Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Louis Who "Zapped" Louisville

 In a town saturated with distillers and wholesale and retail whiskey dealers, Louis Zapp, a German immigrant, sensed that he had to make his business stand out among the crowd.  As a result he featured his own name in large letters on his jugs, bottles, advertising and giveaways.  In short,  he “Zapped” Louisville and found success in his strategy.

Zapp, shown here as he appeared on a whiskey label, was born in Germany in 1850.  his unusual name is a derivative of “Zepf,” a common name in Northern Germany.  When Louis was four years old his parents emigrated to the United States, settling in Louisville, Kentucky.   We can presume he received his early education in the public schools of his day, but like many sons of immigrant families, he went to work while still in his teens.   He appears to have served, likely as a clerk, for a Louisville merchant.

By 1883 he had saved sufficient money to join with a partner, J. H. Baker, to establish his own whiskey dealership and grocery known as Zapp, Baker & Co.  Although the Baker name continued to be affixed to the firm’s flagship brand of whiskey, within a short time the partner was gone and the name was changed to Louis Zapp & Co., the name it would carry until its closing.  The initial location was at 203 West Main and subsequent addresses were three in the 300 block of West Market Street.

Unlike many other Louisville spirits dealers who were putting their products into glass bottles,  Zapp preferred to use ceramic jugs.  Shown here is a large “scratch” jug with the firm name incised into the Albany slip glaze.   Zapp featured his name and a claim for “pure” products.  A similar label also graced a shoulder jug.  Later Zapp moved to a different format for his containers.  His labels featured his name in large script under the glaze.  He used an array of jugs, including cone tops decorated with Albany slip and Bristol glaze as well as beehive shapes.

This “Zapping” of Louisville was carried out in his advertising as well.  Shown here is an advertisement for “Louis Zapp’s Quite Ripe Kentucky Whisky.”  It also advertised “J. H. Baker Bourbon 11 Year Old and the company’s line of “Old Royal” Brand California Wines.
The ad also implied that Zapp had a distillery and bonded warehouse in Jefferson County, Kentucky.   The record indicates that while he did not own a distillery, he had a financial interest in one or two.

One was the Rugby Distillery (RD #360, 5th District of Kentucky).  This facility, which later bore other names, was located at the corner or Missouri Avenue and 36th Street in Louisville.  Insurance records indicate that it was frame with a metal or slate roof.  The property included four heated warehouses, all brick with metal or slate roofs.  A barn was located on the property to make use of the spent mash for cattle feed, a common adjunct to distilleries at that time.  Zapp may also have had a financial interest or whiskey purchase agreement with the Old Kentucky Distillery of Louisville. (See my post of Feb. 2013.)   Zapp also applied his distinctive name logo to his giveaway items,  many of them shot glasses advertising his Old J. H. Baker brand.

Louis Zapp also had a personal life.  In 1875, he had married a Kentucky-born woman named Margarett Lehr of Louisville.  They would have five children,  born between 1876 and 1884.  The 1900 census found the Zapp family living at 1413 New Broadway in Louisville.   All their children were still in their household,  including Ruby, 24; Arthur, 22; Louis Jr., 20; Louise, 18, and Phillip, 16.   Their father’s occupation was listed as “grocer-liquor dealer.”  Zapp also was taking a leadership role in the Kentucky whiskey industry.

An example was his advocacy to the U.S. Congress in 1897.  The record shows he entreated the House Ways and Means Committee, the body that affixed tariffs,  not to raise the duty on corks, many of which were imported from Spain.  Zapp contended that American manufacturers of corks had formed a monopoly trust,  still lawful and common in those days.  As a result they were able to control the price of corks and whiskey distributors were, as he said,  “compelled to pay whatever prices they are pleased to ask.”   The only competition was from foreign sources, he added, and that increasing the tariff would only enrich the American combine at the expense of dealers and bottlers without increasing revenues to the government.  My hunch is that the whiskey industry, which had strong ties in the federal government, might have been able to stop the tariff increase as Zapp requested.

Eventually Louis brought his son, Arthur, into his liquor business. Arthur began as a clerk and worked himself up into a management position.  In 1903 Zapp filed articles of incorporation for his wholesale liquor and grocery business, valuing it at $30,000.  Among the incorporators were Arthur;  another relative named H. J. Zapp, and C. H. Short.  As the Zapp name became well known in Louisville,  apparently the need for emphasizing the name receded and later jugs, such as one shown here, toned down the logo.  By 1909 the company management changed once again as Short was made a full partner and the business became Zapp, Short & Company.   The firm continued to sell whiskey until the coming of national Prohibition.   Afterward it emphasized its grocery lines.

Zapp, even with advancing age,  continued to be active in managing the business through the 1920s.  The 1930 census found him residing at 2725 Birchwood Road in Louisville.  His wife, Margarett,  had died the year before and he was living with daughter Ruby, unmarried, and daughter Margaret and her husband.  That same year Louis died, just short of 80 years of age.  He was buried in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery beside Margarett.   Through his success he had insured that Zapp would be a name remembered in Louisville and whiskey lore for a long, long time.












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