Friday, September 27, 2019

Death Around Him, F.W. Bradley Made a Life

                    
From pre-teen to maturity, Francis William Bradley frequently experienced the deaths of loved ones and comrades, always moving on to new challenges,  He ultimately fetched up in San Diego, where he ran a saloon, established a wholesale liquor house, founded a bottling company, and owned a locally famous mineral spring.  For Bradley and his beverages, California truly was “The Golden State.”

The son of Nancy Scott and John Isom Bradley, a farmer, Francis was born in Audrain County, Missouri, in May 1848.  His grandfather William had moved west to Missouri from Virginia not long after the War of 1812, in which he had served as a teenaged soldier.  Many Southerners, taking advantage of inexpensive farmland, had moved to the area and Audrain was one of six counties popularly called “The Heart of Little Dixie.”

Francis would have his first experience of a loved one dying when his mother, Mary, passed away at the age of 33 when he was twelve.   An only child, he was raised by his father.  As soon as young Bradley was able, in the footsteps of his grandfather, he joined the Union Army in his mid teens.  It was something of a courageous decision.  Audrain County was sharply divided about the war.   Many Southern migrants had brought slaves and slaveholding traditions with them.  Their sons, Francis’ schoolmates, were joining the Confederate  Army.

In August 1864, Bradley enlisted as a private in Company A of the 44th Regiment of Missouri Infantry.  Enlistment papers provide the following description:  “Eyes: blue; hair, dark; complexion, fair; height 5 feet, 5 inches.”  He quickly was sent to the Union Army camp for basic training at Rolla, Missouri, shown here.  A month later Bradley was engaged in combat.  By November he had fought in three major battles against rebel forces in Tennessee:  the Battle of Columbia, the Battle of Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin.


At the Battle of Franklin, shown above, the Missouri 44th was severely tested.  As a regimental history tell the story:  “When the Confederate Army attacked the Union lines they were able to breach the area at the pike and as they did Union troops up front were forced back. The whole mass crashed right into the 44th Missouri. Simply stated, had the 44th faltered the Battle of Franklin may have been lost. Instead they stood their ground and fought with great courage until reinforcements came forward and until the retreating main line troops were able to gather themselves and rejoin the fight.”

In each battle Bradley had seen death all around as comrades and friends were killed on the field of combat.  He himself was hospitalized, whether for wounds or disease is not clear, and in late 1864 sent to the Army hospital at Rolla.  Months later he was transferred to the Marine General Hospital in St. Louis where he was mustered out of the service, discharged for disability.  Although he later received a pension as an “invalid,” his medical condition apparently did not hamper his subsequent career.

His father having died during the war and with no immediate family left in Audrain County, after the Civil War Bradley moved about 200 miles west to St. Joseph, Missouri.  St. Joe, as it was known by many, was the “jumping off point” for pioneers heading west.  Often wagon trains tarried in the city, buying supplies and waiting for favorable conditions.  St. Joe teemed with saloons and Bradley, 23 years old and a bachelor, found employment in one of them.

During the early 1870s Francis also found a wife in St. Joseph.  She was Rachel Louisa Juliett Blondeau, a woman six years younger than he, born in Illinois of French immigrant parents.  They were married on April 21, 1874, with the Rev. Henry Bullard, pastor of St. Joseph’s Westminster Presbyterian Church presiding.  In quick succession the couple would have two sons, William B. and John E.  The 1880 census found the Bradleys living on French Street in St. Joe. Francis continued to be listed as a saloon keeper.  

What occasioned Bradley to moved his family across the continent to San Diego is not clear.  Traffic through St. Joseph had fallen off during the 1890s as railway transport opened up large areas of the West. The saloonkeeper may have decided that brighter prospects awaited 1,700 miles away.  About 1887 the Bradleys moved to San Diego, shown below as it looked at his arrival. There Francis is initially recorded partnering in a saloon called “Bradley & Williams.” 


