Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Whiskey Men with Iconic Bottles

Foreword:  Most purveyor of whiskey were content to use standard size and shaped containers, whether of glass or ceramic.  Artistic impulses usually were reserved for the paper labels.  A few,  however, spent time, effort and money on putting their alcoholic wares in bottles of unique design that have achieved “iconic” status. Herein are short narratives of three such whiskey men.  

The whiskey flask of a saluting soldier is emblematic of the production of unique liquor containers that the New York City grocery firm of Bulkley, Fiske & Co. issued over the short span of four years.  The partners gave the Nation some of its most valued spirits jugs — shown throughout this post.  The saluting soldier at right, for example, has listed at auction for $4,500.

Willam F. Bulkley, a native New Yorker, was committed to the grocery trade, albeit one heavily into liquor sales. In 1858 he teamed with Frederick B. Fiske in a firm at No. 51 Vesey Street in Manhattan.  From the outset the partners began to issue pottery liquor containers that have become coveted by collectors.  Some of those ceramics have a “Rockingham” glaze, both a tan and a darker brown.  That attractive marbled look was highly popular in the United States during the early 1800s, copied from British glazes with a similar look.

Among them is a whiskey jug entitled “Game Bag.” Each side has a bas relief picture.  One shows a the game bag four dead quarry hanging from it, from left, pheasant, duck, rabbit and dove.  The other side is another hunting scene featuring two dogs and a standing shotgun.  Some are marked with an embossed “B.F. & Co.” on one side and an incised “Bulkley. Fiske & Co., New York” on the other. 

As for the military man above, from the shoulder epaulets and tunic we may infer he is an officer, perhaps a high-ranking one.  His belt reads “Morning Salute,” a reference that would have been widely understood.  Many men would take a shot of whiskey every morning before going off to work, believing that it was beneficial both to health and mental wellbeing, and that snort commonly was termed a “morning salute.”  

From the archives of the New York Historical Society comes another example of a Bulkley-Fiske figural flask.  This one is called “Man with a Fiddle.”  This bottle is the standing form of a man sticking his tongue out, in perhaps a smile.  His battered hat is the spout.  He is wearing an overcoat and holding a violin and a bow against his chest.  Might he be an itinerant fiddler?  The name Bulkley, Fiske & Co., is impressed in the base.  

Only six inches high, the milk glass bottle shown here is shaped like a mountain range or glacier with brown and gold paint on both side that emphasize the rugged nature of the terrain being depicted.  Known widely as the “Klondike Flask,” it has been called “one of bottle collecting’s classical figural bottles.”  George Smithhisler is the Ohio liquor dealer who designed it, provided the several swallows of liquor the bottle contained, and issued the flasks in substantial numbers, apparently as a memorial to the Yukon Gold Rush of 1896.

Smithhisler’s flask bore a round red label, announcing the contents as “Nuggets of Pure Gold from Klondyke” -- an alternative spelling -- and included his name and location. The flask also featured a metal screw cap that sealed the threaded neck and covered the ground-off top of the bottle.  The bottle was blown in a mold that took a considerable amount of time and attention to create the mountain effect.  It also required painting by hand to overlay the glass with gold and brown pigments.   Over the years, as shown here,  some examples have lost their labels and significant amounts of paint.  In one case an owner stripped the bottle down to its milk glass base,revealing the full extent of the ridges and valleys.  

Although there is no mark on the flask, a likely guess is that it was the product of the A.H. Heisey Company of Newark, Ohio.  That glassworks made a line of milk glass objects and was located only twenty-five miles from Smithhisler’s home. A leading expert on American glass and bottles, Dr. Cecil Munsey, has been fascinated with Smithhisler’s creation and has hailed it as a “classic.”  


Alphons Dryfoos was listed in New York directories as a liquor dealer from 1875 until National Prohibition shut him down in 1920.  Through much of that history he was fixated on bottles, in particular designing and patenting unusual and extravagant ones.  Clearly proud of his inventive abilities, Dryfoos displayed some of his “brainchildren” on his letterhead, as shown here. 

