Friday, October 28, 2011

Melky Miller of Maryland, Distiller of Accident

The farmer-distiller was a familiar figure in the 19th Century state of Maryland. These were canny individuals with working farms who determined that the “value added” of turning their corn, wheat and rye into alcohol rather than selling to the local grain merchants made good sense. With good roads and ready markets in Washington and Baltimore, they founded distilleries and whiskey brands that often bore their names.  Notable among them was Melky Miller, shown here driving a sleigh. Melky was born in 1833, christened either “Melchior” or “Melchoir” Mueller -- his baptismal certificate gives the first spelling and his tombstone the second. 

In 1838 his family moved to what is now Garrett County, Maryland, then part of Allegheny County, and settled in a town with the highly improbable name of Accident. Located near Deep Creek Lake in the northern county, the town can trace its unusual name, according to historians, to the mid-1700s when two independent groups of surveyors each identified it as prime land and an a subsequent owner wished to commemorate the happy “accident.” Its downtown is shown here in the early 1900s. 

The Muellers were industrious people and good farmers. They prospered in Accident. It is not clear when Melky anglicized his name to Miller; the practice was a common one particularly for German immigrants seeking to assimilate into American society. Little is known about Melky’s early life. As an adult, he married a woman named Barbara, eight years his junior, and together they raised a family, including three sons. 

Melky might have gone through life unremarked had he not bought a farm in 1875 along a tributary of South Branch Bear Creek, just southeast of Accident. He was 42. According to a family history, he also bought a small distillery owned by Joel Miller in the Cove area of Garrett County and moved the equipment to his farm. Melky possessed sufficient wealth from farming to afford the investment in whiskey production. He himself knew little about distilling. A canny entrepreneur, Melky initially hired professionals to operate the business. His three sons -- William, John, and Charles -- learned the art of making whiskey from these hirelings and in time replaced them.


The firm also was noted for the artistic design of both the jugs and the bottles in which it marketed its products. It also featured giveaways like shot glasses and cork screws. Melky’s name was prominently displayed on all whiskey labels and merchandising items. In 1902 Melchior sold the distillery to his sons. Reflecting the new owners, the company changed its name to M.J. Millers Sons Distillery. William continued as distiller, while John and Charles established wholesale and retail whiskey businesses in nearby Westernport, Maryland. The firm also warehoused its products in that town. 

His boys had an evident genius for business and soon built Melky Miller’s Maryland Rye Whiskey into a highly respected local and regional brand. Although production was relatively small -- only 29 bushels of grain processed daily according to Federal records -- the quality of the company’s whiskey was high. For example, Melky’s product adhered to the Federal “bottled-in-bond” requirements. 

Barbara Miller died in 1913 when she was 72, two years before Melky passed away in 1915 at the age of 82. They are buried in the cemetery next to Zion Lutheran Church in Accident. Their sons continued to operate the distillery until 1919 when Prohibition closed their doors, never to reopen. 

In 1920 all bonded whiskey in the Accident warehouses was transferred to a Federal facility in Cumberland. The distillery itself was closed and left to decay. In Accident the foundations for the bonded warehouses of the distillery can still be seen 200 feet south of Miller Road, a quarter mile east of the Brethren Church Road intersection. The abandoned structures reportedly were destroyed by fire in 1971. The Garrett County Historical Society has erected a sign memorializing the site. In effect, the “National Accident” called Prohibition had come to Accident, Maryland.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

David Sachs Hooked a Puritan on Hard Liquor

When David Sachs set up his whiskey business in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1872, two causes were beginning to make themselves felt in American society: the campaign for Temperance and the championing of unadulterated food and drink. Possibly with those in mind, Sachs named his flagship brand, “Puritan Rye” and featured the image of a Puritan elder on the label. He likely saw the name as suggesting both moderation and purity.

To a later generation, accustomed to thinking of the Puritans as a stern, humorless people, shunning all kinds of entertainment and alcohol, this capture of the their image to advertise whiskey may seem questionable. Puritans, however, were not opposed to drinking. One Puritan document deplored depriving anyone of the “lawfull comfort alloweth to all men by the use of wine.”