Only a year later death again was to strike down loved one.  Rachel, Francis’ wife of 14 years, died in May 1888, leaving him to raise their two sons, William 14 and John 11.  About the same time San Diego directories recorded Bradley and a partner as proprietors of the “Eintracht” Saloon at 963 Fifth Street.  Meaning in German “peace and harmony,” the Eintracht was one of city’s more upscale drinking establishments. A subsequent owner would call it a “resort.”  The saloon featured a hot lunch available before noon, cold steam and lager beer, and mixed drinks — nor just shots of rotgut at the bar.

By 1891, perhaps in part to have a mother for his sons, Francis married again.  She was Ella A., a woman about his age who was born in Maine of parents from New England.  The couple would have no children.  The 1900 census found the family living downtown at the corner of Front Street and Broadway in San Diego where Bradley was running the Albemarle Hotel.  The hostelry, built in 1888 during an economic boom, billed itself as a family hotel.  It also was popular with officers of the ships docked in the nearby bay, as well as traveling theater companies and comedy troupes.


The next few years would mark the heyday of Bradley’s success in San Diego.  California would live up to its reputation as “The Golden State.”  After leaving the hotel job Francis founded two businesses, the Bradley Spring Water and Bottling Company, located at 1225 C Street,  and F.W. Bradley Wholesale Wines and Liquors, located at 1058-1062 Fourth Avenue.  Francis advertised his liquor house relentlessly.   The ad shown above ran at the top of dozens of pages of the 1901 San Diego business directory. Bradley’s flagship brand was “Good Roads,” a blended whiskey.  He was issued a trademark for the name in February 1910.

At his liquor house Bradley was rectifying (blending) his own brands of whiskey in order to achieve a particular color, smoothness and taste, then retailing it in his own bottles. Shown here are an amber quart and a closeup of the embossed label.  Note the elaborate monogram of Bradley’s initials.  The transplanted Missourian also merchandised his liquor in clear embossed pint flasks, as shown below.  Both containers likely initially bore paper labels that have been lost with the passage of time. 


Throughout his career as a San Diego whiskey merchant, Bradley advertised his goods vigorously.  Showing a figure straddling a rail, one ad asserted:  “On the fence as to where to secure the best wines and liquors of all kinds?  Settle the question by buying here.  Don’t poison yourself by buying inferior liquors when you can buy pure goods at very little more cost….Buy here and be sure of quality….”

At the same time, the proprietor’s spring water and bottling plant were flourishing.  Francis claimed to be sole owner of what he called “the Celebrated Bradley Spring” near San Diego. His ads touted his bottled spring water as “a pure natural mineral water, efficacious in all kind of kidney and stomach problems.”

His company also sold a full line of carbonated soft drinks, including root beer, ginger ale and flavored soda waters.   Bradley bottled his non-alcoholic beverages in Hutchinson type bottles that featured a spring stopper that prevented the escape of carbonation.  Those bottles also carried his embossed name.


Both enterprises seemingly proved to be highly profitable, allowing Francis and Ella to buy one of San Diego’s more elegant homes, shown here.  It is now on the register of San Diego historical houses.  Constructed in 1887, the mansion is said to exemplify the “architectural and aesthetic development of San Diego in the Second Empire Victorian style.  Located at 1546 A Street, the house was a “medium to large” elite dwelling.  The Bradley’s purchased it from the original owner in 1904 but lived in it only two years and sold, possibly finding it too large for a couple living alone.

Then death visited Francis Brady once again.  Ella, his wife of 16 years, the woman who had helped him raise his sons into maturity and stood by him as he advanced in business and wealth, died in March 1907 at the age of 55.  Within a year, Bradley had married a third time.  She was Ida May Little,  born in California, the daughter of William and Honora Little of San Diego.  One record shows her as having been married earlier, possibly in her early teens.  At the time of their nuptials, Ida May was 32, Francis was 60 — a 28 year difference in their ages. At least for a time, they may have lived apart.  The 1910 census indicates that although recorded as married, Bradley was lodging alone at an apartment building on San Diego’s D Street, his occupation given as “merchant-wines.”

Two years later, death, something that Bradley had known so well in his life, became personal.  He succumbed to a heart attack in San Diego on May 3, 1912.  He was 66 years, 11 months and 10 days old.  Under the auspices of the Heintzelman Post, No. 33 of the G.A.R., his funeral was held at the chapel of a local funeral home.  Francis Bradley was buried San Diego’s Mount Hope Cemetery.  Shown here is the graveyard monument memorializing his Civil War service.

