Monday, February 20, 2017

The Schimpelers of Louisville Were Rolling in Clover

“Rolling in clover” Fig. having good fortune; in a very good situation, especially financially.  From the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms.

Labeling their proprietary whiskeys “Old Clover” and “Cloverdale,” the Schimpelers of Louisville joined more than a dozen distilleries and liquor wholesalers aspiring to be “in clover” with their liquor brands.  In that pursuit the Louisville, Kentucky, liquor wholesalers were exercising one of the principal strategies (tricks?) of the whiskey business — shamelessly making dubious claims.

Clover, that attractive and sweet vegetation, was a popular name bestowed on whiskey in the pre-Prohibition era.   The trademark for “Clover” itself belonged to Rhem-Zeihler Company of Louisville.  Boyle and McGlinn of Philadelphia registered “Clover Club”;  J & G Butler of Columbus, “Clover Dale”;  Deverlaux & Meserve of Boston, “Clover Leaf”; and S. Hirsch of Kansas City, “Clover Nook.” [See my post on Hirsch Dec. 2011.]   Another six whiskey houses, not bothering with trademarks, variously issued “Clover Bottom,” “Cloverdale,” “Clover Lawn,” “Clover Leaf,” “Clover Rye,” “Clovertop,” and “Clover Valley.”

In order to fight their way through this crowded field of “Clovers,”  the Schimpelers resorted to stretching the truth that, while not at all unusual in the liquor business, might have startled their customers had they known about it.  For example,  a “puff” article the company generated in 1895 asserted that the Schimpelers “…are largely interested in the famous Cloverland distillery, Nelson County, Ky., the entire output of which they handle….”  An embossed bottle with that name is shown here.

In truth, there is no evidence that the “famous” Cloverland Kentucky distillery ever existed.  The name appears nowhere in government records that were carefully kept for taxing purposes.  Clover Bottom was a name given to a Kentucky distillery but it was located in Anderson County, not Nelson County.  Other records indicate that at the time the Schimpelers actually were obtaining whiskey from the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery in Jefferson County.  Far from handling the entire output of that distillery, the Schimpelers were only one of about two dozen whiskey dealers who were drawing from it for their brands and often claiming ownership for themselves.  

The Schimpelers were prone to making claims without documentary evidence.  They advertised that “Old Clover” had been endorsed by the president of the Kentucky Board of Health, prominent physicians of Louisville,and “leading professors of Louisville’s medical colleges.”  Just assertions, no evidence. In an 1899 ad they also claimed to be …One of the first houses to bottle their product in bond under the supervision of government officers, thus guaranteeing to the consumer the absolute purity and quality of “Old Clover” whisky….”  The National Bottle-In-Bond Act, passed by Congress two years earlier, had nothing to do with guaranteeing whiskey quality.  Moreover, the act dictated that distilleries age whiskey four years.  None would have been available for bottling until 1891 — two years after the Schimpelers’ ad appeared.

It is hard to be too judgmental about the Schimpelers’ “alternative facts,” however, since similar claims were standard in the liquor industry and the family was struggling for profitability in a crowded, competitive field. 
F. X. Schimpeler, known as “Xavier,” had been born in Baden Germany, in December 1829, in the resort town of Bodman on the shores of Lake Constance.  It is a wine-growing region and after his education in German schools Schimpeler may have been employed in viniculture before leaving for the United States in early 1854.  A brother, Joseph, appears to have arrived earlier and settled in Louisville where he was engaged in the liquor trade and had become a partner in Wolff & Schimpeler, a business located on Market Street between Second and Third.  Xavier also found work in the field, working for C. Henry Finck & Company, a whiskey wholesaler located on the same block.

In 1873, the Wolff & Schimpeler partnership fractured, with each man going his separate way.  Joseph set up on his own at 47 Market Street and by the next year Xavier had left C. Henry Finck and partnered with him to open a liquor house called Schimpeler Brothers.  In the meantime Xavier had married Katharina Krieger, born in O Neustalt ander Hardt, Germany, and an immigrant to the United States.  In quick succession the couple had two sons, Charles Xavier born in 1859 and Henry born in 1860.  As they matured both sons were taken into the firm, initially as clerks.

