Curt Otto Teich was born March 23, 1877 in Greiz, Germany to Christian Teich (1843-1920) and Elise, nee Tamm (1848-1918). Curt was one of seven children born to Christian and Elise Teich. They are:
Greiz is a village located in the state of Thuringia in east-central Germany. When Curt was just a boy, the Teich family moved to Lobenstein, a town seventy kilometers southwest of Greiz. Decades prior, Curt’s great-grandfather, Johann Karl Teich (1760–1845), had been granted a family seat in Lobenstein by his close friend, the Prince of Reuss.
While Curt learned the ropes of the trade in Germany, his father and eldest brother Max traveled to Chicago to visit the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. After the fair, Max stayed in Chicago and entered the hotel business. Some sources say that because of the opportunities he saw available in the United States, Christian encouraged his son Curt to join his brother in the US. Other sources say however, that it was after a disagreement with his father that Teich bought himself a one-way steerage ticket aboard a steamship bound to the United States, arriving in New York on April 5, 1895 without so much as a suitcase under his arm. Here's a photo of young Curt on his way to America:
Within a few days of docking in New York, he made a humble start in business as a printer’s devil, (a multi-tasking apprentice). Although he was overqualified for the position, he readily accepted it as he needed to earn a living.
After working for a time in New York, Curt moved to Chicago and opened his own printing firm on January 4, 1898 on 59-61 (now 1258 N.) Clybourn Avenue in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. (A retail with apartment building occupies that spot today.) His brother Max Teich, who had by this time purchased the Wyoming Hotel and re-branded it as the Kaiserhof Hotel, was his silent business partner and provided the necessary funds for start-up costs. Within a few years the company was incorporated. Max owned 130 shares; Curt owned 80 shares; and their younger brother Alfred who had recently immigrated to the United States, owned 40 shares. As the corporation paperwork reveals, the aims of Teich’s corporation were broad: “printing and lithographing, publishing, importing of art printing, manufacturing and importing of souvenir articles.”
Before he identified his niche in postcard printing, those first years were challenging. Teich describes his experience at the turn of the century: “Business conditions were poor at the time, many visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair had remained, and every profession and trade was over-crowded. [We] specialized in job, newspaper and magazine printing, competition was fierce and price cutting prevalent. A fair living, that’s all, was the result.” Teich, however, wanted more than earning merely “a fair living.” He wanted his company to be better than the status quo and also hoped to turn a profit.
As was the case with most immigrants of that era, Curt Teich became a naturalized citizen as soon as possible, being granted his US citizenship in Chicago on November 24, 1899. At that time he was living at 124 (now 117) W. Goethe Street. A modern townhouse sits on that site today.
Here's a photo of Curt about the time he became an American citizen:
The first time Curt Teich could participate in the census as a US Citizen was the census of 1900. Teich reported that he was a "Lodger" at 124 W. Goethe Street. He was 27 years-old and was a "Printer" by trade.
Here is Curt Teich with his extended family, about 1900:
Left to right: Back row - Ernest Teich, Curt Teich, Rosa Teich, Alfred Teich, Clara Teich, Frederick Teich, Max. L. Teich, Front row - unknown boy, Fritz Teich (Max's son), Christian Teich, Elizabeth Teich (Max's daughter), Elise Tamm Teich
By 1907 business was so good that Teich outgrew his Clybourn building, and moved his factory to LaSalle and Ohio Streets.
But it wasn't all work for Curt Teich. On July 15, 1909, Curt Teich married Anna Louise, nee Niether (1889-1959). She was the daughter of Friederich Hermann Niether and Louise Elizabeth, nee Kuhnen (1857-19047). Friedrich Niether was a bookkeeper by trade.
Here is a photo taken on their wedding day:
1910 was a significant year for the Teich family. Their first child, Curt Teich, Jr. was April 23, 1910, and the firm installed their first offset printing press. Here's a photo of the proud parents with Curt Teich, Jr.:
and here's a photo of their offset printing press:
The 1910 US Census finds the Teich family living at 1834 N. Hammond (now Orleans) Street in Chicago:
|1834 N. Orleans Street, Chicago|
Curt and Anna said they had one child who was alive in 1910, but did not list that child on the census. Living with them was also a servant, twenty six year-old Catherine Schmidt.
By 1910 Teich realized that he would have to move his factory again. He moved back north, and purchased a building and adjacent vacant lot at 1733-55 W. Irving Park Road. After renovating the building, commissioning the offset press for printing postcards, and purchasing new equipment, the company moved to the new address in 1911.
