Saturday, November 18, 2017

James Maguire and Allies Snubbed the Whiskey Trust

In September 1892, the press reported that a group of major liquor dealers in Philadelphia had announced the purchase of 103 acres in Bucks County to build “an enormous distillery for the production of rye whiskey.”  A leader among them dealers was James Edward Maguire, an Irish immigrant whose Montezuma Rye was a nationally recognized brand.  Although denied, this project was a direct snub of the so-called “Whiskey Trust.”

Several year earlier a number of Midwest distillers had turned their plants over to a board of trustees who aimed to control the liquor trade through the kind of monopolistic cartel that had developed in oil and other American industries.  Officially named the “Distillers and Cattle Feeders Trust,” it was popularly known as "The Whiskey Trust.”  That organization, based in Peoria, Illinois, gathered in more than 80 distilleries, often using tactics like dynamite to convince holdouts.  Most of the plants the Trust procured were shut down. The idea was to control supplies and drive up whiskey prices.

For a time the Trust was successful, cornering, some said, ninety percent of the available liquor stocks.  The monopoly drove up prices for “raw” whiskey used by wholesalers, like Maguire and his allies, for blending (“rectifying”) their proprietary brands.  By creating their own source of supply these Philadelphia whiskey men were striking a blow to end their dependency on the Trust.

The new facility, organized with capital of $3 million (equivalent to $60 million today) was titled the Pennsylvania Pure Rye Whiskey Distilling Company.  “Nearly every large liquor dealer [in Philadelphia] holds stock in the company,” said one press account.  A prominent member of the venture noted:  “I suppose those 40 firms represent about $30,000,000.  All the subscriptions have been paid in.  The plant eventually had a capacity of 30,000 barrels a year. The site selected had a large frontage on the Delaware River and a wharf was constructed.  The Pennsylvania Railroad line was a mile from the distillery, necessitating the building of a branch spur to the site.

A spokesman for the group was quick to disavow any intent to be antagonistic to the Whiskey Trust.  The reasoning behind the new distillery was to established an industry close to home, he said, economizing on shipping and buying local grain.  He added:  “Then too, we are going to try some new experiments in the manufacture of whiskey which are entirely original, and which, if successful, will have a tendency to revolutionize things.”  Nonetheless, alarm bells must have gone off in the Trust’s Peoria headquarters.  Not only would they lose the Philadelphia houses as customers, members of the new distillery were being  encouraged to promote sales of excess whiskey stocks to dealers outside the membership.   According to the press account: “Each stockholder will virtually be an agent, and will use extra efforts to sell the whiskey, because he will reap a decided benefit from it.”   And the Trust would be the loser.

A year after it opened in 1893, the new Philadephia Pure Rye Distilling Company was surveyed by Ernest Hexamer, an insurance assessor based in Philadelphia.  There were two large stills, one wooden with a capacity of 16,840 gallons and a copper still holding 2,554 gallons.  A single bonded warehouse was constructed of brick, six stories tall, with a capacity to age 14,000 barrels.  At that time the distillery was employing six men.  Hexamer’s drawing is above.  Below is an artist’s representation of the distillery several years later at build-out. 

The important role played by James Maguire in organizing the distillery company was indicated by its board meeting at his headquarters at Third and Noble Streets to sign the original building contract.  Maguire had been elected by his colleagues as the treasurer of the new distilling company.   This represented recognition by his peers that this Irish immigrant had risen to the top ranks of Philadelphia whiskey men.

It had been a long road for Maquire, born in County Cavan, Ireland, in 1833 and coming to the United States as a young man.  His early years in this country have largely gone unrecorded, but a reasonable assumption is that he was working for one of the many liquor houses in Philadelphia, learning the trade.  He was also having a personal life, in the late 1850s marrying Rosalie Pauline Martin, also Irish-born.  They would have five children, three daughters and two sons.  Among them, born in 1864, was Thomas A. Maguire, who eventually would go to work for his father in the liquor house.

James had struck out on his own in 1872, opening a store at 472 North Third Street in Philadelphia and by 1874, a second outlet at Callowhill and North Fourth Street.  Eventually he expanded at the Third Street location, to encompass the store fronts on either side.  An important part of Maquire’s rise in Philadelphia was his success in making Montezuma Rye Whiskey a nationally recognized brand.  When he trademarked the label in 1894 he claimed that the name had been in use since 1875.

