In 1901, thirteen-year-old Walter Fromm read aloud from a copy of the magazine Hunter Trapper to his brothers John, Edward and Henry. The story he read was about a silver fox pelt that sold in London for $1,200. The four brothers came from a family of nine children. The four brothers made a pact that they, too, would breed and raise silver fox. They formed the “Company” and over the next sixty years they made their mark on the world.
Trappers and Native Americans had long gathered the ginseng roots that grew wild in the deep woods. The trappers sold their booty to the Chinese for a handsome price. A neighbor showed the Fromm brothers how to recognize ginseng. This free plant would provide the assets needed to purchase silver fox breeders and begin the largest fur farm in America. Growing ginseng provided many challenges. It is subject to blight and root rot and took five years before the crop could be harvested. It is a stubborn plant, only willing to grow once on any plot of land. The Fromm’s pioneered growing and drying methods, designed machinery to alleviate everything being done by hand and marketed all they could produce in China. For over fifty years, they were the largest producer of ginseng in the United States.
The monies generated by their ginseng operation began the largest silver fox and mink farm in the United States. In 1915, the brothers began to purchase their first silver fox breeding stock. Between the years 1922 and 1928, their silver fox numbers increased to over 16,000. The Company succeeded, with their fur revenues reaching $500,000 in 1926 and $700,000 in 1927. Finally, in 1929, the Fromm brothers received their largest check for silver fox furs in the amount of $1,331,679.35.
The growth of their empire continued through the 1960’s. The Fromm’s produced tremendous advancements in growing ginseng and raising fox and mink. Perhaps their most important contribution was the discovery of the distemper vaccine. After suffering extreme losses in their breeding pairs of silver foxes, the Fromm brothers sponsored Dr. Robert G. Green to research and discover a vaccine for distemper. The brothers spent $1,000,000.00 to find a cure and avoid future loss. Once discovered, the vaccine was modified for use in canines.
We share the story this national and state historic district encompasses, as well as the story of this unique Wisconsin enterprise.