Monday, August 22, 2016

Mobile’s Eicholds & Weiss: “A Big Hit” Followed by “The Big Out”

Eichold Brothers & Weiss, Mobile wholesale liquor dealers and self-identified “rectifiers” featured as their flagship label “A Big Hit” whiskey and their business prospered for many years. Their “big out” occurred in 1908 when Alabama adopted a total ban on the manufacture and sales of alcoholic beverages.  The company was forced out of business after prospering for more than a third of a century.

Like many successful liquor enterprises, this one was founded by immigrants, with the help of a Mobile local.  The newcomers were brothers Leopold and Emanuel Eichold and the Alabaman was Jacob Weiss.  The Eicholds were born in Germany in the mid-1840s, the sons of Jacob and Sarah Eichold.   When Leopold was 20 years old and Emanuel 18, the pair left Germany, arriving in the U.S. in 1866, just after the Civil War, and settled in Mobile where they likely had relatives.

For the next ten years, the brothers worked for other merchants, learning the liquor business in the process.  During this period they came to know the considerably younger Weiss, who may have been a relative.  He was native born, the son of German immigrants. In 1876 the three men pooled their assets and talent to start their own business.  Thus was born “Eichold Bros. & Weiss, Wholesale Dealers in and Importers of Liquors, Cigars, and Tobaccos and Rectifiers of Spirits.”  They were located at 1-5 and later 1-7 Commerce Street in Mobile.  Two illustrations capture the building facade at two points in time.
An 1884 publication on Mobile businesses extolled the partners as “men of sturdy honesty, untiring industry, indomitable energy and sleepless enterprise.”  By that time they had built their business into one of Mobile’s largest whiskey houses and had extended sales over much of Alabama and adjoining states of Florida and Mississippi, using a sizable traveling sales force. “Their large brick store, of full depth from the ground floor to the third floor inclusive, is at all time filled with stock….”  That included a full line of brandies, whiskies, wines and tobacco items, the 1884 report said, while boasting of the owners’ knowledge of and facilities for rectifying spirits.

Although the owners billed themselves as a liquor wholesalers, I have been unable to find any large containers of their whiskey.  In contrast, a number of flasks meant largely for retail sales are known.  Their flagship brand was “A Big Hit” whiskey, shown here in half-pint and pint sizes. (The pint may have been “purpled” later.)
Another major Eichold, Weiss label was “Golden Cream.  It is represented here by a pint flask and a mini-jug.  Other house “rectified” (blended) brands were “Belle of Mobile,” “Monroe Park.” “Rag Time,” and “Simon Suggs.”  Those labels were trademarked in 1906 and 1907.  Registrations for several are shown below.
Meanwhile, despite their purported “sleepless enterprise,” the partners were having personal lives.  The 1900 census found Leopold Eichold head of a household that included his wife, Emma, maiden name, Eichold.  Married at 18 in 1881, Emma was 16 years his junior and likely a relative. The couple had a daughter, Birdie, and also living with them was Leopold’s brother and partner Emanuel; a nephew, also named Emanuel J. Eichold, and one servant.  In the same census Jacob Weiss was a 43-year-old bachelor, residing in a household headed by his mother, Rachel, and four siblings, all unmarried in their thirties and forties.

Not long after the census, the Eichold Bros. & Weiss firm underwent a significant change of management.  It appears that Emanuel’s health was in a period of decline.  He would die in February 1904 and was buried in Mobile’s Spring Hill Temple Cemetery.  During the same period Leopold also appeared to have withdrawn from day to day management.  Subsequently, the name of the firm became the Weiss Eichold Liquor Co., and was capitalized at $50,000 (equivalent to over $12 million today).  Jacob Weiss, 44 years old, became president and Emanuel J. Eichold, the nephew, was vice president, according to Mobile business directories.
Slowly the noose of statewide prohibition was tightening. The Alabama legislature under pressure from the Anti-Saloon League followed Georgia’s 1907 full alcohol ban by passing a “local option law” that allowed counties and localities to go “dry.”  The state the next year followed that law with a complete prohibition on the manufacture and sales of spirits.  The Weiss Eichold partnership was forced to shut down. .

The 1910 census found Leopold, age 62 and apparently retired, living with Emma, daughter Birdie and her lawyer husband, and three servants.  In ensuing years Emanuel J., now married with his own family, became a manager for Mobile’s City Coffee Company.  Weiss, according to directories, went on to manage a local vegetable market.  As the two remaining founders died, they also were buried in Spring Hill Temple Cemetery.
In 1884 when Eichold Bros. & Weiss were at their peak, they had been hailed in Mobile for their observance of “liberality and fairness in business matters.”  Yet their reputation made little difference when the forces of prohibition prevailed.  After prospering for years with “A Big Hit” brand whiskey, the liquor firm was doomed to a “Big Out” — permanently out of business twelve years before National Prohibition.

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