He was particularly intent on providing saloons, hotels and restaurants featuring the brand with attractive back of the bar bottles.  Of particular note was an elaborate metal overlay bottle used to dispense Montezuma Rye.  It stood just over eleven inches high, completely encased, as shown here, in a soft metal cage with a filigree vine and flower design. Plaques on the front contained a hammered and engraved text that read:  “Celebrated Montezuma Rye Whiskey, Jas. Maquire,” and his address.  Two variants are shown here.

Retail customers could buy Montezuma Rye in glass bottles, sized from quarts to flasks, or get their liquor in an attractive canteen sized metal bottle that carried a bronze plaque on each side, shown above.  McGuire also featured such giveaways as shot glasses and pocket mirrors.  Through the excellent color qualities of celluloid, the latter provided an effective merchandising tool when distributed among the public.  Shown below, he also handed out a “good luck” token to customers, one side advertising Montezuma Rye and the other side, Belle of Nelson, a brand from a Louisville distillery.

Throughout this period, the Philadelphia Pure Rye Whiskey distillery in Bucks County continued to prosper with liquor house owner, Angelo Meyers, as its chairman, and Maquire as treasurer.  The group succeeded in undercutting the Trust.  Noting this success, other whiskey men banded together to open distilling operations.   Similar steps were taken in New York under the leadership of Henry Naylon and in Indiana by John Beggs.

With those repeated blows, the power of the Trust ebbed.  Although the cartel survived until the advent of National Prohibition, it now controlled only a fraction of the Nation’s available whiskey supplies.  The Bucks County distillery, by contrast, continued to thrive, with multiple transactions recorded into 1920 when activity ceased.  By that time James Maguire had died.  He passed away on January 28, 1900, at 65 years of age.  His rites were held at Philadelphia’s Church of the Gesu.  He was buried in New Cathedral Cemetery, next to Rosalie who had preceded him two years earlier. Management of the Maguire liquor house fell to his 36-year-old son, Thomas.

Thomas, left, maintained his father’s name at the head of the firm, as shown in a 1909 letterhead, still located at the North Third Street address.  He successfully managed the liquor house for the next 18 years. 

Then tragedy struck the family. In October, 1918, Thomas fell victim to the deadly strain of flu virus sweeping the country, as did his 17-year-old son, Thomas A. Maguire Jr.  Both were buried the same day in Section R of New Cathedral Cemetery, adjacent to the Maquire monument marking the graves of James and Rosalie.  

Many U.S. whiskey men had publicly and vehemently opposed the Whiskey Trust but it likely was James Maquire and his allies, while denying any intention of doing it any harm, that struck the first important blow against the monopolist intentions of the Trust and in the process sent it into its descent into ineffectiveness.

Note:  This blog contains profiles of several of the whiskey men mentioned here, Angelo Meyers, December 2, 2011;  Henry Naylon, February 7, 2014, and John Beggs, October 25, 2017.  Much of the information about the formation of the Philadelphia Pure Rye Whiskey Distillery is from an article in the Pittsburgh Dispatch dated September 16, 1892.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Whiskey Men Targeted by Prohibitionists

Foreword:   While prohibitionists as a movement seldom targeted individual whiskey men for their wrath, some free-lancing zealots did — Carrie Nation stands out as an example but others as well.  As a result publicans and liquor dealers who simply were tending to business could find themselves singled out in their communities as targets.  Presented here are four such situations and their often unforeseen consequences.

In 1914 Max Friedlander was operating a successful liquor house in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, when a traveling evangelist named Henry Stough, preaching at a tent revival there, leveled a personal blast at four men he said were principally responsible for sin and corruption in Hazelton.  Among them was Max Friedlander.  If it were not for that four, the evangelist declared, there would be no houses of prostitution, no saloons open on Sunday, no slot machines, no gambling dens or poker games in town.  “I lay the moral condition of Hazelton and the vicious things here at the foot of these four.  Let them take up the gauntlet.  I have thrown it down,”  Stough declaimed.

