Friday, November 29, 2019

Arizona’s John Keller and his Fashion Saloon



In 1903, the New York Sun proclaimed Jerome, Arizona, to be "the wickedest town in the West.”  As the proprietor of the Fashion Saloon, Johannes “John” Keller knew that his establishment, advertised as “The Leading Sporting House in Northern Arizona,” was an important element in that reputation.  There is no reason to believe Keller cared.

Shown here in a passport photo about age 40, Keller was born in Oberlengingen, Wurttenburg, Germany, in 1880.  When he was just thirteen, likely with family members, he came to the United States, embarking from Bremen, Germany, aboard the steamship Darmstadt, shown below.   Keller seems almost immediately to have headed for the Arizona Territory, settling for a time in Prescott, a town noted for its “Whiskey Row.”  He may have learned the saloon keeping in one of those drinking establishments.


What would have brought the German youth to Jerome is unclear.  The 1890s had been important decade for what heretofore had been a small mining camp at the edge of a low mountain called Cleopatra Hill.  Eastern money men, seeing a future in copper mining, built a small smelter there and constructed wagon roads connecting it to larger Arizona towns and a railroad junction. 

Shown here as it looked in 1893, Jerome’s population grew from about 250 in 1890 to more than 2,500 by 1900.  By then its United Verde Mine had become the leading producer of copper in the Arizona Territory, employing about 800 men, and was one of the largest mines in the world.  Experts have attested that the copper deposits of Jerome were among the richest ever found, with an estimated value of $1 billion.

By 1900 Jerome boasted a post office, a school, a public library, churches and a downtown with telephone service and electric lights.  Holding a population that was 4/5ths male, the town’s fleshpots were thriving.  Saloons, gambling parlors and prostitutes proliferated, the last, as shown here, openly plying their trade on the streets.  Looking at Jerome from 2,400 miles away the New York Sun declared it “the wickedest town in the West.”

Meanwhile, Keller, aware that fires had ravaged Jerome and its wooden buildings repeatedly in the past, set out to construct in brick the most elegant drinking and gambling establishment the Territory had ever seen.  As testimony to its construction, the building, shown here at far left in a photo, still stands today. 

When it opened in the late 1890s, Keller christened it “The Fashion Saloon.”  It featured fancy chandeliers and eleven different games of chance, including stud poker, roulette, faro, craps and monte, a card game of Spanish origin.  In the rear was a stage for musical and dance performances; the basement held a beer and lunch hall with separate rooms for couples and families.  Elements of the Fashion Saloon’s interior have been reconstructed at the original site by the local historical society.


In addition to selling drinks over the bar Keller apparently was retailing whiskey received by the barrel via the railroads and bottled in his own establishment.  He  sold the liquor in ceramic jugs or glass containers.  Half-pint jugs bearing the name “Fashion Saloon” have drawn considerable collector interest. 

The jugs feature both medium and dark brown tops and an underglaze label.  Those containers would have been given away to special customers, possibly at holidays.  Free in their own day, today these jugs command fancy prices.  As shown below, the Jerome museum also contains a variety of old glass bottles found around the town but I have been unable to establish any belonging to the Fashion.


After running the Fashion for about 25 years, Keller was forced to shut the doors on his saloon and gambling hall in 1915 when Arizona, with women allowed to vote, passed laws prohibiting the making or sale of alcohol. He soon fetched up as the manager of the Connor Hotel.  Built by a local businessman in 1898, the hotel for a time was the height of luxury. Originally designed with 20 rooms upstairs, the lodging house also offered a barroom, card rooms, and billiard tables on the first floor. Rooms rented for $1.00 per night.


Under Keller’s management the Connor continued to enjoy a reputation as one of the finer hotels in the boom-and-bust mining towns of the West. The hotel had its own bus for delivering guests to and from the train depot and was full to capacity much of the time. It was one of the earliest buildings in Jerome to be fully wired for electricity, and each room had a call bell for service. Keller and his wife lived there.

