Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sidney Pritz: Cincinnati's Gift to Saloons

Pre-Prohibition whiskey merchandising used a number of strategies to vie for attention in a crowded marketplace. Some concentrated on ads, others on direct consumer contact. Others made saloons and their owners the target. Among the latter Sidney E. Pritz of Cincinnati was one of the most resourceful in the number and variety of customer giveaways.

Born in 1869, Pritz is shown here in a caricature by Cincinnati Post cartoonist, Claude Shafer. His father, Solomon W. Pritz, an immigrant from Germany, had begun a whiskey business in 1875 with his brother-in-law, Isaac Strauss. Located initially at 58 W. Second St., in 1880 the company moved to 114 W. Second and within two years to 32-34 Main St.

Early on, Strauss, Pritz & Co. were predominately rectifiers, mixing a range of whiskeys to taste and slapping as many as 26 different labels on the results. In 1883, however, apparently to insure a steady supply of distilled product, the founders became part owners and board members of the Commonwealth Distillery located in Fayette County, Kentucky.

Sid Pritz was educated in Cincinnati public schools. Upon graduating from high school he immediately entered business with his father and uncle, becoming a junior member of their liquor business in 1894. Evidence is he never married, living much of his life with his sister in a Cincinnati suburb.

With Sid’s ascension to the firm’s leadership, the business expanded significantly. After a brief move to 52 Main Street, the firm in 1899 relocated to 909-911 Sycamore, its home for the next 18 years. That same year the Commonwealth Distillery, which had joined the Kentucky “Whiskey Trust,” was shut down by that organization and the buildings later razed. With the Trust now providing the spirits, Strauss, Pritz concentrated on merchandising just a few brands. The company flagship was Lewis “66” Whiskey. Lewis “66” bottles that have survived include flask size, often amber with embossing.

Sid Pritz put much of his energy and resources into selling this brand to saloonkeepers across the U.S. Among the giveaways he featured were a Victorian glass lamp with “Lewis 66” on the shade, a back-of-the-bar decanter, tip trays and shot glasses. A saloonkeeper could received a carnival glass plates for the bar with his name embossed. Another company brand, Roanoke Pure Rye, featured a wall clock for the drinking establishment.

Meanwhile, in 1902 Sidney’s father passed away, preceded in death four years earlier by Isaac Strauss. Other family members filled in executive positions. In 1910, the firm incorporated. Sid, who already had been running the company for a number of years, was made president. He almost immediately bought a Kentucky distillery from the Whiskey Trust, apparently to insure a more secure supply of spirits. He named it the Spring Hill Distillery and supervised its operation until 1918.

With the coming of Prohibition, the Strauss, Pritz facility became a furniture factory. The company itself was reduced to quarters in Cincinnati’s Union Trust Building. Within few months, after 43 years in business, Strauss, Pritz was forced to close that office, bringing an end to a once thriving enterprise.

Pritz’s subsequent career is shrouded in time. A contemporary account said that he had demonstrated “excellent executive and administrative ability, based on keen insight into business situations and their possibilities.” That being the case we must assume that, still a young man of 48, Sidney Pritz found other profitable opportunities to pursue outside the vanished (temporarily) liquor trade.

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