Monday, February 8, 2016

Stulz Brothers of Kansas City Were “German to the Core”

Although many of our Nation’s early whiskey men were immigrants from Germany, most of them after arriving were quick to “Americanize” their approach to marketing their liquor.  The Stulz Brothers of Kansas City were notable exceptions.  Shown above on their letterhead, the Stulzes — Emil Arnold  (E.A.) left, and Sigmund Carl (S.C.) — energetically pitched their merchandising to a German-speaking populace, estimated at 95% of their customer base.

The brothers were born in Wittich, in Prussian Germany, of into a Jewish that had come to the area from Klattau, southwest of Prague.  Sigmund was born in 1860;  Emil was five years younger.  The Stulz Brothers immigrated to the United States in 1886, settling in Kansas City in 1887, a city with a strong German population.   In 1893, Sigmund married Kathryn Stein,  woman eleven years his junior.  They would have a family of two boys and two girls.  In 1900 Emil married Else Marchand.  They would have one daughter.

In 1893 the Sigmund and Emil opened Stulz Brothers Liquor Company at 605 West Fifth Street in Kansas City.   Their enterprise seems to have met with quick success.   By 1898 they had outgrown that address and moved to 1416 Main Street.  In time their business outgrew that store and the brothers moved to 616-620 SW Boulevard.  These impressive quarters, shown here, boasted four stories and long frontage on a major street.  As shown below, the building was large enough to hold large vats for whiskey and wine that were decanted into barrels to be sold at wholesale.  The brothers claimed that their storage casks in total held 375,000 gallons.
The Stulz Brothers offered a blizzard of brands to their a claimed continent-wide clientele, “from Maine to California, from Texas to Minnesota, from Florida to British Colombia.”   They included many of the best known American brands and their own proprietary labels for whiskey they were blending and mixing on premise.  Those included: “Peacock Rye,” “Mocking Bird Whiskey,” ”S. B. Monogram,” "S. B. Our Own Sour Mash,” "S. S. B. B. Double Copper Distilled.” “Stulz Brothers Autograph,” seen here in a 1919 ad came in straight rye, straight bourbon and a blend, both in quart and gallon sizes.  The brothers packaged it in both ceramic and glass bottles.
Like other major whiskey wholesalers, Stulz Brothers provided a range of giveaway items to favored customers, including saloonkeepers, bartenders and even faithful retail customers.  Among them were a variety of shot glasses carrying the Stulz advertising.  Other more expensive items were a match case advertising Mocking Bird Whiskey and their house brand beer, “Gutschluck.”  They advertised:  “Whoever brings us a new customer will always receive a lovely gift.”  

In order to handle the immense amount of business their liquor trade was generating Stulz Brothers was obliged to have a large employee force.  Many of them seem to have been young women.  The photo below shows no fewer than twenty-nine damsels, all chastely dressed in high-buttoned blouses and shirts, who are said to have been employed in Stulzes Kansas City offices.  The German text accompanying this photo said: “…We offer a picture of a few of the pretty gals in our office. These aren’t all of them, as a few were too bashful to appear in the picture.”
Although all of the labels and ads shown heretofore were in English, Stulz Brothers were more comfortable addressing their customers in German.  As an example, about 1913 they self-published a 240-page book of German songs under the title “Neuestes Deutsches Liederbuch” (New German Songbook).  Professor Kevin Kurdylo, an expert on German language and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has translated much of the book.  In it the Stulz Brothers claim that 95 percent of their customers are good Germans who  have been buying their liquor and wines for twenty years.  According to Kurdylo, the book was aimed at preserving the German language and culture in America.  

He notes about the Stulz brothers:  “This book, they believe, will help the children of German-speaking immigrants appreciate the language of their fathers; singing these songs will make them proud to be and to remain German. The brothers ask, ‘Are there any more beautiful, more graceful, more euphonic melodies, than the German?’  By having your children sing these German songs, they insist, you not only help preserve the German language, but you make them aware that  ‘the blood of the heroes of Germany’ flows in their veins.”

