era I have no information that pumpkins were ever used in the process of brewing beer.  If pumpkins were part of a Halloween tradition for children or were used to make pie more generally in autumn in the early 1920s, there are simple answers to this question. This would then probably be…O’Bannion helping Torrio (or vice versa) to deliver pumpkins to the part of the city where he controlled the bootlegging to give/sell [to] the kiddies… Again, if they were working together in bootlegging they would have helped each other out with resources such as trucking…”

It is interesting that they would have found their way to Schaumburg Township to purchase pumpkins from Stratford Farms.  Given the Farm’s connection to the Stratford Hotel in Chicago, word must have somehow gotten around that the farm provided much of the produce for the hotel–and that it was plentiful.

Hence the Malt Maid truck.  And the result?  A chance for James Austin Bell to take the photo.  Given the fact that, per La Susa, “the company’s name was changed to Fort Dearborn Products Co. in 1925,” Malt Maid was indeed a short lived name.  Which makes it fairly incredible we have this amazing photo of their appearance in Schaumburg Township!

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

 

 

 

5 Responses to “WHO WAS MALT MAID AND WHY WERE THEY PICKING UP PUMPKINS?”

  1. Larry Rowan Says:

    Thank you Jane….quite a story! Lost history (almost) of Schaumburg! Do you know exactly where the hops farm was located on Roselle Road? I think I also heard that Hops were later legislated as an illegal crop in Illinois. (Maybe during Prohibition?).

    • jrozek Says:

      Hello Larry,

      To the best of my knowledge, there was no one in the area growing the hops plant. It was never mentioned in any of the oral histories. I think the gang was just out here getting the pumpkins.

      Jane Rozek
      Local History Librarian
      Schaumburg Township District Library
      jrozek@stdl.org

  2. Diana Dobrovolny Says:

    Very interesting story. I was sad when the corner of Schaumburg and Roselle Roads disappeared as historic Schaumburg center. Growing up from 1959 -1972, we heard that Al Capone had frequented some of the saloons and the area as a get away to his city life. I lament when I read the FaceBook page “You’re from Schaumburg if you remember…” as so many are not aware that intersection was so important and historic. Might there be a connection with Al Capone’s visits, that he knew of the farm?

    • jrozek Says:

      Hello Diana,

      There were a few oral historians who mentioned him in the oral histories that we have on our Local History Digital Archive. Unfortunately, though, we do not have any solid evidence of him in Schaumburg Township. Clearly, though, the Chicago outfit moved through the township during those years–and at least knew to get their pumpkins here!

      Jane Rozek
      Local History Librarian
      Schaumburg Township District Library
      jrozek@stdl.org

  3. Fred Luft Says:

    Thanks Jane for sharing this unique picture and back ground story.

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