Sunday, February 26, 2012

John Ellwanger and His Whiskey: A Tale of Two Cities

Dubuque and East Dubuque are municipalities with similar names yet in two different states and divided by the Mississippi River. Yet John Peter Ellwanger and his liquor business were destined by fate to play an important role in both cities.

Ellwanger was born in 1849, in Hesse Darmstadt, Germany. He was the fourth in the line of eight children produced by his mother, Agatha Jaeger, and father, Peter Edward Ellwanger. Despite Peter being a pianist and music teacher of some repute in his native land, the Ellwangers determined to emigrate. The family boarded the ship, Venice, in Le Havre, France, in 1852 and sailed to New Orleans. John Ellwanger was only three years old.

Upon arrival on American soil, the family quickly traveled to, and settled in, Dubuque, Iowa. Members of Agatha’s family, the Jaegers, had preceded them to the city, one which had attracted many German immigrants. They gave the Ellwangers a warm welcome. Peter found work as piano teacher and piano tuner to support his growing family.

Early on John Peter showed great promise, graduating from the Bayless Business College in Dubuque at the age of 13 and immediately going to work. His first venture in the business world was as a “bundle boy” in the dry goods establishment of Wood, Luke & company until they sold out to Sheffield, Wood, & Company, who changed the business to a strictly wholesale establishment. Ellwanger then entered the employ of merchant James Levi and remained with him about a year, leaving to become a clerk in a clothing business.

In 1871 at the age of 22, having served a nine year apprenticeship in several mercantile establishments, Ellwanger went to work for his older cousin, Francis Jaeger, already a successful Dubuque businessman. Jaeger had had begun as a co-partner in a wholesale grocery business, eventually bought out his partner, and shifted the company focus to a wholesale liquor dealership. Joining Jaeger as a bookkeeper, Ellwanger proved to be a “quick learner” of the whiskey trade.

Steady employment with Jaeger apparently emboldened Ellwanger to court and marry Sophia Buckman, the daughter of the former sheriff of Dubuque, William D. Buckman, who was a well known figure in the community. The couple would birth three children, William E., Ralph and Josephine. By June 1875, Ellwanger had saved enough money so that with a partner, Michael Brady, he purchased a controlling interest in Jaeger’s liquor company. It then was renamed Brady, Ellwanger and Company

As Dubuque grew, the business grew with it. In 1887 the first bridge was built across the Mississippi river linking the Iowa town with East Dubuque, Illinois. Replacing the need for ferries, it was popularly called the “High Bridge” because it was constructed high enough to allow steamboats with tall smoke stacks to pass underneath. The bridge opened up new commerce for Dubuque and Brady, Ellwanger, attracting customers from Illinois and close-by Wisconsin -- an area sometimes called the “Tri-States.”

With the death of Michael Brady in 1899, Ellwanger incorporated the business, became its president until his death, and renamed the company after himself. The John Ellwanger Co. then launched on a campaign to become Dubuque’s largest and finest liquor dealer. He featured a series of brands, including "Old Knapsack Rye", "Pap Poose","Saddle Bags," "Real Merit", and "J.E.T." He advertised these through expensive lithographed signs for saloons, as the one shown here for Old Knapsack. He also ordered expensive containers for his whiskey, like the Thuemler Pottery-made canteen for Old Knapsack Rye shown here and an unusual glass bottle for Saddle Bags Rye. The amber bottle appears to approximate a saddle bag. Among his giveaways to saloons and other special customers also were shot glasses, including a twelve-fluted glass with an etched “Pap Poose.”

Ellwanger was also involved in multiple political and business activities. He served as Chairman of the County Democratic Central Committee and was an elector for the Democrats in the 1900 Presidential election where he voted for William Jennings Bryan. He was a director and major stockholder of the Union Electric prior to its purchase by Dubuque Electric Company. He was a director of the Iowa Trust & Savings Bank, the Key City Fire Insurance Co., the Dubuque Alter manufacturing Co. and the Dubuque High Bridge Co., where he also served as secretary.