The young Sachs probably had only slim knowledge of the religious company that called themselves Puritans. Born in Germany in 1827 Sachs arrived on U.S. shores sometime in the 1840s. Married to a German-born woman named Hannah Weil, he settled initially in Springfield, Illinois. In that city were born two sons, Morris D. and Edward, and a daughter, Julia. We can assume Sachs was engaged in the liquor trade in Springfield.

By the 1870s, David was living in Louisville, a center for the American whiskey industry, and the head of his own firm. His first address was on Market Street. Five years later his whiskey business, called David Sachs & Co., moved to Main Street and subsequently to addresses on Third Road below Main. In 1884, he took his two boys into the business and re-named it David Sachs & Sons.

The company letterheads, that varied from time to time, consistently branded the Sachs as distillers. While this was not unusual, at most they were “rectifiers,” blenders of various kinds of whiskeys to achieve a more palatable taste.   
It also was common for such outfits to contract for the entire production of a Kentucky distillery for a year or more and then to appropriate the distillery name. Sachs & Sons over the years claimed to be the proprietors of the Oakland Distillery in Henderson County and later the Saxon Distillery of Marion County, both in Kentucky.

The company produced myriad brands including "Alfalfa", "C. O. D.", "Cape May", "Delmonico", "Famous Nottingham", "May Port", "Old David", "Ramona", "Saxon", and "Tanglewood.” "Tosca Rye” was introduced after the 1900 highly successful debut of the Puccini opera. 

 The featured label, however, always was Puritan Rye. Bearing the slogan, “It’s All Right,” the whiskey was sold nationwide in barrels and in bottles, including a ceramic canteen produced by the Thuemler Co. of Pittsburgh. The brand also featured giveaway items such as back of the bar bottles, highball and shot glasses. Even a racy trade card was used to advertise the Puritan brand.

Symbolic of the success of the company was its 1896 move into “Whiskey Row” 
in the 100 block of Main Street., Louisville. There resided some of the most prestigious whiskey distillers and recifiers in the United States. That address for David Sachs & Sons meant the family had arrived in the top echelon of the whiskey trade. Its Whiskey Row offices are shown here.

The Sachs family were very active in community and religious affairs in Louisville. The entire family was recognized for its generosity to Hebrew causes. Edward for many years was president of the Federation of Jewish Charities. He also was active with the local chapter of the National Child Labor Committee, a group devoted to ending child labor in the United States. The wife of Morris Sach was a noted donor to the Louisville Free Library, an organization that made books available to less well off families.

In 1898 David Sachs died, age 71. Morris and Edward continued to operate David Sachs & Sons for the next 11 years. During this period Samuel Haas, who had married Julia Sachs, was taken into the firm as an officer. In 1906 Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, validating the “pure” theme of Puritan Rye. But the Sachs' Puritan had little or no effect on the rising tide of Prohibition and the company was forced to close its doors in 1919.

Indicative of the closeness of the Sachs family is the grouping of graves around a monument in Louisville’s Temple Cemetery. In close proximity can be found David and Hannah, daughter Julia and husband Samuel Haas, Morris Sachs and his wife, Edward Sachs and his wife and daughter. Just as they worked together in life, they rest together in death.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sam'l Klein Risked the Risque'

In the pre-Prohibition era only adult males frequented saloons. Many drinking establishments, without fear of offending women, featured a nude or other suggestive picture, usually somewhere over the bar. Whiskey men were quick to recognize the merchandising possibilities in this custom. A few marketed their liquor by use of, let us say, “racy” images. Key among them was Samuel H. Klein, called Sam’l, of Klein Brothers in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

To advertise his "Harvard Rye" brand, for example, he provided a bar picture showing two university lads dressed in cap and gown, presumably from Harvard University, sporting with two ladies in what appears to be a house of ill repute. The image found its way into a number of saloons, one shown here centered over the bar. 

