Friday, November 1, 2013

The Five Caseys and How They Grew...Scranton

Brothers five, the Caseys, had arrived serially from Ireland, but with the financial push given to them by their liquor business, together they played an important role in the business development of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Their story tells a great deal about how America has benefited from its immigrants.

The Casey brothers were born in County Sligo, Ireland, the son of James and Catherine (Gilbin) Casey.  The father was a farmer all his life and the son of a farmer.  The Caseys had 11 children, two of whom died in infancy.   Five of them, all boys, came to America. The first to arrive were Lawrence, and Timothy Casey, ages 18 and 16 respectively, who emigrated to these shores about 1870 and settled in Lackawanna County (Scranton).  They may have been drawn to that locale by the presence of a relative,  M. Gilbin, who with a partner had been involved in the local liquor trade since about 1861.

After several years working for Gilben & Madden the Caseys took over the liquor business about 1876 when the principals retired.  Their efforts bore rapid success as their wholesale and retail whiskey trade extended throughout Lackawanna County and to adjacent counties.  They moved into a four story building at  216 Lackawanna  Avenue, shown here.  The structure was 50 feet tall and 100 feet long. The first floor was devoted to the sales and accounting departments,  the second for case goods,  the third a bottling operation, and the fourth storage for jugs. The building had an elevator and two cellars providing storage for wines and liquors.

This headquarters also allowed space for the brothers to blend their own brands of whiskey, among them "Casey's Malt, “Triumph Whiskey", and "Triumph Brand Rye.”  Their flagship label was one they called “Green Valley Rye.”  A contemporary account said of the Caseys:  “...Their house is second in importance to no establishment in the same trade in this part of Pennsylvania and their business grows with the constantly growing business of Scranton....No house in the business has a higher reputation for honorable dealing than Casey Brothers.

Before long Lawrence and Timothy were joined by a younger brother,  Andrew J. Casey.  He was put to work as a salesman and clerk in the firm.  The 1880 U.S. Census found the three brothers, all single, all in their twenties, boarding together on Franklin Avenue.  About 1882 they would be joined by a fourth brother,  Patrick (P.J.) Casey and before long, a fifth sibling,  James J. Casey.   All of them in one way or another would be involved with Casey Brothers Wholesale and Retail Liquors.

The firm in those days used ceramic containers for much of its product.  Early jugs had rounded shoulders and the company name impressed in the clay body as shown here.  With the introduction of shoulder jugs by the Robinson Ransbottom Pottery of Roseville, Ohio, in the late 1800s,  Casey Brothers adopted them for its products.  Shown here are the company jugs in half-gallon, one gallon and three gallon sizes, all with the distinctive Robinson Ransbottom crown pottery mark on the bodies.  Casey jugs could run as large as five gallons.

Tragedy struck the Casey family twice in the next few years.  Lawrence, the eldest, died in December 1884.  According to census figures he would only have been 32 years old.  Timothy Casey similarly died in his early thirties, passing in 1888.  With the founding brothers gone, Patrick and Andrew picked up the management reins of Casey Brothers and continued its growth and prosperity.  Brother James was a longtime traveling salesman for the company. The brothers widely advertised their Green Valley Rye, claiming “38 years of unbroken popularity.”  They also provided giveaway items to favored customers including celluloid covered match safes.

The interests of Patrick and Andrew expanded considerably beyond the liquor trade.  In addition to being involved in the management of Casey Brothers, Andrew was treasurer of the Casey & Kelly Brewing Company and Patrick was its secretary.  With William Kelly the brothers had helped to found the brewery in 1891.  They bought the Meadow Brook building and remodeled it for the manufacture of ale and porter, with a capacity of fifty thousand barrels a year.  In 1895 they erected a larger brewery with a capacity of one hundred thousand barrels annually.  It boasted a state of the art ice machine, boiler and engine room.

Andrew Casey was a member of the Scranton Board of Trade and a director of the Merchants and Mechanics Bank.  He also was active in Democratic politics and was an at-large delegate from Pennsylvania to the 1920 national convention that first brought (losing) vice presidential nominee,  Franklin D. Roosevelt, to national attention. Brother Patrick was secretary/treasurer and managing partner of Casey Brothers.  He also served as Secretary of the Casey & Kelly Brewing Co., and was a large stockholder in the Merchants and Mechanics Bank.  He also in financial interests in the Scranton Traction Company,  Consumers’ Ice Company and  Scranton Illuminating, Heat, and Power Company.   Like his brother, he was a Democrat and also belonged to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

Patrick and Andrew together also had major real estate holdings in Scranton.  They owned prime property at the corner of Wyoming and Lackawanna Avenues, cited as “the most valuable location in the city.”  In addition they owned residential property on Jefferson Avenue and additional commercial property on Lackawanna Avenue.

Family ties were strong for the Caseys.  On several occasions they paid for their aging parents to cross the Atlantic to visit them.  One can imagine how proud the elder Caseys must had been to see what their sons had accomplished in America.  In 1891 Patrick visited his old home in Ireland to see his parents and spent three months abroad.   Several years later he would make a six month trip to Ireland, England, Scotland and the European continent.

