Rudolph A. Bartley

(1851-1927)

Wholesale Grocery Business Owner

Rudolph A. Bartley spent fifty years as one of Toledo’s most prominent wholesale grocers during the city’s booming commercial and economic era of the late nineteenth century.


Born in Wittenburg, Germany in 1851, Rudolph and his parents moved to Perrysburg in 1853. In 1868, at the age of 17, Bartley left the family farm to search for work in Toledo. His father agreed to let him go under the strict stipulation that he send part of his monthly wages home to cover his absence from the farm. 


Bartley soon became associated with the grocery trade when he found a job at the H.F. Barnes store, currently the site of the Valentine Theater. Barnes paid him $8 a month and gave him three meals a day. A year later Bartley found a new position with the J.A. Speyer store located at 307 Summit Street. His wages slowly rose to $35 a month so that by 1872 he had paid his debt to his father (which was about $15 per week until Bartley came of age) and he managed to save $200. He also secured a loan of $100 and he started a partnership in the grocery business under the name Cousino and Bartley. To save money, the partners did not hire any other employees and they slept in the store.

They delivered goods from a red pushcart with the name "Cousino and Bartley Groceries" painted on the side of it. This retail trade grew and prospered and in 1882, Bartley bought out Cousino's interest in the store and also purchased the retail grocery of J.C. Wueffel.  

Bartley discarded the retail aspect of the business and embarked exclusively on a wholesale grocery trade. With the expansion of his company came the proliferation of Bartley-owned warehouses. Beginning in 1897 the group of buildings that his company utilized spread down Lynn Street to Cherry Street on Summit until 1900 when his warehouses occupied this entire expanse of prime downtown real estate. 

Bartely was in the right place and the right time but his business succeeded because of his charisma and approachable personality. He was known for his friendliness and extensive socializing with his colleagues and he also enjoyed a friendly relationship with his customers and employees. He greeted customers personally and although his desk was positioned so that his back was facing the front door of the building, a strategically placed mirror alerted him to a client's arrival. 

By 1904, the business, not yet 20 years old, had grown to a profitable five million dollar a year company. Bartley believed in sharing the wealth with his employees who had helped him to build his humble trade into a profitable business. He was one of the first business men in the area to inaugurate a bonus system and between 1904-1920 he divided $385,227 among his employees. In 1920, he converted his business into a closed corporation and distributed, depending on length of service, large blocks of stock to his workers which enabled them to enjoy the benefits of annual dividends. 

In 1908 fire destroyed the Bartley Building. Bartley built a new seven story headquarters at Washington and Ontario Streets, using fire proof materials. The building was the highest point in the Toledo's business district at the time. The Bartley wholesale grocery business became the largest individually owned grocery business in the Midwest. 

In 1906 Bartley built a palatial residence at the corner of Collingwood and Jefferson Streets. He entertained friends and employees alike at the "Bartley Mansion." His generosity extended to local charities as well. For example, in early 1900s he donated $200,000 to the First Baptist Church, making possible the addition construction of its building on Collingwood near Central Avenue. 

Bartley's community service extended to local politics. As a friend to Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones, he worked for the reform mayor's re-election. Bartley ran for mayor against Brand Whitlock in 1907 but was defeated due to the strong Independent movement that dominated Toledo politics at that time. He turned his attention to local civic improvements and served as a two-term president of Toledo Business Men’s Chamber of Commerce and for five years as a member of the board of elections. He also sat as a director of the Commerce Guardian Trust and Savings bank, as president of the Adams Street Mission, trustee of the First Baptist Church, and director of the Toledo Humane Society. He was a member of the Toledo Yacht Club and was a 32nd degree Mason. 

Bartley married Hattie Josephine Barnes Dutton of Adrian, Michigan. He adopted his wife's children from a previous marriage, Charles and Virginia. The Bartleys adopted another son, Harry, from the Franklin Company Orphan's Home and took in his brothers, Frank and David. 

He died in his home on March 8, 1927 at 75 years old. Hattie Bartley died in early December 1928. Both are interred here in the Bartley family mausoleum.
 

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