About 1878, Joseph died leaving Xavier as the sole proprietor of the firm.  About 1884, he took son Charles as a partner and changed the firm name to F. X. Schimpeler & Son.   When Henry was ready for executive status about 1892, he was made a partner and the name amended to F. X. Schimpeler & Sons.  The company headquarters then was located at 230 West Market Street, the building shown right.

With Xavier’s death in April 1900 at age 71, Charles took over the presidency of the organization, moving it to a building, shown here, at 416 Main Street.  Within two years, however, for reasons I have not yet discovered, the whiskey business his family had established more than a quarter century earlier disappeared from Louisville business directories, never to return.

The Schimpeler are buried together in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery, the burying ground for so many well-recognized Kentucky whiskey men.  The family occupies Section P, Lot 290.  Lying beside Xavier is his wife, Katharina who died at age 41.  Both Charles and Henry are buried there with their wives.  During their lifetimes the family had been “rolling in clover” — wealthy —  from profits gained from their liquor house.  Now they lie beneath it. 
Note:  The descendants of the Schimpeler family may think it unfair of me in making them the poster boys for the chicanery that was so common in the liquor industry before National Prohibition.  Why target them when “everybody was doing it”?   Well, a principal reason for fingering them is that the Schimpelers seem to have been so good at it. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Frederick Welz Found Wealth in Hotels and Hooch

At five feet, nine inches tall, Frederick Rudolph Welz was not a big man, but he carried a lot of weight in St. Paul, Minnesota, as owner of the city’s largest and most prestigious hotel and a major liquor house and saloon.  An immigrant from Germany, Wells was worth the equivalent today of $25 million when he died. It was said of him: “…Every dollar which he possesses has been earned since he came to America….”

Early Days. Frederick was born in Germany in 1833, the son of Rudolph and Elenore Bohme Welz.  His birthplace has been given variably as Berlin and Finsterwalde, a city 135 miles distant from Berlin.  He was educated in local public schools and must have shown early promise.  By the age of 24 in 1857 he had become the proprietor of a woolen goods factory.  According to a biographer:  “He made it a successful, productive industry,  one he conducted until 1873.   

This period encompassed three major wars that disrupted the German economy, particularly affecting manufacturing.  Welz’s company suffered heavy losses and he was obliged to shut it down.  He looked across the Atlantic to the United States and concluded that this country offered more opportunity for him and his family. In 1857 he had married Maria Theresa Goepfert, known as “Theresie” throughout her life. The next year a daughter, Marie Theresa, was born.  She would be an only child.  In 1874 Welz packed up and left Germany with his family.

Philadelphia.  Welz’s first stop on his American journey was in the City of Brotherly Love.  He carried with him letters of introduction from prominent citizens of Berlin, one of them to the banking house of Drexel & Company.  The bank offered him the money to buy a stake in a failing Philadelphia woolen mill and thereafter manage it.  After surveying the prospects, Welz wisely rejected the opportunity finding that only one of 400 mill employees spoke German and he at the time spoke no English.  Instead he accepted a lesser job with the Public Ledger newspaper supervising their newsboys.

Ever frugal, Welz in time saved enough money to buy a restaurant, where he soon found he had a particular ability in providing food and drink.  After three years of running his restaurant he had saved $10,000, equivalent to $250,000 today, and looked around to buy a hotel.

Indianapolis. He found one in Indiana in 1878, purchasing the Circle Park House in Indianapolis, a leading hostelry and favorite of circus folks.  Although Welz spent only four years in Indianapolis, they proved to be pivotal in two ways.  They launched him on a career in the hotel business and he met Dr. Christian Fry, who would become his son-in-law and business partner.  Fry, a native of New York, had come to Indiana as a farm worker, studied medicine, practiced in for a time, and then opened a pharmacy in Indianapolis. The two met when Fry wooed and later married Welz’s daughter Marie Theresa.

While in Indianapolis, Welz, now speaking English with some facility, became a naturalized citizen.  From a passport we have a description of his appearance in middle age:  dark brown hair;  swarthy complexion; high forehead; broad face, nose and chin, full mouth and gray eyes.  After three years of running the Circle Park House, in 1882 Welz, always looking for a better opportunity, sold the property and with his wife, and the young Fry couple, headed north to St. Paul, Minnesota.

