Saturday, July 29, 2017

John Freeman’s Hot Times in Hot Springs

           
Excitement was running high in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on January 10, 1910, with the anticipated visit of former president, Theodore Roosevelt, to town for a ceremony and speech.  At John Freeman’s Barrelhouse & Saloon on Ouachita Avenue a trio of soldiers from Company L, Fourth Infantry, from Fort Roots near Little Rock, shown below, had gathered, anticipating their role as honor guard in a reception committee.  Among them was Edward L. Haley, a Mississippian, son of a widow, and described as “the most peaceable man in the company.”

Haley and his buddies were drinking beer in Freeman’s saloon when two civilians whom they did not know entered and the soldiers, apparently in the high spirits of the occasion, invited them to join their party.  The civilians subsequently left without paying for their drinks.   When the soldiers got  up to leave, Freeman’s bartender, George Kilgore, told them to pay for those drinks.  When Haley disagreed, Kilgore took out a hand gun from behind the bar. In the argument that ensued, he shot and killed Haley.

Violence of this nature was not uncommon in Hot Springs. Kilgore had shot and killed another man in Freeman’s saloon ten years earlier.  The town was a popular hangout for outlaw gangs from Oklahoma and other notorious gunmen.  Later Al Capone and other gangsters would make it their “vacation” home.
How this murder in his saloon affected John Wesley Freeman, a deputy sheriff, former postmaster, and leading citizen, has gone unrecorded.  The incident serves to introduce an Arkansas whiskey man whose enterprise helped shape a unique community where 47 "hot springs" gush forth nearly a million gallons of 143 degree water every day.  In an effort to conserve this natural resource, President Andrew Jackson in 1832 made the springs the first federal reservation, encompassing the area surrounding the city of Hot Springs. 

Freeman was born in South Carolina of native Carolinians.  The exact date is in question.  According to the 1900 census, it was 1862.  His tombstone indicates 1857.  Of his early years little has been recorded.   One account says Freeman came to Hot Springs in its early days to buy cattle.   At the time he is reported to have been running a large cattle ranch near Buckville,  a hamlet of 100 souls located twenty-two miles northwest of Hot Springs and the center of a cotton and corn farming area.  Freeman also ran a general store in Buckville.

Although the town later would be moved to another location to make way for a dam project,  Freeman had long since decamped to Hot Springs, where, it was said, he had “a firm faith in the town’s future.”  He moved his mercantile business there, opened a wagon yard and stable, and by 1894 had started a saloon.  He recognized that the thousands of tourist who thronged the city by day to “take the waters”  might work up a thirst for something stronger  by nightfall.   By 1903 three Freeman saloons were operating simultaneously in Hot Springs, the barrel house previously cited,  Freeman’s Plateau Saloon at 700 Central Avenue and a larger drinking establishment at 650-654 Central Avenue called Freeman’s Wellington Bar & Barrel House. 

Freeman installed his brother James as the manager and buyer for the three liquor concerns.  The close location of the three drinking establishments made it possible for one man successfully to supervise them all.  Noted one observer:  “For although they are not without competition, and in close proximity, it is a well known fact that they enjoy a lions’ share of the trade.”

Most whiskey sold off the premises was contained in pottery jugs and bore the name “Freeman Bros.”  A variety of those ceramic containers is shown throughout this post.  They included Albany slip beehive “scratch” jugs and two-toned shoulder jugs with stenciled labels, some in cobalt blue.  This jug trade was described as the “largest in town, while the best families in the city keep their telephones a-ringing.”  In 1903 Freeman snagged the area franchise for Miller Beer.
Meanwhile the South Carolina transplant was having a personal life.  Early the 1880s he had married a woman named Amanda and together they had a family of five children, sons Robert, Walter and James W. ; daughters Myrtle and Vera.  Eventually both Walter and James would work for their father, James as manager of what the family called “The Tennessee Wagon Yard.”

