Answer Man: Remember the All Electric Bakery in Belleville?

News-DemocratDecember 21, 2013 

I wonder how many people remember the All Electric Bakery that was built and operated in the 1930s at 1901 W. Main St. in Belleville. Al Heisler was the owner, and they baked Baker Boy sliced bread. I was just a boy then, but my father worked for Mr. Heisler. I'm wondering if Belleville Alderman Michael Heisler is related and what became of the family. -- Gene Raetz, of Belleville

From what Michael Heisler hears, you were almost guaranteed a good time when his grandfather was around. It's too bad Belleville's first ward alderman never really had a chance to know him himself.

"Apparently, he was quite a character," Heisler told me. "Grandpa loved his beer, and he was a very heavyset man from the pictures I've seen because he had diabetes and all that pretty bad. But he loved to have a good time from what I gather."

But Heisler can only go on pictures and stories. Michael was born in 1950; a year later, his grandpa, only about 60, suffered a heart attack while driving and died when his car crashed into a tree, ending the life of a baker well-known in Belleville and Jerseyville. More well-known, in fact, than he probably would have liked sometimes.

In the early '20s, he ran a bakery at 320 W. Main St. In the wee hours of Jan. 14, 1920, he was roused from his bed to the news that a gas pipe had apparently broken, setting his store on fire. Dough for the next day's products was ruined and fixtures were destroyed, but Heisler was soon back in business.

Heisler made bigger news on Aug. 23, 1930, when he opened his new $70,000 All Electric Bakery. According to the Belleville Daily Advocate, it was the largest and finest in Belleville with two ovens that could bake 250 loaves each and cookie machines that could drop 400 dozen an hour.

Still, the venture got off to a rocky start. For his grand opening, Heisler brought in a performing mule, which managed to kick Valinda Meyer in the right breast while she was visiting the new store. Claiming permanent injury, she sued and eventually won $10,000.

Not all the news was bad. During the Depression, the Salvation Army opened a bread line in Belleville, and Heisler supplied the bread, according to the May 25, 1932, Advocate.

But the economy apparently took its toll. After returning from a bakers convention in the spring of 1937, Heisler disappeared for a week when he learned that bondholders wanted to meet with him. His wife, Lisetta, said the bakery was solvent, but six months later, it filed for bankruptcy, and on Nov. 16, 1937, the property and equipment were sold at auction. The bakery then was converted into a Dr Pepper bottling plant and is now home to Melton Construction.

Heisler, however, soon returned to the work he loved, opening a bakery in Jerseyville. After his death, Lisetta and Mike's dad, Ralph, kept the bakery going until 1960, when Ralph switched to the insurance business. Lisetta, who wound up a happy grandmother of eight, died in 1964 and was buried next to your dad's old boss in Walnut Hill Cemetery.

We all know how amazing Santa is, going into every home in the world in one night and getting to enjoy all those cookies and milk. How much weight would an ordinary man gain during such a feat? -- K.F., of Belleville

Let's put it this way: It is said that when Santa laughs, his round little belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly. But if he does what we say he does, he'd probably look more like a Smucker's factory.

To prove it, let me turn to a book only Answer Men could love: "The Physics of Christmas: From the Aerodynamics of Reindeer to the Thermodynamics of Turkey" by Dr. Roger Highfield.

According to Highfield's reckoning, Santa stops at some 842 million households. So let's say he gobbles two Keebler Chips Deluxe and, to keep things healthy, washes them down with a glass of skim milk at each stop.

That would be 250 calories in each of 842 million homes or a grand total of 210.5 billion calories, give or take a crumb or two. Now figure 3,500 calories per pound of body weight and you have a net gain of, oh, some 60,142,857 pounds. I do hope you've reinforced your roof.

But hold on a second. Santa may need every last one of those goodies. The way Highfield figures it, there's .26 mile between every stop, so Santa covers some 221 million miles, traveling at an average 1,279 miles per second or Mach 6,395. To get between each stop in 2/10,000ths of a second, Santa has to withstand accelerations of 12.79 million miles per second. And just think about all those chimneys he has to climb up and down with that heavy sack.

Hope your Christmas is magical, too. See you back here Thursday.

Today's trivia

What hat was named after a play written for legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: So what are the odds we'll have a white Christmas Wednesday? They're a lot better than winning the Powerball lottery, but nothing to bet the farm on. The National Weather Service defines a white Christmas as having an inch of snow on the ground by 6 a.m. on Christmas Day. Since 1893, the chances of waking up to a white Christmas are just 21 percent or about one in five. There have only been 21 Christmases with snow greater than an inch. The best was in 1915 when 8 inches were on the ground at 6 a.m. In 1913, a record 9.2 inches fell during the day.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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