Saturday, September 8, 2012

Morris Salzman and “Purity Above All”

Shown here is a clearly affluent family,  presided over by a stern but clearly proud “pater familias.”  His name was Morris Salzman and he made a fortune in the liquor trade in Brooklyn, New York, with the slogan:  “Purity Above All.”

Salzman did not begin life rich.  Born in Austria in 1870,  he emigrated to the United States about 1886 at the age of 16.  He came alone with little money and no ability to speak English,  settling into the Jewish section of New York’s Lower East Side.   He proved to be a quick learner and early on, we can presume, worked in the city’s liquor trade.   By 1892 he was affluent enough to woo and win as his bride,  Rose,  an immigrant herself from Austria who was about five years younger.  Their first child,  Beatrice, was born a year later.  She was followed by Samuel in 1896 and Mamie in 1898.
At the turn of the 20th Century,  Salzman teamed with another New Yorker to form their own wholesale and retail liquor operation in Brooklyn, located at 417 6th Avenue. Salzman & Siegelman became known for issuing their whiskey and wines in ceramic jugs.  After several years in business,  for reasons unknown,  Siegelman left the partnership and set up his own business.  Shortly thereafter Salzman himself created a new enterprise called M. Salzman & Co.  It was located in Brooklyn at 248 Third Avenue until Prohibition. The interior is shown here.

As Morris was striking out on his own, the United States was embarked on a major effort to clean up the food and drug industries.  Powerful newspaper and magazine exposes had brought to the fore the amount of adulteration that was occurring daily in products being ingested by the public.   What became known as the “Pure Food and Drug Act” was passed in 1906 after much discussion and publicity.  Some whiskey men were quick to seize on the purity angle in their merchandising,  but none with more emphasis and tenacity than Morris Salzman.

“PURITY ABOVE ALL”  was a slogan to be found on everything that flowed from the Salzman establishment.   He frequently packaged his whiskey in ceramic jugs, ranging in size from quarts to five gallons.  On each one was his name and a banner proclaiming his motto.   On his quart and smaller  glass whiskeys,  the mantra was inscribed in the embossing.   It appeared on his labeled whiskeys, giveaway items and in every advertisement.  If you saw the name Salzman you also saw “PURITY ABOVE ALL.”

Salzman featured a number of brands without signaling a flagship.  They included: "Old Webster Pure Rye,”  "Sycamore Pure Rye," "Adirondack Pure Rye,” "Bellwood Bourbon," "Empire Pure Rye," "Old Doctrine Club,"  "Pure Old Rye,”  and always "Purity Above All." Clearly in competition with dozens of myriad New York whiskey merchants, including his former partner, Morris issued several giveaway shot glasses,  one suggesting drinking his whiskey in the morning, the other at bedtime.

With his success in Brooklyn,  Salzman expanded his operation to Buffalo, New York, with a store at 246 Main Street.   He also incorporated this company with a registered capitalization of $300,000.   Buy 1910,  according to his great grandson,  Morris had amassed a small fortune.   The riches allowed him to take regular trips back to Austria in order to visit a brother and other relatives.   It was on one of those trips in 1906 where the family photograph above was taken.  It shows, from left, Samuel, age 10;  Morris, 46; Mamie, 8;  Rose, 41;  and Beatrice,13.

Morris also used his money for public purposes. Salzman’s great grandson says of him during this period:  “I have seen a newspaper article saying he stood in the back of a crowded Brooklyn, NY theater where people were buying War Bonds (WW1). People were buying small lots....10's and hundreds of $. He stood and purchased $1,000,000 in US Government War bonds...the crowd gasped in astonishment. That sum was unheard of in that day.”

Although Prohibition shut down his whiskey enterprise,  Morris had sufficient wealth to weather the storm.  The 1920 Census finds him living with Rose and the two younger children with a gardener, chauffeur and three maid servants.   He gave no occupation but clearly was contemplating his next move.   Shortly thereafter he joined the Greenpoint National Bank where he may have had a relative in management.  After learning something of banking Morris struck out on his own in 1821, starting a company called Colonial Discount.  It was a move into a new industry providing automobile loans.

The Colonial Discount Co. frequently was in court, attempting to collect on loans gone bad. In once instance an illegal still in a Brooklyn garage exploded. That same night a police officer spotted a Chevrolet  truck parked immediately in front of the building. The truck was found to contain sixty-five full 5-gallon cans of alcohol and ten 50-gallon empty drums.  Under Federal law, Prohibition officials sought to seize the vehicle.  Salzman’s firm, however, had the mortgage on the truck and also claimed it. A judge gave the truck to the Feds. 

After nine years as president of Colonial Discount, Morris died at the age of 61, much mourned by his family.  Unlike other whiskey men who had tooted a horn about “purity,” he seems never to have been cited by state or national authorities for adulterating his whiskey or wines.  When Morris Salzman said it, it seems, he really meant PURITY ABOVE ALL.


  1. Thank you for writing about this! I've been doing research on the Salzman family. Legend says that my great-great-grandfather was wooed into turning over the deeds to his Brooklyn property by a Jewish woman. When I looked up the property, I found that their son, Samuel, had lived there in 1935. I also found his sisters' engagement and wedding announcements. This was just the icing on the cake, with a picture and all. Thank you!

  2. Dear Kayla: Sorry to be so long in answering your interesting comment. Had a computer failure in 2013 and lost things. Delighted to hear from you. Salzman is one of my favorite whiskey men. Jack

  3. Was Salzman involved in milk sales. I have a jug that "says" Salzman Purity Above All Milk. Gallon size

  4. Dear "Unknown": Yes, I think this is our Salzman. The slogan gives it away. He is the only one I know of who used it. While I was unaware of Morris having run a dairy operation, there are several other whiskey and beer people who also sold milk, both before and after National Prohibition. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  5. Shortly after my grandmothers death (Lillian Spitzer, daughter of Beatrice and Granddaughter of Morris) I became interested in my lineage. My grandmother used to tell me stories but not to this extent, and to this day we still have the old bottles displayed in your blog laying around. Thank you for posting something so insightful and meaningful.

    Samuel Reed Stamler

  6. Dear Mr. Stamler: It is always good to hear from a relative, particularly of a whiskey man for whom I have so high regard. When I collected whiskey jugs had one of Morris' but sold them all off years ago. Glad you liked the article. It was a pleasure to tell his story.

  7. Hello! I picked up a "M. Salman Co. Purity Above All" jug for $15 in Rochester, NY today. It looks like the 2gal one above with the same words, but doesn't have the crown. The words on mine are a little faded but overall is in great shape. Can anyone tell me how old this jug is, or what years they were made until?

  8. Bryan: The crown on the jug shown here is the mark of the pottery that made it, Robinson Ransbottom. Your jug would date from the earliest, about 1902. The latest it could be would be 1920. So likely at least 100 years old or soon to get there. A nice find for $15.

  9. We own a building in Kingston, NY that was the Saltzman Bakery for most of a century. Tile floor in entry has the name as it appears on the jugs, of which we have several. How do you think this location was related to the NYC whiskey business?Thanks! Donskoj in Kingston

  10. Dear Unknown: You raise an interesting possibility, one that none of my research reveals. Kingston is about 120 miles from Brooklyn and the spelling of the name is different, but different spellings of a name are not unusual in families. I suggest that more research on your part may find a connection.