Soon enough the bridge would play an even more important role in Ellwanger’s life. After years of trying, the forces of Prohibition in Iowa prevailed and in 1916 the state completely banned alcohol. Just across the river, however, Illinois was still wet. Ellwanger wasted no time in moving his operation over the bridge to East Dubuque. A shot glass memorialized that move across the Mississippi.

On the first “Dry” Saturday in 1916, the movement on the High Bridge from Dubuque going east was so intense that vehicles had to be stopped until traffic snarls leading to Illinois could be cleared. The number of East Dubuque liquor licenses soared despite the town government doubling the fee. Little effort apparently was made to apprehend those bringing liquor back into Iowa. Local lore recounts that some of Dubuque’s thirsty bought their liquor in East Dubuque and trundled it across the bridge in baby buggies. Many Iowans, no doubt, bought from The John Ellwanger Co.

Following the death of his wife, Sophia, in 1904, Ellwanger married again in 1906. This time it was to Mrs. S. Fannie Lewis Buckman, possibly his widowed sister-in-law. In 1915, they moved into a large home at 1329 Main Street, Dubuque, that still stands, as shown here. Two years later in April, 1917, Ellwanger died at this residence, surrounded by his family. His obituary in the local Telegraph Herald called him, “one of Dubuque’s leading businessmen and financiers.” Said to have been a devout Catholic, his funeral services were held at St. Mary’s Church and he was buried in a private ceremony in nearby Linwood Cemetery. Friends were requested not to send flowers.

Son William took over running the John Ellwanger Co. His business activities, however, were shortly overtaken by National Prohibition. At the end of 1919, William was forced to shut down the business his father had built. East Dubuque, by this time had something of a reputation as a “sin city.” It did not take well to the ban on alcohol. The night in 1920 that Prohibition became Federal law and padlocks were put on saloons, thousands of people from the Tri-state Area rioted there and attempted to tear down City Hall. When firemen sprayed water to calm the crowd, rowdies cut the hoses and the shower was reduced to a dribble. The main street of East Dubuque is shown here as it looked in 1920.

William Ellwanger, who died in 1944, himself became a prominent Dubuque businessman, serving as both president of the Fitzgerald Cigar Co. and president of the Dubuque Bridge Co. The latter was a fitting position for someone whose customers had used the span for years to abate their thirst. John Peter Ellwanger would have been proud.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Frank Hume: Rebel Spy and Federal City Success

Shown here in maturity, Frank Hume led a life that included service as a Confederate spy, later becoming the largest grocer and purveyor of liquor in the Federal capital, Washington, D.C., and ending as a well-known philanthropist whose name continues to be memorialized in his native Virginia. Bottle collectors also note the elaborately embossed bottles of his whiskeys.

Hume was born in Culpeper County in 1843, the son of Charles and Virginia Rawlins Hume. At the age of 18 he enlisted in the Confederate Army, joining up with one of Gen. James Longstreet's units called The Volunteer Southern. Hume served as a signal scout with General J.E.B. Stuart and participated in eleven major battles, receiving a serious wound at Gettysburg. Part of his service was reputed to have been as a spy sneaking Northern battle plans from D.C. to Gen. Robert E. Lee. It was during this escapade that he apparently stopped in Alexandria long enough to have his picture taken.

Hume returned home after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox and settled in Alexandria. He reportedly tried his hand briefly at farming and then went to work in a Georgetown grocery. His older brother, Thomas, already was an established grocer in the District. Finding mercantile an agreeable pursuit, Hume turned to starting a family. In 1870 he married Emma Norris at Trinity Episcopal Church in the District. She was the daughter of a prominent Washington lawyer with Virginia roots. Frank and Emma would have eleven children.

