Louis “Commodore” Kuehnle

Born New York City on December 25, 1857, Louis Kuehnle (pronounced “coon-lee”) was the son of Louis and Katrina Kuehnle. A year after his birth, the Kuehnle family moved to Egg Harbor City, New Jersey to enter the hotel business. In 1875 the family moved to Atlantic City to open a hotel in the blossoming resort.

After the death of Louis Sr., Louis took over his father’s hotel, The Kuehnle Hotel at South Carolina and Atlantic Avenues. The hotel housed a saloon known as “The Corner,” and it became the meeting place of the local politicians. Prostitution, gambling and liquor were abundant at the hotel.

H.Book.Kuehnle_1916_Atlantic_City_Police_Department_Souvenir_Book “Louie” grew in popularity and power and took over de facto political control of the city, inspiring other young politicians such as Harry and Isaac Bacharach and Enoch Johnson. He is credited to be the first leader to build a bi-partisan political machine in Atlantic City, and he controlled the city from the late 1800’s until his downfall in 1911. Those who complained about his czar-like rule were told, “They’ll build a monument to me someday; I built this town”.

Kuehnle’s dream was to transform Atlantic City into a major city and he was responsible for numerous improvements to the city. He organized his own telephone company because he thought the rates were too high, and a gas company, which resulted in prices going down. He also contributed to the lowering of electric prices by backing a competing utility. He dictated the terms of many official city contracts, had a hand in building the Boardwalk, drilled an artesian well to show it could be done and started the city waterworks. He joined the Atlantic City Yacht Club and served as chairman. He earned the unofficial rank of “Commodore,” a name that stayed with him until his death.

New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson in his 1910 campaign vowed to clean up Atlantic City, including election fraud and Kuehnle’s questionable business and personal interests. Kuehnle was convicted of corruption and voter fraud in 1913 and sentenced to a year of hard labor and a $1,000 fine. After serving a six-month sentence he went to Bermuda for vacation and an extended visit to Germany.

When he returned to Atlantic City, Enoch “Nucky” Johnson was the de-facto boss of the city, but Johnson agreed to support Kuehnle for City Commissioner. He was elected in 1920 and reelected each time his four year term ended until his death in 1934. He served as Commissioner of Parks and Public Property.

The Commodore was never married. He died August 6, 1934 following an operation on his appendix. City Hall paid its respect by draping his chair in the Commission Chamber and City Hall itself in black. Firehouse flags hung at half mast. Currently, a street named Kuehnle Avenue in is the only visible monument to Kuehnle in Atlantic City.
Photograph of Louis "Commodore" Kuehnle in 1916. (H.Bk.Kuehnle1916ACPDSouvenirBk. Atlantic City Heritage Collections, Atlantic City Free Public Library).

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Nelson Johnson. Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City. Plexus Publishing: Medford, NJ, 2002

Martin Paulsson. The Social Anxieties of Progressive Reform: Atlantic City, 1854-1920. New York University Press: New York, 1994.

Who's Who in New Jersey, Atlantic County Edition. National Biographic News Service: New York, 1925.

Local History Biography File - "Louis Kuehnle"

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Women and the Vote in Atlantic City

Beginning in the late 18th century and culminating in the Progressive Era, New Jersey – in particular, Atlantic City – has had a long history in the struggle of equal voting rights for women. Following the end of the Revolutionary War, New Jersey was one of the first states to adopt legislation that allowed women to vote. The Provincial Congress of New Jersey at Burlington adopted a constitution on July 2, 1776 stating that women could vote, providing that they were in possession cash or property valued at a minimum £50.00 (roughly $7,800 in today’s dollars).

Though the ownership of £50.00 was surely prohibitive, women must have been rather influential in their voting practices in ways their male counterparts did not approve. In 1807, the New Jersey voting laws were revised in such a way that excluded women from the electoral process, and in 1844, a formal constitution explicitly stripping women of their right to vote was enacted by the New Jersey legislature.

