Monday, October 21, 2019

D. L. Arey and a Picture Worth Talking About

                   
If, as is said, a picture is worth a thousand words, then the saloon sign above can  afford a few choice ones.  With the assumption that it is his likeness on a label of his whiskey,  D. L. Arey, a liquor dealer from Salisbury was clearly in love with his North Carolina birthplace.  Instead of giving local drinking establishments the typical lounging nude,  Arey provided wholesale customers with a panorama of the state’s industries.

Let’s begin with the sow and piglets at lower left side of the picture.  Hog farming has been an important part of North Carolina agriculture since colonial times.  The Berkshire breed had been introduced in Arey’s day.  This major upgrade in the quality of hogs was the spark that led to a massive industry with a gross value today in excess of 2 billion dollars annually.  

Now move right to the man in the hat whose back is to us.  He has a small shovel and a pan in his hand while kneeling over a stream.  He is panning for gold. Few know that North Carolina was the site of the first discovery of gold in the United States.  Although the mines have long since been exhausted, for decades resident and visitors — I among them — have visited local streams to pan for gold.

Almost directly above the panner is a second man looking approvingly at a leaf of tobacco.  Tobacco and tobacco growers put North Carolina on the map.  Beginning in the 1800s tobacco was North Carolina's key product. Farming and industry in the state were built around the crop, and two of the four largest cities developed as company towns for the world's largest tobacco companies.

Moving off the left shoulder of the miner we view the distinctive equipment required for making whiskey — the kettle, the coil, the barrel and a sluice of water.   This does not appear to be a licensed, revenue-paying operation.   Amidst apparently legitimate occupations, the men in the picture seem to be operating a moonshine still.


But wait!  Over the shoulder of the standing moonshiner, barely seen in the picture, is a man elegantly dressed in a hat, coat and tie.  He is carrying a rifle in his hand.   Although he might be a customer for whiskey and the rifle is for protection against bears, a more logical explanation is that he is a revenue agent about to initiate a raid on the still — perhaps an omen of the future.

The final element of the saloon sign are two cases of “Pride of North Carolina” whiskey, the flagship brand of the D. L. Arey Company, showing both flask and quart sizes.  Arey expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for this entire scene.  It was replicated on the labels of his “Pride of N.C. Corn Whiskey.”  Moreover, he took the time and expense of registering the image with the Patent & Trademark Office, claiming it had been in use by his company beginning in 1897, possibly dating the origin of the saloon sign.


Dougal Lindsey Arey was born in April 1856 in Rowan County, North Carolina, the son of farmer Milas and Nancy Arey.  From his name his origins might be inferred as Scotch-Irish or English.  His surname, however, originated with a pioneer ancestor named Peter Ihrig who immigrated from the German Palatinate in 1749 and settled in Rowan.  There he changed his name to Eary;  many of his descendants subsequently changed it once more to Arey.  

When he was four years old his father died and Dougal grew up working as a farm hand.  He was still farming at 22 when he married Nancy Lugenia Shemwell in 1880.  Both were from Rowan and about the same age, possibly childhood sweethearts.  They would go on to have eight children, two of whom died in infancy.   Perhaps it was his growing family that propelled Aery off the farm and into Salisbury, the seat of Rowan County, where during the 1890s he opened a wholesale grocery business that specialized in liquor sales.  

The 1900 federal census found the Areys living in Salisbury with five children, three sons and two daughters, whose ages ranged from 4 to 19. A fourth son would be born a year later.  Also living with family were two servants, a cook and a “day laborer.”   Aery apparently found alcohol sales very profitable, providing funds for real estate investments.  Upon his death, his obituary accounted the liquor dealer “a man of considerable means and…probably the largest property owner in the county.”

As he prospered, the prohibition noose was slowly tightening around liquor sales in North Carolina.  Imposed initially in small towns and rural areas, the ban did not affect Arey’s operation in Salisbury, In 1908, however, a referendum enacted statewide prohibition twelve years before National Prohibition. North Carolina became the first state in the South to ban alcohol completely.  The “Pride of North Carolina Corn Whiskey” no longer could be made or sold.  Revenue agents like the one on Aery’s sign above swarmed over the Tarheel State destroying stills and whiskey.

