Friday Flashback #215

This summer, Susie Kowalsky found a bottle behind her Imperial Avenue house, in the Saugatuck River.

(Photo/Susie Kowalsky)

It’s a fascinating relic.

Embalmers Supply was the largest company of its kind in the country. I’ve written about it before. But I find it fascinating — so it’s time once again to give the story “new life.”

It was formed in 1886 as a partnership between 2 Germans: inventor C.B. Dolge and pharmacist Max Huncke.

Four years later, the firm moved to Westport. In 1893 Dolge bought out his partner.

It manufactured embalming fluids using arsenic (formaldehyde was not yet available), as well as accessories like pumps and goosenecks, without which a body could not be embalmed.

After many years at 14 Wilton Road, Embalmers’ Supply moved to Ford Road — across the river from where Bridgewater is now. So the world’s biggest embalming supply company has been replaced (sort of) by the world’s largest hedge fund.

Today the company is called ESCO. It’s located in East Lyme — no connection to the “lime” once used to dispose of a corpse — and is strictly a chemical business.

Susie has no idea how or when the bottle washed up by her home. But it sure is well preserved.

18 responses to “Friday Flashback #215

  1. My grandmother worked for them. I have no idea when .

  2. Dan – I love this story and learning about Westport history.
    Hopefully, you are guest lecturer at Staples HS on this sort of thing!

  3. Kind of creepy for me who had my company August West Systems at 14 Wilton road for about 10 years.

  4. When they were on Ford Rd the name was EBASCO I believe my Dad worked for Allied Van Lines and I remember their move out back in the late 70s

    Does any one remember finding rejected Ping Pong balls in the Saugatuck back in that time when they were manufactured in one of the buildings on the Riverside Ave side (the Art Center ?)

  5. I remember Embalmers Supply well when it was on Ford Road. Riding our bikes to the Ford was always a summer activity, fishing, wading and making up stories about the Red Coats running across the river.
    My Dad told us stories about driving his Model A Ford across the river as a short cut to the home of a friend. The Dolge family were residents of Westport and highly respected. Alan Dolge graduated from Staples in 1958 and went on to a distinguished career. Great memories as long as you don’t dwell on the “embalming” part. Also, at one point there was a “tram” across the river up in the trees. Rumor was that an executive of the company lived on the other side and crossed that way to work. I have no idea if that was fact but one of the last times I visited Westport I looked to see if I could see any remains of the tram high in the trees. someone will add more information I hope.

  6. An number of years ago we bought a place in VT. The former owners left some of their decorative works including an old wooden sign they had hanging on the wall for something called Embalmers Supply of Westport CT. I’d never heard of Embalmers Supply and just the thought of embalming fluid made my skin crawl (no pun intended). Every time I walked past that sign hanging on the wall I was creeped out.

    I had no idea there was such a place or had been such a place in Westport so I ended up throwing the sign out. Fast forward, I was having a conversation with an old timer who lived in my neighborhood who told me the history and location – right down the street from us on Richmondville!

    I relayed this story to a friend who was involved in the W’port Historical Society who lamented the loss of the sign and that the society would have loved to have had it. Who knew!?

    And why in the world was it hanging on the wall in a house in VT that had been owned by someone from Long Island.. A mystery that will never be solved….

  7. Would this (formaldehyde) have been the first and only product ever manufactured in Westport?

  8. I wrote a similar article about a medicine bottle found in the backyard of a house on Kings Highway South which was just published in Westport, Weston and Wilton magazine this Sept/Oct issue. The magazine is still on the newsstands for anyone that wants to read it. It is titled Message in a Bottle. Dan posted a story a few years ago about the same company that was identified on the bottle – the Westport Drug Company. If you cannot get the article, please provide your email address and I will send to you, send to rwmailbox@aol.com.

  9. When hosting those whom you’d rather not, this bottle would be just perfect for homemade salad dressing.

  10. Back in the early ‘70s, I worked for a small industrial advertising firm, ABW Toft and Company. One of my responsibilities was to design ads for The Embalmer’s Supply Company and their various products featured in their very own newsletter.

    At the time, the head of the company was Richard Beck, or “Dick” Beck, as he liked to be called; would only deal with Arthur Toft, very no-nonsense, and lived in Weston.

    “So, let me get this straight: You want me to design an ad for what?“

  11. Danny @ Willowbrook

    A tidbit of information for you all: The Dolge family is buried in Section 8 in Willowbrook Cemetery in an expansive family plot. If you pull in the cemetery and take your third available right, you’ll see the Dolge family stone immediately on the right as you take the right.

    Now, as an embalmer, I must tell you – I prefer Dodge Chemicals over Esco products! You get better results!

    • Very interesting info, Danny.
      Btw, do you have an opinion as to what product might have possibly been in that bottle?

      • Danny @ Willowbrook

        I’m assuming there was a label by the neck of the bottle that determined what exactly the liquid was for, so I honestly don’t know what it housed.

        It could’ve been an arterial conditioner or formaldehyde itself. And there are so many different strengths of formaldehyde, depending on the case presented to you. Or perhaps it could’ve been cavity fluid. We will never know!

        Today, there are several companies such as Dodge and Champion that produce embalming fluid. Like I mentioned, I prefer Dodge Chemical Company out of Boston. Esco just doesn’t do it for me, sorry!

        – Danny

  12. This bottle was probably unearthed from the digging that is going on on Wilton Road which was the first home of the Embalmer’s Supply Co. It probably floated down the river to the Kowalski home.

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