How Many Fish Eggs are in an Ounce of Caviar?: The Little Joys of Owning a Business

Wisconsin Marine Historical Society

Editors note: This article appeared in a Wisconsin Marine Historical Society publication based upon letters that Lincoln D. Smith of Smith Bros. had saved over the years. Originally, the letters were written between 1943 and 1944. The first part of the article has been transcribed to text. The remaining letters, due to their length, are as images.

In every business person’s life, there is that one moment when a customer inquires about some oddity regarding the business, providing laughs for years to come. Here we have a few letters that have been provided by Lincoln Smith, life time owner of Smith Brothers Fisheries that exhibits this oddity. Here is the introductory letter from Lincoln.
Dear Mr. Plantico:
I believe that the editor is always looking for different and new material to consider for publication. As you may know, I have been a member of the old and well—known Smith Brothers, Fisheries et al all my life.
In one of Smith Brothers old files, I recently came across the enclosed correspondence, which we had kept all the years since 1943 and 1944 when it was written. At that time, we thought that the subject inquiry was so unique end amusing that we kept the file separate from other correspondence and preserved it for what purpose, except for “posterity,” etc.
Recently, as I was culling through and disposing of old records of our company, I came across this material and decided that the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society might find it interesting enough to save or even publish it!
When we first received the November 3, 1943 letter, it was dismissed as written by a prankster or even a “crackpot”! When the follow-up inquiry was received my father Oliver Smith came to believe that the subject matter was more than that and decided to have some fun with it. So a little later, he contacted a friend, Dr. John Von Oosten – and the subsequent letters tell the whole story.
I hope that you have fun with it too. You may keep the letters.
Sincerely,
Lincoln Smith
Here is the first letter that Lincoln’s father received November of 1943, regarding small anecdotal questions regarding caviar and Whitefish, that appear to be tearing a marriage apart. The customer and author of the letter’s name has been with held for confidentiality.
1943 November 3
Smith Bros.
Port Washington, Wisconsin
Gentlemen;
I am asking you to come to my rescue by supplying a little information concerning your caviar.
It seems that every morning, for breakfast, me husband and I eat a little of your caviar which is very delicious but my husband insists on dividing your one ounce equally between he and I and in order to do this we would like to know how many fish eggs are contained therein. It doesn’t matter to me if he eats a few more eggs than me but he is so crabby and cranky early in the morning and just insists on this equal division. If you could possibly inform me as to the exact number of Whitefish eggs contained in that one ounce package we could thereby divide this package and thereby divert an impending divorce, please see what on can do in this matter.
Another question that has been bothering me, personally, is this. In making your caviar out of these Whitefish eggs do you interfere with the love-life of the Whitefish?
Thanking you in advance for your indulgence in this matter and hoping for an early reply as this situation is acute. I remain,
Very Sincerely,
After two month of waiting, the distraught wife writes to Smith Bros. again, hoping this time that she will get an answer. The second letter which appears at the top of the next page is much less patient than the first. After the second letter Lincoln’s father, Oliver realized that this customer wished a response no matter how ridiculous some may find the request. So, in the nature of good customer service, in response to the concerned wife’s letter Mr. Oliver Smith, then President of Smith Bros., went out of his way to consult an ichthyologist and member of the U.S. Department of the Interior (now part of the Department of Natural Resources) to get the woman the answer she wished to receive, despite what the professor’s judgment would be regarding the matter.

1943: How Many Fish Eggs are in an Ounce of Caviar?: The Little Joys of Owning a Business; Page 2

1943: How Many Fish Eggs are in an Ounce of Caviar?: The Little Joys of Owning a Business; Page 3