A hot time in Hot Springs meant more than boiling water and violence.  Fires were the bane of the community.  On February 26,1905, a fire started after midnight in the Grand Central Hotel on Chapel Street. For six hours the conflagration raged.  Before this fire burned itself out, it had consumed 40 square blocks, including the homes of more than 2,000 residents. Also gone was the court house, jail, and three hotels.  At least five people were killed in one of the greatest fire disasters to hit an American city.

Freeman’s properties were not spared.  The Freeman Mercantile Co. and one of   his Ouachita Avenue saloons were destroyed.  His wagon yard and stables were consumed but the press reported that some horses and vehicles had been saved.   Although the burned out parts of Hot Springs were quickly rebuilt, Freeman was reduced to running two saloons.   

Moreover, time was running out for the family.   James Freeman died in December 1909 at the age of 43.  By that time John was a widower, living with his children, Amanda having died earlier.   His days also were numbered, dying in April of the next year at the age of 53.  John Freeman today lies buried in Hot Springs’ Greenwood Cemetery.  His headstone is shown here. Sadly, his son James, age 25, died later the same year.

The Freeman enterprises — saloons, store and wagon yard — subsequently disappeared from Hot Springs directories.  Today we have only Freeman’s jugs to remember a man hailed for his business successes, of whom it was said:  “Habits of industry, the determination to be thoroughly conversant with all the details of his affairs, and above all, the strict adherence to to sound business principles, has placed him where he is today….” 

As for the outcome of George Kilgore’s shooting of soldier Edward Haley in Freeman’s saloon, I have not been able to find further information.  Teddy Roosevelt visited Hot Springs as expected and was the honored guest at the fairgrounds.  The photo below shows him at the event, looking toward the military honor guard at left, standing at attention.  He may have known that it was missing one young soldier that day. 

Note:  Many of the details of John W. Freeman’s life are from The Goodspeed Biographical & Historical Memoirs of Western Arkansas, published by the Southern Publishing Company in 1891.
























Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Louis Ullman and "The Great Whiskey Mart"

                    
“The great whiskey mart of the Continent.”  That is how Cincinnati was described in 1890.  There were sixty-seven firms engaged in whiskey distilling, rectifying and wholesaling in the “Queen City.”   Total product for that year was worth $18,852,000, roughly equivalent to $470 million today.  Add to that the total from Kentucky distilleries that flowed through Cincinnati and the city enjoyed dominant status in the U.S. whiskey market.   Competition was fierce as liquor houses vied for business but Louis Ullman, president of Beech Hill Distilling Company, was up to the challenge.


Ullman was a wholesaler and rectifier, competing in 1890 with fifty-seven other firms with a total gross income of $9,427,000.  His success was determined by the merchandising steps he took, some of them common in the industry, but nonetheless crucial to the quarter century his business endured.  They included:

Selling a menu of brands:  While some whiskey wholesalers concentrated on just two or three brands and others offered as many as fifty, the norm was about a dozen.   Ullman featured eleven, including "Beech Hill,” "Blue Grass Queen,” "J. C. Bond,” "J. C. Tucker Old Rye,” "Kentucky Thoroughbred,” "Midget Jr.,” "Old 99,” "Old Judge,” “Pembroke,” “Remington," and “Wadsworth.”  He trademarked only Beech Hill and Wadsworth, registering them in 1906.  He likely bought the names “Kentucky Thoroughbred” and “Pembroke” from Freiberg & Myer, a Cincinnati house that had trademarked the brands in 1905 and apparently went out of business shortly after.

Bottling in glass:  In 1903 Mike Owens, a self-taught American inventor, propelled the glass industry into the mechanical age. In 1903, he unveiled the world's first completely automatic glass-forming machine—a machine for making bottles.  The result was drastically to cut the cost of glass bottles which up to that time had depended on humans blowing molten glass into molds.  Savvy operators like Ullman were quick to adopt the machined bottles in sizes from quart and pint to smaller sizes.   Ullman pioneered with a “midget” bottle, likely four ounces, of whiskey that sold for 15 cents, a flask that could be tucked away neatly in a pants pocket.