Because he seemed always to avoid the Federal census taker, little is known about Keller’s personal life.  He was married and his wife appears with him in a 1924 passport photo.  Her name and other details about her background, possible children, and other details remain to be filled in.  In the post-Prohibition years, Keller made several trips to Europe, recorded on passport applications.  In 1919 he returned to Germany to see his aging father.  In 1922, ostensibly on business, his itinerary included Germany, France and England.  In 1924, taking his wife with him, the couple visited the same three countries, adding Switzerland, Holland and Belgium.  This time the objective stated was “travel and business.”  On the application, Keller reassumed his original given name, “Johannes.”

Meanwhile the fortunes of Jerome were beginning to reverse.  Fires continued to ravage the largely clapboard downtown and periodically had to be rebuilt.   One observer has noted:  “In 1918 underground mining phased out after uncontrollable fires erupted in the 88 miles of tunnels under the town. Open pit mining brought dynamiting. The hills rattled and buildings cracked... the surface began to shift and sections of the business district slid downward.”  Among the damage, the town jail slid 225 feet and ended up across the road from its original site.

Despite these setbacks, Jerome today is not a ghost town, still boasting a population of about 450 and offering a number of attractions to visiting tourists.  Keller’s “Leading Sporting House in Northern Arizona” today is the Jerome Historical Society Museum, containing artifacts of the mining town’s heyday. The Connor Hotel once again is open for business, offering a “Western lodging experience.”

Note:  So far I have been unable to ascertain much about Johannes Keller’s private life or his date of death and place of interment.  My hope is that, as has happened with some frequency in the past, a sharp-eyed reader will see this post and provide additional information about this extraordinary saloonkeeper.














Tuesday, November 26, 2019

How Lem Motlow Got Away with Murder


When describing Lemuel ”Lem” Motlow, the nephew of Jack Daniels and eventual owner of Daniel’s distillery, a company website mentions his service in the Tennessee legislature and his reputation as a businessman, concluding that he was “known to be a fair and generous man.”  What it fails to mention is that in 1923, Motlow, shown here, shot and killed a man in cold blood and got away with it by playing “the race card.”

Jack Daniels, the famed Tennessee distiller, never married. His sister, Nettie, wed Felix Motlow and had four sons, among them Lem, born in November, 1869.  The  young man early on began working for his uncle at his Lynchburg distillery, learning the whiskey trade from the ground up.  When Daniels became enfeebled near the end of his life, about 1907 he gave the distillery to Motlow.

For the next 13 years, Motlow ran the Daniels distillery with intelligence and skill, increasing its capacity and its reputation for good whiskey.  Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey cost more than than other whiskey.  The company claimed no other distiller made whiskey with “pure limestone water” or mellowed the product through hard maple charcoal — both adding to the cost.  Recognizing the need to market the price differential effectively, Motlow coined the slogan:  “All Goods Worth Price Charged.”

Lem used that slogan with his name on jugs of Jack Daniels whiskey.  Shown throughout this post, the ceramic containers came in several varieties, including two-toned jugs with Albany slip brown tops and bristol glaze bodies.  The jug at left recently sold at auction for $1,576.00. Motlow also featured a range of jugs below with a bail handle, a feature that made carrying easier.


In 1920 when National Prohibition shut down his distillery, Motlow started a mule auction.  Tiny Lynchburg became one of the largest mule trading centers in the southern U.S.  This success meant little to Lem who was seething at having to shut down making whiskey.  Morover, he had been left with a sizeable amount of liquor on his hands with nowhere legitimately to sell it.   As a counter, he moved his operations to St. Louis, taking over a building on Duncan Avenue, shown below, and moving his liquor stash there.  In 1923 he made a deal to sell it to a local St. Louis businessman.


