Thursday, June 28, 2012

Milwaukee's Jacob Nunnemacher: Caught in the Ring

 One of the earliest distillers to be treated on this blog is Jacob Nunnemacher of Milwaukee, shown here.  Nunnemacher’s career as a whiskey man was marked by his many accomplishments, major mistakes, a criminal conviction, prison, a Presidential pardon and an early death.

Nunnemacher was born in 1819 in the German-speaking area of Switzerland at the town of Teufan, shown here.  In 1841, age  22 and seeking his fortune, he embarked from Le Havre, France, for the United States.   His first two years were spent in New Orleans.  In 1943 he followed other Swiss immigrants to Milwaukee which already had a large German-speaking population.

Almost immediately he opened a meat stall at the public market that sat on the spot of the current City Hall.  His enterprise was an immediate success and he got married the same year.  His bride was Catharina Barjenbruch who herself had recently arrived in the U.S., probably as a serving girl for the family of an immigrant doctor.

When the market was razed to build City Hall,  Nunnemacher moved into a building he now owned in downtown Milwaukee at the current Wells and Water Streets.  His growing family -- four boys and a girl -- lived in two stories above his retail meat market.  As the Nunnemachers grew more prosperous,  Catharina complained about the living quarters.  In response,  Jacob plunked down $25,000 cash to buy a mansion on fashionable  Wisconsin Avenue.  As shown here, he would later turn the first floor of the house into retail space.

In 1854 the Nunnemachers moved south of Milwaukee to an rural area called Town of
Lake.  His property reportedly was obtained as a U.S. land grant.  There he started a cattle farm and, more important, a distillery.   He also built an Italianate mansion, shown here, and moved his family to the site.   Although it was an hour and a half trip by ox cart back to town to transport wine and spirits, the operation allowed Nunnemacher to fatten steers, brought from Texas annually, on distillery slops, the mash left after the alcohol was extracted.  Hr then sold his beef in his downtown meat market.  The Town of Lake also provided ample wood for fuel.

Before the Civil War,  Nunnemacher found a ready trade both in meat and whiskey.  At the outset of the conflict,  however, the Federal Government slapped a 
$1 a barrel tax on   beer and a stiff $1 a gallon tax on whiskey.  That made drinking beer cheaper to the detriment of the hard stuff and Nunnemacher’s sales suffered.  His distillery profits took a second hit after the war when Congress raised the whiskey tax to $2 a gallon.  Swallowing hard, initially he paid it.

Before long, he and other Wisconsin distillers ran into difficult competition from Chicago distilleries who were selling their booze in Milwaukee for $1.15 a gallon.  Nunnemacher and his colleagues soon figured out that the Chicagoans were not paying the tax but rather paying off the revenue agents sent to collect it.  Unwisely, Jacob joined  them in the corrupt scheme.

As his bookkeeper put it later:  “He didn’t mind paying a fine now and then or a little protection money to the revenue agents and those higher up.  Everybody was doing it.” By this time Jacob’s eldest son, Hermann, was working with him in the distillery and a conduit for his payoffs to federal revenue agents.   With Hermann,  Jacob also created the Nunnemacher Block in 1871 in downtown Milwaukee that included a Grand Opera House, shown here with its stage.  Seating more than 500, it was the grandest theater Milwaukee had ever seen.

The Nunnemachers were now recognized among the business elite in Milwaukee and, indeed, Wisconsin.  A contemporary author says of Jacob:  “His friends were always cordially welcome and he received here friendly calls and visits from numerous noted Milwaukee businessmen, who were pleased with the generous hospitality and charmed and greatly entertained by his witty and humorous conversation.”

The situation, however, was about to change drastically.  In 1868  Congress amended the revenue laws and stiffened the penalties against avoiding the whiskey tax.  No longer was this fraud punishable only by a fine but now it incurred jail time.  Jacob told his friends that he wanted no more part of distilling under the new law.  Early in the 1890’s he ostensibly sold the distillery to the Kinnikinnick Distilling Company, a whiskey rectifier then located in downtown Milwaukee.

Although the terms of the sale were not public, the U.S. government later would claim it was a sham.  Jacob’s home and cattle business was still contiguous to the whiskey-making and he appears to have directed much of the operation, working with the distillery manager.  His  accountant later recounted:  “But he couldn’t stay away from the plant.  And when he was out there, he couldn’t help ordering the men about, just as he always had done.”