Keeping some ceramic:  Although cheaper bottles caused many whiskey houses to move from glass from ceramic,  Ullman and Beech Hill continued selectively to package products in pottery containers.   An example is an “Old Judge Rye” jug, a two-toned bottle with a paper label.  Such an item was meant to stand out on a liquor store or saloon shelf as being different from the glass quarts of whiskey around it issued by other suppliers.  Small ceramic jugs were also commonly used for “giveaway” items to special customers, often at holidays.  Ullman issued one for Old Judge, one of his featured brands.  Another was  “Pembroke Whiskey” but for this label he issued a highly unusual ceramic figural bottle.  Looking very much like a cigar it contained about one swallow of liquor.

Issuing shot glasses:  Still another common ploy among Cincinnati liquor houses was issuing shot glasses advertising their proprietary brands.  Ullman used this marketing tool by issuing such glasses, some elaborately etched, and given to bartenders in saloons and restaurants carrying his brands, “Beech Hill,” “Old 99” and “Wadsworth,” the last dubbed “The Real Stuff.”

Providing back-of-the-bar bottles:  Compared to shot glasses, glass bottles meant for display back of the bar were pricey items for a liquor house.  They were meant to contain the brand of whiskey advertised on the bottle.  Too often they did not and at the Repeal of National Prohibition, were made illegal. Pre-Prohibition Ullman issued them for both Beech Hill and Wadsworth whiskeys.

By using these several methods of marketing his whiskeys, including newspaper ads, Lewis Ullman was able to operate Beech Hill Distilling successfully for a quarter century.   Born in 1868 in Malden, West Virginia, not far from Charleston, he was the son of Joseph and Amelia Wolf Ullman.  While he was still a baby the family moved to Cincinnati, where Lewis grew up and was educated.  In 1896 he married Cora Ganz, a woman six years his junior.  Two years later their first child, a girl, Alisie, was born.  She was followed by two sons, Joseph in 1900 and Edward in 1902.  

Ullman’s early business career has gone unrecorded.  As early as the 1900 federal census, however, he was recorded as a liquor dealer.  According to Cincinnati directories by 1893 he had established the Beech Hill Distilling Company.  That wholesale liquor establishment operated for most of its existence at several locations on both East and West Pearl Streets.  About 1904 Ullman took as  a partner Edgar J. Mack.

The 1890 report on Cincinnati’s liquor industry quoted above was singularly optimistic about the future.  “It is apparent that the conditions are permanent and peculiar and that Cincinnati [will] continue to hold her dominant status as a whiskey market and therefore remain the great whiskey mart of the continent.”
The authors had not reckoned on the anti-alcohol prohibitionary tide growing in the country.   In 1917 Ohio voted to go completely “dry.”  The Cincinnati whiskey trade came to a screeching halt.  That multitude of wholesale liquor houses and rectifiers were forced to close, including Ullman’s Beech Hill distilling.  Cincinnati would never recover from the blow, ceding to Louisville, Kentucky, the title of  whiskey “capital.”

With Repeal in sight in 1933, Ullman and Mack got back into action.  Using the closed-up Hauck Brewery on Central Avenue in Cincinnati, they began to brew Red Top Beer, a brew that proved very popular.  Selling 50,000 barrels of beer in the beginning, the partners expanded to 259,000 barrels by 1939.  They then bought the Cliffside Brewery and increased production to 650,000 barrels, making Red Top the 14th largest brewery in America.  After a run of 24 years, the brewery closed in 1957.

A year later, Lewis Ullman died at the age of 90.  His wife Cora had preceded him  sixteen years earlier.  They lie side by side in a large pillared mausoleum in Section 4, Lot 92 of the Walnut Hills United Jewish Cemetery.  Active during the heyday of the Cincinnati whiskey industry, Ullman prospered magnificently as he pursued the trade and left behind a plethora of artifacts to remind us of his success.


















  







Saturday, July 22, 2017

Whiskey Men in Love

                     
Foreword:   This is the fourth in a series of posts that examines the activities of whiskey men that previously have been profiled on the blog, grouping them for analysis under various headings.  In this case the common thread in their life stories was their love life. The love of a woman eventually led each man in a different direction.

