During the final century of the Ottoman Empire, waves of migration brought large numbers of Muslims from the Balkans, the Caucasus and elsewhere to present-day Turkey. Some settled in Anatolia, others in İstanbul. Hacı Tahir Bey, who came from Bahçesaray (Bakhchysarai) in the Crimea with his entire family, was one of these many refugees. And he faced all the difficulties both of exile and of resettlement. As soon as he arrived, Tahir Bey found himself in the heart of İstanbul’s commercial life; however, carving himself a niche was easier said than done. At first he dealt in provisions; in 1859, he became a tobacco trader in the neighborhood of Langa Kapısı, also known as Yeni Kapı, in İstanbul. Soon, unfortunately, he found that established local merchants were unhappy with the competition and complained to the Municipality. In turn, the Municipality ruled that, provided they did not engage in illegal activities, Tahir Bey and the rest of the refugees should be allowed to conduct their business unmolested.
Just as he found no peace in his business dealings, Tahir Bey was not left alone in Zekeriyaköy, where he and his family had settled. According to members of the present generation of his family, his home was attacked by some local gangs so that they were forced to move to neighboring Sarıyer. Around the same time, he moved his place of business to Unkapanı, and his son Ali Nuri married the daughter of the owner of the historical Public Bath (hamam) of Sarıyer. The profession of Ali Nuri Bey’s father-in-law gave the family its surname as well as a brand name that would command respect for more than a century.
Ali Nuri Bey continued in his father’s footsteps, gradually becoming the kind of entrepreneur that the Ottoman Empire sorely needed. The 1880s witnessed his earliest ventures as he began to deal in provisions near Unkapanı, and established the first incarnation of what would later become Hamamcıoğlu Müesseseleri Ticaret Türk A.Ş. in the form of a sole proprietorship located in the commercial building Limon Han in the Tütüngümrük neighborhood of the district of Eminönü. In 1885, his son Nuri Ali joined the firm. At this date, a commercial yearbook makes mention of “Ali (H.),” a dealer in oil and rice, at No. 36, Cambazhane Avenue. While we are unable to determine for certain whether or not this listing refers to a member of the Hamamcıoğlu family, the same commercial directory for the year 1896-1897 does refer to “Hamamcıoğlu Ali” as a merchant based at No. 85, Osman Efendi Han. Over the next few years, the firm moved a number of times within the same building: thus, it was listed at No. 75 in 1898,5 No. 3 in 1901,6 and No. 9 in 1909.
Starting in the 1910s, the firm Hamamcızadeler (or, as it is now known, Hamamcıoğlu) ventured into different business areas at different locations with a speed that makes it difficult to follow its precise trajectory. For example, a receipt from the wholesale fish market dated 1911 points to the family’s interest in seafood. On the other hand, a document dated August 1914 now preserved in the Ottoman Archives orders that the olives in the warehouses belonging to Hamamcızade Ali Bey in the towns of Gemlik and Kurşunlu should be guarded, indicating that the firm had a rather broad range of interests within the food sector.8 A listing of businesses registered at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 1923 describes “Hamamcı Zade Nuri Ali,” still located in the commercial building Osman Efendi, as dealing in “fish etc.”9 It is safe to assume that this qualification refers to all kinds of seafood —including salted fish, dried fish, caviar, and so forth— for which transportation posed special problems of timeliness.
During the 1920s, the firm’s foodstuffs business was led by Mehmed Zeki Bey, while Ali Nuri Bey established a company named “Ali Nuri ve Şeriki” (Ali Nuri and Partner) in 1927. Based in the building Agopyan Han situated in the district of Galata on Voyvoda (nowadays Bankalar) Avenue, this firm focused on typewriters and the like.10 The seafood business, however, really took off during these years, extending to Romania and to a good part of Europe as well. Hamamcızade established various partnerships to trade with Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, France, Switzerland, and even Japan. Among them, for example, was “Hamamdji Zade M. Zeky & D. Psaltidi,” active in the Romanian city of Constanta since 1926.
The company mentioned in foreign records in 1929 as “Ali Nuri & Co.”12 was listed in domestic records that same year as a fish salter located at Osman Efendi Han. In fact, the company was described in many different ways over the years. For example, as Ali Nuri and Partner, dealer in machinery;13 or, in 1930, as commissionnaire (agent middleman) with an office at Agopyan Han in Galata. That same year, a company named “Nuri ve Şürekâsı” (Nuri and Partners) in the same line of business was listed at No. 18, Helvacı Sokak, in the neighborhood of Balıkpazarı.14 In addition, Hamamcızade Nuri Ali Bey is known to have been involved in the minoterie (flourmill) business at the time, and based at No. 62, Unkapanı Avenue.15 The mill was already active in 1928 under the name “Cibali Halk Değirmeni” (Cibali People’s Mill).
