Our Iowa Heritage: The Wieneke Family – Iowa City’s Penny Postcard People.

The Wieneke Family: Circa 1880’s – Henry (HJ) and his wife, Caroline (seated), surrounded by their eight children (from oldest to youngest) Carrie, Henry Jr., Nellie (Rosa), Wilhelminia (Minnie), Charles, George, Laura, and Robert, and, of course, the family dog!

Back in the day, prior to Polaroid snapshots and phones with cameras, penny postcards were the best way for anyone to “take pictures” of places you’ve been. I remember walking into any drug store when I was a kid and there were always several towering display racks right near the checkout counter – a couple of spinners for comic books and always one or two racks full of colorful souvenir postcards.

(P-0235) Penny postcards were the craze at the dawn of the 20th century. Click here to see some of the more popular designs from Iowa City from 1900-1920.

Penny Postcards.

(P-0008) 1873 1¢ Lady Liberty Postal Card postmarked in Iowa City on Sept. 18, 1873.

On June 8, 1872, Congress approved the use of one-cent postcards. Until then, only traditional envelopes were allowed, and the cost was 3-cents for a one-ounce letter. One year after lawmakers acted, the U.S. Postal Service began issuing pre-stamped postcards (see pic above) and the public responded well, treating penny postcards like you and I use email or texts today.

Over the next 26 years, the Postal Service held a monopoly on pre-printed postcards, but on May 19, 1898, everything changed. Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act, allowing private publishers to print postcards, which now opened the market for creative geniuses to design and sell a variety of options for people to choose from.

Which now brings us to the story of the Wieneke family of Iowa City.

Meet Henry (H.J.) and his wife Carolyn, and their two oldest children, Carrie L. (C.L.) and Henry C. (H.C.) Wieneke.

Poppa Henry (H.J.) was born in Miltonsburg, Ohio on August 30, 1837, four years after his parents, Christian & Johanna Wieneke, came to America from Germany (1833). In 1844, when Henry was seven years old, the Wieneke family headed west, like so many others, settling on 100 acres of farmland in Johnson County. As a teenager, Henry, along with his brother, opened one of Iowa City’s first bakeries. An entrepreneur at heart, the Wieneke’s soon opened a second bakery, the first of its kind in Cedar Rapids. Still only 20-years old, H.J. returned to Iowa City and put his creative hands into cabinet-making, assembling some classic furniture that remains in Iowa City homes even to today. In 1857, H.J. married Caroline Kembel, with their first child, Carrie L., being born in 1859.

In 1861, with the Civil War at hand, H.J. enlisted (Company B of the 14th Iowa Infantry), serving first as a drummer under the leadership of Col. Edward W. Lucas, son of Governor Robert Lucas. Before being mustered out of the war in April 1863, H.J. became a bugler for Company L of the 7th Cavalry as well.

H.J. Wieneke: Iowa City’s Expert Tobacconist.

An ad in The Iowa City Citizen from 1899.

Returning home to Iowa City in 1863, H.J. went back into the bakery business before deciding to become a tobacconist. A term rarely used today, a tobacconist is one who becomes an expert in the world of smoking. Teaming up with J.G. Fink and his son, Otto H. Fink, Wieneke opened Fink’s Bazaar, Cigar and Notion Store.

Here’s H.J. leaning back on some inventory outside Fink’s, standing alongside is his daughter, Carrie (far right).
Circa 1915 – 4 South Clinton Street – Iowa City. Click here to read more about the history of Clinton Street.

Located in the St. James Hotel building (1872), directly across from University Square, Fink’s was your one-stop shopping center for anything a person needed, from a morning newspaper, or an afternoon cigar, to a bar of soap for your evening bath.

After J.G. Fink died, Wieneke took over ownership of the store with Otto (O.H.) teaming up as the primary cigar salesman.

Ad (above) from the Iowa City Citizen on January 29, 1908.

Fink’s Bazaar, Cigar and Notion Store – circa 1890.

Henry (H.J.), of course, as the owner, also managed the store, branching out into a variety of merchandise that would appeal to the modern-day shopper. Which now brings us back to the subject of penny postcards.

(C-0066) St. James Hotel Promotional Postcard.
Click here to read more about the history of Clinton Street.

This is where we find H.J.’s two oldest children, Harry C. (H.C.) and Carrie L. (C.L.), entering into the picture (sorry, no pun intended). Henry, Jr. – the Wieneke’s oldest son, was born in Iowa City in 1861, just as H.J. was entering into the war, and Carrie, the oldest child, was born in 1859.

The 1885 Census shows Henry J. (48) & Caroline (45) with seven of their eight children: Carrie (25), Rosa Nellie (19), Wilhelminia (17), Charles (13). George (10), Laura (7), and Robert (5). Henry’s occupation – Cigars, Tobacco & Notion Sales, Carrie’s – same as Henry “Clerk“. Hanah (86) is most likely Henry’s mother. Oldest son Henry Jr. (24) has moved out by 1885.

