Thursday, July 30, 2015

Rolling Out the Barrel with Friedenwald of Baltimore

Most liquor wholesalers sold whiskey by the barrel to the saloons and restaurants featuring their brands, but Jacob H. Frieldenwald was unique in marketing his whiskey to the general public in little oak barrels, each with a spigot and containing one gallon of Maryland rye or Kentucky bourbon.  Friedenwald had invented these “baby barrels” and stated they were made from the oak staves of old whiskey barrels:  “Thus the consumer continues to age the whiskey in wood after purchasing, a decided advantage over bottled whiskey.”  The whiskey came straight from the distillery, he claimed, straight to the lips of the imbiber.   
This inventive whiskey man was born in Maryland in 1867.  His father, Joseph, a German immigrant, owned a clothing store in Baltimore.  Jacob’s mother, Rosina, a native of Baltimore, looked after a brood of nine children, ranging in age from 26 to 8 years.  They included four daughters and five sons; Jacob was the seventh in line.  Jim Bready, the guru of Baltimore whiskey, has linked him to the prestigious Friedenwald family that gave the city nationally recognized doctors and businessmen, but I have been unable to make the link.
Jacob Friedenwald first burst onto the Baltimore commercial scene in 1898 when he took over an existing liquor wholesale company that had been started by Moses Westheimer about 1880.  He was 31 years old and my guess he had been working as a clerk for Westheimer for several years, learning the whiskey trade.  J. H.Friedenwald & Co. was located at 101 to 113 North Eutaw Street, an address that changed slightly over the years as the city adjusted street numbers.

Friedenwald featured a number of brands of whiskey including “B.L.O.E.,” “Friedenwald’s Maryland,”  “Friedenwald’s Pure Rye,”  “Legion Rye,” “Purple Lable,” (his spelling) and “Triple Rye.” Of these brands, he appears only to have trademarked Triple Rye, in 1906.   His major advertising campaign for years featured the baby barrel and mail order sales.  He could ship more than 35 kinds of wines and liquors in the barrel and promised that it would arrive  “in perfectly plain package, no marks to indicate the nature of the content…”   Perhaps, but the postman might have noticed some sloshing.    Friedenwald also packaged his whiskey in bottles for over the counter retail sales.  As seen here, a colorful label usually covered his elaborately embossed amber quarts.

In 1902, the publication Advertising Age featured one of Friedenwald’s ads aimed at the retail trade.  In it the Baltimore whiskey man said:  “You couldn’t make a better resolution — you couldn’t do anything that would neet you more satisfaction than to determine to make this your headquarters for wines and liquors from now on.”  Friedenwald promised readers that with him they would get the best quality at lower cost.  Even so, his barrel of whiskey that cost $3.00 in 1901 had increased to $4.00 by 1908.

Jacob also concocted a “medicine” that he called “Friedenwald’s Celebrated Buchu-Gin.  This nostrum was made by filtering gin through the crushed leaves of buchu, a South American plant that was reputed to have therapeutic benefits.  He claimed, however, that his buchu gin was “a most effective cure for all diseases of the Kidneys, Liver, Blood, and Urinary Organs, Female Complaint and Irregularities.”   It also cured gall stones, diabetes, and “foul breath.”  This tonic, Friedenwald stated flatly, contained no opiates, narcotics, mercury or injurious drugs.  Note that he forgot to mention alcohol — a major ingredient.

Friedenwald’s Buchu Gin sold in embossed green quart bottles covered by an elaborate paper label that included instructions for its use that recommended three or four wine glasses of it daily or, for a woman, heating the beverage into a broth to be taken before going to bed.  This miracle cure could be had for $4.00 for four quarts or $1.00 per quart if bought with a baby barrel of whiskey.  He trademarked this “medicine” in 1905 and warned customers to be wary of fraudulent copies.

Jacob’s advertising ploys seem to have paid dividends in terms of business success.  In 1907 the Baltimore mayor and city council passed an ordinance allowing J. H. Friedenwald & Co. to construct and place a double faced electric sign in front of his Eutaw Street premises.   Ten feet long and two feet high, it read on one side “Friedenwald’s Wines,” and on the other “Friedenwald’s Liquors.” He also was gifting his customers operating saloons or restaurants with advertising shot glasses that touted both his wines and liquors.

Despite this seeming success, in 1913, Friedenwald, still a young man of 46, rolled out his last barrel, sold his liquor firm and exited the whiskey trade.  Why?  My guess is that the Webb-Kenyon Act, passed that year by Congress, was severely damaging his mail order business.   Until 1913, the interpretation of the Interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution was that liquor could be mailed into “dry” localities and states so long as the transaction took place across state lines.  The Act forbid the practice, thereby driving many mail order whiskey dealers out of business.  Friedenwald likely was one.

Indicative of the financial squeeze being executed by prohibitionist forces,  the Wingro Company that succeeded Friedenwald at the Eutaw Street address was able to stay in business only about one year before it was absorbed by the Atlas Wine & Liquor Co., an larger concern with outlets in Maryland and Virginia.  In 1919 the Atlas firm too was forced to terminate its activities with the onset of National Prohibition.

Meanwhile, Jacob Friedenwald, his profits from the baby barrel and buchu gin, in his pocket, had moved from Baltimore to New York City.  The 1920 census taker found him and his wife, Louise, living in a high rise apartment on West 86th St. in Manhattan.  Louise indicated that she had been born in Michigan, also the birthplace of her parents. Jacob gave his occupation as  “liquor-retired.”  The 1930 census found the couple had moved and were now living on Broadway.  Then Friedenwald gave his occupation as just “retired.”  
Three years later in August 1933, Jacob Friedenwald died at the age of 66 and his body returned to Baltimore where he had been born.  He was buried in the Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, above.  Louise joined him there in 1938.   In my mind his legacy lives on in the plastic lined cardboard cartons with a spigot that currently dispense wine, beer, and even hard liquor.  Friedenwald clearly started something when he rolled out his baby barrel.



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