Thus it was in 1875 that Jacob Nunnemacher became caught in what came to be known as the “Great Whiskey Ring.”  On one day in May 1875 the Secretary of the Treasury using secret agents from outside his own department directed a series of raids throughout the country,  including Milwaukee.  They arrested 86 Federal revenue agents and other government officials and 152 whiskey men. Jacob Nunnemacher was among them.

Loudly protesting his innocence,  Jacob demanded an early trial. That occurred in March of 1876.   The government claimed that he was a “party of interest” in the operations of the distillery, that he had conspired with the Kinnikinnick manager to manufacture and remove illicit spirits from the distillery, and that his son, Hermann, was the courier for payoffs to crooked revenue agents.  Although found innocent of three charges, on a fourth, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government,  Nunnemacher was convicted and sent to prison for six months.

Nunnemacher spent only two months in jail.  His friends, influential Republicans, petitioned President Ulysses S. Grant for a pardon, which he swiftly granted.  Nevertheless, accord to contemporary accounts, the experience broke Jacob physically and mentally.  Only 57 years old, he died the same year as his release from prison. The distillery he founded also went out of business. The buildings were allowed to deteriorate, as one shown above, and ultimately were razed.

Their father’s disgrace did not stain the Nunnemacher family future.  Two of Jacob’s sons became leading Milwaukee businessmen, engaged in banking, manufacturing and grain shipping.  Interestingly, Milwaukee’s historical accounts of Jacob, his distillery and his accomplishments invariably omit his ignominious end.  To this day Nunnemacher is hailed as one of the City’s business pioneers.  His prison term is not mentioned.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jack Danciger: Mixing Whiskey, Oil and Politics

Jack Danciger’s long life reads like a novel and indeed it was the subject of a 488-page biography by an ardent admirer.   That book, however, says little about the flourishing liquor business he and his brothers established in Kansas City on their way to becoming multimillionaires.  This vignette attempts to shed more light on Danciger, shown here in his mid-30s, in his role as a whiskey man.

Jack was born in 1877 in Taos, New Mexico, one of five sons of Simon and Annie Danciger.  They were only one of two non-Spanish, non-Indian families in the small town.  Simon ran a general store in Taos and owned a ranch outside town where he raised cattle.  One story told about Jack is that at six years old he was kidnapped by a nearby Indian chief who was childless and wanted the boy as a son.   When Jack’s whereabouts were discovered,  his parents through careful negotiation were able to retrieve him.

At about 16 years,  Jack was put to work by his father in the family enterprises.  He learned how to carry the account books,  deal with customers,  take care of the merchandise and manage the cattle.  Within a year or so,  the family moved to Kansas City where both educational and business opportunities were deemed more desirable.  With his profits from selling his store and cattle,  Simon Danciger purchased a shoe store in nearby Osage City and sent Jack, over his mother’s objections,  to run it while the father tried cattle ranching again.  Although the store was profitable,  Danciger soon became restless and took a job  in Chicago with Swift & Company, the meat packers.

There he got active in Democratic politics, was fired from Swift for his activities, and found another Chicago employer who made use of his fluency in Spanish to send him on missions to Latin America.  There he developed a lifelong interest in Hemisphere affairs, especially Mexican politics.  With the death of his father in the early 1900s,  everything changed.  Jack quit his job, left Chicago and rejoined his family in Kansas City.

Brothers Dan, Abe,  Joe and Mo joined Jack in agreeing that although Simon’s will would allow them to divide his bequest,  they should continue as a united group using their father’s capital jointly.   For reason not fully explained they determined to start a wholesale whiskey business and also bought a brewery.  Thus was created Danciger Bros., Inc., located at 308 West Sixth Street in Kansas City.

The Dancigers appear to have been “rectifiers,” that is blenders of whiskey bought elsewhere,  bottled and label by them, and then sold to dealers and the public.  The trade card shown here does not claim operation of a distillery, only a “Western warehouse.” The Danciger’s brewery was the Weston Brewing Company that had been plagued for years by economic problems. In 1907, Jack and his brothers purchased it, incorporating with capital stock listed at $200,000 and moved its offices to their West Sixth Street location.