The whiskey man’s first foray into bottles was in September 1900.  Dryfoos filed with U.S. Patent and Trademark authorities a design for a bottle he called a “composite receptacle” that comprised “a plurality of sections forming together a unitary body, and a covering inclosing said sections and provided at its upper end  with a contracted tubular portion or neck serving as a handle for said body and also as a means for preventing the upward movement of the sections.”  He provided no model but simply an illustration that shows the three sections, each with a hinged cap.  

A little more than a year later, Dryfoos was back with a new bottle.  This time he had given up on multiple sections but clearly was enamored of the idea of items clustered around a central decanter.   As shown here, this bottle had three niches into which he had inserted what he called “statues,” that is, miniature standing figures.  The accompanying drawing showed a gentleman in a top hat and a policeman.  

For once, however, Alphons appears to have had a model made.  It surfaced in November of last year and was put at auction.  Purchased by Bob Ferri, a Texan, for $1,000, it since has been displayed in detail in Bottles and Extras, the magazine of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.  While the carved figures differ from those shown in the drawing, they remain unique in the bottle world.  In all probability it is the only such bottle in existence.  Dryfoos’ invention is reported to be on display at a tavern owned by Mr. Ferri’s son in Memphis, Tennessee.

Note:  Longer articles on each of these whiskey men can be found on this blog.  Bulkley & Fiske, May 16, 2016;  George Smithhisler, April 13, 2014; and Alphons Dryfoos, June 1, 2018.

















Saturday, January 25, 2020

Gideon Jones Was the Conspirator in the Middle


Gideon Jones, the middle member of a San Francisco liquor business known as Truett, Jones, and Arrington, was arrested and jailed in 1863 as the middle man in a scheme to aid the Confederate cause in the Civil War by outfitting a rebel “pirate ship,” a conspiracy that went terribly wrong for the participants.

Shown above is a billhead that lists the whisky dealers.   All three were immigrants to California.  Miers (sometimes “Myers”) Truitt was born in New England, part of a long established family there.  Jones was a native of Kentucky, according to his record in the 1860 census. The only true Southerner among the trio was William Arrington who hailed from North Carolina.

The three were in partnership in San Francisco from at least 1858, according to local directories.  In addition to their being “importers of “wines and liquors” with stores at 60 Front Street and 43 Sacramento Street, the trio also were advertising in California, up the Pacific Coast and into Canada as “wholesale dealers.”  In an 1860 liquor ad in a British Colombia newspaper Truitt, Jones, and Arrington promised:  “Dealers who may favor us with orders, may rest assured that we will endeavor to give satisfaction in the article, and dispatch in forwarding.”  The firm also seems to have dabbled in general merchandise.  A newspaper article from Victoria, B.C., credited the partners with having been the conduit for the purchase of fire equipment from San Francisco and its shipment north aboard the steamer Oregon.

With what appears to have been a thriving business, how did Gideon Jones get caught up in a scheme to assist the Confederate cause?  The answer may lie in the Kentucky connection.  The ringleader of the conspiracy was Asbury Harpending, a Kentuckian who was an unabashed supporter of the Confederate cause and under loose Federal watch. A fellow Kentuckian, Ridgeley Greathouse, a banker, was the money bags.

With the Civil War raging in 1863, Harpending, shown left, hatched a plot to have Confederate sympathizers in California outfit a “pirate ship” and sail the Pacific Coast, preying on U.S. merchant vessels.  Traveling to Richmond he met with Jefferson Davis and received from him “letters of marque” that gave him permission to make war on Union ships as a privateer for the Confederacy.  Between Harpending and Greathouse they had enough money to pay for a crew, supplies and munitions to execute the plot.  Gideon Jones was enlisted to help them buy the needed items.  As a local merchant and trader, Jones’ purchases, even of guns and ammunition, likely would go unremarked.  It also can be assumed Gideon was responsible for putting aboard the whiskey and beer the crew would require on the voyage.


