Toys with German Ties

Amy Vach

Catalog Number: 2018.029.01-03

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

In 1880, Margarete Steiff, a seamstress in Germany, began producing small felt elephants to sell as toys for children.

Over time her company grew and began producing the luxury teddy bears and stuffed animals that they are known for today.

In 1904, the signature of the brand “Steiff — Knopf im Ohr” (Button in Ear) was developed by the company to ward off cheap imitations. Steiff stuffed animals are known for the circular metal tag that says “STEIFF” attached to the animal’s ear.

Before World War I, one of Margarete’s nephews, Ernst Steiff, left Germany and moved to La Crosse. While it is unknown why Steiff moved, he stayed in the area for more than a decade before returning to Germany to work at his family’s business.

Steiff did not come to La Crosse quietly; he made quite an impression upon the locals by wandering up and down city streets and up to Grandad Bluff playing his flute. According to the La Crosse Tribune, at first the residents were startled because they were unsure where the music was coming from. After they realized the music was coming from Steiff, they began to enjoy it.

In addition to being a piper, Steiff worked at the Hans Motor Company, also known as the Electric Auto-lite Company, as an electrical engineer. He was also active at Salzer United Methodist Church and was a volunteer minister to the sick.

During the Roaring Twenties, the Steiff business was booming, and in 1927 Ernst returned to Germany to work with his brothers. Before he left, Steiff gave these stuffed animals to La Crosse residents promoting his aunt’s company and spreading good cheer throughout the area. These three stuffed toys all have the characteristic metal tag in their ear.

The stuffed animals were recently donated to La Crosse County Historical Society by Rose Thiel along with a small brochure about Steiff’s time in La Crosse.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on August 4, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

White Beaver's Trap

Michelle Kelly

Catalog Number: 2008.040.01

Flamboyant four-time La Crosse Mayor Dr. David Frank Powell was born in New York in 1847 to a white doctor father and a Native American mother. After his father died in 1855, the Powell family moved to Nebraska, where Powell spent his teen years working as an apprentice to a pharmacist and scouting on the frontier with his two brothers.

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

While scouting, Frank Powell met one of the most famous frontiersmen ever: William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. The two became good friends. As an adult, Powell frequently starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West acts when they were near La Crosse.

Powell moved to La Crosse in 1881 to open a medical practice. His two brothers came to La Crosse to join him, calling their joint practice “Powells’ Medical and Surgical Institute.”

 +2La Crosse re-dedicates Powell Park to one of its most colorful residents
La Crosse re-dedicates Powell Park to one of its most colorful residents
David Franklin “Doc” Powell would have been happy Thursday to see the children running aroun…

Frank Powell allowed the use of his home as a makeshift hospital for the city of La Crosse before the Sisters of St. Francis arrived in La Crosse and built the region’s first hospital. He even came out with several patent medicines after moving to La Crosse, including White Beaver’s Cough Cream, Yosemite Yarrow and Wonder Worker. The La Crosse Historical Society has an empty bottle of White Beaver’s Cough Cream, which claimed to cure “coughs, colds, bronchitis, croup, pleurisy and other diseases of the lungs.”

Unfortunately, some of his treatments were met with controversy, especially the Wonder Worker. Powell advertised the Wonder Worker as “equally beneficial if used internally or externally.” Wonder Worker led to Doc Powell being banned from practicing medicine in Minnesota. However, this did not stop him from opening a practice in St. Paul. He would visit the practice once or twice a week to supervise several assistants — never practicing any medicine himself, to comply with Minnesota law.

The colorful Doc Powell was popular in La Crosse, and he was elected mayor for four terms. While mayor, Powell ran for governor but lost both times he ran. During his tenure, Mayor Powell’s accomplishments included the introduction of uniformed police and full-time firefighters, improved railroads and schools, and the installation of electric street lights.

Doc Powell embraced his Native American heritage and cultivated an image that played to the public’s appetite for the romanticized imagery of the fast-disappearing “Wild West.” The walls of the waiting room in his La Crosse office were covered in Native American artwork and memorabilia, and it was reputed to have a shooting gallery.

This beaver trap is said to have hung on the wall in his office, perhaps to remind visitors of his nickname: “White Beaver.” It eventually made its way to a wall at the Golden Harp Saloon on Pearl Street, which was known to accept old guns and other objects in payment for bar tabs. While there is no way to prove or disprove the story, in his later years Powell could very well have used the trap to pay off his tab.

This beaver trap was donated to La Crosse County Historical Society in 2008 by Malcolm Clark. 

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on July 28, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Fresh Roasted Coffee is a Tradition in La Crosse

Robert Mullen

Catalog Number: 1982.115.02

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

One wonders what plans Nordahl Nustad had made for his future when he moved to La Crosse in 1895. Fresh from the Vernon County farm where he grew up, the twenty-year-old Nustad found a job at the grocery store of John Bergoust in downtown La Crosse.

Four years later, Nustad and Ludwig Halmrast became partners in the retail grocery business, selling “choice staple and fancy groceries, flour, provisions, canned and bottled goods, fine teas, coffees and spices” at their store located at 310 Pearl Street. A year and a half later, Nustad found himself the sole proprietor of the business.

As a sideline, he began roasting the coffee beans that he sold in his store, selling both the fresh roasted coffee beans and ground coffee. Over time, Nustad’s coffee business became quite successful, and he focused almost entirely on that product. He started his own brand in the 1920s after moving his business to 124 South Front Street. This brand, Pointer Coffee, was packaged in vacuumed packed cans or in boxes like the one shown here from the collection of the La Crosse County Historical Society. This one pound box dates to about 1930 and probably sold for about twenty-five cents.

Nustad’s Pointer Coffee could be found in area grocery stores until the 1950s. The imported coffee beans continued to be roasted and packaged in town and delivered to area grocery stores. In 1949, fifty years after he first opened the doors of his grocery, Nustad was still running the business with the help of his son Trygve. On this anniversary he was interviewed by the La Crosse Tribune. He told the reporter how the business changed through the years. When he began, most people bought coffee beans in bags to grind at home, but by 1949 they purchased ground coffee for their “drip coffeepots.”

Nustad said the company had long ago replaced his original 25 pound capacity roaster with a 600 pound roaster. He noted that his original roaster was still in use in a different capacity at that time. Older La Crosse residents may recall seeing it roasting peanuts at the old Bodega restaurant in downtown La Crosse.

Nustad was active in the community, serving as president of the Board of Trustees at Lutheran Hospital and as president of the Heileman Brewing Co. He was also the donor of Nustad Field at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, the stadium where their football team played from 1931 to 1966.

Nordahl Nustad passed away in 1954, and his Pointer Coffee continued to be marketed for a few more years. While Nustad’s brand is no longer available, the tradition of selling fresh locally roasted coffee continues in the city at several local coffee shops, following in the footsteps of a farm boy from Vernon County.

An identical coffee box can be seen in the kitchen at Historic Hixon House.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on July 21, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.