Friday, October 10, 2014

Cleveland’s Daniel Myers Frequented the Bar — of Justice

Daniel Myers, a major Cleveland business figure, a man thoroughly steeped in liquor and wine merchandising, is pictured here in 1901 in association with three companies,  Benton, Myers Druggists, Metropolitan Fire Insurance, and the Computing Scale Company.  All three connections would entangle Myers in the U.S. justice system, once to his great peril.

The dapper Myers, with his stern eyes, flowing mustache and ample goatee, began his career working for Horace Benton, a well-known Ohio druggist, who was the senior partner in a firm founded in 1865, called Benton, Myers & Canfield.  Myers was a self described “junior partner.” Beginning as a wholesale drug firm, the company in the early 1880s branched out into whiskey, wines and other beverages.  A Cleveland business directory lists them in that trade in 1874, located at 127 Water Street.  In 1882, Canfield left the firm and it became Benton, Myers & Co.  It sold a wide range of goods, including products for soda fountains.
At that time it was not unusual for wholesale drug firms to be in the liquor trade.  Benton, Myers packaged its whiskey, probably secured from Ohio and Kentucky sources, in a variety of ceramic jugs, as shown here.  These kinds of containers frequently were used by liquor dealers, knowing that that saloonkeepers and bartenders would pour it into their own bottles, many with fancy labels.  Early Benton, Myers jugs usually are straight-sided and have the words “druggist” on them.  Two are shown here, one with an Albany slip top and a Bristol glaze base, the other entirely covered with the brown glaze and a stenciled label.  Later whiskey containers omit the “druggist” reference and are “ginger jar” shaped with underglaze labels.  Some had bail handles.
It was wine, not whiskey, however, that first put Daniel Myers and his firm into the courts.  In 1884 it has made a longterm agreement with a Sandusky, Ohio, wine grower named Duroy to market the firm’s premier wines through their firm.  After a few years, Duroy decided to establish his own winery and bottling operation in Sandusky, thus abrogating the agreement.  Benton, Myers quickly sought an injunction against the use of the Duroy name, citing their contract.  The case initially was heard in a Cleveland district court.  The conflict, to use the modern vernacular, “went viral.”  According to a report in an 1893 issues of The American Druggist periodical, the suit became the talk of the industry.  The judge found that the Duroy Wine Company was a trademark exclusive to Benton, Myers, but that Duroy could use an alternate label using his name.  That was fine with Daniel Myers and his partner but Duroy proceeded to fight the case in the circuit court and finally took it to the Supreme Court of Ohio.  After a lengthy hearing of the evidence, that body reaffirmed the decisions of the lower courts. Benton, Myers continued to sell Duroy-labeled wines but the source was not Duroy’s vineyards.
The next brush with the legal system for Daniel Myers was more serious and put him personally in jeopardy.  Myers had been an officer of a fire insurance company in Buffalo, New York, which apparently put him in touch with similar commercial interests in New York City.  In February 1899 he was elected president of the Manhattan Fire Insurance Company in Gotham and moved swiftly, according to a New York Times story, to control most of its stock.  Within months the company was found to be insolvent with debt of $600,000 (equivalent to $15 million today) and assets amounting to virtually nothing.  Accused of grand larceny in draining the firm’s resources, Myers was arrested in Cleveland by a New York detective sergeant and brought to the city where he was indicted.

Myers’ attorney attempted a plea bargain in which his client would plead guilty and confess in return for immunity as a witness for the prosecution.  That offer was turned down.  His second proposal was to plead guilty in return for a suspended sentence.  That too was rejected by prosecutors but Myers was allowed to go free on bail until his trial.  As the legal process proceeded Myers frequently was in the headlines in New York, Cleveland and around the country.   Amazingly, given his apparent willingness to confess, Myers subsequently was found “not guilty” by a jury and was free to resume normal life.

The unfavorable publicity surrounding Myer’s criminal trial may well have blighted his business career.   By the following year, he either had resigned or was pushed out by Horace Benton.  In 1876 Benton had taken as a “silent” partner the firm’s star salesman, an Ohio native named Lucien Hall.  In 1904 the company that once bore Myer’s name became Benton, Hall & Co.  By 1909 it was no longer being listed in Cleveland directories as selling liquor.
Myers apparently still had a hand in business as a director of the Computing Scale Company, a Dayton, Ohio, outfit.  One of the company products is shown above.  The firm’s board had sued the Toledo Computing Scale Company, complaining that it had infringed to of its patents on drum scales.  The dispute worked its way through the courts until it reach the Chicago bench of the famous Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  Landis found for the Dayton company, one of whose scales is shown here.  He ruled that the Toledo Computing Scales Company had infringed its patent rights, that the Dayton company could recover monetary damages and granted a “perpetual injunction” against the Toledo firm making, using or vending any scales made on the trademarked patent.  Myers and his fellow directors emerged victorious.

Information about Daniel Myers’ personal life are scant. He did marry and had at least one son who became a Cleveland businessman.  He seems to have avoided the census taker throughout his life and his gravesite is not identified by Internet sources.  Much of his activity is revealed through court documents.  We are left contemplating a individual who at least three times went before the bar of justice and and came away each time tasting the sweet liquor of success.

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