Friday, November 14, 2014

Rubel and Lilienfeld Went from Dry Goods to Wet

Rubel-Lilienfeld Company was a well-known Chicago liquor wholesaler, with a customer base over many states.  Two of the principals, Theodore Lilienfeld and Simon Rubel, had come to this occupation not only as immigrants, but also after a period of working in dry goods, clothing and acccessories.  The process of their transition makes this story.

We begin with Lilienfeld.  He was born in Germany in 1842 of German Jewish parentage.  At the age of 18, perhaps to avoid service in the Prussian Army where almost 50% of inductees died during basic training,  he came to the U.S. and settled in Michigan.  He apparently was able to avoid military service in the U.S. Civil War, a conflict that began shortly after his arrival.  After 10 years of working in the U.S., apparently in mercantile trades, he married.  His wife, Anna, was also a German immigrant and eight years his junior.

The 1880 census found them living in Saginaw, Michigan, a city on the Saginaw River that was a thriving lumber town in the 1800s and became an important industrial center during much of the 1900s.   The couple by that time had three children, Harry born in 1872,  Meta in 1877, and Ella in 1879.  Theodore’s occupation was listed as “dry goods merchant,” in the census, apparently running his own clothing store.

Meanwhile, Simon Rubel also was establishing himself in the United States.  He too had been born in Germany in 1852, his birthplace recorded as Steinbach Am Donnerberg.   He came to America with an older brother, Isaac, in July, 1869.  They came on the ship “Deutschland,” a vessel constructed as an emigrant passenger vessel.  Just six years later after Rubel’s voyage the ship was wrecked off the coast of England with significant loss of life. Upon arriving in Chicago,  Rubel’s first job was listed in the 1870 census as working in a dry goods store.  The following year a Chicago directory listed him employed by “Rubel Bros., a cigar and tobacco firm run by his relatives, Max and Ferdinand Rubel.  During this period Simon found a wife in Emily Jonas, a native of Detroit who was 12 years his junior.  

Not long after his marriage, during the mid-1800s Simon, seeking greener pastures in the West, took Emily to Utah where two of their daughters were born. He appears to have located in Ogden where he opened a branch of a Chicago liquor dealership called Rubel & Penglase.  By 1889, he and his growing family were back in Chicago.  Subsequently two more children were born, including a son, Stanley.  Another son died at birth.
Then, by some alchemy, Theodore Lilienfeld and Simon Rubel, both formerly engaged in dry goods, discovered that “wet goods” held more promise and collaborated in business. With Isaac joining in as a partner, they formed Rubel-Lilienfeld Company.  My hunch is that the three men were related but have found no evidence of that.  Nonetheless in 1896, the first entry appeared in Chicago directories of their business, listing them as wholesale liquor dealers.   Rubel-Lilienfeld was located in the Market Street district of the Windy City, shown here.  Their address was 96 Market, changing to 14 North Market as the result of street renumbering in 1911.  The company trade card read:  “Jobbers and Importers of Wines and Liquors and Blenders of High Grade Whiskies and Brandies.”

By announcing themselves as “blenders,” the partners openly were admitting that they were producing their own “rectified” brands, that is, mixing and compounding raw whiskeys and bottling them as proprietary brands.  Their two principal labels were “Hatchwood” and “Randolph Club.”  The company registered both brands in 1905, the point in time when the laws had been strengthened by Congress and gave confidence that trademarks would be enforced.
Shown above are a label and a flask of Hatchwood Bourbon, indicating its origin at “Forks of Elkhorn, Kentucky.”  This was a place where the North and South Forks of Elkhorn Creek meet before flowing into the Kentucky River, not far from the eastern edge of Frankfort.  There George Baker ran a distillery and provided the Chicago firm with whiskey they could blend and compound.  Shown here, Baker’s plant was Distillery No. 33 of the 7th District.  Baker was recorded as having made bonded warehouse transactions at the site from 1903 until 1920.  His was the major source of whiskey for Rubel-Lilienfeld and often credited on their labels.

Chicago was a hotbed of wholesale liquor dealers.  The competition among them was keen for markets not only in Illinois but in states to the west.  It appears from records that Simon Rubel, with his experience in the frontier West, frequently was gone on sales trips, often as far as the State of Washington.  For sales in and around Chicago, it was necessary to have items to gift saloonkeepers and bartenders stocking the partners’ liquor.   Shown here are two versions of Hatchwood back of the bar bottles.  They were meant to catch the eye of the customer who might decide to try their whiskeys.  Another favorite giveaway was shot glasses.  Two versions of the Randolph Club glass from Rubel-Lilienfeld are shown here.

Among the more unusual items to be provided to customers, including possibly retail customers, was a calendar plate, shown below, advertising Randolph Club Whiskey.  Although not unknown in the trade, such plates were relatively expensive.  This one features a color lithographic picture of a four leaf clover with the months scattered on its lobes.  Unfortunately I have not been able to read the year.

As time progressed, Rubel-Lilienthal’s business prospered as their brands found a national customer base.  The 1910 U.S. Census found Simon Rubel living in Ward Six of Chicago.  With him was his wife, Amalia, their two older daughters, Amy and Elsa, and young Stanley.   Simon gave his occupation as “merchant (wine)”  although he was still an officer of the Rubel-Lilienthal Co.  The same census revealed a less happy story for the Lilienfeld family, although Theodore had made the Chicago “Blue Book,” living at 4344 St. Lawrence Avenue.  Two of his and Anna’s children, Harry and Ella, had died at early ages.  The couple was living with another daughter, Meta, and her husband, Sidney Pollack, and their two children.  Pollack had been taken into the business as a vice president and director. 
Prohibition was closing in on the liquor industry.  In 1916 the Baker Distillery closed even though its warehouses remained open for several years for extractions of aged whiskey.  By 1919, the entire Rubel-Lilienfeld Co. was closed down, its interstate sales curtailed earlier by the passage by Congress of the Webb-Kenyon Act that forbid interstate transit of liquor to dry areas.  Simon Rubel never saw the end of National Prohibition, dying in September 1924 in Chicago.  I have been unable to find the date and place of Lilienfeld’s demise.

What can be said of Simon Rubel and Theodore Lilienfeld?  Immigrants to the United States they both began their careers selling shirts and pants, blouses and skirts, but determined before long that there was much more prosperity in selling whiskey.  Thus wet goods replaced dry for both men — but Prohibition put an end to all prospects for that more profitable trade.  


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  2. This is an interesting site with lots of information. I read almost entire blog . This like news is very much helpful to get a lot of information. I bookmarked this site for the latest updates here. Thank you!
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  3. Thanks, Julia. I am indeed flattered that you appreciate my blog. It has been a labor of love, seeking to cast some light on these pre-Prohibition whiskey men (and women). Often they were very contributing citizens but in biographies or obituaries the fact that they started in liquor was ignored as if that were something tainted. Rather, it often was the engine that moved their careers. Lots more stories to tell and glad you will be watching. Jack