Monday, October 28, 2013

John Sebastian Thoner Kept Christmas in a Jug

Market Street, Wheeling
Many whiskey men gave away miniature containers of liquor with Christmas greetings inscribed. that contained at most a swallow or two of liquid.  John Sebastian Thoner of  Wheeling, West Virginia, upped the ante by giving away pint-sized pottery jugs that not only were attractive but held a respectable amount of whiskey.  Called “the man nobody knew,” by his son, Thoner remains memorable for this line of holiday gifts as well as for the house he lived in.

The Thoner family owed its American origins to John A. Thoner, born in Germany in 1832.  Although he was trained as a weaver, upon arriving in Wheeling 1854 at the age of 22 he found little work in that trade and turned to doing a variety of odd jobs including gardener, waiter and a bottler in a brewery.   A thrifty man, in 1868 he had enough money saved to open a small business selling liquor.

During the following decade the Senior Thoner built a thriving business that, in turn, gave him the funds to build what was called “a fine brick premises of three stories” at  2240 Market Street, on the main commercial avenue of Wheeling.  It was a narrow two-and-a-half story structure with a steeply pitched roof.  Two cornice lines accentuated the south facade and visually emphasized the separation between the commercial and residential functions of the building.

Thoner moved his liquor business into the downstairs and his family upstairs. The 1880 U.S. Census found the family at the Market Street address.   His wife was Francis (spelled with an “i”) and there were three children, Thomas, 17;  Mary, 11; and John Sebastian, 8.  The father’s occupation was given as “liquor dealer.”

By 1881 Thoner Senior had expanded his operation into a drinking establishment.   In June of that year he ran an advertisement in the Wheeling paper that said:  “John Thoner takes this occasion of
informing his old customers and the public, that he has taken out a coffee house license and fitted up a first class saloon at his old stand, No. 2240 Market Street.  His bar will be constantly supplied with the best wines and liquors, beer and ale, that the market can produce.” A recent photo from the interior indicates how small Thoner's bar must have been.

Whatever success the saloon brought, it was short-lived for John A. Thoner.  At the age of 54 in 1886 he died of cancer.  That left his widow, Francis, in charge of the liquor business and saloon.  She persevered and for a period of years was accounted the proprietress of the liquor business,  one of the few women in the annals of the industry to be so recognized.   Mrs. F. E. Thoner, as she was listed in city directories, was involved in a variety of financial dealings with local banks and city officials on behalf of her enterprise.
When John Sebastian Thoner came of age,  his mother turned the business over to him in 1894.  His son treasured a picture of John standing in front of the store.  Written on the window are the words, “Family Liquor Store.”  This same son called him “the man nobody knew” and yet believed that he was “the rock of the family who watched for their best interests and led a quiet and responsible life.”

In 1895 new proprietor changed the company name to “J. Thoner Wines and Liquors,”  and remodeled the store front.  When the structure originally was built, the store on the first floor had two doors and two windows.  In Thoner’s renovation the door leading to the second floor was left in place but the shop door, which was centered between the two windows was moved to the far right and a single large display window inserted.

Soon after the remodeling Thoner began issuing the Christmas bottles for which he is remembered. The banks of the Ohio River on which Wheeling is located were a rich source of pottery-making clay.  As a result,  Thoner would not have had any difficulty finding excellent potters to make his holiday giveaways.  Particularly attractive are two similar containers, each  about six and one-half inches high with blue cobalt stenciled lettering.  One is done in a white Bristol glaze,  the other on a gray salt-glazed body.  A third jug is also gray salt glazed and here the proprietor is “J. S. Thoner.”

A fourth jug has a dark brown Albany slip top and a Bristol glaze body with a distinctly inferior, cheaply done, label.  It appears to have been applied over the glaze, a process that leads to deterioration over time.  Although it is impossible to assess the order in which the first four jugs were issued, The final one in Thoner’s Christmas series was dated 1913 and noted “Last Wet Christmas.”  It referenced the fact that earlier in the year the voters of West Virginia had adopted statewide Prohibition,  some six years before the entire Nation went dry.  Thoner was forced to terminate his liquor enterprise.