(C-0283) This 1886 postal cover is addressed to Robert S. Wieneke, age 7, c/o Henry J. Wieneke. Frederick T. Lueth was listed as a “manufacturer’s agent” in the Kansas City area. Obviously little Robert is already showing signs of being a retailer like his dad and older siblings!

Carrie L. Wieneke – successful entrepreneur & business-woman.

In this era, most women remained at home, taking care of family. But Carrie L. Wieneke was a go-getter like her dad, becoming a very successful business person in downtown Iowa City.

Here’s Carrie outside her Arcade Book & Stationery Store.

She opened the Arcade Book and Stationery Store, which was located just one door south of Fink’s, and was the moving force behind the countless Wieneke penny postcards found in Iowa City collections today. Below are just a few samples. Note that all have the name C.L. Wieneke printed on them, and all were printed in and exported from Germany…

(P-0248) A classic C.L. Wieneke postcard!
(P-0324) Above – College Street looking east. (P-0325) (P-0326) Below- Terrell’s Mill & Dam and the Coralville Dam on the Iowa River north of Iowa City.
1911-Mecca Parade on Clinton – Weineke’s Arcade Book Store in the background.

Read about another successful turn-of-the-century Iowa City business-woman – Hannah Elizabeth Irish.

Friday April 21, 1916 – The Bad Good Friday.

(P-0040) St. James Hotel – Iowa City’s finest. (1872-1916) Located on the corner of Iowa Avenue and Clinton Street (Iowa Book & Supply), it became the Student Union in 1914, replacing Unity Hall across the street, but burned to the ground on Good Friday 1916.

In 1914, The St. James Hotel was purchased by the University and became the Student Union, housing male students on the upper floors. For the Wieneke family, business continued to flourish. Click here for more information about The St. James Hotel.


But on Good Friday, April 21, 1916 – disaster struck. An early morning fire broke out and before it was all over the entire building was lost. Fortunately, with most of the SUI students on spring break, no one was seriously injured or killed. According to Iowa City historian, Irving Weber, Fred Kent, who became university photographer and took many of the photos we share on this site, lived in the St. James but was at home for Easter when the fire occurred.

Click here to read more about the history of Clinton Street.

As you can see from the stories in The Iowa City Citizen, the Wieneke family suffered huge losses from the devastating fire, losing both Fink’s Cigar Store and Miss Wieneke’s Book Store.

Out of the Ashes – H.C. Wieneke.

As the saying goes… “when life hands you lemons: make lemonade.” The family took what insurance money they had and reinvested it, re-opening as The Iowa City Rubber Stamp Works at 126 South Clinton with H.C. (Henry) Wieneke as the manager.

1918 advertisement.

It’s at this point when H.C. started to have his name appear on the penny postcards being produced. Here are a few of their colorized cards from that era.

(P-0230) Rock Island Depot in Iowa City.
(P-0105a) HC
(P-0103) Iowa City from the air: pre-1924 using Fred Kent photography.

Carrie obviously kept her business going as well, but with H.J. retiring, the younger Wieneke’s made some changes with the business, bringing Laura, their younger sister into the business at this time. By 1922, the Wieneke Store had moved over to 218 E. Washington Street, becoming, once again, a full-service store, restoring cigars and tobacco to the inventory, and adding fishing tackle as well!

1922 advertisement.

February 20, 1923 – the end of an age – an Iowa City pioneer goes home.

Mr. Wieneke, on his eightieth birthday, is witnessed a local personality, whose connection with Iowa City has (much) romantic interest. The Iowa City Old Settlers Association

Most of the Weineke family are buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City, including Poppa H.J., Momma Caroline, Carrie L., Henry C., and others.

To the Wieneke Family of Iowa City! Thanks for the memories and all those picturesque penny postcards! Godspeed!

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Tobacconist, Wikipedia

Fink’s Cigar Store, Iowa City Past

Women Window Shopping at University Bookstore, Iowa Digital Library

O.H. Fink, St. James Fire, Iowa City Public Library

Ruins of the burned St. James Hotel, Iowa City Past

H.J. Wieneke obituary, Iowa City Press Citizen, February 20, 1923, p. 6

H.C. Wieneke – Iowa City Rubber Stamp, Iowa State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1918

H.C. Wieneke Cigar Store, Iowa City & Johnson County Directory, 1922, p. 12

Photos from Finials – A View of Downtown Iowa City, Marybeth Slonneger, Hand Press, 2015, pp 61-63, 65

The Name of Wieneke, A Fact A Day About Iowa City, The Iowa City Press Citizen, May 27, 1940, p. 8.

Christian & Johanna Wieneke, Find-A-Grave

Henry J. Wieneke, Find-A-Grave

Caroline Kembel Wieneke, Find-A-Grave

Carrie L. Wieneke, Find-A-Grave

Henry C. Wieneke, Find-A-Grave

Robert S. Wieneke, Find-A-Grave

Wieneke family, 1885 US Census, Ancestry.com

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