Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Goldsboroughs: Blue Bloods of Baltimore Booze

  As an aristocratic Maryland family, the Goldsboroughs ranked at the top.  The two Charles Goldsborough,  father and son, did not rise to the apex of the Baltimore business and social world merely because of blood lines, however, but because they made good whiskey and scads of money selling it.

The Goldsborough ancestors came to America from England in 1639, settling in Maryland.  The paternal grandfather of Charles Senior had been a Governor of the state, as had been his mother’s father.  Charles father, William, was a State Senator.  The ancestral manor was located on large fertile acreage south of Cambridge, Maryland.  Known as “Horn’s Point,” the Goldsborough spread was described by contemporaries as “second to none as a plantation.”

Charles Senior was born in Annapolis in 1839.  Father William saw to it that his heir received a thorough education and Charles completed his education, age 18, at the prestigious Balmar School in West Chester, Pennsylvania.   He entered business life in 1857 working for a Maryland shipping company and quickly rose in the ranks. 
When the Civil War broke out, despite Maryland staying in the Union, Charles cast his lot with the Confederacy.   It is likely that the Goldborough plantation used slave labor and that may have help shape his decision.   He was immediately commissioned an officer in the Confederate Navy,  an appointment influenced by his uncle by marriage,  Franklin Buchanan, the only full admiral for the South.   Quickly disillusions by life aboard a gunship, Charles quit the Navy and enlisted in the First Maryland Light Artillery.  He saw action in several battles, including Gettysburg, and surrendered with Lee at Appomattox.

Despite the fact that the Civil War pit Marylander against Marylander, and even Goldsborough against Goldsborough, Charles returned home, apparently without any rancor, to reenter business in 1865 as the head of the Baltimore firm of Goldsborough and Tate. That company was listed in local business directories as “jobbers and dealers in wine, brandies, and whiskies.”   The same year he also got married.  His bride was Mary Galt, the daughter of James Galt,  an opulent planter and owner of 4,000 acres of good farmland in Fluvanna County, Virginia,. Charles was 25 years old and Mary was 18.  From this union eventually would come seven children,  including Charles Junior, born in 1870.

In ensuing years the elder Goldsborough continued running a successful liquor trade on Baltimore’s South Gay Street.  Alfred Ulman was conducting a similar business just down the street.   By 1878, the two had decided that cooperation was better than competition and so combined their two firms as the Ulman-Goldsborough Company.   Soon after the merger the partners contracted to take all or most of the whiskey being made at a distillery in High Spire, Pennsylvania, just down the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg.  It had been founded by a Welsh immigrant named Robert Wilson in 1823.  He and his family had run the distillery until 1870 when they sold it and a succession of owners ensued.

Goldsborough and Ulman apparently found the contractual relationship with Wilson’s less than satisfactory and in 1887 the partners bought the plant and ran it themselves, calling it the “High Spire Distillery.”   They promptly appropriated the 1823 founding date for their own advertising purposes and moved their flagship brand from “Atlas” to “Wilson.”  Their offices were at 41 South Gay Street with a sales outlet at 100 North Broadway in Baltimore.  Eventually they built a large bottling plant on Belair Road.  Under their ownership,  Wilson Whiskey achieved a national reputation for quality and sales soared.
Soaring too was Charles Goldborough’s reputation in Baltimore business and social circles. During this period he was president of both the Merchants’ and Atheneum Clubs, and governor of the Maryland Club, the oldest in the city.  The Merchants’ Club was described as “the most influential, opulent and potent citizens of Baltimore.”   Charles Senior was a member of the Elkridge Fox and Hunting Club and held memberships in both the Manhattan and Commercial Clubs of New York City.

Meanwhile, he was seeing that Charles Junior was being groomed to manage the family enterprise.  The son entered the firm at the bottom rung and was said to  have been employed in every department in order to achieve mastery of it.   Both Goldsboroughs were on hand for the disastrous news that came to them on June 17, 1893.  As reported by the Williamsport PA Daily Gazette and Bulletin,  a fire had left the High Spire Distillery in ashes. 