St. Paul and Hotels.  In his new home city, Welz managed  Welz Found Wealth in Hotels and Hooch  and eventually acquired the Clarendon Hotel at the northeast corner of Sixth and Wabasha.  Although that hostelry had proven unprofitable under three previous owners, Welz transformed it into a first class, money-making hotel.  “He brought to the business keen discernment, unflagging enterprise, and a knowledge of the demands of the traveling public….”   After three years, however, Welz tired of running the Clarendon, sold it, and took an extended holiday with his wife to Germany.

Upon his return, in association with Dr. Fry, who was running a St. Paul pharmacy, Welz brought or, some sources say, leased the Merchants Hotel, shown left. This was a premier property in St. Paul at the corner of Jackson and Third Streets, a popular place for social reunions and political gatherings.  Just before the convening of the Minnesota legislature and state conventions the hotel’s rotunda and halls were crowded with politicians and onlookers.

As was his usual pattern, after five years of operating the Merchants Hotel, Welz with Theresie in 1892 embarked on another extended trip to Germany, taking the waters at Carlsbad.  This time he apparently had decided to get out of the hotel business entirely and instead set his sights on St. Paul’s lucrative liquor trade.
The Sterling Wine House.  Upon returning Welz took a local businessman, Robert Mangler, as a partner and established a wholesale and retail liquor business called “Welz-Mangler Co., Importers and Jobbers, Wines and Liquors.”  Located in a four-story building at 466-468 Wabasha, corner of Ninth St., the facility also housed a saloon called the Sterling Wine House, as shown here in an illustration.  
The company decanted whiskey received from distilleries elsewhere into its own ceramic containers and peddled them to a range of drinking establishments. In the matter of wooing clientele Welz demonstrated the same good instincts that had served him in the hotel industry.   Competition for the business of St. Paul and Minneapolis saloons, restaurants and hotels was keen.  Customer loyalty could be fostered by attractive giveaway items like back-of-the bar bottles and shot glasses advertising Welz-Mangler.  Frederick saw to it his clients were well supplied.

The German-American entrepreneur would find that running a saloon could have its downside.  In April 1897, at the behest of a crusading mayor, the St. Paul police raided the Sterling Wine House, apparently on the spurious grounds that it was a front for prostitution.  According to a  press account, The police discovered no evidence to charge the on-site manager with conducting a bawdy house, but found five women, one a cook, on the premises and charged them with “disorderly conduct and visiting saloons.”  

Local newspaper stories derided the mayor and police, suggesting that nothing illegal had occurred and questioning why “a place which has been conducted as orderly and well as [Sterling Wine House] should be pulled and the visitors of a Saturday evening hustled off to the police station.

The Ryan Hotel.  While still involved in the liquor house, Welz’s interest took another turn.  A St. Paul family named Mehls had built and attempted to operate a large luxury hotel called the Ryan. It is shown right.  Apparently not experienced at managing such an establishment and facing a economic downturn during the Panic of 1893, the Mehls went bankrupt and a bank repossessed the hotel.  Welz, in partnership with Fry, bought it.

St. Paul newspapers were positive about the takeover, citing Welz’s past success in turning hotels profitable and noting that the new owner, despite other business interests like the liquor house, would be “giving his whole attention to the Ryan.” While promising repairs, renovation, new decorations and furnishings to the Ryan, Dr. Fry warned that the partners “…do not expect to make much money out of the hotel for the first year, but think that hotel business being now at the bottom in this city is bound to go up again and will be profitable.”

Welz and Fry were right.  The economy rebounded.  The Ryan Hotel prospered. To quote a biographer:  “They [Welz and Fry] made it the leading hotel of the city….They made the name of Ryan famous throughout the northwest….”
Once again Frederick Welz made money, retiring from running the hotel in 1904 at the age of 71.  He continued, however, to be listed as secretary-treasurer of the liquor house and saloon.

The Latter Years.  Throughout his career, Welz — now referred to as a “capitalist” — had made investments in Minnesota real estate and was considered a leading landowner in Hennepin County.  In addition, he had nine grandchildren to hold his attention, the product of the fruitful marriage of Christian Fry and his daughter..

