Friday, April 29, 2011

Outerbridge Horsey IV: A Blueblood and His Booze

If there were a social and political aristocracy in the United States during 18th and 19th Centuries, the Horsey family of Maryland certainly had to be counted among it. What then could have compelled the scion of the family, a youth with the unlikely given name of Outerbridge, to decide upon turning 19 that the passion of his life would be to make good whiskey? 

Needwood Mansion

Outerbridge Horsey IV was a direct descendant on his mother’s side from Charles Carroll, a Maryland signer of the U.S. Constitution and one of the state’s most famous citizens. His grandfather, Thomas Sim Lee, twice had been governor of Maryland. His father, Outerbridge III, was a U.S. Senator from Delaware and earlier its Attorney General. The blood lines ran blue. The family also was wealthy. Governor Lee had established a plantation of 2,000 acres in Frederick County, Maryland, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, near the present town of Burkittsville. On it he built a mansion he called “Needwood.” The youngest of four children, Outerbridge IV was born on the estate in 1819.  

Inheriting land at Needwood at an early age, Outerbridge about 1839 determined not just to farm it, but to establish a distillery. His initial operations appear to have been small with mainly local whiskey sales, in keeping with the Maryland farmer-distiller traditions of that era. Shown below is a Horsey sign at a store in neighboring Boonesboro. 

 With the outbreak of the Civil War, possibly to avoid military service in the Union Army, Outerbridge IV decamped to Europe for the duration of the fighting. During his absence Needwood became a battleground. On September 13, 1862, Confederate cavalry under General J.E.B. Stuart occupied Burkittsville. Two days later the forces of the Union and Confederate armies clashed at the Battle of Crampton’s Gap, as shown here in an illustration. In the process Horsey’s distillery was destroyed and whiskey he had stored was consumed by thirsty combatants. 

Despite these setbacks, Horsey remained passionate about making whiskey. He used his sojourn in Europe to visit Scotland and other European distillery sites to learn as much as possible on how to produce high quality liquor. Returning to Maryland after the war, he set about rebuilding his operation and eventually claimed it as “the first Eastern pure rye distillery of the U.S." 

Horsey’s method of aging his whiskey was unusual for the times and brought fame to his operation. Routinely he sent barrels via ship, like the vessel shown here, around Cape Horn to San Francisco and then by railroad back to Maryland for bottling. His theory was that sloshing around inside barrels on the high seas mellowed and aged the whiskey in beneficial ways that sedentary storing in warehouses failed to do. He marked crates containing Horsey Rye with the message: “This whiskey was shipped by sea to San Francisco per S.S. ______, thus acquiring a unique and most agreeable softness.” 

Horsey marketed his whiskey in bottles with fancy labels, established dealers in nearby towns, and opened an office for his company in Baltimore. Establishments carrying Outerbridge’s brand were given an attractive bar ornament -- a metal horse about four inches high. With the profits from his whiskey and his farm Outerbridge and his wife, Anna, also a descendent of Charles Carroll, bought a house in Washington, D.C., where the couple spent winters and were active in local high society. Horsey also was the Democratic National Committeeman for Maryland for many years and served on the boards of several major companies.  

With a daily capacity less of than 400 bushels of mash, production from Horsey’s distillery put it almost squarely in the middle of Maryland’s whiskey makers. Taxable revenues from the operation stayed steady at around $25,000 for many years. During his 60 years in distilling, Horsey steadfastly emphasized maintaining quality over increasing quantities of his whiskey. 

 At the advanced age of 83 Outerbridge died in 1902. He apparently never disclosed why an heir “to the manor born” would be so passionate about making good whiskey. His obituary in the New York Times emphasized his political connections, adding as an afterthought that he also was a distiller. Horsey’s aristocratic family apparently had no interest in making whiskey and not long after his death they sold the distillery. 

Under new management production doubled by 1907. The name of the whiskey was changed to “Old Horsey.” It was marketed vigorously to a wide drinking audience and quality dropped. An etched shot glass exists from this period. With the advent of Prohibition, operations came to a screeching halt. Upon Repeal in 1934 Sherwood Distilling bought the Horsey distillery and shut it down but kept the well recognized brand name, as shown on a bottle here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fixing Whiskey in Mahoneyville

Identified by McClure’s magazine in 1920 as the U.S.Government’s “chief analyst of whiskey,” a professor named Tolman declared that the widely sold brand of liquor merchandised as “Arlington Pure Rye” was simply neutral spirits colored and flavored. In short, this purported whiskey was an outright fraud on the public. The conclusions of the Federal inspector must have caused a chaos in Mahoneyville.

 Not that Mahoneyville ever really existed. In modern parlance, it was a “virtual” place, apparently encompassing Alexandria, Portsmouth and Norfolk,Virginia, and eventually Baltimore, Maryland. Nonetheless, an investor could have bought stock in its distillery. Mahoneyville was the brainchild of two brothers, Edward and John Mahoney of Portsmouth. An 1872 local directory listed them as wine and liquor dealers doing business under the name J & E Mahoney at 11 and 13 High Street. Edward was president and John was treasurer. Subsequently the pair hatched the idea of moving into distilling whiskey and calling the operation “Mahoneyville.” 

