In Charles Dickens famous novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” the cities were London and Paris. For Jesse Moore they were Louisville and San Francisco — two towns that were the springboards of a whiskey that became known from coast to coast and carried Moore’s name.
The label chosen apparently was meant to represent Moore himself. Although I have been unable to find a photo of the distiller, Moore was a Kentucky entrepreneur not a pioneer toting a rifle on the frontier. His story is told here in a series of dates that take his whiskey-making enterprises from 1838 until after his death.
1838: Jesse Moore (born in 1812) entered the distillery business at the age of 26 when his older brother George J Moore became the owner of the McFifan distillery in Mt. Vernon, Indiana. George, a banker, took over the facility as a result of a bad debt, but the distillery burned (or been burned) to the ground before he could take possession. Jesse and George together rebuilt and called the plant the Phoenix Distillery. George and his family subsequently returned to Louisville, leaving Jesse in charge.
1848: Jesse sold his stake in the Phoenix and returned to Louisville, where for a time he ran a confectionary, wine and liquor store.
1853: Jesse with a partner bought a small distillery in Lebanon, KY. Their brands included "Jesse Moore", "Jesse Moore's A.A.", "Kentucky Bedford", "P. Vollmer", and “Swan." Jesse Moore Whiskey was the flagship brand, as indicated here on two company shot glasses.
1859-1875: Moore’s company built at least two more distilleries. Jesse was bottling his production in glass bottles that carried paper labels but were heavily embossed with a pair of antlers as a signature. The containers ranged in size from quarts to flasks. As shown here they came in a variety of colors from dark and light amber to green.
1875: Moore sold his stake in a distillery in Marion Co., Kentucky. In partnership with his nephew George Henry Moore (born in 1835), Jesse built the Belmont, Astor, and Nutwood distilleries in Louisville. The Jesse Moore brand had become extremely popular throughout the West, and the distilleries were essential to supply an ever widening market. Moore’s company became noted nationwide for its giveaway advertising items to saloons and restaurants carrying its brands. The company eventually established outlets in a number of cities throughout America, with San Francisco as by far the most important because of its access to the entire West.
1876: Jesse and George Henry took Henry Browne Hunt as their California partner. Born in Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania in 1936, Hunt had gone to San Francisco with his uncle when he was 13, went East to finish his education and returned to California to work for several liquor firms. Among them was a saloon owner who was the San Francisco agent for Moore’s whiskey but apparently not doing a good job. The Moores sent a representative West who met Hunt and was impressed by his ability. With Jesse’s blessing a new partnership was formed and called the Jesse Moore, Hunt Company. Shown here are a number of artifacts bearing that name. Under Hunt, the brand was distributed throughout the West and was said to enjoy “phenomenal” sales.
1880's: Max Selliger, a liquor salesman, was taken on by the Moores to help run their distilleries. George Henry and Selliger later formed a separate liquor company, one listed in Louisville directories from at least 1884.
1890: Thos. Kirkpatrick, an immigrant from England, became manager of the San Francisco office, assisting Hunt. The company was liberal in bestowing giveaway items such as shot glasses, back-of the bar bottles, and signs to saloons and restaurants
1892: Jesse Moore retired from business and sold his shares in Jesse Moore & Co. to a group of English investors headed by Nathan Hofheimer. Hofheimer had worked for Moore from 1879 to 1884, at which point he left for New York and became established in the international liquor trade. Moore retired to his Louisville mansion home, shown here, and died in 1898.
1896: George Henry Moore died at the age of 61, the victim of a heart attack. His widow sold most of his Moore stock to Max Selliger, although Sherley Moore, George Henry’s son, still held shares worth $100,000. The Louisville and San Francisco operations were then consolidated, with Thomas Kirkpatrick as President and Sherley Moore as Vice President of the Jesse Moore, Hunt Co. Inc.
1901-1933: Sherley Moore exited the liquor business, leaving Max Selliger to continue running the company until Prohibition. Upon repeal in 1933, Selliger sold the idled distilleries along with the Jesse Moore brand name to other interests, thus ending almost a full century that this tale of two cities was told.
Note: This post has made use of the timetable provided by Robin Preston on his Pre-Pro website for the information about Jesse Moore and his whiskey. Preston does not indicate his source or sources but the information is corroborated by other documents. I have added other information that seemed important and all the images shown here. For more information on Max Selliger see my post of May 2017 on his rise to prominence. That post also provides additional information on George Henry Moore.