Friday, June 24, 2011
101 Years of Fulton Whiskey
Shown here is a caricature of Henry R. Myers sitting on a barrel of whiskey, surrounded by a blizzard of letters. It represented the success of a man and a whiskey organization located in Covington, Kentucky, one that almost uniquely in America survived and prospered for more than a century.
Among the nation’s best known brands., Fulton Whiskey originated in in 1817 when a colorful Scots-Irishman named Malcolm Fulton founded his distillery in the Ohio River city just across from Cincinnati.
Growing up in Northern Ireland in a family of distillers, Fulton joined the French army under Napoleon as a youth and was on the disastrous winter retreat from Moscow. Wounded at the battle of Leipzig in 1813, Malcolm’s political allegiances barred him from returning to Ireland after his recovery. Consequently he took his distilling skills to Hungary, Germany, and finally to the United States.
Finding his way to Kentucky, Fulton convinced a moneyed man there to help him build a small distillery where he could manufacture a whiskey according to a “secret” family formula. He called his product "Fulton Whiskey." The brand was an immediate success and the facility was enlarged. Its slogan became: “Unequaled Natural Advantages Make Fulton Superior.”
Malcolm Fulton married the daughter of his investor and raised a family whose members after his death kept the distillery and whiskey recipe going for 60 more years. Eventually the inheritance came to a great-granddaughter who wanted little to do with whiskey. Business suffered severely.
Enter Henry Myers. The son and grandson of distillers himself, he saw great possibilities for Fulton Whiskey. In 1887 Myers negotiated the purchase of the plant, the secret formula, and the business, giving him the sole right to manufacture Fulton Whiskey. Because the original buildings were in grave disrepair, he constructed new ones and greatly increased production capacity. The rebuilt distillery is shown here from a letterhead illustration.
Early on Myers decided that his marketing future lay in mail order sales and widespread advertising. His aim was to sell in large quantities. His ads indicated he marketed casks holding 10, 26, and 46 gallons. In addition he patented a series of demijohns holding from two to almost five gallons of whiskey. Many of these large glass bottles have survived, usually without their rattan wrapping. Myers also employed blue stenciled stoneware jugs of one and two gallon capacity.
Like other enterprising whiskey barons, Myers also fancied giveaways. If you bought a sufficient quantity of Fulton Whiskey, he threw in two mini-bottles like the one shown here. He might also send along a corkscrew , one of several advertising shot glasses, or for a really big order, a fancy back-of-the-bar decanter.
Myers’ marketing strategy was a huge success. By 1902 U.S. postal officials had upgraded Covington from a 2nd class to a 1st class office because of the volume of Fulton Whiskey mail order sales. The company, cannot have been popular with mail carriers. Imagine lugging one of those filled five gallon demijohns up to someone’s front door. All mailed goods, even the casks, came in “plain wrappers” to foil nosy neighbors.
To fend off copycat use of the Fulton name, a fairly common practice in that day, Myers registered the brand name with the Federal Government in 1906. Another common practice of distillers was to pay independent agents for the right to distribute their products in a particular territory. Myers advertising boasted that because the company sold directly to consumers, it avoided those commissions and fees and could pass the savings on to customers.
If Myers was the bane of mail carriers, he likely was beloved by his workers. His employees, he claimed, enjoyed optimal working conditions and “better pay and better hours than is the custom elsewhere.” Benefits included leave for all National holidays, a free hot midday dinner, and profit-sharing through which every employee received a pro rata share of profits. Myers clearly was ahead of his time in his workforce policies.
Despite these enlightened attitudes Myers’ operation took a body blow with the 1913 Congressional passage of the Webb-Kenyon Act. It forbid mail order sales of liquor into “dry” states or localities. Violations met with stiff penalties. The customer base for Fulton Whiskey was cut drastically. The end came in 1918 with the enactment of National Prohibition. After 101 years Fulton Whiskey was history, with only its bottles, jugs and advertising items to remind us of its glory days.
Note: The material for this article was drawn from a range of sources. Most important was “A Little Book of History: Fulton Whiskey,” written by George M. Major, M.D., and published by the distillery in 1902.