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Feb. 5, 1912: The frog prince of Fulda

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: February 8, 2012 - 3:11 PM
 
An ambitious young man from Fulda, Minn., started out one August with $20 in the bank, an empty shack and a plan to make money in the frog business. By October, through hard work and adroit thinking, he had shipped 200,000 frogs to Chicago and cleared a profit of $900. It was enough to make quite a dent in his college tuition bill – and also, no doubt, in Fulda's frog population.

The Minneapolis Tribune published this profile:
 

Frogs Send Student
Through Farm School


Sophomore “Aggie” Does an
Enormous Business in
Shipping Delicacy.

Six Weeks of Hustling In-
creases Bank Roll From
$20 to $900.

Industry Beats Book Agency
for Results, He
Says.

 
Why invest hard-earned money in cows or poultry when as great profit, if not greater, can be made in the frog industry, and with not near as much capital needed? Such is the belief of Carl. A. Oppel, 1476 Chelmsford avenue, St. Anthony park, a sophomore student at the state agricultural college, who has earned much of his way through school by catching frogs and shipping them to Chicago and other large commission centers.
 
Mr. Oppel believes that the frog business should become one of Minnesota’s established industries. The young man with an ambition to earn money quickly and honestly, he says, could become independently well-off in a short time by shipping frogs. But to succeed, the person must know the business thoroughly. There are twists and turns to the frog market, just like there is in any other market. It is the knowledge of frogs, gained by Mr. Oppel through hard experience, which has led him to espouse the cause of this unexploited industry.
 
To the beginner, Mr. Oppel utters a word of warning not to go too fast. There are sharp rocks and reefs ahead of the person, he says, who thinks there is nothing to be learned before the business is established, or who thinks everything is going to come easy. Indeed, Mr. Oppel has formulated a few maxims which he believes should be studied most carefully before a venture into the business is made. They are:
 
 
  Carl A. Oppel
Some Frog Maxims.
 
“If you don’t love frogs, stay out of the business.”
 
 
“When falling prices on live frogs make profits impossible, don’t stop buying. Put them in the ground and wait for prices to come up.”
 
“Frogs are like women. It costs a heap to dress them.”
 
“Don’t raise frogs. Let Dame Nature do the raising and you take the profit.”
 
“Make your town proud of your industry by paying good wages.”
 
Several years ago a Chicago frog buyer went to Fulda, Minn., and commenced to interest the boys in catching frogs. Mr. Oppel worked for him for two years. Finally he caught the buyer in a scheme to cheat him, and then and there he resolved to go into the business himself and drive his employer out of the community. He deposited $20 with the bank, every cent he had – he looked up a frog shack to keep his frogs in, and offered the boys 5 cents a dozen for all the frogs they could catch. He turned over his nets to his boy helpers and put them to work.
 
He started the middle of August, and the frogs began to come in so fast that he could not ship them all. He reduced the 5 cent price a dozen to 3 cents, and yet they came in. The crates were not returned to him fast enough, and he set some of the boys to making crates. Everyone in town was supplying him with frogs. Old and young scoured the nearby meadows and ponds for frogs. Soon, Mr. Oppel had more than 2,000 dozen live frogs on hand.
 
Frogs Pour In.
 
From 2,000 dozen frogs the number soon jumped to 7,000 dozen live frogs. The little shack became so filled with frogs that he had to build partitions to keep them from crowding in one great pile in the center of the room. The sight of 100,000 frogs, all croaking so loudly as to enable them to be heard for rods away from the building, set strangers to wondering. Never, they said, had they seen the like. There was a perfect stream of visitors to the little building. So confused, however, did the frogs become at a lantern when they were shown at night, and so filled did the air become with them, that they were shown only at day. Once a day they were fed by throwing corn meal upon them, and by filling with water a great shallow basin that stood in the center of the room. This basin was equipped with floats to keep the frogs from crowding so much as to drown some of them.
 
Some of the men in town shook their heads, but Mr. Oppel built his crates, kept buying more frogs, and shipped whenever he had a chance. Soon he was shipping from 100 dozen to 500 dozen a day, and he was making money on every dozen. Then, on the first of October, the Chicago market became overstocked, and prices went down. Mr. Oppel was compelled to stop shipping them alive. He had about 5,000 dozen on hand.
 
He set all the boys to dressing frogs. The boys were divided into two shifts, one at night, and one at day. There were six boys in a shift, divided into two gangs. One boy killed the frog, one boy cut off the hind legs with large tin shears, and another skinned them. The legs were then packed in cold water until they became white and hard. Then they were placed in ice and shipped to Chicago. In spite of his care, however, many of the legs spoiled, so delicate is frog meat. As he was disposing of the last few dozen, prices fell so low as to permit of no profit. Indeed, he was obtaining only 15 cents a pound for frog legs, two dozen to the pound.
 
With his frog shack empty, Mr. Oppel set about to figure how he had come out. He had shipped to Chicago 200,000 frogs. He had given employment to more than one dozen boys for nearly three months, and some of the boys had made as high as $6 a day when catching frogs. He had increased his bank account from $20 to more than $900, and doing as much business as the best merchant in town.
 
Hind-Sight Wisdom.
 
“As I think it over now,” said Mr. Oppel, “I would have made a great deal more money if I had not dressed one frog, but had buried them all. When I take up the business again, I am going to dig a big pit. Then, when live frogs cannot be shipped at a good profit, I am going to keep on catching them and dumping them into this pit. There they will hibernate, and late in winter and early in spring, I will dig them out and ship them alive to market. During the Jewish holidays, frogs often are worth as high as 25 cents a dozen. A person could easily keep 200,000 frogs over winter in that way.
 
“I suppose some will wonder where a person can catch so many frogs. See them as I have seen them, and there will be no cause for wonderment. In the fall, the frogs flock to the lakes for winter quarters. They always travel more by night than by day. By taking a lantern and a frog net, two boys can catch several hundred dozens of frogs in a few hours. It is easier, however, to catch them by day. The frogs crawl into holes behind rocks, into and under rotten logs, and into great holes which they have dug for themselves. A person can reach down into these holes and pull them out by the hundreds. In one hole, I once secured more than two gunny sacks full, more than 2,500. Yes, there are enough frogs.”
 
Asked what he thought about the frog-catching industry as a means of earning one’s way through college, Mr. Oppel said:   “I would consider myself of more benefit to mankind and the community if I caught frogs, than if I sold books. If the young man would make his money in the frog industry, instead of peddling patent aluminum [remedies] or selling books which no one [needs], he would be far better off.”
 
Albert Degler and William Roth prepared frog legs for market in Young America, Minn., in 1915. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)

 

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