We Met the Kretschmers!
A few days after The New York Times article came out about Kretschmer Wheat Germ’s new marketing campaign, we received an email from none other than Mary Kretschmer Klein, granddaughter of founder Charles H. Kretschmer.
She introduced us to her brother Charlie Kretschmer, the family historian. His tales of growing up a Kretschmer were fascinating, and it turns out the city of Saginaw, Michigan, still takes great pride in being the birthplace of toasted wheat germ.
“My grandfather migrated from Essen, Germany, and opened a fancy grocery in downtown Saginaw,” Charlie recalls. “Somehow they were introduced to wheat germ and decided to sell it as a healthy additive to cereal. My grandmother experimented by toasting it in her kitchen oven.”
Once they decided to invest in vacuum-packed glass jars (invented in the 1930s), the Kretschmers found that their wheat germ stayed fresh much longer and sales took off.
“As a kid I remember the product well,” Charlie says. “It was always in the pantry, and there was even a Kretschmer Wheat Germ Hawaiian pancake mix that came with pineapple sauce! It really was one of the first healthy food products, and lots of famous people appeared in the ads.”
The Kretschmers grew prosperous but were unfailingly generous to the many who struggled in those times. “My grandparents had a large house with a back porch, and the porch always had some hungry vagabond or even a family eating a meal,” Charlie recalls.
The family sold the business back in the 1960s, but Charlie continued to take an avid interest in the Kretschmer business. When the old Kretschmer factory in Carrollton, Michigan, was torn down in 1983, Charlie drove over to the site and, dressed in his business clothes, rummaged around in the dumpsters to save what he could. “I got videos, photos, storyboards, signage, anything I could find,” he says.
Someone from the local newspaper got wind of it and took his picture. “It looked pretty bad,” he laughs. “The Kretschmer heir reduced to dumpster diving!” But he says it was all worth it.
The amazing photo above shows Charles H. Kretschmer standing proudly in front of his Saginaw grocery store sometime in the mid-1930s, his Model T delivery trucks gleaming and ready to go. We hope to share other stories about the Kretschmer family in the months ahead. Stay tuned!