A Great Danish American Birthday - Peter Emil Dreier

  • December 27, 2021
  • December 27, 2023
  • 3 sessions
  • December 27, 2021 (CST)
  • December 27, 2022 (CST)
  • December 27, 2023 (CST)


Peter Emil Dreier (December 27, 1832 - October 22, 1892) served as Danish Consul in Chicago beginning in 1867.  

Dreier was the "moving force" behind a group of influential Danes (including Rebild founder Max Henius) in the Chicago Danish community who regularly met at Wilken's Cellar in the Chicago Loop at "The Round Table".  George R. Nielsen wrote about this group of intellectual or "Cosmopolitan Danes" in his book The Danish Americans...

"Many of the cosmopolitans participated in the activities of the Danish-Danes and the Danish Americans, but there were distinctions.  Very few concerned themselves with the church, some were Socialists, and Emil Dreier was an atheist.  Others such as Max Henius and Morris Salmonsen were prominent Danish Jews and Henry Hertz had a Jewish heritage.  The meeting place for this group, in the first two decades of the Danish community's existence, was Wilken's Cellar in the Loop, and the Round Table around which they gathered became its symbol.  As the Danes moved west, other locations, such as the newspaper office of Chicago Posten of taverns, became replacements for Wilken's Cellar, but none gained the fame of the original meeting place.

The moving force behind this group was Emil Dreier who migrated in 1854 and worked first for Miller in the Loop.  He then opened a pharmacy on Milwaukee Avenue and in 1867 became the Danish Consul in Chicago.  He sported side whiskers and was corpulent, so his friends called him "The Turtle."  The heat and gout bothered him and he was temperamental, but he had many friends.  His appointment as consul had created some controversy because the Danish consul in New York asked the Dania Society of Chicago for nominations when the vacancy occurred.  Anton Skov nominated George Bay and Ferdinand Winslow supported Dreier.  In the discussion that took place in the presence of the two candidates, Skov spoke disparagingly of Dreier, and when Dreier received the support of Dania, Skov expressed these same feelings in a letter to the consul in New York.  Dreier received the appointment, and Dania ordered Skov to apologize to Dreier for his attack, primarily because it was a breach of club rules.  Skov did go to Dreier's residence to apologize to Dreier for his attack, but the appointed witnesses and Dreier did not think it a suitable apology.  Dreier was insulted by the actions of Skov and the lukewarm support from Dania, so he resigned taking Winslow and other supporters along.  Winslow then started the Scandinavian Society, which lasted until 1872, when his bank collapsed.  Dreier retuned to Dania that same year, primarily through the efforts of Henry Hertz.

Wilken's Cellar, with its Round Table, was the place where Drier and his friends met several times a week late in the afternoon.  The table was reserved for the Danes and guests, and generally writers, architects, sculptors, and intellectuals were "invited" to join.  One of the regulars, Max Henius, described the experience:

One went down eight steps and found oneself in a half-dark cellar, where it was necessary to use gaslight overhead to see anything.  Tables and chairs were the cheapest kind - wood.  Just beside the entrance stood the so-called "round table."  Its surface had never known a table cloth.  The table was covered with a pattern of rings made by many wine glasses.  The uninitiated called the place "the sewer."  Promptly at five in the afternoon, the cellar stairwell was darkened by the Consul's gigantic frame and soon his red face was visible with his curious self-made glass cigar.  His friends were waiting patiently as the consul always led the conversation.  Wilkens provided free lunch with a five-cent or ten-cent glass of wine."

National Foundation for Danish America
PO Box 1003
Wilmette, Illinois 60091

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