Friday, April 12, 2024

The Fort Smith Liquor That Made Legal History

In the early 1900s, liquor dealers Samuel Harper and Cyrus Reynolds in the military town of Fort Smith, Arkansas, faced a financial dilemma.  What was to be done about the cutthroat competition from the proliferating saloons and cheap whiskey being shipped in from the East?  Deciding that cheating was their best option, they issued their own brand under completely false credentials and thereby triggered a landmark trademark suit.

Both born about 1863, the two men were experienced in the liquor trade, both pouring whiskey in a saloon and selling packaged goods.  Cyrus Reynolds had gotten his start as an employee of M.C. Wallace, a Fort Smith  liquor dealer who carried a number of national brands.  In time, Reynolds and a partner had bought out Wallace and continued operations.  When that partnership dissolved, Reynolds joined the existing saloon and liquor house of Sam Harper and his brother. He eventually was made a full partner of Harper-Reynolds Co., located at 503 Garrison Street, shown below.



The new company soon found itself in deep financial waters.  Although the owners could boast of being local agents for Miller Beer, they found themselves surrounded by dozens of other liquor outlets, some like Tom Taylor’s only steps away.  Noting the popularity of Mellwood whiskey on their shelves, a scheme began to form in the minds of the partners.  Why not provide an imitation that could sell for less and call it “Mill Wood”?



Meanwhile 670 miles northeast of Fort Smith in Louisville, Kentucky, George Washington Swearingen was basking in the success of his distillery, below,  and particularly the nationwide sales of his Mellwood brand.  As one observer said:  “Beginning on a small scale it became one of the largest and most successful institutions in the state.” Shown here, insurance documents record a distillery  built of brick and equipped with a fire-proof roof.  The property contained seven warehouse, one a “free (no federal regulation) that stood 70 feet southwest of the still and six “bottled in bond” warehouses, all within 300 feet of the still.



Although Swearingen offered a wide variety of brands, his flagship label and best seller was Mellwood.  A subject of vigorous marketing, the brand was promoted by frequent advertising in a wide range of national publications.  Sold at retail in quart bottles and pint flasks, the Mellwood label became a familiar sight on liquor shelves all over America.  Or as one publication stated: “…Being known far and wide as the equal of any in the market.”   Faced with an impostor whiskey being sold in Fort Smith, Swearingen vowed retribution and filed suit in Federal District Court in the Arkansas city.


He did so at a propitious time.  In the past trademarks has been loosely protected under state common law beginning in colonial times. Congress first attempted to establish a federal trademark regime in 1870, only to have the law struck down by the Supreme Court.  In 1881 Congress retaliated by passing a new act.  It was not, however, until 1905 when Congress revised and strengthened the Trademark Act that the laws had real “teeth.” 


The suit was heard in December 1908 in the federal courthouse in Fort Smith, shown here.  Testifying for the Fort Smith proprietors was Reynolds. He contended that the “Mill Wood” name was not chosen to mimic Mellwood but was named after his old home place in Indiana, a somewhat dubious claim.  Reynolds chose, however, not to rebut any of the other charges involved in falsifying his company’s liquor.  


The acusations included…:

 The word “WHISKEY” in block letters was similar to those used for Mellwood, followed by red script letters spelling “Mill Wood,” also similar to red lettering on the Mellwood bottle.   The word “Kentucky” was prominent and untrue.


The Mill Wood label featured a  picture of a large distillery, containing captions “Mill Wood Distilling Co.” “Malt House,” “Warehouse,”  “Cattle Pens.” In fact, Harper, Reynolds had no such facilities.  Their whiskey was being concocted in their Fort Smith quarters from supplies distilled elsewhere and brought in by rail.  The distillery picture was purely an artist’s invention.


The faux distillery view was followed by the designation “hand made,”  “sour mash, and the following text:  “The celebrated whiskey is made exclusively by the sour mash copper process, employed only in the distillation of the finest whiskeys, from carefully selected grains, and bottled only after  being matured in barrels for  years.”  None of this was true.


Reynolds made no effort to refute any of Swearingen’s allegations.  Instead, while admitting he and Harper had approved the label, he seemed to cast the blame on the lithographic company for having designed and printed it.  Reynolds said the company had been sent 5,500 labels, that it had used 3,400 of them on quart, pint and half-pint bottles, and that the remaining 2,100 labels had been destroyed when Mellwood Distilling brought the lawsuit. 