Despite this setback,  John Sebastian continued intermittently to run a store downstairs from his residence.  In 1917, at the urging of his wife,  he moved his family into the shop and remodeled the building.  Initially the residence was on two levels, with the kitchen, dining room and pantry on the first floor behind the shop.  Acceding to his wife’s wishes, Thoner moved those uses upstairs so that the living space was on one level   He continued to run a store until Wheeling taxes on joint commercial/residential properties caused him to discontinue sales.

Thoner died about 1958 at age 86.  After renting the building for a variety of uses, his inheritors sold it in 1971 and it eventually came to be owned by the Friends of Wheeling, Inc., an organization aiming to preserve the city’s architectural heritage.  In 1984 the Thoner’s Market Street home was put on the National Register of Historical Places, from which much of the information here was obtained.  More recently operated as an antique store, the building, shown here as it looks today,  has been up for sale.  It stands as a continuing reminder of John Sebastian Thoner, a man who put Christmas in a jug.











Thursday, October 24, 2013

William L. and the Distilling Wellers of Kentucky

There were no more distinguished early distilling families in Kentucky than the Wellers and William Larue Weller, the man credited with inventing “wheated whiskey,” was the giant of the family.  Even today the widely marketed “W. L. Weller Bourbon” bears his name and carries his memory.

Seen here in a modern drawing,  Weller in 1825 was born into a family that traced its origins back to Germany.  His grandfather, Daniel, had come to Kentucky on a flatboat in 1794,  purchased land near Bardstown and by 1800 was running a distillery there.  After his death in 1807 his estate included three whiskey barrels, two stills, mash kettles and drying kegs.  These were conferred on William’s father, Samuel, who continued to engage in the distiller’s trade.

As William grew up he sought new adventures.  In 1844 he moved to Louisville where he may well have worked in one of the many liquor enterprises that characterized that city.  In 1847 he joined the Louisville Brigade and with other Kentuckians served his country during the Mexican War.  At the conclusion of that conflict, William returned to Louisville and in 1849 opened his own business trading,  rectifying, and selling whiskey wholesale in collaboration with his brother, Charles.  They called their enterprise “William Larue Weller & Brother.”  They used the slogan, “Honest whiskey at an honest price.”

During this period Weller is credited with inventing “wheated whiskey,” that is, a proprietary blend that employed corn, malted barley and wheat, rather than rye.  The result was a smoother tasting whiskey that seemed richer on the palate than the traditional bourbon.  Legend has it that Weller’s liquor was so popular that he had to put his thumbprint in green ink on all invoices and barrels of whiskey he sold to assure his customers that they were getting the real stuff.

About the same time,  William, now 25 years old, was financially secure enough to marry.  His bride was Sarah B. Pence of Shelby County, a woman five years his senior.  Over the next 16 years they would have seven children,  four boys and three girls.  Weller also raised as his own son a younger brother, John, after their father and mother died in 1854 during a typhoid epidemic.  A Louisville City directory of the time lists Weller as a wholesale and retail dealer in foreign and domestic whiskey.  His business was located on the east side of Eighth Street between Jefferson and Green (now Liberty).

The advent of the Civil War wrought many changes for the Wellers.   William’s younger brother John joined Kentucky’s Confederate “Orphan’s Brigade,”  rose to the rank of captain and was wounded at the Battle of Chicamaugua.   Another brother went under arms to serve the Confederacy in Georgia.  William’s brother and partner, Charles, while in Tennessee in 1862  to collect debts and reported to be carrying a large amount of cash, was robbed by two gunmen and murdered.

After the Southern defeat,  John Weller came to work for a time with brother William in his company.   As his sons gained maturity,  Weller also began to take them aboard.  An 1876 city directory listed the business as “W.L. Weller and Son.”  His eldest, George Pence, was the partner.   William Junior was working as a clerk.  The company was now located on Louisville’s Main Street,  the very center of America’s liquor industry.  By 1887 the company was known as “William L. Weller & Sons” as other of his boys arrived.  The Wellers purchased whiskey on the open market and later contracted for large lots from distillers, including the Stitzel Brothers in Louisville and the Old Joe Distillery in Anderson County.

