Arthur Russell Champney of Elyria, Ohio, shown left, was a beverage dealer given to hyperbole. Take for example, his advertising for a whiskey brand, “Gold Dust Rye,” claiming to be the sole proprietor. He advertised that his whiskey had been pronounced by expert judges (unnamed) “as the best” and prescribed by physicians (again unnamed) “in an article” His exaggerations, however, could land him in court, accused of fraud in the sale of stock for a soft drink he invented and called “Liquid Force.”
Champney was born in 1870 near Vermillion, Ohio, the son of a farmer Lewis Champney and his wife, Mary Webster. One of five children, the 1900 census found Arthur living on the family farm and attending school. As he came of age, he soon abandoned the agricultural life and moved twenty miles east to Elyria working as a traveling salesman. By the age of 22 he had married a woman two years younger named Catherine who was a native of Ohio. The 1900 census found them living in Elyria with three children, all girls — Bessie, Mabel, and Gertrude. Eventually he would provide his family with a large home, shown here.
The wealth that made that house possible was the result of Champney having invented and begun to manufacture what he called a “non-intoxicating carbonated health-giving tonic.” A natural born huckster, he called it “Liquid Force,” claiming it to be “The World’s Greatest Health Drink.”
Liquid Force was sold in green glass bottles, likely manufactured in Ohio, that carried embossing for “The A.R. Champney Co., Elyria, Ohio, as shown here on a full bottle and in detail. The label also bore the designation “Registered.” In 1906 Champney had trademarked the name, “Liquid Force,” and the design of the printed label affixed to his bottles. He never bothered to trademark Gold Dust Rye, possibly because a similarly named whiskey was being produced in Louisville by the Barkhouse Brothers.
Champney claimed that his tonic was highly successful almost from the outset. So well known was Liquid Force, he claimed, that it needed no further advertising and was sold on its merits. He held the “secret formula” for the beverage as well as the good will and trademark, valuing them at $150,000. At least that is what he told — and sold — initial investors from the Elyria business community.
As described in court, in June 1908, a meeting between Champney and three investors was held in Cleveland where, according to those attending, the conversation that took place “was not very specific” but the very next month they met again and signed articles of incorporation for the Liquid Force Company that subsequently were filed with the Ohio Secretary of State. The stated purpose of the company was to manufacture and sell carbonated soft drinks, extracts and sirups —more specifically Liquid Force.
Capitalized at $250,000, the incorporation allowed Champney and his cronies to sell stock to the general public. There followed a highly aggressive campaign to market the shares. Champney claimed that Liquid Force had returned a 33% profit the previous year, netting his former company between $25,000 and $30,000 annually. Among the presentations was an impressive artist’s drawing of the purported Liquid Force bottling plant, shown here. The sales pitch proved highly persuasive to a number of people in Northern Ohio who put their money down to buy Liquid Force stock.
Among those purchasing shares was a woman named Leonora A. Braun, who was impressed with Champney’s claims and invested $1,000. When Liquid Force failed to pay a dividend of any kind and the value of her stock dropped to virtually nothing, Ms. Braun sued, claiming that she had been damaged by relying on statements that Champney and his colleagues knew to be false or had been made “recklessly, without knowledge of their truth or falsity.” A jury in a Lorain County court sympathized with her story and found for Ms. Braun. Appealed to a higher court, a judge refused to overturn the verdict. While squarely blaming Champney for “false and fraudulent representations,” the judge held the other three just as financially liable.
Whether it was a result of these court cases or for another reason, not long after the Liquid Force Company was reorganized, Champney was no longer among the officers, seemingly forced out of management of the firm he had started. He retained, however, his Elyria liquor, wine, and beer business. As the only listed wholesaler in town, he had some 32 saloons and cafes potentially to supply with liquor and dozens more drinking establishments in Lorain County. Champney also was the sole area distributor of Crystal Rock beer, a popular product of the Kuebeler-Stang brewery in Sandusky, the bottles shown here.
Sometime during this period, Catherine Champney disappears from the scene. Since I can find no indication of her death, my speculation is that she divorced Arthur. When Ohio went dry in 1917, Champney was still a relatively young 47. Forced to shut down his liquor business, he listed his occupation as “retired.” According to Ohio records, in 1919 he remarried — his wife, Alma Hardy, 37, an Elyria resident, the daughter of Copes and Evaline Durkee Hardy. After marrying in Detroit, the couple moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Champney returned to the occupation of “commercial traveler,” selling wholesale candy. That marriage does not appear to have succeeded. By the early 1920s, Arthur was a free man again.
But not for long. By 1925 in Columbus, he had met and married Hettie Haskew, a school teacher, who also likely had had a previous marriage. Born in Monticello, Arkansas, the daughter of Charles and Elizabeth Denton Haskew, Hettie was 39 at the time of their nuptials, thirteen years younger than Champney. She would be with him until his death at the age of 61 in Columbus and was responsible for taking his body back to Elyria where he was interred in Ridgelawn Cemetery. None of his three wives are buried there.
By the time of Champney’s death the World’s Greatest Health Drink was just a distant memory. “Liquid Force,” the beverage Champney concocted and sold with the fervor of a born huckster — some might say “con man” — long since had disappeared from stores.