The Federal District Court asked:  “What are the facts?” and proceeded to provide the answer in a single sentence:  “There was no such distillery;  the whiskey was put up and owned by defendants at Ft. Smith Ark., and was a blend and certainly a cheap whiskey; it was not put up by any fire copper process; it was not made in Kentucky; it was not celebrated; it was not made of selected grain; it was not matured eight years in barrels before being bottled; it was not [just] distributed by the Harper-Reynolds Liquor Company; it was both owned and sold by that company; it was not sour mash; it was not hand made; the picture on the label of the distillery was not the picture of any distillery; the descriptions on the picture were untrue.”


The Court then granted an injunction to the Mellwood plaintiffs, restraining Harper and Reynolds from use of the label, and referring the case to a master to determine the ill-gotten profits, assess damages and set court costs.  Although the decision was reached early in December 1908, the verdict was delayed on a technicality by the defendants’ lawyers until late January, 1909.


My presumption is that back in Fort Smith, although Harper and Reynolds continued to sell Mellwood whiskey for $1.25 a quart, their erstwhile Mill Wood brand, at 75 cents a quart, was a thing of the past.  The partners did not have long to continue in the liquor business.  Things were changing rapidly in Fort Smith as the population was shifting away from the original boisterous military base town to a more sedate environment.  In August 1914, Fort Smith was voted “dry” and all saloons and liquor houses ordered to shut down. That order was followed on January 1, 1916, when the entire state of Arkansas embraced prohibition.  


After being shut down by the “dry” sentiments sweeping the country, Harper and Reynolds went their separate ways.  Harper became the vice president of a Fort Smith clothing manufacturer, Flyer Garment Company.  Also as a vice president, Reynolds joined a wholesale grocery firm, owned by a relative, called Reynolds-Davis.


Sam Harper was the first to die at the age of 69, in 1932 committing suicide by carbon monoxide while sitting in a running automobile in his garage. Cyrus Reynolds died in 1946, age 82, of natural causes and was buried in Forth Smith’s Oak Cemetery.  The grave markers of both men are shown below.



Addendum:  A 1920 study from Columbia University called “A Psychological Study of Trade-Mark Infringement” highlighted the inconsistency among approximately forty trademark legal decisions the researchers examined. They found that among control groups the likelihood of consumers mistaking “Mill Wood” for “Mellwood” was at the low end of probability.


Note:  The Mellwood/Mill Wood trademark case in many ways was a landmark decision.  Earlier whiskey cases tried in the home city of a defendant usually were followed by acquittals.  In this case the federal judges in the Arkansas city came down hard on locals Harper and Reynolds. For those interested in such legal issues, I highly recommend the book “Bourbon Justice:  How Whiskey Law Shaped America” by Brian Haara.  Although this post was written from original court documents, Atty. Haara’s informative book initially alerted me to the Fort Smith story.




































 














Saturday, April 6, 2024

The Return of Uncle Sam, Whiskey Salesman

 




My post of January 17, 2023  featured examples of American whiskey distillers and dealers using the 1897 “Bottled-in-Bond” Act as an excuse to claim that the U.S. Government was behind the quality of their liquor.  Frequently they resorted to images of Uncle Sam pitching their product to get the message across.  In subsequent days I have been able to collect additional images of the gallant old gentleman selling whiskey. 


The Act required that the whiskey was (and still is) produced according to a set of Federal guidelines. The distiller sealed his whiskey in bonded warehouses and marketed the aged product under proprietary names that came with a guarantee of integrity (not quality) from the United States Government.  The federal OK is symbolized by sealing the whiskey with a green strip stamp on each bottle. In exchange for meeting requirements, distillers do not pay taxes on their whiskey until it is bottled and removed from the warehouse for sale.  Treasury agents are assigned to monitor the warehouses to insure requirements are met.  When the law was new, canny whiskey men saw great advantage in using Uncle Sam in their advertising.


Among them was Asher Guckenheimer.  He founded his Pittsburgh distillery in 1857.  His liquor became a leading national brand after winning top prize at the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago.  Following his death family members carried on the business for several years.  Guckenheimer, possibly more than any of his competitors, used Uncle Sam in a wide variety of ads, many in black and white for newspaper use.  Here, however, he is represented by a color ad that depicts Sam “standing behind” a large bottle of “Good Old Guckenheimer.”


