Friday, December 2, 2011
Philly's Two Angelos: 40 Years Dealing Myers Whiskey
Two Angelos, father and son, made the name Myers famous for four decades selling whiskey in Philadelphia and throughout the U.S. Initially rectifiers and later true distillers, the Myers popularized a wide series of liquor brands through their vigorous merchandising.
The Myers saga began in Germany when the first Angelo was born in 1844. Subsequently, exact date unknown, he came to the United States, settling in Philadelphia with his brother, Henry. Around 1874, the pair founded A & H Myers, as a whiskey distributing company located at 405 N. Third St.. Their flagship brand was Schuykill Whiskey, named after the river that flows through the city.
For the next 18 years the brothers prospered, as evidenced by an elegant back of the bar decanter etched with their logo. About 1881 the company moved to 311-313 N. Third, the five-story building shown here. During this period Angelo married a Philadelphia woman named Julia Bissinger. They had one son whom they named after his father.
The success of the Myers brothers was recognized by an 1886 publication entitled “Philadelphia List of Leading Merchants and Manufacturers.” It recorded that A & H Myers claimed “branch houses” in New York, Boston, Washington, Hartford, Savannah, New Orleans, Memphis, St. Paul Minn., and Cincinnati. A reasonable assumption is that saloons in these cities carried Myers whiskey.
The Leading Merchants publication said of the brothers: “It should be remarked that Messrs. A and H. Myers are upright, honorable, liberal, public-spirited merchants and citizens and are always to be found among the enterprising spirits of the city, who aid every measure introduced for the benefit of the community.”
In 1892, however, something occurred to sever the partnership between Angelo and his brother. Henry started his own, short-lived firm and advertised himself as “successor to A & H Myers." Angelo nevertheless stayed in the Third Street building and put his name on the front. It remained the Myers central facility until closed by Prohibition.
Angelo’s company blossomed with a myriad brand names: "Ardmore", "Beaumont Gin", "Independence Hall", "Myers Pure Malt", "Neshaminy Rye", "Oglethorpe Club", "Old Barrel", "Old Schuylkill Choice Rye", "Penngleann", "Schuylkill", and "W. W. W. Rye." Some brands like Penngleann and W.W.W.. Myers registered with the federal government. Most he did not. Shown here are bottles and a shot glass from several brands.
During the late 1890s, Myers associated with a distillery located on the Schuykill River in nearby Linfield, Pennsylvania. It had been founded on his farm by Jacob G. Kinsey, a lifelong dairyman, possibly with help from his friend, Angelo. As a former Kinsey employee later related, Kinsey had absolutely no experience with distilling so he had to rely on Myers to guide him as a whiskey specialist and merchandiser. The liquor produced was named Kinsey Whiskey and became Myers’ new flagship label. In his advertising Angelo claimed actual ownership of the distillery.
More than that, Angelo dispatched to Linfield his son, Angelo J., who by now had learned the liquor business from his father. Angelo J. apparently ran the operation day-to-day for Kinsey. In 1905, the Philadelphia company incorporated with assets of $50,000 as Angelo Myers Distillery, Inc. The officers listed were Angelo Myers as president and Henry J. Bissinger, likely his wife’s brother, as vice president.
Under the young Angelo’s management, the Kinsey distillery grew rapidly. A 1904 publication reported that it was operating eight months a year and employing six to ten men. The warehouse capacity gradually grew from 2,000 barrels capacity to 20,000. The expanded distillery is shown here in a postcard. Moreover, Kinsey whiskey was winning the company gold medals at expositions in New Orleans and San Antonio, Texas. Myers trumpeted those wins on a reverse glass mirror given to favored saloons.
As Angelo J. was being groomed to replace his father at an appropriate time, he married a local woman named Corrine Glaser, the daughter of Adolf Glaser, a Philadelphia merchant specializing in lace, embroideries and handkerchiefs. In 1907 the elder Angelo died, much mourned as a philanthropist who contributed generously to local and national charities. Angelo J. became the president of the company.
Under his leadership, the Myers company continued to be successful. Angelo J. was able to arrange for Kinsey Whiskey to be distributed widely across America and provided customers with an attractive sign that showed a hunter appeasing a farmer with a swig of Kinsey. Even more unusual, in 1910 the company letterhead listing the officers included two women, Florence M. Bamberger and Miriam M. Moos. This was at a time when women were almost entirely absent from the whiskey trade.
Within five years Angelo J.’s interests had expanded to other interests, specifically to the infant automobile industry. He now was a vice president of the Rose Manufacturing Company of Philadelpha, an outfit that specialized in making an early form of brake lights. He also had stepped down to being vice president of the liquor firm. The new president was Henry Bissinger, presumably his uncle. Once again the business name was changed, this time to Angelo Myers Distilling Co.,Inc.
With Prohibition, all activity ceased at Angelo Myers and the Kinsey facility. In 1923, at the very young age of 38, Angelo J. died. After Prohibition, Jacob Kinsey revived the Linfield distillery briefly until selling out to Continental Distilling Corporation of Philadelphia. Continental continued to produce and market the Kinsey brand until it went out of business in the mid-1980’s. The abandoned buildings of the distillery remain, moldering along the Schuylkill River.
Thus ends the story of the two Angelo Myers. They provided Philadelphia and the rest of the country with good whiskey for four decades and in the process left behind a legacy of attractive labels, bottles and giveaway items. Although their history is not unique, their survival in the liquor trade for four decades sets the two Angelos apart from the ordinary.