Saturday, December 1, 2012

This Monarch Was Acclaimed Whiskey "King"

Martin Van Buren (he preferred M.V.)  Monarch built a distilling empire that led him to be acclaimed “King of the whiskey trade in Kentucky.”   Moreover, this Monarch, shown here about age 40, was reputed to be an every inch a exemplary leader: “handsome, courteous, generous, wealthy and honest.”

Monarch was born in Daviess County, Kentucky in 1842.  His parents were Thomas and Susan (Daviess) Monarch They had ten children of whom only six lived to maturity.  Thomas Monarch may have been in the whiskey trade himself;  three of his sons became distillers. Thomas apparently was wealthy enough to send M.V. to private schools in Owensboro and to continue his education well past that of most young men of that time.  The young Monarch in his early 20s attended Cecilian College,  a classical institution of learning in nearby Hardin County.

M.V. entered business life engaged in the tobacco trade for several years until 1867.  That year he began distilling whiskey in a small way in Daviess County, about five miles west of Owensboro, a town of about 15,000, shown here.  At this facility he was able to produce only one barrel a day.   His product apparently was an immediate success because by the following year he had erected another distillery about one and one half miles east of Owensboro.  There, initially, he was able to make five barrels of sour mash whiskey a day.

This site proved to be an unusually good natural location for a distillery and the quality of the water with which it was supplied.  The water was obtained from deep wells,  85 feet below the surface and held at a steady temperature of 56 degrees the year around.   It was said to be “clear as crystal” and imparted a flavor that was unique to Kentucky and elsewhere.

In the meantime, Monarch had found time to marry.  His bride was Elizabeth Ann O’Bryan, a native of Meade City, Kentucky, and daughter of William and Mary A. (Vowels) O’Bryan. The Monarchs would go on to have six children, five of whom lived to maturity.  They were Henry, born 1872, Daniel 1874, A. Ermenie 1876, Martin Van Buren Jr. 1878, and Bineta 1881.

In 1873 tragedy struck Monarch’s enterprise.  That March a distillery boiler exploded and blew parts 200-300 yards into the nearby river.  Two African-American employees were killed.  Undeterred by this setback, M.V. continue to expand his distillery.  By the spring of 1880 he was turning out 20 barrels a day.  He also was feeding the spent mash to a herd of cattle.   Shown above is a contemporary illustration of his operation.  

In 1870 Monarch had hired a younger man named Peter (P. E.) Payne, who turned out to be a super salesman for his whiskey.   Payne subsequently married Ann Monarch’s sister,  Mary Ellen O’Bryan, becoming M.V.’s brother-in-law.  In 1880 with Payne as Vice President,  M.V. incorporated as the Sour Mash Distilling Company.   By this time he had gained a national audience for his whiskey,  a result of its quality and Payne’s exertions in merchandising aided by a team of three or four traveling salesmen.  The company opened offices in New York City and Louisville and maintained agents in Chicago and Dallas.  The Texas Monarch outlet is shown above left.

As the reputation of his whiskey grew, so did Monarch’s standing in Daviess County.  In 1881 he became a director of the First National Bank of Owensboro.  The following year he became a director of a gravel company that had contracts to upgrade the roads all around Owensboro.   A strong Roman Catholic, about this time M.V. founded the city's St. Vincent de Paul Society,  a volunteer organization aimed at assisting the poor of Daviess County

Named after a former Democratic President,  M.V. was an adherent of that political party and in 1882 was elected as a Democrat to be an Owensboro councilman.   Two years later, however, he broke with his party and its candidate,  Grover Cleveland,  and backed the Republican, James G. Blaine.  Cleveland won and Monarch’s political career seemed to end.

That personal setback for Monarch did not deter the Sour Mash Distilling Company from continuing to grow.  In 1888 Monarch’s firm purchased  purchased other old and well-established Daviess County  distilleries.  They included the E.C. Berry Distillery, founded in 1868, one had an export market;  the John Hanning Distilling Co., established in 1871, with a strong regional reputation, and the Cliff Falls Distillery, established in 1881 in Birk City  on the banks of the Green River by T. J. Monarch,  M.V.’s brother.