Old Beechwood was a brand from the Vogt-Applegate Co. of Louisville.  Col. C. L. Applegate first forges onto the scene in 1876 when he and a brother, Edward, purchased land in the small town of Yelvington, Daviess County, Kentucky.  The brothers planned a new facility for blending, bottling and wholesaling whiskey.   With financing from Henry Vogt of the Vogt Machine Company in Louisville, the Vogt-Applegate Co. was founded and began operation.  The Colonel was a vice president and the company pitchman.  The Louisville offices were located at 236 Fourth Street but eventually moved onto Whiskey Row at 102-104 E. Main Street.   As Vogt-Applegate met with success, the company opened branches in Kansas City and Chattanooga.  “Old Beechwood” was the company’s  flagship label, advertised widely both regionally and nationally.  In this ad, Uncle Sam is pointing out the green stamp that identifies the whiskey as bottled in bond.



Applegate’s fellow Louisville whiskey man,  Jesse Moore, appropriated Uncle Sam for a poster advertising a whiskey that bore Jesse’s name.  He shows the old gentleman flying over the earth on a whiskey barrel, trailed by an American.  flag. The ad claimed that Jesse Moore’s whiskey was the purest and best on the market.  This company was founded immediately after the Civil War in 1866 by Moore and continued by his son, George H. Moore.  The latter formed a partnership with a Pennsylvania man,  Henry Browne Hunt.   The brand became popular throughout the West and eventually claimed outlets in twelve major American cities. The whiskey was being supplied by the Fern Cliff Distillery of Louisville.


The American flag frequently figures prominently in these ads.  For example, Samuel Worman began a wholesale liquor business in Philadelphia with a partner named Fluck about 1872.  Two years later Fluck was gone and Worman’s name alone was on the company letterhead.  The firm was located sequentially at two addresses on the city’s North Second Street. “Golden Drop” was the firm’s flagship brand. The Worman Co. disappeared from Philadelphia business directories after 1912.


Part of a prominent West Coast whiskey family,  John F. Cutter founded a whiskey company in San Francisco about 1870, as claimed in the ad.  He later sold the brand to Edward M. Martin, an Irish immigrant.  After Cutter’s death in 1880, the company appears to have continued to market J.F. Cutter Rye as well as other brands.   This ad shows a tiny Uncle Sam, apparently standing on a table, recommending Cutter products.  A glass and a burning cigar suggest a second party is in the room.


One whiskey outfit not only appropriated him as its pitchman, but actually named its products as “Uncle Sam Brand Whiskey and Brandy.”  The image below is a letterhead showing Sam sitting with a jug of whiskey from the U.S. Distilling Company of Crouse a tiny village in North Carolina.  My research yielded minimal information about this company.



In 1893  George Gambrill of Baltimore registered Roxbury Rye as a brand with the government, with a distillery in Roxbury, Maryland,  a village in Washington County  about twenty-three miles from Baltimore.  Despite being located in Maryland, he incorporated the company in West Virginia, probably to avoid taxes.  An energetic salesman, Gambrill built Roxbury Rye into a nationally recognized brand in relatively few years.  The distiller, however, had problems keeping on the right  side of the law.  Speculating on wheat futures, he sustained financial losses that authorities thought added up to out and out fraud.  As a result Gambrill was hauled into court in 1910, accused of putting up the same whiskey as collateral for separate, forfeited loans totaling a half million dollars. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to four years in prison.  His Roxbury distillery was shut down and George exited the liquor business but wiggled out of serving any time in prison.  Viewed in context Gambrill’s reference to Uncle Sam seems particularly brazened.


I.W. Harper, a brand that is still available on shelves today, was from the Bernheim brothers, Bernard and Isaac.  They arrived in the United States from Germany with pennies in their pockets and found a friendly welcome with the Uri whiskey family of Paducah, Kentucky.  Finding Paducah too constraining, the pair decamped to Louisville in 1888 and ultimately became the most successful and prosperous distillers in Kentucky.  The Bernheim’s Uncle Sam is clearly in a party mood, holding aloft a cocktail glass full of booze while a comely lady friend joins in the toast.