By this time Dougal had brought his son, Ernest Cass Arey into his liquor business.  While the father stayed behind in Salisbury to look after his real estate and other business interests, Ernest moved the D. L. Arey Company to Danville, Virginia, a city immediately on the North Carolina border with excellent railroad access to its southern neighbor.  From there the company could send mail order liquor via railroad express to virtually any part of the state.  I have found only a single Aery artifact from the Danville location.  It a folding card with an “Ourgood Bank” outside cover that inside contains a mail order price list for bourbon and corn whiskies and other liquors.

By 1909, as Virginia itself inched closer to a ban on alcohol, D. L. Arey Company also opened an outlet in Baltimore at 21-23 Pratt Street.  There Ernest made an agreement with Maryland’s Cecil Distillery to provide him with whiskey for Arey brands.  Among them was “Arey’s Malt Whiskey” that sold in gallon glass jugs and carried a picture of an older gentleman that I have identified with Dougal himself. 

With whiskey production a major Maryland industry, that state seemed unlikely ever to go “dry.”  Despite that assurance, Arey’s Baltimore experience was far from trouble free.  In March 1911, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia seized two barrels of Arey whiskey shipped from Baltimore to Savannah, Georgia. The charge was misbranding.  

A violation of food and drug laws was alleged by Federal authorities because “Pride of North Carolina”  had not been aged five years nor had it been made in Salisbury as indicated on the barrels: “…The whiskey actually used in the manufacture of the product consisted of 50 percent new corn whiskey and 50 percent corn whiskey of older grade, all of said whiskey being procured from Distillery No. 19…in the State of Maryland, known as Cecil Distillery….” D. L. Arey pleaded guilty and was fined today’s dollar equivalent of $15,000.

The coming of National Prohibition in 1920 brought an end to all aspects of D. L. Arey Distilling Company and its brands.  In Salisbury, the founder himself had other investments to merit his attention.  In declining health as he aged, on March 20, 1922, Arey suffered a fatal stroke while at home and never regained consciousness.  He was 65 years old.  Arey’s funeral took place in his home on North Boundary Street and he was interred in Salisbury’s Chestnut Hill Cemetery.  His monument is shown here.


Given Aery’s lifelong dedication to North Carolina, a commitment expressed in he saloon sign that opened this vignette, he must have mused frequently how his home state abruptly had terminated his thriving liquor business, requiring a scramble to Virginia, thence to Maryland and then nothing.  Could it be, Dougal, that the revenue officer with a rifle lurking in the underbrush of your saloon sign was a peek into the future of things to come?


















Thursday, October 17, 2019

Whiskey Men Who Built Opera Houses

Foreword:  While most distillers, liquor dealers and saloonkeepers concentrated their recreational attention on horse racing, prize fighting, and baseball, a handful had a respect for more refined amusements, including the opera.  With wealth from their profits selling booze, at least three, profiled here, were responsible for building opera houses in their communities.  

When Jenny Lind, a famous soprano known as the “Swedish Nightingale," sang in Cincinnati, Ohio, in early spring 1851, sitting in the audience was a successful young liquor dealer named Samuel N. Pike.  Struck to the core by her singing, Pike, shown left, vowed to use his wealth to build an opera house.

After eight years of selling whiskey, Sam finally had the riches necessary to make his dream  a reality.  Pike’s Opera House opened in 1859 with a Grand Italian Opera Company performing.  Shown right in a cameo view, it was hailed as an ornament to Cincinnati.  Featuring a grand stairway and 2,000 seats for patrons, the opera house was the first of its kind west of the Appalachians.  Said one observer:  “At that time, there was nothing out West that could compare to it.” 

In 1866 Pike’s fancy opera house burned to the ground. As an example of what onlookers called his “colossal wealth,” Pike lost no time in rebuilding.  Just a year later a new Pike’s Opera House rose from the ashes.  Just as ornate as the earlier building, this one was larger, filling a half block on Cincinnati’s Fourth Street.   This gesture earned Pike the dedication of a piece of music called “The Opera March” with a picture of his new opera house on the cover.   


After watching his first theater burn, Pike was no longer alive when in February 1903, his second Cincinnati opera house was destroyed by a fire described at the time as historically the city’s largest.  The responding twenty-seven engines companies could not save the structure.  But Sam had kept faith with his pledge to Jenny Lind.

A regional history, commenting on a North Carolina town adjacent to the South Carolina line, concluded:  “In a manner of speaking, much of early Hamlet was built on money from liquor production…The Lackey liquor fortune….”   Indeed, the day in 1890 when Eli Alexander Lackey settled in Hamlet and opened a distillery made possible the day in 1917 when the famous tenor Enrico Caruso sang in the city’s Opera House.