“The brothers are confident that these songs will help to instill and sustain such German traits as loyalty, honesty, sincerity, brotherly love, and gratitude (particularly toward their parents) in the young generation, making them “gute und brauchbare amerikanische Bürger” (good and useful American citizens) imbued with German virtues and a German conscience.”
The Stulzes also used the songbook to take a swipe at the movement to monopolies in the American whiskey industry, often identified as the “Whiskey Trust.”  Kurdylo translates:  “‘Die Trusts bedrücken die Farmer, den Geschäftsmann, den Handwerker, Ar- beiter, wir haben nichts mit den Trusts zu thun” (Monopolies oppress farmers, merchants, craftsmen, and workers—we have nothing to do with monopolies).”
The German songbook was not the only item published by Stulz Brothers to celebrate their native language and beloved culture.  Shown here is book entitled “Zum Mohlsein!,” translated from the German it means “For Well-Being.”  Despite the American eagle and Old Glory on the cover, it is a 64-page booklet of German toasts.  This publication likely was a “nice gift” the Stulz’s gave customers.
Not all the Stulz’s printed materials were in German.  Although made in Germany, the children’s book below was written in English.   Carrying advertising as did all Stulz publications, this one was a child’s “play” book.  The images inside were printed in two colors and done in such a way that the first image presented a scene and text.  For example:  “Where are the fish?” — had a picture of a fisherman.  When a red plastic sheet included with “Wonderpictures” was placed over the image, the original scene vanished and a new one appeared of a fish swimming in a stream.
During their period of success in Kansas City, each brother returned to Germany from time to time.  A city directory indicates that Emil may have been residing there in 1912.  By 1915 he had returned to Kansas City, however, where in 1917, at the untimely age of 52, he died.  Surrounded by friends and family, he was interred in Elmwood Cemetery.   Meanwhile, Sigmund pressed forward with business, ever conscious of the advances that anti-alcohol forces were making in state after state.  Stulz whiskey had been confiscated in Oklahoma in 1909, but the brother won in court and got it back.  The brothers were not above heaping derision on the prohibitionists.  Kurdylo’s loose translation of a poem in the Stulz songbook seems illustrative of their feelings:
Schnadahupferl aus Drytown
Water does not whet my whistle,
But here we can’t get wine,
Because the Prohibition thistle
He has smothered the good vine.
But soon I’ll have my druthers,
I write Stulz’s for a little wine
And then those Temperance Brothers
Can slide off my behind!

Sigmund Stulz continued to pursue the interests of Stulz Brothers after his brother’s death, although closing the brewery in 1916 and moving to smaller quarters at 2043 Main Street.  The last directory listing for the firm was 1918.  Sigmund did not live long enough to see Repeal, dying in 1928.  He was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Kansas City.  Ironically, this Stulz's death preceded by only a few years the rise of Adolph Hitler in Germany when those “German traits” the brothers extolled so highly led to the Jewish Holocaust.
Note:  Most of the quoted sentences above are from an article by Prof. Kurdylo entitled “Stulz Brothers, a German-American Business in Kansas City,” Winter 2011, publication unknown.  The article can be found in its entirety on the Internet.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

W.W. Cooper Understood “These Little Town Blues”

These little town blues
Are melting away
I'll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
   — from the song “New York, New York”

William W. Cooper may never have gotten to New York City, but he might have wished he had.  He contracted a bad case of those “little town blues” when he was forced to close up his prosperous distillery and liquor business in Marion, McDowell County, after the State of North Carolina banned making or selling “spiritous liquors” in towns of fewer than 1,000 residents.  Marion missed the cut and Cooper had to shut down his operation and move.
From the photo of its main street in the early 1900s, it is clear that Marion was a “one horse” town.  Earlier a North Carolina business directory listed only two “manufactories” there; one outfit made linseed oil and the other constructed buggies.  When Cooper arrived on the scene he started another enterprise, “rectifying" — mixing and blending — whiskey.
Historical records indicate that about 1904, at the age of 28, Cooper began his liquor rectifying operation in a four story brick building designated No. 3 on the map above, now part of the “Depot Historic District” in Marion.  Constructed several years earlier and known originally as the Buffaloe Building, the structure initially housed a “whiskey-cutting” operation known as R. H. Bennett’s Wholesale Liquor Sales and Rectifying.  When Bennett relocated to another nearby location, Cooper moved in, enlarged the space, and developed his own whiskey-blending operation.  He also appears to have had a retail outlet across the street, No. 4 on the map.

The location was a good one, right across from the depot for the Clinchfield Railroad.   That line, founded in 1902, ran from the coal fields of Virginia and Elkhorn City, Kentucky to the textile mills of South Carolina and connected with major lines.  The railroad’s entry into tiny Marion was a definite boost to economic activity there.  It also meant that many rural distillers scattered over the North Carolina countryside could send their raw whiskey to Cooper’s rectifying plant by train.  Moreover, Cooper could send his products by railway express to other parts of North Carolina and throughout the South, many of them into “dry” counties.  His location opposite the train depot also meant that thirsty travelers could step out of their coaches and into his emporium for a bottle or jug.

Cooper sold his liquors in a variety of containers and provided them with highly colorful and interesting paper labels.  One shown here for his “Sweet Mash Corn Whiskey” featured the North Carolina seal and and the state motto in Latin.  Translated it means “to be, rather than to seem.”  It is taken from Cicero’s treatise on “friendship” and translated liberally can be taken to mean that North Carolinians are truly friendly and not just pretending.  The state was the last of the original Thirteen to adopt a motto and by then, it occurs to me, the good mottoes likely were taken. 