Under Curt Teich's leadership, his postcard company continued to grow. Teich is best known for its "Greetings From" postcards with their big letters, vivid colors, and bold style. "Greetings From" postcards had originated in Germany in the 1890s, and Teich successfully imported the style to the American market after a visit in 1904. Teich employed hundreds of traveling salesmen, who sold picture postcards to domestic residences, and encouraged business to create advertising postcards; these salesmen also photographed the businesses and worked with the owners to create an idealized image. Here are some examples:
Curt and Anna Teich were blessed with five children all together. They are:
Curt Teich, Jr. (1910-1980)
Walter Ernst Teich (1912-1972)
Louise Teich Chmelik (1913-2005)
Lawrence Edward Teich (1918-1942)
Ralph Donald Teich (1925-2000)
The 1920 US Census finds the Teich family living at 4712 N. Malden Street in Chicago:
|4712 N. Malden Street, Chicago|
The family consisted of 50 year-old Curt, 40 year-old Anna, 9 year-old Curt, Jr., 7 year-old Walter, 6 year-old Louise, and 15 month-old Lawrence. In addition, they had two live-in maids, 24 year-old Marie Linner from Württemberg, Germany (where the Teich family had lived), and 24 year-old Amelia Koelher. Curt reported that they owned the house free and clear, and reported his occupation as "Manufacturer of Postcards."
In 1922, a five-story East Building was erected on the empty lot, designed by Teich's brother Frederick, an architect in Chicago. The floors in the new building were designed to hold heavier loads than those in the existing building. Here's a postcard of the factory with the new addition:
In 1925 the Teich family moved to the suburbs - to 535 Longwood Avenue in Glencoe, an upscale suburb of Chicago. The house has 6 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms. Curt Teich reported its value in 1930 at $100,000.00; in 2015 it sold for $2,400,000.00.
|535 Longwood Avenue, Glencoe, Illinois|
By the time he purchased the Glencoe mansion, Curt Teich was a wealthy man - but that did not change is innate German frugality. One maid reported that “He would occasionally do ‘spot checks’ of the kitchen vegetable peelings to make sure that they were thin, with minimal loss of the ‘good’ part of the vegetable. If the peelings were too thick, Teich would strongly reprimand the kitchen help.”
|Curt Teich in the 1920s|
The 1930 US Census finds the Teich family in their Glencoe home. The family consisted of 52 year-old Curt, 40 year-old Anna, and the children: Curt Jr (19), Walter (17), Louise (16), Lawrence (11) and Ralph (4). In addition, they had an extensive household staff: chambermaid Lavinia Roma, cook Alice Johnson, "waitress" Gertrude Leisner, and nurse Ella Hansen. In their coach-house at the rear of the property lived gardener Joseph Pfetzer with his family, and gardener Henry Lohman. They told the census taker that they did have a radio, and all of them could read and write except for 4 year-old Ralph. The Teich family had certainly come up in the world. In 1930 only Curt Jr. worked for the family firm - as a "superintendent of lithography."
In 1938, Curt Teich declared that his #1 selling postcard was of the White House in Washington. In second place was his postcard of Niagara Falls, and #3 was Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser.
Curt Teich suffered two heart attacks in 1939 so he decided to turn over day to day operations to his son Curt Teich, Jr., nicknamed by brother Ralph Teich as "Little Napoleon."
The 1940 US Census finds the Teich family still living at 535 Longwood Avenue in Glencoe. The family now consisted of Curt Sr. (63), Anna (50), Walter (28), Lawrence (21), and Ralph (14). The number of live-in servants has been reduced to two: house maid Lidia Huber and cook Mary Schreiber. Gardener Joseph Pfetzer and his family were still living in the coach-house. Curt Sr. listed his occupation as "Executive - Lithography," and Walter listed his occupation as "Salesman-Lithography."
Business was booming at the Teich Company as World War II began and overall World War II was very profitable for the company as millions of people sent and received postcards. In 1944 Curt Teich, Jr. declared their previous year's sales "almost unbelievable," even though their production of new cards slowed to a crawl. During the war the Teich plant in Chicago was retooled for defense work, printing over three million maps for the invasions of Europe and Japan as the Teich family joined the ranks of other "Gold-Star" families who lost one of their family members in the war.
The tragic news came to the family after the fall of Corregidor in 1942. The War Department told the family that Lt. Lawrence E. Teich was missing in action and presumed dead. The final confirmation of this did not come until 1946, after the war was over. Here is the notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune on March 31, 1946:
Lt. Lawrence E. Teich, an aviation ordnance officer listed as missing since the fall of Corregidor, has been officially declared dead by the war department. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Curt Teich Sr., of 535 Longwood dr., Glencoe, have been notified. Lt. Teich was graduated from the Northwestern Military academy and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He subsequently was attached to his father's firm, a postcard manufacturing company at 1733 Irving Park rd., until he was called from reserve status to active duty in March, 1941. He was a member of the 692d Ordnance division, 10th pursuit wing, in the Philippines.