The company featured a blizzard of brands.  They included: "Boss Hit,” "Creedmore,” "Gold Crown,” "Harlem Club,” "Kentucky's Motto,” "La Rue’s Malt",  "Old Crib,” "Old Potomac,” "Potomac,” "Quarter Century,” "Rose Glen,” "Silas B. Johnson,” "Stone Root Gin,” “Old W. Weller” and "Uncle Buck.”  Their flagship labels were “Mammoth Cave,” and “Cabin Still” bourbons. Unlike many of their competitors, the Wellers trademarked most of their brands, beginning in 1905.   They advertised their whiskeys vigorously and provided generous giveaway items to favored customers. Those included back-of-the-bar bottles, some with label under glass, and etched shot glasses.

In 1893 William Weller made a highly significant move when he employed as a salesman the 19-year-old Julian Van Winkle,  who came to be known as “Pappy.”  Weller is said to have told Van Winkle never to take a drink with a customer, rather:  “If you want a drink, you’ve got samples in your bag and you can drink in your room.”  By now there were four sons in the business with their father.  George and William Junior were partners.  John C. and Lee Weller were listed as clerks.

In 1895,  apparently beginning to feel his age at 75,  William Weller filed his will with Jefferson County.   A year later he retired, leaving the business to George and his brother John, even though the latter had been working elsewhere.  In March 1899 William died.  The cause of death was given as “chronic spasmodic asthma with heart complications.”  With his grieving family gathered around, this acknowledged whiskey pioneer was buried in  Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery,  the resting place of many whiskey “barons.”

After his death some observers doubted William’s claim to have originated wheated whiskey.  One critic said his research found no evidence of the Wellers even making wheated bourbon.  He cited a contract between the company and Stitzel: "To make 500 barrels of bourbon for Weller using a mash bill that was rye and not wheat. Weller was not a large company at that time and 500 barrels represents a large portion of their yearly sales so I found it hard to believe that Weller was making a wheated bourbon at the time.”   Still other observers continue to credit Weller for this acknowledged advance in bourbon.  No other claimant, to my knowledge, has come forward.

In any event, the firm continued prosperous under Weller family management until 1909, when the sons sold out to “Pappy” Van Winkle and another company salesman,  Alex T. Farnsley.  Although they maintained the original name, the new partners adopted a new business strategy. In order to insure a more secure supply of raw whiskey, they saw the need to own at least a part of a distillery and invested in the Stitzel plant.  By the time Prohibition arrived in 1920,  Van Winkle was president of W.L. Weller and Sons and secretary/treasurer of Stitzel Distillery.    Stitzel was the president of the distillery and secretary/treasurer of W. L. Weller and Sons and Farnsley was the vice president of both companies.  As a result  they were able to piggyback on the Stitzel license to sell “medicinal whiskey” during National Prohibition.  Their Mammoth Cave brand was one of the bourbons offered to pharmacies during the “dry” era in America.

After repeal, the Stitzel plant operated as the The Stitzel-Weller Distillery under control of the younger members of the Van Winkle and Farnsley families.  As the years have rolled on a number of corporate changes have erased the distillery name but a Weller brand bourbon has continued to be sold.  Today the W.L. Weller Special Reserve is a prized and pricey whiskey, produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.  Naturally it is a wheated bourbon.













Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Tale of “Tooze” in the Twin Cities

As a child nicknamed “Tooze” by his father,  John E. Rogers, a poor Illinois farm boy, came to the Twin Cities of Minnesota to work in menial jobs but over time rose to be the owner of liquor stores, saloons, restaurants, hotels and other enterprises in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and beyond.   Known for his philanthropy, Tooze embodied the American “rags to riches” life story, one with a heart.

