Riise’s Pieces: Meet the Dane Who Deigned to Make His Fortune in St. Thomas
First things first: It’s Riise as in “piece” not rise as in “prize.” So don’t make that mistake again. The curiously-pronounced name is Danish, as in from Denmark – the little country that pokes out of northern Germany like a stubborn cowlick and consistently ranks as the happiest nation on Earth. The name itself belongs to Albert Heinrich Riise, born September the 11th, 1810.
An Island Boy Wants to Impress Dad; Sets Sail for The New World:
A.H. was born in Ærøskøbing (Pronounced like this) a small, but prosperous little town on the isle of Ærø. His father was a sea captain who went down with the ship in uncooperating weather when Albert was 12. Is that why he became obsessed with sailing to the New World … to finish what his father had started? Who knows.
What we do know is that he moved to the capital, studied to become a pharmacist, and then set sail for what they still referred to as the, “West Indies,” (just 12,600 miles from India) landing in St. Thomas and setting up shop in Charlotte Amalie, named after a Danish Queen of the late 17th Century.
The Walmart of 19th-Century Caribbean Shops:
He started out a “doctor,” but quickly pivoted and set up St. Thomas Pharmacy which did very, very well. Pharmacies in those days were more like general stores and his shop became the go-to place for islands as far as Grenada.
The Empire Expands … Hello Rum
Not only a keen businessman, Riise loved chemistry and utilized the surrounding flora and fauna to develop new cosmetics, toiletries, and medicinal tonics. He invented Bay Rum, a scented water, now a popular aftershave for dads the world over. And he developed the other bay rum, which was considered medicinal (as many still do today.) It made him another fortune as the alcoholic beverage became wildly popular in Europe and America. (Read more about his rum here.)
Bringing St. Thomas Back to Denmark
When various epidemics broke out on the island, he took his family (wife and 13 children) back to Denmark. He was only going to stay a year, but ended up staying the rest of his life. He bought a villa and named it – wait for it: “St. Thomas.” It’s now a gorgeous park called, St Thomas, or Sankt Thomas in Danish.