Friedlander and the other three were quick to retaliate, filing suits for slander against Stough, shown left, each asking for $50,000 in damages, the equivalent of $1.2 million each today. The legal battle that ensued became a circus. The trial was disrupted by demonstrations by the preacher’s followers who crowded a Hazelton courtroom to “hoot and holler” during the taking of testimony.  The trial had to be moved to Wilkes Barre and no one was allowed inside the courtroom except attorneys and “interested parties.”  Nevertheless, the demonstrators followed and continued their loud protests in the courthouse corridors. 

Eventually damages of $2,700 each ($65,000 today) were awarded to Max and the others.  This time Stough went to court, appealing the judgment.  His lawyer, explicitly cited the ethnicity of the allegedly slandered four, declaring in court that a Jewish liquor dealer (Max), an Irish councilman, an Italian politician and German brewer together held so much influence over the judges of Luzerne County that Stough could not get a fair trial there.  The attorney was disbarred but in the end the State Supreme Court dismissed the cases against Stough.  The preacher had been within his First Amendment rights and his charges were not slanderous or actionable, the judges ruled.  Max and the others saw no compensation. 

But Friedlander had other rewards.  The local community strongly rallied around him and not long after clergyman’s diatribe, he was elected president of the Hazelton Board of Trade.  The newspaper account of Max’s election dismissed Stough as an “itinerant evangelist” and his accusations as “unpleasant.”  Before the legal processes had run their course, Friedlander also had been elected a director of the Markle Banking and Trust Company, a Hazelton financial institution with assets equivalent to more than $12 million.

John Nunan’s travails began about 1906 when Professor H.K. Taylor, was named president of the Kentucky Wesleyan College at Winchester, Kentucky.  Early in his presidency Prof. Taylor became highly affronted by the saloons in Winchester, apparently feeling they were hotbeds of temptation for his male students.  In 1908 Taylor plotted a “sting” he hoped would put Nunan, and other Winchester saloonkeepers either out of business or facing heavy fines and maybe jail time by having an underage student named Green buy a bottle of beer in each.  

Being of a theological rather than legal turn of mind, the don had failed to mount an airtight prosecution.  At the trial, young Green said he was sure the proprietor had not sold the beer to him but could not positively identify either of the bartenders.   Other evidence that might have helped Prof. Taylor’s case were the bottles of beer that Green bought in each drink emporium.  Taylor had marked the each bottle to show the saloon it came from.  A local newspaper told the rest of the story:  “…But the first night of the trial Prof. Taylor brought the bottles to the police court room and the trial was postponed.  Prof. Taylor left the bottles in the court room but they disappeared and therefore could not be produced.” 

The judge summarily dismissed the case on the grounds that not only was there no physical evidence of purchases, Green could not identify who had sold him the beer.  The decision applied to Nunan and the other saloonkeepers, who walked out of court seemingly vindicated.  Prof. Taylor became a laughing stock in Winchester.  Within several months, he resigned as president of Kentucky Wesleyan and his resignation was accepted, seemingly with alacrity, by the Methodist Educational Board.  For a time Nunan went back to a more normal existence.
In November of 1908 Martin J. Breen, a Chicago wholesale liquor dealer, was arrested on a charge of giving liquor to a minor in suburban Englewood, and released only after posting a $500 bond. The warrant claimed that nine-year-old Elmer Flodin had been enticed to drink whiskey.  “My boy had left the house on his way to school and was standing on the front porch when a man came up to him and gave him a bottle of whiskey,” his father related. “He hardly knows what whiskey is and is certainly not fit to handle it.”  Down the street Flossie Thompson, age nine, and Emma Lindquist, thirteen, also reputedly were given bottles of liquor.  Breen had been targeted by Little Elmer’s outraged father, A. S. Flodin, an anti-drink zealot.   

The law provided a fine of from $20 to $100 or a jail sentence of from ten to thirty days, or both, and Flodin was demanding a jail sentence.  In his defense, Breen issued a statement admitting that his firm had been distributing sample bottles of whiskey but insisted that they were being given only to adults. He intimated that he was being framed by prohibitionary forces:  “If bottles of our whiskey were delivered to children it probably was done by persons not connected with us in any way and who desired to prejudice the public mind against us merely by reason of our being engaged in the wholesale liquor business.”  Although Breen likely paid a fine, there is no evidence he ever went to jail and he continued to run his liquor house.

