Tuesday, October 25, 2011

David Sachs Hooked a Puritan on Hard Liquor

When David Sachs set up his whiskey business in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1872, two causes were beginning to make themselves felt in American society: the campaign for Temperance and the championing of unadulterated food and drink. Possibly with those in mind, Sachs named his flagship brand, “Puritan Rye” and featured the image of a Puritan elder on the label. He likely saw the name as suggesting both moderation and purity.

To a later generation, accustomed to thinking of the Puritans as a stern, humorless people, shunning all kinds of entertainment and alcohol, this capture of the their image to advertise whiskey may seem questionable. Puritans, however, were not opposed to drinking. One Puritan document deplored depriving anyone of the “lawfull comfort alloweth to all men by the use of wine.”

The young David Sach probably had only slim knowledge of the religous company that called themselves Puritans. Born in Germany in 1827 Sachs arrived on U.S. shores sometime in the 1840s. Married to a German-born woman named Hannah Weil, he settled initially in Springfield, Illinois. In that city were born two sons, Morris D. and Edward, and a daughter, Julia. We can assume David was engaged in the liquor trade in Springfield.

By the 1870s, David was living in Louisville, a center for the American whiskey industry, and the head of his own firm. His first address was on Market Street. Five years later his whiskey business, called David Sachs & Co., moved to Main Street and subsequently to addresses on Third Road below Main. In 1884, he took his two boys into the business and re-named it David Sachs & Sons.

The company letterheads, which varied from time to time, consistently branded the Sachs as distillers. While this was not unusual, at most they were “rectifiers,” blenders of various kinds of whiskeys to achieve a more palatable taste. It also was common for such outfits to contract for the entire production of a Kentucky distillery for a year or more and then to appropriate the distillery name. Sachs & Sons over the years claimed to be the proprietors of the Oakland Distillery in Henderson County and later the Saxon Distillery of Marion County, both in Kentucky.

The company produced myriad brands including "Alfalfa", "C. O. D.", "Cape May", "Delmonico", "Famous Nottingham", "May Port", "Old David", "Ramona", "Saxon", and "Tanglewood.” "Tosca Rye” was introduced after the 1900 highly successful debut of the Puccini opera. The featured label, however, always was Puritan Rye. Bearing the slogan, “It’s All Right,” the whiskey was sold nationwide in barrels and in bottles, including a ceramic canteen produced by the Thuemler Co. of Pittsburgh. The brand also featured giveaway items such as back of the bar bottles, highball and shot glasses. Even a racy trade card was used to advertise the Puritan brand.

Symbolic of the success of the company was its 1896 move into “Whiskey Row” in the 100 block of Main Street., Louisville. There resided some of the most prestigious whiskey distillers and recifiers in the United States. That address for David Sachs & Sons meant the family had arrived in the top echelon of the whiskey trade. Its Whiskey Row offices are shown here.

The Sachs family were very active in community and religious affairs in Louisville. The entire family was recognized for its generosity to Hebrew causes. Edward for many years was president of the Federation of Jewish Charities. He also was active with the local chapter of the National Child Labor Committee, a group devoted to ending child labor in the United States. The wife of Morris Sach was a noted donor to the Louisville Free Library, an organization that made books available to less well off families.

In 1898 David Sachs died, age 71. Morris and Edward continued to operate David Sachs & Sons for the next 11 years. During this period Samuel Haas, who had married Julia Sachs, was taken into the firm as an officer. In 1906 Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, validating the “pure” theme of Puritan Rye. But the Sachs' Puritan had little or no effect on the rising tide of Prohibition and the company was forced to close its doors in 1919.

Indicative of the closeness of the Sachs family is the grouping of graves around a monument in Louisville’s Temple Cemetery. In close proximity can be found David and Hannah, daughter Julia and husband Samuel Haas, Morris Sachs and his wife, Edward Sachs and his wife and daughter. Just as they worked together in life, they rest together in death.

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