This coupling of the old gentleman with a female ushers in an ad that make use of national symbols, in effect doubling the dose of patriotism being implied.  The lady is the "Spirit of Freedom," known by her floppy hat and flowing gown.  Her statue stands atop the dome of the U.S. Capitol building.  Here she is assisting Sam hold up a banner for two Fleischmann brands against a back drop of American flags. The Fleischmann Company, headquartered in Cincinnati, was an offshoot of the famous yeast manufacturers.  Another name that survived Prohibition, Fleischmann today is known chiefly for its gin.



Our last Uncle Sam is of contemporary origins.  It is an imaginative takeoff of the famous World Two poster which showed the same pointing figure and bore the motto “Uncle Sam Wants You.”  The original was meant to spur enlistment's during the Second World War. This sign, by contrast, urges us to head for a cocktail lounge.   Wild Turkey is a premium brand of bourbon made in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.





Note:  Longer posts on six of the “whiskey men” featured here may be found elsewhere on this website:  Guckenheimer, April 15, 2012; Vogt-Applegate, June 21, 2012; Jesse Moore, February 6, 2018;  Gambrill, January 6, 2011; Bernheim, December 10, 2014, and Fleischmann, March 29, 2012.




































































Sunday, March 31, 2024

John Demphy of Salida CO — Many Talents, One Great Sorrow

A German immigrant who ultimately settled in Salida, Colorado, John B. Demphy was a man of multiple talents, as cabinetmaker, bartender,  saloonkeeper, whiskey blender, policeman, poultry farmer, truck driver, and justice of the peace.  None of Demphy’s skills, however, could save the life of his highly promising only son.

Demphy was born Johan Dampfle in Baden Germany in 1868. When he was but nine months old he was brought to the United States by his parents, Johan and Elizabeth,  aboard the steamship Schmidt embarking from Bremen.  The family early on settled in Buffalo, New York,  where his father was employed as a carpenter and cabinetmaker.  The youth received an education in the the Buffalo school system, and following in his father’s footsteps began work as a carpenter.


After achieving adulthood, he anglicized his name to John Demphy and changed his occupation to tending bar.  In that role the young immigrant caught the notice of a Buffalo newspaper in 1896 as the chief bartender at Buffalo’s Genesee Hotel, shown here.  Demphy, 28,  was in charge of a squad of barkeeps hired on to serve a New York convention of Tammany Hall politicians “and keep their thirst slaked…Johnnie worked so hard that he said last night he was sure the thousand or more Tammany men came up ‘Just to let the Irish see…Dutchmen work themselves to death.”


In 1894 Demphy had married Ruth M. Hudson, a local woman 11 years younger than he.  The next year their first child, Mildred, would be born, followed by Marshall Albert in April 1898.  The family was living at 2411 Michigan Street in Buffalo.  Demphy was restless, apparently seeking wider opportunities than offered by tending bar in Buffalo.  About 1902, when his children were still young Demphy bundled up his family and headed West.  


After a brief stop in Omaha, Nebraska, which apparently proved unproductive, Demphy headed 680 miles further west to Salida in Chaffee County, Colorado. Shown below,  Salida, “exit” in Spanish, was named for its location near the place where the Arkansas River flows out of an agricultural valley and into Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Downtown Salida had burned twice, once in 1886 and again in 1888. Both times local businessmen rebuilt using local brick, as shown below in an 1890s postcard of the main avenue, F Street.



Despite the solid look of Salida, it was not a “get rich quick” opportunity for the newly arrived Demphy.  It was not a Western boom town because of gold, oil or other underground wealth.   But neither was Salida overflowing with saloons serving thirsty miners.  Instead Demphey found regular employment working for James Collins at his popular downtown saloon at 104 F Street.  The Irish owner and German barkeep apparently proved highly compatible.  About 1910 Collins decided to retire and leave town.  He sold the F Street saloon and his residence to Demphy.   Shown below, the house, built about 1888, still stands, known as the Collins/Demphy House and on the Salida roster of historic buildings.


Now Demphy had a saloon in his sole possession to manage and a large comfortable home in which to house Ruth and their two children.  Seemingly having found the future he had been looking for, the saloonkeeper expanded his efforts.  As shown below, he became the regional agent of  Anheuser-Busch Company, a brewery then making a concerted marketing effort in the West.  He also was offering customers at the bar drink tokens, a common tradition in Western saloons.