Even more interesting was Cooper’s label for his “Laurel Valley Corn Whiskey,” a brand he trademarked in 1905.  The highly colorful paper label featured a log cabin nestled in the mountains, one that houses a traditional distillery. Outside a gent is loading a ox-cart with barrels, preparing to take the whiskey to market.  This bucolic scene, of course, is a far cry from the warehouse across from the train station where Cooper actually was concocting his liquor.  Other labels, shown throughout this post, are notable for the colorful rendering of a ear of corn on Cooper’s “Mountain Corn” and the apple on “Cooper’s Apple Brandy.”

Cooper’s seemingly was a profitable operation from the outset.  Government documents record an auction sale in the basement of the Marion Post Office where 4,500 gallons of confiscated corn whiskey was on the auction block, said to be “the best 100 proof stuff, made in the mountains.  It had been seized by the U.S. Revenue officers for “irregularities, such as the failure of the maker to affix the stamps which the government said to be on the barrels.”  In other words, this was illegal moonshine.  It auctioned at $1.30 a gallon.  Cooper was on hand to buy 56 barrels, the majority of the lot.  Since most whiskey barrels held 60 gallons, assuming they were full, he paid $4,360 for the corn squeezings — equivalent to more than $109,000 today.  Since the U.S. required “cash on the barrel head,” Cooper must have been doing very well, indeed.

His success, however, was destined to be short-lived.  As early as 1881 anti-liquor forces had tried to push through a statewide referendum to require total prohibition of alcohol.  The good people of North Carolina rejected the effort by a four to one vote.  But slowly the pendulum swung.  In 1902 the state legislature passed the Watts Act that banned the manufacture and sale of “spiritous liquors” outside incorporated towns.  To get around the ban, many rural distillers simply incorporated their neighborhoods, held phony town elections, and went on making their whiskey.

The prohibitionists did not take long in figuring out that dodge and several years later expanded the ban to towns with populations of fewer than 1,000.  The law effectively ended distilling and liquor sales in 68 of North Carolina’s counties.     Although Marion’s population at the time was almost up to the thousand mark, it apparently was among those where liquor was banned.   
Note that on Cooper's letterhead above, “Marion” is crossed out and “Statesville” was pencilled in. That North Carolina city is about 70 miles east of Marion and during Cooper’s time boasted some 14,000 residents, sufficient to remain legal for a liquor enterprise.  With his wife, Camille, in tow and still a young man, Cooper closed up shop in Marion and moved to Statesville.  His former address in Marion became Blanton’s Wholesale Grocery, an enterprise that continued on into the 1950s.

Meanwhile prohibitionary forces were on the march again.  Carrie Nation, the ax-wielding crusader against drinking and smoking, toured North Carolina, branding one of its towns second only to Chicago as “the whiskeyest-soaked city in the United States.”  By 1908, the “drys” were ready for another statewide referendum.  This time it passed by 62% of the vote.  North Carolina became the first state in the South to ban the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages, and the first state in the U.S. to do so by popular vote.

Meanwhile in Statesville, Cooper was forced once again to shut down his liquor business.  Just 34 years old at the time, he was recorded in the 1910 census living with Camille at 683 Rase Street in Ward 4 of Statesville.  His occupation at that time was given as “Agent, Restaurant.”  Other than that document, he seems to have avoided the census for most of his life and subsequent events are lost in the mists of history.  

We likely will never know if W. W. Cooper’s “little town blues” ever melted away in Statesville.  Nor is there any way to determine if he ever ventured to “New York, New York.”  We can imagine, however, that wherever Cooper was located he never forgot those glory years in Marion when he had the resources to plunk down the equivalent of more than one hundred grand for barrels of moonshine.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mort Field of Owensboro Jousted with the “Whisky Trust”

In the era when the infamous “Whiskey Trust” was pressuring Kentucky distillers to join its monopolistic efforts to corner whiskey production and thereby hike prices, J. W. Morton Field in Owensboro, Daviess County, instead took the perpetrators to court and during his lifetime won a judgment against the Trust today worth the equivalent of $1.25 million.

Field (sometimes incorrectly given as “Fields,”) was a native Kentuckian, born in 1844 in Daviess County to Thomas A. and Arabella Morton Field. His father, a farmer, died at the age of 42 when Mort was only three.   With his help and that of another son as they grew to maturity, Arabella stayed on the farm and managed its affairs skillfully and profitably.  The adult Mort moved to Owensboro, the county seat, and likely went to work for one of the many distillers who made their headquarters there, learning the trade.  