Before the deal could be concluded, an incident occurred that cast suspicion on Motlow.  Prohibitionary laws dictated that liquor already distilled had to be kept under strict guard and a crew were employed by the Feds to watch Motlow’s 1,000 barrels of Jack Daniels whiskey. In August 1923, however, thieves in St. Louis managed skillfully to siphon away 893 barrels of liquor through a hidden hose that fed the whiskey to containers outside and disappeared.  Federal authorities fingered Motlow as the culprit and charged him with bootlegging.  

Whether Lem was a habitual drinker seems unlikely but the stress of suspicion and a court appearance early on March 17, 1924, may have impelled him that afternoon to drink heavily with friends.  Drunk and packing a pistol, Lem boarded the Louisville & Nashville night train back to Tennessee.  Tired, he headed for a Pullman berth.

A black sleeping car porter named Ed Wallis asked Motlow for his ticket.  When Motlow was unable to produce one, Wallis refused him a berth. Motlow became enraged at being balked by a person of color.  Hearing the argument, Conductor Clarence Pullis, who was white, tried to intervene.  As the train slowly made its way through a downtown tunnel toward the Mississippi, Lem reached for his pistol, apparently to shoot Willis.  In his drunken state, he fired two shots, one errantly, the second striking Pullis in the gut.

Taken off the train, Pullis died in a local hospital, leaving his widow and two minor children.  Motlow was charged with murder.  Local sentiment ran high against the Tennessee distiller.  The newspapers gave the story front page treatment.  As  wealthy man, however, Lem had ample resources at his disposal.  He hired a phalanx of lawyers to defend him.  They included Patrick Cullen, a prominent St. Louis attorney.  Shown below is a photo from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showing Motlow, seated far left, and seven of his legal team.


Wallis testified that an enraged Motlow had asked Pullis, Where did you get that black….”  The porter related that he was shoved by the defendant, who then pulled the pistol from his coat and fired.  The defense built its case on Wallis’s race.  The porter was quizzed on whether he belonged to any civil rights organizations.  Cullen mocked him by adopting a black dialect.  In his testimony Motlow, seen here as sketched on the witness stand, claimed that Wallis had been arrogant.  The newspaper reported:  “…He said Wallis grabbed him by the throat.  ‘I reached for my pistol,” Motlow said, “‘then somebody grabbed my hand from behind and the pistol accidentally discharged twice.’”  

No subtlety attended the defense playing “the race card.” In closing arguments one of Motlow’s lawyers said:  “There are two kinds of (blacks) in the South. There are those who know their place ... and those who have ambitions for racial equality. ... In such a class falls Wallis, the race reformer, the man who would be socially equal to you all, gentlemen of the jury.”  The all white, all male jury took little time in bringing a verdict of “not guilty.”  The foreman told reporters:  “We didn’t believe the Negro.  Jurors shook hands with Motlow as he left the courtroom on December 10 — a free man.  The photograph above shows him, third from left, departing with his attorneys.  

In time, to his great relief, Motlow also was cleared of the bootlegging charges. If convicted he could have been stripped of his ownership of the Lynchburg distillery and subjected to other penalties.  Again ably defended, his lawyers convinced the jury that the Tennesseean had been double-crossed by his associates.  For a second time a St. Louis jury absolved him.

With the slate clean, Motlow returned to Tennessee to resume trading mules and subsequently decided to run for office when local courts denied him the right to begin distilling immediately after Repeal.  He was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1933 and was successful in being licensed to distill in 1938, although his county officially continued to be a “dry.”  In 1939, Lem ran and won a seat on the Tennessee Senate.  With his wealth, Motlow bought thousands of acres of farmland in at least two counties while engaging in his hobby of raising Tennessee walking horses.

Motlow was married twice. His first wife, Clara Reagor died in 1901, leaving him a son, J. Reagor Motlow.  He then married Ophelia Williams with whom he had a daughter, Mary, and three more sons. Connor, Evans — called “Hap” — and Robert.  As the boys matured he employed them in the Jack Daniels Distillery learning the business.  After Lem suffered a stroke in 1940 the youths began to play more important roles in the operation, Reagor as general manager.  Dying in September 1947 at the age of 77, Motlow was buried in the Lynchburg Cemetery.