Although Mother Annie presided over the corporation, Jack Danciger was the principal director and its sales manager.   With characteristic energy,  he set out to advance the family venture, traveling to Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Virginia and Ohio to merchandise Danciger Bros. whiskey and beer.  An early marketing ploy was to create a separate “distilling company” around a flagship brand called “Harvest King Baltimore Rye”  It was sold in quarts and  flasks, sent throughout the U.S., and the company paid express charges.  As an ad here shows, they disguised their whiskey by packaging it in coffee drums that could not be pilfered nor the contents detected.

Harvest King ads emphasized a quality product with a cowboy character swatting out individuals labeled, among others, “bum dealer,” “grafter,” and “poison.”  The Dancigers also were free with giveaways to prime customers, including celluloid backed pocket mirrors and shot glasses.  A second major brand, also with its own purported distilling company was “Red Chief.”  Both Harvest King and Red Chief were trademarked by the Dancigers in 1905. Other brand names used by the company were “Dan’s Golden Age,” “Chesterbrook," “Danciger’s Maryland Rye,” “Golden Age,” “Melrun,”  “Pearl Springs,” and “Tiffany Club.” The company also issued shot glasses and mini-bottles for these brands.

While Jack and his brothers were striving hard to build a national customer base for their Kansas City liquor, aided by the railroad center the city had become,  they struggled with local option laws that forbid alcohol.  The Dancigers hauled American Express into Federal court for being unwilling to deliver their whiskey into Mississippi which had local option laws with heavy penalties.  The judge denied the brothers saying that if he were to grant their injunction “it would result in 250 express agents being thrown into jail.”  In 1907 they lost another Federal case in which they sued Wells Fargo.   In 1910, however, they won a decision against a railroad which had refused to take their liquor into Oklahoma and Kansas, both “dry” states.

Perhaps concerned about the future of the whiskey trade,  in 1909 Jack and his brothers expanded their interests.  They bought a run-down multistory building on Sixth and Wyandotte and remodeled it into a hotel. Called The Jefferson, it was a luxury establishment.  The Dancigers later sold it to Tom Pendergast,  the political boss of Kansas City.   More important to the family was a trip Jack took to Oklahoma.  He bought a piece of property there that turned out to hold oil.  As his biographer put it: “The black gold gushed out in torrents.” The Dancigers joined the super rich.

Meanwhile Jack was becoming entangled in Mexican politics.  Supporting the successful rise to power of a Mexican politician named Carranza, he was rewarded with being named the Mexican Consul in Kansas City.  That city had become a magnet for Mexican immigrant workers and their families and the duties could be burdensome.  Jack saw a business advantage.  In 1915 he bought a Spanish-language newspaper called “El Cosmpolita”  He used the paper to support his political friends across the border and to sell Danciger whiskey and beer in Mexico.

Through the newspaper,  love came into Jack’s heretofore bachelor life.  One of his assistants was a woman named Queenie Bailey, shown below.  She was a writer, a cartoonist, and a song writer.  One account called her “Kansas City’s perfect girl.”  She and Jack were married in a ceremony in the home of Rabbi Mayer of the B’nai Jehudah Temple of Kansas City in February, 1918.  Jack was 39.

Within months Prohibition closed in tightly. The Webb-Kenyon Act passed in 1916 made it a federal offense to send liquor into dry areas.  The Danciger Bros. business was struck a fatal blow and circa 1918 ceased operations.   Brands like Harvest King and Red Chief disappeared forever.  The brothers sold their brewery but for a time continued to market non-alcoholic cordials and other beverages.

By now firmly in the oil business, Jack Danciger and his brothers closed the door on the past and gave their major attention to Danciger Oil and Refining Company and their large oil land holdings.  Although he had built a mansion in the center of Kansas City for himself and Queenie,  Danciger moved to Forth Worth, Texas, and opened his office there.  That city would be his home for the rest of his life.
Queenie Bailey

Danciger continued to promote his Latin American ties and was named an Honorary Consul in Fort Worth by the government of the Dominican Republic.   He received multiple citations and honors from several Latin countries and from U.S. states and localities in the American Southwest.  Most cited his work on behalf of better Inter-American relations. In his later years Jack Danciger became known as a philanthropist,  founding a number of libraries and schools in Mexico, Chile and Uruguay.  His extensive collection of Peruvian pottery was gifted to the University of Texas. He also was a generous contributor to Jewish charities.  When Jack Danciger died in 1966 at the age of 89, his whiskey days were almost a half century behind him.