According to an 1893 publication,  Monarch and his people found it difficult to handle and sell the product of so many distilleries separately.   As a result in 1890 they incorporated the M.V. Monarch Company, with M.V. as president and Payne once again listed as vice president. This company was formed for the purpose of handling and distributing throughout the United States all the liquor products of the distilleries Monarch now owned.  The move was so successful that three years later Monarch was the largest distributor of sour mash whiskeys in the United States.   It was then M.V. was crowned “King of the whiskey trade in Kentucky.”

The company, as shown here,  advertised its brands vigorously.  They included "Cliff Falls", “Daylight Special,”, "E. C. Berry,” "Eagle," “Jockey Club,” "John Hanning,” "Kentucky Cyclone,” "Kentucky Tip,” "M. V. Monarch,” "Millett,” "Monarch's Maryland Pure Rye,” and "Sovereign."  M.V. Monarch,  as only befitting a king, was the flagship label.  My favorite brand is Kentucky Cyclone.  Reputedly made by a process known only to the distillers, this whiskey was stored in heated warehouses for only four to six months and then sold.  It was said to be “far superior to any other quick-aging goods ever put on the market.”  These whiskeys were sold by the barrel to saloons and in ceramic jugs at retail.

As Monarch grew increasingly wealthy he built a large home, shown right, located not far from his distillery and close to Payne and his wife’s other sister who had married another Monarch brother, Sylvester.  Although the Monarch house was torn down, the Payne home has survived to be part of the National Register of Historical Places.

During his lifetime,  Monarch frequently was extolled.  In 1893 the Pacific Wine & Spirits Review said Monarch “seems to be endowed by nature to take a commanding position everywhere and his physique is in perfect harmony with his mental force...There is neither hypocrisy nor deception about him, nor anything he does.”   Other authors give him similar adulation.   He died in 1906, age 62,  and following a Catholic funeral was buried at Mater Delarosa Cemetery in Owensboro.

His widow, Elizabeth Ann, shown left, lived 13 more years, dying in August 1919.  She was interred beside her husband.  The Monarch liquor interests continued on until the advent of Prohibition.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Steinhardt Bros.: Big Business in the Big Apple

Four brothers named Steinhardt -- Lewis, Morris, Henry and David -- created a pre-Prohibition liquor business in New York City that boasted multiple locations, a plethora of brands, attractive giveaways and fancy ceramic containers.  With that combination, the Steinhardts for a long time did big business in the Big Apple.

The four brothers were the sons of Simon and Sophia Steinhardt.  The parents were born in Austria and,  if census data is accurate,  moved to Germany where Lewis and Morris were born.  Sometime between 1853 and 1857 the family emigrated to the United States, settling in Manhattan.   All their other six children would be born in New York.

Simon seems to have forged a business career in his adopted country.   The 1870 census found him, Sophia and all eight children living on 16th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A.   Simon gave his occupation as cigar merchant.   By the time the next census was taken, things had changed significantly.   Lewis and Morris were no longer in the home but not recorded in other census data.   The rest of the family was still together, but Simon, 59,  and the two remaining sons,  Henry, 22, and David, 18,  all listed their occupation as “liquor dealer.”

And well they might have.  1880 marked the year that Steinhardt Bros. & Company first showed up in New York Business directories.  Their initial location was 456-458 Greenwich Street.   Lewis, the eldest Steinhardt appears to have been the top manager there.  Another location opened that same year and was listed at 192 Division Street.

