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The careers and activities of many citizens enter into the solid structure of a city like Topeka. But the prosperity which distinguishes this city can be traced to the enterprise of a group of men who chose it as the seene of their business careers and who through their leadership, their executive ability and their splendid capacity for business organization, created and maintained the greater part of what is prominent and flourishing in industry and commerce.
Among this group of business builders, one of the most prominent names is that of the late Charles Henry Wolff, Sr., whose untimely death occurred in Topeka December 31, 1913. Undoubtedly he had an exceptional genius for business. A butcher by trade, he realized the opportunities and advantages that go with the effective organization and co-operation of many people and large resources. He built an industry which stands today as one of the largest of the kind in the state.
He was a foreigner by birth, but intrinsically an American to the heart and core. With only a limited education, he came to America a small lad, and in spite of disadvantages and handicaps achieved in this country both wealth and an honored name.
He was born in the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1849, a son of Henry and Elizabeth Wolff. He was thirteen years old when he left the fatherland and crossed the ocean to America. For about three years he found such employment as he could in the Atlantic states. Then in 1867, almost half a century ago, he identified himself with Kansas and learned the butcher’s trade at Leavenworth. From Leavenworth in 1876 he moved to Topeka, and opened a meat market at 530 Kansas Avenne. While no one predicted that this market would be the nucleus of a great industry, Mr. Wolff himself in fact had a clearly defined idea how to conduct his establishment, and the seeds of the future were already dormant in this modest enterprise. Cleanliness and honesty were the cardinal principles upon which he went forward toward success. With the passing of time he began butchering for other retail concerns. Gifted with more than the usual degres of business acumen, he perceived the possibilities of butchering on a more extensive scale and possibly of packing. Having conferred with some men of capital who extended him financial aid, in 1886 he organized the Charles Wolff Packing Company, becoming its president and with John A. Lee as secretary. Their first plant was a two-story structure, only partly of brick construction. As soon as the business was established Mr. Wolff’s genius for administration and upbuilding had full sway. At first the plant killed from fifty to seventy-five hogs and a few cattle each week. Before his death Mr. Wolff had the satisfaction of knowing that approximately 3,000 hogs and 300 cattle were slaughtered every week, and more than $2,500,000 were expended through the business every year in the purchase of livestock. In time the original plant gave way to the present eight-story brick and concrete structure, which is a complete packing plant in every mechanical and sanitary detail. The company had a plant for furnishing heat, power, light, ice and refrigeration and while it does not compare in size with the great packing plants of the larger cities, it is a model of its kind in efficiency and adaptation of means to ends. In this plant from 250 to 300 hands find employment, and it is one of the chief industries of the capital city.
It was the sagacity and genius of Mr. Wolff that developed this business. Aside from his natural ability he brought to the business the sturdy honesty and industry inherited from his forebears, and everything he did was on sound principles. In business or in his civic and personal relations, he believed in the universal brotherhood of man, in the wisdom and justice of the Supreme Being, and in the principle of doing right for the sake of right. His friends in Kansas were legion. His home life was ideal, and his hours of greatest happiness were spent there. He was interested and wherever possible took part in public affairs, but his best services to his city and state were rendered through the medium of the business which he built up. He found time to mingle with his neighbors, to join the Masonic order in which he attained the thirty-second degree, and also the Elks Lodge. He exemplified one of the highest types of American citizenship. No purse was opened more widely than his in the support of charitable and worthy causes. No one ever came to him needing sympathy and material assistance and went away disappointed.
He died at the age of sixty-four when his career was at its zenith, and his loss was deeply felt by an entire city.
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Mr. Wolff married Amelis Steader, who still survives. They were the parents of six children. Minnie May was born in 1878 and died in 1897. Edith Edna was born in 1876 and died in 1882. Frederick C. was born in 1874 and died in 1878. Charles Wolff, Jr., who was born in 1881 and was married February 3, 1915, to Jessica Isabel Shortt, had suceeded his father as president of the Wolff Packing Company. Hazel is the wife of Frank Andrews of Rossville, Kansas. The youngest son and child is Harry H. Wolff.