As he aged, Welz traveled to Florida to escape the harsh winters of Minnesota.  He was in Daytona when he died in February 1910 at the age of 76. The cause given was “a stroke of apoplexy,” meaning either a cerebral hemorrhage or a heart attack.  His daughter was by his side in his last moments and arranged for his body to be taken back to St. Paul.  As his family grieved by his graveside, Frederick Welz was interred in Oakland Cemetery next to Theresie, who had died four years earlier.  A large plinth marks their individual graves and those of other family members.
A last word about this remarkable hotelier and whiskey man will be left to his contemporary biographer: “Mr. Welz is a man of generous impulse, of kindly disposition and is liberal in his contributions to the many charitable movements and plans for the benefit of the city.  He has never had occasion to regret his determination to come to America….”  

Note:  While this post was derived from many sources, of particular value was the two page biography of Frederick Wells to be found in the 1908 book, “Past and Present of St. Paul, Minnesota, Illustrated with Views and Portraits,” by W. B. Hennessy.  Except as otherwise indicated, all the italicized quotes are from that volume as is the Welz portrait. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Raubers of Rochester: Early Responsibilities, Early Deaths

Beginning at unusually early ages, two generations of the Rauber family operated a thriving liquor business in Rochester, New York.  Their enterprising ways could not prevent them, however, from suffering a series of untimely deaths.

The sons of Stephen and Helena (Gregorius) Rauber, the Rauber brothers, John and Peter,  originally were from Wayland, New York, where their father, an immigrant from Germany, was a well-off farmer.  John was the first born in 1850;  Peter followed in 1858.  Formal education for both boys ended in their early teens.   Farm life apparently had little or no appeal and they gravitated the 50 or so miles to the big city, Rochester.  

John was the first to arrive in 1866, sixteen years old, and working as a driver for the Rau Brewery, a Rochester beer-maker founded in 1854.  According to a biographer:  “Active and diligent he won the esteem of his employers and gained promotion from time to time with a corresponding increase of wage that at length enabled him to save a sufficient amount to engage in business on his own account.”  John was listed in the 1875 New York State census as a “beer peddler” that may indicate owning a saloon.   In the meantime, he had married Mary A. Raymer (sometimes given as “Rayner”), a New York native.  They would go on to have a family of nine children.  

Peter arrived later and although only 20 years old appears in 1878 almost immediately to have launched a liquor house called P. F. Rauber & Bro., with John as his partner.  The company was self-described as “Importers and wholesale dealers in wines, brandies, gins, old bourbon and Monongahela whiskey. Manufacturers of double rectified whiskey and spirits, copper distilled whiskey.”   It advertised extensively in Rochester and environs.

Why the business was named after the younger rather than the older brother is something of a puzzle.  John was eight years senior and established in Rochester;  Peter was still a minor and a newcomer.  Perhaps it was related to the finances behind the start-up.  Starting a whiskey business was expensive.  John likely provided much of the financing, but by then was running his own saloon and wanted Peter to manage the liquor business.   According to a 1918 History of Rochester and Monroe County:  “From the beginning the new enterprise proved a profitable one — a fact which was due to the excellence of their product and also to the fact that they were ever found reliable and trustworthy in business transactions.”

The Rauber brothers were not shy about letting the public know that in addition to being liquor wholesalers, they also were “rectifiers,” that is,  blending whiskeys to achieve particular taste and color.   Among the brands they were mixing up in their several progressive addresses on Rochester’s West Main Street were: "Belle of Monroe,” "Belle of Rochester,” "Brunswick Rye,” “Champlain,” "Double Rectified,” "Eagle Rye,” "Flour City Club,” "J. R. C.,” "North King,” “Plumsure,” and "Wheat Malt.”  Shown here is a salt-glazed stoneware jug with “P.F. Rauber” written in cobalt, likely for whiskey sold wholesale to local drinking establishments.

After 18 years at the helm of the Rauber liquor house in April 1896 Peter died at the early age of 38.  He was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester.  A large granite monument marks his grave.   Peter does not appear to have married and there is no record of children.  With his death,  John Rauber took over the management of the liquor firm and changed the name to his own.  

