Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mort Field of Owensboro Jousted with the “Whisky Trust”


In the era when the infamous “Whiskey Trust” was pressuring Kentucky distillers to join its monopolistic efforts to corner whiskey production and thereby hike prices, J. W. Morton Field in Owensboro, Daviess County, instead took the perpetrators to court and during his lifetime won a judgment against the Trust today worth the equivalent of $1.25 million.

Field (sometimes incorrectly given as “Fields,”) was a native Kentuckian, born in 1844 in Daviess County to Thomas A. and Arabella Morton Field. His father, a farmer, died at the age of 42 when Mort was only three.   With his help and that of another son as they grew to maturity, Arabella stayed on the farm and managed its affairs skillfully and profitably.  The adult Mort moved to Owensboro, the county seat, and likely went to work for one of the many distillers who made their headquarters there, learning the trade.  

In 1867 he also found a wife in town, Elizabeth Angeline Hanning, known throughout her life as “Nannie,” the name that was chiseled into her gravestone shown below. She was the daughter of John F. Hanning, a distillery owner in Daviess County.   At the time of their marriage Mort was 22 and Nannie, 21.  They would have three children, Maybelle, born in 1868;  Robert William, 1870; and John Edward, 1873.
It may have been the impetus of a growing family and its needs that caused Field to strike out on his own as a distiller in 1873.  He bought the Old Reed Distillery in Reed, Kentucky, and moved it outside of Owensboro.  He chose a site on a grassy Kentucky slope overlooking a graceful bend in the Ohio River, shown above as it looks today.  At first, Field’s output was small, only about two and one-half bushels of grain mashed daily.  Over time capacity would grow to 250 bushels as the owner added to the facility.  It is shown below as it looked about 1900.
According to insurance records the property included three warehouses.  Warehouse A was frame with a metal or slate roof, located 104 feet north of the still.  Of similar construction, Warehouse B was located just north of A.  Both were bonded. A third warehouse was “free” with a frame and shingle construction located 180 feet northeast of the still.  A fourth frame and shingle warehouse ultimately was torn down.  Field’s property also housed cattle being fed from spent distillery mash.  The cows were sheltered in sheds on the west side of the still house.

As his sons, Robert William and John Edward, matured, Field took them into the business, changing the name of his firm to J.W.M. Field & Sons.  He advertised his firm as “Wholesale Dealers in Pure Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey. ”  Field was selling his product to saloons and restaurants in a series of ceramic jugs, from quart to several gallon sizes.  Over the almost four decades the distillery was in business, a variety of designs were employed, as shown by those displayed throughout this post.  Field also provided customers with giveaway smaller containers, including mini-jugs holding just a swallow or two of whiskey and a half pint with an Celtic cross design.  Those would be gifted to saloonkeepers, bartenders and other favored patrons.

Field rapidly gained a reputation for producing good whiskey.  The Louisville Courier-Journal, a respected newspaper, hailed him as a distiller solidly in the tradition of the best Kentucky whiskey.  “J.W.M. Field is not a ‘progressive’ distiller,” the paper stated, “that is, he knows absolutely nothing of the modern processes by which the quantity of the yield is vastly multiplied…”  — at the expense of quality.  Field’s marketing reflected that old fashioned approach, advertising that he featured only one brand and that he made only “straight goods” — no mixing or blending as rectifiers did.

While Field was making whiskey in the traditional mode, however, the industry rapidly was changing around him.  Big moneyed interests from the East were taking a serious look at the distilling industry as a lucrative investment.  Among them were the Paris, Allen Co., located at 45 Broadway in New York City.  Originally importers of wines and liquors from abroad, company executives began to look to Kentucky for business opportunities.

In 1887 the New York firm bought a controlling interest in W. A. Gaines and Company, a Kentucky distillery that had originated in the 1860s and was producing well-known brands like “Old Crow” and “Old Hermitage.”  While retaining some Kentucky whiskey men as directors, Allen became president and another wealthy investor, Edson Bradley, became vice president [see my post of Sept. 2011 on Bradley].  Almost immediately upon joining the distillery Bradley became the principal spokesman for the New York money men and represented their interests on Wall Street and in the halls of Congress.

Before long Eastern investors realized that because distilleries had proliferated in Kentucky and nearby states, resulting in vigorous cost competition, their ability to realize a windfall profit on whiskey was in peril.  This was still the era of monopolies and the boys at Paris, Allen decided that the best way to increase liquor prices was significantly to control and reduce production.  Traditional distillers almost certainly were unaware of the ultimate intentions of the New Yorkers.  As a result when Paris, Allen in 1899 offered Field what turned out to be  “a devil’s bargain” he took it.