The image of the rowdy college boy also appeared on Klein Bros. bottles. So identified was Klein with Harvard Rye that when a cartoonist caricatured him it was with a scholar’s mortarboard and a book in hand, sitting on a keg of the whiskey. 

For his Spring Lake brand, Klein could get even more daring. He had copied and distributed for bar use a painting of two courtesans, nude from the waist up, dueling in a Paris park. This picture first appeared in the French Salon of 1884, painted by a well-known and popular Parisian artist named Emile Antoine Bayard (1837-1891). Bayard called it “An Affair of Honor.” The image caused a sensation wherever shown and became a favorite of the saloon crowd. 

With a brother, Klein founded his firm about 1875 at 340 Walnut Street. Soon the volume of business caused the firm to move to larger quarters at 49 Vine Street. Further expansion forced a move to a building at 17 Sycamore St.   About the same time Sam’l took Elias Hyman as a partner and the firm became Klein Bros. & Hyman. The partners did a vigorous business, eventually opening their own distillery in Kentucky. Their brands gained regional and even national attention, including "Keystone Rye,"  "Spring Lake Rye, " "Lynchburg Rye," "McBride," and "Independence" whiskeys. The partnership lasted about ten years. After the partners dissolved it in 1897, Sam’l set up again as Klein Bros., located at 121 Sycamore in Cincinnati. 

Throughout his career as a leading American “whiskey man,” Klein demonstrated an extraordinary flair for merchandising. In addition to his creative use of advertising, Sam’l employed the artistic genius of Liverpool Ohio’s KT&K Pottery to produce ceramic containers for his Spring Lake and other whiskeys. He also marketed his Keystone Rye in Fulper Pottery “fancy” jugs. In the process he was responsible for some America’s most attractive whiskey jugs. Attractive shot glasses also were part of Klein’s legacy. 

Sam’l died in 1914, widely mourned as an Ohio business leader and philanthropist. He left the whiskey business to family members, his last testament envisioning that the firm he founded would exist well into the 20th Century. But that was not to be. Five years after his death, Klein Bros. Company suspended operations because of Prohibition and never reopened. Today the memory of Samuel H. Klein is kept alive by a family foundation in Cincinnati that honors his name. We also can remember him for the flamboyance of his merchandising techniques, as well as his willingness to risk -- for his time-- being just a little bit risque’.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pfeiffer Bros. of Louisville: Spirits Were in the Family

When Edward T. and Cornelius (Cal) J. Pfeiffer, the latter shown here, set up their liquor organization in Louisville Kentucky in 1902, they were doing what came naturally: Members of the Pfeiffer family had been involved with spirits of one type or another since 1867. That was the year their father, Martin, and his brother purchased the Green Street Lager Brewery. Martin followed it up a decade later by opening a saloon in that city.

By 1886, Ed (age 23) and Cal (only 15) were listed as bartenders at the Martin Pfeiffer Saloon. From there the brothers’ careers diverged for a time. Cal went to work for a wholesale whiskey dealer named J. Simons & Co. After several years of experience as a salesman, he and Ed founded Pfeiffer Bros. in 1896 as a new whiskey operation in the Louisville hotbed of distillers, rectifiers, and dealers. At first they ran their business from their home at 903 E. Jefferson St. where they still lived with their sister.

Once their liquor firm was underway they opened an downtown office at 733 E. Broadway and then at 128 Second St. With success came the need for further expansion; Pfeiffer Bros. in 1902 moved to 226 W. Main, one block down from Louisville’s famed “Whiskey Row.” Although their letterhead proclaims them as distillers, they were almost certainly “rectifiers,” an outfit that blended whiskey from various distilleries, bottled it, slapped on a label, and sold it to saloons and the public. Among Pfeiffer Bros. brands were "Dixie Belle", "Hayfield", "Lou Dale", "Noxall", "Old Cornelius", "Old J.B.T.", "Silas Moore", and "Tom Hudson."

Besides their own brands the brothers also sold other whiskeys and offered port wine, sherry, cognac, and peppermint, blackberry and apricot brandies. Ed ran the day to day operation while Cal roved through Kentucky and other states making sales. As proof of the rough and tumble times that still existed in the West, Cal was said always to have carried two pistols during his travels.

