30 - Alfred A. Sphung, "The Frog Man"

posted Mar 10, 2016, 11:47 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Mar 10, 2016, 11:47 AM ]
I should have used this in February since this is a leap year, but since I forgot here it is just in time for us to spring ahead an hour this weekend. 

From A Standard History of Starke County (Pages 595 to 598)

Alfred A. Sphung - Starke County in being the home of Alfred A. Sphung, "the frog man," has one unique distinction among all the counties of the United States. For thirty years he has been in business as a collector, distributor and general broker merchant in frogs especially, and also turtles, clams, crawfish and other kindred species of water animals. 

The Sphung place is at North Judson, where he has provided facilities for the handling of his peculiar stock of merchandise, which is received from many states of the Union, and from his place is distributed everywhere over the country. He is not only in the business so far as it relates to the furnishing of frogs and turtles to hotels as edible commodities, but his most valuable customers are the scientific laboratories of hundreds of colleges and universities and even the United States Government has at different times placed large orders with him. Mr. Sphung has a specialty, and has made his reputation and his success through developing one line of industry, which to the average person would seem to give little promise of large things, but in the course of thirty years he has made it a business surpassing anything else in the line in America, and probably every caterer and provision merchant handle this class of products, and nearly every scientist in the country is familiar with "Sphung, the frog man."

Alfred A. Sphung was born near Port Sarnia, Canada, February 15, 1853. His parents were Henry P. and Christina (Simpson) Sphung. His father is of German stock, and his mother has a mingling of Scotch- Irish and Welsh blood, and was the sister of the noted Jerry Simpson, the Kansas statesman, known to fame as '' sockless Jerry. '' The parents were married in New York State, and Henry P. Sphung for a time owned and operated two canal boats on the Welland Canal. After one child had been born to them in New York State, Charles H., they removed to Canada, and lived there for fifteen years. From there they returned to the United States, locating in the vicinity of Port Huron, Michigan, where the father was manager of shingle mills, and subsequently went to Saginaw, where Henry P. Sphung died in 1883 at the age of seventy-six. His widow, a woman of remarkable qualities of mind and character, and in that respect resembling her famous brother, was married again, but the marriage was an unfortunate one, and she finally went to Texas and died there when an old woman. Her father was James F. Simpson, who had a striking resemblance to William E. Gladstone, the English premier, and though a man of little education, possessed a fine memory, was distinguished for his knowledge of local history, and was frequently sought for counsel and advice.

Alfred A. Sphung was the second in a family of four sons and three daughters, two of whom are now deceased. He was reared and educated in Canada and Michigan, and in early life took to a vocation which had been more or less characteristic of his ancestors, a life on the water. He became a sailor on lake vessels, was advanced to second and first mate, and for a time was captain of a small boat. In 1879 Mr. Sphung first came to Starke County, and has lived here ever since with the exception of about one year spent in Illinois. He took naturally to the profession of fisher and trapper, and for several years made a living along the Kankakee River and in the lakes of Northern Indiana. In 1883 he supplied a considerable quantity of frogs for the market, and that was the beginning of his present industry. Though Mr. Sphung's place is often referred to as the frog farm, he has never relied upon his own limited facilities for the raising, breeding and catching of frogs and other animals, and is rather a merchant than a frog raiser. He handles these water products by the thousands and by the tons, and in his place at North Judson has frequently had as high as thirty-five tons of frogs at one time. He has shipped as high as thirty dozen turtles at one time to Harvard University, and nearly every large college in the country has at different times applied to him for specimens. His place at North Judson comprises 17 l/2 acres of land, situated within the city limits, and besides his own home on the place he has a large ice house.