This was the deal:  The New Yorkers agreed that they would contract to buy 3,000 barrels of whiskey from J.W. M. Field & Sons over the next five years and then, under specified conditions, an additional 5,000 barrels annually over the next ten years.  In addition to this contracted production, Field could produce only 500 barrels more for his own use and sale.  If Field exceeded that amount, he would have to pay Paris, Allen a penalty of $5 per barrel.  Believing that there would be a great advantage in having a guaranteed customer for his whiskey for 15 years,  the Owensboro distiller agreed.
Field initially failed to recognize that Paris, Allen’s pact with him was part of a larger scheme to corner the Kentucky whiskey market, reduce production markedly and hoist prices.  It did not take long, however, before he realized that something was afoot.  When Field about 1901 decided to incorporate, Paris, Allen strongly objected, apparently fearing that the move would put his distillery out of their control.  By this time the Easterners had moved toward creating their “Whiskey Trust,” an organization they called the “Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Company.”  Despite the prior failure of a Peoria-based trust, Paris, Allen moved aggressively to rope in Kentucky distillers to their scheme, often offering them stock in exchange for shutting their plants down.  As a result, the Trust soon controlled a number of distilleries and brand names.

Some Kentucky distillers had begun to balk at the idea of a whiskey monopoly.  Field was among them.  When Paris, Allen demanded he agree to transferring his contract to the Kentucky monopoly, he said an emphatic NO.  There ensued a year of correspondence that a court later characterized as showing “the Kentucky Company, taking advantage of trivial and technical mistakes”  and not dealing with the root of the contract.  In order words, the men behind the Trust were acting in bad faith and fully intending to keep Field’s whiskey out of the marketplace.  

Moreover, in retaliation for Field not signing up with the Kentucky Company, Paris, Allen refused to take any more of his production, leaving the Owensboro outfit “high and dry.”  The mastermind behind this strategy likely was George H. Allen, a man hailed by some for his “native shrewdness and energy” and excoriated by others for his ruthless business practices.  Seemingly left no other choice, Field sued in 1902.  

In the effort he had the wisdom to hire as his attorney, William Lindsay, a former chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, shown left.  Although the suit was filed in the U.S. Circuit Court in New York, not in Kentucky, Lindsay persuaded the jury to give the distiller a judgment for damages against Paris, Allen in the amount of $50,000 (equiv. $1.25 million today).

Although J.W. M. Field & Co had won, the joy of victory was short-lived for Mort Field.  In August of 1903, he died at the age of 58.  With his widow and children grieving at his graveside he was buried in a Daviess County cemetery.  His and Nannie’s monument is shown below. Moreover,  family elation at having beaten the Whiskey Trust was short-lived when Paris, Allen appealed the decision to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  This time Lindsay was not as effective. That panel decided that the whiskey the Fields could not sell and had stored in their warehouses actually was an asset, gaining value as it aged.  Thus no damage had been done to the Owensboro distiller.  The court nixed the payment and called for a new trial.  There is no evidence that it ever occurred. 

The distillery Field had founded survived his passing, managed by family members.  The officers became sons Robert W. as president and John Edwin as vice president, with other relatives in corporate roles.  By 1915, John Edwin had advanced to the presidency of the company.  He ran it until closed by National Prohibition.  Meanwhile, the Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Company was continuing to operate out of Louisville.  Never able to establish the desired monopoly and drive up Kentucky whiskey prices as dreamed of by Paris, Allen, the hollow shell of the Trust nonetheless survived until Prohibition.  Neither whiskey outfit reopened after Repeal.










  

















Tuesday, January 26, 2016

“Torrents of Fire”: The Trials of Franklin Corning, Peoria Distiller

 No American distiller before or since has ever been faced with the death and destruction that plagued Franklin Tracy Corning during an period of just over five years when three major disasters in succession ravaged his Peoria, Illinois, distillery.  As one writer described it, Corning faced “torrents of fire.”  He never wavered, however, in his determination to continue to make whiskey.

Corning, born in 1851, was the oldest son in a family with deep roots in Ohio.  About 1813 His great-grandfather had trekked with a six horse team and a covered wagon from New Hampshire to Northern Ohio where he settled.  Considered a ground-breaking pioneer, Colonel Corning prospered, building a fortune that grew with his descendants, several of whom were involved in distilling.  Franklin grew up in the Cleveland mansion shown above, built by his father, Warren, a wealthy businessman who had inherited a manufacturing and distilling business from his father.

The 1870 census found the Corning family there.  Warren, 40 years old, was listed as a wholesale liquor dealer.  Franklin at 19 was employed as a clerk in the business.  Meanwhile the father was expanding the reach of Corning & Co.  As a biographer explained:  “As Cleveland was remote from the the great grain belt from which the distilling interests obtained its raw material, a plant was established at Peoria, Illinois.”  Warren Corning headed the operation but continued to live in Cleveland.  Apparently finding this arrangement difficult to manage, he dispatched Franklin to Peoria to look after the family interests.