The ship the conspirators chose was a small but fast schooner called the J. M. Chapman.  It was docked in San Francisco Bay, shown above as it looked in the 1860s.  The ship, built in New London, Connecticut, had engendered some excitement in San Francisco when it made the trip from Connecticut, around the Horn, and up the coast of South America in 138 days.  One observer said of the craft:  “She was a splendidly built schooner, of beautiful lines, and a rapid sailor.”   For Harpending the J.M. Chapman was a perfect privateer.  

As the captain he chose William C. Law who was living in San Francisco at the time.  A man who had sailed both the Atlantic and Pacific, Law had a reputation for being erratic and had been relieved of his last command by the ship’s owners.  Earlier he had resided in Charleston, South Carolina, where he was engaged in running slaves from Richmond to New Orleans.  Interviewing Law, Harpending was quoted as put off by the seaman’s “sinister, villainous mug,” considered him capable of any crime, and “the most repulsive reptile in appearance I ever set eyes on.”  Finding no other candidates for the command, however, he hired Law, commissioning him as a captain in the Confederate Navy.

Under Harpending’s plan, after loading the schooner with arms and munitions, an activity that Gideon Jones apparently abetted, the Chapman would proceed to Manzanillo, Mexico, and wait for the first Pacific Mail steamer that entered the harbor and capture it.  The steamer would be converted into a second privateer and intercept two more eastbound Pacific Mail vessels.  The objective was to intercept the millions in California gold used to pay Union troops and turn it over to the Confederacy.

The conspirators attempted to hide their intentions by ads such as the one shown here that depict the Chapman’s voyage to Manzanillo as strictly hauling cargo.  Their efforts to hire a crew took them to San Francisco taverns where their recruitment required divulging elements of the plot.  Known to brag, Harpending well might have dropped the name of Jefferson Davis.  Word soon got back to Federal authorities who began to watch the group closely.  The plot also likely was betrayed by Captain Law, who had become wary of the affair.  


On March 4, 1863, the appointed day of departure, Law was not to be found.  Fearing treachery, Harpending attempted to set sail without the captain.  But there was no wind.  Nearby on the U.S. warship Cyrene, boatloads of Marines were dispatched to board the ship.  On the steam tug Anashe, revenue officers and San Francisco police had been idling, watching as supplies were being brought aboard the Chapman.  At a signal from the Cyrene, the tug headed  toward the erstwhile pirate ship.  A San Francisco newspaper artist caught the scene as the boats closed in.   Before long the authorities had boarded, found the guns and ammunition, and arrested all on board.  As shown below, the Chapman, dwarfed by the Cyrene, then was anchored under the guns of the warship.


Meanwhile back on land, whiskey man Gideon Jones was in deep trouble.  A bench warrant was issued for his arrest and he was thrown into the San Francisco jail.   Early press accounts, noting that Jones had been a merchant in the city for many years, expressed puzzlement about his role in the conspiracy.  

A subsequent indictment from the U.S. Circuit Court shed some light on the charges.  Jones was accused of “treason,” charged with having aided in fitting out the J.S. Chapman and for unspecified “conduct directed against the country.”  He was confined in the local jail without bail awaiting trial.  Meanwhile the other conspirators all languished in Alcatraz, shown here as it looked during the Civil War.

Charged along with his co-conspirators for “treason in wartime” under a 1862 Act of Congress, the ultimate penalty being death, Gideon must have feared for his life.  Opinion in San Francisco ran strongly that the conspirators should be hanged. In the end, however, Jones was released on time served by the court as were most of the others.  President Lincoln had recommended leniency.   In the end only Harpending, Greathouse and a third ringleader were fined and sent to jail.  Captain Law, who had watched the capture from shore while reputedly nursing a hangover, was arrested but soon released and not brought to trial, fueling speculation that he had tipped off authorities to the planned departure.  The J.M. Chapman was confiscated, sold, and its cargo of arms put to U.S. government use. 

