Monday, September 30, 2013

Sam Levin Could Clothe, Shelter and Slake a Thirst

Samuel Levin
In a career that spanned 33 years Samuel Levin was, by turns,  a leading haberdasher,  the manager of three hotels, and the owner of  establishments that provided whiskey over the bar and over the counter.  If your clothes were in rags or you needed a room or were looking for strong drink in Trenton, New Jersey,  Sam would oblige.

Levin was born in Russia in 1873, the fifth child of Bernard and Celia Wein Levin.  He came to the United States during his mid-teens, about 1887 or 1888,  apparently along with other members of his family.  Naturalized in 1895, a year later he married married Mary Lidsky, herself born in Russia.  The 1900 census found the Levins living at 325 North Broad Street  in Trenton with Samuel’s father, one of his brothers and their first son, Louis.  Later two other sons, Joshua and Max, would join the family.

By 1900, Levin had already engaged in his first enterprise.  The family’s Broad street residence was an apartment above his clothing store. Called “Gent’s Furnisher,” it was a joint venture between Samuel and a younger brother, Isadore, who would remain almost exclusively in the clothing business for most of his life.  Not Sam.  By 1904 he was managing a hotel  called Princeton Junction House.  Like most hostelries of the time, this one almost certainly featured a saloon.
South Broad Street, Trenton, c1912

It may have been there that Levin hatched the idea of becoming a liquor merchant,  With another brother, Harris, who previously had worked as a butcher, he opened a wholesale wine and liquor dealership at 475-459 South Broad Street.   Before long Sam added an outlet at 167-169 South Broad.  Two liquor jugs from that period carry that address.  The location was also that of a second hotel that Samuel  managed, called the Star Hotel.  Trenton city directories of 1910 list him as the “proprietor” of that establishment.   For a time he made the hotel the family residence. Sam and Celia’s fourth and final son, Henry, would be born at that location.

It is unclear from records but likely that Levin had a ownership share in the Star Hotel.  He continued in its management until 1912 when he once again returned to 457-459 South Broad to work with Harris selling wholesale liquor. During this period he may also have opened a store in New York City.  A seltzer bottle with that address bearing his name is shown here. Once more, however, the hotel business beckoned.  Trenton’s National Hotel, once a premier hotel, had been the subject of litigation, experienced a parade of owners, and had fallen on hard times.  About 1915 Levin bought it.  He added rooms, doubling its size   He also appears to have installed his own saloon in the building, again with brother Harris in the picture.  By now Sam had sufficient wealth to install his family in a regular home, locating them on Trenton’s residential State Street.

The coming of National Prohibition changed everything.  The Levins’ wholesale liquor outlets and their saloon came to an end.  Samuel never skipped a beat.  By now a man of substantial wealth, he successively became an investor in the Stacy Building & Loan Association,  the Treasure Trenton Laundry, and M&S Retail Clothes.  Now grown to maturity,  both Joshua and Max joined him in these businesses, Joshua in the laundry trade and Max in haberdashery.   A final Levin enterprise was the Eton Boys Clothing Store.

Brother Harris did not make the transition out of liquor quite so gracefully.  After Prohibition he moved to operating a cafe and a grocery store.  In 1932 he was found to be running a saloon and was raided and a quantity of whiskey, wine and beer was seized.  He was fined $250 and placed on probation.  Afterward Harris went into the real estate business.  While his brother’s problems obviously were a concern for Samuel, he continued his entrepreneurial ways until his death in 1938.
 
With his grieving family standing by his gravesite, he was interred in the consecrated Jewish section of Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.  A plinth bearing  the Star of Davis marks the Levin family plots and a simple headstone, with a Masonic symbol,  lies over Samuel’s grave.   Among the mourners was his son Henry, shown here, who became one of Hollywood’s best known and most prolific film directors,  responsible for some 50 motion pictures, including such favorites as “Where the Boys Are” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

Although the entrepreneurial career of Samuel Levin ended in 1938, he can still be remembered for the energy and enterprise he brought to selling clothing, shelter and  whiskey to the citizenry.  Way before the term had currency, Sam had demonstrated “multi-tasking” to the people of Trenton, New Jersey.

Note:  Much of the information contained here was gleaned from a family website that tracked the various occupations of Sam Levin.










Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What’s In a Name?: For James Shea, a Lot

In his famous play, “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare has his heroine say:  “What’s in a name, that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”   Growing up in ireland,  James Sheehy may have known of the phrase but it was his coming to America that transformed him by name into James Shea and one of San Francisco’s leading whiskey dealers.