Addendum:  Bradley’s relationship with third wife Ida May, despite some apparent separation, must have remained cordial because he named her as the administratrix of his very substantial estate.  A controversy subsequently arose with the whiskey man’s other heirs, likely his sons William and John, over a private sale of property by Ida May.  They claimed that it had been sold at considerably less than it was worth and hinted at collusion.  After hearing arguments the probate judge voided the sale.  

Note:  The information and illustrations for this post have been taken from wide variety of sources.  Two of the more important ones are the Western Whiskey Gazette website of January 20, 2010, featuring a brief story and images of Bradley whiskey bottles, and a Legacy 106 Historic House Research report by Ronald V. May and Kiley Wallace on the former Bradley mansion, a document that contains a brief biography of the whiskey man.






















































































Monday, September 23, 2019

Was Joseph Greenhut “Svengali of The Whiskey Trust”?

       
In his pioneering 1963 book on American whiskey,  Gerald Carson called Joseph Greenhut:  “The organizer and promoter, the diplomat, the handler of men, the Svengali of the Whiskey Trust….”   In a 2013 account Clay Risen has termed Greenhut, shown here,  “immensely corrupt” and a “conniving stereotype of the Gilded Age tycoon.”  Yet a 1902 biography extolled the same man as “…Honored by all who know him…for his generosity , his ability as a man of business and his sterling upright character.”   What is going on here?

The answer lies somewhere in the story of Joseph Bendist Greenhut, born in February 1843 at a military post in Teinitz, Austria.  After his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage, the family moved to Chicago when Joseph was about nine years old.  His formal schooling ended at the age of 13 when he was apprenticed to learn tin and copper smithing.  That trade took him to Mobile, Alabama, for two years, where he may have developed a strong antipathy to slavery.

When the Civil War broke out Joseph immediately returned to Chicago and in April 1861 became city’s second enlistee as a private in the 12th Illinois Volunteers.  Soon promoted to sergeant, Greenhut was badly wounded in the right arm during Grant’s attack on Fort Donelson, and sent home to recover.  By 1862, the Austrian immigrant was back in uniform and captain of Company K, 82nd Illinois Infantry.  


Greenhut subsequently fought in the Virginia campaigns and was at Gettysburg where he displayed conspicuous bravery.  He was transferred to General Hecker’s staff as the adjutant-general and in this command experienced more hot combat, particularly at Lookout Mountain in the battle for Chattanooga.  Later he would be appointed one of three Illinois commissioners for monuments on the Gettysberg battlefield, including one for the 82nd Illinois, shown here.

When his health seriously deteriorated in 1864, Greenhut was forced resign his commission and given the rank of brevet-colonel.  He returned to Chicago where initially he used his metal-crafting capabilities to fashion a number of useful agricultural and other mechanical devices.  Joseph also found a wife in the Windy City.  In October 1866, he married Clara Wolfner, a woman extolled as a “true helpmate” who is reputed to have taken a deep interest his undertakings and encouraged his ambitions.  The couple would have four children, Fannie V., Benist J., Nelson W., and a son who died in infancy.

Perhaps it was the financial challenge of his growing family that caused Greenhut to make a sharp pivot away from mechanics to the whiskey trade.  Over the next few years he worked for several Chicago liquor houses, in 1869 rising to secretary-treasurer of one.  But Joseph’s ambition had a wider scope than anything Chicago could offer.   Peoria, Illinois, to the south provided more expansive grounds for a go-getter’s whiskey interest.

In late 1879 when he arrived in Peoria, the thriving downtown shown here, Greenhut is said to have come with just $50 in his pocket, indicating that his Chicago experience had not proved particularly lucrative.  Boasting some 73 distilleries operating between 1837 and 1919, Peoria often was called the “Whiskey Capital of the World.”  The city was renown in the trade because of its plentiful supply of grain; clean and abundant spring water;  convenient rail, water, and road transportation, and ample wood and coal for fuel.