Note:  Much of the information in this article is from a biography by General Ignacio Richkarday published in 1963.  Richkarday, a colleague of Danciger from his newspaper days, wrote a book-length tribute to his former boss that emphasizes Danciger’s Latin American activities and mentions only in passing the two decades he was with his brothers in Kansas City in the liquor business.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Colonel and the Applegates of Louisville

Colonel C.L. Applegate, described in his own ads as “Kentucky’s Leading Distiller,” was a member of a Louisville family that was immersed in the whiskey trade.  Keeping the facts straight about the Colonel and his kinfolk, however, has eluded several authors.  I shall try briefly, however, to sort out one Applegate from another.

How the Colonel came by his rank, whether as a traditional “Kentucky” Colonel or as an officer in the Civil War is unclear.  Nor is, if the latter was true, was his allegiance evident.  Kentucky did not join the Confederacy but some residents held slave and its young men fought for both sides.  The family appears to have been longtime residents of the Blue Grass State and at least one or two early Applegate settlers were involved in the whiskey business.

The Colonel first forges onto the scene in 1876 when he and a brother, Edward, purchased land in the small town of Yelvington, Daviess County, Kentucky, from a pioneer Kentuckian named Sam Taylor Hawes.   The site was located on the road between Maceo and Yelvington. There about 1878 they constructed a distillery, pictured here. Information from insurance underwriter records compiled in 1892 suggest that the Applegate property included a two frame warehouses, both with metal or slate roofs. Warehouse "A" was 115 ft north of the still house, warehouse "B" was 107 ft south.  The property also included cattle and a barn. The owner was recorded as being C. L. Applegate & Co. 

The plant had a mashing capacity of nearly 250 bushels a day, marking it as a major whiskey-making plant. The company sold bourbon using the brand names “Rosebud” and “Beechwood,” shown here on shot glasses.  The distillery prospered until 1890 when the Applegate brothers were forced to shut it down for lack of a reliable water source. They continued to age whiskey in their Yelvington warehouses for another decade or more.  Those structures and their bourbon escaped a fire that raged through the town in the late 1900s, destroying most of the businesses.

Meanwhile back in Louisville, another Applegate,  William E. by name,  was running separate whiskey enterprise.  Born in 1851 according to passport records, William was a rectifier (blender) and distributor.  His firm appears in business directories in 1872 at several addresses but by 1908 it had settled on locations in or near Louisville’s “Whiskey Row.”   William called his firm Applegate and Sons.  The sons were William E. Jr., born in 1875, and Hamilton C., born in 1879.

The record does not establish the exact relationship between the Colonel and William Applegate although the evidence is strong that there were familial ties.  My speculation is that they were brothers and business allies.  Evidence is an Applegate & Sons trade card advertising the Colonel’s brands of bourbon.

Meanwhile the Colonel with brother Edward were planning a new facility for rectifying, bottling and wholesaling whiskey.   With financing from Henry Vogt of the Vogt Machine Company in Louisville, the Vogt-Applegate Co. was founded and began operation. The Colonel was a vice president and the company pitchman for the whiskey.  The business was located at 236 Fourth Street but eventually moved onto Whiskey Row at 102-104 E. Main Street, not far from Applegate & Sons.  An early 1900s photograph shows the location.  As Vogt-Applegate met with success, the company opened branch offices in Kansas City and Chattanooga.

The Colonel’s firm bought product from the state’s distillers, with a principal supplier being Tom Moore’s at Bardstown, Kentucky. Vogt-Applegate bottled and sold liquor largely by mail directly to consumers. The company featured a wide range of brands, including, "Blue and Gray", "Dr. Cannon's Celebrated Medical Gin",  "Old Ben Vogt", "R. F. V. Special", "Shaw's Malt",  "Stork Overproof", and "Vogt - Applegate Co.'s White Corn.”  “Old Beechwood” was its flagship label, advertised widely both regionally and nationally.  Among giveaways to favored customers was a plate-sized paperweight.  The arm seen on the glass weight, dated 1905, is that of the Colonel, whose face and figure were frequently in company ads.