Sheehy/Shea, shown here as a young man, was born in Skibbereen,  Country Cork, about 1835.  Unlike many Irish immigrants,  he was a relatively old 28 years when he came to the United States, arriving in San Francisco in 1863  by way of Cape Horn.  He
apparently had brothers already living in Watsonville, California.  James may have left his future wife as his sweetheart back in Ireland.  She was Anne Shipsey from Clear Island in County Cork.  Annie arrived in California shortly after James via the Isthmus of Panama.  According to census data they were married in 1865 in San Francisco.

Sheehy had rapidly established himself in business, likely working for a San Francisco liquor  dealership named Sullivan and Cashman.  During this period he also had applied for and was granted citizenship under the name of “James Sheehy.”  Not long after, however, he repaired to the courts and had his last name changed to “Shea,” a move that some descendants believe greatly upset his brothers.  The reason for their concern may have been in part because of their Cork origins;  Shea was a Kerry name, across a sometimes contentious county border.
 
When Sullivan and Cashman retired from the liquor trade about 1868,  the newly anointed  James Shea took over at their location at the corner of Front and Jackson Streets.  With a partner,  he opened Shea, Hussey & Company.  After several years,  Hussey was gone and Shea was in business with three new partners.  They were the Bocqueraz brothers,  Antoine and Leon, both immigrants from Europe, and Robert M. McKee,  who himself had a history in dealing San Francisco liquors.

The  Front Street store they occupied is shown here with a group of men posing outside.  We may assume that Shea is among them.  The building was a large structure that had been divided into two businesses and separate addresses.  Next door was the M. Gruenburg Company, another whiskey wholesaler and a competitor.  Advertising themselves as “importers and wholesale liquor dealers,”  Shea, Bocqueraz & McKee were also “rectifiers,” blenders and compounders of whiskey from other sources, chiefly from Kentucky.

The firm used a number of brand names, including “Roanoke Rye,”  “Roanoke Rock and Rye,” “Springfield,” “Tea Kettle,”  “Golden,” and “Astor.”  Although they advertised several of these brands, their flagship label was “Tea Cup,”  sometimes merchandised as “Tea Cup Extra Old Bourbon Whiskey.”  It was the only one of their brands that the company apparently trademarked, registering the name in 1891 and again in 1906.  The brand likely had been brought to the firm by McKee who earlier had obtain the name rights.  Some observers speculate that the brand was a low quality, rectified product given the dearth of embossed bottles bearing the name.  Shown here is a labeled flask that depicts a elderly rustic couple drinking from tea cups.  Tea Cup Bourbon also appears on a ceramic miniature jug with a cobalt blue picture of a tea cup.

Whatever the quality of Tea Cup Whiskey, Shea and his partners advertised it heavily and also provided a number of giveaway items, particularly signs and shot glasses to saloons and other customers using their products.   Like other San Francisco wholesale dealers, they distributed fancy etched glasses,  some with gold rims, like one shown here.  The quantities that have survived indicate a generous flow of these items.  Unlike the risque saloon pictures favored by many whiskey men,  Shea and his partners issued a series of attractive  signs involving glamorous, well-clothed females.   These were color lithographs of paintings by Philip Boileau, a French Canadian artist who specialized in idealized portraits of women.  The signs advertised Old Teacup Whiskey and Springfield Straight Whiskey. 

In 1885,  McKee died and several years later the firm changed its name to Shea, Bocqueraz & Co., sometimes abbreviated as “S.B. Co.”  as seen here on a shot glass. A 1902 letterhead listed as officers James Shea and the Bocqueraz brothers.  In 1898 they moved the company from Front Street and relocated at 525 Market Street.   An ad for the partner’s Roanoke Rye Honey and Horehound gave that new address.

In the meantime,  James Shea was having a personal life.  The 1900 census found him, age 60, with his family, living at 1375 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco.  It would be their home for 40 years.  With Shea and wife Annie are recorded a number of their children, ages 26 to 18.  Additionally we have a wonderful picture of the Sheas, courtesy of a descendant, posing in a vernal setting.  Annie and the girls, Elizabeth, Ethel and Rose, all very comely lasses, are wearing identical blouses and neckwear.  Son Alfred, with cap and cricket bat, is leaning on his mother’s arm.  Papa Shea, in a straw hat,  necktie, and jacket seems almost lost among the foliage and the women.