Gideon Jones rejoined his liquor firm, where others may have harbored pro-Southern attitudes.  A former company employee named Washington Iams later was identified as a captain in charge of ordinance for Confederate forces in Texas and also said to have served on the staff of General Van Dorn.  Such Southern attachments, however, apparently did not seriously damage the profitability of Truett, Jones, & Arrington and the company survived the Civil War.  In the post-bellum period, however, its fate and that of Gideon Jones fade into the mists of history.  I have been unable to find further reliable information on either and hope an alert reader will help fill in the blanks.

Note:  Narratives abound regarding this aborted attempt to pillage Union shipping during the Civil War by Southern sympathizers in San Francisco. I have availed myself of several of them in crafting this post.  None of them focus particularly on Gideon Jones, the whisky man.













Tuesday, January 21, 2020

From Fast Balls to Highballs — The Frank Pfeffer Story

 
Francis X. “Frank” Pfeffer, shown left,  was a Major League baseball player who could both hit and pitch — once twirling a “no hit” game for a team that became the Boston Braves.  After his temper as a minor league manager had him barred from organized baseball, Pfeffer turned to operating a Providence, Rhode Island, hotel, bar, and liquor store — a move that found him contending with a neighboring liquor dealer.

Pfeffer was born in March 1882 in Campaign, Illinois, the eighth of twelve children of farmer William and Mary Jochim Pfeffer, both born in Illinois of German Catholic ancestry.   Educated through high school while helping on the farm, Frank was a big youth — over six feet and weighing 185 pounds — and athletically gifted.  Enrolling at the University of Illinois,  he initially played varsity football, but when the university needed a pitcher he converted to baseball, winning fifteen games and losing only two while leading Illinois to the 1904 conference championship.

Dropped from the team for playing summer semi-pro ball, Pfeffer turned professional, accepting an offer from the Chicago Cubs.  Along the way, he picked up the nickname “Big Jeff,”  a moniker of murky origins, used by the press but not by Pfeffer.  After a so-so season in Chicago, the fireballing right-hander in late 1905 was traded to Boston, a frequent cellar-dwelling club called the “Beaneaters.”

Although the Beaneaters were traditionally bad, in 1906, Pfeffer showed well.  One local sportswriter commented:  “Pfeffer [was], by all odds, the steadiest and most serviceable of Boston’s pitchers.”   He also played 14 games in the outfield, posting a competent fielding average (.955) but hitting only .196, with one home run and 11 RBI’s for the season.  Frank started the 1907 season with a bang.  On May 8 using, one writer said, “a world of steam and puzzling curves,” he threw a 6-0 no hitter at the Cincinnati Reds.  The following month, however, he tore a tendon in his pitching arm.  After spending weeks recovering, his pitching prowess largely had vanished.

Boston optioned him to the Baltimore Orioles who recognized Frank’s hitting and fielding ability.  Playing everyday right field in 1908 the husky youth blossomed.  In 58 games he batted a team-leading .301 and was instrumental in the Orioles winning the Eastern League pennant.  Boston reclaimed him for the 1909 season.  Pfeffer’s career then began a downward spiral as in ensuing seasons he was released by Boston, sent back to Baltimore, then shuffled off to Toronto, and finally back to the Chicago Cubs, where he had begun his major league career.  In Chicago he had spotty relief appearances and the indignity of being designated to pitch the Cubs daily batting practice.

By 1911 he was back in Boston for a team that thankfully had shed “Beaneaters” for “Braves” but still languished last in the National League.  After a promising 4-0 start in spot duty on the mound, Boston tried option Pfeffer to New Orleans of the Class A Southern Association.  When that failed, his career in the major leagues was over.  He was not yet 30.

Subsequently Pfeffer continued to be associated with baseball as a pitcher, hitter and sometimes manager for a series of minor league teams in and around New England.  In April 1914, he was hired as the player-manager of the Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Tigers of the Class C Colonial League.  As reported in the Providence Daily Journal:  “Pfeffer opines he is not through with baseball itself and he will play somewhere on the team, likely first….” 