Romantic Love:  As Louis Hossley came home each day from his liquor house a figure of cupid like one shown right, greeted him on a newell post at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor.  It has been placed there by his wife, Annie, to grace the couple’s mansion in Canton, Mississippi, a house she called “Heart’s Content.”

Whether it was love at first sight, we do not know, but a photograph taken of Louis and Annie not long after their 1898 marriage shows the couple in close, romantic encounter.  He was 23 at their nuptials and she was 20.  Annie clearly is a beauty, her figure shapely, her face comely and her dress stylish.  Louis’ clothes are formal, his hair tidy and his appearance of a young man “on the way up.”

Louis was the son of a widow with no family resources and the couple’s early years found them apparently unable to own their own home.  The 1890 Census found them living with Annie’s brother, John Wohner, and his family.  John ran a saloon called Wohner’s Corner on Canton’s town square.  Beginning by working for Wohner,  Hosseley eventually took over the business and successfully expanded to wholesaling whiskey throughout Central Mississippi.


In 1911his newly-acquired wealth allowed Hosseley to buy for his wife a two and a half story Greek Revival mansion on a half acre lot with landscaped gardens.  The centerpiece of this luxurious dwelling was a grand mahogany staircase rising from a central hallway.  There Annie had placed the statue of Cupid, likely a symbol of the romance that characterized the Hosseleys’ union.  

When Mississippi went “dry,” Hosseley was forced to shut down his saloon and liquor business but had gained sufficient wealth and prestige in Canton as to be  relatively unconcerned.  He went into finance and became president of a Canton bank.  He also served as mayor of the city.  “Heart’s Content” became the social center of the town’s elite.  

Not blessed with children, the Hosseleys lived there together until Louis died in 1936 at 60 years old. When Annie passed away twenty years later the couple were reunited, their grave markers laying side by side.  Heart’s Content still stands and is rented out upon occasion as a wedding site. Thus, the Hosseleys’ love story is kept alive in Canton, Mississippi.

Practical Love:  Benedict Joseph (B. J.) Semmes literally had been born into whiskey-making.  But it was not until he had wooed and won the love of his life, the daughter of a New York congressman, that with her support he was able to steer Semmes distilling through many crises into business success and prosperity.

Sprung from a family that had run distilleries in the District of Columbia since 1823, Semmes courted  19-year-old Jorantha Jordan for 18 months before she consented to marry him.  During this period, he came to appreciate her intelligence, writing her:  “…You have an inquiring mind — speak precisely — act readily, and are not Dull at figures.”  The couple is shown here in a fuzzy photograph.

Benedict was later to test all those qualities in Jorantha when in 1859 he saw brighter horizons westward and moved the family to Memphis, Tennessee, eventually opening a liquor house there.  Before the store could earn significant profits, however, the Civil War erupted.  Semmes enlisted and marched off, leaving the business to his wife.

While he was away, Jorantha — now caring for six children — showed considerable commercial initiative.  In 1863 she reported to her absent husband that she had earned a profit of $150 by bottling and selling whiskey and brandy to supplement the Semmes family income.  By the end of the war, however, she was forced by the fighting in Tennessee to flee to Mississippi.

The liquor house reputedly had been burned out during the war, with no insurance.  With Jorantha’s help, however, Semmes was able to recoup quickly.  One observer has said:  “The early success of Semmes & Company rested in part upon the…activities of the…family, particularly the labor of his wife.”  In ensuing years Semmes owned and operated a major Tennessee distillery and wholesale liquor house, one that included mail order sales.

After 52 years of marriage, Benedict Semmes died in 1902, Jorantha still by his side.   She lived on another 23 years, passing in 1925.  Today in Memphis’ Calvary Cemetery their gravestones lie side by side, as shown below.


Impetuous Love:  Samuel Taylor Suit was a school drop-out who gain wealth and power as a Kentucky and Maryland distiller.  Friend of American presidents, he built a mansion on an estate outside Washington, D.C., where a town called Suitland now is named for him.  “Love” was Suit’s Achilles heel.  Said to be “tenderhearted and kind,” Sam had a definite weakness for the ladies.  

