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.
(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…
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.
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…
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.
(Above right) Advertisment from the Iowa City Citizen on January 29, 1908.
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 the Wieneke family and their work with penny postcards.
When it comes to penny postcards – 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. Below are the Wieneke census records from 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!
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.
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 and imported from Germany…
(P-0358) Johnson County Court House
Once ‘colorized’ penny postcards were developed – the market for souvenir postcards exploded. Of course, the Wieneke family was right there developing their own designs – many of which are still highly sought-after collectibles today.
In 1914, The St. James Hotel (below) was purchased by the University and became the SUI Student Union, housing male students on the upper floors. For the Wieneke family, business continued to flourish!
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.
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.
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 his colorized cards from that era…
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!
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.