Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Whiskey Men and Trademark Disputes

Foreword:   Trademark fights among distillers and whiskey merchants with proprietary brands were common in the pre-Prohibition era.  The laws were lax, often poorly written, and subject to interpretation by judges.  Although a number of individual past posts have detailed those disputes, I have selected three examples here that illustrate various aspects of such conflicts.


The number of disputes over brand names of whiskey actually taken to court were relatively small, likely because the legal situation.  An exception were the liquor house owned by partners and brothers-in-law Aaron Bluthenthal and Monroe Bickart of Atlanta, Georgia.  Their experience in trying to protect their popular brand “Old Joe Rye” from competition is instructive.  

In 1905 Bluthenthal & Bickart brought  a suit in the Florida courts against Theodore Mohlmann, a Jacksonville liquor dealer.  They claimed Mohlmann had violated their trademark on their Old Joe Rye, including the size, shape and color of the bottle, a similarly designed and colored label, and the name given the whiskey: “Old Geo.”  The crowning indignity, the plaintiffs said, was Mohlmann copying even the small corkscrew that the Atlanta firm attached to the Old Joe bottle.  The Florida corkscrew was claimed to be identical in “size, shape, quality and appearance.”  

A Georgia liquor company attempting to shut down a Florida competitor in Florida courts clearly faced daunting challenges.    When the lower court in Jacksonville denied B&B an injunction and dismissed their case,  B&B appealed to the State Supreme Court.  While that court had some legal quibbles with the initial decision, it did not overturn it.  Mohlmann’s Old Geo remained on the market. 



Seemingly undaunted by this setback, the brothers-in-law subsequently pressed similar charges against a Montgomery, Alabama, liquor dealer named J. W. Epperson.  Like Mohlmann, Epperson was aping the Old Joe bottle right down to the corkscrew. He called his booze, “Old Jack.” Once again, Bluthenthal and Bickart found it hard sledding in an out-of-state court.  After a lower court denied their action for an injunction against Epperson, B&B appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court.  

That court upheld the verdict but went further.  The judges scolded the Georgia partners on the grounds that examination had shown that their Old Joe brand was not as, as advertised, very old stock, fine old whiskey, or even rye whiskey.  B&B had misrepresented the whiskey on their labels and marks with false statements, the judges said, and by so doing had vitiated any trademark protection that the partners might claim.  Although Epperson’s conduct was “without justification,” the Alabama Supreme Court ruled, it was unwilling to  issue an injunction and make him stop selling Old Jack Rye.  

William S. Turner and Charles S. Looker joined forces sometime before 1880 to create a new Cincinnati liquor house.  The pair saw an opportunity to cash in on the popularity of a whiskey called Canadian Club that was finding favor with the American public, a brand from 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 here, 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 whiskey.  Forced by the publicity to back off that claim the Cincinnati firm subsequently went on the attack against Walker and Canadian Club, asserting that their Windsor Club brand…must not be confused with the low, common, trashy goods bottled in bond in Canada.” 

In 1898 Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd escalated the conflict, taking full page ads in  U.S. journals.  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….We are good for heavy damages if Turner-Looker Co. can show that this is a libel; and we will test the matter in their own courts if they ask us to.”  Turner-Looker knew that if the Walkers had their day in court, they might very well win.  A year earlier, detectives hired by Hiram had triggered an investigation of whiskey fraud in Chicago that led to several arrests and convictions.  The Ohio partners stayed away from the justice system, preferring to mount a vigorous, some even might say vicious, counter-attack in the press. 

Turner-Look claimed publicly that Walker’s Canadian Club tested “under-proof,” i.e., less alcohol than stated, and was issued in short measure bottles.  The Walkers could not sue Turner-Looker for trademark infringement since technically 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. The dispute between the whiskey companies dragged on for years to no conclusion, ended only by National Prohibition in 1920. 