Things would change drastically in 1906 for Shea, Bocquerez with the great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.  The Market Street location was burned out.  Located at the edge of a marsh, the whole area subsequently became a site for dumping the city’s disaster debris.  It later was filled in to accommodate the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and is now the “Wharf” area of San Francisco, famous for its seafood restaurants and sea lions.  The wholesale liquor dealership was forced to make another move in 1907, this time to 509-517 Mission Street. The firm survived until 1919 when shut down by the looming National Prohibition.  

Members of the the Shea family are buried in the Catholic Cemetery, shown left, in Colma, California, outside San Francisco, known as the "Cemetery City."  James Shea built a mausoleum there and he, his wife and others are interred there.  

We are left with the memory of a pre-Prohibition whiskey man who, somewhat inexplicably, changed his name from one Irish moniker to another over family objections  and found a bountiful prosperity in the business that subsequently bore his new name.  James Sheehy/Shea could echo Juliet:   “What, indeed, is in a name?”

Note:  Some information that was lacking in an earlier version of this vignette has been provided subsequently by Peggy, a descendant of James Shea.  I am grateful for her help.










Saturday, September 14, 2013

Jonas Brown, the Rectifier Who (Eventually) Went Straight

Jonas F. Brown, a prominent liquor dealer in Minneapolis, initially disdained the “straight” whiskeys of his day for the blended and compounded brands he mixed up in a back room of his establishment.  When he failed to pay the extra taxes levied on “rectified” whiskey, federal authorities hauled him into court.  Facing ruin, Brown somehow escaped punishment, went straight, and prospered.

Federal laws clearly discriminated against rectifiers like Brown.  Not only were they obliged to pay $1.10 cents per proof gallon of whiskey, a fee levied on all alcoholic spirits, they were subjected to a number of additional taxes.  For example, rectifiers were required to pay the IRS  $200 dollars a years as a special tax on their occupation. This tax covered only the blending process. If a rectifier, not unnaturally, wanted to sell his blended spirits he was compelled to pay still another tax as a wholesale liquor dealer.  That added an additional $100 annually.  In the year ending 1915 the total of these special taxes on rectifiers amounted to a total of $482,988, paid by whiskey men like Brown just for the privilege of blending tax-paid spirits and selling them.

Moreover, attempts constantly were being made to increase taxes on rectifiers by the federal government, often egged on by the straight whiskey producers, particularly those in Kentucky who had a powerful lobby in Washington.  One rationale was that  rectifiers used unhealthy or extraneous ingredients in their liquors.  Obviously some did. An industry spokesman, however, countered before a Congressional committee that:  “Rectified spirits are no more adulterated, unhealthful, or the subject of unfair trade practices than are unrectified distilled spirits.”


Jonas Brown would have agreed with that statement.  His method of protesting was to forego paying the required taxes.  Nothing in his background, however, indicated risky behavior or a rebellious spirit.   He was born near Worchester, Massachusetts, in 1830 into an established Yankee family.  As a young man he worked for the Providence and Worchester Railroad.  He left New England about 1860, reputedly for health reasons, and settled in Minneapolis.   Early in his Minnesota career, Brown entered the liquor trade.  In an ad he identified the beginning date as 1866.  The 1870 U.S. Census found him, now 40 years old and still unmarried, living by himself in a rented room. His occupation was given as “liquor-wholesale.”

Brown established his liquor dealership and saloon at 216 Nicollet Avenue, one of the principal commercial avenues of Minneapolis.  He advertised the location extensively as shown on a Hennepin Avenue billboard.  A 1903 publication of Minneapolis resources and industries described Brown’s establishment as a “palatial resort” and elaborated:  “He is located in a three-story brick building, where he occupies the entire building, with basement for storage, which gives him a combined floor space of 11,000 square feet....The interior is very handsomely fitted with bar and fixtures composed of black walnut, the shelving behind resplendent with fine large mirrors and cut glass.” 

He called his business “Joseph F. Brown & Co., Wines and Liquors.”  Many of those liquors Brown was mixing up in one of the many rooms in his building, merchandising brands of his own he called “Gopher Rye,”  “Blood Port,” and “Finest in America.”  He packaged his goods both in large ceramic jugs and in glass bottles.  His strap sided pints and quarts were embossed with his name,  monogram, and address.  He also issued a decorative flask, probably for the Holiday Season.

