Born 13 January 1887 in Frankfurt am Main, Hessen (GER)
Died 10 August 1959 in Göppingen, Baden-Württemberg (GER)
A member of the family that founded the Mumm champagne business, Walther von Mumm was known as a horseman, a pioneer aviator and especially as a balloonist. Before the First World War he regularly took part in long distance balloon races all over North America including major races at St. Louis and Kansas City. The second son of Baron von Mumm, Walther was given control of the H.G. Mumm Extra Dry Company and with clever advertising turned the brand into a major name, notably in the American market. When his brother, Henri, unexpectedly died he took over as head of the entire Mumm Company and inherited the estimated $20,000,000 family fortune. In 1912 he became engaged to Frances Scoville, an American heiress, but before this had been made public he travelled from St. Moritz to Paris to break this news to his former mistress, Marie von Rensimer. A former waitress from Philadelphia, von Rensimer was considered one of the world’s great beauties and had a string of wealthy lovers and admirers. This meeting ended disastrously for von Mumm, the precise details of incident were hushed up but what is clear is that Walther ended with two bullets in his left lung after Marie had pulled a gun on him.
Although the von Mumm family had resided in France for over a hundred years, Walther had himself been born in Germany and on the outbreak of World War I was considered an enemy subject. Instead of internment in France for the period of the war he chose to return to Germany. Walther refused to fight on the Western Front out of a loyalty to his French upbringing and instead served against the Russians on the Eastern front. He was wounded, again in the lung, by Russian gunfire.
The years immediately after the war were disastrous; the French government claimed the entire Mumm business empire as part of the reparation process against Germany, he was estranged from his wife, who later died following an appendectomy, and was involved in a lengthy custody battle over his daughter. His remaining business interests in Germany, still valued in millions of dollars, were lost after the collapse of the reichsmark and German hyper-inflation. He still had the rights to the Mumm brand in the United States but the introduction of prohibition meant this was rendered worthless overnight. With what remained of his fortune he invested in Wall Street and again amassed a substantial fortune before the Wall Street crash of 1929 left him penniless.
Von Mumm took a job in a brokerage firm and rented a $10 dollar a month room in a New York boarding house whilst concealing his financial plight from his friends. In October 1931, whilst staying at a friend’s house, he attempted suicide. Leaving a note with the words, “Bury me as I am and keep this out of the newspapers”, he attempted to shoot himself in the heart, but he missed and for a fourth time suffered a bullet wound to the same lung. Although the initial prognosis was poor, he rallied and eventually made a recovery. The Winter Olympics were held four months later in Lake Placid and the German bobsleigh team suffered a number of serious crashes which left them very short of personnel. Walther von Mumm had some previous bobsleigh experience in St. Moritz and remarkably was called to drive the Germany II bob with a completely inexperienced team, they finished in seventh place.