Known for his temper, Pfeffer’s days in organized baseball came to an end in 1914 when during a game in Pawtucket he engaged in an on-field fistfight with the vice president of the Colonial League and was summarily fired. He continued to make the baseball diamond a centerpiece in his life, playing in semipro, industrial and town leagues until well into middle age.


Frank’s return to the East Coast, however, had a bright spot.  He had met Martha Osborn, a Massachusetts native.  On December 29, 1909, they were married at St. Cecilia’s Church in Boston.  He was 27; she was 26.  The couple would have only one child, Herbert John, born in October 1912.  Faced with familial responsibilities, in 1913 Pfeffer moved to Providence, Rhode Island, to manage a hotel, bar and liquor store at 703-707 Westminster Street, a major commercial thoroughfare, shown above.

The hostelry was known as the West Side Hotel and Pfeffer called his liquor establishment the “West Side Family Wine Store.”  His proprietary brand was “West Side Club Whiskey.”  This was an allusion to a men’s club in the neighborhood that was a magnet for the manufacturers, large proprietors and professionals of Providence.  Frank himself was a member, honored for his athletic record.  He issued two highball glasses, each bearing his name and the club, that would have been given away to special customers.

Highly competitive by nature, Pfeffer cannot have been happy when a close neighbor at 769 Westminster Street began to copy his merchandising techniques.   Hard knuckles competition was originating down the block at 769 Westminster from a saloon and liquor outlet known as “The Austin Family Wine Store”  It was owned by Eugene H. Austin, a Jewish immigrant from Austria.  Austin issued highball glasses similar to Pfeffer’s and gave them “club” names — “Paramount Club” and “Wellworth Club.”   The possibilities for customer confusion were patent.  As one observer has put it:  “It seems that Providence saw a trade war with two family liquor stores duking it out on Westminster St.!” 

Pfeffer also found that running a hotel and drinking establishment could have its problems.  Although licensed by Providence authorities as a “first-class tavern,” in August 1918 his premises were raided by local police and six women described as “night walkers” were arrested there. The same year Frank reported to police that someone had broken into the hotel overnight and stolen cash.

A final blow to Pfeffer’s career in the hospitality industry came with the advent of National Prohibition in 1920 when he was forced to end all sales of alcohol. In February of that year he advertised an auction sale of the contents of his hotel bar.  It included four cash registers, the bar and back bar, beer and liquor bottles and cases, two cigar cases, carbonating apparatus, ice chests, 500 bottles, seventeen tables and fifty chairs.  A year later Pfeffer found himself sued by the owner of the building, possibly for breaking his lease once the possibility of profits from alcohol sales had ended.  Whatever the cause, the judge found in Pfeffer’s favor.

Eventually Frank returned to Dorchester, Massachusetts, likely to be near his wife’s family.  During World War Two he served as a timekeeper at the Boston Naval Yard.  After his wife’s death in 1947, he moved back to Champaign to be close to his brothers and a sister.  He died there at the age of 72 in December 1854.  His funeral was held in Holy Cross Church in Champaign and he was buried there in St. Mary’s Cemetery.  The monument is shown here.

Frank Pfeffer will never be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was just one of the thousands of journeyman players who have made their way for a few years in the major leagues and gone on to other occupations.  But his apparent lifelong dedication to the game make Pfeffer worthy of notice — as does his turn as a Rhode Island “whiskey man.”


Note:  This post would not have been possible without information from two major sources: 1) SABR-The Society for American Baseball Research, an article entitled “Big Jeff Pfeffer.”  Written by Bill Lamb it is carefully researched and documents much of Pfeffer’s playing life.  The photo of Frank pitching also is from that article. 2) A research staff member of the Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence.  She found a considerable amount of information in its newspaper archives regarding Frank Pfeffer and was able to send me copies.  I am indebted to  her and to the Society for their help.