Teich's body was never found so he does not have a grave, but his name is listed on the Tablet of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines.
Curt Teich did many different things to keep busy in his retirement, although filling out questionnaires for Who's Who was not one of them. Curt Teich was listed in Who's Who in Chicago from 1936 on, but his listing consisted of only his name, job title and home and work addresses, unlike that of his brother Max who happily provided all the information requested for his listing in Who's Who.
Curt Teich was interested in preserving the past. Through the years he had promised the family that he would write a family history, and in 1958 when he was 80 years old he penned the "Teich Family Tree."
Curt and Anna Teich decided in the mid-1950s that they had had enough of Chicago winters and moved to Florida, eventually buying an ocean-front home at 1000 N. Gulf Blvd., Belleair Shore, Florida.
The Chicago Daily Tribune from January 30, 1959 reported the death of Anna Teich:
Mrs. Curt Teich Sr.
Services for Mrs. Anna L. Teich, 69, of Antioch, Lake county, and Belleair Shore, Fla., who died in her Antioch home Wednesday, will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in the chapel at 5303 N. Western av. She was the wife of Curt Teich Sr., owner of Curt Teich Lithographers, 1733 Irving Park rd. She was president of the North Shore auxiliary of the Addison Kinderheim home, Addison, Du Page county. She also leaves three sons, Curt Jr., Walter, and Ralph Teich; a daughter, Mrs. Louise Chmelik; and a brother.
Anna Teich is interred in the mausoleum of Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois:
The Teich family finally sold the company in 1974, and the company’s name was officially changed to Curt Teich Industries. Two years later, a Chicago-based printing firm by the name of Regensteiner Publishing Enterprises bought the company. Interestingly, this firm was also started by a German immigrant who immigrated to Chicago in the late nineteenth century.
Curt Teich, Sr. passed away at the age of ninety-six in 1974. here is his obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 16, 1974:
Curt Teich Sr., 96, late of 1000 N. Gulf Blvd., Belleair Shore, Fla., beloved husband of the late Anna; dear father of Curt Teich Jr., Louise Chmelik and Ralph D. Teich, all of Lake Forest, Ill., also the late Walter Teich of Morehead City, N.C. and Lawrence Teich; grandfather of five. Founded Curt Teich & Co., Inc., in 1898. Director of National Lithographers Assoc. and the Old Peoples Home in Forest Park. Charter life member of Greater Moose Lodge, No. 3, Mooseheart, Ill. Services Thursday, Jan. 17, 2 p.m., at Drake and Son Funeral Home, 5303 N. Western Av. Entombment Memorial Park Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials to the Cancer Fund will be appreciated. Visitation after 3 p.m. Wednesday. 561-6874.
He was interred next to his wife Anna in the mausoleum at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie:
The family had sold the company in 1974, and by 1978, the Teich name was no longer being used in conjunction with producing postcards. The Curteichcolor process was subsequently purchased in 1980 and is still used by the John Hinde Company, an Irish firm based in Dublin with a branch in California, to print postcards, calendars, and tourist souvenirs.
When the Teich family sold the company, they retained all of the postcard files and other ephemera that went along with them. They had copies of every postcard they ever printed but the purchasers were not interested in any of the old stuff - they were mainly buying the name as well as the processes that Curt Teich had patented. As has happened so many times in the past, steps were taken to throw out all of the Teich postcard files. Luckily at the last minute Curt Teich's son, Ralph, rescued truckloads of postcards and files from being thrown in the trash when the company closed.
The collection was first offered to the Chicago Historical Society, but they were only interested in the Chicago cards and Ralph Teich did not want to split the collection up. The collection was finally donated to the Lake County Forest Preserve District and to "sweeten the deal" Teich also gave them a $500,000 endowment to help pay for the storage and care of the collection.
The Lake County Forest Preserve District was the proud owner of the collection until 2016 when they donated the collection to the Newberry Library in Chicago, who they felt was better able to "expand the usership" of the collection, that now contains an estimated 3 million postcards and related materials and is considered the largest public collection in the world. They also donated the endowment which had grown to $527,258 so the collection will now be available for collectors, fans and scholars in perpetuity thanks to the foresight of Ralph Teich who literally rescued the collection from the dumpster - and for that we should be eternally grateful. I'm sure Curt Teich would be pleased.
The story of Curt Teich is similar to the stories of many German immigrants who came to this country in the late 1800s (including my own grandfather.) Teich, like so many of his peers, started his own company and by providing a quality product became very successful. Curt Teich even outshone his peers by becoming one of the most prolific postcard printers in America during the first half of the twentieth century, eventually printing up to 250 million cards annually.
Curt Teich, the Postcard King - may he rest in peace.