Greenhut took a job with a grain dealer who also ran a distillery to use surplus grain and to sell spent whiskey mash for cow feed.   Within two years, the German immigrant rose to the top of the distilling division and in 1881 broke away to start his own distillery.  Shown above, Greenhut called it “The Great Western Distillery,” a facility that became among the nation’s largest.  Even after the disastrous 1882 Chicago fire that destroyed the plant, he quickly rebuilt and resumed making whiskey.

By the early 1880s overproduction of whiskey had caused prices to decline to the great alarm of the distilling community.  Initial attempts to curtail production proved unsuccessful.  Then in 1887 Greenhut and other distillery owners, using as a model the Standard Oil Trust, created the Distillers and Cattle Feeders Association, better known as the “Whiskey Trust.”  At its formation the Trust combined 65 distilleries, including 24 in Illinois.  Twelve were in Peoria, which became its headquarters at 217 N. Jefferson Avenue.  One of nine trustees and a moving force, Joseph Greenhut was elected president.   He had reached the pinnacle of the liquor industry.  

In its early days, the Trust made a profit and paid dividends.  Those payments were made to convince still other distilleries to join.  Some did.  Compensation also was paid to wholesale dealers and “recifiers” (whiskey blenders) who promised to buy only from Trust distillers.  For holdouts, the Trust would move into an area and undercut their prices—join the Trust or go out of business.  Sometimes the Trust used violence.  A Chicago hold-out, the H. H. Schufeldt company, was dynamited.  [See my post on Schufeldt, June 4, 2012.]

Greenhut was responsible for bringing to the United States a Japanese scientist, Dr. Jokici Takamine, with an idea for cutting distilling costs.  The scientist is shown above left with Greenhut in a cartoon.   Central to distilling is an enzyme obtained from malt made by germinating barley.  As Takamine knew, the enzyme in Japan is derived from a fungus grown on rice and is far more active and less expensive to prepare than malt.  The scientist saw commercial opportunities for the process in the American liquor business and wrote letters of solicitation to major distilling outfits.  Greenhut envisioned a way of cutting costs for Trust distilleries and set Takamine up with a laboratory.  In the end nothing came of the experiment. [See my post on Takamine, August 5, 2018.]

The Whiskey Trust initially flourished.  Although more than 80 distilleries joined the monopoly, only a handful were allowed to continue production.  From 1888 to 1895, its heyday, the Trust produced 300.4 million gallons of alcohol.  That was 75 percent of all alcohol made in the United States.   With that seeming stranglehold on American whiskey production in 1888 Greenhut and the Trust responded by raising prices, in part to help pay off extravagant bonuses they earlier had promised to distillers who joined.

When that strategy simply brought into the marketplace new distilleries with lower  whiskey prices, Greenhut tried a series of ploys, including reneging on bonuses and rebates to get funds to buy additional distilleries.  The Trust slowly was  sliding into insolvency.  Increasingly the Trust president was being blamed.  Whiskey men and others holding a vast majority of the stock demanded a meeting with him and his fellow directors.  Greenhut tried one more gambit.  He asked a federal court to “appoint a receiver to control the assets and ensure their responsible use” and then sought appointment as a receiver.  Dissident stockholders protested and the judge agreed with them.  After eight years, Greenhut was out.  With him went his son, Benedict, who had been hired as his father’s personal secretary.

Nevertheless, Joseph Greenhut exited a very rich man.  His 35-room mansion on Peoria’s Sheridan Street, shown here, featured a tall tower, a turret and a glass conservatory.  It was of red brick construction and had an adjacent carriage house, replete with white cast iron horse heads.  As testimony to his influence, in 1889 Greenhut entertained President William McKinley there.  He had met McKinley during the war.  He also boasted a beachfront house on the New Jersey shore that in 1916 he loaned to President Woodrow Wilson as a Summer White House. 

Having exited distilling, Greenhut remained as president of the National Cooperage and Woodware Company of Peoria, accounted one of the country’s largest, and was a major investor in the Central Railway Company, later the New York Central.  He also was heavily into banking, including Peoria’s German-American Bank, the Merchants National Bank, and the National Bank of the Republic located in Chicago. He also is credited with founding the Glucose Company of America.