Shown here as a youth, Suit found his first love, Sarah, when he was about 25 and she was still a teenager.  She bore him one child and then after only a few months as his wife, she died.  Deeply affected by her passing he moved to New York where he met the daughter of a wealthy insurance executive.  She was Aurelia, a woman eleven years his junior, known more for her needlework than her looks.  After twenty years of marriage marked by discord and one child, they divorced.

In 1878 when Suit was in his mid-40s, he met and fell in love with 17-year-old Rosa Pelham, the daughter of a congressman, shown here.  Because of the age difference she initially rejected him.  Five years later they encountered each other near what is now Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.   At this time Suit was being drawn away from Suitland and his distillery by prospects of developing a health spa at that location.

When Rosa mentioned that she had always wanted to live in a castle, Suit immediately pledged to build her one if she would marry him.   She agreed and three days later they were wed in Washington, D.C.   Not long after Suit began construction of Rosa’s 13-room castle on a ridge overlooking the Berkeley Springs baths.  Built to a one-half scale of Berkeley Castle in England, the project took almost five years to complete.  In the meantime, the couple had three children.


Suit never took up occupancy in the castle, dying in 1888 at the age of 56.  Rosa was left a very wealthy 28-year-old widow with three small children, living in a castle.  Although she had many suitors she never remarried, reputedly because of a stipulation in Suit’s will that if she did she would lose everything he had bestowed on her.  That did not prevent her from spending many nights with her suitors.  One night, following an argument, one of them fell or was pushed from the castle roof to his death.  He is said to have cursed the heiress and haunted the castle.  Rosa eventually lost both her money and her mind.  In the 1920s she was evicted from the castle, went West with a son, and died there.  Suit’s castle still stands prominently on the highway leading to Berkeley Springs, a testament to impetuous love.

Homocidal Love:  Stanley Cooney was part of a family that operated J. Cooney & Company, wholesale liquor house in Nashville, Tennessee.  About 1887 he met Mary Isabelle Wheeler, the daughter of a politically prominent Texas family.  A talented artist, as a teenager she was sent to the Columbia Female Institute, located not far from Nashville.  

Stanley and Mary met there, fell in love, and were married in 1888.  He was 28 and she was 21.  After a year of living in Nashville while her husband sold liquor, Mary became homesick and persuaded her spouse to relocate to Texas and open a business there.  The town they selected was New Birmingham, a boom town based on iron ore smelting, a place had attracted a number of millionaires and seemed destined to become a major Texas city.

No millionaire was more closely associated with “The Iron City,” as New Birmingham was called, than William Harrison Hammond, a former Confederate general, shown here. Hammond's was a major booster of the town's economic prospects and his wife was the sister of the iron works owner.


How the General and Stanley Cooney chanced to be acquainted has gone unrecorded.  Despite being remembered as “notably quiet and gentlemanly in his demeanor,” Cooney was neither when he encountered Hamman.  Blinded by anger, he used both barrels of his gun to shoot down the former Confederate in the street.

Cooney’s motive was said to be that Hamman had defamed the character of his beloved wife.  Some whispered, however, that it was the General’s wife, perhaps jealous of her social status, who had traduced Mary.   Caught with the gun in his hand, Cooney was arrested, quickly convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to prison.  Meanwhile Hamman was buried.

Two years later, likely with help from Mary’s politically potent Wheeler family, Stanley was pardoned and released from jail.  The news appears to have unhinged the Widow Hamman.  “In a fit of outrage and grief,” as it is told, she ran through the streets of New Birmingham screaming to the heavens to ”leave no stick or stone standing” in the town.  Her curse proved prophetic as economic conditions worsen and New Birmingham slowly died, becoming a ghost town with  just a plaque today indicating where it had once thrived.

Meanwhile, Stanley and Mary spared no time getting back to Tennessee.  The 1910 census found the couple back in Nashville where Stanley was working in the liquor house as if nothing had happened.  Mary was launched on her career as landscape artist.  Her works, like the the painting below, called “The Old Farm House,” are still featured by Southwestern art galleries.

