Friday, October 11, 2013

A Milestone at 200

                             “There is a history in all men’s lives” -- Shakespeare
This marks the 200th post in the blog I have created and called “Those Pre-Prohibition Whiskey Men.”  It began in April 2011 with a posted article on the Theobald Brothers of Columbus, Ohio, and has added vignettes of U.S. distillers,  rectifiers, liquor dealers,  saloon keepers, and whiskey-selling druggists  on a regular basis over ensuing months.  The blog has had 60,307 views as of October 11, 2013.  It also has attracted 25  “Members” to whom I am most grateful for their continuing attention.  Mini-portraits of many are exhibited here.
Some "Pre-Pro Whiskey Men" Members
I receive e-mails  almost daily relating to the website.  Some are comments contributed by readers to the blog itself.  Not unexpectedly, many e-mails are the result of someone finding a bottle or other whiskey artifact and wanting to know more about it,  often asking me for some idea of its worth.   Although far from an expert in pricing, I try to identify a general context of values.  Often my advice is, “If you like it,  put it on a shelf and admire it.” 

Not so expected were the many responses I get from relatives of featured whiskey men, people who are doing genealogical research and come upon my blog by the use of the “key word” mechanism. The vast majority of those respondents have been pleased with the treatment of their ancestor.  New information about individuals often comes from such communications.  When possible, I add this material to the biography.  In two cases the additional data showed sufficient deficiencies in the original story that I took down the post,  rewrote it,  and posted it again.

It is flattering as well to receive requests to use my stories on other internet sites and I always give permission.  The historical newsletter of Alexandria, Virginia, asked me to consolidate two stories of Virginia whiskey men into an article that subsequently has been published.   A periodical called “Western States Jewish History” is reprinting with added material a several of my pieces on Jewish whiskey men from the West Coast.  So far one article has been published and two more are in prospect.  That is indeed an honor. 

Doing this blog has been an educational experience as I gather information about the whiskey men from the Internet, books, and other resources.  One theme that emerges is the strong presence of immigrants among them.  The liquor trade appears to have been an occupation in which newcomers to America could engage and find prosperity.   Immigrants were of from a range of European countries.  Important among them were Jews from Germany,  Austria, Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.  Either fleeing persecution or seeking a better opportunity in the New World, they played a key role in developing the U.S. liquor industry.  Another important group were the Irish who, because of famine or other circumstances, charted a course for America.  Speaking English from the moment they arrived,  many gravitated into the business of alcohol.  German Lutherans, Mennonites, British Episcopalians and an occasional Italian, in general round out the immigrant group.  

Of course, “native-born” Americans are also represented.  Many distillers from states like Maryland, Kentucky and North Carolina could trace their ancestry back to the origins of the country.  Others were descendants of distillers from Pennsylvania and points East who went to Kentucky and Tennessee after the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794).  A key find was Jere Blowe, a son of slaves who became a liquor dealer in Natchez, Mississippi.  His story was particularly fascinating because of his success during the “Jim Crow” era in the South.  Going forward, I hope to find other African-Americans important in the liquor trade.  I also am looking for a woman to be the featured in this highly male-dominated trade.

My objective has been to write up at least one whiskey man from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  At present eleven states have not had the representation of even one, despite my vigorous efforts.  Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nevada,  New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming.  My objective is to whittle that number down considerably in coming months.  Suggestions are most welcome.

Of the states with the most vignettes, not suprisingly, Kentucky leads the list with 25.  Its distilling industry not only has been marked by singular characters,  information on them is plentiful in books and on the Internet.  Closely following is Ohio with 23 vignettes. Its major cities, especially Cincinnati,  spawned many liquor-related businesses.   These states are followed by Pennsylvania, 23 posts, and Maryland, 14; both are states that early dominated national distilling.  Of other states with double digit numbers the biggest surprise to me was Missouri.  It had no “dry” laws until National Prohibition in 1919 and its distillers and wholesalers prospered by supplying through rail express and the mails thirsty customers in Western localities that had banned alcohol sales.

I have been asked about running out of subject matter.  That may occur some day but I do not seem close to that time.  Although I have been gathering information and illustrations on some whiskey men over months and sometimes years before attempting an article, several of the most recent subjects ( e.g.,Thomas Shea of San Francisco,  Nicholas Matthews of Baltimore and N. Glenn Williams of North Carolina)  only recently had come to my notice.

The quote from Shakespeare that opens this post states the idea neatly. There is indeed a history in the lives of everyone. Perhaps more to the point, I am still having fun authoring the historical description of America’s early whiskey men and displaying a few of the artifacts they left behind. On to 300!

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