Muffin Man

Fred Wolferman
Fred Wolferman

September 13, 1870: Fred Wolferman, who will lead the family Kansas City grocery store to a successful purveyor of luxury food goods (especially Wolferman's English muffins), is born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Thirteen years later the family moved to Kansas City, where his father, Louis Wolferman, mortgaged their home to raise $750 for the purchase of a bankrupt grocery store.

At the age of 18, Fred Wolferman sacrificed his dream of becoming a physician or a lawyer so that he could assist his father with the fledgling business. In just a few years, Fred took over the management of the grocery store while his father ran a farm which produced most of the fresh foods that Wolferman's Store sold.

Operating under the slogan "Good Things to Eat," Fred Wolferman marketed foods of exceptional quality and even patented his own recipes. In 1910, Wolferman revealed the brand's most famous and enduring food creation—English muffins—that were cooked over an open griddle in a tuna can.

Premium food was the heart of Wolferman's success, but excellent customer service also helped business. The store maintained daily delivery routes so its customers could place orders from home. When he opened new locations, Wolferman ensured that each one rested near electric streetcar or bus stops so that customers would not have to go out of their way to shop. Several stores incorporated elegant architectural and display elements meant to draw more customers.

With his business near its peak, Fred Wolferman died at 85 years of age on October 2, 1955. By 1960 the company had grown to include eight locations and 500 workers. As the 1960s progressed, however, Wolferman's Stores entered into decline as the population moved to the suburbs and shopped in larger chain stores with cheaper mass-produced food.

The last store closed in 1984, yet the Wolferman's company remained competitive in the sale of high-quality bakery items, canned food, and alcoholic beverages. Today, through catalogs, the celebrated Wolferman's brand name survives on the still-famous English muffins, along with breads, pastries, preserves, and gift baskets sold by Harry & David Stores, a catalog and Internet mail order company based in Oregon.

 

Read a full biographical sketch about Fred Wolferman (1870-1955), written by Daniel Coleman, Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

 

View images concerning Fred Wolferman that are a part of the Missouri Valley Special Collections:

 

Check out this book discussing Fred Wolferman:

Kansas City Style: A Social and Cultural History of Kansas City as Seen through its Lost Architecture, by Dory DeAngelo & Jane Fifield Flynn; a concise description of the Wolferman's stores architectural characteristics, pp. 216-217.

 

Carry out further research on Wolferman's using archival material:

 

References:

Coleman, Daniel. "Biography of Fred Wolferman, Owner of Wolferman's Gourmet Grocery," Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, 2008.

DeAngelo, Dory & Jane Fifield Flynn. Kansas City Style: A Social and Cultural History of Kansas City as Seen through its Lost Architecture. Kansas City, MO: Harrow Books, 1990, 216-217.

Sandy, Wilda. Here Lies Kansas City: A Collection of Our City's Notables and their Final Resting Places. Kansas City, MO: Bennett Schneider, 1984, 167.

About the Author

Dr. Jason Roe is a digital history specialist and editor for the Library’s digitization and encyclopedia website project, Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. He earned a doctorate in American history from the University of Kansas in May 2012 and is the author of the Library’s popular “This Week in Kansas City History” column. For assistance with general local history questions, please contact the Missouri Valley Special Collections.
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Comments:

I enjoyed reading this

I enjoyed reading this article. I lived in Kansas City, Mo. growing up and remember my mother ordering groceries from Wolferman's by phone. Also remember when the dairy (barn) burned, and going to Wolferman's at 59th and Brookside with Mom to shop. I *think* the bakery was at one end of the store. What a treat those soft, chocolate iced cookies were! Thx for the article.

That was pretty an

That was pretty an interesting story to read about Fred Wolferman and the business chain he created. At the same time it was disappointing that the business got lost after the demise of Fred Wolferman. This story can inspire a lot of young entrepreneurs. Thanks a lot.

My father ran the Wolferman

My father ran the Wolferman dairy farm at 97th and Holmes for about 18 years from the mid to late 30's until 1951 when the dairy barn burnt down. I have some old photographs from the 1940's of the dairy farm.

Wow, I too found an old

Wow, I too found an old wooden Wolferman's crate Just about a month ago in an antique store in the west bottoms of Kansas City. I was so excited to find it because my grandfather was a manager of a Wolferman's store in Kansas City and in Tulsa. I now have a crate, a fruitcake tin, a small milk bottle and a bigger tin with the Wolferman's advertising.

Fred Wolferman, Inc.

My daughter recently purchased an old wooden crate from an antique store in Cottonwood, Arizona. Fred Wolferman, Inc was painted on the side. I found your article very interesting and helpful in answering my questions about Mr. Wolferman and his company.

Thank you,
J.J.
Ft. Mohave, Arizona

Wolfermans crate recently purchased

JJ,

I just stumbled upon your comment in this forum, and am wondering if you still have this crate? Fred Wolferman was my great grandfather and my dad actually closed the last store in 1984 (this article is incorrect). I would love to purchase this crate from you to refurbish and give my parents as a gift. Please let me know!

Thanks,
Ethan

Fred Wolferman

I had no idea where wolferman's muffins originated from. I always check to see the home page for the "history of the day".

Nice article. Thanks for the

Nice article. Thanks for the reference links.

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