The transplanted New Yorker also expanded his efforts beyond simply dispensing booze over the bar into becoming a liquor wholesaler, supplying whiskey to the other saloons in Salida and vicinity.  He was bringing supplies into town from distillers all over the region via the railroad —the station shown here, Demphy was “rectifying” (blending) whiskeys to achieve desired smoothness, color and taste, and selling them at wholesale in ceramic jugs, shown below and the image that opens this post.



Demphy appears to have been a man of immense energy.  By 1913, along side his liquor business he was breeding and selling chickens at a facility at West Seventh Street and the railroad.  Perhaps briefly, he also was a member of Salida’s small police force.  The Salida Daily Mail of December 17, 2013, reported that the city council had convened an emergency meeting to investigate an incident between Patrolman John B. Demphy and a superior officer named Bailey:  “In the course of an argument over police duties Demphy accused Bailey of lying.  Bailey retorted with three blows to the face ands neck causing a discolored eye, cut lip and scratches on the neck.  Demphy was given first aid at a barber shop.”  Both men subsequently resigned from the force, apparently leaving the city with virtually no police.


Demphy’s biggest blow, however, was to come three years later.  His son Marshall, shown here, had gained considerable attention in Salida as an outstanding youth.  The Daily Mail wrote:  “Marshall was gifted with a wonderful intellect and a special talent for drawing…attested by the many pen sketches which adorn his home and the Salida high school. In mechanical drawing he had achieved a degree of perfection rarely attained by anyone….Throughout his school life [he] secured numerous trophies at various track meets and athletic events.”


At the age of 18 Marshall was struck by spiral meningitis, treatable by antibiotics today but not available in that era. The malady was known to strike young people and often be fatal.  The boy lingered for ten days in the grip of the disease while his anxious parents looked on at his bedside, and died on October 23, 1916.   After a Catholic funeral service in the Demphy home, he was buried in Salidia’s Fairview Cemetery, Sec. G, Blk 23, Lot 12.  His gravestone is shown here.


Less than a month later Demphy sustained another blow when on November 3, the voters of Colorado passed by a majority of 52% a referendum mandating the statewide prohibition on the making and sales of alcohol.  He may have seen this coming.  In 1907 the anti-liquor forces had forced through the Colorado legislature a local option law.  Because Salida and Chaffee County were strongly “wet,” the law had little effect on Demphy’s business but may have suggested to him to diversify into poultry.  After his liquor interests were ended permanently, for  a time he also drove a truck for a local lime quarry.



In the years that followed, Demphy, despite no formal legal training,  also became a justice of the peace in Salida, gaining a reputation for his human touch in the course of his duties and with some frequency making the newspapers.  After pleading guilty for starting a forest fire in the nearby Cochetopa National Forest, a defendant received a minimal fine and, according to the Daily Mail, was: “Warned by Justice Demphy to be more careful in the future and to warn others with whom he came in contact.”  On another occasion when an out-of-state couple came to the Salida courthouse asking him to marry them, Demphy invited them to his home because it provided better scenery .  “Using the two spruce trees in his front yard as a setting for the occasion, he pronounced them man and wife, while their friends took snapshots of the ceremony.”


Demphy died in October 1945, age 77  He had lived long enough to see the end of National Prohibition, but did not reentered the liquor trade.  He was buried in the family plot with son Marshall and both were joined in 1952 by Ruth Demphy. 



Notes:  This post has been dependent on a variety of sources, with the Salida Daily Mail as a principal one.  Although I have a photo of Marshall Demphy from his obituary, I am lacking one of John Demphy and hoping that an alert descendant will be able to supply one.



















































Monday, March 25, 2024

Samuels Family Distilling — Origins to Today, Part 2

Foreword:  This is the second installment in the eight generation story of the Samuels family involvement in the making of Kentucky bourbon.  It begins following the deaths in 1898 of Taylor W. Samuels who had guided the fortunes of the family distillery for almost a half century, and his son, William I. Samuels, the heir apparent .  This episode begins with William’s son, Leslie, taking charge of the Deatsville distillery.