Despite their busy lives, the brothers found time to marry. The 1900 census found Edward with wife Johanna, whom he had wed in 1893, and three small children at home. He gave his occupation as liquor dealer. Cal was married in 1895 to his wife, Katie. The census records him with a boy and girl at home.

Amid strong competition, the brothers did well, drawing product from, among others, the Tom Moore Distillery at Bardstown, and, shown above, depicting that distillery as their own on their letterhead. They also provided their labels with attractive, tasteful designs. For featured brands like Silas Moore the brothers also gave away saloon mirrors and tip trays. One tray, produced by Vienna Art Plates on a 1905 patent, featured a man sitting at a table with a whiskey bottle. The label could be changed by the Pfeiffers to any one of four of of their brands.

In 1904, the Pfeiffer Brothers exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair and Louisiana Purchase Exposition as part of a Kentucky contingent. They were awarded a gold medal for their Old J.B.T. blended whiskey by the Fair’s Department of Agriculture. The medal, shown below, became a source of great pride and an additional marketing tool. It was perhaps no coincidence that Tom Moore, a close associate of the Pfeiffers, was one of the jurors. It may even have been his whiskey.

A subsequent address change for Pfeiffer Bros. occurred in 1909 when they moved a few doors down Main Street to #216 where the business continued to flourish. In 1918, at the relatively young age of 55, Edward died. Afterward the company, apparently with Cal in charge, made a last move to Suite 903 in the Liberty Building. With the advent of Prohibition in 1920 Pfeiffer Bros. closed down forever. At that point Cal would have been 49 years old. He no doubt went on to other pursuits.

But not even the ensuing “dry” 14 years could bring a end to the Pfeiffer family involvement with alcoholic beverages. After Repeal Cal’s son spent most of his life working in the whiskey trade. The following generation dabbled in whiskey merchandising and also made cordials and wine. A fifth generation, still in business, operates a winery in Lanesville, Kentucky. That makes five generation of Pfeiffers who have traded in spirits.

Note: Most of the information and images for this post have been derived from the Pfeiffer-Schwartzel Family website. That site recounts in detail the whiskey operations but provides sparse personal details about the brothers themselves. Those items have come from census data.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Over the Jumps with the Lanahans of Baltimore

William Lanahan Jr., shown here, was the master of hounds for a Maryland fox-hunting coterie -- a highly prestigious post for the scion of a whiskey making family.  Not that the founding father, William Sr., was shanty Irish when he founded the business. While there is scant information about his life, the elder Lanahan is said to have achieved considerable wealth and influence as a confectioner before the Civil War. During the early 1850’s he began producing and selling a whiskey he first federally registered in 1855 as "Hunter Pure Rye" and, afterward as "Hunter Baltimore Rye."  The brand would make the Maryland city almost synonymous with quality rye whiskey.


From the beginning,  the Lanahans’ whiskey exhibited aristocratic pretensions:  The label and ads featured a man formally dressed in fox-hunting garb astride a horse, both set to gallop with the hounds   Subsequent branding featured a horseman with top hat and the slogan:  “The American Gentleman’s Whiskey.”  This “timber-topper” image clearly was attempting to appeal to the upper classes or people aspiring thereto.   After his father’s death in 1868,  William Jr. took over the business and vigorously expanded whiskey-making operations. 

In 1870, according to the earliest city directories, Wm. Lanahan & Son was doing business at 20 N. Light Street. The company was located there in 1904 when the Great Baltimore Fire destroyed its building. It relocated at 205-207 Camden Street shortly thereafter, but obtained permission to rebuild at its old location after the widening of Light Street. 

In 1906 the firm resumed business in a newly constructed building at 20 Light. Its three story facility, known as the Lanahan Building, loudly announced its purpose with the word “whiskey” in prominent letters on its face. It also proclaimed Wm. Lanahan & Son as “distillers.” Jim Bready, the noted expert on Baltimore whiskey, insists that the Lanahans actually were “rectifiers,” who took alcohol distilled by others, mixed it with other ingredients, bottled, labeled and marketed it. Although the firm sold other whiskeys, among them “365,” "Bodega", and "Hunter Bourbon,"  Hunter Baltimore Rye was its flagship brand. 