During the early 1900s Conrad Glosking and Jacob Levy had formed a highly successful distilling and wholesale liquor dealership in Wilmington, Delaware, attracting the attention of temperance advocates.   The “drys” had succeed in getting a law passed in Delaware that decreed that no one under the age of 21 could work in a saloon or barroom. Because much of the help for such establishments came from youths under 21, the laws severely constricted the labor pool for drinking establishments.

In 1914 Levy & Glosking reapplied for their usual state license. It allowed the company to compound and rectify as well as sell intoxicating liquors to be drunk off premises, in any quality not less than one-half gallon. To their surprise and consternation, the issuance of the license was challenged in court by local prohibitionists.  They argued that the company employed minors in their store to handle liquor by transferring whiskey from barrels to bottles on premises. As a result, the Society contended, the liquor was unsealed and the opportunity given to minors to drink some. In effect, Levy & Glosking were being accused of running the equivalent of a saloon.

If the Delaware license had been denied, Levy & Glosking were finished. The partners fought back by hiring perhaps the most potent lawyer available in the state. He was Daniel O. Hastings, a former Associate Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, shown here. Hastings effectively made the case in court that Levy & Glosking were not, in fact, a saloon and that the law on minors had no application to them. The opposition had no real answer. The judge agreed with Hastings and dismissed the argument of the prohibitionists.  Levy & Glosking received the precious license.

For Friedman, Nunan, Breen, and Levy & Glosking, overcoming those targeted attacks by prohibitionary “lone wolves,” marked only temporary victories for the whiskey men.  As state after state went “dry” and finally the entire Nation in 1920, all of them were forced to shut down their enterprises for good.

Note:  More extensive treatment of each of the men featured here can be found on this blog.  Max Friedlander, January 7, 2016;  John Nunan, October 20, 2015; Martin Breen, July 18, 2017, and Levy & Glosking, March 12, 2012.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Weis Men of Milwaukee and Their Artifacts

Sometimes the most memorable part of a liquor house is not the whiskey men who founded and operated it, but the out-of-the-ordinary artifacts they produced and left behind.  So it seems with the Weis brothers, Carl and William, who seem to have originated more than a few articles of above-average interest.

Note for example, their delivery wagon above.  Many liquor companies had such conveyances and some have been shown on previous posts.  Most often they were strictly utilitarian with little or no ornamentation.  By contrast the Weis Bros. van is covered with colorful cotton drapery with a scalloped fringe on top and the name prominently emblazoned on a lacquered fender.  The front held another design.  This wagon would have drawn notice as it clattered through the streets of Milwaukee.

Carl and William Weis were relative latecomers to town.  They were born in Germany, Carl in 1841 and William in 1845, and emigrated from their homeland as young men in 1868.  They arrived in Milwaukee eleven years later, their earlier locations and occupations unrecorded, but almost certainly already accomplished in the whiskey trade.  An 1896 biography of their firm noted that they had started their liquor house almost immediately upon their arrival in town, adding:  “…From the start [they] met the most advanced requirements of the trade, thus developing a widely extended and growing patronage.”  Their sales area was said to include not only Wisconsin but states in the Upper Midwest and as distant as the Dakotas and Montana.

Located at 383 East Water Street, their business occupied a four story and basement building, with access to the cellars of two adjoining buildings. It gave the Weises the space to store not only leading national brands but also to blend (“rectify”) their own proprietary brands, including "Balmoral Club,” "Crawford", "Fox Lake,” Mountain Cave,” ”Old Bedford,” "Old Norman,” “Policy.” and "Tom Cooper.”  Their biographer in the volume Milwaukee-A Half Century of Progress (1896) enthused:  “It is a matter of record that the best whiskies…are difficult to secure in ordinary trade.  The average dealer is not an expert, and it requires the vast experience of a representative firm like Messrs. Weis Brothers to secure in stock the oldest and finest of this, the leading tonic beverage of the age.”

Crawford Handmade Sour Mash Bourbon appears to have been the brothers’ flagship brand.  In keeping with their producing above average artifacts is a back- of-the-bar bottle advertising that brand.  Note that it bears a label under glass, a relatively pricey giveaway to saloons and hotel bars featuring Weis liquor.  A decanter type bottle of the same purpose bears the company name in Gothic letters.