The Colonel was also a spokesman for the whiskey rectifiers of Kentucky.  When the state’s governor in 1906 called a special session of the legislature to tax rectifiers 1 1/2 cents additionally per gallon he camped at the Lackman Hotel in Frankfort, the state capitol, to lobby and speak against the levy.  He charged that the tax would drive out the whiskey blenders and the state would lose $30 million annually and potentially leave thousands of workers unemployed.  Although the tax was reduced to 1 1/4 cents,  it was enacted by the legislature and later upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, William E. Applegate was being recognized as a leading Louisville businessman and a horse racing enthusiast.  He became a member of the board of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.  In 1914, a horse owned by his son Hamilton won the Derby.  The name of the horse was “Rosebud,” after the Applegates’ whiskey.  While some authors have suggest that the horse was owned by the Colonel, racing historians more accurately credit Hamilton Applegate.  The latter trademarked “Old Rosebud” in 1907 and issued a back of the bar bottle depicting the horse.

Sam Cecil, a historian of Kentucky whiskey, claims that when the Vancleave & Hardesty distillery near Raywick in Marion County went bankrupt that it was bought by the Colonel. Federal warehouse records tell a different story.  They indicate that the individual responsible for whiskey transactions from those tax district warehouses was Hamilton Applegate, whose affiliation was with Applegate and Sons.   To compound the confusion,  William E. Junior appears to have had an interest in the Pepsin Whiskey Company, which appeared for a short time in Louisville directories.

My efforts to fix more firmly the relationships among the Applegates through death notices, obituaries and other records so far has been unsuccessful.  One thing that is clear is that the William Applegates had a family mansion on Louisville’s fashionable Third Street.   Built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style,  at various times from 1894 until 1938 it was owned or inhabited by William Senior, William Junior and Hamilton.   Shown here, the house, now owned by others, continues as a residence.

Note: Although this article may have straightened out one or two mistaken ideas about Colonel and the other Applegates,  it is far from definitive.  Many loose ends remain.  I am hopeful that Applegate descendants and others will see this post, provide me with more complete and accurate information, and at long last help me get the story straight.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Emil Mayer: Out of Cincinnati and into the Harem

Shown here in caricature,  Emil M. Mayer looks like the average Midwestern stogy businessman of the early 1900s, formally dress with a spacious stomach beneath his vest and coat.  Thoughts of the exotic or perhaps even the erotic, however, were running through his mind.  They told him he should take his Hudson Rye whiskey out of Cincinnati and into an exotic Middle East setting.

Truth was, in that prudish age it was possible to display nudes so long as they had a background that suggested that they were from a time long ago or at least far away.   This was the age of Orientalism when many American artists were painting scenes of the Near East, focusing on the sensuous elements.  As one writer has put it:  “The exotic element of harem life...reinvented on canvas appealed to an outwardly staid Victorians whose inner life welcomed paintings that stimulated the senses and encouraged desire.

We can assume Mayer was among them.  His Mayer Bros. & Co. picture, reproduced either on tin or heavy paper, long has been considered one of the gems of saloon art.   It shows two Middle Eastern men,  dressed in robes and attended by a black servant,  ogling a naked young woman.  We are in a Middle Eastern market whose merchants has displayed a number of jugs and calabashes and, yes, a nubile young woman whose only garment is a kind of shawl.

There was other evidence of the distiller’s fascination with the exotic.  Note here a Mayer Bros. trade card for the firm’s flagship, Hudson Rye.  It is in two modes.  The first image is of a snuff box with an invitation to “take a pinch.”   Sounds innocuous enough, but when the lid is pulled back it reveals a harem girl, a bare breasted  “odalisque,” as the French would say,  lying in luxury on a mound of pillows.   We are told that the whiskey is the “best ever” and “beats ‘em all for high balls”  but given no clue as to where our pinching might be appropriate.

A third manifestation of Mayer’s obsession with the Near East was his naming one of his whiskey brands, “Alhambra.”  The Alhambra is a Moslem palace and fortress complex located in Granada, Spain.  It was constructed during the mid-14th Century by Moorish Arab rulers.  It is an exotic locale,  noted for its architecture and fountains.   Once again Mayer in his national advertising was taking his Kentucky-made whiskey into the realm of the exotic.

The firm first appears in Cincinnati business directories in 1882, located at 38 Main Street, under the name of Isaac Mayer, its founder.  The company was listed as a liquor wholesaler.  Within a year,  the name was changed to Isaac Mayer & Sons,  as the father took his boys, in including Emil into the firm.  The company also moved to 34 Main Street.  The following year brought another change as a new partner,  E. M. Harris, was added to the firm and its name was changed once again to Mayer, Harris & Co.

