Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Paducah’s Reuben Loeb — A Man of Many Minis

In order to distinguish a liquor house in a Kentucky town like Paducah, it often was necessary for the proprietor to forge a marketing strategy that would set his establishment apart from the crowd.  Reuben Loeb chose to issue a series of miniature jugs that advertised his house brands.  The result are displayed throughout this post, including one mini shown right that recently fetched $811 at auction.

Loeb was born in Hechingen, Hohensollern, Germany in December 1829 and like many Jewish youths of his time left for the United States when he was still a teenager.  The first eight years of his life in America, according to a biographer, saw him moving to various parts of the country.  His employment appears to have a least in part in the whiskey trade where he must have been an apt learner.

In 1854 Loeb settled in Kentucky, locating in Paducah. a town formally established in 1830 and incorporated as a city by the state legislature in 1838. Based at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee River,  Paducah was a wise selection for Loeb.  By the time he arrived steam boats traversed the river system, and its port facilities were important to trade and transportation. In addition, railroads had entered the region. A factory for making red bricks, and a foundry for making rail and locomotive components became the nucleus of a thriving "river and rail" economy.

Recognizing that a booming town would mean many thirsty workers and foster dozens of saloons, after a brief foray into dry goods,  Loeb embarked on a wholesale liquor business in Paducah.  Only a short time after engaging in that trade, he might have had second thoughts about his choice when the Civil War broke out.  Paducah became a massive supply depot for Federal forces along the Ohio, Mississippi, and Tennessee river systems — and a favorite target for Confederate raids throughout the war.

Moreover, in December 1862, under the terms of a military order, thirty Jewish families in Paducah were required to leave their long-established homes. It was the result of General Grant trying to break up a black market in cotton, in which he suspected Jewish traders were involved.  It must have been an uncomfortable time for Loeb, familiar as he was with the anti-Semitism of his native Germany.  Jewish businessmen across the Union, along with members of Congress, complained to President Lincoln about Grant’s order and within a few weeks Lincoln revoked it.  
Loeb’s entry into the liquor trade initially was with a partner named Joseph Wile. At the outbreak of the Civil War, however, Wile, possibly to avoid choosing sides in military service, returned to his native Germany.  

As the conflict progressed,  Loeb linked with Moses Bloom, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, who carried the title “major” — possibly as a result of Union service.  The partners in turn hired Isaac Bernheim, later of “Old Harper” fame, as the bookkeeper in their Paducah wholesale liquor house.  Isaac soon was joined by his brother, Bernhard, at the firm.  The ambitious brothers eventually “outgrew their connection” with Loeb, Bloom & Company and began their own Paducah distillery. [See my post of December 10, 2014 on the Bernheims.]

Departure of the brothers had no appreciable effect on Loeb and Bloom.  In March 1902 the Paducah Sun recorded that “…Today the firm is the oldest in Paducah and one of the best known in the country.  It is remarkable how devoted the two gentlemen were during the forty years they were in business. They have never had a serious disagreement, and were the staunchest most loyal friends imaginable from that day to this.”  Throughout their business address was 127-129 North Second Street.

One thing the partners must have agreed on was featuring a blizzard of brands.  Not distillers of whiskey but “recifiers,” that is, blenders, Loeb and Bloom were buying “raw” whiskey from multiple Kentucky distilleries and issuing it under their own proprietary labels.  Those included "A. L. Memorial,” Belle of Monroe.” "Bob Diggs,” "Caney Fork,” “Inkenois,” "Jack Tar,” "L., B. & Co.,” “Mountain Spring,” Old Superior,” Westmoreland,” ”McCracken Belle,” “Mermaid,” "Mountain Spring,” "Paducah Club,” "Red Snapper,” and "Spring Lick.”  Unlikely many of their competitors, the company trademarked virtually all these brands as protection against infringement, the bulk of them in 1905 and 1906 after Congress had strengthened the laws.

Meanwhile Louis was having a personal life.  Although an earlier marriage was recorded, it apparently without children.  In 1877, at the age of 48, Loeb married a second time.  His bride was Rosa (sometimes given as “Rosalia”) Lichtenstein, had been born in the same town in Germany, suggesting family ties.  Rosa was said to be a “recognized musician” with an excellent singing voice.  Louis was 48 at the time of their nuptials in Galveston, Texas;  Rosa was 24.  Despite the age disparity the couple had three children, Sidney born in 1880; Jesse, 1883, and Florence, 1890.

When and how Loeb determined that issuing mini-jugs for several of the company brands was an effective advertising ploy is not clear.  While other liquor dealers often issued such items for a single flagship brand, Loeb, Bloom & Company had a plethora of labels to market.  

As will be noted here, the partners issued at least four different minis for Paducah Club Kentucky whiskey, as well as  jugs for Caney Fork, Mountain Spring, and Westmoreland Rye.  These would have been given to both saloons and restaurants carrying their brands, as well as presented to retail customers.  Each jug held a swallow or two of liquor.  Shot glasses were another company giveaway.

Loeb expanded his business interests into other spheres, including having a financial stake in the Western District Tobacco warehouse.  He owned valuable parcels of land throughout the Paducah metropolitan area and was involved with local banks.  He also participated in Masonic activities and civic affairs, accounted as an individual who “bore his part in all public improvements and all movements calculated to prove of benefit to the community at large.”

As they gained maturity, Loeb brought his sons into the business.  Sydney at 18 was out of school, according to the 1900 census, and working as a bookkeeper at Loeb, Bloom & Company.   He would be joined by Jesse in several years and moved to traveling salesman while the younger brother took over the books.  As both Loeb and Bloom aged, the sons were given more and more management responsibility for the liquor house.

In later years, Loeb was plagued with an inflammation of the kidneys, then called Bright’s disease.  The condition although chronic can result in other health problems, including heart attacks.  In an apparent effort to offset his condition Louis was an annual visitor to the Battle Creek Sanitarium, founded by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.  People of means went there to take specialized treatments aimed at restoring their health.  Nevertheless, the Paducah whiskey man suddenly died about a year after his last visit to Battle Creek.

His obituary in the Paducah Sun of March 6, 1902 provided details on his last moments:  “Mr. Loeb was sitting in his arm chair when suddenly his nurse noticed that his hands had fallen to his sides. Running out to secure assistance and remove the patient to the bed, she found Mr. Stewart Dick, who assisted him. Mr. Loeb died without a struggle after he had been placed on the bed.”  Age 72 at his death, Loeb was buried in a Paducah cemetery in a mausoleum bearing his name.

With the participation of Loeb’s sons the liquor house continued in business for several more years.  When Moses Bloom subsequently died, however, Loeb, Bloom & Co. disappeared from Paducah directories.  Considered one of the wealthiest men in Kentucky, Loeb left a fortune to his family.  His widow continued to live in Paducah until 1913 when she went to New York City to live with her daughter.  Sydney and Jesse remained in Kentucky.  When Rosa died in 1924 of a stroke, her body was returned to Paducah to lie with Louis.

In death, Loeb received glowing tributes.  The Sun said:  “He was generous, charitable, and kind and was a most…progressive man. He is one who will be greatly missed.”  Another account said:  “Mr. Loeb was a man who made and retained friends, and at the time of his death was sincerely mourned by many outside his own family, who knew and appreciated his many excellent qualities of mind and heart.”  Today we have the mini-jugs and other whiskey artifacts by which to remember this extraordinary whiskey man.

Note:  While the information for this post is from numerous sources, a principal resource was an article on Reuben and Rosa Loeb that appeared in the 1914 publication “Memorial Record of Western Kentucky, Illustrated, Volume II, the Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York.

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