Lackey and his wife, Ella, dreamed of bringing something cultural to Hamlet with their liquor profits.  They decided on contributing an opera house at a property where one of Eli’s distillery warehouses had been located.  Building commenced in 1912.  As shown here the Lackeys’ opera house originally had a Greek Revival facade with an ornate interior to match. 


The theatre provided a venue for the people of Hamlet to hear lectures by Booker T. Washington and William Jennings Bryan, songs by Jenny Lind, and shows by Buffalo Bill Cody and other traveling entertainers.  “And for one glorious night in 1917,” according to an historian, “Hamlet was the center of the musical world as Italian tenor Enrico Caruso performed before a packed crowd….”  This performance brought the Lackeys to their pinnacle of prominence.

Unfortunately the glow was not to last.  The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 ravaged Richmond County and caused the governor to put Hamlet and other towns under a strict quarantine.  It did not save Eli who succumbed on October 11, 1918. The opera house Lackey financed is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  Although its facade was altered to “art deco” in the 1920s, the opera house continues to be in use up to this day.  It is a constant reminder to residents and visitors alike of Eli Alexander Lackey and how he used his wealth from selling whiskey to bring culture to his adopted home town.

The career of Jacob Nunnemacher as a distiller was marked by his many accomplishments, including building a premier opera house in Milwaukee, and one fatal mistake.  A German Swiss immigrant, Nunnemacher in 1854 founded a distillery and cattle farm south of the city.  Before and during the Civil War, he did highly profitable business in both whiskey and beef.

With his wealth in 1871 Jacob created the Nunnemacher Block in downtown Milwaukee that included a Grand Opera House.  Shown below, the structure was three stories with tall pillars guarding the entrance.  The interior was a large open space with a full orchestra level and a balcony, box seats on two sides, rich ornamentation and lighting, and a stage suitable for performing operas, German language productions preferred.  Seating more than 500, the theater was the grandest the people of Milwaukee had ever seen. 



Four years after the opening, however, Jacob Nunnemacher became caught in what came to be known as the “Great Whiskey Ring.”  On one day in May 1875 the Secretary of the Treasury using secret agents from outside his own department directed a series of raids throughout the country,  including Milwaukee.  They arrested 86 Federal revenue agents and other government officials and 152 distillers and whiskey wholesalers for cheating on their liquor taxes.  Jacob Nunnemacher was among them. 

Although found innocent of three charges, on a fourth, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government,  Nunnemacher was convicted and sent to prison for six months.  Although he was pardoned by President Grant after spending only two months in jail, the experience broke the distiller physically and mentally.  At 57 years old, Nunnemacher died the same year as his release.  In 1895 the theater he had financed suffered a major fire but was rebuilt by one of Milwaukee’s “beer barons.”  Today it is known as the Pabst Theater and is still in operation.

Note:  More complete biographies of these three opera-loving whiskey men may be found elsewhere on this blog:  Samuel Pike, January 1, 2018;  Eli Lackey,  July 20, 2018; and Jacob Nunnemacher,  March 21, 1912.















Sunday, October 13, 2019

Mayer Margolies: Convicted Expert on Bootleg Whiskey

           
“There was rapt and breathless attention” in a Canton, Ohio, courtroom, accord to a news account, when a witness took the stand in July 1925 to testify to the age and origin of bottles of whiskey arrayed on a table in front of him.  He was Mayer E. Margolies, a former local liquor dealer, recruited as an expert on whether the whiskey was pre-Prohibition or bootlegged.  The selection of Margolies for this judicial task was ironic because years earlier he himself had been hauled before an Ohio court and convicted of bootlegging. 

 Born in Augustow, Poland, in April 1873, Meyer was the son of Joseph B. and Sarah L. Sparling Margolies.  He emigrated at the age of 16 in 1888 to the United States, early settling in Circleville, Ohio, south of Columbus.  The 1900 federal census found him living there in a boarding house and working in a liquor store.

By the early 1900s  Margolies had moved 160 miles north to Stark County.  His first stop was in Massillon where he managed a saloon on Erie Street owned by Samuel Rosenbloom.  In Stark County Mayer also found a bride in Josephine Dittenhafer, a local woman born in Illinois who was 10 years younger than he.  Married in December 1906, the couple would have four children, Leah born in 1908;  Robert, 1809;  Gertrude, 1912, who died in her teens; and Joseph, 1916.