The tale of Rogers/Tooze has been recounted very well by Ron Feldhaus in his book,  “The Bottles, Breweriana and Advertising Jugs of Minnesota. 1850-1920.”  Rather than recast the story in other words, I am reprinting here excerpts
Mint Saloon far right
from Ron’s book to provide a picture of this extraordinary whiskey man’s life and character, as well provide some of his singular views on managing a business, running a saloon, and drinking alcohol:

Tooze’s business career was one without parallel in the commercial life of Minneapolis....He came to the Twin Cities at the age of 18 and worked at such jobs as waiter at the Nicollet Hotel and bell boy at the St. Louis Hotel until he started his first saloon, the Mint, on Washington Ave No. with a capital of just $225.  In 1896, at age of 27, he opened the Tooze Wine Co. at 301 S. 3rd.


At his death he owned the Rogers Hotel and Cafe, 25-29 So. 4th, the Unique Theater, 520 Hennepin Ave., the Empress Theater on Wabasha in St. Paul,  a delicatessen and restaurant, 516-518 Hennepin, the Chamber of Commerce Cafe at 4th,  extensive property in northern Minnesota, Mexico mining property and a chicken ranch at Mound....In between he had owned seven other saloons and restaurants.

His Midas touch was admired and respected by all, and his saloons, restaurants and hotel were considered models of perfection in every way.  He once said:  “Work is my play, my relaxation is auto rides where we usually talk business.   That’s far more interesting than anything else.  I have 11 different enterprises on my hands and manage them all just as I did my 7 saloons,  simply by being systematic.  When I start a business I spend every minute at it working constantly.  In a restaurant this would include how many servings 
per pound of every given meat and vegetable, how much it costs to operate the range per hour, so by the time the food reaches the customer, I know to the penny what the profit on each item is....”

“Once a week I meet with my employees, talk with them briefly and ask for suggestions, then use all the good ones.  I want them to think of their enterprise as an automobile, they are the chauffeurs.  I cannot tolerate lack of ambition in my employees.  I know what can be done.  I hope that I train them well enough and hire them with enough ambition so that someday they run me competition.  I also believe in sharing profits.”

Not only did Tooze have the Midas touch with money, but with people.  He drew friends like a magnet, and people valued his friendship for its sincerity and candidness.  He practiced love, never preached it, always had time for chat, for Tooze never forgot his early poverty nor the helping hands he got
along the way.  To charitable things he gave generously of both his time and money....Many times he heard of someone who was destitute and helped them back on their feet....If that person needed hospitalization, Tooze would personally take him there, visit him, pay his bills both at the hospital and at home, then help find the man employment when h was able to work again.  He truly believed and followed his business motto”  “He best serves himself when he best serves others.”

Every Thanksgiving while he owned the Rogers Hotel and Cafe he invited all the newsboys of the city there for dinner.   There they dined in the elegantly decorated rooms and were the most important guests of the day.  He would walk among them complimenting them, giving words of encouragement, calling many of them by name for he had a fabulous memory for names and faces....


He loved children though he had none of his own and spent about $5,000 a year on them.  At the Unique Theater he annually gave free performances.  The lobby would be heaped with thousands of bags of candy to be given away.  He also was very active in the Boys Club and sponsored a baseball team for 10 years.

Tooze had very definite ideas on liquor, the liquor business and saloons, some quite unorthodox for men in his profession.  To quote him:  “When I started my first saloon I knew there were many dangers about it but I believe it could be run right.   I have neither allowed myself to be influenced adversely by it or conducted it in a way to bring discredit.  I simply put before the people that which they want, and serve them honestly.  Any employee serving liquor to an intoxicated man meets with instant dismissal....A ban is put on serving any man who is using money to drink that is needed by his family....”

“I stopped drinking 26 years ago.   My advice to any man would be not to drink....I think if all people had to sit down to drink and all saloons served food there would be less intoxication The worst, most ridiculous thing, was when the temperance extremists got the city council of Minneapolis to prohibit the free lunches.   The saloon keepers had wanted them abolished because they were expensive and kept people from drinking.  They couldn’t get it passed but the temperance cranks did it for them,  thus promoting intemperance.”

John E. Rogers died of shock following a five hour operation for intestinal adhesions.  He was awake throughout the majority of the operation and in his own inimitable fashion was instructing the many doctors.  He had been ill for just a few days.  Although he knew his time had come, he was calm and relaxed until the end....