Here we have met four whiskey men, learned four stories of their strong attractions for a woman, and encountered four very different outcomes.  Love is like that, I guess.

Note:  More elaborate vignettes on each of the four men featured here may be found elsewhere on this blog:  Louis Hosseley, April 12, 2016; B. J. Semmes, May 11, 2015;  S.T. Suit, August 4, 2011, and Stanley Cooney,  April 22, 2015.















































Tragic Love

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Rocky Life of Martin Breen, “Smooth” Operator


"Smooth whisky - good! Smoother whisky - better! Smoothest Henderson Bourbon - best! “   That was the mantra of Martin J. Breen, president of a Chicago wholesale liquor house.  Breen found, however, that while he was asserting “smooth,” being active in the whiskey trade had its own particular rocky  times in store for him over a foreshortened life.

For example, in 1905, after Congress had strengthen trademark laws,  Breen decided to register three of his brands.  Among them was “Comrade Whiskey” that involved the word “Comrade” beneath which was a picture of a soldier and a sailor, each with a glass of whiskey in his hand and between them a monogram that spelled out “B & K”  for Breen & Kennedy, the name of the firm.  Filed in April 1905 it was federally approved the following July.  The name was received by the trade without comment.

Breen then trademarked his flagship brand, Henderson Bourbon.  That application was filed about a month later and involved the word “Henderson” on a ribbon design, beneath which the B & K monogram appeared.  Almost immediately the Buchanan-Anderson-Nelson Company of Louisville, representing a deep pockets conglomerate of Kentucky distilleries, opposed the registration.  That firm claimed that “Henderson” was a fraudulent attempt on the part of Breen to appropriate their trademark and “calculated to deceive and mislead the public into the false belief” that his whiskey was from the Buchanan-Anderson-Nelson Co.

When the Examiner of Interferences of the the Patent & Trademark office dismissed the Kentucky company complaint, it sued in the Federal Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, requiring Breen to bear the expense of a bruising court battle.   After hearing the evidence, the judges in June 1906 held that “…There is not the slightest similarity between the two marks except as to the words ‘Anderson’ and ‘Henderson,’ that both are well-known names of persons, counties and towns, and there is no reasonable ground of confusion between them.”   Breen had won, but at a significant financial cost.

The passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 posed another challenge for Breen when in 1908 new modifications were added requiring the “proper labeling” of bottles, jugs and casks.   One of the features of the new law was an attempt by Kentucky bourbon interests to brand only straight, unblended, spirits as real whiskey.  Blends such as those provided by rectifiers like Breen were threatened with being labeled “imitation whiskey.”  Some rectifiers openly talked of trying to evade or nullify the new clauses.

With his liquor sales grossing $400,000 a year, equivalent to $10 million today, Breen had become a representative voice for Chicago’s rectifiers who numbered in the dozens.  Quoted by the Chicago Tribune, Breen took this new challenge in stride.  While blaming the new regulations on “some radicals of the Whiskey Trust” who were seeking to injure independent dealers, Breen claimed that it was the Trust not the rectifiers who were hurt.

“The Trust has dealt in straight whiskey and we deal in blends,” he told the newspaper.  It is almost impossible for anyone to utilize a straight whiskey.  It must be blended.  The Trust is unable to do so because they lack proper equipment to handle a blend.  Hence we benefit by the new law and the boot is now on the other foot.”  Although Breen’s assertions were grossly optimistic, they were published widely and may have helped stall calling blends “imitation whiskey.”

Breen’s third challenge was not so easily met.  In November of 1908 he was arrested on a charge of giving liquor to a minor in Englewood, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, and released only after posting a $500 bond.  He was arrested on a warrant from the secretary of the Englewood Law and Order League, a group dedicated to stamping out all forms of illegal drinking, gambling and other vices apparently rampant in town.