The Motlow brothers, with Reagor now as the president of the company, continued to increase production and maintained the reputation for quality initiated by Daniels and their father.  Although Jack Daniels remains the titan of Tennessee whiskey, Lem has been remembered from time to time with a brand of his own.  In 1956 the Motlow family sold its distilling interests to Brown-Foreman of Louisville, Kentucky. 

















Friday, November 22, 2019

Tex Rickard: From Barkeep to Boxing Boss


With its label in tatters the whiskey bottle shown right would have little interest except for the name in the smallest print:  “Tex Rickard,” an artifact from one of his early drinking establishments.  Born in Kansas City in January 1870, George Lewis “Tex” Rickard parlayed operating saloons into a career promoting boxing matches that made him famous throughout the United States and, indeed, the world.

While a  toddler, Rickard and his family moved to Texas, where soon after his father died.  Forced to truncate his education to help with family finances, at eleven years old he went to work as a cowboy on the Texas frontier and took part in several long cattle drives.  By the age of 23, having indicated unusual abilities and earned the nickname “Tex,” Rickard, shown right as a youth, was elected town marshall of Henrietta, Texas.  He married in 1894 and had a child but both his wife and baby died within a year.

Perhaps grieving over his losses and drawn by the discovery of gold in Alaska in November 1895, Rickard headed for the gold fields of Alaska where he and a partner staked and later sold a valuable claim.  He used the funds to open a saloon, gambling hall and hotel in Dawson City, Canada, that he called “The Northern,”  a name he subsequently gave to several of his saloons.

Possibly suffering from the deaths of his wife and child and a second failed marriage,  in Dawson Rickard began to drink and gamble heavily.  It cost him his share of the saloon and he was forced to work as a poker dealer and bartender in the Monte Carlo Saloon. It was there Tex with a partner first began to promote boxing matches.  But gold still beckoned.  In the spring of 1899, reputedly with only $35 to his name, Rickard headed to Nome, Alaska, where a strike had been reported. 


Apparently with borrowed funds, Rickard opened a saloon and gambling house in Nome.  By the fall of 1899 he had cleared $90,000 ($2.2 million equivalent today).  By the following year, as nugget-bearing miners continued to drink and gamble at his establishment, he was $100,000 to the good and within five years was worth a half million.  Possibly because “The Northern” was already the name of a Nome saloon, Rickard may have called his “The Southern.”  The cabinet card above is of an Alaska saloon of that name with Rickard’s name prominently displayed.

One author has commented:  “Physically, Tex Rickard was a most engaging person, a tall man with small twinkling eyes set into a bland, smooth-skinned face. He had the gamblers’ thin-tipped trap mouth, an infectious, boyish smile and an impish expression.”  

In Nome, Rickard met and became a lifelong friend of Wyatt Earp, who for a time owned a competing saloon.  Earp, shown here, was a boxing fan and previously had been hired to referee matches.  Their relationship may have whetted Tex’s appetite for the boxing game.  Later Rickard would hire Wyatt’s brother, Virgil, as a bartender and then saw that he was made a deputy sheriff just before that Earp brother died of pneumonia. 

As had happened in Dawson, the gold soon ran out in Nome.  Rickard, who had invested most of his riches in mining properties lost most of his wealth and saw the client flow at his saloon and gambling hall slow to a trickle.  This time Tex looked south to Goldfields, Nevada, 247 miles southeast of Carson City.  Gold had been discovered in the vicinity in 1903 and the site had become a boomtown.  The yellow stuff was making prospectors rich overnight and, as usual, looking for a place to spend their cash.