Charles Knecht and his son Louis began a Cleveland, Ohio, liquor business about 1886, concentrating on only a single brand, one they called “Raven Valley Whiskey.”  Shown here on an advertising paperweight, the illustration was of three stylized birds, presumably ravens, sitting on a leafy branch.  In 1905 they trademarked the name.  Their application described the mark as “The words ‘Raven Valley,’ beneath which is a representation of three ravens perched upon the branches of tree.”   Although all of this seems straightforward and innocent enough, it would bring down on the Knechts the fury of one of the most powerful distillers in Kentucky,  W. A. Gaines Co. of Frankfort, maker of “Old Crow Bourbon.” 

The Kentucky distiller constantly faced trademark challenges, appropriating or approximating the Old Crow label, by whiskey oufits hoping to profit on the national popularity of the brand.  Gaines almost always was successful in court. When word of the Knecht’s application for “Raven Valley” reached Gaines executives, they took immediate legal action alleging that the name and image violated their trademark.  When the Commissioner of Patents ignored their protest and approved the application, the Old Crow crew appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia.  

The Gaines legal challenges must have caused a great deal of concern on the part of the Knechts.  Not only did they have the expense of defending Raven Valley Whiskey against a “deep pockets” foe,  but if they lost it would only be a matter of time before they would be served a desist order and their flagship brand would be terminated under pain of law.  While this was uncharted territory for the Cleveland company, the Gaines outfit by contrast could count on highly-paid, well-practiced attorneys to handle the case.  Brimming with confidence, its attorneys contended that the ravens would “naturally lead to a confusion and enable the applicants [Knechts] to perpetrate a fraud.”  

In the end, however, the appeals court disagreed and the judges’ opinion stated, in part, “when the words ‘Raven Valley’ are considered they are so different from the words ‘Old Crow’ that any confusion or deception would be very improbable.”  While recognizing that ravens and crows were both birds, the Court found no similarity in their depiction on the whiskeys.   When Gaines owners sought to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the high court denied them a hearing.  Almost improbably, the Knechts had won.  The Ohio raven had triumphed over the Kentucky crow.

Addendum:  Some further comment seem appropriate on the image of the Old Crow, as it changed over time.  As shown here, in the 1940s the crow became a dandified gent with top hat, bow tie, vest and spats.  A cartoon of that era was headlined “How to distinguish a Raven from a Crow.”  It pointed out that the raven is bigger and took a swipe at Old Crow and its anthropomorphized corvid.

























Friday, July 26, 2019

The “Deep Water” Life and Death of Harry Hoyle



A Southerner whose life revolved around the “deep water” of the Gulf of Mexico, Harry Hoyle persisted in selling liquor in the face of prohibitionary forces that forced him from Mississippi to Louisiana.  In New Orleans Hoyle found tolerance and success for his whiskey trade but suffered an untimely fate that ultimately orphaned his children.

Hoyle, gown here, was born in Whistler, Alabama, a small community seven miles from Mobile.  Two apparent early influences were the waters of the Gulf of Mexico forming Mobile Bay and the arrival of railroads.  The Mobile and Ohio Railroad, an early land grant railway, had established its shops in Whistler.  After receiving his early education there, the young man saw better opportunities in Gulfport, Mississippi and moved the 78 miles.


Now Hoyle had the Gulf of Mexico right at his doorstep. Shown above, the lively port city with its many thirsty sailors, fishermen, and roustabouts rapidly took him into the liquor trade.  With many saloons to service with whiskey, he built up a large wholesale and retail trade in Gulfport and opened a branch office in Slidell, Louisiana.

At the age of 23 Harry also found a wife in Gulfport. She was Rosa Lillia (“Rosie”) Seals, a 21-year-old woman from a prominent local family.  Her brother Florin Seal was sheriff of Harrision County.  According to the records, their marriage followed by several months the birth of their first child.  Over the course of the next fourteen years their union would produce six more children. 