Meanwhile the younger Corning had married.  In May 1875 Franklin wed Frances DeForest, known to friends and family as “Fannie.” He was 24 and she was 21.  I can find no children born of their union.  Exactly when this couple was uprooted from their Cleveland home is unclear, likely around 1880, but they soon settled into their new surroundings in Peoria.  The Corning family’s initial investment appears to have been in an existing plant called Monarch Distilling.  Corning & Company existed as a separate but related business, reputedly beginning as a rectifying house, that is, blending and mixing whiskeys obtained elsewhere to achieve desired taste and color.
As indicated in a Patent & Trademark publication, about the same time the Cornings adopted “Old Quaker” as the name of their flagship rye whiskey, a brand name destined to outlive them and National Prohibition.  The essential feature of their design was the representation of a male in Quaker dress, two sheaves of grain, a sack, and three barrels, one placed upon the others.  Said to have been used by Corning & Co. since 1878, the brand finally was trademarked in 1894. The Old Quaker designation would be a constant in the Cornings' distilling, to be found on labels and embossed on bottles. 

Over time, the Cornings would produce whiskey under a number of brand names.  They included: "Big Hollow S. M.,” “Chancellor,” "Corning's Canadian Type,” “Coronet,” "Fairlawn Bourbon,” "Hampton Rye,” "Haviland Rye,”"Lee Newton’s,” "Monarch Mills Rye,” "Mountain Corn,” "Mt. Pleasant,” "Newton Bourbon,”  "Redcliff Rye,” and "The Silent Spring."

The 1903 Disaster.  Despite mourning the death of his forty-four year old wife in 1899, Franklin decided only months later to build a distillery adjacent to the Monarch facility.  The new plant would carry the Corning name.  It had the capacity of processing 6,000 bushels of grain daily and was equipped for the manufacture of whiskey, other spirits, and pure alcohol.  The main building held huge steel tanks for cooking the mash, about 80 feet long and 20 feet in diameter.  A headline in the Peoria newspaper of October 3, 1903, told the story. An exploding tank was hurled through the north wall of the structure, landing 250 feet away.  The entire north wall of the distillery was blown down and other walls badly damaged.  Bricks and other debris were propelled throughout the distillery complex.  

More important, seven workmen were killed.  Two in the cooker room died instantly in the explosion;  three others, badly scalded by steam, died in the ambulance or later in the hospital.  Although thousands of people quickly gathered at the site to help, the search for two missing men, the yeast maker and the federal “storekeeper” for the bonded warehouses, was hampered by the severe wreckage of the building,  When found amidst the rubble both men were dead.  The cause of the disaster was presumed to be a vacuum created in the cooker.  When steam was introduced to heat the mash, the explosion followed.  Damage was estimated at $75,000, equivalent to almost $2 million today.

Because no fire had resulted from the blast and other buildings were still intact, Franklin, while presumably shaken by the deaths and destruction that had occurred, was able to rebuild the main distillery and repair collateral damage with in a matter of months.  By the spring of 1904, Corning & Company was again in full operation along the Illinois River, the distillery considered to be the second largest in the world.  Its work crews were at full strength, its stacks billowed columns of smoke and, “the heavy smell of whiskey mingled with the odor of the stockyard.”  Nearby, Corning was fattening cattle on spent mash.
The 1904 Explosion and Fire.  On the afternoon of a warm June day disaster struck Franklin Corning a second time. Fire was seen billowing out for control from Warehouse B, the one shown above, a structure containing some 30,000 barrels of aging whiskey.  The flames spread rapidly to adjacent buildings.  The fire also touched off several explosions within Warehouse B, causing the 11-story building to collapse, as seen below.  When firemen arrived they quickly realized nothing could save the burning structures and directed their efforts at preventing the conflagration from spreading further.  A writer has captured the scene:  “Torrents of blazing whiskey that were a foot deep spread quickly through gullies in the street and towards the river.  The burning spirits also spill into the sewers….The flood of fire continues on its destructive course until it reaches the stockyards.  Three thousand head of cattle in their pens are suffocated from the smoke and the surrounding buildings that were completed a few months before are burned as well.”

This time fifteen men, including one who was visiting from another Peoria distillery, lost their lives in the fires and explosions.  Corning was in New York City on business when the disaster occurred and returned quickly to Peoria.  Upon surveying the wreckage, he declared it to be the most expensive fire in the history of the American distilling industry and set the damage at $1 million (equiv. $25 million today.)