By the time of his marriage Mayer had moved the short distance to Canton, opening a liquor store on West Ninth Street he called the Canton Liquor Company.  His success was such that he expanded to the main commercial avenue, Market Street, where his liquor house was located on Canton’s Public Square, shown here.  He also opened a branch store 20 miles northeast in Alliance, Ohio.

Margolies was rectifying whiskey in his store, buying whiskey by the barrel, blending it to achieve desired taste and textures, and bottling it with his own labels.  His flagship brands were “Belle of Canton,” sold with the slogan, “Get the Best,” and “Green Bag” touted as ”Good as Old Gold.”  He advertised these whiskeys widely through giveaway items like shot glasses, cork screws, and mini-jugs containing a swallow or two.


He also publicized his products vigorously in the Canton Daily News.  At Christmas 1913, he advertised:  “Whether they be for the Christmas table or for cooking—all wines and liquors bought at Margolies’ can be depended upon—absolutely. An immense assortment, each selected with scrupulous care to hold to that standard which this store has always maintained—absolute purity, fine body, delightful banquet—and at prices that make them rare values.”  He promised to deliver his goods to any part of Canton. .

The year 1913 had its setbacks for the liquor dealer.  In April the Xenia Daily Gazette had headlined: “Mayer E. Margolies Tried for Shipping intoxicants Into Dry Territory Under Fictitious Label.”   Green County, of which Xenia is the seat, had gone “dry” under local option prohibition laws.  Federal law still allowed liquor shipments to such localities from out of state.  Margolies, firmly in Ohio, sought to ship his booze into Xenia via the Western Union Express Company using a fictitious label appearing to originate out of state.

This ruse did not fool local officials, however, and the Greene County’s sheriff confiscated four boxes of liquor shipped to Xenia by Margolies.  His lawyer argued that authorities had not proved the liquid found in the four boxes was intoxicating and asked the court to dismiss the charges.  The judge was not impressed and two weeks later issued a verdict finding Margolies guilty of bootlegging.  His sentence was not immediately announced.

Likely discouraged by this event, Margolies exited the liquor business about 1919 when Ohio went completely dry ahead of National Prohibition.  He now became a  real estate dealer and insurance agent — occupations that more than a few whiskey men found compatible with their earlier careers.  Meanwhile, across town, a Hungarian immigrant named Elek Takacs had been forced to close up his saloon to become a steamship ticket and foreign exchange agent.

Fast forward to July 1825.  When Takacs left his saloon, he reputedly had taken home liquor worth $10,000 (equivalent to $220,000 today), a perfectly legal move.  Getting word of this valuable stash an Ohio state prohibition officer had come to the Takacs’ home and confiscated the bottles as latter-day bootleg moonshine.  When authorities sought to prove that the whiskey originated post-Prohibition and was “contraband,”  a court hearing was scheduled to determine the origins and quality of the liquor.

The courtroom was packed with spectators, including Elek Takacs, likely with his wife, Vilma, the couple shown here on a passport photo.  As Mayer Margolies took the stand, the tension was palpable.  The Polish immigrant did not disappoint.  He broke the seal on the first of twenty bottles and sniffed the aroma. As reported in the press:  “Then amid an expectant hush he put it to his lips and tasted the amber fluid….’I can say that this is whiskey,’ he testified.”

The courtroom crowd sighed frequently as Margolies opened bottle after bottle, twenty in all with his cork screw, poured some out and tasted it.  He testified that it all was pre-Prohibition liquor and not moonshine.  There were no illegal “modern concoctions among it,” he testified.  The headline in the Canon Daily News the next day told the story:


After that moment in the limelight, Margolies went back to selling real estate and insurance.  By the time of Repeal in 1934 he was 63 years old, semi-retired, and had no interest in returning to the liquor business.  He died in May 1941 and is buried in Canton.  His monument is shown here.  His widow, Josephine, lived another thirty years and when she died in 1971 was buried adjacent to him.

One question about this story continues to nag at me:  Did Canton authorities know of Margolies' conviction on bootlegging in Xenia when they failed to object and allowed him to assume “expert” status on the witness stand? 

























Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Rise and Fall of David Porter, Frisco Whiskey Baron

  
A Scottish immigrant, David Porter began his California career as a drayman, driving a team of horses hauling barrels for a liquor dealer.  Before long Porter owned the company and had expanded his business interests and wealth to become part of the city’s financial elite and make his daughter the object of greedy eyes.  Then came an event that changed everything. 