Shown here in maturity, Leslie B. Samuels was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, in January 1872, to William  and Emma Dorcas Samuels.  As part of a successful distilling family, the parents were able to afford a college education for their son. Reputation to have a high IQ, Leslie repaid their faith by graduating at the top of his class from Richmond College (now University) in the Virginia capitol.  


After completing his education Leslie returned to Bardstown and under the tutelage of his grandfather and father, learned the craft and trade of making and selling whiskey.  With their deaths at the age of 26 he became the General Manager and Plant Superintendent of what was known as the Deatsville “T. W. Samuels & Son Distillery.”


Leslie was a faithful conservator of the family heritage.  The brand continued to be T. W. Samuels Whiskey, a name that the company registered with the Federal Patent and Trademark Office in 1905.  The label was anchored by the picture of the Kentucky colonel, shown with a shot glass of whiskey in his outstretched hand. Shown here on a pint flask, the label advertises this bourbon as “rich and mellow, aged in wood.”


Conscious of the marketing efforts of the competition, Leslie was issuing advertising items to be gifted to the dealers and distributors handling the distillery products.  The glasses contained themes like “hand made” and “old style,” emphasizing the longevity of the original recipe. It was a message commonly used throughout the distilling industry.



Leslie’s tenure at the head of the Samuels distillery was not destined to be an easy one.  In 1909 a fire, the bane of distillers., broke out at the Deatsville facility. The distillery and and six warehouses containing the entire stock of more than 9,000 barrels were destroyed.  The result was ruinous for the Samuels.  Leslie lacked the funds to rebuild the distillery and sought financial help in returning to making whiskey.  The Star Distilling Company of Cincinnati stepped into the breach.


   

Founded about 1887, that company was listed by the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce as operated by Max and Simon Hirsch.  While they claimed to be “controllers of Old Oscar Pepper” distillery and blenders of “1863 Chesterfield Rye,” the Hirsches apparently did not own any distillery outright.  Stepping into the Samuels story, they purchased the controlling interest and financed the rebuilding of the distillery.  Leslie remained as a minority stockholder and was retained as General Manager, charged with the rebuilding project.  Back in operation by 1911, the distillery, still under the Samuels name, continued to serve a slowly shrinking market for spirits until completely shut down by National Prohibition in 1920.


During the 14 “dry” years, Leslie Samuels, like other former whiskey men, bought an automobile dealership in Bardstown and was elected the town mayor.  When his mayoralty term ended he was named by the governor of Kentucky as State Highway Commissioner.  In that role as one observer commented:  “It was Samuels who was directly responsible for creating a local road network that flowed in and out of  [Bardstown] to the rest of the state like a spider’s web.”   The presumption is that Leslie was thinking forward to the demise of Prohibition and transporting whiskey.


Not waiting for actual Repeal, Leslie in 1933 wisely began to plan for reorganizing the company in concert with the owners and for rebuilding the distillery.  The  Block Corporation of Cincinnati now became the majority owner with Robert L. Block as president.  Still general manager, Leslie was raised to vice president.  Shown below, he located the new distillery immediately on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad line.  The facility boasted six new warehouses each with the space to hold 19,000 barrels of whiskey, an astounding capacity.  Leslie even assisted in build a new depot on the L&N Railroad where distillery supplies easily could be received and whiskey dispatched.


Unfortunately, Leslie had little time to enjoy managing this state of the art distillery.  In February, 1936, he died at the age of 64 and was buried in Bardstown City Cemetery where many of his relatives already were interred. Now it was the turn of Taylor William “Bill” Samuels Senior to step out from behind of his father’s large shadow and to carry on the family distilling heritage.


Although working at the distillery as he was growing up, Bill Senior trained as an engineer at the Speed Engineering School in Louisville.  While having no formal training as a distiller or businessman, he knew his way around the plant and his name was Samuels.  With Robert Block’s assent Bill took over as General Manager.  He also had inherited his father’s minority share in the business.


Under Bill Seniior’s leadership the distillery featured thee brands: T. W. Samuels Bottled in Bond with a black label,  T. W. Samuels Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky at 90 proof with a red label and Old Deatsville Whiskey.  The whiskeys proved highly popular with strong markets in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana and as far afield as Dallas and Houston, Texas, and the West Coast.  The Deatsville Distillery prospered until business was disrupted by the onset of World War II.  


