Isaac Edward Emerson

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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; div. 1911)

Anne Preston McCormack
(m. 1911–1931)
Children Margaret Emerson
Margaret "Daisy" Dunn; Ethel Preston McCormack
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[edit]

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, on the northeast corner of West Lombard and South Eutaw Streets, in the southwest downtown area, a well-known landmark in Baltimore, Maryland for 116 years. The tower originally featured a 51-foot revolving blue steel Bromo-Seltzer bottle on top that was lit by electric lights and visible for miles. The Emerson Tower was the tallest building in Baltimore along with another clock tower skyscraper on the downtown east side of the Maryland Casualty Company's - The Tower Building at the northwest corner of East Baltimore and Holiday Streets, until 1923, when supplanted by the Citizens National Bank Building (later First National Bank of Maryland) at the southwest corner of Light and Redwood Streets.[2] He also built the Emerson Hotel at the northwest corner of North Calvert and East Baltimore Streets, replacing the former old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Central Headquarters of 1884, which burned in the Great Baltimore Fire of February 1904. The hotel was unfortunately razed in 1971. He was controlling owner of the Maryland Glass Corporation, which made the blue glass bottles for his Bromo-Seltzer medication.

Captain Ike[edit]

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 United States Navy. Emerson later owned several yachts, including the Susquehanna, 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[edit]

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:

  • Margaret Emerson (1884–1960), who married Dr. Smith Hollins McKim in 1902. They divorced in 1910 and in 1911 she married Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt I. She was widowed in 1915 when he died aboard the RMS Lusitania. In 1918, she married Raymond T. Baker, divorcing in 1928. Her last marriage was to Charles Minot Amory in 1928.

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

  • Margaret "Daisy" Dunn (1875–1944) who married T. Mitchell Horner and later James McVickar.[4]

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:

  • Frederick C. McCormack
  • Ethel Preston McCormack, who married Francis Huger McAdoo, the eldest son of United States Treasury Secretary and U.S. Senator, William Gibbs McAdoo. She later married Walter Winchester Keith and Matthew James Looram.

Captain Emerson and his wife, Anne, were widely known in American society and in the capitals of Europe. When Emerson's step-daughter, Ethel P. McCormack, married the son of William Gibbs McAdoo, then U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, President Woodrow Wilson attended the reception at the Emerson estate in Brooklandwood, Maryland, off of Falls Road, north of the city. 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, a famous British passenger ocean liner by German torpedo in 1915 during World War I. Margaret inherited her husband's fortune. 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.

Emerson's stepdaughter, Ethel P. McCormack, married successful New York lawyer, Francis Huger McAdoo in 1913 at the time his father was the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. After Ethel and Francis divorced, Ethel took up her residence in the Brooklandwood estate. [6]

Related links[edit]


  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.