Monday, February 3, 2014

Marching Along with Sig & Sol -- the Freibergs

Whiskey wholesalers were famous for their giveaway items to saloon stocking their liquor and other favored customers, including back of the bar bottles and pitchers, tip trays, shot glasses, and bar games.  Brothers Solomon and Sigmund Freiberg of Cincinnati provided all of those items in profusion but added one more gift:  Music, a stirring march dedicated to their flagship brand whiskey.

Shown here is the sheet music for the “Gannymede ‘76’ March,” published in 1903. It was written by Gus. W. Bernard, a songwriter and composer at the turn of the 20th Century whose marches and dance tunes are said to found in several university libraries.  Other than that reference Gus does not seem to have been a major force in American music. The cover of the  music presents a very dramatic picture.  It shows a figure being carried into the heavens by a giant bird.  The sheet lists the publishers as Sig and Sol Freiberg.

Sig, shown here in a  contemporary cartoon, was the elder of the brothers, born in 1866.  Sol was four years younger, born in 1870. Their father,  Henry Freiberg was a native of Renish Bavaria and there married their mother, Amalia Loeb.  Not long after their marriage the couple emigrated to the United States, settling in Cincinnati, the home of many German immigrants.  Although Henry had experience in distilling as well as in leather tanning, he preferred the latter trade and and founded one of the first tanning businesses in the city.  One author has called it “the famous old tannery on Livingston Street.”

Although their father had disdained distilling, his sons would embrace it.  Born in Cincinnati both Sig and Sol were reared and educated there. They both entered the liquor business during their teen years working for Cincinnati liquor interests and advancing into management  positions.  The 1900 U.S. Census found Sig, listed as a “liquor merchant,” living with his wife Stella (sometimes given as Estella) in the home of his in-laws,  Henry and Helena Marks,  and with two of Stella’s siblings.   Although at that point the Freibergs had been married for 12 years, they had no children.   The  same census found Sol Freiberg, also listed as a “liquor merchant,” living in Cincinnati with his wife,  Helen, and their five-year-old son, Henry.  Shown right, Sol too was residing in the home of in-laws,  Bernard and Dora Kahn.  By that time both men likely were  working with a relative, Julius Freilberg.

About 1898 the brothers decided to break out on their own.  They joined forces and finances to create their own liquor business at  58 Main Street under the name S. & S. Freiberg.  They remained at that location for the next six years, moving to larger quarters at 424-426 West Fourth Street in 1906.  There they occupied an entire six-story building, shown here, and provided employment for some 50 people.  A 1912 account described what Sig and Sol had accomplished:   “Theirs is one of the largest and most substantial concerns of its kind in Cincinnati....It has grown phenomenally through their own efforts and their trade now extends over the entire United States, selling to large dealers.”

The brothers also owned an interest in the Peacock Distillery located in Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky.  It was reputed to have been founded in 1840, making it one of the state’s oldest.  Insurance records indicate that the distillery was built of stone with a metal or slate roof.  There were two ironclad warehouses, one located 500 feet north of the still and a second adjacent.  The former was a fully government bonded warehouse and the latter partially bonded.  

The Freibergs were also rectifying whiskey at their Cincinnati address and selling it both at wholesale and retail under a blizzard of brand names.   Their labels included:  "Beach Grove,” "Carnation,” "Chevalier,” "Claymont", "Fairview", "Fresno Club",  "Hollerding", "J. M. Watson,"J. Walter,” "Liederkranz,” "Louisiana 1803 Purchase,”  "Loyal Club,” "Mac Laren,” "Maratime Club.” Millview,” "New Era, "Old Malvern Export,” "Old Manchester,” "Pike Mountain,” "Rocky Ford,” "Spearhead, " "St. Louis World's Fair Celebration,” "Teakwood,” "Three Ribbons,” and "Walnut Grove."  Canny about protecting their proprietary rights, the brothers registered a dozen of these brands with the Federal Government in 1905.   Mac Laren was trademarked in 1906 and Old Malvern Export in 1911.