Friday, January 17, 2020

George Hubbard — The Wandering Distiller Came Home


Born of pioneer stock in Oneida County, New York, in 1822, George M. Hubbard had an early wanderlust that took him throughout much of the United States. His expression on his photograph here bespeaks a man who has seen and done many things.  Eventually, however, Hubbard returned to the place of his birth where, according to his biographer:  “…He devoted a large portion of his attention to the manufacture of alcohol.”

 The Hubbards had deep roots in Oneida County, the map shown here.  Simon Hubbard, his grandfather, born in Massachusetts, was one of the pioneer settlers of the region.  Arriving in 1790, Simon settled on a 130 acre tract three miles north of Waterville, New York.  It became the homestead for the Hubbards, the farm they grew up in and the family cemetery where Simon and his offspring were laid to rest.  Simon sired five children, one of them Maximus, George’s father.

Within a year of his birth, George’s mother, the former Zylphia Sylvester, died, leaving Maximus to raise the son on his own.  For his part, the son stayed with his father until he reached his majority, assisting with the farm work and receiving a good education for the day, including some secondary schooling, “…And thus he was well equipped by mental and practical training for life’s responsible duties,” commented his biographer.


Although Maximus objected strongly to George’s leaving home, the young man insisted that he needed to see more of America and experience life beyond the Hubbard acres.   Borrowing $200 from a cousin, he and a partner purchased a canal boat like the one seen here.  Hubbard proved highly successful in the freight business;  the partners’ first trip on the Erie Canal cleared $1,000 — equivalent to $22,000 today.  After several more profitable hauls, George sold the boat and with his profits “gratified his spirit of adventure” by traveling extensively throughout the United States.

George’s peregrinations apparently brought him in contact with distilling liquor, although it also is possible the Hubbards had a small still on their farm.  He settled first in Warsaw, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from Iowa and the state’s westernmost point.  There Hubbard established his first distillery. Founded by German immigrants, Warsaw was a center for distilling and brewing because it was easily accessible by water and roads.   By 1860 each of Warsaw’s three distilleries was receiving 100 wagon loads of corn a day.

The native New Yorker, however, did not tarry long in the Midwest.  Hubbard next surfaced in Boston, running a rum distillery.  Unlike whiskey, rum — a distillation of sugar cane or a sugar byproduct like molasses — is relatively easily made.  If whiskey was the favored liquor of most of the states west of the Appalachians,  rum was king in New England and distilleries abounded in and around Boston.

As he matured, Hubbard’s wanderlust ebbed and he found himself drawn back to his native upstate New York and Oneida County.  There he founded a distillery at Deansboro, a hamlet that had the advantage of being on a main railroad line.  The station, shown here, still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Possibly seeking better access for shipments of grain and other ingredients for making his whiskey, Hubbard then moved 80 miles northwest to Oswego, New York, on Lake Ontario,  where he built and operated yet another distillery.  This may have been his largest undertaking said to have regularly employed twenty-five workers.  Hubbard was bottling his whiskey in amber flasks.

In the meantime George was having a personal life.  In 1861 at the age of 38 he married Myra Scott, 24, an Oneida County farm girl and the daughter of Garret Scott.  The couple would have two girls.  The first, Florence, sadly died within eighteen months.  The second, Helen, lived into maturity.  About this time George became owner of the Hubbard ancestral lands outside Waterville but moved into the town, building a house on White Street.


By 1877 in addition to his distilling interests Hubbard opened a liquor business in Waterville at the corner of Main and Mill Streets, advertising as a manufacture of corn, rye and malt whiskies; also, wholesale and retail dealer in foreign wines and liquors.”   It was a message that he would maintain throughout the life of his firm.  His building in Waterville, which he remodeled extensively, became known as “The Hubbard Block,” shown here.

With the “restless mind” characteristic of an entrepreneur, Hubbard also dabbled as an agent for buying and selling hops, traveling to California and Wisconsin to find customers.  This gambit nearly tossed him into bankruptcy, according to his biographer,  “…For at the time of the great fire in Chicago in 1871 he had all of his hops consigned to Chicago and that consignment represented his entire capital.”  In short, his hops were consumed in the blaze.

