By Jared Olar
One of the items in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection is a small book, just 82 pages in length, titled, “Illinois Dairy Creamers,” compiled and published in 1993 by Ben Oertle. The book records specifications and drawings of the glass or ceramic dairy creamers of dairy farms operating or that have operated in Illinois. Such a book is useful for collectors, but also can serve as an extensive index of the dairy farms of Illinois during the 20th century.
Most readers of this column will naturally find pages 16 and 65 of Oertle’s book to be of the greatest interest, since that is where one will find drawings and descriptions of creamers formerly sold by F. H. Soldwedel & Sons in Pekin, a dairy operation remembered by many current and former residents of Pekin. The Soldwedel name is still well known in town, and one scion of their extended dairy dynasty, Perry Soldwedel, was for several years the superintendent of Pekin Public School District 108.
Those were the days when families had their milk delivered to their door early every morning by a milkman (or, early on in the Soldwedel’s dairy business, by Miss Dora Soldwedel’s milk wagon). Instead of plastic jugs that are crushed and placed in a recyclables bin or tossed in the trash, families would set their empty glass bottles and jugs out on the front step for the milkman to refill.
The Soldwedel family’s dairy is perhaps most commonly remembered simply as “the Soldwedel dairy,” but their dairy products were sold under the local brand of “Del’s” beginning in 1935. (Oertle’s book shows examples of creamers embossed with the Del’s logo as well as the Soldwedel’s logo.) Earlier in the 20th century their plant was located at No. 9 Fifth St., but as their operations expanded Soldwedel moved their plant to 301 Elizabeth St. and their farm to the north end of town.
A handy and concise outline of the history of the old Soldwedel dairy was published in a tribute advertisement for the 1949 Pekin Centenary, pages 124-125. Here are some excerpts from the Centenary’s history of F. H. Soldwedel & Sons:
“Over eighty years ago Timm Soldwedel moved with his wife and four daughters from Germany to a farm near Manito. With hogs selling at 2 cents a pound and corn at 18 cents a bushel, farming was unprofitable, so, with the offer of some financial backing and the cooperation and help of his family, in 1880 he bought the herd and dairy business from the Zimmerman estate of Pekin and moved to the farm on east Broadway road.
“Four sons, all born in America, were too young to help much, so the chores fell to the girls, with Dora taking the milk route, making the daily deliveries for eight years, rain or shine, sleet or snow. In the winter the milk froze in the cans and in the summer two deliveries a day were necessary to deliver the milk sweet. It was hauled in large cans and the customers, on hearing the milkman’s bell, brought pitchers, pans or pails to be filled at the wagon for 7 cents a quart. . . .
“After the death of the father, Timm, it was Fred (now  president of the firm) who carried on. He moved the business to a farm on the north edge of Pekin at the end of Capitol street. There with the help of his wife and family – five were boys, Paul, Carl, Fred Jr., and twins Tim and Henry – the business was developed and expanded from the early type of dairy to a modern dairy business. . . .
“As constant growth demanded more and more working space, more buildings and ground were purchased and improved to handle the increased manufacturing and as garages for the many Del’s trucks that may be seen on the streets of Pekin, on the highways and in surrounding towns.”
The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial, page 68, explains that the original Soldwedel dairy operation ended in 1955 when the company merged with Borden, but 10 years later Carl Soldwedel reacquired the family’s former plant on South Second Street and resumed dairy operations under the Soldwedel name. Carl Soldwedel died in 1981 and his dairy has long since passed into history. The family name has been commemorated recently at Camp Soldwedel, a program of the Pekin Park District at McNaughton Park, at the site of the old Soldwedel dairy farm.