M. H. Renken Dairy Co., 180 Classon Ave., Brooklyn, NY, 2011
The M. H. Renken Dairy Co. was founded by Martin Henry Renken (1856-1934). According to a passport application filed in June 1921 he was born 22 November 1856 in Hannover, Germany. The application also states that he emigrated 15 March 1873 from Bremen, Germany and that he became a naturalized U. S. citizen 15 October 1878 in Brooklyn, N. Y.
forgotten-ny, writing about a nearby Renken building on the southeast corner of Myrtle Ave. and Classon Ave. tells us "In 1912 Martin Renken of the M.H. Renken Dairy Company ... in 1923, constructed a bank of industrial loft buildings along Classon that became 202, 204, 206 and 208 respectively. The buildings haven’t been fundamentally changed since they were first designed and built by Brooklyn architecture firm Koch and Wagner, all yellow brick and wood shutters and windows that don’t open. While the upper floors were used for pasteurization and bottling, the ground floor of 206 was used as a stable for horse-drawn carriages; a few years later, the stable was converted into a loading dock. The Classon buildings were one section of a three-part complex that also included 131-137 Emerson Place, built in 1924, and the main office at 574 Myrtle Avenue, built in 1918. ... The Renken Dairy Company building was constructed as an office in 1932 for the Renken Dairy. ... The Renken Company moved to Middlebury, CT in 1962."
The building at 580-584 Myrtle Ave. was declared a New York City Landmark in 2015. The Landmark Preservation Commission report can be read at http://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/lp/2519.pdf. It includes the following: "Martin Henry Renken was born in 1856 in the village of Huttenbusch in Germany’s northern flatlands, and came to the United States as a teenager in 1872. Soon after arriving, he found work as a bartender. In 1886, he and his wife Margaret, who had immigrated from a small village near Huttenbusch, had a son, Henry, and in 1888, Renken founded a dairy at Park Avenue and Spencer Street in Brooklyn. At its start, the dairy had only one route, which was served by a single horse and wagon driven by Renken. Soon after its founding, Renken took on a fellow German immigrant, Henry Quell, as his partner, and the dairy grew rapidly. By 1896, it had moved around the corner to 864 Bedford Avenue, where it became known as the Bedford Dairy. The company established its first creamery in Upstate New York, where milk was received from area farmers and shipped, on a train car refrigerated with ice, to Hoboken. In Hoboken, Renken and Quell’s wagons picked up the milk, carried it on ferries across the Hudson River, and took it across the Brooklyn Bridge to the dairy to be filtered, chilled, and bottled. Along with its homedelivery routes, the dairy supplied grocery stores and bulk users with 40-quart cans and cases of bottled milk. Among its largest customers was Henry C. Bohack, also a German immigrant, who had five grocery stores in 1900, and whose company would grow into a major supermarket chain in the 20th century."
M. H. Renken Dairy Co. Office is inscribed over the doorway at 584 Myrtle Ave. (click for image). The Classon Avenue side of this building features a prominent M. H. Renken Dairy Co. sign (click for image).
The earliest entry in Brooklyn city directories that describes Martin H. Renken as a milk dealer comes in 1888. This date appears in numerous ads for the Renken Dairy as the date established. See for instance this ad from 1941 which appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The following obituary appeared in the New York Times, 26 Aug. 1934, pg. 26: "Martin H. Renken, head of the M. H. Renken Dairy Company in Brooklyn, which he started with a single horse and wagon in 1888 and developed into an organization of nearly 500 delivery routes, died on Friday at his home, 1,704 Avenue G, Brooklyn, of a heart attack. He was in his seventy-eighth year and recently had returned from a European tour. Mr. Renken came to this country from Germany when a boy and settled in Brooklyn. He subsequently engaged in the milk business, with a small store, at Bedford and Myrtle Avenues and a horse and wagon, which he drove himself. Today the company employs more than 1,000 people. Mr. Renken was formerly a director of the People's National Bank, a trustee of the Lincoln Savings Bank, a director of the Wyckoff Heights Hospital and president of the Old Folks Home Society in Franklin Square. In recent years he had been interested in philanthropic enterprises. He is survived by a son, Henry Renken, vice president of the dairy firm, and three grandchildren, Martin H., Marjorie and Ruth Renken, all of whom are now in Europe. Funeral services will be held at 2:30 P. M. Tuesday in St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Bedford and DeKalb Avenues. Burial will be in Evergreens Cemetery."
On his death in 1934 Martin H. Renken was succeeded by his son, Henry Renken (1886-1968).
Another major figure at the Renken Dairy was Henry Quell (1867-1939). Quell's obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 15 June 1939, pg. 15, read, "Henry Quell, treasurer of the M. H. Renken Dairy Company, with which he was associated since it was founded 50 years ago, died yesterday at his home, 83-61 116th St., Kew Gardens. He was 72. Mr. Quell was the last of the original group which started the dairy company and was the guest of honor at the 50th anniversary celebration held by the company last year. A native of Germany, he came to this country as a youth and soon entered the dairy business. He had formed a route of his own when he was invited to join in the company then being formed by the late Martin H. Renken. … Mr. Quell is survived by two sons, J. Henry and Frederick H. Quell; a daughter, Mrs. Mamie A. Meyer, and five grandchildren. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Bedford and DeKalb Aves. Interment will be in Cypress Hills Abbey. "
Copyright © 2021 Walter Grutchfield