Born in Scotland in 1833, Porter arrived in the Golden State in 1845 at the age of 18.  He likely had been raised on a farm, exhibiting a knowledge of livestock.  He soon secured work with the liquor house of Fox & Connor in Stockton, California driving a horse-powered wagon around the city.  According to one observer, Porter demonstrated “so much zeal and capacity” that the partners soon advanced him to bookkeeper.  

In 1854 when the company moved 83 miles west to San Francisco, the Scotsman had become so valuable a part of the operation, he was made a partner.  Not long after the move Connor left the business and the firm of Fox & Porter was born, doing its liquor sales at the corner of Leidesdorff and Clay Streets in San Francisco’s financial district.  

After some 14 years working successfully as partners,  Henry Fox retired and Porter purchased his interest.  With the company name now simply “David Porter,” the sole proprietor moved to the Parrott Building, shown here, at the northwest corner of Montgomery and California Streets, considered a premier location.  There Porter wasted no time asserting his merchandising genius, rapidly building his wholesale liquor house into among San Francisco’s largest.

Porter’s flagship brand was Shield Bourbon Whiskey, a name he never bothered to trademark. He made no pretense about being a distiller, announcing on his rather that the whiskey had been distilled “expressly” for him.  The source remains unknown although Kentucky might be expected given his use of the term  bourbon.   

He packaged his product in ceramic jugs with a with an elaborate label  that contained a simulated coat of arms depicting a plumed knight and the initials “D.P.” (David Porter) and “S.F.” (San Francisco).  Those jugs, as shown here, came in sizes ranging from a quart to a half gallon.

Meanwhile, Porter was rising in San Francisco business circles.  Accounted a millionaire in the press, he was hobnobbing with the city’s elite.  For example, when local luminaries such as Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University, and railroad executives and bankers, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins, decided to choose California Street hill as a residence location for themselves, a franchise was granted to a group for a cable railroad that included the “Big Three,” with David Porter and others. The line was soon constructed. Shown here at its terminal and power house, the cable car stretched from First Street to Kearney, serving the mansion homes on the hilltop.


Among them was the Porter mansion at 1414 Folsom Street that had a commanding view of San Francisco from atop Nob Hill.  Now the site of the posh Fairmont Hotel, the liquor baron’s home was two and a half stories high with a wrap-around yard and garden.  Of frame construction, it was Victorian in architecture — a visible sign of wealth and wellbeing.  The net worth Porter gave the 1870 census taker was equivalent to over $1,000,000 today.

As he advanced, Porter never forgot his Scottish roots.  He was a ruling elder and large contributor to St. John Presbyterian Church, organized in 1870 with 220 members, and he assisted with the purchase of a place of worship.  He also was the president of the local St. Andrew’s Society, formed for the purpose of granting temporary relief to impoverished Scotsmen and their families.  Again, he was generous in his philanthropy.

With David in the mansion was his wife, the former Elizabeth Green, who had been born in Maryland of immigrant Irish parents. She was eleven years younger than her husband.  They had married in the late 1860s and had two children, Grace born in 1868 and Mary in 1870.   The 1870 census found the family living in the Folsom Street mansion with Elizabeth’s mother, Mary Green, and a man identified as a bookkeeper, likely working for Porter in his liquor house.

As his reputation as a businessman rose, Porter and his wife became known a socialites, entertaining frequently in their mansion home.  In 1884 they hosted an opera singer named Enrico Campobello, a dashing figure who had made a splash in San Francisco society.  One of a number of British singers of the time who adopted Italian identities, Campobello’s real name was Henry Mclean Martin, born in Campbeltown, Scotland.  

The Porters likely were thrilled to have a celebrity like Martin who also reputedly came with letters of introduction from acquaintances of David’s in Scotland.  One can imagine the two men having a pleasant evening recounting their memories of the old country.   Campobello/Martin was married and sang with his wife, an operatic soprano.  When their tour ended, the baritone/bass announced that he would stay in Frisco and form his own opera company.  His wife left town.  