This provided only a temporary setback as Hubbard’s liquor interests continued to generate profits.  He was investing in Oneida County real estate and for a time owned a coal and milling business.  During his working life Hubbard was active in the Democratic Party of Oneida County, but never sought office.  He also was active in virtually all of the area’s fraternal groups, including the Masons and the Knights Templar.  As a result, his biographer claimed, Hubbard “…has been personally acquainted with almost all of the large number of men of national and international reputation that [Oneida County] has produced.”

When his daughter Helen married Harold M. King, Hubbard took the young man into his business, ultimately making him a partner.  As a result George was able to retire from the liquor trade about the age of 75.  He spent the next few years looking after his local financial interests and basking in the glow of being an “old settler.”  He died at the age of 90 in 1912.  George was not interred at the family  graveyard but in a large mausoleum, shown here, specially built at the Waterville Cemetery.  His wife and members of his immediate family are buried there with him.


A final word about George Hubbard, a youth who traveled America only to return to his ancestral home to find success, will be left to his biographer: “Of a genial, social disposition, he is popular with all who have been associated with him either in business or private life, and not to know George M. Hubbard is almost to argue oneself unknown.”

Note:  Although this post was gathered from a variety of sources, all direct quotes, attributed here to “a biographer,” are taken from “History of Oneida County, New York, From 1700 to the present time of some of its prominent men and pioneers,” by Henry J. Cookinham.  The author devoted a long article to Hubbard and published the book in 1912, the year the whiskey man died.



























Monday, January 13, 2020

Financier Whiskey Men

        
Foreword:  Among those whom I have profiled as “whiskey men” are a number of individuals whose interest in making and selling liquor resided in the potential for profit.  They were capitalist “money men” and sometimes said so to the census taker.  Of them I have selected three who represent a range of “financiers.”  

Shown here at 70, Edson Bradley growing up probably  could not tell sour mash from sweet corn, but in maturity he turned whiskey-making into abounding wealth. Bradley was born into money, well educated and eventually trained for a career in finance. While still in his twenties he became associated with Paris, Allen & Company, a leading New York and London financial and importing firm.  

Although the whiskey industry has always emphasized the backwoods, rustic nature of distilling, the truth is more complicated. New York Wall Street investors frequently were directly involved in the liquor trade. Almost immediately upon joining Paris, Allen the youthful Bradley was anointed the principal spokesman on Wall Street and before Congress for the new Whiskey Trust the company financed in Kentucky during the 1880s, including the "Old Crow" distillery below.  


As a driving force behind the Trust, Bradley soon became a national figure.  In the process he also was becoming wealthy. Soon the nation’s newspapers were referring to Bradley as a liquor millionaire and kingpin of the American distilling industry. About this time he moved his family from New York City to Washington, D.C.  He bought a large Victorian home on fashionable DuPont Circle and tore it down to build the grandest mansion the Nation’s Capitol had ever seen. 

Retired at 70 and enormously rich from whiskey profits, Bradley left Washington, moving to fashionable Newport, Rhode Island.  Incredibly, he took his castle with him.  Brick by brick, tile by tile, the mansion was dismantled and transported to Rhode Island while the fascinated populace of Washington looked on. Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” highlighted the event for a national audience. In Newport Bradley purchased a large existing home and joined the two structures to become one of the largest mansions in America, shown here.

Beginning as a grocer and drug salesman, by 1900 George Carragan of Bayonne, New Jersey, early built a reputation as New York financier.  He was the “financial head” of August Kress & Co., importer of grocer specialties; directed the wholesale commission house of R. B. Poucher & Co; and co-owned Carragan & Tilson, a New York company that manufactured badges, rubber stamps, stencils, and seals.  Back in Bayonne he was a founder and director of the Mechanics Trust Company and later the First National Bank.  Said his biographer:  “These various business associations indicate in a small measure Mr. Carragan’s ability and success as a financier.  

