Kneesi and Other Washington, DC Trunk Sellers

From what I can tell while researching my family's history, 
the leather goods/trunks/luggage trade was quite vibrant
in the VA-MD-DC area from the 1860s up thru the 1920s.

Kaspar Kneessi had multiple outlets for his products just
before he settled at 425 7th St N.W.in D.C. By 1916, his
sons Gus & Fred opened a 2nd store (Gus closed it in 1924
when he retired). Gustaves son Ed opened a store in 1910,
which turned out to be the last Kneessi 'branch' when it
closed in 1929.

The central business district of Washington, D.C developed
into a roughly 40 to 60 square block area; from 7th St on 
the east to 15th St on the west; and from I St on the north
to D St on the SE corner to F St on the SW corner (Pa Ave
runs NW-SE which cuts thru the area and helps define it).
Of course there were then and later other shopping areas but 
this was the 'core' and lasted for years.

There were many department stores (I remember some) which
sold trunks/luggage/and other leather goods. S. Kanns & sons
sold various brands. An ad in 1914 says they bought out the
bankrupt Berman firm and displayed some of the trunks for
sale. In 1915, they had an ad for 'Neverbreak' trunks and a 
later ad showed where they bought out L. Goldsmiths & Sons
stock of 'Neverbreak' trunks. Another ad in 1916 showed more 
of these for sale.

In 1910, Woodward & Lothrop claimed to be 'exclusive' agents 
for the Indestructo brand of trunks. A 1916 ad had Safe-Lock
trunks displayed.

The Hecht company sold every kind known to man.

Smaller firms such as Bermans on F St and Lutz on Pa Ave sold 
every kind of trunk possible. As did H.W. Topham, who advertised
Indestructo trunks as well as making his own trunks. In 1914, his
firm landed a contract to make 10,000 U.S. Army trunks - which
he always played up in later ads. One ad he ran claimed Teddy
Roosevelt took Tophams trunks on his African safaris.

VA Trunk & Bag Company of Petersburg rans ads for its Dread-Naught
line of luggage and trunks.

The Kneessi firm at one time or another sold all of these lines
as well as products they made themselves.

History of Kneesi trunk makers
Kneesi leather goods, trunks, and suitcases   History of Kneesi Trunk Co

Information added in June
2006:

I’ve updated the notes on
the Kneessi trunk company that I gave you for your website awhile back.
Hopefully, there’s some more


details you can use here.

Thanks, Al Peters

***************************

 

There were many newspapers
in Washington, D.C. from the 1860s up thru the 1920s. The Washington Post
was not the largest in


circulation until it later
took over other newspapers such as the Time and the Herald. (today there
is another Times which had nothing


to do with the paper of
many years ago). The newspaper of the day was the Washington Star. Both
the Star and the Post ran many ads


for the trunk & leather
industry in the city. I’ve poured over many ads and spent may hours gathering
data about the many trunk


companys in D.C. from about
1860 up thru the 1930s when most had vanished. Here’s a rough summation
of what I’ve gleaned.

>From what I can tell while
researching my family’s history, the leather goods/trunks/luggage trade
was quite vibrant in the VA-MD-DC area


from the 1860s up thru the
1920s. Among them was my great great grandfather Kaspar Kneessi and after
his death in 1890, his sons Gustave


and Frederick. Gustaves
son Ed managed many of the retail outlets over years and finally his own
before it also closed in 1929.

Kaspar Kneessi had multiple
outlets for his products just before he settled at 422 (which had been
499 when he bought the factory from James


Topham a few years earlier)
7th St N.W.in D.C. Topham built a larger factory across the street at 500
7th St, which then became 425 7th St.


When Kaspar moved to 499
7th St, he took on as a partner Tophams former business partner, Thomas
Norflet. In turn, Conrad Becker (who


had been a business partner
of Kneessi, went into business with James Topham. Later, Norflet would
leave Kneessi and partner with Becker


elsewhere in the city. Topham
would later sell his new building  to Kaspar Kneessi. Upon Kaspars
death in 1890, the business at  425 7th


St would become  ‘K.
Kneessis  Sons’. Topham headed over to Penn. Ave. and later on F St.,
closer to the White House. Norflet would leave


Becker and just vanish.
The Becker leather business would keep a presence in the D.C. area up thru
the 1980s.

By 1916, Kaspars sons Gus
& Fred opened a 2nd store which Gus later bought himself when he sold
his interest in the family store. Gus closed it


in 1924 and  he retired.
Gustaves son Ed opened a store in 1923, which turned out to be the last
Kneessi ‘branch’ when it closed in 1929. The


central business district
of Washington, D.C developed into a roughly 40 to 60 square block area;
from 5th St on  the east to 15th St on the west;


and from I St on the north
to D St on the SE corner to F St on the SW corner (Pa Ave runs NW-SE which
cuts thru the area and helps define it).


Of course there were then
and later other shopping areas but  this was the ‘core’ and lasted
for years. There were many department stores which


sold trunks/luggage/and
other leather goods. S. Kanns & sons sold various brands. An ad in
1914 says they bought out the bankrupt Berman firm


and displayed some of the
trunks for sale. In 1915, they had an ad for ‘Neverbreak’ trunks and a 
later ad showed where they bought out L.


Goldsmiths & Sons stock
of ‘Neverbreak’ trunks. Another ad in 1916 showed more of these for sale.
In 1910, Woodward & Lothrop claimed to


be ‘exclusive’ agents 
for the Indestructo brand of trunks. A 1916 ad had Safe-Lock trunks displayed.
The Hecht company sold every kind known


to man. Smaller firms such
as Bermans on F St and Lutz on Pa Ave sold every kind of trunk possible.
As did James Topham, who advertised


Indestructo trunks as well
as making his own. In 1914, his firm landed a contract to make 10,000 U.S.
Army trunks – which he always played up


in later ads. One ad he
ran claimed Teddy Roosevelt took Tophams trunks on his African safaris.
James Topham died in 1912 but the business


continued in the the 1920s
under the H.W. Topham name. VA Trunk & Bag Company of Petersburg ran
ads for its Dread-Naught line of luggage


and trunks.

Neverbreak trunks seem to
have been manufactured by many vendors including the Kneessi firm. Ads
found on the internet bear this out.  The firms


which actually made them
were allowed to place their companys name alongside the name Neverbreak
and I’ve seen several samples of this (ed note –


this is Mr. Peters claim,
not the opinion of BVTS but that’s just fine).

The Kneessi firm at one time
or another sold all of these lines as well as products they made themselves.
Over the years they held many contracts


for leather goods for the
federal government. They once made a white leather harness, trimmed in
gold for President Grant. They made a sets of


luggage and trunks for each
member of the U.S. Congress, some of which turn up for sale on ebay from
time-to-time. In 1927, Fred Kneessi and


his 2 sisters cashed out
the business after 67 years and retired. Soon thereafter, most of the others
were part of history as well.

some of the firms found include:

Baums  7th, 8th St and
D St NW

L A Beall 361 7th St NW (before
the street was renumbered)

R Goldschmid  1007-1009
F St NW

McMurray   506
Market Square

Norflet & Topham 
499 7th St NW

WB Strong  255 Penn
Ave NW

James S Topham 500 7th St
NW

Wall, Stephens & Co 
322 Penn Ave NW

Beckers 1324-1326 F St NW

L Berman of Baltimore 
1227 Penn Ave NW

Joeseph Hutchinson 
1109 14th St NW

Lutz & Co  497 Penn
Ave NW

Va Trunk & Bag Co 
Petersburg Va