Hoyle’s acquaintance with railroad followed him to Mississippi when Gulfport was chosen as the central hub for The Gulf, Florida & Alabama Railway, known as the “Deep Water Route.”  The liquor dealer immediately saw a good name for his flagship brand of whiskey and created a container for his “jug trade” that celebrated the line with a ceramic container labeled “Deep Water Route Fine Old Whiskey.”  

Hoyle was receiving whiskey from distilleries by the barrel via the railroad, likely blending it, and decanting the result into small smaller containers that would be sold to his customers.  He trademarked the name in 1905 and issued a celluloid advertising match safe   With its unusual, ornate label, a Hoyle jug recently sold at auction for $800.

Ultimately, however, Mississippi was to disappoint Hoyle’s ambitions.  So-called Temperance forces were flourishing in the state, first passing a “local option” law that allowed individual counties to outlaw alcohol.  Although counties along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River remained “wet” for a time, in 1907, thirteen years before National Prohibition, Mississippi voted to go “dry” statewide, penalizing liquor sales with fines and jail terms.

Forced to close his saloon and whiskey trade , Hoyle’s initial response apparently was to go underground.  In January 1909 the Biloxi Herald reported a raid on what was known as a “blind tiger,” an illegal drinking establishment, located near the “Deep Water Route” railroad tracks.  Police seized thirty-two barrels and twenty-three cases of liquor — all of it belonging to Harry Hoyle.  The raid was not without incident.  A shot was fired by a watchman.  Implicated too was Roderick Seal, Rosie Hoyle’s cousin.

While Hoyle does not appear to have been arrested, the loss of the equivalent of $44,000 in liquor apparently convinced him to abandon Gulfport and relocate his business 80 miles west in New Orleans.  The move must have been wrenching for him and his family.  Said one account:  “Harry Hoyle was one of the best known men in Southern Mississippi.  His business affiliations extended to persons in almost every town of any size….”

Hoyle’s success in Louisiana seemingly was as rapid as it had been in Gulfport. By 1910, Hoyle was recorded in New Orleans business directories operating saloons and liquor stores at 326 Magazine and 174 Rampart Streets.  He kept his Slidell location and was sending liquor legally by railway express back to his old customers in Mississippi.  He also bought a major share of the National Brewery of New Orleans, shown here, and became a director.

The Alabama transplant’s ascendancy apparently alarmed established publicans in “The Big Easy.”  When Hoyle sought a license from the city to open a saloon at 135 Royal Street, his competition in the neighborhood raised “spirited opposition” to his request.  After a protracted struggle, Hoyle won out and was granted the license by New Orleans authorities.   The site is shown here as it looks today — now a French Quarter souvenir mart.


Events would soon change everything for Hoyle and his family.  In mid-February 1914, after attending a party where alcohol likely was served, Harry with three friends was taking what the press called an after-midnight “joy ride” on the Chef Menteur Road along a New Orleans bayou shown below.  Hoyle was in the rear “rumble seat” when the car went out of control, hit the incline of the canal and turned over.  Although others were only slightly injured in the crash, Hoyle was killed instantly.


According to a press account:  “The men who had been extricated managed to draw the body of Harry Hoyle out from under the machine.  As they pulled it out the head fell loosely about the shoulders and they feared the worse….It is the opinion of the medical authorities that he died instantly when the heavy back of the machine pinned his neck to the ground.”   The whiskey man was only 34 years old.

After a brief funeral service at the family home at 4713 Iberville Street, shown here as it looks today, Hoyle was buried in Greenwood Cemetery.  In addition to his widow,  the newspapers noted he left six children — May, Harry Jr., Thelma, Rodick, Rosa and Clara.  All were under 14 years old.  Moreover, Rosie was pregnant with twins, Lorena and William, born the June after Harry died.

Over the ensuing two years, the liquor business including the Royal Street saloon and a liquor store at 521 Bienville was continued under Hoyle’s name, managed by Roderick Seal.  Within two years, however, tragedy struck the Hoyle family once again.  In mid-January 1919, the toddler, Lorena, succumbed (see below).  Four days later she was followed in death by her mother, Rosie, leaving the Hoyle children orphaned, the youngest only two.  As mother and child were laid to rest beside Harry in Greenwood Cemetery, the enterprises that bore the Hoyle name came to an end. 