Although the fire had been contained within the Corning distilling complex, Peoria faced a major health problem in disposing the carcasses of 3,000 head of dead cattle.  Unable to find a way of removing them without causing a public health hazard, authorities poured a preparation of phenol over the remains and burned them.  The resulting stench was so intense that many men refused to work at the cattle pens, delaying clean up efforts.
The cause of the disaster was controversial.  Press reports had blamed it on an explosion in Warehouse B.  Insurance evaluators soon declared that story “unreliable” and “a fallacy.”  They tended to blame the conflagration on a workman’s lantern.  Because whiskey barrels tended to leak, particularly when expanded by heat during the summer, one employee made the rounds of racks looking for leaking whiskey.  It was speculated that this man, who carried a lantern, was careless with it, igniting the liquid.  He, however, was among the dead and could not be interrogated.  In the end, no specific cause was cited. 

Although he must have been weighed down psychologically by the death of 22  workmen during the past eight months, Corning almost immediately announced plans to rebuild again.  Within a year the distillery once more was in full operation.  An illustration here shows the major complex it had become.
The 1908 Fire:  Despite his efforts, Franklin Corning was not through with fire. On April 3, 1908 a blaze began on the fourth floor of a six-story mill building and spread to adjacent four-story elevators, engine and cooperage rooms, and threatened to engulf an eight story tower containing 125,000 gallons of whiskey. 

This time Corning was on the scene and promptly ordered that the spirits be drawn off the tower and run into vats used in the distilling process.  The liquid then was immediately piped to a nearby distillery, likely Monarch, where it was redistilled and later sold.  As a result the original damage estimate of $750,000 ($18 million equiv.) was considerably reduced to $187,000 ($4.7 million).  Unlike previous disasters, this time no lives were lost.

Corning quickly repaired the damage of 1908 and remained a well-recognized and regarded Peoria “whisky baron.”  He had the stature to reject membership in the monopolistic “Whiskey Trust” that had formed in Peoria.  While other distillers who disdained to join the Trust faced pressure and even violence,  Corning’s prestige apparently kept him above the fray.  At the same time he seems to have been keenly aware that prohibitionary forces were closing in on the U.S. liquor industry.   

He may even have sensed his own coming death.  At Springdale Cemetery where his wife, Fannie, lay, he erected an impressive mausoleum that today is counted among the historic monuments of Peoria.  When Franklin died in 1915 at the age of 66, he was interred there.  Despite the large structure only the couple and one other person, possibly a Corning aunt, occupy the mausoleum.

Corning & Company survived Franklin’s death, guided by other Corning family members who had joined him in Peoria as the distillery expanded. They operated the facility until 1919 and the coming of National Prohibition. The plant never reopened.  Schenley Industries obtained the Old Quaker name and revived the brand after Repeal.  Thus many Old Quaker bottles are not of the Corning pre—Prohibition vintage.

Among the giants of the whisky trade, Corning particularly deserves remembering as a man of great psychological strength and determination who repeatedly faced disasters to his distilling interests but tirelessly persevered and each time rebuilt his facilities bigger and better.  For Frankin Corning, “torrents of fire” held no fears.

Note:  Much of the information about the 1904 fire came from an article by Janine Crandell, published in the Jubilee Advocate in 2005.  Ms. Crandell deserves credit for the “torrents of fire” image and the quoted lines above.





















Friday, January 22, 2016

Did the U.S. Tax Man Hound Jacob Sheaffer to His Grave?

 
Jacob Sheaffer was highly respected in his home town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  The scion of an early settler family, Sheaffer owned a distillery, a liquor dealership and a shoe store.  Times were good until October, 1893, when a fire destroyed his distillery, resulting in relentless pressure from a federal collector of revenue that ultimately may have resulted in ending Sheaffer’s life.

As the U.S. Government years later tacitly acknowledged, Sheaffer deserved a better fate.  A man with clear artistic sense, as shown by the trade card above, Jacob was born in July 1846, one of eleven children of Adam G. and Catherine Fry Sheaffer.   His father was a prosperous German Mennonite farmer in Lancaster County, as had been his grandfather and great-grandfather.   The boy received the standard elementary and secondary education in Lancaster public schools.

After serving an apprenticeship with local merchants, Sheaffer at about age 40, entered the public record when a publication called “Friday Mornings Record” reported that a distillery had begun operations at local community of Lilitz, six miles from Lancaster.  Under Sheaffer’s management it was turning out two barrels of rye whiskey daily.  “Thus it will continue until 10,000 gallons are made and stored in the loft of the brick bonded warehouse on the premises of the distillery and can remain there for three years, if necessary,”  the paper reported.  “On the same floor he has 1,760 gallons of three-summer old liquor and in the new iron bonded warehouse over 5,000 gallons of his own distillation, beside a lot of old whiskey in the retail room.”