When the young Lanahan took over management of the firm, he embarked on a major advertising campaign in newspapers and magazines. He also directed painting the Hunter Baltimore Rye logo and a mounted fox hunter on a wide range of locations. Its signs graced outfield fences in major league baseball parks in New York and Chicago as well as in Baltimore. Several years ago when a building was torn down at Broadway and 64th St. in Manhattan, as shown above, uncovered was a colorful ad for Lanahan’s whiskey on a wall eight stories tall. 

 Unusual for the time, Lanahan employed a sales force of six men who traveled the country marketing the whiskey and signing up local distributors. As was common with brands seeking national attention, Lanahan issued a wide range of advertising items. Among them were a celluloid pin depicting a fox hunter, shown here. The company issued at least several varieties of paperweights. Most carried the waving horseman. Never shy about extolling the virtues of his whiskey, Lanahan advertised Hunter Baltimore Rye as “The Perfection of Aroma and Taste...the Leading Whiskey of America.”

Perhaps recognizing that its appeal as a “gentleman’s” drink might have a negative effect on potential female customers, the whiskey also was touted as "particularly recommended to women because of its age and excellence.” All this hype worked. Hunter became the largest selling rye whiskey in America. 

 A 1912 book entitled "Baltimore: Its History and Its People"  extolled the firm thus: “There is no article made in Baltimore that has done more to spread the fame of the city as a commercial centre than has Hunter Baltimore Rye.” Having conquered America, Lanahan looked abroad to expand his market. In London in the program of a performance of “Sherlock Holmes” Hunter Rye was advertised as “The Popular American Whisky.” (Brit spelling). It was the lone Yankee booze sold at the Duke of York Theater that season. 

 In 1902 the firm tried to get a concession from the imperial court of China. Letters to that effect exist from Wm. Lanahan & Son to Gen. Thaddeus S. Sharretts in Shanghai. Sharretts had been appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 to negotiate with the Government of China on increasing imports of U.S. goods. Lanahan’s plea may have paid off. A Hunter sign in Chinese recently sold at auction. Another Asian port in which the whiskey found a place was in Manila, the Philippines. A photo exists of American soldiers of the 8th U.S. Infantry, in the islands to put down an insurrection, swigging down quarts of Hunter Baltimore Rye during their off-duty hours. 

With success came competition. Many other whiskeys began to call themselves Baltimore rye -- even products made hundreds of miles from the Maryland city. In reaction to these presumed copycats, Lanahan registered “Hunter Rye” with the government as a trademark in 1890 and again in 1905; and “Hunter Baltimore Rye” in 1898 and in 1908. Wm. Lanahan & Son and its brand operated for 59 years, a extraordinary corporate life in the turbulent history of Baltimore whiskey-making. 

The Lanahans never forgot their ancestral Maryland home, above.  By the time the doors to the operation finally closed in 1919 with the coming of Prohibition, however,  Lanahan family members had moved into the world of banking and high finance. One Lanahan became a governor of the New York Stock Exchange. Another achieved a measure of fame by marrying Scottie Fitzgerald, the only child of author F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Those Lanahans moved to Washington, D.C., where they were a glamour couple during the 1950s and 1960s. 

The Hunter Rye brand survived Prohibition. The name eventually was bought by Seagrams, one of the big whiskey cartels out of Canada. About the same time Seagrams purchased the Wilson Distillery in Baltimore. It merged the two operations and began making Hunter Rye at its Calvert distillery in Baltimore. When that facility subsequently was shut down, the Hunter-Wilson Distilling Company was relocated to Seagram’s Louisville plant. Apparently because “rye” was losing popularity, Hunter became a Kentucky bourbon. It did not give up its “Tally Ho!” image, however. Its advertising featured a man on horseback clearing a jump with the slogan: “The first one over the bar.”