By now a thoroughly experienced proprietor, Rickard in 1904 knew just what Goldfields’ spenders needed.  In 1904 he packed up and moved to Nevada.  Together with two partners, he opened the Northern Saloon.  

It was the most elaborate of any of his watering holes, featuring 12 bartenders, 14 gaming tables, and 24 dealers.  According to its bookkeeper, Tex’s place made $30,000 monthly from the tables and $12,000 monthly from liquor.   A photograph from the University of Nevada, Reno, shows the interior of the Northern.  It is teeming with customers, one of them gambling one-on-one with a dealer.

Wealthy once again,  Rickard built the most impressive brick house in Goldfields, one that still stands.  Shown below, the dwelling boasted lead glass windows and a white picket fence.  Tex furnished it lavishly with oriental carpets, expensive wallpaper and fine decoration.  It boasted the only lawn in Goldfields and neighbors were said to have turned out to watch whenever Rickard cut the grass.


According to one possibly apocryphal account, the house lacked a kitchen because the saloonkeeper lived there alone and took all his meals out.  At the time, however, Tex had wed again.  She was Edith May Haig of Sacramento, California, and the couple had one daughter who died in 1907. They were married until Edith’s death but it is possible she did not accompany him to Goldfields — or deign to cook.

By this time Rickard had achieved some recognition as a fight promoter.  As shown here, he sponsored minor bouts held in the town square next to the Northern Saloon.  Tex, however, had his sights on bigger goals.  In December 1909, Rickard and a partner won the right to stage the world heavyweight championship fight between James J. Jeffries and Jack Johnson, billed as “The Fight of the Century.”  Although Rickard had planned to hold the fight on July 4, 1910 in San Francisco, opposition caused him to move it to Reno, Nevada.  The bout gained national attention and brought recognition to  Rickard as a fight promoter.  Tex and his partner made a profit of about $120,000 on the fight, won by a knockout by Johnson.

Despite the rich return of the Jeffries-Jackson bout, Rickard announced to the press that he was “through with the business of prize fighting.”  He sold the Northern and his house in Goldfields and sailed to Latin America. There he acquired land in Paraguay, managing huge a cattle ranch for five years.  Once again his investment proved faulty, the cattle business failed, and Rickard is estimated to have lost about a million dollars.

By the time of his return to the United States in 1916, Rickard had revised his thinking about the fight game.  That same year he promoted a heavyweight bout between Jess Willard, the “The Pottawatomie Giant” and Frank Moran in New York City at Madison Square Garden.  He followed in 1919 by with the famous bout in Toledo, Ohio, between Willard and Jack Dempsey, shown here, and promoted the 1927 rematch at Soldiers Field in Chicago. The second match brought in the first $2-plus million gate and was the first to feature a $1 million purse.  Rickard made made money on both fights.  His biggest payday, $550,000, resulted in 1921 from matching Dempsey against George Carpentier, “The Idol of France” in Jersey City, New Jersey. 

By now firmly ensconced in New York City, a rich man and a world renowned fight promoter, Rickard continued to build his legend.  His trademarks were a soft, light-colored fedora hat, the snap brim turned down, a straight gold-headed malacca cane and a cigar. In 1926 he promoted the Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney fight in Philadelphia.  The bout attracted a world record crowd of 135,000 and earned $1,895,000. By now fabulously wealthy, Rickard also founded and owned the New York Rangers hockey team and built the third version of Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

In 1925, Rickard’s wife of 23 years, Edith Mae, died in New York.  Earlier Tex had met Maxine Hodges, a former actress 33 years his junior. The couple married on October 7, 1926, in Lewisburg, West Virginia. On June 7, 1927, the couple's daughter, Maxine, was born.  Tex had little time left to enjoy his new baby.  In December 1928 while he was in Miami arranging a boxing match he was felled by an appendix attack.  Complications occurred during the course of a likely botched operation and Rickard died on January 5, 1929, at the age of 59.  His body was returned to New York and he was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  


Sportswriter Davis J. Walsh memorialized him:  "Rickard  wasn't  merely associated with boxing; he was boxing itself. He took it out of the back rooms and  dropped it into the laps of millionaires. He established a monopoly  by cornering its star performers. He made it the biggest money business of all professional sports.…”   My analysis of Rickard’s career suggests that his years as a saloonkeeper were crucial to his success.  Blessed with a genial personality and the ability to understand what his customers wanted, Tex applied the lessons he learned behind the bar to a much larger stage and found they worked for him there as well.






