There followed a proliferation of stores.  In 1885,  a Steinhardt location was listed for 313-315 Bowery.  David Steinhardt was recorded as manager there.  In 1890 stores were at  87-93 Hudson,  that Morris apparently was running, and at 2259 Second Avenue, the Harlem Branch.   A 1991 Steinhardt calendar cited the Bowery and Second addresses adding 299-301 Patchen Av., corner of Chauncy Street, in Brooklyn.  In a 1902,  a business directory shows the Steinhardts at 2207 Third Avenue and 134-138 Mott Street. A 1903 directory lists an outlet at 29 Ninth Street.   With four brothers and apparently for a time their father,  the Steinhardts could run multiple liquor stores.   Henry, for example, is listed as having a shop at 143 Broome.

The Steinhardts were not distillers.   They collected whiskey from a variety of sources,  “rectified” (mixed), probably at their Mott St. facility.  Now considered part of Chinatown, Mott in the early 1900s was a hotbed of new immigrants from Europe. The brothers sold their liquor both nationally and from outlets in New York.  For example,  Roxbury Rye,  one of the Steinhardt’s flagship labels, was a made in Maryland by George Gambrill [See June 2011 post].   Hauled into court by a disgruntled employee, Gambrill made the bizarre claim that he was not in the distilling business since his entire product  for five years -- 3,000 barrels of whiskey -- had been consigned to the Steinhardt Brothers and that, in effect, the Steinhardts owned his distillery.  The court rejected that defense out of hand.  Roxbury Rye deal apparently held, however, and the label was heavily advertised by the Steinhardts.

Other Steinhardt brands were “Littlemore,” “Old Methusalem,”  “Hill Side,”  “Lafayette Club Old Rye,”  ”Old Ballymore,” “Hill Brook,” “The Kintore,” “Emerald Brand,” “Mountain Dew”  and “White Lily Pure Rye.”  Like  many whiskey dealers of their time the Steinhardts featured lots of giveaways to favor customers.  If you stocked their Littlemore “whiskey of merit” in your saloon,  their largesse might include  colorful lithographed tip trays or a wooden wall clock.  For Hill Side Rye, the Steinhardts gifted a reverse glass sign.

What initially drew my interest to the Steinhardts, however, was not their giveaways but the quality of the ceramic containers in which they packaged their liquor.  They had a “fancy for the fancy.”  A prime example is the White Lily jug.    This container was the product of the Knowles, Taylor and Knowles Pottery of East Liverpool,  Ohio.    The white semi-china jug is known  in three colors -- blue,  red and green -- of which the green is the most common.    All three have a round yellow monogram in the lower left corner.   About the size of the new dollar coin,  the mark shows a tiger-like beast pierced through by a spear on which is written “trade mark.”   Below are the initials “S.B. & C.”   The Steinhardt brothers featured this whiskey a great deal in their merchandising. In addition to displaying an illustration on their case labels,  an artist’s rendering of the KT&K jug also was featured on their annual calendars. 

But this New York City outfit didn’t stop there.   In the early part of the 1900s,  it  ordered up -- likely from Sherwood Bros. pottery of New Brighton, Pennsylvania --  another series of very fancy whiskey jugs.  Among them was one furnished for their Kantore “Scotch.”  Its underglaze label features Scottish thistles, a coat of arms topped by a crown that seems vaguely old country, and the Steinhardt name in script. 

Not shown here were “twin” ceramic containers.  They were matching jugs of which one appeared to contained Irish whiskey and the other Scotch.   Neither jug,  however, was explicit about its contents.  Both Emerald Brand  and Mountain Dew are cited on the label as “a blend of whiskey.”   The former boasts an “art nouveau” label with shamrocks rampant and a woman playing a harp in a circle at the center, indicating Irish whiskey.  The other is similar but its motif is thistles and a wolf-like creature,  indicating Scotch.  Steinhardt Bros. & Co.  New York is identical on both ceramics.   Those probably were meant to be placed next to each other on the liquor store shelf and to entice the customers by standing out from spirituous products in glass containers.