The Record also reported that Sheaffer had opened a liquor store at No. 3 North Duke Street in Lancaster.  In a burst of enthusiasm, it ventured:  “There can be no questioning but the he is prepared to furnish the genuine articles at his store, wholesale or retail, tax paid or in bond.”  Here by inference was no fly by night, semi-moonshining operation, but one cooperating fully with the U.S. Government under the Bottled-in-Bond Act. 
Sheaffer’s enterprise must have met with early success because within several years he had moved to larger quarters in the heart of Lancaster’s business district at 15 Penn Square calling his company “Sheaffer’s Wholesale Liquor House,”  as shown above on an attractive giveaway celluloid-backed mirror.  He engaged his younger brother, Amos, as a salesman.

Sheaffer’s flagship brand was “Gold Rod” whiskey that he bottled in a series of gracefully designed salt-glazed stoneware jugs, as displayed throughout this post.  Inexplicably, Jacob never trademarked this label.   Golden Rod also came in glass square cylinder quart bottles.  No wording appears on the body to identify the brand, but instead is embossed on the bottom of each glass container.   

Also demonstrating his artistic sense, Sheaffer reached out to the Fulper Pottery of Flemington, New Jersey, to provide him with a gold-lettered, two-toned “fancy” jug for his second brand, “Jacob F. Sheaffer Pure Rye.” 

With his growing wealth from liquor sales, Sheaffer branched out into other areas, acquiring a shoe store he called “Factory Shoe Store.”  He also purchased a home in Lancaster, shown here, about four blocks from his distillery at 646-648 East King Street.  Despite an 1893 robbery at the distillery address, in which his watchman was assaulted, things seemed to be going Sheaffer’s way.

All that changed for this whiskey man in October 1893, while he was away attending the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Sheaffer’s bonded warehouse was destroyed by fire, taking with it some 40,000 gallons of whiskey that was aging there.  He had insurance, but that proved problematic.  Although the policies were in full force, many of the companies that had issued them refused to pay on the grounds that the fire had been set, tacitly accusing Sheaffer of arson.  He took them to court and won.  A U.S. Senate report summarized the outcome: “…The companies practically gave up their line of defense and settled for nearly the full amount demanded by the plaintiff.  Sheaffer got $30,000.

Despite that victory, Sheaffer’s problems had just begun.  Although the insurance included the full value of the lost property, including the whiskey consumed in the flames, it did not cover the Government tax which, under the Bottled in Bond Act, was levied upon the manufacture of whiskey and was to be paid upon its sale.  Records of the Department of the Treasury put the amount at $43,016 — equivalent to more than $1,000,000 today.  During the months the insurance cases were pending, collection of that tax had been suspended by U.S. officials.

Using the money he received in the insurance settlement, Sheaffer rebuilt his distillery and began to make whiskey again.  Then, after a delay of three years, the U.S. Government in 1896 renewed its demand for payment of the tax on the whiskey that had been destroyed in the fire.  Now authorities wanted even more money, charging an additional $2,150 as a five percent penalty.  Although Sheaffer asked authorities to abate the tax in view of the circumstances, he was was refused and the Treasury Department proceeded to enforce collection.

The major actor on the Federal side was the Collector of Internal Revenue for the Ninth District of Pennsylvania whose name, ironically given his role, was R. E. Shearer.  A political appointee of the Democratic Administration of Grover Cleveland and a friend of Pennsylvania’s governor, Shearer was relentless in pursuing payment from Sheaffer.  The pressure caused this once upright Lancaster businessman to take desperate steps.  He had obtained a financial interest in forty-four head of cattle housed in the stockyard of some friends.  The distiller was feeding the bovines with spent mash to fatten them for later sale and a split of the profits.  Apparently desperate to raise money, however, Sheaffer broke into the stockyards without the knowledge or permission of his partners, took away the cattle and sold them.  His partners hauled him into court and secured a judgment against him for $1,198. 

With his reputation in Lancaster now besmirched, Sheaffer almost certainly knew and dreaded what  would come.  The news made headlines in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, hundreds of miles away:  “Lancaster Pa, Feb. 15, 1897 — A sensation was created in business circles here today when the sheriff closed the liquor store and the shoe store of Jacob F. Sheaffer….”  The sheriff was acting on orders from the merciless revenue collector R. E. Shearer who then seized all Sheaffer’s business properties, including the distillery, the warehouse, and its contents.  Jacob had borrowed almost $15,000 (equiv. $350,000) from relatives to rebuild his distillery;  now he met to inform them he was forced to default on their loans.   David Landis, a local banker and friend who had gone surety for Sheaffer was forced to sell his personal possessions to complete the payment to the Feds.