By request of the thousands of his friends his body was laid in state so that they all might say their last goodbyes.  Funeral services were private with fellow Elks acting as pallbearers.  From the time he owned the Unique Theater he had had church services held there each Sunday morning for people who would not or could not ordinarily get to church.  The Sunday following his funeral a memorial service was held there for him.  Not another person could be crowded into the theater and there were about 500 left outside so a second service was held.


To this stirring story of John E. “Tooze” Rogers I can only add a note pointing to the double “Z’s” to be found on many illustrations here, including the Tooze liquor bottles, drinking mug, bar token and hotel ashtray.   Rogers clearly wanted the public to sound out and remember the highly unusual nickname given to him by his father many years earlier.

Postscript:  In November 2015, Kent Saunders, who has his own Google blog, sent me the photo below of the Tooze-sponsored baseball team, together with a story about the team from Spaulding's Amateur Base Ball Year Book of 1905.  According to Spaulding:  "This club has steadily been composed of Minneapolis players, who have met and defeated the best teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and who have been willing at all times to defend the title of champions of the Twin Cities, which they have claimed."  My thanks to Kent for this interesting pieces of "Tooziana."












Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Liquid Revenge of the George Torreys

In 1889, the Hannis Distilling Company of Baltimore put up to auction the rights to the brand name of their best selling “Mount Vernon Rye.”  In the spirited bidding and financial maneuvers that followed,  George W. Torrey & Company of Boston came out second best.  Said to have “felt jilted,” the Torreys, father and son, got revenge by marketing their own version of the Maryland whiskey.  A battle of the bottles followed.

The elder George Torrey was born in 1806, the scion of a well-established Massachusetts family.  He claimed the origin of his liquor business to be 1826, when he was barely 20 years old.  The legitimacy of the claim can be questioned since the firm in the early 1900s also claimed to be the oldest wine merchant in America, in business for an astounding 150 years,  about a quarter century in advance of the Revolutionary War and before Torrey had been born.

This George Torrey was a grocer, located at 24 Market Street, who put a strong emphasis on liquor sales.  He may also have been a rectifier, blending and compounding whiskeys for sale.  His brands included ”Torrey’s Old Bourbon,” “Torrey’ Old Rye,”  “Torrey’s Very Old Extra Quality Scotch,”  “Torrey’s Very Old Irish, and “Torrey’s White Wheat Brand,” as well as a blizzard of other brands of liquor his company sold, domestic and imported.  In much of the 19th Century most whiskey was being merchandised in ceramic jugs.  Torrey favored those from the Norton Pottery and fancied those that came with cobalt design, as shown here.  Torrey’s name and address was stamped into the wet clay on those and on smaller quart jugs.

After a few years in business,  Torrey married Sarah, born in Maine, who was nine years his junior.  They would have six children,  three boys and three girls over the period of the next 17 years.  Their eldest child was named after his father.  Known as George W. Torrey Junior,  this son began working for his father’s company at an early age and eventually took over its management as his father aged.

Meanwhile Torrey Senior was carving out a business and political career that was gaining considerable positive attention.   He was elected to the Boston Board of Aldermen, an 11 person panel whose province it was to govern the large East Coast city.  In 1857, as a member of the board, he was appoint to the committee involved in purchasing and inaugurating a commanding statue of Benjamin Franklin, considered a native son of Boston although the American sage early had moved to Philadelphia.

Over the decades the Torreys, father and son, built up a highly respectable regional trade in their whiskey.  That reputation may have impelled them into the high stakes game to gain the rights to the Mount Vernon Rye brand, named after the Northern Virginia home of George Washington. The opportunity opened with the death of millionaire distiller Henry Hannis in an insane asylum in 1886.   Hannis had originated the brand.  The group of businessmen who earlier had taken over his company’s management decided to keep Hannis Baltimore distillery but to sell the name of the nationally known rye whiskey to the highest bidder.