Monday, November 18, 2019

Druggists as Whiskey Men


Foreword:  During National Prohibition (1920-1934) all legal whiskey supplies were in the hands of druggists who could issue small quantities of liquor upon presentation of a doctor’s prescription.  During those 14 years, numbers of prescriptions soared and local pharmacies prospered.  Even before 1920, however, druggists were active in the liquor trade, often mixing up their own brands of whiskey and advertising it widely.  Below are vignettes of three druggists who saw the advantages in commercing in alcohol and, as a result, prospered.

In the Pre-Prohibition era it was common practice for pharmacies to carry a line of alcoholic beverages. Often whiskey, brandy and wine package sales were the chief economic engine of such establishments and made rich men of their owners. Edwin E. Bruce of Omaha, Nebraska, was among those American druggists who profited mightily by being in the whiskey trade.

With three partners in the 1880’s Bruce founded a wholesale drug company in Ottumwa, Iowa, and subsequently opened a firm in Omaha in 1887 that became  known as E.E. Bruce & Co.  Bruce quickly found success in Nebraska and beyond. His trade was reputed to extend “throughout all sections of the West to the Pacific coast.” By the early 1900s Bruce employed thirty clerks, assistants and traveling salesmen in a spacious Omaha building. Despite the facade of wholesale drugs, Bruce’s advertising emphasized his spiritous beverages. 

Bruce’s flagship was Country Club Bourbon, a brand he sold in an elegant stoneware quart cylinder that was the  product of Sherwood Brothers pottery in far off New Brighton, Pennsylvania.  His whiskey likely was obtained from distilleries in Kentucky. Bruce also may have done some “rectifying,” that is, mixing several whiskeys to improved taste and smoothness. 

Made rich by his drug and liquor business, Bruce and his family occupied a mansion, located in Omaha's Gold Coast neighborhood. A co-founder of the National Association of Wholesale Druggists, Bruce also was well-known in Omaha business circles. According to a contemporary account, he was someone respected for “his ability, enterprise and ingenuity.“

Shown here in a 1892 cartoon, George Fleming wasted no time in putting his Pittsburgh pharmacy on the map. A contemporary account called him “undoubtedly the best known druggist west of the Allegheny Mountains.” Doing business from its single location at Market and Diamond Streets, the company advertised Fleming’s Export Rye and Fleming’s Malt Whiskey across America. 

A square bottle similar to one shown here has been found in a Sacramento, California state park. It is embossed on two sides: “Fleming’s Export Pure Rye” and “Bottled Expressly for Family Use.” 

George also featured as gifts to prime customers attractive paperweights and shot glasses, as shown here. They frequently stressed the role of physician endorsements,. as might be expected for a druggist. Whiskey sales not only were brisk but apparently extremely profitable. A contemporary satirical poem about George Fleming averred: “For although he’s a druggist his earnings are high...From selling old rye.” 

Flemings was a rectifier, not a distiller. He bought whiskey in bulk, mixed it with other ingredients to their taste, slapped a label on it and called it his own. Look at the cartoon again:  George could be stirring up a cocktail of Fleming’s Export Rye in that giant mortar. 

Philip P. Van Vleet, a prominent wholesale druggist in Memphis, Tennessee, was another whose success depended heavily on marketing a wide array of whiskeys.  Liquor, along with proprietary drugs and nostrums, brought him wealth and allowed him to hobnob with the rich and famous, including the President of the United States.  