 They located the distillery in Alexandria, as indicated in a 1893 ad. Liquor tax records from the Federal Government indicate that Mahoneyville Distilling carried out transactions at its Alexandria area facility from 1898 at least through 1914. The brothers also adopted Northern Virginia names for their whiskeys: "Arlington Pure Rye" and "Cameron Springs Whiskey." Their other liquor brands also reflected Commonwealth origins: "Belle of Virginia Blended Rye," "Lake Drummond Rye," and "Hampton Roads Whiskey."  The company registered most of these trade names with the U.S. during 1905 and 1906. "Monogram Whiskey,"  another Mahoney product, was not among them.

 Although labels long ago have been washed away from most of its containers, Mahoney whiskey bottles were strongly embossed and can be readily identified. Subsequent bottles are more elaborately lettered and identify the Mahoneys as “distillers” At some point the brothers also acknowledged their role as “rectifiers,” that is, outfits that mixed whiskey -- and too often other substances -- to obtain a more tasty, smoother product. 

Early in the 20th Century, the Mahoneys opened a store in Norfolk and began to cite that location on their bottles. The brother’s liquor empire included several entities. In addition to Mahoneyville Distilling and J & E Mahoney, the family members operated the Edward L. Mahoney Company of Norfolk (1898-1913) and E. Mahoney & Son of Norfolk (1906-1908). A mini-jug from the latter firm boasts that the whiskey inside is “On the Square,” adding: “You know the rest, it is Mahoney’s best.” John and Edward also branched out into selling beer, advertising themselves as agents for the Consumer Brewing Company and its Bronco Export Beer. 

Mahoneyville came to a screeching halt in Virginia in 1916 when the state voted for a complete prohibition of alcoholic beverages. The Mahoneys then moved their operations to Maryland where they set up shop at 30 S. Calvert Street in Baltimore. They continued to sell their whiskeys from that location from 1917 until 1920 when the Nation went completely dry and the business closed. 

My guess is that the adulteration of Arlington Pure Rye, as decried by Professor Tolman and McClure’s magazine, was a result of the Mahoneys shutting down the Alexandria distillery and moving entirely into rectifying whiskey in Baltimore. Instead of creating and aging their products, they were mixing up ingredients in batches in a back room and slapping the old labels on it. To paraphrase Shakespeare: Something rotten was going on in Mahoneyville.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Theobalds: Trading Up on Whiskey

Frederick Theobald (right) and his younger brother, Adolph, both shown here in maturity, must be counted among the most canny of whiskey men. They parlayed a wine and spirits trade into business and political success that made them both leading figures in Columbus, Ohio, at the turn of the 20th Century. 

The story of the Theobalds begins with their father Frederick Sr., born in 1809, son of Leopold Theobald. Wedding Fredericka Schmidt, he would father four children, including his namesake Frederick in in 1835 and Adolph in 1840. Involved in the liquor trade from an early age, the father founded Theobald and Son Co. in 1860, later changing the name to Theobald and Sons, presumably as Adolph came into the firm.

 Over the years the firm was located at several addresses on High Street, the main drag of Columbus. In 1884 the elder Theobald died. A new letterhead was adopted that featured the brothers They then begin a sustained effort to grow the liquor business, advertising vigorously around the Midwest. A display ad Ohio newspapers made the following claim: “Theobald has become a household name wherever the purest and best whiskey is discussed.” Among the brand names used by the Theobalds were "Cottage,"  "Marble Cliff," "Old Coon Sour Mash," "Old Land Mark,"  "Oldway," and "Wyandote Grove."  Most of these brands eventually would be trademarked with the Federal Government in 1905 and 1906. 

The Theobalds were “rectifiers” not distillers. They mixed whiskeys to enhance taste and smoothness. then slapped their labels on the bottles. Initially Cottage Rye appears to have been the flagship brand, as represented by a back of the bar bottle. Later the Old Coon brand came to the fore as shown here on a half-pint flask. The embossed monogram “T & S” was a feature of many of the firm’s liquor bottles. The firm also boasted major wine sales. 

As their liquor business thrived, both brothers were moving into the top echelons of the Columbus political and business communities Adolph -- now married to the former Ottilie Corzilius and the father of three children -- was elected to the City Council of Columbus. He served one term. Frederick entered banking, becoming a director of the Ohio Savings Bank. Subsequent biographies would refer to him as a “banker” downplaying his liquor interests. Adolph became an important figure in utilities. By the early 1890s he was president of the Columbus Electric Light Company. When the city’s street car and light businesses were merged in 1893, he became a director of the Columbus Railway and Light Company (CR&L). 