It was during the 1870s that Brown had his scrape with federal authorities. After ignoring several warnings from Internal Revenue authorities, in 1875 he was arrested for failing to pay rectifier taxes amounting to $1,200, more than 10 times that in today’s dollar.  It was a highly serious matter.  Had he been found guilty,  the government could have confiscated his stock, levied a stiff fine on top of his tax arrears, and actually sent him to prison.  The case made headlines in Minneapolis newspapers but the ultimate verdict remains unknown.  Brown, it appears, escaped confiscation and doing time.

During this same period Brown married a woman named Emma, surname unknown.  Like himself, according to census data,  she was of New England stock, born in Massachusetts as were her parents.  Emma was eleven years younger than Jonas.  They lived in a house at Sixth Street and Fourth Street for 40 years.  Although the couple apparently had no children,  the 1880 census recorded two men in their early twenties boarding with them.  The occupation of both was listed as “clerk in store,”  probably working for for Jonas F. Brown & Co.

Despite his brush with the law,  Brown subsequently established himself as a respected businessman and solid citizen.   One tribute made during his lifetime said:  “Mr. Jonas F. Brown...has always been prominent in any movement inaugurated for the welfare and betterment of the city.”  Jonas also was serving up not only his own blends (and presumably paying the requisite taxes),  but also purveying some of the leading brands of Kentucky and Pennsylvania “straight” whiskeys,  including “Old Crow,” “Old Taylor Bourbon,” “Old Monogram Rye,” and “Golden Wedding Rye.”  Like other Twin Cities whiskey men,  Brown issued advertising shot glasses to favored customers.  Into his 70s he continued to guide the fortunes of the firm he had founded.


In February 1908,  Jonas Brown died in Los Angeles, California, where he may have gone to escape the harsh Minnesota winter.  He was 78 years old.  His widow, Emma, would follow him to the grave in September of the same year.  The firm, however, survived for seven more years.  The new management kept same name but moved in 1909 to a different location at 19 Washington Avenue, North.   As shown here, the company maintained Brown’s emphasis on bottling their whiskey in ceramic jugs.

Jonas Brown’s 1908 obituary in the Minneapolis Journal declared him one of the city’s most widely known men.   It testified to his standing as a business owner, calling him:  “...The last survivor of the old school of liquor dealers.  In the days when card and wine rooms, slot machines, music and free lunches were recognized as adjunct of the saloon,  Mr. Brown continued himself strictly to the business of selling liquor as an ordinary commercial proposition.”

It would appear from this account that the young rebel who had dared flaunt the IRS on paying his taxes, as he aged had become a somewhat conservative Minneapolis businessman.  The final judgment of history might well be that Jonas Brown had rectified himself personally and gone straight.

Note:  Much of the information for this vignette was derived from Ron Feldhaus and his 1987 publication,  “The Bottles, Breweriana and Advertising Jugs of Minnesota, 1850-1920.”  It has become a classic for bottle collectors.


















Thursday, September 12, 2013

Joe Rickey Gave His Name to the Cocktail, But Who Was He?

“Colonel” Joseph K. Rickey, after whom the Gin Rickey was named, became a well-known Washington lobbyist and eventually the owner of the National Capitol’s most famous saloon,  but myths and contradictions in biographies leave many questions unanswered about this flamboyant figure.

Even Rickey’s birthplace and full name are unclear.  According to a family website, he was the fourth son in a family of 13 children born in Pennsylvania to Dr. Joseph Rickey and Elizabeth McCleary, an immigrant from County Cork Ireland.   The family history puts his 1842 birthplace as Keokuk, Iowa, but his front page obituary in the New York Times said he was born in a small town in Wisconsin and only years later did the family move to Keokuk.  The “K” in his middle name variously has  been given as Kyle,  Kerr, and Karr.

The several accounts of Rickey’s life also differ on where he spent his early life.  His obituary stated that the family moved to Fulton, Missouri, near St. Louis, when he was a young man.  A family history suggests that early on he was gambling on riverboats plying the Mississippi river.  Another account has him as a law student in Iowa.  While there is agreement that he served as a soldier in the
National Theater, Shoomaker's at far right
Civil War,  there is disagreement on which side.  One history has him as a private in the 2nd Iowa Infantry.  Other accounts have him joining the Southern cause.   According to family legend, although his father and two brothers served in the Union Army,  Joe Rickey stepped off a side-wheeler somewhere in the South and joined the Confederacy.

