Thursday, January 7, 2016

Max Friedlander and a Preacher’s Condemnation

When a nationally known Protestant evangelist came to preach in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Max Friedlander, a successful Jewish whiskey dealer there, probably took little notice until the clergyman from the pulpit accused him of
being personally responsible for “vice conditions” in the city.  That harsh rhetoric caught Friedlander’s attention — and retaliation — but he may have been surprised by the reaction of townsfolk to the personal attack.

Friedlander had been born in 1868 in Schwetz, Kingdom of Prussia, now part of Poland.  At the age of 15 or 16, he embarked from the port of Hamburg, Germany, for the United States aboard a steamship called the “State of Alabama,” one of a line of ships authorized to convey European emigrants to New York.  After a brief sojourn in New York City, Friedlander went to live in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia.  There in 1888 he became a naturalized American citizen.  In a passport application the adult Max was described as five feet, eleven inches tall, with black hair, dark brown eyes, and a long face.

It would appear that Max learned the liquor trade in Wilkes Barre.  At some point in the early 1990s, he moved thirty miles south to Hazleton where in 1894 he teamed up with a local named Charles Coutine to create a wholesale liquor business, located at 21-23 Wyoming Street.  The next year Friedlander found a wife named Mary.  At the time of their marriage she was 19 and Max was 28.  The 1910 U.S. census found the couple living in Ward Nine of Hazelton, with their two son, George, 14, and Henry, 5.  Friedlander’s occupation was given as “liquor merchant.”  
After a time, Courtine left the firm and Friedlander operated alone for a time but eventually created a partnership with his younger brother, Isadore. They renamed the liquor business, M. Friedlander & Bro., as shown on the letterhead above.  The brothers used the brand names, “Hazle Club,” “Hazle Malt,”  “Lancer Rye,” and “Wyoming Club,”  none of which they bothered to trademark.  They packaged their whiskey in ceramic jugs and issued shot glasses to advertise their brands.  Examples are shown throughout this post.

As Max Friedlander prospered in Hazelton, Henry W. Stough, shown left, was also climbing the latter of success but in an entirely different field.   Born in Ohio in 1870, he attended the Moody Bible Institute and, in 1896 graduated from the Chicago Theological Seminary as the Rev. Mr. Stough.  His big break, came in 1893 when the famous evangelist, Dwight Moody, chose him to preach in the “revival” tents erected during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  

An officer of the Interdenominational Evangelists Association, Stough made his living traveling around the country preaching in tents.  In 1913 the Christian Workers publication credited him with making 4,200 conversions during a revival session at Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania.  Stough was known as a militant evangelist, termed by a Philadephia newspaper as someone who “…Strikes from the shoulder, naming names [to] hammer sin, booze, and the devil.”
Backed by a group of local preachers, Stough came to Hazelton in June 1914 and at a tent revival meeting leveled a personal blast at four men he said were principally responsible for sin and corruption in Hazelton.  Among them was Max Friedlander.  If it were not for that four, the evangelist declared, there would be no houses of prostitution, no saloons open on Sunday, no slot machines, no gambling dens or poker games in the city.  “I lay the moral condition of Hazelton and the vicious things here at the foot of these four.  Let them take up the gauntlet.  I have thrown it down.”

Across the city in his Wyoming Street liquor store, Max must have been astounded at the fierceness of this attack on him in front of thousands of local people, some of them his customers.   He and the other three were quick to retaliate, filing suits for slander, each asking for $50,000 in damages, the equivalent of $1.2 million today. The legal battles that ensued became a three-ring circus.

A year after Stough’s accusations, three arbitrators met to judge the validity of the slander charges.  Their work was disrupted by demonstrations made by the preacher’s followers who crowded a Hazelton courtroom to “hoot and holler” during the taking of testimony.  The trial had to be moved to Wilkes Barre and no one was allowed inside the courtroom except attorneys and “interested parties.”  Nevertheless, the demonstrators followed and continued their loud protests in the courthouse corridors.

In time the arbitrators awarded damages of $2,700 each ($65,000 today) to Max and the others.  This time Stough went to court, appealing the judgment.  His lawyer, a man named Sherwood, explicitly cited the ethnicity of the allegedly slandered four, declaring in court that a Jewish liquor dealer (Max), an Irish councilman, an Italian politician and German brewer together held so much influence over the judges of Luzerne County that Stough could not get a fair trial there.   For that accusation the chief judge of Luzerne County ruled Stough’s lawyer in contempt and disbarred him for six months.

The issue of Sherwood’s disbarment made it to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court where the attorney was reinstated.  Not until May 1917, however, was the matter of slander and the award considered by the state’s high court.  Although the lawyers for the four had argued that Stough’s mention of prostitution had, in effect, accused the men of fornication and adultery, the court dismissed the argument and the case.  Stough had been within his First Amendment rights and his charges were not slanderous or actionable, it ruled.  No recompense was forthcoming to Max and the others.

But Friedlander had other rewards.  The Hazelton community strongly had rallied around him and not long after clergyman’s diatribe, he was elected president of the Hazelton Board of Trade.  The newspaper account of Max’s election dismissed Stough as an “itinerant evangelist” and his accusations as “unpleasant.”  Before the legal processes had run their course, Friedlander also had been elected a director of the Markle Banking and Trust Company,  a Hazelton Bank with assets equivalent to more than $12 million.

But Preacher Stough and his ilk all over America were tightening the screws on liquor sales, culminating in National Prohibition.  In 1919, Max shut the doors on M. Friedlander & Bro. and bought The Hazelton Brick Company from its previous owners.  The facility was located on a major highway and connected by a siding to the Lehigh Valley Railroad.   According to a news account, Friedlander and his partners were planning to install “considerable” new machinery and add two brick kilns.  Below is an artist’s conception of the Hazelton brick yard.
As he aged, Friedlander retired from business but remained a venerable citizen of Hazelton.  Although he had failed to obtain retribution from the attacking clergyman, this whiskey man had been compensated during his lifetime by the support and esteem expressed by his fellow Hazeltonians.


  1. A cousin just sent me a link to this amazing post about my great-grandfather, Max Friedlander. You have obviously done your research and confirmed what I have always been told, that Max was a well respected and successful businessman. It's amazing to me that more than 80 years after his passing, Max's accomplishments have been brought to light with a post on the Internet. Thank you!!!

    1. AnieDoodle,
      I,too, am a Great-granddaughter of Max Friedlander. I know so few relatives. I'd like to be in touch to make our connection.

    2. Dear Amy: I hope that some other kinfolk of Max will see this and be in touch. Jack

  2. Dear AnieDoodle: After a life of civic engagement I have a few people in my town who do not speak well of me, but no one here has, as Max Friedlander was, accused me of all the local sin and crime. Just being Jewish in that era was not always easy. The way the community rallied around him says a lot about the people of Hazelton and even more about Max, his integrity and reputation as an honest and upright man. You have a distinguished ancestor.

  3. Thanks Jack!
    I hope so too. I learned so new things thru your research so thanks so much. I was just at the cemetery to visit my Dad who is buried in the same Friedlander plot as Max and Mary. I'd love to know more about his life in New York and early days in Hazelton. Sadly, not one left to tell the tales, as far as I know. thanks again!

  4. Dear Amy: I wish I could be of more help regarding Max's early life and how he got established in Hazelton. Much of my information came from the court decisions on the slander case and census records. If you took a photo of his grave marker I would be delighted to add it to the post. Email it to me at and I will give you credit on the blog. Provide your full name and city, if you will. It would be most appreciated.