Weis Bros. was also unusual in Milwaukee as one of only a handful of whiskey wholesalers to feature a brand of bitters, in this case Knickerbocker Stomach Bitters.  Although highly alcoholic, bitters were marketed as medicinals, a designation that also lowered the amount of federal taxes  The Weis’ sign for the nostrum is both colorful and interesting, featuring a chubby German contemplating a glass while a cross-eyed dog sits at his feet.

The attempt at novelty extended to the bottles in which the brothers sold Kickerbocker Bitters.  As shown here, it was amber and held a “slab seal” that contained label information.   While slab seals were common in an earlier day before embossing was possible on the body of a glass bottle, by the time Weis Bros. was in business, they were considered an additional expense and little used.  Thelr seals were well realized and additional testimony to the good taste of the proprietors.  

Although Weis Bros. may have been the only liquor wholesaler to employ slab seals, it faced stiff challenges from its competitors.  Milwaukee was replete with liquor dealers providing advertising shot glasses to favored customers.  Shown here are two examples of the brothers’ offerings.  Both are etched, with good if not out of the ordinary designs. 

After about twenty years heading the business, Carl Weis appears to have left its active operations in 1898.  Business directories the following year listed only William and a manager.  Carl, who appears never to have married, was living with William and his family, one that included a wife, Anna, and a daughter, Louisa.  Carl’s interest apparently had become literary; he had invested in and become president of C. N. Caspar, a well-known Milwaukee bookstore that also published a variety of guidebooks and maps of city streets.

By 1912, William also had retired from the liquor business, the brothers selling out to a group of local investors who kept the well-respected Weis name.  Both brothers spent long lives in retirement.  Carl died in June 1921 at the age of 80, long enough to see National Prohibition shut down for good the company he had co-founded.  William, age 82, died in  March 1928.  The brothers are buried in adjacent graves in Section 47 of Milwaukee’s Forest Home Cemetery.  Their legacy remains in the well-designed and attractive artifacts they left behind.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Rosenfields Turned Whiskey into Peanut Butter

Skippy Peanut Butter is one of those iconic brands that can be found on grocers’ shelves from coast to coast.  Behind those colorful jars is the story of Manuel and Joseph Rosenfield, father and son Western pioneers, who parlayed their Colorado “Old Kentucky Liquor Company” into a blockbuster food industry and a spread that is as American as apple pie.

The elder Rosenfields originated in Wurtemburg, a southern province of Germany known for beer, wine and spirits, emigrated to the United States and settled in New York City.   Manuel was born there about 1842.  His early life has gone unrecorded but at the age of 28 in May 1870 he married Carrie Bakrow, a New Yorker whose parents likewise were immigrants from Germany.

By 1880 Manuel and Carrie had left New York to travel West.  The census that year found them living in Louisville, Kentucky with two small children, Sarah 3 and John, under one year.  Manuel’s occupation was given as running a men’s clothing and hat store.  It must have been successful since the family could afford two live-in servants in their home on Market Street. Two years later a third child — Joseph — would be born.

Manuel had a restless streak that eventually took him and his family even further West, this time to Cripple Creek, Colorado, shown above.  Located in the front range of the Rocky Mountains, the town sat just below the timberline at 9,500 feet.  The site of the last Colorado gold rush, Cripple Creek has been characterized as “a violent place, with a Wild West mentality.”  But it also was populated by a crowd of thirsty miners.  There Manuel opened the “Old Kentucky Liquor Company” that supplied local saloons with whiskey and also sold liquor at retail.

Manuel packaged his whiskey principally in ceramic jugs.  A variety of them are shown throughout this vignette.  They improved from relatively crude ceramics and labels to increasingly more sophisticated ones.  The progression probably indicates a growing capacity of Cripple Creek area potteries to provide more finished products.  Old Kentucky jugs have been eagerly sought by collectors.  The one at left below recently sold at auction for $2,425 and the one at right for $468.

The Rosenfield’s lives in Cripple Creek did not pass without incident.  John at the age of 19 had been sworn in as a deputy constable, charged with keeping order in a town where bloody battles were fought between mine owners and labor organizers.  At one period, a killing a day reputedly was the norm.  In November, 1898 John was viciously attacked by a drunken blacksmith. He shot and killed his assailant.  In the ensuring inquest, he was exonerated, the shooting determined to be justifiable homicide.   At the time Joseph was 16.