In 1867 he also found a wife in town, Elizabeth Angeline Hanning, known throughout her life as “Nannie,” the name that was chiseled into her gravestone shown below. She was the daughter of John F. Hanning, a distillery owner in Daviess County.   At the time of their marriage Mort was 22 and Nannie, 21.  They would have three children, Maybelle, born in 1868;  Robert William, 1870; and John Edward, 1873.
It may have been the impetus of a growing family and its needs that caused Field to strike out on his own as a distiller in 1873.  He bought the Old Reed Distillery in Reed, Kentucky, and moved it outside of Owensboro.  He chose a site on a grassy Kentucky slope overlooking a graceful bend in the Ohio River, shown above as it looks today.  At first, Field’s output was small, only about two and one-half bushels of grain mashed daily.  Over time capacity would grow to 250 bushels as the owner added to the facility.  It is shown below as it looked about 1900.
According to insurance records the property included three warehouses.  Warehouse A was frame with a metal or slate roof, located 104 feet north of the still.  Of similar construction, Warehouse B was located just north of A.  Both were bonded. A third warehouse was “free” with a frame and shingle construction located 180 feet northeast of the still.  A fourth frame and shingle warehouse ultimately was torn down.  Field’s property also housed cattle being fed from spent distillery mash.  The cows were sheltered in sheds on the west side of the still house.

As his sons, Robert William and John Edward, matured, Field took them into the business, changing the name of his firm to J.W.M. Field & Sons.  He advertised his firm as “Wholesale Dealers in Pure Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey. ”  Field was selling his product to saloons and restaurants in a series of ceramic jugs, from quart to several gallon sizes.  Over the almost four decades the distillery was in business, a variety of designs were employed, as shown by those displayed throughout this post.  Field also provided customers with giveaway smaller containers, including mini-jugs holding just a swallow or two of whiskey and a half pint with an Celtic cross design.  Those would be gifted to saloonkeepers, bartenders and other favored patrons.

Field rapidly gained a reputation for producing good whiskey.  The Louisville Courier-Journal, a respected newspaper, hailed him as a distiller solidly in the tradition of the best Kentucky whiskey.  “J.W.M. Field is not a ‘progressive’ distiller,” the paper stated, “that is, he knows absolutely nothing of the modern processes by which the quantity of the yield is vastly multiplied…”  — at the expense of quality.  Field’s marketing reflected that old fashioned approach, advertising that he featured only one brand and that he made only “straight goods” — no mixing or blending as rectifiers did.

While Field was making whiskey in the traditional mode, however, the industry rapidly was changing around him.  Big moneyed interests from the East were taking a serious look at the distilling industry as a lucrative investment.  Among them were the Paris, Allen Co., located at 45 Broadway in New York City.  Originally importers of wines and liquors from abroad, company executives began to look to Kentucky for business opportunities.

In 1887 the New York firm bought a controlling interest in W. A. Gaines and Company, a Kentucky distillery that had originated in the 1860s and was producing well-known brands like “Old Crow” and “Old Hermitage.”  While retaining some Kentucky whiskey men as directors, Allen became president and another wealthy investor, Edson Bradley, became vice president [see my post of Sept. 2011 on Bradley].  Almost immediately upon joining the distillery Bradley became the principal spokesman for the New York money men and represented their interests on Wall Street and in the halls of Congress.

Before long Eastern investors realized that because distilleries had proliferated in Kentucky and nearby states, resulting in vigorous cost competition, their ability to realize a windfall profit on whiskey was in peril.  This was still the era of monopolies and the boys at Paris, Allen decided that the best way to increase liquor prices was significantly to control and reduce production.  Traditional distillers almost certainly were unaware of the ultimate intentions of the New Yorkers.  As a result when Paris, Allen in 1899 offered Field what turned out to be  “a devil’s bargain” he took it.

This was the deal:  The New Yorkers agreed that they would contract to buy 3,000 barrels of whiskey from J.W. M. Field & Sons over the next five years and then, under specified conditions, an additional 5,000 barrels annually over the next ten years.  In addition to this contracted production, Field could produce only 500 barrels more for his own use and sale.  If Field exceeded that amount, he would have to pay Paris, Allen a penalty of $5 per barrel.  Believing that there would be a great advantage in having a guaranteed customer for his whiskey for 15 years,  the Owensboro distiller agreed.
Field initially failed to recognize that Paris, Allen’s pact with him was part of a larger scheme to corner the Kentucky whiskey market, reduce production markedly and hoist prices.  It did not take long, however, before he realized that something was afoot.  When Field about 1901 decided to incorporate, Paris, Allen strongly objected, apparently fearing that the move would put his distillery out of their control.  By this time the Easterners had moved toward creating their “Whiskey Trust,” an organization they called the “Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Company.”  Despite the prior failure of a Peoria-based trust, Paris, Allen moved aggressively to rope in Kentucky distillers to their scheme, often offering them stock in exchange for shutting their plants down.  As a result, the Trust soon controlled a number of distilleries and brand names.