A year after his marrige Hume opened his own grocery store in downtown DC, located on Pennsylvania Avenue near the old Central Market. He is shown here in 1892 perusing a ledger. The store prospered, with the sale of “wet goods” -- liquor -- being an important part of his merchandise. Among Hume’s brands were “Old Stag,” Homestead Old Rye,” “Old ‘A’ Whiskey” and “Warwick Old Rye.” as shown here in four flasks. One observer has noted that Hume chose to emboss his bottles rather than slap paper labels on them. By going to this additional expense, it is suggested, he knew he could count on each brand having substantial sales.

Meanwhile Hume’s brother Thomas was making a name for himself as a Washington social climber, known for the extravagance of his parties. A D.C. journalist noted about one such event that more than the notables present it was the prodigality of the entertainment that caught his attention. He wrote that Hume provided two hundred guests with “a perpetual lunch for all, (with liquid attachments embracing wines, brandies, whiskies, mixed drinks, and plain lemonade), cigars for all, and towards evening a dinner, which was not only ample but excellent.”

Unknown to the public, Thomas Hume was heading into bankruptcy, ultimately with debts of $100,000 and assets of $6,000. In October 1881 on the day it was announced that his firm was being dissolved by his withdrawal and retirement, he suffered a heart attack in his office and died on the spot. A court later declared him “utterly insolvent.” Creditors howled and attacked Frank Hume for repayment. Frank successfully fended off financial responsibility, although his brother’s sudden demise must have been a shock.

At that time Hume was enjoying life at his newly acquired mansion called Warwick Estate. It served as his summer home, positioned on an Alexandria hill west of the point where Commonwealth and Mount Vernon Avenues merge. He also kept a DC residence. Over the next 25 years, Warwick was the site of many holiday and family celebrations where guests enjoyed Hume’s hospitality, as well as views of the Potomac and Washington. As many as 150 guests at a time attended Fourth of July celebrations where large U.S. flags adorned trees and guests enjoyed picnic feasts, lemonade and champagne. These events were said to be especially memorable for the twilight fireworks display and the firing of a cannon.

Unlike Thomas, however, Frank Hume could afford his hospitality. His mansion also gave him a residence in Virginia and from 1889 to 1899, over several elections, he was sent by Alexandria voters to the Virginia House of Delegates. He also was becoming recognized as a D.C. business leader. He became president of the Independent Steamboat and Barge Company, a director of the Fireman’s Insurance Co., and served on the Washington Board of Trade. He was an advocate for a new bridge linking Alexandria and the District that ultimately became Memorial Bridge.

Hume was also gaining a reputation as a philanthropist. In 1891 he donated the land for a school in Arlington, Virginia, along with an adjacent area for a playground. In return the school was named for him. Hume Elementary School operated for 67 years, closing in 1958 but rescued by citizens for use as a local museum. The building still stands on Arlington Ridge Road and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In a more controversial act of generosity, Hume provided food for Coxey’s Army. That was a protest march by unemployed American workers, led by the populist Jacob Coxey.   They marched on Washington D.C. in 1894, the second year of a four-year economic depression that to that time was the worst in U.S. history. It is considered the first significant popular protest march on Washington. (Needless to say it would not be the last.) Officially called the Commmonweal of Christ, the march was popularly named for its leader, Coxey. According to press reports, Hume received a bouquet of flowers from the marchers as they left.

After a lifetime of achievement, in 1906 at the age of 63 Frank Hume died. His wife, Emma, whose photo indicates a no-nonsense woman, apparently continued to manage the grocery for a time. In 1907 Federal records show her registering the brand name “Old Stag Rye.” Emma died in 1931 and is buried with Frank at the family grave site in the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria. Note the Confederate flag. Hume’s Warwick mansion was demolished in 1953 and 55 acres of land sold for townhouses now known as Warwick Village.