For years, the firm was the biggest customer of the fishgarths that lined the Bosphorus from the Black Sea nearly down to Ortaköy, as well as the principal producer of seafood at numerous sites such as Marmaracık and the lakes of Akhisar and Manyas. In 1933-1934, it displayed great expertise at the exportation of olives, olive oil, sesame, salted and fresh fish, soap,17 and mustard seed.18 The company’s activities infused vitality into numerous sectors and, in addition to making regular contributions to the Association of Fishermen, it supported the İş Bank, one of the young Republic’s newly-founded institutions, with its deposits.19 Nuri Hamamcıoğlu’s name was listed among the philanthropists who contributed to a campaign to assist the military in 1940,20 and to another in support of the Turkish Aviation Association in 1941.21 Unfortunately neither the aid it gave, nor the taxes it paid exempted the company from the heavy burden of wartime economic policies. In 1943, the Hamamcıoğlu companies were assessed a significant tax under the Capital Levy of 1942.
In 1942, Nuri Ali Hamamcıoğlu took the firm (which was recorded under No. 333 in the commercial registry) public and turned the business over to his son Zeki Hamamcıoğlu. Since World War II affected the countries of Eastern Europe especially adversely, the Hamamcıoğlu branches and companies that conducted business there folded one by one. The company also underwent some other changes during this period. First, by a government decree, the word “Türk” was added to the firm’s name, so that it became “Hamamcıoğlu Müesseseleri Türk A.Ş.”23 Then, in 1942, the firm Deniz Toprak Ürünleri T.A.Ş. (Sea and Soil Products) was added to the group. In order to make sure that old friends would have no difficulty recognizing the establishment, the phrase “Formerly the Nuri Ali Hamamcıoğlu Company” appeared below its new name.24 One of only a few joint stock corporations in the country, it had been founded with a capital of 500,000 TL, a significant sum at the time and higher than most of its counterparts. A commercial directory listed its phone number as 20649 and its business as importing, exporting, and domestic trade.25 The same source indicated that the firm named Ali Nuri and Partner, based on the third floor of Çınar Han in the district of Galata, operated as an agent middleman and commercial representative.
In 1945, Deniz Toprak Ürünleri was credited with exporting more cereals than any of its competitors in Turkey; still, the postwar years lead Zeki Bey towards a more technological direction. In 1946, a subsidiary named Konti-Oto Ltd. and located under the famed Kristal Gazinosu (night club) in Taksim began to sell Chrysler and Plymouth cars and Federal trucks, as well as acting as the Turkish distributor of Mopar automotive parts, Cummings diesel engines, and Brunswick tires. The company closed its offices in Limon Han around that time, but branch offices were established in major cities like Ankara, İzmir, and Adana in order to gain control of the domestic market. The firm’s product line included compressed air equipment, machinery for construction and mining, generators, earth-moving equipment, road construction machinery, trucks, and tow-trucks. The repair and maintenance of all imported vehicles and equipment, as well as the supply of spare parts, were undertaken throughout the country by a subsidiary named Motör Bakım Türk Limited Şirketi (Motor Maintenance Ltd.).
Advertisements for the company’s products soon made their appearance in newspapers. From Victoria washing machines that can “turn five kilograms of laundry snow white in ten minutes”28 to the “highly durable and economical” Federal trucks,29 Brunswick tires,30 and Cummins diesel engines, the most hard-to-find commercial items of the day were among the company’s offerings.31 The İstanbul Chamber of Commerce and Industry classified companies into five categories according to their capital; Hamamcıoğlu was in the group labeled “exceptional,” reserved for firms whose capital exceeded 200,000 TL.
Zeki Hamamcıoğlu passed the firm to his nephew Nihat Hamamcıoğlu in 1953. When the store in Taksim was torn down during Prime Minister Adnan Menderes’s land expropriations, the company moved to Büyükdere Avenue in the district of Şişli. That year it became a sponsor of the First Endurance Race of Turkey.33 New products continued to be added to the catalogue, notably Simca and Plymouth pickup trucks, but one of the most exciting developments for the firm took place in 1959 with the construction of a 200,000 square meter factory in Tuzla. A partnership involving numerous local companies, the Federal Türk Truck Factory was designed to produce trucks with Cummins and Continental engines at the rate of 1000 per year.
Another new venture was undertaken in 1961 when Klippan seat belts were offered to the public.35 During these years, Hamamcıoğlu was one of the principal destinations for one interested in just about any motorized product, from construction equipment to land vehicles, and from sea vessels to airplanes.36 In 1970, Münir Hamamcıoğlu joined his father at the helm of the firm, which suffered a blow when Zeki Hamamcıoğlu passed away in 1973. In 1981, a subsidiary named HAMAK (Hamamcıoğlu Makine Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş.) began to produce generators. The unsuitability of the district of Şişli for manufacturing and servicing forced the company to seek new accomodations. Ground was broken in 1991 for new facilities in Orhanlı, and the firm moved to its new and modern quarters on the Orhanlı-Tuzla TEM highway in 1994.
In addition to pushing its family tradition of commerce beyond the 150-year mark, Hamamcıoğlu has been one of Turkey’s most significant enterprises, making important contributions through its training of technical personnel, its accumulated experience, and the energy with which it has infused numerous other sectors. The firm also owns the Splendid Hotel as well as the Hünkâr source and picnic grounds, a family heirloom.
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