There is unanimity that sometime during the Civil War,  he met a Miss Sallie Howard, who was attending school at a Missouri convent where his sister was a fellow student.   They were married soon after the end of the war and had five children.  Rickey’s subsequent occupations seemed to have been gambling, operating a brokerage business and lobbying the State Legislature in Jefferson City, the Missouri capital.  From a Rickey family member:  Cousin Joe soon found that silently guiding the destinies of legislatures was not an unpleasant business, and could be pleasantly lucrative. The main thing was to know the men who controlled the votes. This meant eating, drinking, laughing, and gambling with them; all things that suited his fancy and in which he excelled. Politicians, like most other people, liked a good story, and Joe already had a reputation as a fluent raconteur.

Recognizing his own superior talents as a lobbyist, Rickey determined to take them to the Nation’s biggest stage, Washington, D.C.  He apparently came during the early-1880’s bearing the title “Colonel,”  a rank he did not achieve in the Civil War but apparently bestowed because of some work done on the staff of the Governor of Missouri.  Among his clients were Western silver interests.  Before long Rickey was as popular in Washington, D.C. as he had been in Missouri.  His favorite “watering hole” was Shoomaker’s Saloon.  It was located a few doors from the National Theater on Pennsylvania Avenue,  a
Elbert Hubbard on Shoomakers
fixture on the city’s notorious “Rum Row.”

Journalist Raymond Clapper described the saloon:  “There was no more disreputable looking bar in town.  The place was never dusted. Cats crawled over the rubbish.  A stale smell of beer greeted customers at the door.  The dingy walls were hung with faded cartoons and yellowed newspaper clippings.”  Nevertheless, it was the place where senators, congressmen, Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, generals, newsmen, and other Washington power brokers met regularly.  Author and philosopher Elbert Hubbard wrote a fancy monograph on the experience of having a drink there.

Thus it was natural when Shoomaker’s came up for sale about 1883, that Joe Rickey would buy the place and hang out there as the genial host.  Although stories differ widely as they do for many events dealing with this character, evidence suggests that Rickey himself first conceived his signature drink in the typically hot, DC summer season.  The bartender, George Williamson, prepared it to the
One half pint flask
Colonel’s instructions, and the first “Rickey” was a rye cocktail made with Shoomaker’s own house brand whiskey.  That same rye was sold “over the bar” in embossed flasks, both half pint and pint.  Note in the label close-up shown here that the saloon is jokingly referred to as “Shoomaker’s Famous Resort.”  It was estimated that the profits from the saloon were not less than $50,000 a year, at least 10 times that in today’s dollar.

Very soon, gin would eclipse rye as the favored liquor for the cocktail and the Gin Rickey was born, a concoction that spawned a myriad of cocktails called “Rickeys”.  Before long Colonel Joe publicly disavowed that he had invented the gin drink connected with his name.  In an interview published in the New York Telegraph, he was quoted to say:  “The drink named after me was always made by the experts in Shoomaker’s from limes thereafter, and soon became popular. Washington during a session of Congress, is filled with people from all parts of the country....Only here in New York was it perverted and made a thing of shame. Here they make it with gin, which is a liquor no gentleman could ever bring himself to drink. In fact, the gin rickey is about the only kind known in this city and the average barkeeper looks surprised if you ask him for one made with rye whisky.”

Despite this extensive disclaimer about the Gin Rickey,  in 1899 Joe applied for, and was granted,  trademark for the name Rickey on both whiskey and,  if you believe it, gin.  The trademark included a picture of Rickey and his autograph,  as shown here earlier.  It clearly was the Colonel’s effort to capitalize on the cocktails using his name.  By this time he also had moved to New York at 24 West Twenty-fifth Street.

As in the new century arrived,  Rickey, now in his 60s, was in increasingly bad health.  His doctors advised him to stay indoor.  Ever the gregarious bon vivant,  he insisted on a daily walk on Broadway and became a familiar figure in its top hotels.   According to the New York Times, on April 23, 1903:  “...He started for a walk, visited the Hoffman House and was standing at the corner of Broadway and Twenty-fifth Street watching the crowd. Suddenly he reeled and clasped one hand to his breast. Policeman Riordan ran to his assistance and escorted him home.  He died soon afterwards.  It is said he had been despondent recently.”