Little did the Porters realize what was transpiring.  At their home Compobello/Martin had met their daughter, Grace, now a winsome young woman of 16, and decided that marriage to an heiress would assure his future.  The inexperienced Grace for her part was utterly smitten with the suave opera singer.  The unsuspecting Porters even hosted the fortune-seeker the following year.  When David finally understood what his fellow Scotsman was up to, he forbade him to visit the mansion ever again.  But it was too late.  Campobello/Martin divorced his wife and induced the love-smitten teenager to run away with him and marry.

As one writer commented:  “San Francisco society was shocked.  It was all very well to have singing lessons from the handsome baritone, but to marry him….Back in England, the St. James Hotel in Piccadilly advertised they were selling off a trunk of his property…that he’d abandoned there.  But Henry didn’t care.  He’d married a millionaire’s daughter.”   How David Porter and his wife reacted to the marriage is unclear. The marriage itself may have been shortlived. A San Francisco newspaper in Jun 1893 reported: “Mrs. Grace Porter Campobello is visiting her parents, Mr. and Mrs. David Porter, on California street, and will not probably rejoin her husband in Memphis.”


 For onlookers, Porter appeared to continue to operate a successful liquor house as before and manage a portfolio of other investments.  As one press account called him “one of the most widely known of San Francisco merchants.”  He made a business call in the late afternoon of January 17,1893, arriving at the Mills Building, a major financial center shown here, and took the elevator to the seventh floor.  After visiting an office there, the liquor dealer returned to the elevator that stood next to a spiral staircase open to the ground floor lobby.

Suddenly Porter fell. He crashed on the second floor, fracturing his skull, and died instantly as his body rolled down the stairs to the lobby.  A coroner’s jury ruled it an accidental death.  The San Francisco Examiner the following day report that the liquor dealer had been ill and the previous Sunday had suffered a bout of vertigo.  Its story speculated that when an elevator car was not at hand, Porter walked over to the bannister, looked down the seven stories, had a second attack of vertigo, tipped over the railing and plunged fifty feet to the second floor.  The newspaper termed it:  “A fearful descent.”

After an inquest, Porter’s body was taken from the San Francisco Morgue to Wright’s undertaking establishment where it was prepared for a well attended funeral at St. John Presbyterian Church.  He initially was buried at San Francisco’s historic Laurel Hill Cemetery, shown here in a vintage photo.  In 1901 the city, in order to make more space for development, ordered all graves within the city limits to be moved elsewhere.  Some 35,000 buried at Laurel Hill were forced out of San Francisco and moved to a former Japanese cemetery in the adjoining community of Colma, the graveyard now called Cypress Lawn.  Porter’s body was among those re-buried but without any identifying monument or headstone.

Not long after Porter’s death speculation arose that his fall might not have been accidental.  Although all his obituaries spoke of his wealth, Porter soon was revealed no longer to be a rich man. He apparently owed large amounts of money and was on the brink of bankruptcy.  Could the fall be attributed to financial distress?  The individual most shocked by this news may have been Campobello/Martin.  Despite appearances, his wife’s father was actually no millionaire after all.  Porter had died worse than penniless, it seemed, and Grace had nothing to inherit.   Additionally, after his death the liquor house that Porter had built over almost a half century went out of business.

David Porter deserves to be remembered by something better than the manner of his death.  He was, after all, a Scottish immigrant who rose from a lowly drayman to owning a major liquor house and respect as one of San Francisco’s premier pioneer merchants.  














Saturday, October 5, 2019

John Schweyer's All-America Liquor Ads

           
Most liquor dealers advertised.  The majority kept their ads local to their city or county.  Some advertised regionally and had traveling sales forces to back up their efforts.  Dealers emphasizing mail order sales advertised more widely throughout the U.S., but constrained by cost often just with small notices in trade journals.  John Schweyer, a Chicago liquor dealer, consciously set out to break that mold, issuing large display ads in magazines with coast-to-coast circulations.  It worked.

Schweyer was born in Zutzendorff, Alsace, then part of the German empire, now a town in France.  When he was 21 in 1870, he emigrated to the United States, settling in Chicago and in 1875 becoming a naturalized American citizen.  From a  passport description, Schweyer was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with black hair, green gray eyes, a high forehead, long face and “sallow” complexion. He seems almost immediately to have engaged in the whiskey trade, learning the business in one of the many liquor houses in the Windy City. 