As they matured both sons were employed by Manuel at the Old Kentucky Liquor Company that by 1902 had moved from the initial address at 129 East Bennett Avenue to larger quarters at 320-322 East Bennett, Cripple Creek’s main commercial avenue.  Part of the Rosenfield’s success was providing giveaway items to saloons carrying their liquor.  The fanciest was a reverse glass sign advertising the company.   Favored customers also were given shot glasses for the bar, most bearing the image of a raccoon, the Rosenfield’s adopted symbol.

As the gold rush ebbed and the population of Cripple Creek began to fall, Manuel decided to move the family about 90 miles south to Pueblo, Colorado, on the state’s high plain.  Pueblo was being heralded as a “beacon of development,”
with agriculture and manufacturing, rather than mining and ranching, representing the modernizing West.   With a growing population Pueblo proved to be a good second home for the Old Kentucky Liquor Company.  

Now 22 years old, Joseph married, the wedding taking place in Boulder.  His bride was Mae Sutherland, 22, who had been born in New Jersey, her parents from Pennsylvania and New York.  The 1910 census indicated that Joseph and Mae had two sons, Jerome and Marvin, and a daughter, Virginia.   As his father aged, Joseph increasingly was running the family liquor house.  In 1910 the Rosenfields had moved again, this time to Denver where they established the Old Kentucky Liquor Company one last time.  Manuel was now a widower as Carrie had died earlier that year.. 

Three years later while on a trip to Los Angeles on business, Joseph visited friends in Alameda, California, an island community on the east side of San Francisco Bay near Oakland.  Not only did he fall in love with the place, it occasioned significant changes for the family.  For starters he changed his name to “Rosefield,”  perhaps wanting to sound less German — this was about the time of World War One — or less Jewish.  He also sold off his Denver liquor business and began working in Alameda as an salesman, initially of ice boxes and later of foodstuffs.

About 1915, Joseph founded the Rosefield Packing Company, working out of the garage of his bungalow home on San Francisco Bay.  Although dealing in a variety of edible products, he manufactured two himself, pickles and peanut butter.  Said a former employee:  “He built the machinery himself and made his first jar of peanut butter in his garage.”  (Shades of Bill Gates!)

Although the San Francisco area boasted a number of peanut butter manufacturers, the spread was tricky to produce and market, often turning rancid by the time it reached the consumer.  Over time Joseph was able to improve the process and grow sales. It allowed him to move his company from the garage to the plant shown here, one that made only pickles and peanut butter.  Manuel lived to see his son’s success, dying in 1928 and was buried next to Carrie at the Temple Cemetery in Louisville where he began his business career.

Joseph proved to be an exceptionally astute and hard driving businessman.  He began merchandising Skippy in 1933, during the depths of the Depression, and saw it grow to the Nation’s leading peanut butter by 1946, a position it held until about 1980.  Described as “confident and self-assured, with a strong character and convictions,”  Rosefield’s convictions included allowing only females to tour his factory because he feared male visitors might be copying his production techniques.  Thus, Girl Scouts were welcome, Boy Scouts were not.

A photograph exists of Joseph and Mae Rosefield, taken when he was in his mid-to-late seventies.  They are on a cruise ship about to dock in Hawaii and someone has bedecked both of them with leis.  Joseph does not look amused. I have been unable to find information on his passing or place of interment, hoping that some alert descendent will see this piece and help me fill in the blanks.

In the meantime we have the coveted artifacts of the Old Kentucky Liquor Company to remind us of Manuel and Joseph Rosenfield and how their financial success in the liquor trade in the Wild West led eventually to an icon of American grocery shelves.

Note:  Much of the information contained in this post and the photo of the Rosefields were taken from the book “Creamy & Crunchy:  An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food.” by Jon Krampner, Columbia University Press, 2014.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

C. P. Moorman and the Cutter Connection

On February 27, 1875,  John F. Cutter stormed into the offices of liquor wholesaler Charles P. Moorman, his father’s former business partner,  and threatened him bodily with a sword cane unless Moorman stopped claiming a monopoly on the use of the Cutter name on Kentucky whiskey.  The events that had brought things to such a violent conclusion — one that would end in John Cutter’s death — is a story that spans America from coast to coast.