The Torreys’ principal competition was Cook & Bernheimer, a New York-based liquor wholesaler who operated a coast-to-coast distribution network.  That organization maintained branch offices in Chicago and Cincinnati and had  “deep pockets” financially.  The decision by Hannis executives to sell to Cook & Bernheimer, as one observer put it,  “...Left a Boston liquor kingpin, George W. Torrey, apparently feeling jilted.  He vowed reprisal.”

The Torreys’ response was to take over a facility in Baltimore that had begun life as a distillery in 1873 but briefly had been converted into a brewery and then abandoned.  The Torreys bought it and once again established a distillery.  It produced  only a single brand,  a whiskey that the Torreys called “The Only Original and Genuine Mt. Vernon Rye.”  They merchandised it all over America, gambling that the distinction between the “Mount” and “Mt.” would be lost on the buying public.  As a result, East Baltimore had its Mt. Vernon distillery on Sixteenth Street (now Haven) between Fleet and Foster,  and West Baltimore  had its Mount Vernon Distillery at Ostend and Russell, currently the site of the Baltimore football and baseball stadiums.
The two bottles compared

A major difference between the two whiskeys was in the shape of the bottle.  In an advertising war, New York facing off against Boston, Cook & Bernheimer emphasized their Mount Vernon’s square bottle, the traditional shape of the Hannis product.  The Torreys countered with a round container for Mt. Vernon Rye, announcing “always in this style bottle.”  The container featured a highly visible amber rippled glass and fancy embossing.

In their merchandising the Torreys boasted that their rye was “bottled in bond.”   The New Yorkers, whose whiskey was not bonded, trumpeted that their brand had won prizes at four world’s fairs,  Philadelphia in 1876; New Orleans, 1885;  Australia, 1887,  and Chicago, 1893.  The Torreys also issued splashy giveaway items to saloons and other establishments stocking their Mt. Vernon brand. Those artifacts included etched shot glasses of several varieties and color lithographed tip trays.

In the short run the Torreys’ gambit paid off.  Cook & Bernheimer did not strike back by taking the Bostonians to court for trademark infringement.   Their lawyers may have advised the New Yorkers that although only a slight difference existed in names, the clear distinction between the two whiskeys both in bottle shapes and labeling gave them a weak case against the Torreys. The competition between the two liquor companies raged on for more than a decade.

At some point during this conflict,  the senior Torrey, already in his 80s, died.  That left George Junior to man the helm of the company.  About 1910, he changed the name to “Torreys.”  But the name change did not halt a downward slide in the Mt. Vernon Rye whiskey sales. The historian of Baltimore whiskey, James H. Bready, scorned the Torreys’ efforts:  “Such shenanigans could not last, and did not.  The public’s favor remained with the square bottle.”   Perhaps as a result, after claiming 88 years in the Boston liquor trade, the Torrey firm closed its doors in 1914.  Cook & Bernheimer, with Prohibition closing in, terminated three years later.  In the end, it would seems, neither side had won.












Monday, October 14, 2013

The Elusive Dr. C. Bouvier and the Rosenbaum Brothers

Among the most interesting of the “liquor as medicine” hucksters was the mysterious, and almost certainly fictional,  Dr. C. Bouvier of Louisville, Kentucky. His buchu gin bottles are dug or found in flea markets all over America   Many have interesting shapes and colorful labels.

All contained “buchu gin,” a potion made by straining gin liquor through the leaves of the Latin American buchu plant, presumably taking along their essence and health-giving properties. Dr. C. Bouvier’s Buchu Gin was vigorous advertised as a remedy for kidney and bladder diseases or for “general disability,” often a euphemism for impotence.   One of its ads explicitly scoffed at physicians.  It read: “Don’t let them kid you because the doctor says you can’t drink. Put your foot on the rail and look wise at ‘the doctor behind the bar’ and say ‘Dr. C. Bouvier’s Buchu Gin.’”   A trip tray advertising the nostrum shows an benign elderly couple, with the obvious implication of the longevity involved in drinking buchu gin.