In disgrace over rustling cattle, having lost his businesses, defaulted on relatives and brought down a trusting friend, Sheaffer at age 52 must have been in deep despair and it seems to have impaired his health.   Just over a year later after the foreclosure, in April 1898, Jacob died and was buried in Lancaster’s Woodward Hill Cemetery.  His widow, Mary, seemingly deeply affected by all these horrific events, joined him in the grave less than four months later. She was only 45 years old. Their monument is shown here.
The surviving members of the family, outraged about the injustice that had been done to Sheaffer, taxed unfairly on destroyed whiskey,  clamored after their political representatives in Washington to right the wrong by compensating Sheaffer’s estate.  The Landis family did likewise.  A Pennsylvania senator in 1903 introduced a sympathetic bill that asked that the U.S. Court of Claims determine compensation for the injustices. It passed. The Court agreed that a mistake had been made and that recompense was due. It awarded the Sheaffer estate $34,055, and Landis $11,112.   The distribution formula subsequently was challenged in court by the Landis estate and not finally adjudicated until 1924 — more than a quarter century after the seizure — when the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the Court of Claims distribution should stand.

Of course, Jacob Sheaffer no longer was around to enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that his utter ruin at the hands of an over-zealous Federal officer now had been repudiated officially by the U.S. Congress and Federal Courts and compensation paid.  Nor could the money ceded to Sheaffer’s family bring Jacob back from the early grave to which his own government seemingly had hounded him.

































Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Alf Reed, “Bad Boy” Saloonkeeper of Portland, Oregon

Alfred F. “Alf” Reed called his drinking establishment “The Bachelor” saloon.”  If the name suggested to the townsfolk of Portland, Oregon, a somewhat disreputable and rowdy lifestyle, the proprietor likely didn’t object.  A bachelor himself while running this drinking establishment, Reed, shown above, lived large “on the wild side.”

That is the conclusion to be drawn from a suit filed against Reed in Portland’s Circuit Court in March 1890 by a man named George Hanlon.  A local bartender, Hanlon sought a judgment of $10,000 against the saloonkeeper — equivalent to $250,000 today — for “alienation of affections.”  Hanlon charged that Reed had plied his wife, Eva Hanlon, with strong drink at the Bachelor Saloon, promised her “costly dresses and other articles of finery,” and she had transferred her affections to the saloonkeeper.

In court documents, Hanlon described his life with Eva in glowing terms.  They had been married in Vancouver, Washington in October 1901.  His wife had made his home “a little heaven” for seven years, he contended, until November 1908 when she had fallen under the spell of Alfred Reed and had gone to live with him at his home at 327 Larrabee Street, Portland.  According to an account of the charges in the Daily Oregonian“The willful seduction which is charged against Reed has caused Hanlon great disgrace and distress of body and mind, he says, which he thinks is worth $10,000.”  George apparently preferred cash to getting Eva back.  
I can find no indication of how this suit was settled, but it must have been an irritant to Reed who had opened the Bachelor Saloon only the prior year.  He had selected a good city for a drinking establishment.  Portland was doing well early in the 1900s.  It had the busiest port north of San Francisco but Seattle was growing just as fast.  Figuring that they needed something to spur further growth, the city fathers decided to hold a world’s fair in Portland.  Three million people came to town in 1905 for the event, entitled the Lewis & Clark Exposition.  More than a few visitors decided to stay.  As a result Portland, shown above, saw its population double from 90,000 in 1905 to 180,000 by 1910.  
Reed was able to capitalized on this wave of humanity, many of them drinkers,  by opening The Bachelor Saloon at 143 Third Street in 1908.  Earlier that space had been occupied by the firm of Olds, Wortman & King, a dry goods store that had vacated to seek larger quarters.  Whether Reed inherited a saloon at the location is unclear.  A glass paperweight the saloonkeeper issued shows a rather narrow, long barroom with an ornate and well-stocked bar.  As for the patrons posing on the weight, all seem well-dressed in suits and hats.  I believe that is Reed himself standing at left behind the bar.

While running his saloon,  Reed produced glass flasks of similar design in half pint and pint sizes.  The half pint, at just under seven inches, is shown here in both a photo and an illustration.  These type bottles are known as “dandy flasks,” a general body shape with parallel sides, a short base pedestal that is almost as wide as the bottle and a highly compressed body from front to back that creates an flattened oval overall shape.  The example shown here likely was mouth-blown in a mold with an applied lip.  The embossing on the bottles read “The Bachelor…A.F. Reed” and gave the saloon’s street address.  The bottles confirm that in addition to selling liquor to the boys along the bar, Reed was bottling his own whiskey to sell at retail for take home use.

