While keeping the same name during a run of at least 38 years in the Cincinnati liquor business, the Turner-Looker Company operated under several managements, none of which were adverse to fraudulent claims. Their chicanery became a important part of what I call the U.S.- Canada whiskey border wars.
The company name referred to two men, William S. Turner and Charles S. Looker, who joined forces sometime before 1880 to create a new Cincinnati liquor house. The date is somewhat uncertain because the first business directory listing was not until 1887. Looker had been an employee of Maddux Bros. in Cincinnati, a firm described as “Importers and Jobbers of Tobacco, Coffee, Tea, Cigars, Etc.” That “etc.” included whiskey. Turner’s background is less clear but he was identified as a merchant.
The pair saw an opportunity to cash in on the popularity of a brand called Canadian Club that was finding favor with the American public, a whiskey made by Hiram Walker at his giant distillery at Walkerville, Canada, near Windsor, Ontario. They created a copy-cat brand they called “Windsor Club Whiskey,” and claimed it was made in Walkerville, distilled and bottled under the supervision of the Canadian government — all patently untrue.
Ferocious in protecting his trademarks, Walker, shown right, was furious. He gained the support of the Canadian Commissioner of Inland Revenue who abjured publicly any notion that his office was supervising Turner-Looker’s Windsor Club Whiskey. Forced by the publicity to back off that claim, as noted in the label change shown here, the Cincinnati firm subsequently went on the attack against Walker and Canadian Club.
Turner-Looker’s ads acknowledged that Windsor Club was bottled in Cincinnati under its own supervision, but insisted that it was made in Canada “by an old distiller.” The partners also swung back hard at Walker asserting that: “This brand must not be confused with the low, common, trashy goods bottled in bond in Canada.” The company issued a second brand with a Canadian flavor, calling it “Toronto Club.”
In 1898 Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd escalated the conflict, taking full page ads in a friendly U.S. journal called the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record.”
The ads claimed as fraudulent the idea that Turner-Look’s whiskey was made by The Windsor Club Distilling Co., Walkerville, Canada — “there being no such concern.” Nor was Toronto Club made by the “Toronto Distilling Co.” in the Ontario city, another fraud: “We are good for heavy damages if Turner-Look Co. can show that this is a libel; and we will test the matter in their own courts if they ask us to.”
The Cincinnati firm knew that if the Walkers had their day in court, they might very well win. A year earlier, detectives hired by Hiram and his boys had triggered an investigation of whiskey fraud in Chicago that led to several arrests and an abject public apology from a key perpetrator, Charles Klyman. [See my post on Klyman, April 16, 2016.] Smartly, Turner-Looker never initiated a case.
Nonetheless, Turner-Looker Co. mounted a vigorous, some even might say vicious, attack against the Walkers. It struck back aggressively with ads in its own compliant U.S.publication, The Pharmaceutical Journal. There it questioned anew the quality of Walker’s Canadian Club, citing a finding by one Alex Mattison, said to be a U.S. whiskey tester in Georgia, that his investigation found Hiram’s liquor at 97.6 proof, rather the advertised 100 proof. “Any dealer in the State of Ohio found guilty of selling whiskey under 100 proof is subject to a fine of $100.00 and imprisonment in the County Jail for 30 days,” the American firm piously noted.
Turner-Look also accused the Walkers of issuing Canadian Club in short measure bottles, a practice not uncommon in the whiskey industry. It asserted that the laws of the United States were more strict than those of Canada and implied that the distiller was being allowed by Canadian authorities to provide an ounce or two less in its bottles than the amount claimed on the label. As symbolized by its giveaway poster of heavyweight champ, James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, the Cincinnati firm did not back off from a slugfest.
Meanwhile, the founding partners had sold out their interest to Edward Pattison, an entrepreneur who was prominent in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky commercial circles. Beginning in the 1860s, Pattison was primarily in the business of making and selling whiskey. He was instrumental in a number of liquor ventures, most important as president and treasurer of the Miami Distillery located in Hamilton, Ohio. After buying the Turner-Looker Company, Edward turned it over to a new management team that included his son, Harry S. Pattison, who eventually became its president.
Having sold their company and their names to the Pattisons, the founders did not exit the Cincinnati liquor scene. As indicated by the 1892 letterhead shown here, the partners collaborated on a new company called the Charles S. Looker Co. Calling themselves “Distillers and Wholesale Liquor Dealers,” their establishment was located at 67 West Pearl Street. Turner was president; Looker, secretary and treasurer. In addition, local business directories in the mid-1890s listed Turner as president of the Wm. J. Turner Distilling Co., from about 1893 until 1910.
The dispute between the Pattisons' Turner-Looker Co. and Hiram Walker & Sons apparently dragged on for years to no conclusion. Both Windsor Club and Canadian Club gained American sales. The Walkers could not sue for trademark infringement since none had occurred. Turner-Looker’s ploy in claiming to be of Canadian origin was not illegal — just part of the accepted chicanery that was common in the whiskey trade.
Stymied, Hiram and his sons turned to other battles. A number of U.S. distillers and rectifiers, recognizing the growing popularity of whiskey from North of the border, were selling imitation Canadian whiskey, made in the United States, in bulk to saloonkeepers for the purpose of refilling original bottles in substitution of the genuine Canadian Club. In 1914, the Walkers sued 13 liquor outfits, alleging their engagement in that practice. The defendants included some of America’s best known wholesaler/rectifiers, among them E. Eising, Cook & Bernheimer, and Joseph Beck. Interestingly, Turner-Looker was not among the companies sued.
In a case called Hiram Walker & Sons v. Grubman, extensive testimony was heard in the Federal District Court of New York in March, 1915, the famous Judge Learned Hand presiding. His verdict was that selling non-trademarked whiskey in bottles indicating a trademarked liquor was an infringement of the patent-holders rights and illegal. Damages were assessed against the American firms.
With the coming of National Prohibition in 1920, ultimate victory also went to the Canadians. During the “dry” 14 years, all liquor wholesalers and rectifiers like Turner-Looker Co. went out of business. Just a handful of U.S. distilleries were allowed to operate for “medicinal” whiskey. Meanwhile, with no Prohibition north of the border, Canadian distilleries like Hiram Walker’s flourished, supplying whiskey for much of the bootlegging trade. Americans got accustomed to drinking Canadian whiskey — and liking it. Moreover, Canadian distillers used their new-found wealth to buy up a number of idled U.S. plants. When Repeal came, the Canadians were in an immediate position to begin production in the 48. And did. But that is another story.
Note: Among the 13 firms sued by the Walkers in 1914, I have profiled three in previous posts: E. Eising, January 19, 2012; Joseph Beck & Sons, September, 2015; and Cook & Bernheimer, November 7, 2016.