Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Crigler & Crigler: A Family Affair

No better example of close familial relationships in the whiskey trade exists than the story of Crigler & Crigler -- Robert and Llewellyn -- uncle and nephew. Together they created one of Kentucky’s leading distilling dynasties, one with a nationwide reach. The Crigler family were early immigrants from Germany to Madison County, Virginia. Jacob Crigler, the founder of the family, is recorded arriving in 1717. His descendent, Nicholas, an American soldier in the War of 1812, emigrated about 1828 from Virginia to Boone County, Kentucky, with his family. With him was an older son, Ephraim; another son, Robert, would be born in Boone County in 1834. 

 According to a Kentucky history published in 1887, Robert, sometimes known as “R.L.” left Kentucky at age 16 to seek his fortune in Cincinnati where he clerked in a dry goods store. By age 21 he had struck out on his own, successively running dry goods establishments in Cincinnati, and Paris and Lexington, Ky. In the latter location he began to invest in land. About 1874 he moved back to the Ohio city in the mercantile trade. In 1880 he married Jessie F. Talbert, a Cincinnati girl from a prominent family. 

Enter Llewellyn Crigler, shown above.  He was Ephriam’s son, born in 1841, and reared on the family’s Boone County farm. He was educated at the White Haven Seminary near Union, Ky., and at the age of 22 embarked on a business career as a storekeeper in Lawrenceburg and Lexington, Ky. Clearly a strong entrepreneurial spirit existed in the Crigler family and by the early 1870s -- probably 1874 -- Llewellyn was in Covington running a wholesale liquor business in partnership with A.R. Mullins of that city. By 1880, Mullins was out of the picture and Llewellyn had formed a new partnership with his Uncle Robert. 

Thus the firm of Crigler & Crigler was born, destined to be one of the Nation’s leading distillers. Robert was president, Llewellyn the vice president. The company was well located. Kentucky was the premier whiskey-making state. Cincinnati, across the Ohio river, was a commercial center for the entire Midwest with good access to Eastern markets. The pair lost no time in building their whiskey empire. The record suggests that by the time of the partnership, Llewellyn Crigler already was at least a partial owner of the Buffalo Springs Distillery, located in the colorfully named Stamping Grounds, a town in Scott County, Ky. This community was sited where huge buffalo herds once had congregated, probably to drink from a large natural spring, and had trampled down the surrounding vegetation.


According to Kentucky histories, the Stamping Grounds distillery first had been erected as a woolen mill in 1864. It had been turned to whiskey-making several years later by a man named Robert Samuels who was not a fulltime distiller and produced only 15 barrels a day. He sold out to a group of investors, among them Llewellyn Crigler. They expanded the facilities and increased production. Eventually the Criglers bought full ownership and began to advertise Buffalo Springs Whiskey prominently. Shown here a pre-Prohibition bottle, shot glass, and metal paperweight the partners issued with the Buffalo Springs logo. In 1898, Crigler & Crigler also acquired the Woodland Whiskey brand name and distillery operation. That Lexington area distillery was located on land leased from Robert Crigler. 

In 1872 Headley & Peck Co. had built a distillery, a brick warehouse, and three metal-clad warehouses with a total value of $30,000. It could produce up to 4,000 barrels of whiskey annually. In 1894, however, a scandal involving fraudulent warehouse receipts tainted the Headley & Peck operation and helped to throw it into bankruptcy. The Criglers were there to pick up the pieces and almost immediately established Woodland Straight Kentucky Whiskey as their flagship brand. The firm engaged upon a national advertising campaign that capitalized on the fact that Woodland Whiskey in 1899 had been selected by the U.S. Government for use at the National Hospital for the Insane (now St. Elizabeth’s) in Washington D.C. 

The Criglers also offered attractive giveaway items to favored customers, including match cases and tip trays. The whiskey business brought the Criglers great success. They fully exploited the mail order trade. For $4.75, the firm would send a customer two gallons of its whiskey -- express prepaid. The offer was backed by a money back guarantee. If you bought twenty Woodland quarts for $13 by mail and paid cash up front, Crigler would throw in four quarts of Old Special Stock Whiskey (guaranteed to be more than 12 years old) for free. The firm eventually (1908) occupied a six-story office building in Covington, Ky., shown here, and had dozens of employees. In 1909 the firm incorporated By 1914 the Criglers had opened offices in Kansas City, Missouri, to handle their Western trade and in Jacksonville, Florida, for Southland business. 