That last sentence related to the findings of the New York City’s Coroner’s Office that Rickey had committed suicide.  The coroner after an autopsy stated that he had found a small amount of carbonic acid in Rickey’s stomach.  He concluded that the deceased had taken the acid with whiskey.  Because of the condition of Rickey’s heart, the combination had been enough to kill him.  Although the family objected strenuously to the diagnosis that Rickey had taken his own life, the verdict was never reversed.  His body was returned from New York City to Fulton, Missouri, for burial.  Even in death Rickey left key questions unanswered.

Shoomaker’s survived Rickey’s demise.  When the Colonel purchased the saloon he hired as managers Bartender,Williamson and August W. Noack Jr.  Williamson and Noack apparently moved the establishment to a location close by at 1331-1333 E. Street N.W. or, as one observer has suggested, the saloon stayed but the address was altered by the city.  Some Shoomaker’s flasks bear the E Street address.  While keeping the original name, the partners had a new emphasis:  wine, champagne and cigars.  They also sold whiskey, advertising in both Washington’s establishment newspapers and “Negro” press. With the approach of National Prohibition, they closed down the business and the Shoomaker saloon came part of DC history.

As for Joe Rickey,  an eloquent tribute came from Al Smith, future governor of New York and later a Presidential candidate.  Smith told the Times:  “He was the soul of honor.  He was square as a die, and if you were his friend you could command his last dollar.  He has given away a fortune to those he deemed in need.” 

Perhaps an even more apt  memorial came from a Midwestern newspaper:  "And as long as there is thirst and limes, or lemons and gin, so long will the Honorable Joe Rickey be remembered in Missouri and his famous beverage tickle the palates of discriminating citizens."

Note:  The gin rickey is the official cocktail of Washington, D.C., by order of the City Council.
The recipe:  Into a tall glass, 1.5 oz. of gin, .5 oz of fresh lime juice, soda water, garnish with lime wedge and/or sprig of mint.





















Saturday, September 7, 2013

Louis Haas Was Toledo’s “Sultan of Shots”

The pre-Prohibition whiskey dealers of Toledo, Ohio, were no slouches when it came to producing shot glasses advertising their brands.  Of them all, Louis Haas was the most prolific in the number and variety of glasses he issued as giveaways to favored customers.   He deserved the title: “Toledo’s Sultan of Shots.”
Monroe Street, Toledo, c1912

According to census data, Haas was born in Germany in 1853 and immigrated to the United States in 1872 when he was about 19.   His early life in America is obscure but not long after arriving he settled in Toledo,  which at the time had a thriving German Jewish community.   One of the established local whiskey merchants,  Charles Landman, who ran a liquor dealership on Toledo’s Summit Street,  took Haas into his firm and taught him the business.  By the late 1880s,  Haas had been raised to a managerial position and his name appeared with Landman and his son, Isaac, in city directories.

The 1900 census found Haas,  a young bachelor,  living at 136 Fourteen Street. He was boarding with a man named Max Schohl and his wife.  Schohl, like Haas,  had emigrated from Germany and was listed in the census as a “travel agent.”   Although Charles Landman was by now quite elderly,  it must have been clear to Haas that his son, Isaac, would inherit the business.  Obviously an ambitious man,  Haas saved his money and in 1895 left the Landman firm to begin his own, competing wine & liquor enterprise.  He called it  L. Haas & Company and located it initially at 128 Summit but quickly moved it to a more permanent location at 402 Monroe Street.  Max Schohl went to work for him.

Perhaps taking a leaf from the Landmans, who issued multiple shot glasses, Haas during the 20 years he was in business in Toledo issued glasses for virtually every one of his house brands.   “Ravenna” was prime among them.  Whether he selected the name from the ancient city in Italy or the much newer municipality in Portage County, Ohio, is unclear.  One Ravenna shot glass emphasized that the label was a “Maryland Rye.”  Because Haas was a “rectifier,”  that is, compounding and blending various whiskeys and other ingredients on his Monroe Street premises,  it is questionable how much Maryland product actually was involved. 

For example, in 1898 the Ohio State Department of Agriculture cited Haas for selling whiskey that was “under proof,” that is, containing less alcohol than claimed on the label.  The state also alleged that testing showed a residue of added sugar,  also considered adulteration.  For whatever reason, a second Ravenna shot glass omitted the Maryland reference.  A third Ravenna item featured a golden rim.  Haas also provided favored customers with fancy back-of-the-bar bottles advertising Ravenna.  Those bottles usually would have been given to bartenders and saloons stocking Haas’ liquor.