Two whiskey jugs are found with that name on them.  At left is a crudely made ceramic container that has “John Rauber” impressed into the surface.  A second jug with that name is salt glazed stoneware with the name in cobalt script.  These jugs likely were produced during the 16 months that John Rauber was guiding the fortunes of the family liquor house.  Then at the relatively young age of 47 in August 1897 he too died. 

With his death came warm tributes in his memory.  John Rauber was hailed as man who had made many friends in both the business and social world and was particularly known as a friend to the children of the Rochester.  One encomium ended:  “In matters of citizenship he was progressive and public spirited and gave active support to many measures for the public good. It is thus that the community lost a citizen it had learned to value.” 

Enter John S. Rauber.  The eldest son of John, he was born in 1879 and educated in the parochial schools of Rochester.   Shown right, he was only seventeen years old when his father died and the entire responsibility for the large liquor firm founded by his uncle and father became his.  For the next two years, the firm would be known as the “John Rauber Estate” until John S. reached twenty-one years and could be given power of attorney.  Said one writer: …There is perhaps no one of his years in the United States at the head of so important a wine and liquor house.” 

A Rauber family friend was quoted about the young man:  “John S. Rauber, with his powerful constitution and ability, has a great future before him.  He can give advice as sound and valuable as the oldest and ablest men in the business….He is original….In finance, I consider him in his line of business with no superior at his age.”

John S. was responsible for some changes at the liquor house.  He altered the name to the John Rauber Co. and brought a younger brother, Henry P., into the business as an associate.    For the first time the firm trademarked two of its proprietary brands:  “Belle of Rochester” in 1905 and “Plumsure" in 1910. In 1905 he introduced new brand of whiskey, calling it “Rochester Club.”  It became popular and helped him double the sales of John Rauber & Co. during the first decade of his management.  He also reformed internal operating systems that resulted in dollar savings.

In addition to shouldering the responsibilities of the liquor house, John S. found time for love and marriage.   At the age of 27 in June 1906, he married Anna A. Lynch, the daughter of a Rochester widow, Catherine Lynch.  Just over a year later a daughter was born; they named her Eunice Catherine.   Rauber became socially active in the city, a member of the Rochester Club, the Rochester Whist Club, and the Elks, and was recognized as an “expert gentleman driver” in local sulky racing circles.

Not all ways were smooth for John S.  In 1909 he purchased a life insurance policy for Charles Rauber, when his younger brother reached twenty years old.  The policy from Mutual Life Insurance Co. of New York contained a clause that in effect cancelled it if Charles became involved in an “extra hazardous” occupation, including the liquor trade.  Notwithstanding that prohibition, John S. transferred a one-ninth ownership share of John Rauber Co. to Charles.  When the young man died a year later the insurance company refused to pay off on the policy.  John S. sued but lost, the New York Court of Appeals finding that the clause was valid even though Charles had taken no active part in the liquor business.

Then came National Prohibition.  The Rauber family liquor house was forced to shut down.  John S. and his family continue to live in Rochester after its imposition in 1920.  Six years later he died, still a young 47, and was buried with other family members in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.   After Repeal in 1934 neither the liquor house nor any of its brands were resurrected.

There is a great deal to respect about the Raubers. Responsibility early descended on them.  It came to John at age 16, to Peter at 21, to John S. at 17.  They accepted the challenges and succeeded.  They also knew too well the sorrows of early death. The end came to Charles at 21, to Peter at 38, and to both John and his son John S. at 47.  Today they all lie together with other relatives in a family plot at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.  Requiescat in pace.

Note:  Much of the material for this vignette, including the italicized quotes and Rauber photos, was taken from the 1918 “History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York,” Vol. II, by William F. Peck

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Maysville Corner Was Milton Russell’s Own

In 1859 when the youthful Milton Culbertson Russell went to work at the grocery store at Third and Market Streets in Maysville, Kentucky, no one could have predicted that he would develop an obsession with this street corner that eventually would lead to his buying the building, tearing it down, and constructing an even finer edifice to house his liquor dealership.