Meanwhile, Patrick was also having a personal life. In 1894 He married Angela O’Malley, a Scranton native and the daughter of a foreman for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Company.  The 1900 Federal Census found him living on Clay Street in Scranton with Angela and three children,  ages four to one.  The family had three live-in servants.  Over time Patrick and Angela would have six more children, for a total of seven boys and two girls.

The major accomplishment of Patrick and Andrew Casey was yet to come.  The Scranton newspaper of August 26, 1909 recorded the scene:  “...Two men scampered up the embankment at the corner of Lackawanna and Adams avenues. Like boys out for a play their ragged faces bore happy smiles. Suddenly one of them took a pick in his hands and with a hefty swing sunk the shiny steel into the earth, clean up to the handle. Then without waste of words and a grin the younger of the two sank a shovel into the loosened earth and turned it over. The other man tried the shovel too and in an instant it was all over, ground was broken for the Casey Grand Hotel, and the men were P.J. and A.J. Casey, who are building it."

The 11-story Casey Grand was to become Scranton’s most famous and prestigious address.  At its opening in January 1911 the local press gushed that everything was modern to the point of perfection, artistically beautiful, and luxurious.  Boasting  250 rooms  it was the largest hotel in northwestern Pennsylvania.  One article noted “The Hotel Casey stands today completed, an imposing monument to the courage of two men, Andrew J. and Patrick J. Casey, who, with their own resources reared at the corner of Lackawanna and Adams avenue, one of the most magnificent hotels in the country.”

With the coming of Prohibition,  the Casey Brothers liquor and beer interests, which had fueled the family business empire,  were force to terminate.  Now highly diversified and with the Casey Grand Hotel providing a revenue stream Andrew and Patrick did not suffer as badly as did other whiskey men.   The hotel, a stopping place for the rich and famous for decades, stood for more than 90 years.  It was demolished in 2001.

The ultimate fate of the remaining Casey brothers, my research has failed to uncover.  Suffice to say that they were hailed upon their demise for their contribution to the development of Scranton as a business center.  The five Caseys and their liquor trade had proven to be an integral part of the growth of their adopted town.


  1. The Casey Brothers,,one awsome historical story and I loved it all...thanks for allowing us to be able to read your wonderful history's in real life..

  2. Sherrie: Thanks again for your kind comments. Not all the stories are as interesting as that of the Caseys, but many approach it. Whiskey men did a lot of things besides produce and sell liquor. Jack

  3. Jack - thanks very much this is great history and you did a very nice job telling the story My great uncle Jerry (Jerome P. Casey) was the son of AJ Casey and I was very close to him in the 70's when i was just a boy. I heard lots of stories from the days of his father and then of course of his time serving in WWII In fact I gave my son the middle name "Casey" 18 years ago and i am sure he will be interested to read this history great job it is really a very good story of success from the ground up

  4. Dear Brian: It is always a treat for me to get a positive comment from a relative of the whiskey men I have featured. The Casey story was a particular labor of love. I am the descendant of Irish immigrants myself -- none of them in whiskey except for the drinking -- and thought the Caseys were particularly important to profile. Glad you agreed. All the best.

  5. My grandmother, who is still living, is Margaret Casey, the youngest surviving daughter of James Casey. This story was so cool to read! She had told me a couple stories about her uncles but not to this detail. I just visited my grandfather's grave earlier today (Edward Colton O'Donoghue) who's buried on the Casey plot and I said hello to A.J. and P.J. as well.

  6. Dear "Unknown": Thanks for letting me know that your liked my story on the Casey Bros. They were great folk, starting from very straightened circumstances and becoming important citizens of their city and this country. Remember that Irish immigrants often were unjustly discriminated against. People wanted to "build a legal wall" to keep them out of the U.S. Next time you go to the graveyard say hello to them for me as well. Jack

  7. Jack, just came across your nice summation of this rags-to-riches family in Scranton. My family from Scranton and I have a 4-gallon crown jug that belonged to my grandfather, a surveyor in the coal mines there. Do you know if the brown-topped, crown-marked jugs were for whiskey or beer? I've just started researching about this, so thanks again.

  8. Dale: Your four gallon jug held whiskey and was sold wholesale to saloons, etc., to be decanted into small bottles that would then be poured over the bar. It is not clear to me if your jug has "Casey Bros." on it. The crown mark means it was made by Robinson-Ransbottom Pottery of Roseville Ohio. They began production about 1900 and only recently shut down. The jug is either over 100 years old or close to it.

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  10. Dear Gemini 2: While your grandfather Casey likely was a fine man -- I am partial to all Irishmen -- I have no evidence he was related to the famous Casey whiskey family of Scranton. If your genealogical research finds that connection, let me know.

  11. I recently found a full and sealed glass quart bottle of Triumph Brand Rock and Rye from Casey Bros. of Scranton, PA. While trying to research the company I found this page. Thank you very much for researching and sharing all this great history and information about the Casey Brothers!

  12. GunOwnerDan: Thanks for your kind comments on my piece on the Caseys of Scranton. They have a great story. As for your whiskey bottle, the contents, which are approaching 100 years old, should still be drinkable since the bottle was sealed. You might think about sampling it.