Two years later another major change occurred, likely with the death of Isaac Mayer.  The company then became Mayer Bros. & Co.  Another move occurred, this time to 5 West Pearl Street.  Although Harris’s name was no longer on the masthead, he appears to have continued to be associated with the business.   Emil was now president and, though we know little about his personal life,  it appears that he was married the same year, 1886.

Under his leadership the business flourished.  Outgrowing its retail space the firm moved to 53 West Pearl.  By this time the company had branched into rectifying whiskey,  that is, taking raw product and blending several whiskeys to taste.   Like other rectifiers,  Mayer Bros. may have had problems in obtaining adequate supplies of liquor for their operation.   As a result in 1893 they bought a distillery they called the Oakwood Distillery Co.  Located near Mayville, Kentucky, it shared a Cincinnati office address with Mayer Bros.

In addition to Hudson Rye, Hudson XXXX Rye, and Alhambra Whiskey, the firm featured such brands as “Oakwood Whiskey,” “Ante-bellum,”  and “Original Frazier.”  It packaged these in glass bottles and featured an array of giveaways to selected customers.  These included back of the bar bottles,  match safes and shot glasses.  Frequently the company slogan was included. It usually was “Merit Sells It,”  or a variation,  “Sold on Merit.”

When the Bottled in Bond Act was passed by Congress in 1897 to help insure whiskey quality, Emil Mayer embraced it enthusiastically and advertised widely that his whiskey was in compliance with the act.  Even with owning the Oakwood Distillery,  however,  Mayer seems to have had difficulty obtaining product.  For example the label on the Oakwood Whiskey bottle shown here indicates it was distilled by the C. (Charles) M. Dedman Distillery of Mercer County, Kentucky.

Emil and Mayer Bros. Co. appear to have enjoyed considerable success through the early 1900s.   A letterhead from 1905 shows two locations, 229-231 Walnut Street and 31-35 Pearl Street.  Their Oakwood Distillery was still an essential part of the business, its offices co-located at the Walnut Street address.   Emil apparently believed things were going along well enough in 1906 to take a two month second honeymoon to California on the 20th anniversary of his marriage. The trip was duly reported in a liquor trade publication.  Several years later he brought his son,  E. Millard Mayer, into the business.  By 1914 Millard had replaced E.M. Harris on the firm’s management team.

When Ohio voted in Prohibition in 1916,  Mayer Bros. was finished.  The distillery folded and the company closed its rectifying and sales operations in Cincinnati.  For a year (1918) the company worked out of an office at the Masonic Temple and then disappeared from city directories.   Because of a paucity of personal details about Emil Mayer and his family, it is not possible to say what their futures held.

As for the fascination with the erotic Orient,  my guess is that it was one way that Emil Mayer could make a mark in the crowded Cincinnati whiskey market and the country beyond.  His sign showing the men ogling the nude in the marketplace is ranked among the top saloon pictures of all time.  Looking at how often they come up for sale,  the numbers issued by the company must have been substantial.   As is the case today, sex could be good for sales a century ago.  More important, Emil Mayer knew the censor could be kept away by presenting the erotic in an Orientalist setting.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fridolin Madlener Gave the World “Fig Rye"

 In a posthumous biography,  Fridolin Madlener of Chicago, shown here, was described as “merchant of fine liquors,  lover of music, advocate of gymnastics and true admirer of the beauties of nature.”  Unfortunately, the description omitted Madlener’s most notable  achievement.  Shown here in maturity, he invented Fig Rye, a drink he called “the inimitable whiskey.”

Madlener’s story begins in Uberlingen, Baden, Germany with his birth in 1835.  His father was a miller by trade but his parents early encouraged him to become a merchant.  His early education was in German schools.  Apparently in his late teens or early twenties,  Fridolin left his homeland for the United States,  settling in Chicago that had a large German immigrant population.   He was one of the first students at the Dyenforth Business College there,  a school that had been founded by a Prussian √©migr√© family in 1857.

Madlener, according to Chicago biographies,  embarked on his business career in 1858 at the age of 23.  He appears to have gone to work in the liquor trade and later claimed the origins of his own firm, Fridolin Madlener, Inc.,  back to 1853, although it did not show up in Chicago directories until later.   Success apparently came swiftly.  According to one account:  “Before long he was counted among Chicago’s leading merchants of liquor....” In 1866, when he was 31 years old, he married Margaretha Blatz, the daughter of the Milwaukee beer baron, Albert Blatz. She was 19, 12 years his junior.  The Madeleners had three children:  Josephine who died in infancy, Albert F. and Angelina.

