After last week’s dive into Goetta History, I thought it appropriate to give some history behind the Dorsel Milling Company , the company that made Dorsel’s Pinhead oatmeal, the key ingredient to our delicacy. It took a bit of digging, but I finally found Mr. Pinhead Oatmeal himself, Johann Christian Dorsel. Although the Dottie Dorsel Pinhead Oatmeal brand is now owned by Praire Mills Company, the Dorsel Company has a long history in northern Kentucky.
Johann Christian Dorsel was born the third son of 10 children in Westphalia, Germany, to Johann Bernard and Gertrude Marie Dorsel. John Sr. was an oldest son and owned a large farm, making him a ‘Kolonus’, a land owner, and thus a very influential community member. In Westphalia, only the oldest son or oldest daughter, if there were no sons, could inherit the family farm. All other siblings were called ‘Heurling’ or day laborers, and worked for their oldest sibling. They even had to ask for permission to marry and have children. They were basically tied to the farm estate into which they were born without any rights or much room for economic growth. They were basically at the mercy of their oldest sibling’s charity and had to accept their position in life or leave for better opportunities. As a heurling, Johann Christian Dorsel, decided he would roll the lucky dice and left the family farm for America in 1854, 2 years after his father died. He landed in Galveston, Texas, and stayed there less than a year working as a farmhand.
For the next nearly forty years, J.C. Dorsel, made his fortune in a variety of industries, until his broken road led him to Flour Milling, grain bartering, and pinhead oatmeal manufacturing. He settled in Covington, Kentucky, in 1854, where for four years he worked as a coach driver for D. H. Holmes. From 1858-1862, J.C. operated the Dorsel House on Washington Avenue, in Covington, Kentucky, a hotel and coffee house. During the Civil War – 1862-1865 – he became successful in the dairy business, until in 1867, he found distilling. He partnered with Frank Wuttange, and built the largest distillery for rye whiskey in Covington. They operated that business until a fire destroyed the factory in 1887. That year, J. C. Dorsel bought a large farm, and raised and sold tobacco until 1894. During this whole time Dorsel had been amassing a huge real estate empire in Covington, building and buying houses. He built a huge Italianate mansion in Edgewood, Kentucky that was called the Duddley Mansion, as it was on Duddley Pike.
In 1892 J. C. finally found the flour milling business. He started the Dorsel Milling Company, and built a large plant in Newport, Kentucky, on Monmouth and 11th streets, right on the railroad line. This is where our key goetta ingredient, pinhead oatmeal was made for many years, until the third generation moved the operations to Erlanger, Kentucky. The Dottie Dorsel company logo was based on Dorathea Dorsel, a beloved daughter from his first marriage to Elizabeth Kurre. Being from Westphalia, J. C. Dorsel would have been familiar with Knipp, the pork and grain sausage native to the area. So, knowing this delicacy, and being a purveyor of raw oats and corn by the train car load, he came up with the pinhead oat product. Pinhead oats are made from the whole oat kernel before being flatttened or rolled, and are significantly cheaper than more highly processed oats. Because they’re not processed, they take about an extra thirty more minutes than processed oats to cook, but the lower cost made it an affordable product for the lower and middle class German immigrants of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. J.C. found a gold mine with unprocessed oats!
John involved his sons, John Jr. and Fred J. in his business. In 1916, an agricultural report gave a description of the Dorsel Milling Company:
“The Dorsel Company (Newport, Kentucky), 11th and Monmouth streets, operating a 225 bbl flour mill, buys almost 20,000 bbls annually of hard wheat flour for blending. For the last two months the company has run its mill day and night. It is a car buyer of chicken feed, handles self-rising flour made by other mills and is a wholesale grain dealer, buying corn and oats in cars. Fred Dorsel, secretary and treasurer, commenting on wheat, predicted it would reach $22.4 before the next crop – he believes there will be a considerable falling off in the consumption of wheat on account of bakers reducing the size of loaves.”
John and his large family were members of the St. Joseph Catholic Church up on John’s Hill above Covington. From his first marriage to Elizabeth Kurre, he had 9 children, five of whom made it to adulthood – Dora, August, Jospehine, Louisa, Frank, and John. And from his second marriage to Mina Staggenborg, he had 9 more children – 6 of whom made it to adulthood – Louise, Fred, Mary, Albert, Nettie, and Loretta. J.C. was very active in the Catholic church and was president of the St. Joseph Orphanage Society from 1878-1880. He passed in 1922 at a ripe old age of 90, and passed the Dorsel Milling Company to his sons.
It might be kind of a chicken and egg thing – was goetta invented first, or was pinhead oatmeal found first? Whatever, the case we have an anonymous butcher from Covington, who supposedly invented goetta regionally, but if it weren’t for J.C. Dorsel and his cheap pinhead oats, we may not have had the size of the industry it needed to take off and become our local pop delicacy.