Afterword:  Since writing this post I have received an email from Denise Coste, a great-granddaughter of Harry Hoyle, who lives in Mandeville, Louisiana, not far from New Orleans.  She was able to give me additional data about the family.  Among items:  1)  The care of the Hoyle children after the death of both parents, she believes, was accomplished by taking them into the homes of aunts and uncles.  2) Rose Hoyle was known by the family as “Lily.”  3) The youngest daughter, Lorena died of burns when her nightgown caught fire from an open furnace.  She also sent documentation that Lorena had a twin, William, who does not show up in Ancestry records.  Denise also provided the newspaper photo of Harry Hoyle that opens this post, a good addition to his biography.  My thanks to her for all this helpful information.   

Note:  The material for this post was taken from a number of sources.  The information on the accident was from the St. Tammany Farmer newspaper of February 14, 1914.  Other key information was from Hoyle’s obituary in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on February 15, 1914. 



































Monday, July 22, 2019

The Pennsylvania Steins Put Their Faith in Whiskey


With memories of religious discrimination in Europe, at least four generations of a “Pennsylvania Dutch” family channeled their efforts over three centuries to make and sell quality rye whiskey.  As a consequence the Steins of Greenwich Township, Berks County, wrote themselves into state history.

The story of the Stein family began in Evangelish, Siegen, Westfalen, Prussia in 1735 when their progenitors, Jacob (I) and wife, Anna, had twin boys.  One they named Jacob (II), the other John.  When Jacob (II) reached maturity he emigrated from his homeland to the United States and to Pennsylvania where religious tolerance had attracted many of his fellow Evangelical Germans and other dissenters from traditional Lutheranism. 

Jacob (II) married and raised a family while occupied as a farmer on the rich lands of Berks County.   There his son,  Johannes “Jonas” Stein was born in 1766.  He like his father was a farmer, tilling the soil in a district called Greenwich that had been incorporated as a township in 1755.  He and his family likely worshiped in freedom at a nearby Reformed Lutheran congregation in a primitive log church that was replaced by a second log house of worship in 1790.

The concept of distilling was common among these immigrants.  In Europe, dissenter from established religions often were discriminated against in the common trades of the time and excluded from craftsmen guilds.  As a result, having no religious scruples about alcohol, some turned to making strong drink; others to running saloons.  No evidence exists that Jonas Stein had any background in distilling but the picture changed with the next generation. 

In 1791, a baby boy was born to Jonas and spouse unknown.  Unsurprisingly, they named him Jacob (III).  He grew up on his father’s farm, eventually owning five hundred acres that he divided into five properties, building houses and farm buildings on each and leasing them. He also built a schoolhouse to accommodate his tenants’ children.  

Known as the Stein family “whiskey pioneer,” Jacob, shown right, in 1830 built the original distillery in the southern part of  Greenwich Twp. and began producing “Stein’s Pure Rye”  Meanwhile one of the two major cattle driving routes in Pennsylvania had brought prosperity to the area spurring a large cattle auction, three stores and seven taverns to service the thirsty drovers.  Although other distilleries operated in the area, Jacob Stein’s was the largest and best known, celebrated for its quality whiskey.  Twenty years later he started a tavern called the Three Mile House not far from his distillery.


Religious faith had continued to animate the Stein family down the years.  Log structures as churches increasingly were becoming obsolete.  Jacob and his neighbor religionists in 1861 banded together to build a substantial house of worship in Greenwich, known formally as the Bethel Zion Church.  Shown here, it was originally constructed of bricks and replaced by stone in the 1920s.When Jacob (lll) died in 1874, age 80, he was buried in the church cemetery.