The first recorded address for Madlener’s company was at 62-64 1/2 West Lake Street where the firm resided until 1879 when he moved to 147-149 Lake, as shown here.   There Madlener indicated that he was a distiller.   More accurately he was a rectifier, that is a blender of whiskeys.  At one point, however, he likely had a involvement with the Crystal Springs Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. That distillery was providing him with product for his blends.

Madlener was said to have “perfect taste,” able to tell by sight and sampling great liquor from the purely ordinary.  He marketed his whiskeys under a number of brand names.  They included "Blue Ridge Malt", "Borderland", "Edge Hill", "F. M. Private Stock", "Gilt Edge", "Kentucky's Leader", "Old Keystone Rye", "Old Style", and "Standard Hand Made."   He might have gone virtually unremarked as a whiskey man, however, were it not  for his genius in concocting “Fig Rye.”

For years during the 19th Century the general public held the idea that figs possessed a particularly valuable laxative effect,  a belief largely debunked by the medical profession.  Patent medicine manufacturers, capitalizing on the popular fallacy, concocted and sold multiple brands of “Syrup of Figs,”  merchandising the potion as combating habitual constipation.   Madlener seized on the popularity of these nostrums,  melded it with the rye whiskey he was bottling and, eureka!, Fig Rye was born.

Madlener was not content with merchandising Fig Rye simply as  a laxative.  His advertising touted it as “an ideal health whiskey.”  Ordinary whiskey, he claimed, was distilled from grains only and “destroys the lining of the stomach, makes the liver hard as a rock, and causes disease of the kidneys.”   By contrast,  Fig Rye neutralized all those bad effects and was recommended for “the dyspeptic, the consumptive, the debilitated, the weak....”   According to one Madlener ad,  Fig Rye was used in 1,500 hospitals across America and prescribed daily by thousands of doctors.


Albert married a year after Fridolin’s death. His bride was Elsa Seipp, the daughter of a well-known Chicago brewer.  Three years later, as Elsa was expecting their first child, Albert commissioned the construction of a grand new house on West Burton Place in Chicago’s Gold Coast.  Shown here the Madlener House, as it still is known, was completed in 1902.  On the the National Register of Historic Homes, the mansion can be characterized as “the house Fig Rye built.”   By 1913 Albert had sold the liquor business to be succeeded by the firm of Roehling & Schultz.   The Madlener firm, however, continued to be listed in Chicago directories for several more years.

Fridolin was remembered in Chicago as a genial, outgoing man, with a wide range of friends that included persons of all races and creeds.  One obituary opined:“For everywhere and at every time a man of Fridolin Madlener’s callibre is appreciated.” The man who gave the world Fig Rye is buried in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery with Margaretha, who died in 1929.  Their graves are side by side beneath a huge monument bearing their family name and ornamentation that looks, at least to me, like hanging figs.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Rise and Tragic Fall of Sol Blumauer

One of the first  children to be born of Jewish parents in Oregon,  Solomon “Sol” Blumauer rose to prominence in Portland as a whiskey dealer,  businessman, pillar of Judaism,  community leader and automotive pioneer,  only to suffer a tragic and somewhat mysterious death at the age of 66.  He is shown here at the wheel of the second automobile ever to be driven in Portland.

Blumauer was the son of a Bavarian immigrant to the U.S. who initially lived on the East Coast but caught the “gold rush” bug of the 1850s and hurried westward to Oregon with a brother and friends.  Before long Sol's father gave up the search for gold and went into business. He returned East long enough to marry Sol’s mother and return to Portland in 1856, where their first son, Louis, has been accounted the first Jewish child born in the state.  Sol came along six years later in 1862, born at the family home at Fourth & Morrison Streets. 

After attending local grammar and high schools, he went to work at age 18 with a firm called Herter, May & Company that sold stoves and other merchandise.  A biography of Blumauer says of this period in his life: “His ability and devotion to their interests won him a partnership in the business and for ten years he traveled for the firm, making all of the towns in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. He was one of the best known salesmen in the northwest and also one of the most successful, establishing a large clientele for the house in his territory.”