One major tribute to an extraordinary man and his career remains on view. At the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, located in the plaza between Brown College and Monroe Hall, one still can see the Frank Hume Memorial Wall and Fountain, dedicated in 1938. It memorializes him as a benefactor of the university Mr. Jefferson founded.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Phillip Hamburger Made a River of Whiskey

Phillip H. Hamburger, shown here about 1900, was not the first distiller to conflate Pennsylvania whiskey with the Monongahela River that flows through the Keystone State. That waterway had been identified with strong drink since the 18th Century. But Hamburger made the Monongahela the centerpiece of his merchandising and his whiskey was, as a writer recorded in 1904, “not only known from ocean to ocean, but in every civilized country on the globe.”

During his early years, Hamburger undoubtedly did not know what or where the Monongahela was. He was born in 1849 of Jewish parentage in Hammelburg, Germany. Hammelburg is a town in the district of Bad Kissingen, in Lower Franconia, Bavaria, Germany. Situated on a river, it is also a major wine making center.

When Phillip was about 17, possibly escaping service in the Kaiser’s army, he emigrated to the United States, settling in Pittsburgh. By 1870 he had established a partnership with George W. Jones, a liquor merchant who owned a primitive distillery at nearby Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, on the Monongahela River, as shown here. Hamburger branched out on his own, in 1871 establishing a wholesale liquor business listed in Pittsburgh directories as Ph. Hamburger Co., at 230 Fifth Avenue. Apparently as a result of requiring increasingly larger quarters, he moved in 1873 to 96 Liberty Street and again in 1877 to 29-30 Diamond Square. He would remain at that location for the next 15 years.

Phillip’s personal life was also becoming more active. Not long after arriving in Pittsburgh, he married and soon was the father of a growing family, including one son, Alfred, and three daughters. According to census data, the family first lived at 167 Fayette St., Allegheny, but subsequently moved to 467 S. Rebecca in the Bloomfield Section of the city.

During this period Hamburger was helping to finance Jones’ distillery. Jones was being hounded by creditors and in 1882 Phillip gave him $12,000 to help him pay off his debts. A year later Hamburger bought the distillery outright, giving Jones -- according to court records -- $16,273.49 for the distillery and brand names. Jones stayed on as the operator and essentially ran the plant as he had before, now paid a salary capped at $1,200 annually.

Creditors charged that the transfer of ownership was a legal dodge to escape some of
 the debts Jones had incurred. Subsequent court decisions agreed and Hamburger ultimately was held liable for claims against his ex-partner. Hamburger had contended that Jones was in bad health and wanted release from the burdens of ownership. After Jones died in 1886, Hamburger for a time continued to operate the distillery under Jones’ name. In 1890 he changed it to the Ph. Hamburger Co., Distillers, amended later to the Hamburger Distillery Co., Ltd.

Once he had achieved full ownership, Hamburger moved ahead boldly to expand his 
facilities and his market. He built significantly onto the orginal plant and warehouses. A contemporary publication reported: “The Hamburger Distillery, Limited, is one of the largest plants of the kind in the world, covering about fourteen acres of ground. Almost all its buildings are of brick, of the most modern style of architecture for the purpose to be served, and its warehouses are thoroughly equipped with all the latest improvements and devices, thoroughly ventilated and heated by steam....The capacity of the warehouses is about 60,000 barrels.”

Hamburger also enhanced his Pittsburgh wholesale house. It boasted a four-story building in which he carried large stocks of his own product, including G. W. Jones Monongahela Rye whiskey, as well as imported wines and liquors. He employed 16 workers and had a staff of traveling salesmen who were constantly on the road visiting saloons in many parts of the U.S. He also opened an office in New York City. Increasingly the Americans drinking public began to believe that Monongahela meant quality whiskey.

Hamburger advertised his brands extensively in newspapers and magazines. As shown here his ads had a sophistication unusual for the times. He featured three brands, all shown on the paperweight here. Both Bridgeport Rye and Bridgeport Whiskey boasted the Monongahela origin on their labels as did Hamburger’s giveaway tip trays and paperweights. The third brand featured the river in its name, as shown here on a giveaway pocket mirror. All three acquired a national and even international customer base. In 1914, Hamburger’s whiskey won a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Nottingham, England, and again in 1915 at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco.