By that time he had been replaced as the family distiller by his son, Adam Stein, born in 1819 of Jacob and Susan Sontag Stein.  Shown here, Adam bought his father’s property in Greenwich, including the farm and the distillery.   He continued to make the rye whiskey whose fame was spreading across Pennsylvania.  About 1847, at the age of 28, Adam married Floranda Bieber, a woman eight years younger.  He would be married twice, with both wives dying early.

Like his ancestors, Adam was a doer.  In 1857 he built a four story Federal style mill on a site where earlier mills had been owned and operated.  Shown here, it stands today as one of the oldest buildings in the township and on the Federal Register of Historic Places.  He also continued operation of the Stein Tavern on what became Pennsylvania State Highway 737.  In addition to distilling a popular applejack, Adam continued to produce the family rye.  According to an obituary, he “…kept up the reputation of that famous distillation in this section during the time when very little other spiritous liquor was used.”


Adam was known for his civic work, particularly his interest in education.  Following in his father’s footsteps, when the Keystone State Normal School at nearby Kutztown was envisioned, the farmer/distiller saw the need for an advanced education to train teachers and gave “liberal encouragement and support.”  As a result he was named one of the school’s first trustees and served for eleven years at the institution, shown above in a postcard view.  In 1864 Adam was elected a Berks County Commissioner for a three years term.

As he aged, Adam’s health declined and he died in May 1897 at the age of 77.  He was buried adjacent to his father Jacob in the cemetery at New Bethel Zion Church, the place where he had worshiped his entire life.

Adam’s first child had been a son, born in 1848 and baptized Isaac.  As soon as he reached maturity the Isaac had been brought into the management of the farm, distillery and tavern.  As his father faltered, the son took charge, buying the distillery outright in 1893 and continuing production of Stein’s Pure Rye.  Shown here, Isaac is credited as an innovator among the Steins.  Although farming had been the major occupation of his Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors, Isaac was primarily interested in distilling.  

According to a biography:  “Having years of experience in the business, he started out with more progressive ideas.”  Among them was updating the whiskey-making technology of his forefathers.  “The Old Stein Distillery was replaced with an entirely new plant, introducing all the latest equipment known in the distiller’s art.”

In 1876 at the age of 28 Isaac had married, his bride Tillinia E. Sechler, a local Pennsylvania woman.  They would have four children, the eldest a son, Charles, born in 1879, and three daughters.  As Charles advanced in age Isaac saw the need for more education in the 20th Century and sent him to the Keystone State Normal School, where he graduated in 1900.  After a brief teaching career, Charles joined his father in running the Stein distillery,  designated in Federal records as RD #79, Pennsylvania Tax District #1.



Father and son formed a new firm of I. B. Stein and Son, Distillers and Wholesale Liquor Dealers.  Indicative of this move into the wholesale whiskey business is a metal tray that carried the color portrait of a winsome young woman and advertised the slogan, “For Goodness Sake Drink…Stein’s Pure Old Rye.”  This lithographed object would be given to special customers like saloons and restaurants featuring the Steins’ whiskey.  Not meant as a carrying tray it was configured on the back to hang on the wall of a drinking establishment. 

Shown here, Charles rapidly established himself as a Kutztown businessman.  In addition to his post at the distillery, he helped organize the Kutztown Telephone and Telegraph Company, a business that could count 345 subscribers in 1916.  Charles was also a director of the Farmer’s Bank in Kutztown and active in local fraternal organizations.  In 1902 he married Nora A. Dietrich in Kutztown.  One son, Russell, was born from this union.

In 1915, a publication compiled for the Kutztown Centennial (1815-1915) paid special tribute to the family.  Under the headline “The Stein Family:  Distillers for Four Generations,”  it featured a full page of photos of Jacob, Adam, Isaac and Charles along with short biographies.  The coverage and lauding of Stein’s Pure Rye Whiskey must have been a source of pride for Isaac and Charles.  At the same time, however, they could see the advance of National Prohibition and knew that almost ninety years of distilling good Pennsylvania rye would soon come to an end.  The exact date of the shutdown I have not found, but the 1920 census recorded Isaac living in Kutztown, where the family had moved in 1905, and giving his occupation as “merchant.”  He was living with wife, Nora, and three daughters — all unmarried in their 30s.