The Cutters originally were from Hollis, a town in Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, the offspring of Phebe Jewett Tenney and Benoni Cutter, a farmer.  The couple had several sons among whom was John Hastings Cutter, born in 1807.  He was only age nine when his father died and he was left in the care of his widowed mother.  Speculation is that older brothers,  R. B. Cutter and Ben B. Cutter determined to make their fortunes further west and fetched up in Louisville, Kentucky, where they entered the liquor trade.  When John was old enough to make the journey, he joined them there.

Because whiskeys exist with the initials of each Cutter, the Wilsons in their book on Western bottles speculate the following:  “As each member of the Cutter family matured in the liquor business he evidently had the right to formulate a brand in his own name.”   They dated R.B.’s whiskey from the early 1850s and discontinued in the 1860s;  Ben’s from the early 1860s to the mid-1880s.  John H.’s proved the most successful with his brand, beginning in the late 1860s and running until National Prohibition.

The Cutters did not own a distillery and are reported to have obtained product from at least two Kentucky whiskey-makers.   One was a plant owned by Mary Dowling at Lawrenceburg (RD #59, 8th District ).  The other was the a distillery (RD #241, 5th District) owned by W. B. Samuels, located at Samuel Depot in Nelson County on the L&N Railroad. The Cutters were “rectifiers,” blending whiskeys according to formulae reputedly kept within the family.

In 1858, John H. Cutter made the fateful decision to merge his by-then established whiskey firm with that of Moorman.  Moorman was a native Kentuckian, born in Breckinridge County in 1829, the son of  David M. and Judith Venable Moorman.  Some 22 years younger than Cutter, Moorman had come to Louisville as a youth, clerking in a liquor house.  By 1855 he had obtained sufficient knowledge and financing, with a partner, to open his own wholesale whiskey business.  Successful from the outset, in 1857 he bought out his partner and the following year joined forces with Cutter.

A junior partner after the merger,  Moorman soon was joined by a second junior partner, Milton J. Hardy, Cutter’s son-in-law.  Hardy became the firm’s East Coast representative, stationed in Boston and marketing the Cutter whiskey line.
Meanwhile, John H. having made his fortune in Louisville, returned to Hollis, the home of his childhood.  The 1860 census found him there with his wife, Susan, six children, three servants, and five field hands.  Although his occupation was listed as “bourbon whiskey manufacturer,”  Cutter actually was occupied as a gentleman farmer and New Hampshire legislator.  Not recorded in the household was son John F. Cutter, 23, by that time likely involved in the family whiskey business in Boston.

That same year, 1860, John H. Cutter died at the relatively young age of 53, the cause given as “disease of the liver.”  He was buried in South Cemetery near his home place in Hollis.  His passing triggered significant changes in his company, allowing Moorman to buy a controlling interest in the J. H. Cutter brand.  Now the focus shifted to the West Coast and San Francisco.  According to the Wilsons:  “To the Eastern folks that came around the Horn or made the trek to the West in the early pioneering days, the J. H. Cutter brand name was already well known and popular with westerners from the time the first barrel was shipped to California.”

In the early 1870s Moorman’s interest in whiskey appears to have waned.  This may have coincided with his marriage to Kentuckian Lucy Beckley, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Long Beckley, and the birth of their first child, a boy. Moorman’s turned to banking as the vice president of the Kentucky National Bank.  He also was running a commission house in non-whiskey merchandise.  Milton Hardy assumed managerial control of the liquor company, emphasizing markets in the West, especially California.  In 1874 he bought the controlling interest from Moorman, who came to regret his decision and three years later returned to the whiskey trade.  He cut a deal with Hardy in which Moorman became the sole owner of the J. H. Cutter brand name and the two men broke off their formal business relationship.  

The arrangement proved problematic.  In the interim,  John F. Cutter, the son, had entered the picture.  He had developed a whiskey of his own formula and marketed it under the label, J. F. Cutter.  Confusion between the two brands was inevitable.  Moreover, the company in the past had used several agents for their West Coast operations, among them E. Martin and Anson Hotaling.  After the split with Hardy, Moorman favored Hotaling, one of San Francisco’s strongest liquor houses, but John F. hooked up with Martin, moving into his offices in 1871 and for four ensuing years supervising merchandising and sales to insure the “J. F. Cutter” brand was well established.