Phillip became recognized as one of Pittsburgh’s leading entrepreneurs. Three times he was selected to represent the City’s Chamber of Commerce for European conferences and trade delegations. He also was hailed for his philanthropic work, serving as a director of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and of the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives. Early in the 1900s, having made his mark, Hamburger turned over the day to day operations of his whiskey enterprises to a manager in order to, he said, concentrate on his charitable work and business representation.

He continued to play an important role in the U.S. liquor industry. In December 1903, the Kentucky-based Wine & Spirits Bulletin devoted considerable space to Hamburger’s letter summing up the state of the Nation’s whiskey trade, as he looked back on the year just past and into the future. There had been no whiskey business failures of any importance in 1903, he noted, and for the future he speculated that “a presidential campaign, which we are going to enter into during 1904, will be an additional factor to a still larger consumption of goods in our line.” Hamburger concluded by asserting that “the trade is in a healthy condition.”

Although he had reached the pinnacle of his profession, life had a great heartache
 awaiting Hamburger. In October 1905 the New York Times reported that his son, Alfred, after renting a hotel room in Manhattan, had killed himself by a gunshot to the head. Eventually too Prohibition killed off the business he had built and, shortly after, Phillip’s own time came. As he was laid to rest in June,1921, three daughters, the remaining members of his family, stood by his graveside.

After Repeal in 1934 the Bridgeport facility was sold to other interests. By 1980 the buildings had become the home of a coal company. Nevertheless, within a relatively few years this German Jewish immigrant had grown a liquor empire that made Monongahela synonymous with good whiskey the world around. Phillip Hamburger had produced a river of whiskey in more ways than one.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why Did Leopold Franc Sue That Nice Old Lady?

It this were one of those supermarket tabloids the headline might read, “Whiskey Baron Sues Elderly Woman Repeatedly, Dies.” Below would be a picture of the benign old lady being sued. Her name was Augusta Nirdlinger of Toledo, Ohio, shown here at the age of 80.

The true story, however, is considerably less dramatic, as is usually the case with the tabloids. The whiskey man was Leopold Franc, an immigrant from Hanover, Germany. Born in 1834, he was the son of Herz Franc and Carolyn Heyn Franc. When he emigrated to the United
States is not clear. In 1869, however, he formed a liquor wholesale house with his cousin Julius Heyn in Toledo, Ohio, only a few years after the Civil War. Called L. Franc and Company, the firm’s first location was on Summit Street, shown here.

Soon after 1873 the company moved to 123 St. Clair Street and as business grew it moved again to larger quarters at 130-132 Huron Street. L. Franc & Co. had no distillery but bought its whiskey, blending and bottling it under its own labels. A major early source of its product was the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery. It had been founded by F. G. Paine and Co. near Mill Creek in southwestern Jefferson County, Kentucky.

About 1900 the Toledo firm changed its name to Franc, Heyn & Co. and blossomed with a number of house brands. Many of them were advertised by highly attractive shot glasses, as shown here. Under its own name it issued an etched glass featuring a shield, shafts of grain, a monogram of its initials, and its name in fancy calligraphy -- a elegant giveaway item.

In 1905 the company registered with the federal government the names “Little More” and “Maple Dew.” Maple Dew featured three different shot glasses. Two bore the company monogram, one advertising a “pure,” that is, straight rye and the other a blended whiskey. The third, providing no clue to the type of liquor, has an elaborate etched picture of a man and woman walking through the woods.

The company in 1908 registered its “Idalia” brand and again issued a shot glass, this one based on the design of the earlier shot. Although no record exists of its having registered its “Old Reserve” brand with the government, shot glasses exist with this name. Both have the FH monogram and shield. Through these giveaways and other kinds of aggressive marketing tactics Franc, Heyn & Co. built a large customer base in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and West Virginia.