Neither Isaac nor Charles lived to see the end of Prohibition. Isaac died in July 1928 at the age of 80.  Charles, only 52, died three years later.  Both are buried in Hope Cemetery at Kutztown.  Their adjacent graves are marked with a monument.   Thus a family dynasty of whiskey-makers that began in the early 1700s apparently because of a search for religious freedom in America ironically was ended by a religious crusade determined to stamp out any freedom to imbibe spiritous beverages.

Note:  Although this post was compiled from a number of references, as cited above a principal source of the Stein photos and biographical materials was “The Centennial History of Kutzown, Pennsylvania,” compiled by the Historical Committee of the Kutztown Centennial Assn., Chairman, W. W. Deatrick. 


















Thursday, July 18, 2019

The “Sporty Days” Simons of St. Louis

                         
Long before the advent of Viagra and Levitra, in the 19th and early 20th Century remedies for “male weakness” (i.e., erectile disfunction) abounded in the marketplace.  Among the most popular was “The Sporty Days Invigorator,” a nostrum that originated not from a pharmaceutical company but a St. Louis liquor house run by a family named Simon.  After passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, their invigorator would bring them into direct conflict with government authorities. 

The Simons’ chief antagonist was Dr. Harvey Washington Wylie (1844-1930), a physician who in 1882 became chief chemist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Shown here, the doctor was a crusader for passage of a pure food and drug law and instrumental in its approval by Congress in 1906.  Known as the “Father of the Pure Food and Drug Act,” Wylie and his Chemistry Bureau became the initial enforcers of the legislation.  

Dr. Wylie immediately took special aim at certain egregiously fraudulent patent medicines, such as “cures” for cancer and narcotics addiction, and eventually was successful in eliminating them.  Another particular objective of Wylie was suppressing nostrums that promised increased male sexual vigor.  They proliferated on the national market, often using provocative advertising, such as the dancing woman on the Sporty Days Invigorator pocket mirror above.

Other Simons’ advertising for their enhancer was even more suggestive.  The liquor house featured a postcard on which a winking cherub is holding a pair of female bloomers, with the caption:  “A pair of lace curtains for sister’s sitting room.”  The clear inference here is that the “youthful feelings” generated by Sporty Days Invigorator has allowed the user not only to work his will but to claim the lady’s undergarment as a trophy.   

Wylie might have made the Simons a specific target because of brazen advertising on its billhead that featured the Sporty Days Invigorator and then included the rampant falsehood:  “All goods guaranteed under national pure food law.”  Dr. Wylie was known to be particularly outraged by such statements.   Accordingly, in November 1908 his Bureau of Chemistry seized a shipment of the Sporty Days Invigorator and subjected it to testing.


The initial version of the law did not allow the government to judge a product on efficacy but only to prosecute for failure to list ingredients on the label.  Sporty Days Invigorator was absolutely silent on its make-up:  “…The label on said bottle did not declare the amount of alcohol contained therein, nor that said product contained any alcohol.”  The chemists found that the male enhancer exceeded 35% alcohol, almost the strength of straight gin.

Hauled into Federal District Court for Eastern Missouri in May 1910, the Simons pleaded guilty, were convicted, and fined $50 and costs.  This was the usual ploy of nostrum proprietors, most of whom were reluctant to engage in a court battle.  Fines were relatively modest and a guilty plea avoided negative publicity.  Wylie and his Bureau, however, were not finished with the Simons.   Less than three months after the Missouri verdict authorities in Texas seized two drums, each containing 200 bottles of Sporty Days Invigorator. 

This time the federal charge was the Simons’ failure accurately to list the ingredients.  The amount of alcohol listed was wrong, the authorities claimed, as was accounting for other ingredients, including sugar and flavorings.  This time Wylie indictment went further:  Sporty Days Invigorator “had no aphrodisiac properties, was not a cure for disease, and had none of the properties claimed for it” on the label.  The fine was $400 [equivalent today of almost $9,000] and court costs, with a proviso that the shipment would be destroyed if payment was delayed beyond six months.

