Shown above is the front window of Sadler’s Mercantile Company. It was located on South Main Street, a major thoroughfare that originates immediately south of Temple Square. Note that the the window contains full a display of “Old Ripy,” a well-known Kentucky bourbon. Sadler featured such other Kentucky brands as the equally famous, “Taylor & Williams Yellowstone” and “Paul Jones.” From Maryland distillers he was sole agent for both “Mt. Vernon Rye” and “Old Hunter Rye.”
Sadler’s sales room occupied the front portion of the building and was 24 by 75 feet in dimensions. The center was the saloon portion of the establishment where Budweiser could be had on draught. In the rear was the bottling and shipping departments. According to The Deseret News, a Salt Lake daily owned by the Mormon Church: “The company [is] extensive bottlers of fine wines and liquors and have every modern facility for bottling, corking and labeling, the packages they put up are noted for their neatness as well as purity and excellence of contents.”
Among those packages were ceramic jugs of several sizes, including jugs in quart and gallon size, shown here. These have been attributed to the famous Redwing potteries of Minnesota. Sadler was buying raw whiskeys by the barrel and blending them before decanting them into those containers. This wholesale trade was implement by a team of traveling salesmen whose territory included the entire states of Utah and Idaho and parts of Colorado and Nevada.
Sadler also was bottling whiskey under his own labels for the retail and mail order trade. Shown here are bottles of his “Old Valley Whiskey,” obtained from the Cook & Bernheimer Co. of New York, and a blended “Maryland Rye.” Boasting annual business worth in excess of $2 million in today’s dollar, Sadler’s Mercantile was promoted by the Deseret News in October 1900 as unexcelled in the completeness and diversity of its goods.
Accounted a “pioneer” in Utah for the scope of his enterprise, Sadler’s success did not come easily. He had been born in England in 1840 and immigrated into the United States at the age of 15. He found employment in the dry goods business in New York City but after four years decided that better opportunities awaited him in the West. About 1860 he traveled to Utah, settling in Salt Lake City.
Engaging in the liquor trade may not have been a option for Sadler’s early years in Utah. Brigham Young, head of the Mormon Curch and a vocal opponent of alcohol, for several years after 1873 ironically was given the exclusive right to distill and sell whiskey in Utah. The 1880 census found Sadler working as a manager, but not an owner, in a Salt Lake mercantile house, where he likely learned something about the liquor trade. Although the exact date is not clear, young Englishman likely struck out on his own sometime in the 1890s.
Meanwhile Sadler was having personal life. He married Caroline Elizabeth Vincent born in 1847 in England, seven years younger than he. She was the daughter of Thomas and Phyllis Enty Vincent, both English immigrants to U.S. who had settled in Salt Lake City. The 1880 census found the couple with five children, including Henry, age 14, Nettie, 13; Minnie, 11; Percy, 7, and June, 1. As son Percy matured, his father took him into the firm, eventually making him vice president of Sadler Mercantile. The younger man quickly made a reputation for himself, described by the Deseret News as: “An energetic, enterprising and progressive young businessman….of pleasing address and courteous disposition and is very popular.”
The same source cited another element of the company’s success: “…the liberality, fair dealing and courteous treatment of patrons.” An important part of that image was the gifting of items to saloons, restaurants, hotels and other outlets using Sadler-sold brands. Outstanding among items was a label under glass flask bearing the company name, standing five and three quarter inches tall and likely meant for back of the bar display. The picture almost certainly is Annie Oakley, the female sharpshooter sensation. Given away at the time, a recent auction estimate set the value of the flask at $2,000 to $3,000.
For his saloon customers, Sadler’s “liberality” was expressed through a bar token. On one side it held his name and address. The reverse indicated the token was good only at the bar in his Main Street location and for the unusual amount of six and one-quarter cent. Assuming that no items at Sadler’s bar were priced for one fourth of a cent, this suggests that the strategy was to encourage drinkers to save up at least four to make up a full quarter of a dollar. At that time a fair amount of booze could be bought for a quarter.
As decade moved on to decade, Henry Sadler branched out into other pursuits. He turned to mining interests, investing in the Home Run Copper Company, located in the Bristol mining district, near Ploche, Nevada. The company was capitalized at $1 million ($25 million equivalent today), with headquarters in Salt Lake City. In June 1912, Sadler was given the honor of driving the traditional Gold Spike inaugurating an 8.7 mile railroad line to bring ore cars from Ploche through the mountains to a main line linking to Salt Lake.
In the meantime, Henry and Percy were seeing their liquor business slowly dwindle as Prohibition forces took the offensive. Both Idaho and Colorado voted bans on distilling or selling alcoholic beverages in 1916. Utah followed in August of the following year. The Mormon Church had remained largely neutral on a liquor ban, reputedly fearing a backlash by non-members. Ironically, the bill was pushed through and signed by Gov. Simon Bamberger, a German-born Jew. The result was the shutting of Sadler Mercantile Company, Inc.
A little more than a year later, Sadler was dead, a few days short of his 78th birthday. According to his death certificate, the immediate cause was uremia. The document indicated that he had suffered from prostate cancer over many years. With his grieving family looking on, Henry was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. His tombstone is shown here. His wife, Caroline, would join him there a decade later.
Sadler had pioneered with an expansive liquor enterprise in the shadow of the Mormon Temple for what some believe to be 40 years, although I believe it likely was closer to 35. The Deseret News said of him: “He has resided in Salt Lake for forty years where he has made a name for himself as an industrious and honorable citizen, highly deserving of all the success which has attended him through his business career.” Henry Sadler had become — as one writer has termed him — “Iconic in Salt Lake City.”
Note: Much of the information and the italicized quotes for this article come from an article in the Deseret News dated October 6, 1900.