Greenhut eventually sold his Peoria home to a brother-in-law and moved to New York City.  There he bought a major Gotham dry good store known as Siegel-Cooper. Son Benedict joined him there as secretary-treasurer of the corporation.  After more than a decade of living in New York,  Joseph died in November 1918, age 75.  He is buried adjacent to Clara in Salem Fields Cemetery of Brooklyn, right, in a family mausoleum.  His estate has been estimated at $10 million, 20 times that in today’s dollar.

Greenhut made sure that his former home place would remember him fondly for a long, long time.   His was a two-thirds contribution to the erection of Peoria’s the Grand Army of the Republic Building, designated as the “Greenhut Memorial Hall.”  Even today portraits of Joseph and Clara are displayed and a plaque outside commemorates his contribution.  

Greenhut also underwrote the construction of the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors monument in Peoria’s Courthouse Square.  Additionally, in 1902 a biographer opined:  “Mr. and Mrs. Greenhut are noted for their helpfulness to the poor and all in want or trouble.”

Others might argue that Greenhut’s philanthropy might have emerged from ill-gotten gains.  Carson asserts that:  “Greenhut found his metier in manipulating stocks for the benefit of insiders….”  Risen similarly points out that the whiskey man was repeatedly accused of financial impropriety:  “…Rumors floated around Wall Street that its stock was inflated  by 10 times what the company [Trust] was worth, and that Greenhut was skimming off the difference.”

For all that, despite vigorous attention from federal and state authorities, Greenhut was never accused of a crime or brought before the bar of justice. Moreover, Charles C. Clarke, a Peoria distiller who early broke from the Trust,  testified before a Congressional committee that poor management practices, not fraud, ultimately doomed the monopoly.  Those flaws certainly can be laid at the feet of Greenhut as Trust president.  But bad judgment is not a crime.  Analysts in our own day have concluded that given the nature of the U.S. distilling industry it was impossible from the outset for the Trust entirely to corner the market on whiskey.  Thus, the true character of Joseph Greenhut remains an enigma.

Note:  This vignette has been created from a wide number of sources.  Principal among them are Gerald Carson, “The Social History of Bourbon,” 1963;  Clay Risen in an article in the Virginia Quarterly Review, October 28, 2013; and the “Encyclopedia of Illinois & History of Peoria County,” ed. David McCulloch, 1902.  This McCulloch is not the famed American historian.































Thursday, September 19, 2019

Fritz Jessen: A Migrating Soldier and His Arizona Saloon


It is an historical fact that almost a quarter of the troops fighting for the Union in the Civil War were foreign born, among them some 216,000 from Germany.  Less well known were the thousands of immigrants who stayed in the military, moved West and fought in the Indian Wars.  Among them was Fritz Jessen who eventually found a permanent home in Prescott, Arizona, running a popular saloon and earning praise as “a good citizen in every sense of the word.”

Jessen was born in Hamburg, Germany, in November 1842.  When he was eight years old, he arrived in American with family members who settled in Massachusetts.  The youth continued his education in American schools but I find no record of an early occupation.  He was 19 when the Civil War broke out, joining the 29th Regiment Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry in December 1861, the only non-Celtic regiment in the famed Irish Brigade.


Over the next four years the young German would experience considerable hot combat.  Deployed to a variety of theaters, Jessen’s regiment took part in 29 battles and four sieges, including Vicksburg.  Just before the South surrendered, during the siege of Petersburg, Jessen’s unit suffered its worst casualties of the war during the March 1865 Battle of Fort Stedman, shown above.  Jessen appears to have escaped serious injury throughout the conflict.

Unlike other Union soldiers, who went back to civilian pursuits at war’s end, Jessen stayed on as the battalion was reorganized and re-designated in 1866 as the U.S.12th Infantry Regiment and ordered to the Presidio of San Francisco to counter resistance from Indian tribes. In June 1870 the federal census found him there, unmarried and 28, assigned to the Signal Corps.  Stationed with him were a number of other German-born soldiers.  It is likely that Jessen took part in the war against the Modoc tribe in California during 1872-1873.