Another shot glass Haas issued advertised his “Conqueror” brand.  It bore an unusual trademark that appears to be a kangaroo with a face more like a mule than an Australian marsupial.   The reference here may be to the frequent image of the kangaroo as a boxer and thus, by inference, a conqueror.   Haas’ Golden Globe brand whiskey occasioned another glass, this one without a pictorial.

Like other whiskey dealers,  L. Haas & Co. also featured a bitters product, a potion that almost always contained a high level of alcohol.  In his case,  Haas may have been revealing his political leanings in naming it “Der Wahre Jacob” Bitters.”  Taken literally,  the German translated into English means “The True Jacob Bitters”  but it also refers to a radical satirical magazine that first had been published in Germany in the 1880s by the Social Democrat Party.  Often a target of press censorship, in 1933 the magazine and the political party would be suppressed by the Nazi Government.  It would appear that Haas was expressing his support for the Social Democrats in Germany by naming his bitters as he did.  He also issued a dose-sized glass for Der Wahre Jacob Bitters.

With the coming of statewide Prohibition to Ohio in 1916,  L. Haas & Co. was forced to shut its doors.   At that point Louis Haas slipped into the mists of history.  He failed to be recorded in any subsequent U.S. censuses or other Toledo references.   For myself, I prefer to remember him who left behind an interesting series of shot glasses as Toledo’s Sultan of Shots.

















   



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Rosenfields Were “The Sunny Brook Boys”

The Rosenfield Brothers were the sons of an immigrant jeweler who moved his family from state to state, city to city, until they found a home in Chicago and eventually gained recognition as among America’s foremost distillers.  Because of their flagship whiskey, Morris Rosenfield and brothers Lewis and Joseph claimed fame and fortune as the Sunny Brook Boys.

The Rosenfields’ father, Sampson, often called “Sam,” had been born in Wurttemburg, Germany, about 1825.  Mother Rebecca also hailed from Wurttemburg.  Sam, who worked  as a jeweler, had emigrated in 1850. Since Rebecca would only have been 14 at that time, it is likely they married after Sam had settled in the U.S., circa 1853.   The 1870 census found the Rosenfields in Rock Island, Illinois.  They had been moving around.  Morris, 16, recorded his birthplace as Ohio.  The birthplace of Lewis, 11, would be variously given over the years as Kentucky or Minnesota.  Joseph, only a baby, had been born in Illinois.   Ten years later the family had fetch up in St. Louis, Missouri,  Rebecca had died and Sam had retired at age 55.  Both Morris, 26, and Louis, 21, were working as clothing salesmen.  As yet there was no hint of what was to come.

During the following decade the family made one last move, east from St. Louis across Illinois to Chicago.  In 1891 Morris and Louis established a wholesale liquor firm they called Rosenfield Bros. & Company, with Morris as head of the operation.   Almost immediately the brothers launched the Sunny Brook brand of whiskey and within a year were selling it nationally.  Initially they drew their whiskey stocks from J.B. Wathen & Bro. Company in Louisville and also had a financial stake in the J. G. Mattingly & Bro. distillery in the same city.

As with other major whiskey distributors, they soon found maintaining steady, quality supplies of liquor required direct ownership of distilleries.  During ensuing years they purchased two Louisville distilleries that had been operating under the same roof.  One, known officially as RD #5 became the Sunny Brook Distillery and the other,  RD #297,  was  the Willow Creek Distillery.  The Rosenfields reputedly paid $1 million for the facilities.  At the time the two plants were mashing 3,400 bushels of grain daily and had fifteen warehouses with a aging capacity
Sunny Brook warehouse interior

for 200,000 barrels.  The Rosenfields featured the distilleries, both exterior and interior,  on promotional materials.

Now with a greatly enhanced and assured supply of product,  the brothers issued a variety of brands in addition to Sunny Brook.  The labels included “Associated Bourbon,”   “Bellwood,” “Brightwood,”  “Equality,”  “Gladstone,” “Kentucky Comfort,” “Royal Blue,” “Sun Beam,” and “Willow Creek.”   But it was Sunny Brook Whiskey that was merchandised most vigorously by the brothers, who displayed a definite genius for advertising.  The form of their genial “Inspector,” with his blue uniform and white mustache, became a familiar figure to the American drinking public.  He was a fixture on their ads, fancy back of the bar bottles, and giveaway shot glasses.