Sol also found time for romance and marriage.  In 1890 he wed Harriet (Hattie) Fleishner, born in Oregon, whose parents were immigrants from Bohemia, Austria. The Fleishners had settled in Portland and like the Blumauers were engaged in commerce.  Sol and Hattie would have but one child, Hazel, born in 1891.  That same year, Blumauer disposed of his interest in Herter, May and became one of the stockholders in the Blumauer-Frank Drug Company.  That firm, shown here, had been founded by his father and his two older brothers already were employed there.

Meanwhile in 1890,  two Portland natives had begun a whiskey dealership at 73-75 Washington Street.  They were Daniel Kunkel and Eugene Hoch.  Eventually Hoch bought out his partner and ran the business by himself for several years.  In 1899 Blumauer bought into the whiskey trade, becoming a partner in a company subsequently called Blumauer & Hoch, destined to become the largest wholesale liquor house in Oregon.   Its signs, like the one shown here in downtown Portland, could be found throughout the region. 

With Blumauer leading the way, the firm featured a range of brand names, including "Curry's Malt", "Dodson's", "Exploration", "Kentucky Club", "O. P. S.", "Old Kentucky Home", "Old Kentucky Home Club", "Old Pony", and "Three Star."   It packaged its whiskey in embossed bottles as well as attractive ceramic jugs.   The firm was also well known for its giveaway shot glasses, especially for its flagship brand, Old Kentucky Home.

While he was establishing himself as a leading businessman,  Blumauer was becoming recognized as a community leader,  one of the founders of the Native Sons of Oregon and elected its president in 1900.  One author has seen the inclusion of Sol and Hattie as native son and daughter as an indication of Jewish acceptance.  The Native Sons organization and its publications were notorious for their intolerance of Native Americans, blacks, and other minority groups.  

The Blumauers not only were accepted but leaders.  A local newspaper article of 1900 reported Sol’s speech as “Grand President of the Grand Cabin” of Native Sons calling for a concentrated effort to build a monument to Oregon’s pioneers.   Sol  formed the first Automobile Club in Portland and was a strong advocate for road improvement.  He also was an active member of the Tualatin Country Club, the Rotary Club and the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks.

Blumauer’s acceptance into Portland society did not alter his commitment to his Jewish heritage.  He was a member of a local synagogue that he and his family helped to found.  It was called Congregation Beth Israel.  He also served as secretary of the First Hebrew Benevolent Association.

Despite being accepted as a Native Son, Sol Blumauer was about to experience disappointment from his fellow Oregonians.  As early as 1844 the Oregon territories voted to prohibit alcoholic beverages.  That ban was rescinded just a year later but was reinstated in 1915, four years before National Prohibition.  Blumauer & Hoch’s reaction was swift.  They moved their liquor operations to San Francisco, sending their wares back into Oregon and elsewhere by mail.  After 1917 that avenue was closed off by Federal legislation called the Webb-Kenyon Act.  The  Blumauer-Hoch San Francisco operation ceased.

In the meantime, the partners had made preparations to switch their operations in Oregon to soft drinks.  They were successful in convincing the Anheuser-Busch Company into giving them a franchise.  When alcoholic beverages were prohibited in the armed forces in 1916 Anheuser-Busch developed a nonalcoholic malt beverage called Bevo.  The timing also was right for Oregon and Blumauer & Hoch found Bevo a good seller during the 1920s. Sol continued to be active in the firm.  Even as he got older he continued to be at the head of the company, directing its activities with what contemporaries termed “decisiveness, initiative and keen sagacity.”

Then occurred a tragic and mysterious fall of February 23, 1928.  This was how it was described in one Portland obituary: “At about eleven o'clock he had gone up to the second floor of the firm's warehouse and office building at Nos. 428-430 Flanders street, and his disappearance was not noted until the arrival of a man shortly before one o'clock to keep an appointment with him.  Search was then begun and carried forward on all three floors before suggestion was made that he might have fainted and slipped into the shaft. Falling forward, Mr. Blumauer is believed to have slipped through the narrow opening and plunged to the bottom of the shaft.”

Thus ended the extraordinary career of Sol Blumauer at the age of 66.   How and why he might have fallen into the elevator shaft was never thoroughly explored.  It was accepted as an accident and nothing more.  He was buried in the family plot in Portland’s Beth Israel Cemetery, shown here, as his wife and daughter stood grieving at his graveside.  His passing also was mourned by many in the Portland community who had known him as a benefactor and leader.  Regrettably, Sol never lived to see the end of National Prohibition which might have launched him once again into the whiskey trade at which he had been so successful.