Moving from shot glasses to hot gossip, we remember the lawsuit filed by Leopold Franc against Mrs. Nirdlinger. As research discloses, she was none other than his cousin/partner’s mother-in-law. A well known and beloved figure in Toledo, Augusta was the wife of Jacob Nirdlinger, the owner of a clothing factory. Their daughter, Jenny Lind Nirdlinger was married to Julius Heyn. The Franc and Heyn families had appeared to get along very well. On one occasion Leopold’s wife accompanied the Heyns and their daughters on a trip to Germany and return.

The trouble began when Nirdlinger’s company got into financial hot water in the mid 1870s. Leopold Franc agreed to help Jacob out by paying down some of the debts and adjudicating others. In return, Nirdlinger gave Franc a security owned by his wife, worth $1,079. In 1878 Augusta sued Franc claiming that she did not provide her husband with the security in the knowledge that it would be turned over to Franc for his use. The Toledo Court of Common Pleas agreed and awarded her $1,265, including interest.

That was then that Franc decided to sue the nice old lady hoping to get the decision reversed. When the District Court in Toledo also came down on her side, he took the case to the place of last resort, the Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus. During the trial Leopold admitted that when he went to the Nirdlinger home to pick up the security in dispute, he greeted Augusta with “Good morning!,” but she did not speak to him. Moreover, evidence was she had never signed over the document. The Supreme Court, taking in all the facts, refused to overturn the earlier decision, thus ruling a third time in Augusta’s favor.

Oh, yes, our tabloid headline above indicated that the plaintiff, Leopold Franc, died. He did -- sixteen years later, in 1899. The firm, subsequently run by Heyn and others, itself disappeared from Toledo business directories after 1910. Only its shot glasses are left for us to remember it. Oh yes, that nice old lady, Augusta Nirdlinger, outlived both Franc and the liquor company, dying in 1913. By that time she was very, very old.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Century of McHenrys' Pennsylvania Distilling

Note: As explained in an earlier post, if in doing research on a particular whiskey man or men, I find that a succinct narrative already has been adequately written, I will not try to replicate it. This is the case with the McHenry distilling family of Benton, Pennsylvania. 

 Robin Preston on his website has summarized a longer story from the Benton News website and it is quoted below. To Robin’s narrative (shown within quotes) I have added information on the McHenry illustrations provided. 

“The Rohr McHenry Distilling Company was a major Benton and Columbia County employer during its heyday, operating for a full century from 1812 to 1912. “The McHenry Distillery was located about a mile and a half west of Benton and was built by John McHenry in 1812. 

The founder was known locally as "Hunter John" and was born September 13, 1785 in Fishing Creek Valley. Hunter John married Helena Cutter and they produced nine children. The youngest of these was a son, Rohr, born in Benton Township in 1829. 

“When his father died, Rohr McHenry took over the "Still House," as the McHenry homestead was known locally. Rohr was responsible for expanding the distillery into a serious commercial operation, the Rohr McHenry Distilling Co. The whiskey he produced became known locally as "Old Rohr."  

An ad in the local paper proclaimed that the company's "strictly pure rye whiskey was double distilled in a copper lined doubler, from thoroughly cleaned rye and pure spring water." The distillery produced 100 gallons a day.

 “Rohr and his wife Caroline had five children: George, Henrietta, Louisa, Charles, and John Geiser McHenry, the latter born in Benton on April 26, 1868. John G. was educated in Benton and after graduating from the Orangeville Academy he launched into a career as a farmer, manufacturer, banker, distiller and politician. It was John G. that stressed the date that the distillery had been established, using the familiar slogan "Born 1812." His interest in politics earned him three terms in Congress (D), beginning in 1906 and ending with his death in 1912. “Business boomed under John G.'s care, as did the local farming economy which was supplying the stills with rye for production of whiskey. 

