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:
- Wolferman's Grocery Store, 9th St., Frontal View with Fred Wolferman, an early image
- Wolferman's Grocery Store, Interior View, one of the early stores
- Wolferman's on the Country Club Plaza
- Fred Wolferman Residence, 1932
- Kansas City Blues Parade past Wolferman's, at left, 1952
- Wolferman Building, 59th & Main, Delivery Cars and Employees
- Wolferman Building, Walnut St., Frontal View
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:
- Wolferman's Vertical File in the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library.
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.|