May 15, 2017
Steve Gomez - Chief Investigator

Noir Factory Podcast #029: George Remus – King of the Bootleggers

George Remus“He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn’t far wrong.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

George Remus was born on November 13th 1876 in Germany to Frank and Maria Remus, a working class family. He was the middle child with an older sister and younger brother and while he was still just a toddler, the family immigrated to the US.

The Remus family landed in Baltimore, then Cincinnati, and finally to Chicago, along with an intense wave of German immigrants to the Midwest.

Frank Remus found work as a lumber scorer during a boom time in Chicago and his son George flourished in school. Picking up the language quickly, he was fluent in both German and English at an early age and carried with him only the slightest German accent.

When George was only fourteen his father, Frank, who had suffered from acute rheumatism, was left disabled by the disease and unable to work. That left George to take up the mantle as breadwinner of the family. With fierce determination, he told his father not to worry and dedicated himself not only to supporting his family but to rise up through society as well.

He went to work at his uncle’s pharmacy as a clerk and at the age of nineteen passed the state exam for a pharmacist’s license. He continued to save and invest and within two years of becoming a pharmacist he purchased his uncle’s shop and a few years after that opened a second, all the while dabbling in health insurance the side.

As a young adult Remus grew to be a fastidious man who was meticulous about his clothes and his surroundings. He prided himself as being a connoisseur of good food, fine wine, art, and literature. He also considered himself a “man’s man,” and even though he grew into a soft, pudgy adult, he could still count on his iron will to achieve any goal he set for himself.

He was quick with his fists and even though he wasn’t the most athletic man he could wear down almost any opponent. He also took up swimming with the same amount of focus and determination that he did everything.

He became a member of the Illinois Athletic Club and joined their water polo team, participating in national events. In 1907 he set the record for endurance swimming in Lake Michigan by swimming for 5 hours and 40 minutes in the dead of winter.

It was a record that held up for decades.

In 1899 he fell in love with one of his customers, Lillian Klauff, and in July of that year, the two were married. The following year, George Remus’s daughter, Remola, was born.

When Remola was only eight years old she was cast by L. Frank Baum himself to play Dorothy Gale in the first film adaption of The Wizard of Oz.

Before George Remus was thirty years old he had met every goal society, or more importantly, he himself had ever set. But the arena, that of a pharmacist and a business owner, wasn’t the one he had chosen. He had been thrust into it.

Now it was time for George Remus to face bigger challenges.

SOURCES:

Cook, W. A. (2008). King of the Bootleggers: A Biography of George Remus. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

Hotchkiss, J., & Meyer, J. (2011). Remembering Remus in Price Hill. Cincinnati, OH: Edgecliff Press in partnership with the Price Hill Historical Society and Museum.

George Remus. (1970, January 01). https://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=98

E. (n.d.). George Remus Biography. http://whiskeyreviewer.com/2017/03/george-remus-biography-033017/

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