Some Kentucky distillers had begun to balk at the idea of a whiskey monopoly.  Field was among them.  When Paris, Allen demanded he agree to transferring his contract to the Kentucky monopoly, he said an emphatic NO.  There ensued a year of correspondence that a court later characterized as showing “the Kentucky Company, taking advantage of trivial and technical mistakes”  and not dealing with the root of the contract.  In order words, the men behind the Trust were acting in bad faith and fully intending to keep Field’s whiskey out of the marketplace.  

Moreover, in retaliation for Field not signing up with the Kentucky Company, Paris, Allen refused to take any more of his production, leaving the Owensboro outfit “high and dry.”  The mastermind behind this strategy likely was George H. Allen, a man hailed by some for his “native shrewdness and energy” and excoriated by others for his ruthless business practices.  Seemingly left no other choice, Field sued in 1902.  

In the effort he had the wisdom to hire as his attorney, William Lindsay, a former chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, shown left.  Although the suit was filed in the U.S. Circuit Court in New York, not in Kentucky, Lindsay persuaded the jury to give the distiller a judgment for damages against Paris, Allen in the amount of $50,000 (equiv. $1.25 million today).

Although J.W. M. Field & Co had won, the joy of victory was short-lived for Mort Field.  In August of 1903, he died at the age of 58.  With his widow and children grieving at his graveside he was buried in a Daviess County cemetery.  His and Nannie’s monument is shown below. Moreover,  family elation at having beaten the Whiskey Trust was short-lived when Paris, Allen appealed the decision to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  This time Lindsay was not as effective. That panel decided that the whiskey the Fields could not sell and had stored in their warehouses actually was an asset, gaining value as it aged.  Thus no damage had been done to the Owensboro distiller.  The court nixed the payment and called for a new trial.  There is no evidence that it ever occurred. 

The distillery Field had founded survived his passing, managed by family members.  The officers became sons Robert W. as president and John Edwin as vice president, with other relatives in corporate roles.  By 1915, John Edwin had advanced to the presidency of the company.  He ran it until closed by National Prohibition.  Meanwhile, the Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Company was continuing to operate out of Louisville.  Never able to establish the desired monopoly and drive up Kentucky whiskey prices as dreamed of by Paris, Allen, the hollow shell of the Trust nonetheless survived until Prohibition.  Neither whiskey outfit reopened after Repeal.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

“Torrents of Fire”: The Trials of Franklin Corning, Peoria Distiller

 No American distiller before or since has ever been faced with the death and destruction that plagued Franklin Tracy Corning during an period of just over five years when three major disasters in succession ravaged his Peoria, Illinois, distillery.  As one writer described it, Corning faced “torrents of fire.”  He never wavered, however, in his determination to continue to make whiskey.

Corning, born in 1851, was the oldest son in a family with deep roots in Ohio.  About 1813 His great-grandfather had trekked with a six horse team and a covered wagon from New Hampshire to Northern Ohio where he settled.  Considered a ground-breaking pioneer, Colonel Corning prospered, building a fortune that grew with his descendants, several of whom were involved in distilling.  Franklin grew up in the Cleveland mansion shown above, built by his father, Warren, a wealthy businessman who had inherited a manufacturing and distilling business from his father.

The 1870 census found the Corning family there.  Warren, 40 years old, was listed as a wholesale liquor dealer.  Franklin at 19 was employed as a clerk in the business.  Meanwhile the father was expanding the reach of Corning & Co.  As a biographer explained:  “As Cleveland was remote from the the great grain belt from which the distilling interests obtained its raw material, a plant was established at Peoria, Illinois.”  Warren Corning headed the operation but continued to live in Cleveland.  Apparently finding this arrangement difficult to manage, he dispatched Franklin to Peoria to look after the family interests.

Meanwhile the younger Corning had married.  In May 1875 Franklin wed Frances DeForest, known to friends and family as “Fannie.” He was 24 and she was 21.  I can find no children born of their union.  Exactly when this couple was uprooted from their Cleveland home is unclear, likely around 1880, but they soon settled into their new surroundings in Peoria.  The Corning family’s initial investment appears to have been in an existing plant called Monarch Distilling.  Corning & Company existed as a separate but related business, reputedly beginning as a rectifying house, that is, blending and mixing whiskeys obtained elsewhere to achieve desired taste and color.
As indicated in a Patent & Trademark publication, about the same time the Cornings adopted “Old Quaker” as the name of their flagship rye whiskey, a brand name destined to outlive them and National Prohibition.  The essential feature of their design was the representation of a male in Quaker dress, two sheaves of grain, a sack, and three barrels, one placed upon the others.  Said to have been used by Corning & Co. since 1878, the brand finally was trademarked in 1894. The Old Quaker designation would be a constant in the Cornings' distilling, to be found on labels and embossed on bottles. 