Suspected to be of incendiary origin, the flames had raced through the entire complex.  Within an hour the plant, including the buildings, a large bonded warehouse containing 5,000 barrels of whiskey, a barrel factory and the office were in ruins.  Fire departments from Harrisburg and Middletown were dispatched and prevented the fire from reaching nearby homes.  Two large warehouses containing an estimated 12,000 barrels of aging whiskey also were saved.  The loss, though partially insured, was put at $200,000 (10 times that in current dollars) and fell mainly on the Ulman-Goldsborough Company.   Undeterred, however, the partners almost immediately began restoring the property.  The rebuilt distillery was said to yield 1,000 barrels of whiskey per day and was capitalized at $500,000.

Meanwhile, their whiskey was building a reputation as high quality liquor.  It was called “That luxury whiskey of bon vivants known the world over as Wilson Whiskey.”  In its advertising the company did nothing to dispel the image.  A trade card shown here pictures just such a bon vivant.  The whiskey also became known for the brevity of some ads that read, “Wilson, That’ s All.”  It ran as full page ads, prompting considerable comment.   One writer opined tongue-in-cheek about its brevity:  “What a nice time the Wilson copy man must have had....He had leisure....”  A Brooklyn minister gave a sermon he entitled “Whiskey - That Isn’t All.”

The brand was also noted for being sold in bottles, quart and smaller containers, to the public.  Nor did the firm neglect giving advertising items to their saloon patrons.  Over the years Wilson Whiskey was featured on an array of signs suitable for hanging in drinking establishments,  some fashionable, some risque, some colorful.  Shown here, the Wilson sign of signs appeared on the wall of a tall building in Chicago.  The sign touted itself as “the largest picture in the world.  It depicts a distinguished gentleman shooting seltzer into a glass containing whiskey.  It helpfully provided the dimensions of the image, including the factoid that the man’s head was 38 feet high.  “Wilson High Ball, That’s All,” topped the display.

About 1900, changes occurred in the company structure.  The Ulman-Goldsborough Company disappeared from directories.  In its place by 1901 was the Highspire Distilling Company, in which the Goldsboroughs were said to have a controlling interest.  Its first address was at the corner of Calvert and Baltimore Streets.  Not  long after the Goldsboroughs moved into this new enterprise,  Charles Senior died in May 1903, age 64.  He left his son, photo shown here, to run the business.

Charles Jr. appears to have been cut from the same enterprising cloth as his father.  Under his management High Spire Whiskey became increasingly popular.  This Goldsborough continued the tradition of giveaways to saloons, notably back of the bar bottles.  In 1907, probably spurred by the 1893 fire at his distillery, Charles Junior also founded the Distillers Mutual Fire Insurance Company in Baltimore. Although failing to match his father elections to positions in the top clubs of Philadelphia, Charles Jr. was a member of the Baltimore Country Club and the Baltimore Athletic Club.  Apparently a bachelor all his life, this Goldsborough’s interests seem more scholarly than social.  He was a member of the Maryland Historical Society and the Original Research Society.

Charles Junior continued to run the Highspire Distillery until it  was forced to close down in 1919 because of National Prohibition.  One Temperance publication gloated that the facility in 1923 had been turned into a hosiery manufacturer, commenting on the supposed irony that many children had gone without socks because of money wasted on whiskey.  After Repeal other members of the Goldsborough clan reopened the distillery in 1935 and it operated into the 1950s. 


  1. Thank you for this information. It answered my question of when Wilson Whisky started using "That's all" in their advertising. In the 1912 Presidential election Woodrow Wilson's campaign song was titled "Wilson, That's All." I know that Wilson didn't support prohibition so I am curious about whether there is any connection. Thoughts?

  2. Dear Jennifer: Thanks for pointing out that Woodrow Wilson's campaign song was "Wilson, That's All." Had not come across that reference. My guess is that the Goldsborough et al picked up the slogan from the song and ran with it. The comment from Printer's Ink I quote about the simplicity of the slogan was from 1918, so it probably was fairly new in the Wilson ads at the time and definitely after the 1912 election. It was common for the whiskey merchandisers to use anything they could find that they thought might help them sell their liquor.

  3. These men are my direct descendants! My mother, Susan Goldsborough, was from Baltimore, and I have a portrait of Charles Goldsborough (the Governor of Maryland) painted by my great grandfather, Murray Goldsborough, hanging in my office. What a fascinating story. Thank you!