Hotaling, as the sole West Coast agent for J.H. Cutter whiskeys, was enraged.  Highly competitive, in 1871 he earlier had convinced Moorman to sue the West Coast agent for Jesse Moore for trademark infringement simply because it was shipping its whiskey from Kentucky to California in barrels similar to those of J. H. Cutter.   A San Francisco judge found the charge ludicrous, dismissed the complaint and charged Moorman court costs.   Hotaling also continually pressured Moorman to sue Martin and John F. on trademark grounds.  

Both sides went public, telling their side of the story in long newspaper ads.  In 1872, John F. told readers:  “My whiskey is a distinct, independent article, sold under trade-mark totally different…and never has been and cannot be mistaken for theirs by any purchaser….If it has realized a more extensive sale than theirs, that fact may be owing to its quality and popularity rather than any attempt at imitation.”   Martin followed up with ads that declared that J. F. Cutter bourbon “…is superior in quality to any other brand of Cutter whiskey,”

Hotaling, on his part, accused Cutter of selling his family name to Martin for 30 years for a pittance, later insisting:  “…John F. Cutter never made any whiskey and knew nothing about it except to drink it.  He was a wild, roving, ne’er-do-well, a nuisance to his friends and of no benefit to himself…The only thing of actual value about him was the name his father gave.”

Increasingly under pressure from Hotaling and Moorman,  John F. sued claiming that his adversaries had never bought the trademark for J. H. Cutter whiskey and that it remained part of the estate bequeathed to Cutter’s children and thus was his property.  The defendants, however,  were able to prove in court their purchase from the father before his death.  A California judge ruled that even if the trademark had remained part of the Cutter estate, John F. had no status in court because the trustees were withholding his share “owing to the erratic habits of Cutter.”

This ruling seems to have unhinged young Cutter who soon after traveled from San Francisco to Louisville, apparently in an effort to establish new business alliances.  Finding doors shut to him despite his name, John F. stalked into Moorman’s offices on that February day with a sword cane and threatened him with it.  Subdued by onlookers he was fined $100 and given a sentence of 30 days in jail.  Apparently ill, Cutter died — “miserably” said one observer — in the workhouse as he served out his sentence.  Only 37 years old at his passing, John F. was buried next to his father in the Hollis cemetery, a joint monument shown here marking their graves.

John F.’s death did little to end the West Coast competition between the two Cutter brands.  In 1885 Moorman filed suit in a California U.S. court against the owners of the J.F. Cutter brand alleging that it infringed on his trademark.  The federal judge found that J. F. Cutter labeling was significantly different from J. H. Cutter whiskey.  To argue otherwise was, the judge said: “…To my mind, the utterance of an absurdity that the senses of the most ordinary observer would at once rebuke.” He found for the defendants.

Moorman, employing a fulltime manager as he aged, continued to be involved with his liquor house, known for a number of Cutter offerings including: "J. H. C.,” "J. H. Cutter,” "J. H. Cutter A,” "J. H. Cutter A No. 1 Old Bourbon,” "J. H. Cutter Bourbon,” "J. H. Cutter O. K. Old Bourbon,” "J. H. Cutter Old Reserve,” "J. H. Cutter Pure Old Rye, and ”J. H. Cutter Rye.”  The company also issued an "Old Moorman” brand, along with “Green Label, ”Uncle Jake,” and "V. F. O. Rye.”

Charles Moorman died in 1917 in Louisville at the age of 88,  He was interred in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery where many other Kentucky whiskey men are buried.  Moorman lies beside his wife, Lucy, who had preceded him in death 26 years earlier.  His company survived for two more years until National Prohibition. Moorman is remembered in Louisville as a philanthropist having left funds for the Moorman Home for Women to care for the elderly indigent female population of Jefferson County, Kentucky.

As a conclusion to this story, the Wilsons make no comment on the feud over the whiskeys, observing:  “It is difficult to say which achieved the greater sales, but suffice to say both houses did a very good job of selling the brands.   The Cutter name reined as king in the western states straight through to Prohibition.”

Note:  Much of the information about Moorman and Cutter is taken from “Spirit Bottles of the Old West” by Bill and Betty Wilson (1968).  Those interested in learning more about Anson Hotaling may wish to see my profile of him on this blog, March 29, 2013.  Mary Dowling was featured January 22, 2014.