But who was Dr. C. Bouvier, the medical man whose signature was said to be on every bottle? A substantial factory building stood in Louisville with his name prominently attached to buchu gin as one product of Dr. C. Bouvier’s Specialty Company.   A search of Louisville directories and census records of the time, however, fails to find any physician with that name, or for that matter any Bouvier at all.
.
A clue is a shot glass advertising Dr. B’s potion, shown here. It also names the Rosenbaum Brothers. As early as 1886 members of the Rosenbaum family had been in the wholesale liquor trade, doing business at several locations on West Market Street in Louisville.  They often sold their liquor in ceramic jugs as shown here.   They were rectifiers, not distillers, buying whiskeys from various Kentucky distilleries, blending them to taste, bottling them, and selling them with labels that variously read “Glee Club” and “Kentucky Home.”

Census data indicates that brothers, at least five in number,  were the sons of Isaac Rosenbaum, a dealer in wool, and his wife, Sarah, who had emigrated from Germany in 1875. The brothers, in order of birth, were Leon, Sam, Benjamin, Harry, and Jesse.  Shown below is a photo of five men in suits and hats standing by five almost identical Lincoln sedans.  The men are identified as the Rosenbaum brothers.  They are posing in front of homes owned by family members in the exclusive Cherokee Triangle District, an upscale neighborhood two miles from the center of downtown Louisville.  Note that a chauffeur is seated at the wheel of each vehicle. 

A Louisville historian credits this wealth to a move the Rosenbaums made about 1905, closing out their liquor business to move to proprietary medicines.  He says:  “In 1905 they changed their company name to Dr. C. Bouvier Specialty Company, manufacturing proprietary medicines, principal among them the buchu gin concoction.”  Local directories indicate that at various times all five of the brothers were involved in the business. The Rosenbaums advertised their buchu gin heavily.  They also issued shot/dose glasses and tip trays to saloons and other establishments that stocked their “medicine” and gifted watch fobs and folding tooth picks to retail customers.

In 1909 the Rosenbaums were hauled into the Circuit Court of Franklin County for failure to pay a state tax on its buchu gin.  Found guilty,  they appealed.  In April of that year the Kentucky Court of Appeals registered its decision.  In the process the court described the  ingredients of Bouvier Buchu Gin: “It is manufactured by pouring pure gin upon a bed or mat of buchu leaves and allowing it to percolate through; then add distilled water and syrup, the gin comprising some 50 percent or more of the compound.”  Not surprisingly, the court found that the nostrum was liquor and that the Rosenbaums owed the state tax.  Nowhere in the judicial proceedings did Dr. C. Bouvier show up to argue its medicinal qualities.

About the same time,  Federal authorities were on the trail of the Rosenbaum’s buchu gin, this time for claiming to be medicine.  In September 1908 Department of Agriculture officials raided eight Washington saloons and liquor stores and seized 109 cases of Dr. C. Bouvier’s Buchu Gin, each case holding 12 bottles.  The value of the items confiscated was estimated at $660.  The feds accused the Rosenbaums of violating the Food and Drug Act of 1906 by misbranding the product.  Although being sold as a drug, the bottles failed to bear a statement on the label indicating the proportion of alcohol they contained.  Hauled into the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia,  the Rosenbaums conceded their violation and were fined $1,200, more than $12,000 in today’s dollar.   Upon payment of the fine the cases of buchu gin were released back to the brothers for re-labeling and potential return to the DC outlets for sale.  Again, there was no sign of Dr. C. Bouvier in the federal proceedings.
The Bouvier Specialty Co., Louisville

Obviously some irony existed, not lost on the Rosenbaums, that their buchu gin was cited by state authorities for being liquor and by the federals for being medicine.   Nonetheless, these troubles apparently wrought a change in the brothers’ business practices.  The name of the company was altered to “Bouvier Specialty Company.”  The ever elusive “doctor” was gone.  The company appeared in local directories,  located at 29th Street and Magazine in Louisville,  from 1915 to 1919.  At that point, with National Prohibition enacted,  both the Bouvier Specialty Company and buchu gin disappeared.   As for the Rosenbaum brothers, the photo below, showing them in front of their chauffeured Lincolns and large homes, was taken about 1935. It would indicate that they survived just fine.



















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!