Dealing with the “alienation of affections” suit over the wayward Eva Hanlon was only one of Reed’s problems.  Later a gang of burglars hit his establishment, cleaning out the cash drawer.  Much more concerning to him was a November 1, 1909, police raid on The Bachelor, an event that once more put Reed in the headlines of the Daily Oregonian.  On a Thursday afternoon, two detectives entered the saloon and probably acting on a tip made their way to the second floor.  There they found a group of Portland locals huddled around a table, engaged in a poker game.  Reed was among them.  Gambling was an illegal enterprise according to city ordinance. The officers promptly arrested Alf and nine of his patrons.

According to the press account it took two trips of the paddy wagon to get all the prisoners, including the proprietor, to the police station.  Reed was indignant when he reached headquarters, declaring vehemently that his customers were playing cards for fun.  The detectives countered that they were caught playing for money.  In short order Reed was charged with conducting a gambling game and gambling.  The nine patrons were charged with gambling and visiting a gambling house.  The police also seized Reed’s card tables, cards, chips and other paraphernalia.  My guess is that the ten posted bond and, except for the bachelors like Reed, went home to angry wives.

Reed continued to operate the The Bachelor saloon for the next several years. Whatever the outcome of George Hanlon’s suit, Eva seems to have exited the scene.  Alf, however, was about to give up his bachelor’s life.  Circa 1911, he married a woman named Marie and she moved into his Larrabee Street house.  Perhaps it was Marie’s influence that caused Reed in 1912, after about four years in business, to shut down The Bachelor;  Marie may have objected to its checkered past and rowdy clientele.

The former bachelor then opened Reed’s Cafe at 326 Alder Street, a few blocks away from his original location and in a “better” part of Portland.  This establishment is reputed to have been a combination eatery and retail liquor store but was classified in at least one city directory as a “saloon.”  This enterprise also appears to have been successful.  Reed issued a bronze bar token that saved a patron two and one-half cents on a drink or meal, equivalent to about 63 cents today.  But Reed’s Cafe also was fated to be a short-lived. Prohibitionary forces were growing dominant in Oregon and in 1915 a statewide ban was legislated on all alcohol sales.  By 1918 Reed’s 326 Alder Street site was an optometrist’s office, to be followed in 1922 by a flower shop.

As for Reed’s personal life, outside of his scrapes with the law, not much is known.  He seems always to have avoided the census takers.  As a result both his early history and his life after Oregon’s prohibition are shrouded in the mists of time.  For a brief six years, however, this “bad boy” Portland saloonkeeper garnered more than his share of headlines and left us with a rare bottle and a paperweight of note by which to remember his career as a saloonkeeper.

Special Note:  This post marks the 400th entry since the Pre-Prohibition Whiskey Men blog began in April 2011.  The distillers, whiskey wholesalers, and saloonkeepers of the period before 1920 have continued to be a rich source of historical material.  The past year has seen several books published on whiskey that were gracious enough to cite this blog.  The number of “followers” grew in 2015 from 55 to 81, a truly gratifying increase in people regularly checking in.  The number of “hits” on the blog also has jumped and some days is close to 600.  If these statistics were not enough to keep me going, exploratory research indicates that there are many good stories remaining to be told.  Thus I will aim to spotlight one hundred more whiskey men (and women when possible) over the coming months.  In the meantime, when new information and important images become available, I will go back to existing vignettes to correct or add to them.  Thus, comments on individual posts are always welcome and will continue to draw a quick response.
















Friday, January 15, 2016

Ohio’s Ravens vs. Kentucky’s Crow — and the Winner?

               

As shown here left, the Common Raven (corvus corax) is larger than the American Crow (corvus brachyrhynchos).  When Charles A. Knecht of Cleveland, Ohio, was forced to defend his “Raven Valley” brand of whiskey against a suit by W.A. Gaines, Kentucky maker of “Old Crow,” however, the crow clearly was the biggest bird in the room.  There ensued a high stakes tussle that ended in the U.S. Court of Appeals with a result that may have come as a surprise to both parties.

Charles Knecht was an immigrant from Germany, born in October 1836 in Baden, the son of Martin and Catherine Knecht.  At the age of 16 in 1852, he left his homeland for America, ultimately settling in Cleveland.  While still in his early 20s,  Charles married a women named Charlotte who also had been born in Germany and was just out of her teens when they wed.  The newlyweds lived in Cleveland’s Sixth Ward where they began their family.  Their firstborn was Louis, born in 1861; followed by John in 1864,  Augusta in 1867, and Cora Rose in 1875.