Although the verdict was a setback, the Simons’ primary business was selling whiskey, not medicine.  The liquor company was formed in St. Louis about 1878 by Jacob Simon, birthplace unknown, when he was 36 years old.  By this time he was married to Sallie Bakrow Simon and was the father of one son, Julian.  Two more boys, Ira and Herbert, would follow.  My assumption is that Jacob had been working in Louisville’s brisk whiskey trade for some years and decided to strike out on his own.  He called his liquor store J. Simon & Co., located at 118 West Main Street.

Almost from the outset, Jacob called himself a distiller, claiming the Ashton Distillery Co. (RD#442, 5th District) located about twelve miles north of Bardstown, Kentucky, as his property.  While the record is fuzzy on that ownership, the Simons continued to identify themselves as proprietors throughout their company life. Shown here are two back-of-the-bar bottles advertising “Old Ashton Sour Mash” whiskey, a brand name they did not trademark.

As his sons matured, Jacob took them into his business.  Julian the eldest came on board about 1900 and the liquor house became J. Simon & Son.  Within several years, first Ira and then Herbert joined the firm, subsequently known as J. Simon & Sons.  At the time of the struggles with Dr. Wylie and the FDA, all four Simons were listed on company letterheads.  In January 1910  Jacob died.  He was buried in New Mount Sinai Cemetery and Mausoleum in Affton, Missouri.

The sons continued on with the family liquor trade, working under the original name.  They continued to use the “Ashton" brand as well as “Old Timbrook” and “Dairy Maid.”  Like many liquor houses of the time, they issued advertising shot glasses for their brands, as shown here.  With the coming of National Prohibition they were forced to shut down the business inherited from their father.  When each of them died years later their bodies were laid to rest with Jacob in a plot marked by the Simon name.

Despite the many years since The Sporty Days Invigorator disappeared from the market,  a quick search of the Internet reveals a variety of non-prescription substances currently being sold as “male enhancers.”  Some things apparently never change.  Dr. Wylie must be turning over in his grave. 


















Sunday, July 14, 2019

Pittsburgh’s John O’Connor: Benefactor to Young and Old


At his funeral, the Catholic archbishop of Pittsburgh eulogized:  “…Anything that I could say would be a poor tribute to a man, who according to his means and opportunities, was so large-hearted, so generous, so humble, so unostentatious in his exercise of his goodness and the bestowal of his benefactions.  Peace be to him.”  The archbishop was speaking of the man whose photo is at right — John O’Connor, a whiskey man through and through.

Unlike many Irish-American liquor dealers, O’Connor did not come from impoverished circumstances.  His father, the first Catholic settler of Auburn, New York, had arrived in 1810 and rapidly established himself as a community leader, including becoming warden of the State Penitentiary.  Born in 1825 John was accorded an exemplary education at Auburn Academy, left, and later as a student at the college of St. Suplice, Montreal, Canada, below.


Venturing west to Pittsburgh in 1847 at twenty-two years old, O’Connor carried a letter of introduction from William Seward, shown here, an Auburn attorney who would gain fame as Lincoln’s war secretary in the Civil War.  The youth’s early employment was as a successful hotel proprietor along the city’s bustling waterfront, shown below in a lithograph from that era.


In Pittsburgh, O’Connor met and in 1854 married Irish-born Mary Connelly, the immigrant daughter of a prominent merchant in County Donegal.  John was 29 and she was 24.  Educated beyond most Irish women, Mary has been described as “…A woman of the highest culture and refinement, and a heart overflowing with charity….”  The couple would have six children, four sons and two daughters.