Russell, shown right in adulthood, as a youth probably excited little or no interest among the citizens of Maysville.  Born in April 1844, he was the son of Christopher, a British-born bricklayer, who had emigrated to the U.S. and settled in town about 1830.  Nor was his mother, Mary (Maule) Russell, to be considered local gentry.  Before moving to Maysville, seen below, she had lived in Cincinnati and was accounted as the first woman ever to work in one of that city’s mercantile establishments.   At the time many would have seen such employment as scandalous.
Russell himself had only limited formal education, quitting school and going to work at the age of 15 as a clerk in a wholesale grocery owned by John Richeson,  located at the northeast corner of Third and Market Streets in Maysville.   Five years later D. A. Richardson took over the business.   A grocer bent on selling liquor, Richardson kept Russell on as a salesman.  A biographer says of the young man during this period:  “He eventually made himself an indispensable factor in connection with the business, as he throughly familiarized himself with all details thereof and showed marked discrimination and executive ability.”  In the 1880 census Russell gave his position with Richardson as “bookkeeper.”

Milton also was having a personal life. At the age of 21 in April 1865, he married Elexene Porter Johnson, a woman of about his own age who had been born in Germantown, Kentucky, the daughter of a pioneer family in the state.  She was known as “Woody” to friends and family.  The couple would  have three sons, J. Barbour, born in 1866; Christopher, 1868, and Thomas J., 1872.  

In 1881 Russell, now a mature 37 years old, bought a financial interest in the store at the corner of Third and Market Streets and five years later became sole owner.  The original structure where the teenaged Milton had worked has been described as “an ordinary three-story brick building.”  In 1892 Russell decided to tear it down and “replace it will one more in conformity with modern ideas and especially adapted to the use to which it was to be put.”

The resulting construction, shown right, was five stories tall with a spacious basement.  At the time it was considered the largest mercantile building in Maysville.  Bedford limestone columns provided base ornamentals for the structure and the cornerstone carried Russell’s initials, MCR.  Two angels held the building date and flanked the name, Russell Building, on its south side.  It was estimated to cost $20,000.  Considered a major beautiful addition to downtown Maysville, it was featured on a postcard providing a vista of Third Street looking east.  Offsite Russell maintained two large warehouses to store surplus stock.
Although Russell’s enterprise sold wholesale groceries, liquor was its principal product as indicated by a local newspaper story:  “The company…handle Grand Dad and other leading brands of whiskies, and also carry a full line of wines, gins and brandies of the highest grade.”  The Russell marketed his liquor and other goods far outside Maysville, employing a large corp of traveling salesmen.

Russell also was making a name for himself as a public spirited businessman. He held the offices of secretary and treasurer of the local fire company, working to transform it from a volunteer force into a professional metropolitan service.  He was secretary of the Mason County Building and Loan Association; a member of the Masons, Knights of Pythias, Elks and Odd Fellows fraternal organizations, and a staunch Republican who never sought office.  A biographer characterized him as “…A man of broad mental ken and most insistent civic loyalty, and he did all in his power to further the social and industrial progress of his home city, whose welfare ever lay close to his heart.”

While pursuing broader community activities, Russell never forgot the little corner of the world that had given him his start and continued to be the site of his business enterprise.  Scattered throughout this post are a number of whiskey jugs he issued. They vary in size from quarts to five gallon ceramic containers. Virtually all have a two-toned glazes and an attractive underglaze label. Note that all of them contain the message: “COR 3rd & MARKET STS.” 

In 1890 he brought his eldest son, J. Barbour Russell. into the business as a partner and the company became M.C. Russell & Son.  His growing prosperity also allowed Milton the purchase of a Maysville mansion to house his family.  Still standing, it was built in 1886 and features spacious rooms on the lower floors with massive woodwork and large openings between twin parlors on the ground floor.  Called “unique and unforgettable,” the manse was noted for its stain-glass windows and inlaid stone.  It featured broad grounds where Exelene Russell fostered a garden where flowers were said to “grow in great profusion.”

As he aged, Russell was plagued with health problems, likely including diabetes causing gangrenous feet, kidney failure and heart problems.  He retired from active control of his business about 1901 but as his obituary noted:  “Whenever his health would permit, however, and often when not physically able, was found at his place of business up to the last, assisting in the management of its affairs.”

