By Kaley Brown
This time of the year, holiday advertisements are everywhere. From toys to clothes to cars, they are impossible to escape. Even in the mid-20th century, commercialism was inescapable. Carl Gegenfurtner, a local restaurateur, distributed this potholder to promote his businesses during the mid-1960s. The potholder is only about 5 inches by 5 inches and shows Santa warming himself on an old-fashioned potbelly stove. The text reads “Warmest Greetings. Carl Gegenfurtner’s Blue Moon-Onalaska Wis. Uncle Carl’s Oaks”
Carl Gegenfurter was born in La Crosse April 27th, 1912 and owned several of the most popular restaurants and bars from the 1940s through the 1960s. Gegenfurtner was a WWII veteran and was active in the community as part of the Onalaska Legion Post 336, the Winona Elks Club, and the Goodview Lions Club. He opened his first business, a bar called “The Mint” shortly after returning from service in 1944. The Mint, located in the space Qdoba now occupies downtown, operated from 1944-1955. He also owned the famous Cerise Club from 1947-1959. After this endeavor, he opened the original Blue Moon in Onalaska in 1957 and the renowned Oaks Supper Club in Minnesota City in 1959. During this later era, his newspaper advertisements invited people to come and join him for dinner. He operated both of the restaurants until his death in 1967.
Useful items, like this potholder, were a popular way to advertise one’s business because the customer would repeatedly see the business name every time they used the item. With the increasing presence of mass media and the Internet, advertisements now show up briefly as pop ups in the corner of your screen or as useless junk mail. At least Carl Gegenfurtner’s were on a handy object, and perhaps much more memorable. The Christmas motif is probably a nod to Christmas gift-giving, as Gegenfurtner was making a gift of these pot holders to his customers, presumably at Christmas.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.