Lavish giveaways and fancy jugs could not save Steinhardt Bros. & Co. from the inroads of Prohibition.  As state after state went dry,  the company’s mail order business suffered repeated blows.  By 1915, if New York directories are accurate, the brothers were down to one outlet,  at 29 Ninth Street.   In 1918 all mentions of the firm disappear.   By this time Lewis was 67 years old and Morris 65.  Time to retire.  It had been a 38 year run of business success in the Big Apple.  To paraphrase the song, “New York, New York:”  If they could make it there they could make it anywhere.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Luke Kearney Knew How to “Keep Christmas”

A District of Columbia saloonkeeper, named Luke J.Kearney, was notable for giving away to favored customers at Christmas time small jugs of whiskey.  While other whiskey distributors and tavern keepers sometimes gave customers favors at Christmas and New Years. Kearney’s giveaways are distinctive. Virtually all are two-toned stoneware mini-jugs about 5 and 1/2 inches high. More important, each year had a new slogan -- something for the drinking public to ponder while draining the modest contents of the jug.

The earliest seems to have been issued in 1900. Its under glaze label read: “You are not left...Not by a Jug Full"...Compliments of...Luke J. Kearney... Christmas 1900.” This was followed in 1901 by “Another Jug Full...  Compliments Of...” In 1902, Kearney used the slogan: “While we live - let’s live.” Later ceramics would add his address at 1811 L Street in the District of Columbia.

The next year the Washingtonian employed a personal motto: “Well I’ll be Jugged...Here’s Another Jug with Compliments of Luke J. Kearney.”  The 1904 version was “If You Try Me Once, You Will Try Me Again.” . It appears that Luke also issued a second version in 1904.  It contains a verse that says:
“To Be Healthy? That’s the Question; Drink Arlington Club; It Aids Digestion.”

Although I have yet to identify a giveaway for 1905,  Kearney issued two items in 1906.  One bore the enigmatic motto, “As I Go Up the Hill of Prosperity, May I Never Meet a Friend. “  The second 1906 stoneware is a squared jug with the simple question: “Is Everybody 
Happy?...Christmas 1906...Luke J. Kearney.” The 1907 issue reads “Another Jug Added to What You Have Makes Another Jug More.”

After 1907 the jugs apparently ceased, although Kearney continued to sell whiskey in embossed glass bottles.  He also gave out shot glasses advertising Arlington Club Whiskey,  a brand registered to the Hellman Distilling Co. of St. Louis.  Kearney’s saloon continued to be listed in local business directories until by Act of Congress the District went dry in 1917.

Luke Kearney was the product of an Irish Catholic family whose parents had emigrated to the U.S., before his birth.  His father, also named Luke,   found a job as a watchman in federal service, working for 50 years.  He and his wife, Mary, had a family of six children. Among them was our Luke, born in 1868.  The family lived at 3331 O Street in Georgetown.

The source and length of Kearney’s education and early business career is shrouded in time, but the 1900 Census found him, age 32, living at 1811 L Street, above his saloon.  He was married to a woman named Catherine with whom he had three children. In 1906, Catherine died, leaving Luke to raise Mary, 8; Luke Jr., 6, and Frank, 3.  Kearney does not appear to have remarried.  His parents may have helped him with the parenting for a time but his father died in 1916 and mother in 1917.

Kearney brushed with celebrity in 1903 when he accepted a check from a customer drawn on the Riggs Bank by Harry K. Thaw.  Thaw was the young socialite who later murdered famous architect Stanford White over the showgirl, Evelyn Nesbit, “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.” A sensation of its time, the incident has spawned a number of books and more than one motion picture. Thaw may have been a customer in Luke’s L Street saloon.  In 1915, Kearney was reported to own a baseball club in DC.

Kearney died in 1933, at the age of 65.  He is buried with his wife Catherine, his parents and other family members in Holy Rood Cemetery situated just above Georgetown.  It is a predominantly Irish Catholic graveyard associated with the Jesuit parish of Holy Trinity Church.  Most of the burials took place from the mid 19th century into the early years of the 20th.  Today the cemetery is in very sad repair.   Numerous gravestones have been destroyed or overturned.