Far and away the flagship brand for S. & S. Freiberg was Old Gannymede ‘76.’ In Greek  mythology Ganymede (note the different spelling) was a handsome young shepherd who caught the eye of the god, Zeus, who promptly send down a giant eagle to carry him off to Mount Olympus. His was the picture on the front of the sheet music.  On Olympus with Zeus the youth became “an immortal” and served as a cup bearer to the Greek gods.  While there is no evidence that Ganymede served up rye whiskey to his clients, the fact that he was the bearer of spirituous drink probably made his name and image appropriate for the Freibergs’ whiskey.

They certainly made the most of the name, advertising and merchandising the brand widely.  It also was featured on the brothers’ giveaway items to favored customers such as saloons and restaurants carrying their whiskey.  Among them were back-of-the-bar bottles bearing the Gannymede label, of which two are shown here.  Banned after the end of Prohibition because adulterated liquor could easily be substituted, the idea was for these vessels to hold the whiskey being advertised.  Silver-plated water pitchers were also poplar items behind the bar, holding water or cold tea.  The Freibergs served up one of the most elegant of those.  More standard in the liquor trade were glasses and the brothers gave away those in both shot glass and drinking glass size. 

Bar games were also a popular staple in saloons.  The Freibergs provided at least four such to clients featuring their brands, including two dice game (good for shaking for drinks), a roulette wheel and a “Shuffle ‘Em” BB drop.  Note that two of the games advertised Gannymede Pure Rye.  So did a colorfully lithographed serving tray.  As with many Gannymede items, the tray featured a two-headed eagle in a Germanic-looking coat of arms.  It may have symbolize the two brothers united in a single purpose or, a stretch, the eagle that fetched up Ganymede.

As the brothers advanced in business, they became active in philanthropic and civic affairs.
Both men were known for their charitable giving to Jewish and other causes. Sigmund Freiberg was active in public health matters in Cincinnati for many years, particularly in the fight against tuberculosis, a scourge of that era.  He was a founder of the Cincinnati Anti-Tuberculosis League and served on its board of directors continuously for more than 25 years.  In 1924 the city’s mayor appointed Sig to a ten year term on the Board of Health and following that term, which apparently had been distinguished, reappointed him to another ten year term.  Sol Freiberg was a member of the Civic and Commercial Clubs and the Cincinnati Improvement Association. When the Cincinnati Reds baseball team celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1936 both Freibergs were selected to the “Old Timers’ Committee” for the celebration.

During the 20th Century, the Freiberg’s business interests changed drastically.  In the early 1900s they sold their stake in the Peacock Distillery to the “Whiskey Trust,” which initially expanded the facility and then abandoned it.  The coming of Prohibition in Ohio and the Nation shut down their liquor business in 1918 and terminated with it was the Gannymede Rye brand. The 1920 U.S. Census indicated that, as some other whiskey men did, the Freibergs shifted their enterprise into non-alcoholic beverages and groceries.  Sig was listed as president of a “food products company” and Sol as its manager.  This endeavor apparently was not successful because the 1930 census found the brothers running a retail furniture store in Cincinnati. 

Throughout their lives the Freibergs enjoyed travel.  A 1912 biography recorded that the brothers had toured Europe and traveled extensively through the United States.  Their touring apparently was lifelong.  The American Israelite publication of 1937 reported that Mr. and Mrs. Sigmund Freiberg and Mr. and Mrs. Sol H. Freiberg with their son Dr. Henry Freiberg would sail August 14th on the S.S. Vulcania from New York on a cruise and tour, “visiting the Azores; Lisbon, Portugal; Algiers, Africa; Palmero, Sicily; Athens, Greece; Ragusa, Jugoslavia. They will disembark at Venice, Italy, to motor through the Dolomites and Switzerland, returning by motor through Italy to Rome.  The entire party will be at the Excelsior Hotel, Rome, Italy Sept. 14th-21st.”   Once in Rome Sig and Stella celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

My research has not revealed the dates of death for the Freiberg brothers nor their burial sites.  As they marched through life to the sweet music of Gannymede “76,”  the brothers had created a liquor business of national scope, contributed significantly to the civic weal of Cincinnati, and provided an array of attractive artifacts by which to be remembered.  A contemporary biography averred that both Sig and Sol were “gentlemen of liberal culture, broad-minded and intelligent.”   Their lives and works make that a fitting epitaph.

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