In July 1902, at the age of 58, Milton Russell succumbed to his ailments and died.  The end apparently came suddenly, according to the Marysville Evening Bulletin.  His funeral was conducted at the Russell home, with religious services conducted by an elder of the Christian Church where the family had been adherents.  The Oddfellows were in charge of the procession to the graveyard but other lodges to which Russell belonged joined in.  Milton was interred at Oval Lot 2 in the Maysville Cemetery.  His grave is shown here,

With his father’s death, J. Barbour Russell became president, changing the name to “M. C. Russell Co.”  He was assisted in running the operation by his younger brother, Thomas.  Both men, according to a local history, were “…Numbered among the reliable, progressive and essentially representative business men of their native city where they are well upholding the prestige of the honored name which they bear.”  J. Barbour, remembered as a flamboyant figure around Maysville, continued to sell liquor from the wholesale grocery until National Prohibition. In 1930 he also conceived and financed building the Russell Theatre, a structure currently being rehabilitated, located near the family mansion. 

Exelene “Woody” Russell remained in the family home, cited as “…Long a center of generous and refined hospitality….She…has been a valued and popular factor in connection with the best social activities of Maysville….”  When she died in 1922 at age 76 after 20 years as a widow, she was buried next to her late husband at Maysville Cemetery.

After his passing, many praises were lavished on Milton Russell.  I have chosen one from his obituary in the Maysville Evening Bulletin that helps elucidate his character and personality:  “A man of genial disposition, with a smile and pleasant word for all and was ever ready to lend a helping hand.  He loved this city and any move looking to its welfare always received his encouragement.”  To that I would add that Milton Russell demonstrated a particular love — perhaps even obsession — for the northeast corner of 3rd and Market Streets where his highly successful career began.

Note:  Much of the information and all the direct quotes in this post were obtained from two sources:  “A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians” by E. Polk Johnson, undated, and the Maysville Evening Bulletin of July 22, 1902. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Sunsteins Shone Brightly in Pittsburgh

According to family lore Cass Sunstein,shown right, escaped to the United States from his native region on the Polish-Lithuanian border by being smuggled out in a stack of hay.  After settling in Pittsburgh, neither Cass, nor later his son Abraham, ever sought to avoid detection.  Rather, as Pennsylvania whiskey wholesalers and distillers, the Sunsteins became bright lights of the trade.

Cass Sunstein was born in 1843 in Sulwalki, a town in northeastern Poland that was an area of constant struggle between the forces of Russia, Lithuania, and Poland.  He came from a distinguished Jewish family and was a descendant of Vilna Goan, shown left, a famous rabbi who was a leader of non-hasidic Jewry and known as “the saintly genius from Vilnius.”  Cass’s parents were Edith (Silverman) and Noah Sunstein  As he grew up, Sunstein shared the resistance among the youth of Sulwalki against being conscripted into the Russian Imperial Army.  He determined to leave and was smuggled out by friends. 

After his arrival in Pittsburgh in 1866 or 1867, Sunstein may have found work in one of the many liquor houses in that city.  During this period he also took time to become a naturalized citizen of the United States.  Still in his 20s he first surfaced in business directories in 1870 as a liquor dealer on Pittsburgh’s Main Street.  A photograph shows a young man, likely Cass, beneath a sign that says C. Sunstein and the address “121.”   Note the advertising signs, several labeled “Monongahela.”  Sunstein strongly featured Pennsylvania rye whiskeys throughout his career. 

Among Cass’s incentives to succeed was the need to bring his wife, Tillie (Shapiro) Sunstein — also related to Vilna Goan — to the United States, along with their four children, Abraham, Meyer, Solomon and Nellie.  The family was recorded arriving in 1870.  The Sunsteins lived briefly on Wylie Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District before settling in what is now the West End.  Shortly after that move Tillie Sunstein died.  Likely wanting a mother for his children, Cass married soon again.  She was Rose Fink, a woman 13 years his junior and, like him, an immigrant from Sulwalki.  Cass and Rose would have four children of their own, Daisy, Elias, Leon, and a child who died in infancy.   The couple is shown here in their later years. 