Sanborn fire maps of the time show Kearney's 1811 L Street saloon as a two story brick building 25 feet wide and extending rearward almost one-half block to an alley. There was an empty lot on the east side, possibly for hitching horses.  Today the address itself has vanished between a large office building at 1801 L St. and a restaurant and bakery at 1819.  The street is shown as it looks today.

When the Holiday Season comes upon us, we should remember Luke  Kearney, to quote Charles Dickens, as “a man who knew how to keep Christmas.” and, as appropriate, let’s salute Luke’s memory by taking a nip from a jug of our own.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Peppers Went from a Coal Mine to a Gold Mine

In Schuykill Country, Pennsylvania, the son of a coal miner who began his own career at the mines, subsequently moved into selling whiskey and founded a liquor business that his boys expanded into one of Pennsylvania’s most notable -- and lucrative.  It bore the founder’s name:  Thomas Pepper’s Sons Company.

Thomas was the son of Patrick and Marcella (Reilly) Pepper, who immigrated to the United States from Longford, Ireland, in the early 1830s.   They were married in New York City in 1836 where Patrick was employed in an iron foundry.   About 1839 or 1840 the couple moved to Schuykill County, Pennsylvania,  at the center of the anthracite coal region.  There Patrick found employment at a place called Mine Hill Gap and toiled there mining coal for the remainder of his working life.

Patrick and Marcella produced a family of twelve children,  ten of whom lived to maturity.  Thomas was the third Pepper among the youngsters, born in 1842.  He was raised at Mine Hill Gap, went to elementary school there, and at an early age went work with with his father in the mines.  Thomas started as a slate picker, subsequently becoming a driver and later a full fledged miner.

In 1863,  while still working in the mines,  Thomas married Elizabeth McDonald, a local girl whose parents like his were immigrants.  Her father, Patrick, was from Ireland; her mother,  Hannah, was from England.  Thomas and Elizabeth would raise a family of eight children, all of whom lived to maturity,  six boys and two girls.   As Roman Catholics, the parents were assiduous in raising the children in the Church.

About 1865, at the end of the Civil War,  Thomas moved to nearby Ashland,  a  Schuykill County town of about 4,000 population, located north of Harrisburg.  The main street is shown here about 1810.  Clearly having saved some money from his mining toil, Pepper opened a shop where he bottled and sold non-alcoholic  drinks.   After meeting limited success in this trade for the next seven years, in 1872 Pepper entered into the liquor business.

He was much more successful selling whiskey, building a regional reputation for his liquor in Central Pennsylvania.   Like many Irish of his time, Pepper had a strong interest in politics.  A lifelong Democrat,  he ran for the post of Schuykill Country treasurer twice and won.  He also served as a member of the Ashland Borough Council for two terms.   As a indication of his business acumen, by 1907 he also was a director of the Citizen’s National Bank of Ashland.

Throughout the latter part of the 19th Century Thomas Pepper was grooming several of his sons to follow him in the liquor trade.  He sent the eldest, Frank, through the public schools of Ashland and then on to the Bryant & Stratton Business School of Philadelphia in an effort to equip him for a career in commerce.   When Frank was 21, Thomas took him into the business.  A similar path was carved out for two younger sons,  Thomas R. and John W.  

About 1899 Thomas,  perhaps for reason of health given that he was only 57 years old,  retired from running his business and disposed of his interests to his three sons.  They quickly renamed it.   Under their management Thomas Pepper’s Sons Co. flourished. As their letterhead shown above indicates, they featured a number of their own brands,  including “Valley Brook Rye,” “Old Knighthood Rye,”  “Cumberland Rye,”  “Ashland Club Whiskey,” “Anthracite Rye,”  and their flagship brand, “Old Rap Whiskey.”  They also acted as distiller’s agents for a long string of Pennsylvania distilleries whose products they merchandised.