The warrant claimed that nine-year-old Elmer Flodin had been enticed to drink  whiskey.  “My boy had left the house on his way to school and was standing on the front porch when a man came up to him and gave him a bottle of whiskey,” his father related. “He hardly knows what whiskey is and is certainly not fit to handle it.”  Down the street Flossie Thompson, age nine, and Emma Lindquist, thirteen, also reputedly were given bottles of liquor. 

Little Elmer’s outraged father,  A. S. Flodin, a member of the Law and Order League, was reported to be determined to push the prosecution of Breen.   The law provided a fine of from $20 to $100 or a jail sentence of from ten to thirty days, or both, and the League promised to ask for a jail sentence.  In his defense, Breen issued a statement admitting that his firm had been distributing sample bottles of whiskey but insisted that they were being given only to adults.

In checking with the individuals distributing the bottles, Breen asserted, all of them had strongly denied delivering any bottles of liquor to children.  He intimated that Breen & Kennedy were being framed by prohibitionary forces:  If bottles of our whiskey were delivered to children it probably was done by persons not connected with us in any way and who desired to prejudice the public mind against us merely by reason of our being engaged in the wholesale liquor business.”   I have been unable to discover the outcome of this case but while there is no evidence Breen ever went to jail, it marked another rocky incident.

This whiskey man was born about 1866 in New York, the son of Thomas and Sarah (Byrne) Breen, both immigrants from Ireland.  Details of his early life and his eventual move to Chicago are not readily available.  Breen first surfaced in the Windy City in an 1891 city directory working as a cashier at 10 Wabash Avenue.  A year later, at 26 years old, Martin married a woman named Mary.   They would have one child, Julia.

By the late 1890s, Breen was in the wholesale liquor trade with a seemingly silent partner named Kennedy.  According to business records the pair had taken over the business from H. M. Wager who had been managing Farmer, Thompson & Co., whiskey wholesalers.  Breen was president of the firm and owned one-third of its stock.  Initially located at 187-189 Washington Street, the firm, apparently needing more space for its wholesale liquor sales moved to 128-1390 Franklin.

By this time, Breen & Kennedy were marketing their Henderson Whiskey over a broad area of the Midwest and beyond.  Using the slogan "Smooth whisky - good! Smooother whisky - better! Smoothest Henderson Bourbon - best!,” they were making the figure of their Kentucky colonel an icon in Chicago through a variety of ads featuring the bearded gentleman.  He often was portrayed telling a joke.  Sample from 1908:  “You have, doubtless, heard of the man in Kalamazoo who, by mistake, drank gasoline thinking it was cough medicine.  Now, suh, instead of coughing, he honks.”  As shown here, Breen’s Colonel had several looks.


Like other rectifiers of the time, Breen & Kennedy claimed to be distillers, with a facility in Frankfort, Kentucky, a bogus assertion since the firm was buying its whiskey from various sources and blending it for proprietary brands like Henderson and Cedar Creek.  Like other wholesalers, the company also provided preferred customers with a range of giveaway items.  As shown here, paperweights and corkscrews were common gifts. 
Despite the several challenges Breen had faced after opening his liquor house in Chicago, it proved to be a highly profitable operation.  Unfortunately, however, he had too few years to enjoy his wealth.  At the early age of 54 in April 1911, Breen died, leaving a wife and three-year-old daughter.   Available records do not reveal the cause.  Had his legal problems contributed to his early demise?

Breen was interred in Mount Carmel Cemetery, a burial ground located in the Chicago suburb of Hillside that holds the graves of Cardinal Bernardin and Al Capone, among others.  Located in Section R, Breen’s gravestone is laid in a grassy plot in the shadow of a large granite monument.  His widow, Mary, would join him there 24 years later.

Despite Martin’s passing, the firm of Breen & Kennedy continued to operate successfully until 1919.  Finally the same “dry” forces that had accused Breen of giving whiskey to children prevailed on the Nation to adopt a complete ban on sales of alcohol.  The liquor house shut down permanently.  For decades the name Henderson disappeared as a brand.  More recently, however,  Henderson has reemerged from a boutique distillery in Texas as a small batch, 80 proof American whiskey, the label shown here.