Bill Senior ran the distillery until 1943 when President Roosevelt ordered all distilleries not capable of making industrial alcohol for the war effort be closed to save grain reserves.  Block wanted to sell the distillery and brands rather than shut down.  Bill Sr. disageed but his efforts at obtaining financing failed.  He was forced to sell the generations-old family business to the Foster Trading Corporation of New York, which changed the distillery name to Country Distillers  As a result, the Samuels name disappear from the facility and the product.


Bill Senior promptly joined the war effort, serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy for the next three years and returning to Bardstown intending to run a farm.  But bourbon was in his blood.  Before long he began talking about creating a new whiskey recipe more suited to contemporary taste that had gravitated toward Canadian whiskey.  He had proposed this to his father but Leslie was adamant about sticking with the original recipe.


In his quest for a recipe Bill Senior turned to friends he had made in the liquor trade, asking them for yeast samples, all of which, ingeniously, his wife Margie, shown here, baked into seven loafs of bread wwith a variety of grains.  The Samuel family blind-tested the loafs, made comments and the “pater familias” made the final selection.  He chose a corn base with soft winter wheat replacing rye.  At that point he is said to have made a ceremony of setting fire to the Samuels’ 170-year old recipe. 


Now Bill Senior needed a distillery to make it.  Looking beyond Bardstown and avoiding the crowded field in Louisville, in 1953 he bought a 200-acre property near the the village of Loretto, Kentucky, in Marion County.  It held a small rundown facility known as the Burks Spring Distillery.  Founded in the the 1880s, shut down during Prohibition, and revived at Repeal, this distillery had operated under a long series of owners until Bill Senior bought it in 1953.  Initially called the Star Hill Distillery Company and with the Samuels label sold away, the family searched for a new name. Thus was Maker’s Mark Distillery born, a brand that would take the whiskey trade by storm and spawn further generations of Samuels distillers.



In February 1954 Bill Senior distilled his first 19 barrel batch of this “new recipe” whiskey, then waiting five years while the barrels were aging.  Meanwhile Margie Samuel was playing an essential role.  In addition to baking the “test” loafs, she had considerable skills in the design field.  The shape of the bottle, look of the label, the signature red wax topper and even the name, Maker’s Mark, were her doing.  She also was the mother and grandmother of the next two generations of Samuels.


With Bill Senior’s retirement, his son Bill Samuels Junior took over.  The father is said to have admonished the son:  Don’t Screw up the whiskey.  Shown below left, Bill Junior did not, establishing a reputation in the industry for his showmanship and taking Maker’s Mark to the pinnacle of Kentucky bourbon. Just Just prior to his retirement, Bill Junior, age 70, made his mark on the family legacy in 2010 with the introduction of Maker's 46, the company's first new brand in over 50 years.  He was succeeded by his son, Rob Samuels, below right, as general manager.



For the past 43 years, however, the Samuels family have not owned the distillery or the brand.  As the global whiskey industry has contracted, ownership has passed several times.  In 1981, while continuing to manage the properties, the Samuels sold to Hiram Walker & Sons.  That company was acquired by the British distillery giant Allied Domecq in 1987. When Allied-Domecq was bought by Pernod Ricard of France in 2005, the Maker's Mark brand was sold to the Deerfield, Illinois–based Fortune Brands. Fortune Brands split in 2011, with its alcoholic beverage business becoming Beam Inc.  



Here — for the time being— ends the eight generation Samuels distilling saga. Stay tuned.  If history is any predictor, the story is not finished as the family continues to figure as a force in the Nation’s distilling history.  


Notes:  This post and the one preceding have been taken from a rich trove of available Internet and other materials about the Samuels dynasty. The ancestral home, shown here, has been maintained as a hotel with displays that pay homage to their whiskey legacy.  I suppose it also a place where from time to time one can sip a Maker’s Mark and remember this remarkable distilling family. 


Addendum:  This post marks a milestone for this website a result of having exceeded 1,700,000 total views since its inception in 2011.  It is now averaging well more than 1,000 “hits” per day worldwide.  My thanks to those viewers who find, as I do, the pre-1920 American liquor industry a rich source of stories, some heartening, others not so.  In total, it is a segment of history that enhances our understanding of the Nation’s past.