When Carragan engaged with Cook & Bernheimer, a New York whiskey wholesaler, is not clear.  Founded in 1863, the company had been in business for some years before he became involved, investing in it and ultimately becoming its president.  Carragan's leadership was evident in the late 1890s when the liquor firm had a burst of energy, operating from a large building at 144-150 Franklin St. in Manhattan, shown right, and opening offices around the country: In Chicago on Wabash Avenue in 1897, a year later in Cincinnati, San Francisco and Terre Haute, Indiana.  Cook & Bernheimer took a gold medal for the company’s flagship “Old Valley Whiskey” at the Paris Exposition of 1900.  

Under Carragan’s direction Cook & Bernheimer also obtained an exclusive contract to bottle and distribute “Mt. Vernon Whiskey,” distilled by the Hannis Company of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Featuring a blizzard of brands, including "Old Valley,"  the company commanded all or part of the output of numerous distillers in Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland.  In 1905 Cook & Bernheimer took control of the Dalwhinnie Distillery in the Scottish Highlands, marking the very first U.S. investment in the Scotch whiskey industry.  

The Scottish adventure ended in 1920 with the imposition of National Prohibition when all legal sales of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. were forced to cease.  After more than a half century of successful operation this juggernaut among liquor houses closed its doors for good.  George Carragan lived on another five years, dying at the age of 81 at his Bayonne residence.  

Led by Warren Buffett,  Omaha, Nebraska, boasts that it has more millionaires per capita than any other city in America.   Peter E. Iler, an Omaha whiskey man, was an exemplar for the local money men to follow, a multimillionaire who built the Nation’s third largest pre-Prohibition distillery as well as financing other major business enterprises. Shown left, Iler had, people said, “the restless mind of a capitalist.”  

Every capitalist needs capital and Iler had achieved a bundle, apparently some of it through a fluke.   He and his brother had bought and prepaid for a shipment of bourbon from Kentucky.  Through an unexplained stroke of luck, the federal tax on alcohol changed while the bourbon was in transit, increasing the value of the shipment by a whopping $36,000, instantly making the Ohio storekeeper a wealthy man. Evincing his restless mind, about 1883 Iler decided that his fortune lay by going west.

About the same time, the Willow Springs Distillery on the Council Bluffs, Iowa, side of the Missouri River was closed by the Federal Government for nonpayment of taxes.  Sensing an opportunity,  Iler bought the distillery and moved it across the river to Omaha, becoming the first (legal) distillery in Nebraska. Iler subsequently set up local sales offices at the building shown here,   He also began a steady expansion of the relocated Willow Springs Distillery.

  
By 1882, when the steel engraving shown above was done,  Willow Springs had expanded to roughly 10 acres with multiple buildings. Sales of Iler’s whiskey steadily increased, reaching nearly $3,000,000 annually.  The cost of material used in the distillery during 1886 was $250,000, representing 510,000 bushels of grain. Over 10,000 tons of coal were consumed. Employment was given to 125 men, with an annual payroll of over $80,000 (roughly equiv. $2 milllion today.)

Eventually Willow Springs became the third largest distillery in the United States and paid government taxes of more than $2,000,000 annually, including providing 90 percent of Nebraska’s tax revenues.  When labor riots of broke out in Omaha in 1882, the Governor dispatched the National Guard to protect Iler’s “cash cow” facility.  

After years making whiskey in Omaha Iler about 1990 obtained options on 3,500 acres fronting on San Francisco Bay at San Bruno Point and incorporated the South San Francisco Land and Improvement Company, taking personal charge of the development.  This foray seemingly indicated Peter’s declining interest in distilling or perhaps a premonition of Prohibition.  Whatever the cause, he sold the Willow Springs Distillery.  Continuing to be active in business until about 1912 when he retired, Peter Iler had proved himself a worthy predecessor of Warren Buffet and other Omaha millionaires. 


Notes:  More complete biographies of each of these three men may be found elsewhere on this site:  Edson Bradley, September 19, 2011;  George Carragan, November 7, 2016;  and Peter Iler, May 10, 2012.