Working out of their small town the Peppers created a giant wholesale house and issued a series of stoneware jugs bearing their name.   They also marketed “Old Rap” vigorously,  retailing it in ceramic jugs and in bottles.  Its label was adorned with a gavel, possibly a reference to Thomas’s political interests, and proclaims the contents as “a mellow blend.”  The brothers also were generous in giveaways to saloons and taverns featuring their brands. Old Rap is represented here by a bar sign and a tip tray offered to favored customers.  Old Rap and and a second brand, Valley Brook, were trademarked in 1905 by the Peppers.

Frank seems to have been the most prominent of the Pepper brothers. His was a full  biography in the 1907 book “History of Schuykill County, Pennsylvania,”  although his brothers  Thomas Jr. and John are mentioned.  He, like his father, was an active Democrat and strong Roman Catholic adherent.   Frank was listed as a member of the Holy Name Society, the Knights of St. Joseph and the Elks Club.  Married, he had five children.

Despite Thomas Pepper having given up control of his company,  the indication is that he continued throughout the rest of his life to take an interest in the profitable business he had founded and built.  There is a curious entry in the 1890 U.S. census, just after he had yielded control to his sons.  When the census taker asked his occupation,  someone -- perhaps Thomas -- said “liquor merchant.”  That, however, is crossed out and “none” (no occupation) was substituted.  In the 1910 census, however, Thomas, now a widower, was recorded as a liquor merchant.

Thomas Pepper’s Sons appears to have flourished during first two decades of the 20th Century, further enriching the family.  The 1920 census found the sons still engaged in the liquor trade.  Thomas R.’s occupation is listed as “distiller”  and John W. as “liquor merchant.”
Frank, on the other hand, was accounted as selling “cigars, etc.”  This was just at the time that National Prohibition was being enforced and Pepper’s Sons was soon out of business.   Thus ended a 48 year business success founded by Thomas Pepper, a coal miner and a coal miner’s son.

Note:  Much of the material for this article was derived from an item in “History of Schuykill County, Pennsylvania.”   That volume contains biographies of both Thomas Pepper and son Frank.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Charles Froeb: From Booze to Banking in Brooklyn

 Charles Froeb, an immigrant to the United States as a teenager, founded a highly successful liquor business in Brooklyn and used it as a springboard to an equally successful career in banking.  Other whiskey men moved into banking once Prohibition forces shut them down, but Froeb, shown here, must be accounted among the most notable.

Charles was the son of Peter, a barber, and Catherine (Becker) Froeb.  He was born in 1857 in the town of Waechtersbach, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.  The town, shown here,  lies between the Spessart and the Vogelsberg Mountains in the middle Kinzig valley at the edge of the B├╝dingen Forest. Waechtersbach is  famous for the brightly colored porcelain coffee cups and other dinnerware that are made there at the Waechtersbach Ceramic Factory, founded in 1832. Froeb received his early education in his home town and then was sent to secondary school in Frankfort-en-Main. 

In 1872 the Froeb family -- father, mother and five children -- emigrated to America, settling in Brooklyn.  Charles went to night school,  learned to speak and write English,  and early on went to work in a wholesale liquor house on Murray Street, New York City. He remained employed there for the next eleven years.   A 1917 biography of Froeb says:  “By that time the young clerk had fully acquired a thorough knowledge of the various features and details of the business and felt confident of his ability to manage the same class of business on his own account.”

As a result,  in 1883 the Charles Froeb Co., wholesale liquor dealers, first appeared in New York business directories, located in the Williamsburg District of Brooklyn. Meanwhile Charles had married in 1880. His wife was Alma Kirchuebel, two years his junior.  She too was the daughter of German immigrants,  Herman and Augusta Kirchuebel, who also lived in Brooklyn.   The Froebs would have a family of boys,  August born in 1883; Charles Jr., 1886; Frank, 1886, and Herman, 1890.  A fifth son, Robert, died in infancy in 1893.