At some point during the 1850s, O’Connor left the hotel business in favor of the liquor trade.  Pittsburgh was a thriving and important city during the Civil War, a significant source of arms, ammunition, and supplies to the Union Army.  The population burgeoned as workers arrived to find work, many of them new immigrants.  O’Connor, obviously having noted the profitability of alcohol sales in his hotels, shifted occupations.  An 1868 business directory recorded him operating a wine and liquor store at 104 Water Street on the waterfront and a saloon at 46 Ross Street.  The family was living above the saloon.

By the next decade, O’Connor’s liquor business and living quarters had moved to a new and larger location at 1814 Carson Street.  Shown here, the building still stands.  He advertised as “distillers and wholesale dealers in Pure Rye Whiskies, imported wines of every variety.”  In truth, he was not a distiller, instead obtaining his whiskey from elsewhere and often “rectifying” (blending) it before sales to saloons, restaurants and hotels.   

O’Connor packaged these goods in gallon or two gallon jugs for clients who in turn would decant them into smaller containers for retail use.  Shown here is an example of a cobalt stenciled jug used by the liquor house.

As his sons matured, John took them into his liquor business.  An 1899 directory entry lists Edward G. O’Connor working with his father.  In 1894 the name of the company was changed to “John O’Connor & Son.”  That name appears on a give-away item, a small barrel that contained several swallows of whiskey that would have been given to a select group of customers.  Later a second son, Paul, would be brought into the business and in 1912, “sons” was substituted in the company name.

Throughout this period the O’Connors continued to live above their store.  Money that the liquor dealer might have used to build a mansion went to the  philanthropic causes that the couple pursued.   John O’Connors' particular interest was in the orphans of Pittsburgh.  According to a biography:  “The building of the first St. Paul’s Orphan Asylum was the result of his study of conditions and untiring championship of its founding.”  Pittsburgh’s City Controller called O’Connor’s effort “a heroic achievement.”  Shown above are the orphanage structures; below, the sleeping quarters.


At his funeral, the Archbishop related of John:  “In earlier days when the orphans…were in greater need than at the present time, he not only gave what he could afford, he went from door to door and from one business house to another gathering food and clothing for the orphans….Almost every Sunday he visited the orphanage and inquired into their wants.”

In addition to orphans as the object of O’Connor’s philanthropy, he contributed generously to charitable institutions assisting the needy elderly, including the Little Sisters of the Poor home, and women in distress helped by the Sisters of Good Shepherd.  

O’Connor also was a major financial backer of the “Great Sanitary Fair” held in Pittsburgh during the Civil War, part of a national campaign.  That event opened in June 1864 to raise funds for wounded Union soldiers throughout the United States.  Through exhibitions and lectures on the grounds of the old Town Hall, more than $300,000 was raised — equivalent to $6.6 million today.  O’Connor was hailed as instrumental in making the event one of the Nation’s most successful fairs.  Accordingly, he was given a vote of gratitude by the local implementing committee and presented with the model of a mortar gun cast in a Pittsburgh foundry.

After 47 years of marriage, during which she had worked for many charitable causes side by side with her husband,  Mary O’Connor died in 1901. She was buried in Section N of Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery,  Allegheny County.  About the same time John retired from active management of his liquor house and son Edward took over.  As he aged, O’Connor suffered from a gradual loss of energy and muscle strength, eventually dying in 1912 at 86.  He was buried beside his wife in St. Mary Cemetery. 

John died as he lived, still residing above the liquor business he had founded more than sixty years earlier -- the source of the funds that fueled his philanthropy.  In death he continued as a benefactor to the needy, willing the greater part of his estate to charitable organizations.  The liquor house was continued by Edward O’Connor until shut down by National Prohibition in 1919.

As a final word, a biographer of John O’Connor provided this memorial:  “The warmth and generosity of his nature found its outlet in the performance of countless small deeds of kindness and in larger benefactions almost beyond number.”

Note:  Much of the information for this post and all direct quotes are taken from a 1922 biography of John O’Connor in a volume entitled “History of Pittsburgh and Environs” by Contributors and Staff Members of the American Historical Society, Inc., New York and Chicago.