FORGOTTEN CRACKER KING
Condensed by Pat Baehr from an article originally published in the July 1873 issue of The Central Magazine.
Joseph Garneau was born in Quebec, Lower Canada. His mother was descended from the earliest French settlers in the days of the missions. His father Peter was a baker and Joseph followed in his footsteps. He emigrated in 1832 and established himself in the baking business. In a short time Mr. Garneau established an extensive trade with steamboats, supplying all the boats on the Mississippi with bread and crackers. The superiority of his bread and crackers soon gained a widespread reputation, and his trade extended to New Orleans and all principal cities of the South.
Ever attentive to his business, and possessing inventive talents, he invented a machine some years since, combining all the requirements and improvements necessary to its purpose, and which has finally placed its inventor at the head of his calling in the United States, perhaps in the world.
Garneau’s New Steam Cracker Bakery situated on the northeast corner of Seventeenth and Morgan streets, is the largest in the United States, its dimensions being 160 feet deep by 50 feet wide. The building is brick, three stories in height, and is provided with upwards of 60 windows, which admit a good light to all parts of the building. In this mammoth establishment 104 employees are required to conduct daily business of the bakery, each department of which is under the supervision of a foreman, a foreman in chief attending to the whole establishment.
Some idea of the extent of the new establishment may be inferred from the fact that upwards of 400 barrels of flour are baked in twenty-four hours to meet the daily orders. The cracker oven used is one of McKenzies patent, it bakes the crackers in a very short time. This oven is constructed on the rotary system; the crackers are placed in receiving hopper, alight on the cylinder, revolve once round, and are thoroughly baked in sixteen minutes. When baked they are ejected though a large funnel into a basket, prepared to receive them, a new supply immediately taking their place. Four men are constantly employed in receiving the baked crackers and supplying the new batch.
The magnitude of the business transacted by Mr. Garneau may be inferred from the fact that he has been supplying the United States Government with army bread for thirty years. Perhaps the largest contracts for bread, filled in a short time, in any part of the universe; have been executed by Mr. Garneau in St. Louis, Two contracts for 3,00,000 pounds of bread each, for the use of the army during the late war [Civil War] were filled in fifty-six days after the reception of the order, and the bread shipped to its destination. It is doubtful that any bakery in the world has baked 6,000,000 pounds of bread and shipped it, in so short a time.
An incident, which won for Mr. Garneau the esteem of the laboring classes, was that of his furnishing the poor with a twenty ounce loaf of bread for five cents, when the wages paid laboring men, rendered it almost impossible for the father of a family to provide the actual necessities of life for his wife and children, upon the small salary he received.
The massive iron and marble palace that Joseph Garneau built after the war was nicknamed the “Cracker Castle” because he made his fortune selling hardtack to the Union Army. [It has since been lost to urban development.]