“Mark Twain wieder einmal verkracht.” Der Deutsche correspondent. 31 Jan 1908
Mark Twain wieder einmal verkracht New York, 30. Januar –
Mark Twain gilt bekanntlich als der größte amerikanische Humorist; als Geschäftsmann heißt er Samuel L. Clemens1, und seine Unternehmungen nehmen gewöhnlich ein trauriges Ende.
Gegenwärtig ist er Präsident der “Plasmon Co.,”2 die ein Nahrungsmittel für Dyspeptiker fabrizi[e]rt3. Bei den gegenwärtigen schlech-ten Zeiten leiden die Leute weniger an Verdauungs-beschwerden, als an unbefriedigtem Appetit; mithin ist es nicht zu verwundern, daß die “Plasmon Co.” Conkurs machte4.
Chas. L.Brookheim5, der Massenverwalter, möchte dringend Mark Twain sehen,da dieser im Besitz der Geschäftsbücher der “Plasmon Co.” ist. Es heißt, Mark Twain ist in Bermuda6 oder auf der Fahrt dorthin.
Mark Twain in trouble once again New York, January 30 –
Mark Twain is known to be the greatest American humorist; as a businessman his name is Samuel L. Clemens, and his ventures usually come to a rather sad end.
At present he is president of the “Plasmon Co.” which manufactures a dietary product for dyspeptics. In the present dire times, people are not so much suffering from indigestion as from unsatisfied appetites; consequently it is not surprising that the “Plasmon Co.” went bankrupt.
Chas. L. Brookheim, the liquidator, urgently wants to see Mark Twain, since he is in possession of the “Plasmon Co.” accounting books. It is said that Mark Twain is in Bermuda or on his way there.
“Mark Twain wieder einmal verkracht.” Der Deutsche correspondent (Baltimore, Md.), 31 Jan. 1908, p.7, c.4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045081/1908-01-31/ed-1/seq-8/>
1 For an introductory discussion of how Samuel L. Clemens used Mark Twain as a pen name, see the section “Sam Clemens as Mark Twain” on the Mark Twain in his Times web page.
2 The Plasmon Company mentioned here is explicitly the American company; a British branch (sometimes referred to by the same name: “Plasmon Co.”) existed simultaneously and Clemens also held shares of this (British) company. It had been founded in 1900, slightly earlier than the American company, and eventually did gain Clemens some profit when it was sold (Paine 1058; Ober 170-171). Clemens invested $25.000 in the American Plasmon Company and is referred to as its vice-president (Scharnhorst 659) or director (Lauber 286). In the beginning, Clemens saw Plasmon primarily as a valid business opportunity and tried to convince friends to invest in the company. His high opinion of the product was also used for marketing purposes (advertisement). Later he became increasingly enthusiastic about the supposed health benefits of the product (Ober 170-171). Today, there is still an Italian company called “Plasmon” which produces baby food products and –supplements. || Sources: Lauber, John. The Inventions of Mark Twain. Hill and Wang, 1990 (Internet Archive); Ober, K. Patrick. Mark Twain and Medicine: “Any Mummery Will Cure”. University of Missouri Press, 2003 (Google Books); Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography (Vol. 3). Harper and Brothers, 1912 (Internet Archive); Scharnhorst, Gary (ed.). Mark Twain: The Complete Interviews. University of Alabama Press, 2006. (Google Books).
3 The main product sold by the Plasmon Company was also called “Plasmon”, a skim milk powder that was supposed to restore general health and which Clemens encountered first during his stay in Vienna in 1898/1899 (Wilson and Rees 110 and Ober 169). There were a number of producers of similar protein products around the time (e.g. the article “New Foods and Cures” in the Conchise review generally mentions “albumen” as a catch-all term for similar products). Plasmon was claimed to have been invented by a German Chemist by the Name of Dr. Siebold in an extensive advertising campaign in 1902. The production of Plasmon was cheap and Clemens therefore deemed its marketization a profitable business opportunity. The finished powder would be dissolved in boiling water, baked into biscuits, or cooked into all sorts of food to make it palatable. Around the time Clemens consumed it on a daily basis in some form, either dissolved in milk or simply eaten as plain powder (Paine 1099, 1151). He also promoted it to family and friends as a miracle cure (Ober 170) which he claimed had healed him from indigestion (Ober 171) and which he hoped would also improve the declining health of his wife, Olivia (Ober 172). In terms of nutrition, Plasmon was claimed to equal a multiple of its weight “in steak”, not only by Clemens but also by some of his contemporaries (Ober 171, and ” target=”_blank”>”A New Dairy Product”) and there were reports about the powder being shaped into actual substitute meat for vegetarians. ||Sources: Ober, K. Patrick. Mark Twain and Medicine: “Any Mummery Will Cure”. University of Missouri Press, 2003 (Google Books); Wilson, James D. and John Rees. “Business.” The Routledge Encyclopedia of Mark Twain, edited by J. R. LeMaster and James D. Wilson. Routledge, 2013, pp. 108-111 (Google Books).
4 According to contemporary newspaper reports, the Plasmon Company of America had suffered from in-company fights and misunderstandings almost since its foundation at the turn of the century. In October 1907, a court case (report in the New-York tribune) was brought before the Supreme Court, Brooklyn, in which Ralph W. Ashcroft accused one of the Plasmon shareholders, John H. Hammond, of libel. A telegram which Hammond had sent to Clemens in 1904 had described Ashcroft as unfit for his position as manager and stockholder of the Plasmon Company. The resulting conflict likely brought about the company’s bankruptcy later the same year, when, in December 1907, some of the company’s creditors – all of which had previously held some position in the company’s management – forced Plasmon to file for bankruptcy, their claims ranging from $1.000 to $8.000 (report in the New-York tribune).