Success came quickly to Froeb.   During the late 1880’s he engaged a well-known New York architect to build him a mansion in the Bedford Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn. The architect was Theobald Engelhardt, who was a member with Froeb of the Arion Singing Society, a very popular German social organization.   Shown here, the house was constructed at 671 Lafayette Street, between Marcy and Tompkins.  Upon completion the Froebs moved in and Charles and Alma lived there the remainder of their lives.  The house made news in 1904 when a lightning bolt struck it, dislodging one of the spheres at the top of a gable and slinging it against a neighboring brownstone.

Through the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th, Froeb’s business expanded.  His flagship brand was “Blue Grass Rye” which he sold in ceramic jugs and glass bottles.  He advertised it heavily, emphasizing its medicinal uses, asking “physicians and consumers” to note such qualities as “very digestible,”  “very nourishing,” and “entirely natural.”  One of the elegant establishments to feature Blue Grass Rye was the historic Everett House off Union Square, shown above. Froeb claimed a distillery in Camp Nelson, Kentucky, but that probably was a supplier relationship not a true ownership.   As seen in an ad here, by 1907 Feoeb had a store at 315 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan as well as his Brooklyn liquor house at 18-20 Tompkins.  Like many of his competitors,  Froeb issued color lithographed signs for saloon customers.  Froeb’s depiction of Daniel Boone stands out.  

Froeb was interested in German culture, supporting organizations like the Arion Club, of which he was several times president, and other groups that fostered German traditions and language.  In 1913 he was made honorary president of  the Brooklyn Turnverein and the Hanover Club.  He also found time to be active in Democratic Party politics.  In 1908, almost as a surprise  to the press,  Froeb was named a Democratic elector for the 1908 election.  The Democratic candidate was William Jennings Bryan, who lost.  This was ironic since Bryan was opposed to strong drink and the Republican winner, William Howard Taft, was a champion of the whiskey trade.

Over time Froeb prepared his sons to join him in business. August, Charles Junior, and Frank all were sent to the highly acclaimed Brooklyn Polytechnic High School.  As they matriculated they were brought into the company.  Froeb incorporated it in 1914 and renamed it Charles Froeb & Sons.  The three boys were given various clerking duties in the establishment.

Even as he was preparing a future in the whiskey trade for his sons,  Froeb himself, perhaps anticipating Prohibition, was embarking on an alternative career.  During the early 1900s he became a vice president of the German Savings Bank of Brooklyn.  By 1914 he had achieved the presidency.  This financial establishment merged several times and each time Froeb emerged at the top of the bank management.  He ended up as president of the Lincoln Savings Bank, shown here,  a post he held until retirement.  Meanwhile the original source of his wealth and business prestige had been shut down by the dictates of National Prohibition. 

When he died in 1946 at the ripe old age of 89,  Froeb could look back on a career that brought him from a teenage immigrant, speaking only a foreign tongue, to the top of the New York City financial world, living in one of Brooklyn’s most elegant mansions.  The Froeb home now serves as the First Corinthian Baptist Church, another irony given the Baptist view of strong drink.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sam Grabfelder and a Distillery of His Own

Samuel Gladfelder was a seven year old boy when he was brought as an immigrant  to America.   As he grew up in Kentucky he began a liquor business that was dependent on the whiskey production of others but yearned to own and operate his own distillery.  In 1903 he achieved his goal.

Grabfelder was born in Germany in 1845.  In 1852 his parents left their native Germany  with Samuel and an older brother, Morris, to seek their fortune in the United States,  They ultimately settled in Louisville where, it appears Sam early went to work, probably in the whiskey trade.  At the age of 25 he married a woman named Delia, whose birthplace in census records variously was given as Pennsylvania and Kentucky.  She was 19.


By the time he was 35 he had accumulated sufficient funds to begin his own whiskey business in 1880, located initially at 70 Second Street near Market Street in Louisville, a city that was the hub of the Kentucky distilling industry.  Sam called it  S. Grabfelder & Co.  The firm, whiskey wholesalers and “rectifiers,”  grew rapidly and by 1882 expanded to larger quarters at 228 Second Street.  In 1890 Grabfelder made another major move,  relocating to 131-133 West Main Street, on Louisville’s prestigious “Whiskey Row.”