They invested in real estate in Ohio and Kentucky. Llewellyn became a director of the Dayton Syrup Refining Company of Dayton, Ohio. Both men had families and lived in spacious homes in Cincinnati. Over the lifetime of their distilling company Crigler & Crigler also offered other whiskey brands. Among them were “Brier Rabbit,” “Forsythe,” “ John Barley Corn,” “Crigler’s Favorite,” “Col. Bob Corn,” “Kentucky Senator” and “Sweet Sixteen.” However, they registered only Woodland (1906) for U.S. government trademark protection -- indicating its particular market importance. 

During the 1890s, the Criglers sold their Buffalo Spring distillery to the Morrin-Powers Company of Kansas City, who changed the name to the Buffalo Springs Distilling Co. That firm continued producing Buffalo Springs brand whiskey using the Criglers’ original recipe until Prohibition. After Repeal, subsequent owners continued to make and sell Buffalo Springs Whiskey. The distillery closed for good in 1968, after a 104 year history. Crigler & Crigler disappeared from Covington business directories in 1917. The Woodland brand name joined thousands of others that died with Prohibition. Moreover, research into the Crigler family has failed to disclose the fates of Robert and Llewellyn, or even the dates of their deaths.


  1. how can I get a paper weight from buffalo springs distillery and a shot glass

  2. Amos: Thanks for being in touch. The Buffalo paperweight is not rare and comes up on eBay from time to time there. Good place to watch. I do not collect shot glasses but also would recommend eBay. Robin Preston deals in shot glasses and might be of help. Here is my latest email for him: Robin R Preston rp330@comcast.com.

  3. Just watched a podcast, the guy Adam Crigler talked about his family's past whiskey business. Who knew? And i'm in Kansas City which you mentioned here. Small world. Europe says they have richer history. Bah

    1. Ha! Small worldwide web. That's why I'm here! I'm watching the Timcast IRL stream right now and Adam said that he was drinking out of a 120 year old "Crigler & Crigler whisky" shot glass from his family's old whiskey company. He also mentioned that it was the #1 whisky in america from 1890 to 1905! I was trying to find their website, but just read that, because of prohibition, the business closed down... For good. Very disappointing. What would be awesome is if we could get everyone to convince Adam to resurrect the Crigler & Crigler whiskey recipe and sell it to the fans! I'd be willing to bet a million dollars that his family still has the original recipe, wouldn't you?

  4. Spacecotter: Thanks for your comment. This blog is a result of my having looked at the pre-Prohibition liquor industry, hardly touched by historians, and finding great stories. Having written some 750 posts on the subject, I am still finding them.

  5. Do you have much info about the distillery off Old Higbee Mill Rd. next to South Ekhorn Creek? I live upstream from the site and am good friends with the current land owner. Would love more insight, than we already have!

  6. Tana: Thanks for being in touch. Wish I could be more help. My files on Crigler & Crigler reveal no more information on the Old Higbee Mill Road.
    More recently I revisited the Criglers in a post on a distiller named Will Headley. February 18, 2020. You might want to look at that.

  7. I'm just finding out about all this. My brother's name is Robert Rawlins Crigler iii, Our father is RRC the 2nd, and Grand Father is RRC 1. I believe his father (my Great Grandfather) Robert Crigler is the one spoken of in this article. Unfortunately, I never met him (my Birthday is 1949)
    I will continue to follow this article, I find it interesting and a peek into my past.
    Mark Crigler
    Phoenix, AZ

  8. Mark: Thanks for being in touch. Very distinguished whiskey family.

  9. Addendum to Mark: I also deal with Robert Crigler in a post on a crooked business associate named Will Headley. See it at Feb. 18, 2020.

  10. I came to check this out because I follow a channel on YouTube called the Crick Diggers. They are out of Cumberland MD and do old landfill and privy digs then auction their finds on their channel. Tonight they auctioned an 1890's era Crigler and Crigler bottle. I live in Louisville so I was curious about the company and found your article. Interesting!

  11. Donna: Thank you for your kind comment. Also for the information on the Crick Diggers.