Isaac Edward Emerson

Isaac Edward Emerson
Born (1859-07-24)July 24, 1859
Chatham County, North Carolina
Died January 23, 1931(1931-01-23) (aged 71)
Baltimore, Maryland
Alma mater University of North Carolina
Known for Creating Bromo-Seltzer
Spouse(s) Emelie Askew Dunn
(m. 1880–1911)

Anne Preston McCormack
(m. 1911–31)
Children Margaret Emerson
Margaret "Daisy" Dunn
Relatives Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt I (son-in-law)
Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II (grandson)
George Washington Vanderbilt III (grandson)
Gloria Baker (granddaughter)

Captain Isaac Edward Emerson (1859–1931) was a wealthy American businessman, socialite, and seaman. He is most notable for having created the headache remedy Bromo-Seltzer upon which his great wealth was based and the reason he was known as the "Bromo-Seltzer King".

Early life

Issac Edward Emerson was born in 1859 in Chatham County, North Carolina, the son of a farmer. When his mother died prematurely, he went to live with his aunt and uncle. He later graduated as a chemist from the University of North Carolina in 1879.


In 1880, he moved to Baltimore and opened a small drug store where he developed a formula for a headache remedy. He patented the formula, named it Bromo-Seltzer and began marketing it. In 1887, he formed the Emerson Drug Company and, recognizing the importance of advertising in selling products, undertook worldwide ad campaigns in newspaper, magazine, in-store ads and on radio which rocketed the sales of Bromo-Seltzer and other products producing his great wealth.[1]

In 1911, Emerson built the Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower, a well known landmark in Baltimore, Maryland. The tower originally featured a 51-foot revolving Bromo-Seltzer bottle on top and was the tallest building in Baltimore until 1923.[2] He built the Emerson Hotel. He was controlling owner of the Maryland Glass Corporation, which made the blue glass bottles for his Bromo-Seltzer medication.

Captain Ike

In 1884, he earned the title of "captain" when he organized the Maryland Naval Reserves, which he commanded until 1901. He was thereafter known as "Captain Emerson" or "Captain Ike." He also personally financed an entire Naval Squadron during the Spanish–American War and was commissioned a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Emerson later owned several yachts, including the Susquelanna, the Margaret, and the Queen Anne. These were used for extensive world travel as well as for social entertaining and hunting expeditions.[3]

Personal life

Isaac Edward Emerson as depicted in Distinguished men of Baltimore and of Maryland (1914)

In 1880, just after graduating college, he married Emelie Askew Dunn, the eldest daughter of Colonel William Franklin Askew of Raleigh, North Carolina. They had one child:

Emerson also adopted his wife's daughter by her first marriage:

The Emersons divorced in 1911, and she married Charles Hazeltine Basshor the following year; he committed suicide in 1914, and Emelie Basshor died in 1921.

In 1911, he married his second wife, Anne McCormack (née Preston). From this marriage, he gained a stepson and a stepdaughter:

Captain Emerson and his wife, Anne, were widely known in American society and in the capitals of Europe. When Emerson's step-daughter married the son of William Gibbs McAdoo, then Secretary of the U. S. Treasury, President Woodrow Wilson attended the reception at the Emerson estate in Brooklandwood, Maryland. They were also known as lavish entertainers, maintaining two yachts for parties and world tours. They maintained estates at Brooklandwood and their villa Whitehall at Narragansett Pier in Rhode Island as well as in North and South Carolina where they entertained many social leaders of the Atlantic seaboard cities.[5]


In 1902, his daughter, Margaret aged 18, married Dr. Smith Hollins McKim. They became social leaders in New York's high society. But in 1910 she brought a sensational divorce suit against her husband, claiming he beat her in drunken rages. She remarried in 1911, this time to Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt I, one of the wealthiest men in America having inherited the bulk of his father's fortune in 1889. They had two sons, Alfred Gwynne Jr. and George Washington III. Tragically, while traveling to England on business, Alfred Sr. heroically lost his life in the sinking of RMS Lusitania by torpedo in 1915. Margaret inherited her husband's fortune (as well as the bulk of her father's fortune when he died). One son from this marriage, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II went on to become one of the driving forces behind thoroughbred racing in America. Margaret married two more times, both ending in divorce. In 1931, she legally resumed her maiden name.[6]

Related links


  1. "Isaac E. Emerson Papers, 1894–1947, UNC".
  2. Kelly, Jacques. "Bromo Seltzer Tower celebrates 100 years," The Baltimore Sun, Friday, June 3, 2011.
  3. Powell, William Stevens. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. vol.2, D–G. University of North Carolina Press. p. 155.
  4. "Mrs. Emerson Weds Across River", The New York Times, 23 August 1912
  5. "Capt. I.E. Emerson Dies In Baltimore". The New York Times. January 24, 1931.
  6. "Mrs. Emerson, 75, Of The 400, Dead". The New York Times. January 3, 1960.
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