Over time, the Cornings would produce whiskey under a number of brand names.  They included: "Big Hollow S. M.,” “Chancellor,” "Corning's Canadian Type,” “Coronet,” "Fairlawn Bourbon,” "Hampton Rye,” "Haviland Rye,”"Lee Newton’s,” "Monarch Mills Rye,” "Mountain Corn,” "Mt. Pleasant,” "Newton Bourbon,”  "Redcliff Rye,” and "The Silent Spring."

The 1903 Disaster.  Despite mourning the death of his forty-four year old wife in 1899, Franklin decided only months later to build a distillery adjacent to the Monarch facility.  The new plant would carry the Corning name.  It had the capacity of processing 6,000 bushels of grain daily and was equipped for the manufacture of whiskey, other spirits, and pure alcohol.  The main building held huge steel tanks for cooking the mash, about 80 feet long and 20 feet in diameter.  A headline in the Peoria newspaper of October 3, 1903, told the story. An exploding tank was hurled through the north wall of the structure, landing 250 feet away.  The entire north wall of the distillery was blown down and other walls badly damaged.  Bricks and other debris were propelled throughout the distillery complex.  

More important, seven workmen were killed.  Two in the cooker room died instantly in the explosion;  three others, badly scalded by steam, died in the ambulance or later in the hospital.  Although thousands of people quickly gathered at the site to help, the search for two missing men, the yeast maker and the federal “storekeeper” for the bonded warehouses, was hampered by the severe wreckage of the building,  When found amidst the rubble both men were dead.  The cause of the disaster was presumed to be a vacuum created in the cooker.  When steam was introduced to heat the mash, the explosion followed.  Damage was estimated at $75,000, equivalent to almost $2 million today.

Because no fire had resulted from the blast and other buildings were still intact, Franklin, while presumably shaken by the deaths and destruction that had occurred, was able to rebuild the main distillery and repair collateral damage with in a matter of months.  By the spring of 1904, Corning & Company was again in full operation along the Illinois River, the distillery considered to be the second largest in the world.  Its work crews were at full strength, its stacks billowed columns of smoke and, “the heavy smell of whiskey mingled with the odor of the stockyard.”  Nearby, Corning was fattening cattle on spent mash.
The 1904 Explosion and Fire.  On the afternoon of a warm June day disaster struck Franklin Corning a second time. Fire was seen billowing out for control from Warehouse B, the one shown above, a structure containing some 30,000 barrels of aging whiskey.  The flames spread rapidly to adjacent buildings.  The fire also touched off several explosions within Warehouse B, causing the 11-story building to collapse, as seen below.  When firemen arrived they quickly realized nothing could save the burning structures and directed their efforts at preventing the conflagration from spreading further.  A writer has captured the scene:  “Torrents of blazing whiskey that were a foot deep spread quickly through gullies in the street and towards the river.  The burning spirits also spill into the sewers….The flood of fire continues on its destructive course until it reaches the stockyards.  Three thousand head of cattle in their pens are suffocated from the smoke and the surrounding buildings that were completed a few months before are burned as well.”

This time fifteen men, including one who was visiting from another Peoria distillery, lost their lives in the fires and explosions.  Corning was in New York City on business when the disaster occurred and returned quickly to Peoria.  Upon surveying the wreckage, he declared it to be the most expensive fire in the history of the American distilling industry and set the damage at $1 million (equiv. $25 million today.)

Although the fire had been contained within the Corning distilling complex, Peoria faced a major health problem in disposing the carcasses of 3,000 head of dead cattle.  Unable to find a way of removing them without causing a public health hazard, authorities poured a preparation of phenol over the remains and burned them.  The resulting stench was so intense that many men refused to work at the cattle pens, delaying clean up efforts.
The cause of the disaster was controversial.  Press reports had blamed it on an explosion in Warehouse B.  Insurance evaluators soon declared that story “unreliable” and “a fallacy.”  They tended to blame the conflagration on a workman’s lantern.  Because whiskey barrels tended to leak, particularly when expanded by heat during the summer, one employee made the rounds of racks looking for leaking whiskey.  It was speculated that this man, who carried a lantern, was careless with it, igniting the liquid.  He, however, was among the dead and could not be interrogated.  In the end, no specific cause was cited. 

Although he must have been weighed down psychologically by the death of 22  workmen during the past eight months, Corning almost immediately announced plans to rebuild again.  Within a year the distillery once more was in full operation.  An illustration here shows the major complex it had become.
The 1908 Fire:  Despite his efforts, Franklin Corning was not through with fire. On April 3, 1908 a blaze began on the fourth floor of a six-story mill building and spread to adjacent four-story elevators, engine and cooperage rooms, and threatened to engulf an eight story tower containing 125,000 gallons of whiskey. 