As his business grew, Sunstein moved his liquor house several times, usually on or close to Main Street.  Shown here is one of the locations, prominently advertising Pennsylvania rye whiskey.  The store was configured as a wholesale liquor outlet with direct openings to the street, allowing wagons easy loading and unloading of liquor barrels.  The figure far right in the photo appears to be Sunstein himself.  The young boy with the bowler hat to his right may be his son Abraham, known as A.J.  He is said to have worked for his father from childhood.  As they matured other sons were taken into the business and in 1897 the name of the firm became “C. Sunstein & Sons.”

In addition to being whiskey wholesalers, the Sunsteins were rectifiers, that is, mixing and blending whiskeys to achieve a particular taste and color.  Among their proprietary brands, were "Aliquippa Pure Rye,” "Bald Eagle,” "Golden Crest Rye,” "Old Yough Rye,” and "Unexcelled Pure Rye.”  None of them were ever trademarked.

Like many rectifiers, the Sunsteins likely had difficulty finding raw product.  The “Whiskey Trust” attempt at monopoly had reduced supplies and raised prices. They looked around for a distillery of their own. The opportunity came in 1889 when the Sam Thompson distillery near West Brownsville, Pennsylvania, along the Monongahela River, came up for sale.  The owner had found mining coal  more interesting than making whiskey.  [See my post on Thompson, September 2012.]

Shown above, the facilities Sunstein bought consisted of three large brick warehouses, one of them eight stories high, the distillery itself, and several out buildings.  The plant had the capacity to produce fifty barrels of whiskey a day. Warehouses, ventilated and heated by steam, held 36,000 barrels for aging.  An adjacent storage house had capacity for 50,000 bushels of grain.  Sunstein subsequently added a drying house where the spent mash could be prepared for animal feed.

Thompson had employed a master distiller named Doheny whom the family wisely kept as the plant supervisor.  Under the leadership of Abraham, known as A. J., the Sunsteins earned a national reputation and clientele for Sam Thompson Pure Rye.  Attaching attractive labels, they sold it at retail in flask and quart sizes.  

Eventually the increased business demanded even larger space for their Pittsburgh offices and the company made its final move in 1895 to 317-319 First Avenue.  Shown here, the building boasted eight stories and a giant painted sign announcing C. Sunstein & Sons.

As he aged, Sunstein ceded more and more authority to his sons, particularly to A. J. who rapidly gained a reputation for himself as a whiskey man.  Another son Meyer worked as a clerk in the operation.  In April 1913, Cass died at age 70, the cause given as acute pneumonia.  With his widow, Rose, and his children gathered at the gravesite he was buried in Pittsburgh’s West View Cemetery.  The family monument is shown here.  Cass’s gravestone is fourth from the left.

Meanwhile A.J. Sunstein was making his mark.  In 1887 he married Nora Oppenheimer, the daughter of an early settler in Pittsburgh.  They had two children, Tillie and Alexander.  Recognition of his business acumen led to A.J.’s election in 1901 and 1902 as president of the National Association of Distillers and Wholesale Dealers, afterward serving on its executive committee. He also had multiple terms as president of the Distillers Association of Pennsylvania. 

Out of this experience A. J., shown here, was selected as the spokesman for the rectifiers of America when challenged by the bourbon and straight rye distillers of Kentucky and elsewhere.  With the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 those forces had gained an ally in Dr. Wiley, chief administrator of the Act, for the argument that rectified whiskey should be labeled “artificial.”  When a Whiskey Commission was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, Sunstein was chosen to put the case for the rectifiers.  While balking at the notion of “artificial,” he was willing to allow such liquor to be branded as “redistilled whiskey,” “recified whiskey” or “neutral whiskey.”  In the end no compromise was necessary:  all whiskey remained simply whiskey.

Although A. J. Sunstein opposed National Prohibition, he seems to have understood its inevitably.  Two years before it was imposed, he shut down the liquor house his father had founded 48 years earlier and turned his attention fulltime to philanthropy.  He was particularly active in Jewish charitable causes including serving as president of the Montefiore Hospital in Pittsburgh and trustee of the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives in Denver, Colorado.  He died in December, 1926, and was interred in a mausoleum not far from the Sunstein family plot.

Thus ended a family saga that began with the descendant of a famous rabbi leaving his family and being smuggled out of Poland to a New World of opportunity where the Sunsteins could demonstrate their brilliance as whiskey men.