In California, Fritz found a wife, Mary L. Clinton, born in New Jersey.  Married in Arcata, he was 31 and Mary 18.  The couple would have three sons, Frederick, born in 1875;  Richard, 1876, and Charles, 1884.  By 1880, Jessen had been ordered to Fort Whipple near Prescott, Arizona Territory.  Shown here is the original headquarters building as it looks today.  

From the amount drunkenness and violence reported in Prescott involving soldiers, discipline appears to have been lax at Fort Whipple.  Jessen may have been among the witnesses to the hanging of a soldier at the fort, convicted of murder, shown here.


Perhaps as early as 1882, Jessen left the Army for a civilian occupation, having his eye on the Arizona Brewery, a brewery and saloon that had been founded in 1867.  As a former soldier, Fritz recognized that cost considerations meant that beer, not whiskey, was the preferred drink of the troops.  As a German, he also knew something about beer.  In 1882 after the murder of the brewery’s German Swiss owner, Jessen stepped in to buy the property and changed its name to the Headquarters Saloon.  Located on busy Gurly Street, it is shown on the postcard view below, the two story frame building second from right.


As a partner, Jessen took Valentine Riehl, who had been the “boss brewer,” at the Arizona Brewery.  While Fritz clearly needed the kind of beer-making expertise the German-born co-owner brought, he soon might have realized a mistake. Riehl was a “bad actor” even by Wild West standards.  By 1886, the two had split with Riehl heading to San Bernardino, California, where it was reported he bludgeoned a fellow worker to the point of killing him. Later, Riehl was convicted of attempting to beat to death with a whip his common law wife, known as “English Rose” and sentenced to two years in San Quentin.  

Now sole proprietor of The Headquarter Saloon, Jessen advertised frequently in the local newspapers, emphasizing sales of both draft and bottled beer. He also claimed to have “The best Wines, Liquors and Cigars in the market always on hand.”  Over the next few years, Jessen thrived in his adopted city.  The Headquarters Saloon proved to be one the most popular in Prescott, known throughout the West for its teeming “Whiskey Row” of drinking establishments.


 As a Civil War veteran Jessen was an active member of the local Barrett Post of the G.A.R.  He also apparently held a local office, possibly elective, involved with Prescott schools.  Then tragedy struck.  Fritz’s beloved wife, Mary, became seriously ill and in November 1891 died in Prescott.  She was only 35.   Charles, their youngest son, was still a boy of seven;  Frederick and Richard were in their mid-teens.  Townspeople said Jessen never got over his wife’s death.  His health declined and he sold the Headquarters Saloon and retired to look after his family.  A second blow fell in 1898 when Richard, only 22, also died.

The 1900 census found the three surviving men living together on North Granite Street in Prescott.  Frederick was working as a cattle herder, Charles as a day laborer.  Later Charles would go to work at the Iron King Mine in nearby Humboldt, Arizona.  Jessen was given no occupation.  Although said to be feeble, he remained active with the veterans and was frequently seen around town “cheerful and good spirited.” 

As the years passed, Fritz grew increasingly weaker.  One day in May,1903, he was seen downtown, joking with friends.  The following day at his home he was discovered lying unconscious in a pool of blood by a man who had come to paint his house.  A physician was summoned but Jessen was beyond help,  He never regained consciousness and died about 11 A.M. that day.  He was 69.  The coroner ruled that death had occurred when an artery in his head had been ruptured.  His sons quickly returned to Prescott to make funeral arrangements.

The local press was full of tributes to a man hailed as a Civil War veteran and longtime Prescott resident.  Said the Weekly Arizona Journal Miner “Deceased from his long residence in Prescott had made a great many friends, who will be pained to hear of his death. He was a good citizen in every sense of the word, and during his business career, was always progressive and enterprising, taking a natural pride in the progress of the town.”

Jesson’s rites were held a week later at Logan’s undertaking parlor under the auspices of the G.A.R.  As reported in the newspaper, his funeral “was quite largely attended” by the people of Prescott.  He was buried next to Mary and Richard at the town’s Citizen Cemetery.   Fittingly, his tombstone memorialized him not as a saloon owner or an Indian fighter but for his Civil War service to the Nation as a private in Company A of the 29th Massachusetts Volunteers. 