Within five years of coming to America John found a bride in Chicago.  Her name was Louise and at 15 years old, she was nine years younger than John.  They would have two children, Edward, born in 1875, and Frieda, in 1879.  Perhaps it was the impetus of a growing family that caused Schweyer to strike out on his own.  He began being listed as an independent liquor merchant in local business directories in 1877, located at 581 West 12th Street. As his business succeeded, he soon moved to larger quarters along the same Chicago commercial avenue.  By 1887 he was occupying the building shown here.

Although he called himself an “old Pennsylvania distiller,” Schweyer was in fact a “rectifier,” that is someone blending whiskeys to achieve a particular color, smoothness and taste.  He featured a great many  brands, including:  “Arcola,” "Chicago Club,” "Oak Glen,” "Old Cabinet Penn,” "Rich Valley,” "Schweyer 10 X Cabinet,” "Schweyer Cabinet,” "Schweyer Cabinet Reserve,” "Schweyer Pure Rye,” “Nestor Sour Mash,” and "Straight Trip.”

Although he also tapped distilleries in Illinois and Pennsylvania, a major source of Schweyer’s supplies was The Old Darling Distillery in Carroll County, Kentucky, known in federal parlance as RD #4, 6th District.  Founded in the late 1870s, over time Old Darling became an extensive facility with eight different warehouses, four free and four in bond.  All but one were constructed of brick with metal or slate roofs.  The distillery itself was of the same construction.  The complex also included a barrel house (cooperage) on site, an engine and boiler house, an iron-clad grain elevator and frame cattle pens 26 feet south of the still.

The Old Darling Distillery could provide Schweyer with a substanial amount of the raw product he was rectifying in the back room or upper floors of his large quarters.  He was mixing up his various brands, bottling them onsite, and putting his own labels on them as shown here for Chicago Club “Old Fine” Whiskey and The Schweyer Double Copper Distilled “White Rye.”  The latter and a shot glass above contain illustrations of his trademark, a bird sitting on a barrel of whiskey surrounding by sheaves of grain.   Most of his bottles have lost their labels over time but Schweyer embossed his containers with his name and “Chicago,” as shown on the flasks below.


It is not clear just when Schweyer decided that his best opportunity for marketing his whiskey was to sell nationwide by running advertisements in major publications. An ad, below, in 1889 carried a note, written to look as if it were added by the magazine:  “The Schweyer Distilleries have been well known in the liquor trade for upwards of 25 years.  Their change and future course of supplying consumers direct is said to be due to the increasing adulteration of their whiskies by wholesale and retail dealers.”   The implications of this statement are preposterous.  Schweyer was not a distiller but one of the wholesalers/retailers being demeaned in the ad.  He had complete control of his Chicago blending, bottling, and sales process.  There was no way any wholesalers or retailers could have tampered with his products.

The ad ran in Munsey’s Magazine, a monthly founded in New York City in 1889.  The publication featured an innovative front cover in color and 36 pages of articles on subjects of widespread interest.  It sold nationally on newsstands and through subscription. By 1895, the magazine had a circulation of 500,000 a month.  Schweyer also was advertising in Leslie’s Weekly, a nationally circulated illustrated literary and news magazine with a circulation of 65,000 weekly.  Shown below are Schweyer ads from each publication.


Although display ads in both magazines were expensive — Schweyer later sized them down — his gambit paid off.  By the turn of the century many localities under prohibitionist pressure had voted themselves “dry,” banning alcohol sales.  Many states and more localities would do so in ensuing years.  Mail order booze, however, remained protected by the commerce clause of the Constitution.  Schweyer pre-paid express fees east of Colorado and sent his liquor in plain boxes and parcels to thwart noisy neighbors.  His whiskey found a ready — and thirsty — market. For 15 years the German immigrant prospered.

A few months after Congress acted to end the loophole of out of state shipments to “dry” areas, Schweyer died in Chicago at the age of 63.  He was buried in in Section K of Forest Home Cemetery, Cook County, next to his wife, Louise, who had died earlier.  His grave marker is shown here. The company he had founded, John Schweyer & Co., continued to be operated under his name by associates until closed in 1919 with the coming of National Prohibition.

By the time of Repeal, American advertising had become increasingly sophisticated.  Leslie’s Weekly had folded in 1922;  Munsey’s in 1929.  Their place was taken by national magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and the New Yorker that after 1934 ran liquor ads of considerably less dense text and emphasized “modern” design quality.  Earlier ads, such as those shown here, have come to look quaint, almost archaic. Nevertheless, John Schweyer deserves to be remembered among whiskey men for his pioneering advertising to sell liquor to all America.