The company advertised that "This whiskey is the product of selected Rye and Malt pure mountain spring water and scientific distilling with years of perfect aging in charred barrels in heated warehouses and coming direct from us it brings to you the finest & purest whiskey made, and costs you no more than the other brands". “John G. also established a peach orchard containing 30,000 peach trees on what he named "Pioneer Farms" with the intent of adding peach brandy to the McHenry production line. Peach trees take up to 15 years to reaching maturity, so the operation was part of the long-term vision for the business. The orchard and other farm crops, including rye, and a vineyard was cared for by Prof. M. E. Chubbuck from State College with the help of 40 or so employees. The farm also included a building for large-scale production of poultry. 

 “Disaster struck the company in March 1911 when fire destroyed the 10-storey bond house. It housed 17,000 barrels of maturing whiskey: only one was saved. Although much of the distillery plant itself was saved from the fire and production was later resumed, the financial blow caused by the loss all mature product was devastating and by 1912, rumors of insolvency were rampant. The company was forced into receivership at the end of the year and, on the night of foreclosure of Pioneer Farms, John G. died at age 46. “The distillery buildings were preserved as a museum but in 1962, a fire in the boiler house reduced it to ruins.” 

 The illustrations I have chosen to illustrate Robin Preston's vignette are: in order, a portrait of Rohr McHenry with wife Caroline; a photo of the very early McHenry distillery; a picture of John G. McHenry; a whiskey label, two examples of McHenry containers and three of the distillery’s giveaway items to saloons, including a shot glass, a tip tray and a back of the bar bottle. The final image is of the distillery at the height of its production.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chicago's Alexander Bauer: Spirits, Sex and Scams

The details of Alexander Bauer’s personal life are sketchy at best, but the liquor business he built in Chicago during the late 1880s was marked by three characteristics: spirits, sex and scams. They give us a clue as to who Bauer was and what he was up to. 

Spirits: The liquor company that Bauer founded in Chicago began, according to company literature in 1886 although it first shows up in city directories in 1893. A letterhead shows the steady progression over time for the expansion of the firm to a five story headquarters at 142-148 Huron Street. A paper sign issued by Bauer provides a colorful look at the purported activities at each level of the building. For its whiskeys the company used the brand names: "Dan Patch", "Old Rampart", "Sedgwick", "Sir John Canada Malt", and "Torrance AAA.” It packaged its liquor in bottles and, reaching out to Shafer & Vader Pottery in Germany, in attractive decanters with matching cups. It also advertised its cordials and liqueurs, including “Anchor Brand Peppermint Schnapps” and “Pineapple Rock and Rye.” 

Bauer issued a number of colorful items to saloons carrying his booze. A sign, shown here, was of a cowboy and an Indian threatening a Chinese gentleman who apparently had drawn four aces in a poker game. In the background is Sam Toughnut’s Saloon, where three Bauer beverages are advertised. 

Sex: While the wide variety of alcoholic potables featured by Bauer led to its growth, the company also understood that “sex sells.” Shown here is a trade card for its “XRay Pepsin Cola and Celery Bitters.” Parsing the image on each lobe of Bauer’s four leaf clover advances a story. It is told in the shoes of a man in cuffed pants and woman in high-button shoes who meet in lobe #1, go off together in lobe #2, are lying separately, apparently in bed, in lobe #3, and -- mercy! -- what is happening in lobe #4? Such a risque approach to merchandising alcoholic beverages was hardly unusual in the whiskey trade but Bauer took it to new racy levels . 

Further evidence is an ad for a mostly alcoholic drink called Dam-I-Ana, featuring woman shown nude from the waist up in a “come hither” pose. It is named after an plant that was supposed to have Viagra-like effects in men. The full ad says, “If you appreciate me...” leaving the thought unfinished but implying the obvious. The next line says “Can’t.” Oh my, then surely Dam-I-Ana Invigorator is your drink! The bottle, shown here with a torn label, helpfully depicted a fully nude woman and a goat-headed satyr. Bauer did not believe in leaving much to the imagination. 

