Posted on

Dumke dives into journey of discovery for historical roots

Paul Dumke, a Medford native who has been living in and traveling to various places around the country with his wife Nancy, recently returned to the city to dig up some information on his family’s past. Specifically, he was after information regarding his great-grandfather Herman Dumke.

To do so, he sought out the help of Hildegard Kuse of Kuse Farm Museum and Nature Preserve. Kuse possesses a trove of Medford history, both in the form of paper documentation, as well as her own nearly 92 years of first-hand experience. Paul was able to discover much about Herman through the use of Kuse’s information, and also utilized an old college paper written by a distant relative, Jack Hartwig. Between the two, Paul had the rare opportunity to shine some light on his family’s past.

Herman Dumke was born in Germany, coming to Medford at twenty-one years of age. With his younger brother - also named Paul Dumke [P.D.] - they opened Dumke Bros. Cigar Manufacturing, introducing their cigars to the public in 1890. They used tobacco grown around Madison to produce their cigars, and would use Cuban tobacco for higher-end products. Their signature cigar was referred to as the Crooks cigar, which became a staple for their business and was largely responsible for cementing the Dumke’s Bros. in Taylor County; they were soon doing business state-wide.

“I didn’t really know anything about the business except for that it existed,” said Paul of his ancestor’s business. “It’s amazing that Hildegard has preserved all this information, it really helps people like me who are curious about where and what our families come from.”

Together, the brothers enjoyed prosperous careers spanning over a decade, growing Dumke Bros. side-by-side until P.D. died from complications relating to appendicitis in 1901. Herman continued to expand the business after his brother’s death, and at one time employed 17 men, a rather large number of workers for a company in the early 20th century. In fact, according to Hartwig’s paper, it was those at Dumke Bros. who formed the very first labor union in Taylor County.

“I certainly didn’t know that, but it’s pretty amazing,” Paul commented on the revelation.

By 1911, the automatic cigar roller had begun to take over, driving down the demand for more expensive hand-rolled cigars such as Dumke’s. The growing popularity of cigarettes over cigars added to market stress, and when combined with cheap, readily available cigars, it culminated in the entire hand-rolled cigar industry faltering, Dumke Bros. included.

Even through the hard times, Herman never shut his factory down and continued its operation, although towards the end he only employed three workers at the factory. Through this, Herman decided to begin a new chapter of his life: politics. In 1914, he was elected treasurer and served for four years. From there, he went on to compete in the mayoral election, winning and serving as Medford’s mayor from 1918-1922.

Herman continued serving the community of Medford even after retiring from politics, before dying of pneumonia on March 29, 1937. Dumke Bros. Cigar Manufacturing was closed with Herman’s death, and their cigar brands were sold to a business named the Ruesch Brothers.

Paul Dumke’s journey of discovery has led him to learn a considerable amount of information regarding his family’s history, with Kuse’s museum and Hartwig’s old paper enabling him to do so.