Although he had achieved local recognition for his company, Grabfelder remained dependent upon other people’s Kentucky distilleries for the raw whiskey to supply his blending operation.  The company was being provided product by the Pleasure Ridge Park distillery of Jefferson County, the Mayfield Distillery of Jefferson County and the Crystal Springs Distillery in Louisville. Grabfelder may have had some financial stake in those operations but he did not own any of them.  Like many rectifying outfits, he may have suffered from eratic supplies that limited his output and frustrated his expansion. He clearly saw the advantage in owning a distillery.

The opportunity came for him in 1893. In 1880 a sizable distillery had been built in Bullitt County, Kentucky by an unlikely trio: Squire Murphy, a local;  A. M. Barber, a teacher from the East, and Calvin Brown, a whiskey salesman.  After operating for thirteen years under this partnership,  Murphy died and Brown retired.  When Barber offered Sam Grabfelder a contract to handle sales of whiskey from the distillery in 1893, he grabbed at it.  It meant Sam had an assured supply for his rectifying operation.  Within the decade he achieved full ownership of the facility.

Insurance underwriter records described Sam’s newly acquired operation.  The distillery was  of frame construction and fed four bonded warehouses on site.
Warehouse No. 1 -- iron clad and located 78 ft west of the still.
Warehouse No. 2 -- iron clad and adjoining Warehouse No. 1.
Warehouse No. 3 -- iron clad and 8 ft from Warehouse No. 2.
Warehouse No. 4 -- iron clad, 8 ft from Warehouse No. 2 and 5 ft from Warehouse No. 3.

Not content merely to own the Bullitt County distillery, Sam increased its capacity from 197 bushels daily to 500 bushels.  This allowed him to boast a myriad of brands.  They included "Cane Spring.” "Clermont Rye,” "Dan Becker's Monogram,” "Dunn's Monogram,” "Horse Shoe,” "Kentucky Belle,” "S. Grabfelder's American Malt,” "Southern Pride,” and "Woodford County."  His flagship brands, heavily advertised, were “Echo Springs,” and “Rose Valley.”

Like many of his Louisville competitors,  Grabfelder provided a rich array of giveaway items to his favored customers,  saloons and other drinking establishments.  As shown here, they included colorful lithographed metal signs for Echo Spring, with a slogan   "Can’t Be Beat.” Another Echo Spring motto was “Sounds Good, Tastes Better.”   Grabfelder issued attractive back of the bar bottles and watch fobs for Echo Spring.   Rose Valley Whiskey also got its share of advertising and giveaways.  I particularly like the tip tray with the comely lady fondling a horse.

In 1909, S. Grabfelder and Co. made its final move to 119 W. Main.   It remained at that location until 1919 when shut down by National Prohibition. The Grabfelder Distillery and all but one of its warehouses were razed during Prohibition but the grounds eventually became the site of a Jim Beam distillery.  Sam Grabfelder may not have been at the helm of his company during some or all of these events.  The 1910 U.S. Census found Sam and his wife, Delia, living in Ward 20 of Philadelphia.  Age 65, he proudly gave his occupation as “distiller,”  although the distillery was hundreds of miles away.

My thought about Grabfelder’s move East -- and this is purely speculation -- is that Delia was originally from Philadelphia and encouraged her husband to move there after he had achieved the pinnacle of success as a whiskey man.  From two states away, Sam continued to manage his whiskey domain until its demise in 1919.  Age 75, Sam showed up in the 1920 Philadelphia census, living with Delia in rented quarters and giving his occupation as “retired.”  In retirement,  I imagine, he often thought about his rise from a poor immigrant boy to the creation of a large and thriving whiskey business, including the crowning glory of owning his own Kentucky distillery.
The Grabfelder Mansion, Louisville