This time Corning was on the scene and promptly ordered that the spirits be drawn off the tower and run into vats used in the distilling process.  The liquid then was immediately piped to a nearby distillery, likely Monarch, where it was redistilled and later sold.  As a result the original damage estimate of $750,000 ($18 million equiv.) was considerably reduced to $187,000 ($4.7 million).  Unlike previous disasters, this time no lives were lost.

Corning quickly repaired the damage of 1908 and remained a well-recognized and regarded Peoria “whisky baron.”  He had the stature to reject membership in the monopolistic “Whiskey Trust” that had formed in Peoria.  While other distillers who disdained to join the Trust faced pressure and even violence,  Corning’s prestige apparently kept him above the fray.  At the same time he seems to have been keenly aware that prohibitionary forces were closing in on the U.S. liquor industry.   

He may even have sensed his own coming death.  At Springdale Cemetery where his wife, Fannie, lay, he erected an impressive mausoleum that today is counted among the historic monuments of Peoria.  When Franklin died in 1915 at the age of 66, he was interred there.  Despite the large structure only the couple and one other person, possibly a Corning aunt, occupy the mausoleum.

Corning & Company survived Franklin’s death, guided by other Corning family members who had joined him in Peoria as the distillery expanded. They operated the facility until 1919 and the coming of National Prohibition. The plant never reopened.  Schenley Industries obtained the Old Quaker name and revived the brand after Repeal.  Thus many Old Quaker bottles are not of the Corning pre—Prohibition vintage.

Among the giants of the whisky trade, Corning particularly deserves remembering as a man of great psychological strength and determination who repeatedly faced disasters to his distilling interests but tirelessly persevered and each time rebuilt his facilities bigger and better.  For Frankin Corning, “torrents of fire” held no fears.

Note:  Much of the information about the 1904 fire came from an article by Janine Crandell, published in the Jubilee Advocate in 2005.  Ms. Crandell deserves credit for the “torrents of fire” image and the quoted lines above.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Did the U.S. Tax Man Hound Jacob Sheaffer to His Grave?

Jacob Sheaffer was highly respected in his home town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  The scion of an early settler family, Sheaffer owned a distillery, a liquor dealership and a shoe store.  Times were good until October, 1893, when a fire destroyed his distillery, resulting in relentless pressure from a federal collector of revenue that ultimately may have resulted in ending Sheaffer’s life.

As the U.S. Government years later tacitly acknowledged, Sheaffer deserved a better fate.  A man with clear artistic sense, as shown by the trade card above, Jacob was born in July 1846, one of eleven children of Adam G. and Catherine Fry Sheaffer.   His father was a prosperous German Mennonite farmer in Lancaster County, as had been his grandfather and great-grandfather.   The boy received the standard elementary and secondary education in Lancaster public schools.

After serving an apprenticeship with local merchants, Sheaffer at about age 40, entered the public record when a publication called “Friday Mornings Record” reported that a distillery had begun operations at local community of Lilitz, six miles from Lancaster.  Under Sheaffer’s management it was turning out two barrels of rye whiskey daily.  “Thus it will continue until 10,000 gallons are made and stored in the loft of the brick bonded warehouse on the premises of the distillery and can remain there for three years, if necessary,”  the paper reported.  “On the same floor he has 1,760 gallons of three-summer old liquor and in the new iron bonded warehouse over 5,000 gallons of his own distillation, beside a lot of old whiskey in the retail room.”

The Record also reported that Sheaffer had opened a liquor store at No. 3 North Duke Street in Lancaster.  In a burst of enthusiasm, it ventured:  “There can be no questioning but the he is prepared to furnish the genuine articles at his store, wholesale or retail, tax paid or in bond.”  Here by inference was no fly by night, semi-moonshining operation, but one cooperating fully with the U.S. Government under the Bottled-in-Bond Act. 
Sheaffer’s enterprise must have met with early success because within several years he had moved to larger quarters in the heart of Lancaster’s business district at 15 Penn Square calling his company “Sheaffer’s Wholesale Liquor House,”  as shown above on an attractive giveaway celluloid-backed mirror.  He engaged his younger brother, Amos, as a salesman.

Sheaffer’s flagship brand was “Gold Rod” whiskey that he bottled in a series of gracefully designed salt-glazed stoneware jugs, as displayed throughout this post.  Inexplicably, Jacob never trademarked this label.   Golden Rod also came in glass square cylinder quart bottles.  No wording appears on the body to identify the brand, but instead is embossed on the bottom of each glass container.   

Also demonstrating his artistic sense, Sheaffer reached out to the Fulper Pottery of Flemington, New Jersey, to provide him with a gold-lettered, two-toned “fancy” jug for his second brand, “Jacob F. Sheaffer Pure Rye.” 