Women nationwide began to voice their dissent against discriminating voting laws in the early 19th century; however, the movement really took shape and garnered force in 1890 when two women’s groups the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), formed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), formed by Lucy Stone, merged to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

From September 6 to September 10, 1916, NAWSA held a convention in Atlantic City. At the convention, NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt and President of the United States Woodrow Wilson delivered speeches. President Wilson marked upon the growing strength of the women’s suffrage movement, and assured them that they would one day prevail. Carrie Chapman Catt unveiled her new plan for suffrage victory – requiring coordination between suffrage workers in various positions of power in state and local organizations. She announced a new slogan for movement: “The Woman’s Hour has struck.” She stated, “Awake, arise, my sisters, let your hearts be filled with joy – the time of victory is here. Onward march!”

Pamphlet advertising hotel accomodations for 1916 NAWSA Suffragists Convention. (Local History Subject File - "Women."· H009.Suffragists1916ACConvention. Atlantic City Heritage Collections, Atlantic City Free Public Library.)

In 1919, the House of Congress proposed an Amendment to the Constitution in support of allowing women to vote. On June 4, 1919, the Senate endorsed the Amendment, allowing states to ratify at their will. Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan were the first states to pass the law, but states like Georgia and Alabama rejected it. On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was officially enacted, awarding women full, federally recognized suffrage.

After winning their federal right to vote in the electoral process and serve their civic duties, women in Atlantic City were quick to participate. On October 19, 1920, seventeen women were called for duty in a district court case. It was the first time in Atlantic City’s history that woman were called to act as jurors in a court of law. Given their stellar performance as jurors, court officials in Atlantic City declared that whenever possible, women would be summoned to act as jurors.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Local History Subject File - "Women"

Atlantic City Daily Press, newspaper articles, 6-11 September 1916.

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What is the infant incubator exhibit? 

Dr. Martin A Couney was not your average physician. Born in Germany sometime around 1870, Couney was a pediatrician and a leader in the field of neonatology who invented the modern baby incubator. In the early 20th century, premature birth was one of the highest causes of infant mortality – in 1925, 36% of all infant deaths were due to premature birth.

Dr. Couney's own daughter was born premature and lived to adulthood under her father's care. After inventing the baby incubator, Dr. Couney faced skepticism from other medical professionals who did not believe his methods would work. Banks were unwilling to finance production of his incubators, believing that no hospital would want the devices. Couney set out to prove them all wrong.

Dr. Couney's first exhibit of premature infants in incubators was at the 1896 Berlin Exposition. A German hospital loaned him several premature babies, all of whom the hospital had determined would die. Couney, utilizing his baby incubator technology was able to rehabilitate each of the infants' lives. While Couney's intention was to demonstrate scientific advancements in the treatment of premature babies and to create a way to finance this technology by charging admission fees to see the babies, the small hospital drew big crowds. Visitors could watch the tiny patients as they received treatments, recuperated and grew.
This ad for the infant incubator exhibit appeared in a 1920 Atlantic City Amusements Guide (H009.InfantIncubatorMay311920Amuseuments. Atlantic City Heritage Collections, Atlantic City Free Public Library).

Hospitals around the United States began to refer parents of preemies to Dr. Couney. Couney accepted patients at no charge to the parents and the infants were placed in the incubators and monitored by trained nurses and fed by wet nurses. By some estimates, Couney was able to rehabilitate 90% of the premature infants placed in his care.

Couney's baby incubator attractions were featured at prominent expos and amusement parks. The babies were also featured at Coney Island's Luna Park, and at a number of the World's Fair expositions including New York City's World Fair, the Omaha Trans-Mississippi Exposition, the Buffalo Exposition and the Chicago World's Fair.

In Atlantic City, the permanent infant incubator exhibit was located on the Boardwalk at Arkansas Avenue, across from Million Dollar Pier. The exhibit was in place as early as 1902. Admission at first was one dollar to see the infants and hear a lecture on their care. Later, the price was changed to whatever donation the visitor wished to make.

As more hospitals began to develop methods for treating premature infants, and as the field of neonatology became more accepted, Dr. Couney declared success and closed the exhibits in the 1940s. The Atlantic City exhibit closed in 1943. Dr. Couney died in March of 1950 at his home in Coney Island.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

"Young's Pier - Infant Incubators." Press of Atlantic City. 3 July 1905.

Jack Klein. "When Premature Babies were 'Stars' on Atlantic City Boardwalk." Annals of Southern Jersey History. 7 October 1979.

Amuseuments. 31 May 1920.

Local History Subject File - "Infant Incubator"

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