Sesquicentennial Stories: Downtown Dude
well-dressed wooden gent helped sell cigars for decades
When Julius and Ferdinand Derge started their cigar factory and store in Eau Claire in 1875, they brought along a friend, Dude Holzmann (that’s “Wooden Man” in German). The “Dude” was a wooden statue that sat outside their cigar shop on Barstow Street. He sported a blue coat, gray trousers, a putty hat, and a maroon tie; he weighed 135 pounds without his base.
At one time there were more than 100,000 similar statues across the country. Collectors estimated that about 97,000 of these became sawdust. In the early 1950s, collectors owned about 2,800 and 200 were still featured at specialty stores.
The Dude was sold to a private collector in Pittsburgh in 1951. Before he took his journey, he had a crack repaired in his back, his fingers were restored, and some rot was removed from the crook of his left arm. Ferdinand Derge passed away in 1898, and Julius continued to run the factory, eventually with his son, Frank.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were as many as a dozen cigar makers in Eau Claire alone. Frank Derge ran Derge Cigar Manufacturing Co. until he retired in 1947.