As a center of the mineral spring water industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Waukesha, Wisconsin, saw the rise of over 200 spring water companies during the period known as the Waukesha Springs Era. With over fifty mineral springs throughout the county, companies sold water by the glass and bottled mineral spring water in local, regional, and international markets.
One of Waukesha’s early spring water companies was the Henk Mineral Spring Company. Born in Milwaukee to German immigrants in 1848, August Henk learned about business from his father, a grocery merchant. He worked in the carpentry and oyster business for several years before moving to Waukesha with his wife, Maggie. In 1881, the Henks purchased a property at 406 West Avenue on the west side of Waukesha, along the Fox River. Henk built a new home on the lot and improved its naturally occurring mineral spring. There, he founded the Henk Mineral Spring Company and built a bottling plant, which housed an office, bottling works, and storage in a single wooden building. The company employed ten to fifteen people and operated as a family business, employing four of the Henks’ sons as bottlers and assistant managers.
Tourism in the spring and summer months drove a rush of demand, but the Henk Mineral Spring Company produced bottled beverages all year round. During the winter, the company took advantage of the slow months to replenish its reserves in order to meet demand when orders came in during the busy season. In addition to mineral spring water, the Henk company produced sodas, such as root beers and ginger ales. By the 1890’s, the company produced two carloads of new wholesale cases of bottled water each week. The Henk Mineral Spring Company distributed to home markets in Waukesha and Milwaukee, as well as to clientele in the southern United States.
At the time, many people believed in the healing properties of mineral water, but advertisement helped to advance the idea. Companies in Waukesha marketed the mineral spring water as a medicinal elixir, able to heal a variety of maladies. Bottle labels and print advertisements declared the purity and curative qualities of the mineral water, and before long, Waukesha water gained a reputation for its magical healing properties. The Henk company label advertised its mineral water as “Nature’s Purest Drink,” touting its healing medicinal power. A chemical analysis, mentioned on the bottle’s label and listed in advertisements, declared that the water was free of organic matter. Henk advertisements claimed that the water cured a whole host of diseases, from indigestion to kidney disease, in addition to serving as a refreshing beverage.
August Henk died in 1909, leaving the mineral spring company to his widow and children. Over the next few years, the surviving Henk children kept the company in operation and later formed a corporation to capitalize and expand the business. Unfortunately, it never took off, and the family sold all their shares in the business in 1919. In 1920, the company was reorganized to form the Crystal Crown Mineral Spring Company but did not see much success. Within two years, the company went bankrupt, and the land and business were sold and developed for other purposes.
As one of the oldest and long-lasting companies of its kind, the Henk Mineral Spring Company left its mark on Waukesha. Alongside similar springs and bottling businesses, the Henk company shaped the industry and local economy of the town for nearly forty years, shipping Waukesha water from its one-house bottling plant on the shore of the Fox River to markets in Milwaukee and throughout the United States.
Written by Sara Mulrooney, February 2023.
A.G. Wright, Wright’s Waukesha directory 1921. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Wright Directory Co., 1921), Link.
J.W. Haight, Waukesha, the center of the Wisconsin lake region, popularly known as “the Saratoga of the West,” (Waukesha, Wisconsin: The Journal Print, 1888), Link.
John Schoenknecht, The Great Waukesha Springs Era 1868-1918. (Waukesha, Wisconsin: J.M. Schoenknecht, 2003).