The Rosenfields were generous with these giveaway items,  particularly to saloons and other establishments stocking their labels.  Among the most interesting was a bar sign that featured a bevy of young women, three of them quite nude, enjoying a swim, perhaps in Willow Creek, but clearly downstream from the Rosenfields’ distillery, visible in the distance.  A second sign, while it also shows the distillery has a distinctly different (not erotic) look.  It depicts an bearded elderly man with a young girl at his knee, with the slogan:  “Age and Purity,” reflecting the growing emphasis in the liquor trade on purity,  a subtle reference to the Pure Food and Drug Act.  The medicinal qualities of whiskey was the theme of another giveaway, a trade card in the shape of a whiskey flask that when opened revealed a “corn plaster,” a cloth coated with an adhesive substance and used to cover cuts or scratches.  The health theme also was echoed on a Sunny Brook wall mounted match holder and striker.


The Rosenfields moved aggressively to expand their Sunny Brook facility by adding extensively to both the still house and warehouses.  By 1904 they claimed to be the largest producers of whiskey in the world.  They declared their distilling capacity had been expanded to 20,000 gallons daily and their warehouse capacity to 10 million gallons.  After several business moves in Chicago, the Rosenfields established their main offices at 174 Randolph Street and opened a New York City office in the Gerken Building at Chambers Street and West Broadway.  For a time they also had a Philadelphia branch office at the city’s Bourse.  Along the way the Rosenfields were also picking up awards.  At the St. Louis Exposition and World’s Fair Sunny Brook Whiskey was given both a gold medal and grand prize.

Meanwhile the Rosenfield brothers were leading personal lives.  The 1910 census found Morris, now 55, living on Province Avenue in Chicago, his occupation given as “manufacturer-distillery.”  With him was his wife,  Tillie (in a later census given as Lillie).  She like Morris was the offspring of immigrant parents from Germany.  Ten years junior to Morris, she had been born in Illinois.  With them were three living children,  one son and two daughters.  As an indication of how wealthy Morris had become with his liquor interests, the family could afford six live-in servants, four women and two men.  Meanwhile,  Louis had been living in a hotel at 3009 Michigan Avenue with wife, Julia, and one son and servants.  His occupation was given as “distiller.” Father Sam at age 75 was living in Chicago with a daughter and her husband.

Throughout the early part of 20th Century the liquor trade continued to be lucrative for the Rosenfields.  In September of 1913,  according to a historian, the Sunny Brook distillery shipped 37 full boxcars containing 1,745 barrels of whiskey.  That would translate into  69,293 gallons or more than 840,000 bottles of Rosenfield liquid goods.  Much of this trade,  directly or indirectly, was going into areas of the country that increasingly were going dry but where mail orders were still legal.   The Webb-Kenyon Act passed by Congress the same year put an end to that traffic.

Their business hit hard by that law and other moves toward National Prohibition, the Rosenfields’ enterprise began to falter.  A corporate consolidation was effected in 1914 during which all the brothers’ business properties were incorporated under the umbrella of the Sunny Brook Distillery Co.  Morris was named president;  Joseph, now grown to maturity, became corporate secretary.  Apparently nothing helped.  As fast as the Rosenfields had risen, their fall was just as rapid.   By 1917 the company was in bankruptcy.   When the distillery came up for auction that year, the winning bidder was Louis Rosenfield, apparently unwilling to let go of the family legacy.  For a property once valued at millions, he paid $55,000.  Not long after, however, National Prohibition shut down the Sunny Brook Distillery.

During Prohibition the Kentucky distillery was used as “concentration” warehouse, where stored whiskey was consolidated, kept and bottled for “medicinal use” under the watchful eye of the federal government.   After the death of Louis in the early 1930s, his widow Julia Rosenfield in 1933 sold the distillery for $600,000.   The purchasers were the National Distilling Company,  an offshoot of the infamous “Whiskey Trust.”  This sale was ironic since the Rosenfields frequently had emphasized in their ads their independence of “trusts or any combination.”  National Distilling operated the Sunny Brook Distillery and marketed Sunny Brook Whiskey until about 1975, at which time the plant and warehouses were closed and the buildings ultimately torn down.

Thus ended the saga of Rosenfield Brothers, who rose like a rocket to national prominence as distillers and just quickly as left the scene.  In their wake remain thousands of glass quarts and flasks, back-of-the-bar bottles, saloon signs, shot glasses, match safes, trade cards,  advertisements, and other trinkets to remind us of the heyday of the amazing Sunny Brook Boys.