Clearly touched by the outpouring of sympathy and support they had received from the Prescott community over the death of their father, the Jesson boys responded in the press with a “card of thanks” to its residents:  “We hereby extend our heartfelt thanks to the many kind and sympathetic friends who assisted us in the hour of need occasioned by the death of our father, Fritz Jessen.”   A tough town had shown some love for an old veteran and longtime resident.

Note:  Fritz Jessen and his Headquarters Saloon are the third post on this blog involving Prescott’s Whiskey Row.  Earlier I featured F. G. McCoy and his Wellington Saloon (April 4, 2016) and Dan Thorne and his Cabinet Saloon (August 26, 2016).  A brief mention of Jessen in the book “Prescott’s Original Whiskey Row,” by Bradley G. Courtney, published in 2015, prompted my searching out the “back story” on the German immigrant.  The 29th Mass. also was featured in my earlier post about another whiskey man, Col. Lawrence L. Logan of Boston (August 2, 2019).
























Sunday, September 15, 2019

Whiskey Men As Journalists

                                           
Foreword:  Three of the most important men in the history of American whiskey before National Prohibition were journalist writers who understood that the liquor trade was one of the nation’s most important industries, at the time generating the majority of tax revenues for the U.S. government.  These men put enormous effort into advancing good trade practices and discouraging bad. 

About 1880, William Mida established a wholesale liquor house in Chicago.  Although it was successful,  Mida’s restless mind saw a grave need in America’s liquor industry and determined to fill it.  In 1883 he published “Mida’s Handbook for Wholesale Liquor Dealers.”  Its success encouraged him to publish a semi-monthly journal devoted to the trade, much of it devoted to explaining state liquor laws. He called it “Mida’s Criterion” and published it for nearly three decades.  The success of the magazine prompted Mida to establish a publishing house, called Criterion Press.  In quick succession he issued a number of publications. 


Perhaps the most famous of them was “Mida’s National Register of Trade-Marks,” published in 1893, with a second volume in 1895 and a combined volume in 1898.  During that period trademarks were a dicey proposition.  A tough 1870 law had been struck down as interference with interstate commerce.  Disputes over whiskey brand names were common and judges generally were unwilling to enforce the laws that existed if any home state interests were involved.  Into this situation stepped William Mida.  He believed that the trademarking of brands was a key to the orderly growth of the whiskey industry and in his register listed the several hundred trademarks that already had been recorded with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 


Mida’s work was valuable in letting whiskey men know what brand names already had been registered.   The index was by brand name, not company and thus easy to reference.  He also was pushing the importance of registration to the liquor trade. When a stronger trademark law was passed by Congress in April 1905, with Mida’s backing it rapidly gained acceptance among distillers and rectifiers.  At the same time he was trying to make sense for the liquor industry of the blizzard of federal and state laws, ever-changing and often reflecting the work of prohibition forces.  In “Mida’s Compendium” (1889) and later “Mida’s Compilation of State and Federal Pure Food Laws” (1906),  he parsed the laws and tried to answer questions about their application.

William Mida’s impact on the pre-Prohibition liquor trade was immense.  When he died  in October 1915 at the age of 76,  a leading beverage industry publications said in his obituary:   “He was probably the best known man among the distillers and liquor dealers in the United States and during his lifetime did much to advance their interests.”  

Shown here, George Rudy Washburne gave up his pursuit being a “big butter and egg man” in Louisville, Kentucky, to turn his attention to a more lucrative trade — liquor.  It led to his founding and leading for 32 years a publication called the “Wine and Spirits Bulletin” where he became a vocal and influential leader in the ultimately losing fight against “Dry” forces pushing toward state and national prohibition of alcohol.

In 1886, while a partner in a short-lived Louisville, Kentucky, commission house Washburne, described as a “hustler,” also was publishing a small newsletter aimed at the Louisville whiskey industry.   He called it the “Wine and Spirits Bulletin.”  Washburne proved to have a natural ability as an editor and publisher.   Originally a four page weekly, eventually the Bulletin became a monthly of some 50 pages, well-illustrated and providing substantial news and information.  It became essential reading for whiskey men.