5 Charles. L. Brookheim (or C. L. Brookheim) was a New York lawyer who worked on bankruptcy cases, usually as official receiver/trustee (find examples here and here). As such he was responsible for assessing the bankrupt company’s assets and income and for redistributing funds to the creditors.
6 Clemens visited Bermuda several times throughout his life and twice in 1908. The trip that fits the time frame of the article is his stay at the Princess Hotel from 27th Jan. – 3rd March. He was accompanied by Ralph W. Ashcroft, a former agent – John Lauber (304) and Hamlin Hill (43) refer to him as “treasurer” – of the American Plasmon Co., who was hired by Clemens as a personal travel secretary on the trips to Bermuda (Hoffmann 83) and Oxford in 1907 (Hill 43). Clemens saw this trip primarily as a means to recover his health which had suffered during the winter and to escape his everyday life and activities which he found lacking in variety (Hoffmann 88-89). Clemens’ absence from New York caused the Plasmon bankruptcy case to come to a halt as he held the company books and without him the trustee, C. L. Brookheim, could not proceed with the company inventory. This delay – and Clemens’ part in it – was noted by English-language newspapers as well (e.g. “Looking seaward for Mark Twain”). || Sources: Hill, Hamlin. “Ashcroft, Ralph.” The Routledge Encyclopedia of Mark Twain, edited by J. R. LeMaster and James D. Wilson. Routledge, 2013, p. 43 (Google Books); Hoffmann, Donald. Mark Twain in Paradise : His Voyages to Bermuda. University of Missouri Press, 2006 (Project Muse); Lauber, John. The Inventions of Mark Twain. Hill and Wang, 1990 (Internet Archive).
Selection of research project:
The research process that led to the selection of this article started with a general survey of all German-language newspaper articles available via the Chronicling America archive (link?) for the given time frame (1906-1910) that mentioned Mark Twain by name.
This initial search was conducted using the following parameters:
- advanced search;
- language: German;
- date range: 1906-1910;
- enter search with the words: Mark Twain (within 5 words of each other).
It yielded 174 results, most of which were published in Der Deutsche correspondent (Baltimore, Maryland). The results were individually examined to determine overarching topics or themes (e.g. obituaries, excerpts from Twain’s books, news about his travels, anecdotes).
The chosen article stood out as not relating to any of these more frequent topics, as well as being comparatively short while still providing ample opportunity to contextualise and annotate the events it mentions. Additionally, it became obvious – by cross-referencing the entire list of search results – that it was not one of the “printed and re-printed again and again” articles that came up frequently featuring anecdotes about Mark Twain and his life – and eventually his death, something that made this article immediately appear more interesting in being unique among the German-language articles.
Comment, analysis, reflection:
The material in the chosen article can provide some insight into Samuel L. Clemens’ life as a businessman – as opposed to his life as a writer, which most people will already be familiar with to some extent. The history of Clemens’ “failed” business projects and companies might offer a new perspective on his life and the historical context, especially for people who are newly interested in the subject of Samuel L. Clemens/Mark Twain as a historical personality who might not yet know that much about his biography. In these cases, the material provided here can introduce such people to one specific aspect of Clemens’ life using a concrete example instead of broadly summarizing content as many biographies might. Therefore the material could be useful as a resource for students and, in addition to introducing specific information about Clemens, it might also allow students to understand and reproduce basic research activities and retrace the specific usage of the online database Chronicling America.
To more “advanced” researchers of the topic, the translation and transcription of the German-language article might provide new insight about the interconnectedness between German-speaking communities and the English-speaking mainstream culture of the United States at the turn of the 20th century and their varying perspectives.
The fact that Clemens is described as the “greatest American humourist”, but also that he is readily associated with his failed business ventures, corresponds well with the perspective English-language newspapers adhered to in covering this story. A difference is the much shortened account of the Plasmon Co. bankruptcy, which is described as resulting from a general lack of customer interest in the product. Other (English-language) accounts elaborate on the actual bankruptcy proceedings and some directly contradict the idea expressed here. This might be a jumping-off point for further study regarding the German-language infrastructure at that time and how this might relate to the selection process for content featured in specifically German-language newspapers in the US at this time.
General observations about my research process:
I was surprised by the sheer amount of digital resources about Mark Twain’s writings and his life. Many of the books about him were available online (via Internet Archive or Google Books) and in many cases it was even possible to find multiple editions of certain texts. I think this partly due to Mark Twain being such a prominent (and well-studied) figure of American literature. Still, for many of the online sources found via Google Books, it was not possible to read them in full as only excerpts were visible. In my case, this did not hinder the research process because the pages relevant to my topic were always available (but I’m aware of the fact that this is down to just me being lucky).
Both Chronicling America and the DeepL translation tool were new to me and especially the former is a fascinating resource to research all sorts of topics in relation to the history of the United States.
One of the major problems I encountered during the research process were the sometimes faulty transcriptions provided by databases (such as Chronicling America or Google Books), which impede an efficient use of search terms or search functions. This is especially relevant for many of the German-language newspapers featured in the Chronicling America archive due to their prevalent use of Gothic type (which appears to be hard to decipher for automatic transcription programmes).
Other areas of difficulty were the prolonged on-screen reading (especially with Internet Archive and Google Books neither of which feature a “print” option, for obvious – copyright –reasons) and, in the beginning, some issues with filing, sorting through, and collecting information in a manner that allows for easy retrieval (I find this much easier with actual books/physical paper copies/pen-and-paper notes). During the process, I started using the note-taking program “Evernote” as a place to take notes relating to the project, tag them according to topic, and compile information in a useful manner. This also allowed me to easily copy text, save screenshots, quotes, and other information from online sources.