Mr. Sphung was married at Knox in Starke County to Miss Elmira J. Adams, who was born in Everett, Pennsylvania, in 1861, and was reared and educated in Starke County. Her parents were Isaac 0. and Elizabeth (Weith) Adams, her father from Kentucky and her mother from Pennsylvania. They became residents of Starke County many years ago, and her father died at the age of ninety-three and her mother at forty-three. Mr. and Mrs. Sphung are the parents of ten children, two of them, Carlos, who died at the age of fourteen, and Fay, who passed away at the age of one year, are the only ones who did not reach maturity; Frankford is the wife of Robert Miller, of North Judson, and has a family of six children ; Christina E. is the wife of Defford Courier of North Judson, and they have one daughter; Nellie, who married David Sharer, is now a widow living in Chicago and has one daughter: May is unmarried and lives in Chicago; Ora, a railway man with home at North Judson; Lucian C. is employed by his father at North Judson ; Violet is still attending school. All the children were educated in the grade and high schools.

It will be a matter of interest to quote from one of the many articles that have been published on the Sphung industry. A special correspondent of the Indianapolis Star a couple of years ago wrote an article on 'Sir. Sphung and his frog industry’ and some paragraphs from this description will be pertinent to this sketch.

'' Mr. Sphung owns today the largest frog and turtle industry in this country. He is proprietor over two farms. No frogs are raised at either place; they are shipped out as fast as they' are caught. He has no trouble in finding either frogs or turtles. From early spring until late in autumn and through the winter his ponds and sheds are full of the little animals. The Indiana farm is not at all pretentious. One-fourth acre of ground is enclosed. Water is turned into it from the pond near Sphung’s ice house. Here the turtles are placed when shipped in from the "Wisconsin farm, where there are a score of men working all the time. There are long low sheds built over the ditches in places. These serve as protection for the frogs in cold weather. Philadelphia, Pittsburg and Dayton, Ohio, demand more turtles and frogs for meat than any other cities on Mr. Sphung's list. As a rule he sends 2,700 pounds of turtles at one time to Philadelphia. However, the keynote of the frogman's wonderful success is struck when the universities and colleges are mentioned. There is scarcely a school in the United States that has not put in an order for a gross or more of Sphung's frogs. Some of the largest regular shipments of turtles, frogs, clams and crawfish are sent to Yale, Columbia, Harvard, University of Chicago, University of Texas, Leland Stanford University, University of California, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, University of Mississippi, University of North Carolina and the Ohio Northern University. The government also comes in for a goodly share of specimens. Recently Sphung shipped twelve dozen medium sized frogs to the hygienic laboratory at Washington for use in the public hospital."

This article also contains some information as to how Mr. Sphung built up his business. "There was a time when the frog man was unknown. The nation’s universities and colleges purchased their specimens elsewhere. The frog man climbed to where he now stands principally through advertising. Not long after he had inserted display ads in several school journals his reputation was assured. He continued for some time to use about five hundred dollars advertising space annually. Thus his name and fame were spread abroad over the entire country. ''

Mr. Sphung is the recipient of almost daily letters from people inquiring about "frog farming," with a view to setting up an industry of their own. In response to these queries Mr. Sphung has prepared a formal circular letter, and it will be of interest to quote some of this as showing his own views on the subject and indicating the results of his experience. He says: "In the first place I did not cultivate frogs myself, and while I have given the matter a great deal of thought and study I have never tried to grow but very few to maturity. In my opinion I don't think frog farming would be a success where frogs do not thrive. Naturally, if conditions are right, frogs will be there. I have been catching and buying frogs of all kinds from a dozen different states for twenty-seven years and have learned something of their habits and have come to this conclusion: Frogs are good feeders and if you put more frogs in a piece of ground than there is food for them they will leave to find a place where they can get all they want to eat; therefore, you would have to fence your frog farm with a tight fence four feet high. They will jump over a three-foot fence. Frogs eat one another in their natural state and if penned up and starved to it they become cannibals more so, so you would be compelled to partition your frog farm and to keep the small frogs from the larger ones or in a short time you would have only the large ones left and if not fed they would starve to death. In freezing weather frogs lay dormant and do not eat, but when they do eat, they eat nothing but live food, such as bugs, worms, grasshoppers, etc., in fact, anything from a mosquito to the largest pinching bug or grasshopper.

"Nearly everyone who writes about frog farming asks the question.  'Is it profitable? ' In reply I must say that I think it would be if run on a large scale and the problem of feeding the frogs could be correctly solved, but I do not think it would prove profitable if conducted on a small scale. '