With his growing wealth from liquor sales, Sheaffer branched out into other areas, acquiring a shoe store he called “Factory Shoe Store.”  He also purchased a home in Lancaster, shown here, about four blocks from his distillery at 646-648 East King Street.  Despite an 1893 robbery at the distillery address, in which his watchman was assaulted, things seemed to be going Sheaffer’s way.

All that changed for this whiskey man in October 1893, while he was away attending the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Sheaffer’s bonded warehouse was destroyed by fire, taking with it some 40,000 gallons of whiskey that was aging there.  He had insurance, but that proved problematic.  Although the policies were in full force, many of the companies that had issued them refused to pay on the grounds that the fire had been set, tacitly accusing Sheaffer of arson.  He took them to court and won.  A U.S. Senate report summarized the outcome: “…The companies practically gave up their line of defense and settled for nearly the full amount demanded by the plaintiff.  Sheaffer got $30,000.

Despite that victory, Sheaffer’s problems had just begun.  Although the insurance included the full value of the lost property, including the whiskey consumed in the flames, it did not cover the Government tax which, under the Bottled in Bond Act, was levied upon the manufacture of whiskey and was to be paid upon its sale.  Records of the Department of the Treasury put the amount at $43,016 — equivalent to more than $1,000,000 today.  During the months the insurance cases were pending, collection of that tax had been suspended by U.S. officials.

Using the money he received in the insurance settlement, Sheaffer rebuilt his distillery and began to make whiskey again.  Then, after a delay of three years, the U.S. Government in 1896 renewed its demand for payment of the tax on the whiskey that had been destroyed in the fire.  Now authorities wanted even more money, charging an additional $2,150 as a five percent penalty.  Although Sheaffer asked authorities to abate the tax in view of the circumstances, he was was refused and the Treasury Department proceeded to enforce collection.

The major actor on the Federal side was the Collector of Internal Revenue for the Ninth District of Pennsylvania whose name, ironically given his role, was R. E. Shearer.  A political appointee of the Democratic Administration of Grover Cleveland and a friend of Pennsylvania’s governor, Shearer was relentless in pursuing payment from Sheaffer.  The pressure caused this once upright Lancaster businessman to take desperate steps.  He had obtained a financial interest in forty-four head of cattle housed in the stockyard of some friends.  The distiller was feeding the bovines with spent mash to fatten them for later sale and a split of the profits.  Apparently desperate to raise money, however, Sheaffer broke into the stockyards without the knowledge or permission of his partners, took away the cattle and sold them.  His partners hauled him into court and secured a judgment against him for $1,198. 

With his reputation in Lancaster now besmirched, Sheaffer almost certainly knew and dreaded what  would come.  The news made headlines in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, hundreds of miles away:  “Lancaster Pa, Feb. 15, 1897 — A sensation was created in business circles here today when the sheriff closed the liquor store and the shoe store of Jacob F. Sheaffer….”  The sheriff was acting on orders from the merciless revenue collector R. E. Shearer who then seized all Sheaffer’s business properties, including the distillery, the warehouse, and its contents.  Jacob had borrowed almost $15,000 (equiv. $350,000) from relatives to rebuild his distillery;  now he met to inform them he was forced to default on their loans.   David Landis, a local banker and friend who had gone surety for Sheaffer was forced to sell his personal possessions to complete the payment to the Feds.

In disgrace over rustling cattle, having lost his businesses, defaulted on relatives and brought down a trusting friend, Sheaffer at age 52 must have been in deep despair and it seems to have impaired his health.   Just over a year later after the foreclosure, in April 1898, Jacob died and was buried in Lancaster’s Woodward Hill Cemetery.  His widow, Mary, seemingly deeply affected by all these horrific events, joined him in the grave less than four months later. She was only 45 years old. Their monument is shown here.
The surviving members of the family, outraged about the injustice that had been done to Sheaffer, taxed unfairly on destroyed whiskey,  clamored after their political representatives in Washington to right the wrong by compensating Sheaffer’s estate.  The Landis family did likewise.  A Pennsylvania senator in 1903 introduced a sympathetic bill that asked that the U.S. Court of Claims determine compensation for the injustices. It passed. The Court agreed that a mistake had been made and that recompense was due. It awarded the Sheaffer estate $34,055, and Landis $11,112.   The distribution formula subsequently was challenged in court by the Landis estate and not finally adjudicated until 1924 — more than a quarter century after the seizure — when the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the Court of Claims distribution should stand.

Of course, Jacob Sheaffer no longer was around to enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that his utter ruin at the hands of an over-zealous Federal officer now had been repudiated officially by the U.S. Congress and Federal Courts and compensation paid.  Nor could the money ceded to Sheaffer’s family bring Jacob back from the early grave to which his own government seemingly had hounded him.