Scams: Yet even Bauer’s emphasis on the prurient pales against the outrageousness of his scams. As reported in an 1897 edition of the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, Chicago law enforcement authorities conducted a raid on Bauer’s building at 142-148 Huron. The Chief Constable Eckart read his warrants to Bauer who was on the premises. Other officers stood guard in various departments. What they found was startling. The first seizure was a case of Hennessy brandy. Bauer admitted that it was not genuine but said he was not responsible for having it in his possession. In quick order the constables seized 16 cases of counterfeit Kummel and 4 cases of Benedictine. Then 240 embossed bottles of Angostura bitters were discovered along with phony wrappers. Another large lot o counterfeit labels was found in the basement. They were for James E. Pepper Whiskey, Gilka Kummel, and Boonekamp Bitters. 

It is clear that Bauer was taking old bottles, some of them the genuine article with names blown in the glass, refilling them, slapping on a faux label and selling them as the real mccoy. Whatever fine Bauer may have been assessed, it did not deter him and his cronies. Within a year following the raid, the company veered on another illegal course. His firm’s vice president, Tucker Hardy, set up a new and ostensibly separate company. The address, however, was the same as A. Bauer Company. Rather than refilling real bottles and counterfeiting labels, the Hardy Company was in the business of trademark rip-offs. Soon the building on Chicago’s Huron Street was churning out close look-alike labels of Benedictine and Chartreuse French liqueurs and, once again, Angostura Bitters. The only element distinguishing them from the real products was a small label indicating the Tucker Hardy Company. 

Predictably the manufacturers owning those trademarks soon struck back. In 1902 they hauled Alexander Bauer into the U.S. Circuit Court of the Northern District of Illinois. The judge in those cases, again predictably, found for the plaintiffs. Deciding to fight the verdict, Bauer took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals. There the judges were not fooled that the Tucker Hardy Company was a separate entity, terming it a “department” of the Bauer firm. The Appeals Court upheld the earlier ruling and the fines levied on Bauer. 

Shortly after these verdicts, Bauer reorganized his company, incorporating with assets of $100,000.  The Tucker Hardy Company, nothing more than a facade anyway, disappeared from business directories. The company moved one last time to an even bigger building at 227-223 Huron and changed its name to the A. Bauer Distilling and Importing Company. Despite its shady past, Bauer had the hutzpah to claim on its letterhead: “For 20 years a square deal: the cause of our phenomenal growth.” 

Apparently determining that crime does pay until one gets caught, Bauer continued to counterfeit his products. This time he would run athwart the Food and Drug Act of 1906. That legislation required accurate labeling of food, drugs and beverages. In 1912 the Federal government hauled Bauer into court once again for shipping a consignment of bottles labeled “Sparkling Sauterne” from Illinois into Wisconsin. In a typical Bauer show of bravado, a sticker read: “Guaranteed by A. Bauer Dist. and Imp. Co., Chicago, Ill, under the F & D Act, June 30, 1906, Serial Number 5015.” After being examined by Federal authorities the sparkling sauterne was declared “adulterated and misbranded.” They charged, and the District Court agreed, that the purported sparkling sauterne was an imitation, consisting of a plain white wine, artificially carbonated. 

In a parallel case a similar judgment was made on bottles of Bauer’s “Sparkling Burgundy.” Again he fought the verdict and took it to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Again the judges concurred with the earlier ruling and directed Bauer to pay a fine of $100 and court costs, amounting to $73.06. With such gentle financial slaps on the wrist when caught cheating, no wonder Bauer’s company continued to thrive. It was, however, antics such as his that fueled the Prohibition movement that ultimately shut down his liquor business permanently in 1920. Because details of Alexander Bauer’s personal life are hidden in the fogs of time, it is impossible to know his fate but we can assume there might have been a measure of larceny involved.