Initially the Bulletin was primarily an organ of the whiskey industry in the Ohio Valley, covering Kentucky and Cincinnati, at the time the leading city in liquor marketing.  Eventually the publication would open adjunct offices in New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, Buffalo, Milwaukee and New Orleans.  A review of Bulletin front covers indicates that the publication was drawing advertisements from distillers and rectifiers around the country. 

Washburne did not ignore the general population.  In 1911 and again in 1914 he published a booklet he called “Beverages de Luxe,” a pioneering prelude to the “drink books” that currently flood the reading marketplace.  He explained in a foreword:  “Despite a spirit of fanaticism that periodically passes over the land, there is no denying that fine beverages are among the things that make life brighter, happier and worth while. A knowledge as to the best of them, their selection, their care and their serving, is, therefore, not amiss.”  The publication provided recipes for cocktails of the era to the drinking public.  

Most of Washburne’s efforts, however, were providing news and editorials about the growing trend in America toward banning alcohol in localities, states, and ultimately the entire country.  As the U.S. inched closer to National Prohibition, a group of  brewers in 1918, hoping to make friends of the powerful Anti-Saloon league, pointed fingers at distilled spirits as the culprit while championing beer as “food.”  In effect, those beer makers were breaking with the distilling industry in last ditch effort to save themselves.  Washburne wisely saw the folly in that approach, writing that:  “If the brewers begin a warfare on distilled beverages, they will, in our opinion, make a very great mistake….”  He understood that the forces of “dry” were intent on shutting down every saloon in America and cared not at all if liquor were served or only beer.  Events soon would prove him right.  As National Prohibition became assured in 1919, his client base was doomed. Washburne after 32 successful years was forced to cease publishing the Wine and Spirits Bulletin. 

Beginning as a printshop owner Charles Austin Bates was motivated by the lure of a high salary to become a journalist in New York City writing for “Printer’s Ink,” the leadlng publication of the advertising industry.  He rapidly became aware that much of what passed for advertising in America was inferior.  Soon Bates began his own publication called “Criticism” in which he advertised as following: “Send me two dollars, along with a batch of your trade paper, magazine, or newspaper ads, and I will send you a critical opinion of them with suggestions for their improvement, if improvement is possible.”


With advertising as a crucial element in liquor merchandising for distillers, rectifiers and dealers,  Bates frequently was called upon to provide advice to practitioners in that industry.  An example was Samuel Alexander (S.A.) Sloman, a whiskey wholesaler of Detroit and Cincinnati.  Sloman in the late 1900s devised a business plan that largely depended on luring customers by marketing his “Diamond Wedding Whiskey” heavily through display ads in Midwestern newspapers.  After several years of vigorous and expensive advertising, one example shown here, Sloman realized demand for Diamond Wedding Whiskey had remained slack.  


Clearly frustrated by the poor results of his advertising blitz, in 1898 Sloman sent Bates copies of his newspaper ads.  What Bates sent him back, according to Sloman, was “a beautiful roasting.”  Nonetheless the whiskey man was grateful:  “However, after recovering from the first shock cause by all the unpleasant things you said about our advertising effort, and the realization that so many hard earned dollars had been diverted in practically useless channels, we started in to follow some of the suggestions thrown out for our benefit.”   

Paying another $2.00 to Bates Sloman sent Bates a copy of an advertising booklet that he had issued in 50,000 copies.  They had been sent to dealers, imprinted with their names, for distribution to customers in hopes of enticing them to buy Diamond Wedding.  I cannot find a record of Bates’ response.  But his “copy credo” was well known:  “Show price.  Use simple English.  Never overestimate the consumer’s IQ.”  Finally and most important:  “Be truthful.” 

With those few commandments, Bates not only help to raise the general quality of advertising in America but more particularly that of a liquor industry that too often ventured into hyperbole and sometimes told outright lies.  As for S.A. Sloman, he eventually gave up selling whiskey and returned to his family’s lucrative furrier business, presumably a happier man.

Note:  Each of these three men have been treated in greater detail in prior posts:  William Mida, Febuary 25, 2014;  George Washburne, June 11, 2019; and Charles Austin Bates,  March 10, 2015 and September 10, 2018.