The Journal of San Diego History
March 1965, Volume 11, Number 2
Ray Brandes, Managing Editor

F.M. Burnham and friend. A tintype taken at San Diego c. 1886.The letter reproduced as the above heading was recently received in the library of the San Diego History Center, the gift of Mrs. Richard M. Cantwell, daughter of Francis Mortimer Burnham, one-time San Diegan. The letter written from Germany, at a time when San Diego was in a boom-period, asks about business possibilities. The letter reflects the extent to which writers of the period had been able to advertise the potential of San Diego.






OSNABRUCK, Sept. 8th, 1887.

Mr. Frank Burham
San Diego.
Dear friend:

Will you please answer few questions in regard to San Diego. Is there really much business going on in San Diego and what are the future prospects? Is Mr. Claus Spreckels of San Francisco going to have a sugar refinery at your place. Also has Mr. Spreckels a contract to carry the Eastern Mail from Australia, Honolulu, with his steamer’s by way of San Diego instead of San Francisco. Are they building large hotels at San Diego?

You would oblige me very much; if you could give me all the information you possibly can about the place and especially about business prospects?

Hoping to favor you again soon, I remain

Very truly
your friend
Julius Wintzer
Osnabruck, Germany

T. O.

I suppose you are a little surprised to receive a letter from Germany. I had some business in New York and the same time I thought to take the steamer to see my folks here.

I am very much pleased with California and would like to go in some business; therefore please give me all the information as I have sufficient capital to start business for myself.


By this time you must have a good idea about San Diego what would you advise me. Please write as soon as possible.

Francis Mortimer Burnham (commonly he was registered and known as Frank Burnham) was born in Australia in 1863. His father was from Rome, New York. Frank settled in Elk, Mendocino County four years later. Attracted by San Diego’s boom he came to the city to work for Levi and Wertheimer, and then for M. A. Wertheimer and Company.

He moved to San Francisco and become a bookkeeper for M. J. Murray and Company. Next he was a member of the firm of Porter Burnham and then the F. M. Burnham Company. His daughter Mrs. Cantwell was secretary and treasurer of these firms for about five years. Mr. Burnham had married Jessie Purent Brown in Oakland in 1892.

Frank Burnham passed away in Marin County, California at his daughter’s home in the fall of 1942.

While in San Diego Mr. Burnham was a member of the Volunteer Fire Department, and according to his daughter so loved San Diego that he never missed an opportunity to tell others of the area. In 1887, he received the letter from Adolph Wintzer. Was the contact a result of a business connection? Had Wintzer been to California, perhaps to Mendocino County at an early date? Nothing is known of Jacob Wintzer. Did he ever reach California — did Burnham ever answer his letter? These are questions to which we may never know the answer.

History is full of such enigmas — interesting, but sometimes unsolvable. We offer this as an example of some of the detective work in history. The data provided with this sketch came from city directories, or from bits of newspaper information gathered here and there. Do any of our readers know of Mr. Burnham, or have any information which might give some clues to this story created when his daughter sent the letter to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce in 1964?