During those early years Knecht apparently was learning the whiskey trade working for one of the many Cleveland retail and wholesale liquor dealers.  He first surfaced in the city directories in 1882 as a partner in Knecht & Canfeld, a liquor wholesaler.  Their business was located at 95 Bank Street, an address that earlier had been a depot for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a location not far from the Cleveland Armory.
By 1886, Knecht had broken away from Canfield and begun a liquor business on his own, taking with him his son, Louis, now 25 years old.  They called the company “C.A. Knecht & Son” and were located initially at 123 Water Street.  By 1888 the Knechts, likely needing more space for their business, moved to Champlain Street (later Avenue), shown here in 1909.

Like many wholesale liquor dealers, the Knechts were purchasing whiskey from distilleries and “rectifying” it, that is, mixing and blending it to achieve a certain taste and color, then bottling it under their own label and proprietary name.  The father and son combo concentrated on only a single brand, one they called “Raven Valley Whiskey.”  Shown here on an advertising paperweight, the illustration was of three stylized birds, presumably ravens, sitting on a leafy branch.  
C. A. Knecht & Son had been selling this brand for more than a dozen years without trademarking it.  Early on the laws for such were not very effective and many liquor dealers avoided the costly and sometimes lengthy process.  In 1905, however, Congress amended the law to enhance trademark protection.  That development likely spurred the Knechts to apply for registration to the Patent and Trademark Office in April 1905.  As shown below, their application described the mark as “The words ‘Raven Valley,’ beneath which is a representation of three ravens perched upon the branches of tree.”   Although all of this seems straightforward and innocent enough, it would bring down on the Knechts the fury of one of the most powerful distillers in Kentucky,  W. A. Gaines of Frankfort.  

Owned by a cartel of high powered Eastern investors led by Edson Bradley [see my post on Bradley, Sept. 2011], the Gaines company had trademarked “Old Crow” as early as 1882, and again in 1898 and a third time in 1904.  The Kentucky distiller constantly was facing trademark challenges from distillers and whiskey wholesalers, appropriating or approximating the label, hoping to profit on the national popularity of the brand.  Often offenders argued that the name referred not to the bird but to Elijah Crow, the man often given credit for inventing bourbon whiskey, and since no one knew his exact recipe, it was “open season” on the name.  Gaines was featuring the image of a crow on its advertising.   Some representations, as shown here, were crude but recognizable as a crow.
The several ownerships of the Old Crow brand through the years constantly have been in litigation of some kind.  The image above, labeled “The Court Rules Again in Favor of Old Crow,” was part of an 1949 ad that ran major magazines. It also informed the public:  “During the first century of its distinguished history, some 1,800 writs, summons, desists were circulated to prevent the imitation of the Old Crow name and label.”

Even though Gaines had not reached 1,800 legal actions by 1905, it almost always had been successful in court.  When word of the trademark application for “Raven Valley” reached Gaines executives, they took immediate legal action alleging that the name and image violated their trademark.  When the Commissioner of Patents ignored their protest and approved the application, the Old Crow crew appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia.

The Gaines legal challenges must have caused a great deal of concern on the part of the Knechts.  Not only did they have the expense of defending Raven Valley Whiskey against a “deep pockets” foe,  but if they lost it would only be a matter of time before they would be served a desist order and their flagship brand would have to be terminated under pain of law.  While this was uncharted territory for the Cleveland company, the Gaines outfit by contrast could count on highly-paid, well-practiced attorneys to handle the case.  Brimming with confidence, its attorneys contended that the ravens would “naturally lead to a confusion and enable the applicants [Knechts] to perpetrate a fraud.”  

In the end, however, the appeals court disagreed and judges’ opinion stated, in part, “when the words ‘Raven Valley’ are considered they are so different from the words ‘Old Crow’ that any confusion or deception would be very improbable.”  While noting that ravens and crows were both birds, the Court also found no similarity in their depiction on the whiskeys.   When Gaines owners sought to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the high court denied them a hearing.  Almost improbably, the Knechts had won.  The Ohio raven had triumphed over the Kentucky crow.

Sadly, Charles Knecht did not live long enough to see the favorable outcome of the trial, dying in May 1905 at the age of 69.  With his widow, Catherine, and his four children grieving by his graveside he was interred in Cleveland’s Woodland Cemetery.  His gravestone is shown here.  The company that bore his name continued to do brisk business under the leadership of his son, Louis.  In 1911 at the age of 50  Louis suddenly died, however, and with his death the Knecht wholesale liquor company and “Raven Valley Whiskey” shortly after were terminated as well.

Afterword:  Some further comments seem appropriate on the image of the Old Crow, as it changed over time.  As shown here, in the 1940s the crow became a dandified gent with top hat, bow tie, vest and spats.  A cartoon of that era was headlined “How to distinguish a Raven from a Crow.”  It declares the raven is bigger and takes a swipe at Old Crow and its anthropomorphized corvid.