After working years for other druggists, in 1884 Phillip struck out on his own,  establishing the wholesale pharmaceutical house of Van Vleet & Co., located at 320-324 Main Street, a major Memphis commercial avenue.  He managed this business to such affluence that he was able to buy up several other Memphis drug firms.  They included the Mansfield Drug Co., a well established company, whose purchase by Van Vleet was considered a coup in Memphis business circles.  

He called the resulting enterprise Van Vleet-Mansfield Co., its building shown on a glass paperweight.  The new corporation was instantly profitable, attributed by one author to the exertions of Van Vleet himself:  “He created this colossal pattern of success through his guidance and by his service-driven attitude.  The result was one of the largest and most progressive wholesale drug companies in the country.”   

Essential to this prosperity was the emphasis Van Vleet put on making and selling whiskey.  In addition to mixing up drugs and proprietary medicines on his premises, he was blending, bottling and selling his own brands of booze.  Among his labels were “Chickasaw,” “Clarendon,”  “Gayoso Club,”  “King’s Choice,” “Mossy Dell,”  “Old Southern Home,” “Rosadora Rye,” “Silver Plume,” “Sweet Fern,” and “Wayside Inn.”  

Accounted a multi-millionaire in his own time, Van Vleet and his wife were described as  “great globe trotters.”  When the couple visited the Philippines, newly acquired by the United States from Spain, they met William Howard Taft, at the time the civilian governor of the islands.  According to the Washington Post, “a warm and enduring friendship was established.”  When Taft was elected President, the Van Vleets were his guests at the White House.

Note:  All three of these druggists as whiskey men have been written up in the past on this blog as individual biographies.  Those are available as:  Edwin E. Bruce, May 18, 2011;  George Fleming, August 13, 2011; and Philip Van Vleet, June 24, 2016.  

















Thursday, November 14, 2019

Joseph and the Zapfs Flooded Florida — with Bottles


Shown below is a photograph of a large, prosperous German family.  Parents Gebhard and Josephina are holding hands.  Behind them are their nine well-dressed children, neatly arranged, five boys and four girls.   They are the Zapfs of Helmhoften, Wurttemburg, Germany.   Who would suspect that within several decades these Zapfs would be dominant from Jacksonville south to Miami in Florida’s liquor, soft drink, and bottling industries.


The first family member to immigrate to the United States, and the main subject of this vignette, was Franz Joseph Zapf, standing second from left.  Born in 1860 and dropping the “Franz” for business purposes somewhere long the way, Joseph arrived in Joplin, Missouri, in 1884 where he may have found employment in a local liquor house.  

Zapf also found a wife in Joplin, Mary Danner Muller, Missouri born of German immigrant parents.  Seven years younger than Joseph, Mary was a teenager when they met and 20 when they married in November, 1887.  By that time, Zapf had moved to Jacksonville where he took his new bride to live.  They would have two children, Augusta Emily, born in 1888, and Franz Joseph Jr., born in 1892.  A photograph shows a well-to-do young family possibly overdressed for Florida heat.

By this time Zapf was a prosperous Jacksonville merchant.  He had acquired a business “gold mine” for being selected by the Anheuser Busch Brewery of St. Louis as its representative and bottler of its beer for a large swath of Northern Florida.  Florida heat can work up powerful thirsts and Zapf had the brews to quench it.  He would receive the beer in barrels from the brewery and decant it into bottles with his distinct embossing.  Over this would be a standard AB paper label, likely with a “bottled by” designation at the bottom.

Zapf parlayed this advantage into establishing what he soon called “the best known and largest liquor house in the state.”  He sold at both wholesale and retail.  An array of large ceramic and glass jugs with his name testify to his selling containers of whiskey and wine to local Jacksonville area saloons, including a saloon he operated in connection with his store at 620 West Bay Street.  By his own admission Zapf was not a rectifier who mixed up his own brands of whiskey in a back room.  In a 1908 ad aimed at mail order customers, he asserted:  “We do not bottle any whiskies, all our case goods are bottled at the distillery.”


