Former Red Sox Owner, UDF Founder Lindner Passes Away

Self-made convenience store, real-estate, financial services entrepreneur was 92

Carl H. Lindner Jr.

CINCINNATI -- Carl H. Lindner Jr.--former owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and a founder of the United Dairy Farmers (UDF) convenience store chain--passed away earlier this week at the age of 92. At the time of his death, he was chairman of American Financial Group Inc., a major financial services company he founded in 1959.

Lindner was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1919, and the family moved to Cincinnati in 1930 when he was 11 years old. He dropped out of school at age 15 and began delivering milk door-to-door while attending high school classes at night. In 1940, he opened an ice cream shop with his father, brothers and sister. Working with his family, he transformed the milk delivery business into what is now known as UDF. The venture launched Lindner's career as a self-made businessman and entrepreneur.

According to the company history posted on the UDF website (excerpted here), in 1938, Carl H. Lindner Sr. had an idea to start a small dairy in Norwood, Ohio. At a time when almost all milk was home-delivered and paid for on a weekly or monthly basis, Carl Sr. had a new concept: he would process milk and other dairy products and sell them, cash and carry, at his own dairy store. Since he would not extend credit to his customers nor incur delivery costs, he could afford to sell these products at a significant discount versus home delivery.

During the Depression, the entire family worked together to run several small milk and ice cream companies.

Carl Jr., the eldest son, ran milk delivery routes. Robert ran the small milk pasteurizing plant. Richard hauled milk from neighboring country farms to area dairies.

Carl Jr. ran a milk route and Robert delivered eggs and poultry throughout Norwood. Together the family fashioned cabinets and signs for the new store, which they would call United Dairy Farmers in recognition of their valued milk suppliers.

On May 8, 1940, the dairy plant and the small store adjacent to it opened. They called it United Dairy Farmers in recognition of their valued milk suppliers. The cash-and-carry retail operation was a first, as was the availability of milk in gallon and half-gallon bottles. The store was open 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., seven days a week.

UDF's ice cream soon became a local favorite and its popularity spread. A second store was opened in Norwood, a third in Silverton and a fourth in St. Bernard. Even with the expansion of the business remained a family concern. Dorothy managed the bookkeeping system from an office in the corner of the boiler room. Carl Jr. developed an interest in financial matters and directed market expansion efforts and real-estate acquisitions. Robert oversaw the ice cream and milk production. Richard managed the physical facilities and maintenance; he designed and oversaw plant expansions and renovations that quickly increased production capacity.

By 1950, there were nine United Dairy Farmers stores. By 1958, the chain had 22 stores.

At this time the family's interest in banking led to the formation of American Financial Corp. (AFC) followed by the acquisition of the Thriftway grocery chain.

By 1960, UDF owned and operated 30 stores in and around Cincinnati, many of which carried expanded product lines of bread, cookies, lunch meat and cheeses to complement the selection of fresh dairy products. 

In 1965, Richard left UDF to pursue his interest in grocery retailing. Carl Jr. and Robert continued to expand AFC holdings while operating UDF. A major UDF store remodeling program added merchandising space for some 1,200 convenience grocery products to the existing dairy and food sections.

UDF continued to grow during the 1970s while major family emphasis now focused on the development of AFC.

Over the course of his career, Lindner held controlling interests in such companies as Great American Insurance Group, General Cable Corp., The Penn Central Corp., Hanna-Barbera Productions, Kings Island Co., Taft Broadcasting Co., the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cincinnati Reds, Chiquita Brands International and Provident Bank.

Lindner is survived by his wife Edyth (nee Bailey), his sons Carl III (Martha), Craig (Frances) and Keith (Courtney), 12 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.