After Frederick’s death in 1906 at age 71, Adolph, now in his mid 60s, determined that the time had come to sell the family liquor holdings. Not only did he have other business interests, but the specter of statewide Prohibition was becoming ever more a possibility. Although Ohio voters had rejected banning alcoholic drinks in referenda, the margins of victory were becoming slimmer and slimmer. Probably sensing the inevitable, Adolph sold Theobald & Son Co. to a group of Columbus investors. Their investment within a few years proved to be a mistake. Shown here is a photo of their High Street building taken during the 1918 Christmas season. This was the year the Buckeye State voted in a ban on alcohol, more than 19 months ahead of National Prohibition.

A huge sign announced “Ohio Dry May 25th 1919....Closing Out Our Business.” A smaller sign offered helpful holiday hints. It suggested that “wines, whiskies, brandies, rums, gins, etc.,” would make thoughtful gifts for friends since those products would not be obtainable once “Ohio is Dry.” After surviving 59 years the liquor business the Theobald family had built vanished the next year. 

 Looking on from the sidelines, Adolph, just months from his own death, must have been saddened. Both Frederick and Adolph are interred at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus. There they lie with such locally-born celebrities as World War II Hero Eddie Rickenbacker and Humorist/Writer James Thurber. While they were not as famous as those men, we remember the Theobolds today as brothers who parlayed the whiskey trade into becoming major figures in their home town. 

Notes: The information and images provided here are from a variety of Internet and other sources. The photographs of the Theobalds are through the courtesy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library which maintains an excellent collection of vintage photos and illustrations.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men: Why This Blog

This is an introduction to my new blog, called "Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men!" It is a spin-off from my earlier and current blog called "Bottles, Booze and Back Stories" with a web address of bottlesboozeandbackstories(at) That earlier blog is devoted to a wide range of subjects, loosely arranged around bottle and ceramics collecting, whiskey and other alcoholic beverages, and esoteric bits of history. It has attracted a modest audience of collectors, genealogists, friends, relatives and idle curiosity seekers.

This blog is aimed at an even more esoteric audience: Persons interested in the American whiskey industry before the advent of National Prohibition in 1920. That date marks a distinct watershed in the making and marketing of whiskey. After Repeal things would never be the same. The "Dry" 14 years had meant the demise of literally thousands of distilleries, liquor distributors, saloons and brand names from all across the Nation. In their place after 1934 emerged a few large organizations and a diminished number of brands.

Nevertheless, making and selling whiskey from the founding of the U.S. was a major industry. George Washington, we know, was an important early distiller. The men who over time built and maintained this industry often had interesting and notable careers. In addition to their histories are the artifacts they have left behind in many forms, items that often are avidly collected today.

In recent years a very small group of individuals has attempted to gather historical material on as many of these whiskey men and their products as possible. I am fortunate to have been acquainted with several of them. One pioneer was Robert E. Snyder of Amarillo, Texas, who died this year. His work in researching whiskey brands and companies began when he was writing three books featuring whiskey miniature bottles. In 1980 Bob also published a book on whiskey ads and other ephemera called "Whiskey Paper." More recently he sold a binder reference that lists hundreds of pre-Prohibition whiskey brands, the outfits that produced them, and their location. His contribution was enormous.

Bob's work in turn was an inspiration and major source for Dr. Barbara Edmonson, a college professor from Chico, California. Through her collection of old whiskey shot glasses she became interested in research on their origins. She amassed a collection of old directory pages for distilleries and liquor distributors from virtually every major city in the United States. From those and other materials she wrote two books, "Historic Shot Glasses: The Pre-Prohibition Era," (1985, reprinted 1992) and "Old Advertising Spirits Glasses (1998).

Occasioned by my collection of ceramic whiskey jugs, as I began to write extensively on this era, I was in touch with Dr. Edmonson, now deceased, and purchased from her the directory pages. Those played an important part in some 200 articles, many of which have been compiled into two volumes: "The American Whiskey Jug" (2002) and "Mostly Whiskey" (2009). Most of the jug collection subsequently was sold at auction; I currently collect whiskey-related paperweights.

With the dawn of the Internet age another major researcher has emerged. He is Robin Preston of Altanta, Georgia, a shot glass collector. Drawing on the work of Snyder, Edmonson, myself, and others -- as well as his own investigations -- Robin has created the website that makes much of this accumulated research readily available online. With a strong mixture of factual material and images he has taken the data resources to an entirely new level of richness.

Why then a felt need for a new blog on this topic? Two reasons. First, Robin's site is limited by space in providing narrative accounts of the organizations that he documents. Second, over the years I have accumulated a great deal of information on pre-Prohibition whiskey men (few women were ever involved in the trade), information that lends itself to the kind of short illustrated article that a blog makes possible.

In the posts to follow I will relate the stories of many enterprising Americans and their enterprises, illustrating them with appropriate photos and images. My plan is to put up a new post every two weeks or so. If you have just found the site, I hope you will be encouraged to come back from time to time.
Jack Sullivan 4/6/2011