Meanwhile, back in Germany, other Zapfs were noting Joseph’s progress.  Next to come was his older brother George in 1889, the boy standing far left in the photo above.  Likely fueled by funds from Joseph, George settled 280 miles south in West Palm Beach, involved in liquor sales and a bottling operation.  This Zapf was best known for building the Seminole Hotel in West Palm at the corner of Banyan and Narcissus.  Elected to the first West Palm Beach City Commission, George watched is hotel burn down twice as fires ravaged the city.  He rebuilt it each time, the last as  a “fireproof” structure, shown below.  The Seminole featured several saloons at ground level, part of a row that caused Banyan to be called “Whiskey Street.”


The next to migrate to the U.S. was Gephard Zapf.  In the photo above he is to the right of Joseph.  Like George, he too went to southern Florida where he opened a bottling operation at Lake Worth Beach. “Lake Worth Soda Water Factory. Gephard Zapf, Proprietor,” read an ad in an 1896-97 directory for Dade County: “Soda water, sarsaparilla, lemon, strawberry, pineapple, vanilla, orange, ginger ale, root and birch beers, cream soda, distilled water.”

Last to join the family in America was Alois (a.k.a. “Max”) Zapf. In the photo above he is the little boy sitting on an older sister’s lap with an apple in his hand.  Alois is recorded running a bottling operation in Miami in 1896.  On December 27 of that year a fire that began in a local grocery soon engulfed two blocks of business buildings, including Zapf’s soda water factory.  A generator there exploded killing one of his workers trying to escape the flames.  Later Alois would join his brother in Jacksonville at the Joseph Zapf Company.  He supervised Anheuser Busch bottling, and was vice-president of the Jacksonville Bottlers & Fountain Supply Company, another family enterprise.

Histories of the beverage industry in Florida are replete with references to the Zapfs:  The Historic Palm Beach website: “The Zapfs…ran bottling operations across Florida.”  The Archeology Society of Southern Florida:  “There are records of this family’s bottling business throughout the state.” Palm Beach Past website:  The Zapf family had bottling businesses in many Florida cities.”

Meanwhile in Jacksonville, Joseph continued to prosper with his multi-faceted businesses, expanding into real estate.  He became a vice president of the Trout Creek Development Assn., an organization devoted to selling building lots along a stream located entirely within Jacksonville known for its brackish, swampy conditions.  Joseph was exhibiting a sense of humor as he posed for a photographer with alligators in a scene reminiscent of Trout Creek.  About the same time Joseph also created the Florida State Grocery Company and served as its president.  

Gradually going “dry” through local option, Florida in 1918 passed a statewide prohibition against the making or sale of alcoholic beverages. The Zapfs took less of an economic blow than other liquor dealers because of their diversification.  Staying at his Bay Street address,  Joseph created a new entity designated the “Atlantic Distributing Company.”   This firm was bottling and selling soft drinks, supporting the move by Anheuser Busch to non-alcoholic beverages.  Shown here is an Atlantic Distributing Company ad for the St. Louis company’s ginger beer “mellow, yet full of pep and ginger.”


Joseph Zapf lived to see National Prohibition end but has retired by that time and did not re-enter the liquor trade.  He died in 1939 at the age of 79 in Jacksonville and was buried in Duval County’s Oaklawn Cemetery next to his wife, Mary.  Earlier a book of cartoon “biographies” entitled “Floridians as the World Sees Them” featured Joseph Zapf among those honored.  His cartoon serves as a memorial to the German immigrant’s career.  Joseph is depicted driving the American eagle of opportunity to new heights, with Anheuser Busch providing the wind at his back. 

Note:  Thanks to a family website on Ancestry.com a great deal of information and photos are available on the Zapfs, including the fascinating picture of the family as it looked about 1875.