Friday, March 29, 2013

Anson Hotaling of San Fran: God, Whiskey and Fire

 The earthquake and subsequently burning of San Francisco in 1906 was greeted by a good many clergymen as divine retribution for the city’s wicked, wicked ways. The fact that houses of worship were incinerated right along with everything else — while a huge whiskey warehouse was spared — inspired this immediate verse by local poet and wit Charles Kellogg Field:

'If, as they say, God spanked the town
For being over frisky,
Why did He burn the churches down
And save Hotaling's whiskey?'"

The ironies might have been even stronger had Field, the clergymen and his fellow San Franciscans been more aware of Anson P. Hotaling’s religious views.  His middle initial stood for “Parsons” but he was far from being a traditional in his theological ideas.  That story comes later.  First the context:

Hotaling, shown here in maturity,  was born in 1828 in New Baltimore, a town in Green County, New York.  He was of Knickerbocker Dutch stock on his father’s side.  His mother was a  “Parsons,”  and an immigrant from England.  Anson attended local schools but left during his teen years to work on his father’s farm but soon found other pursuits more attractive.  After clerking briefly in a country store, at about age 20, he discovered photography, a pursuit that was still in its infancy.  Buying good equipment, he traveled throughout New York State taking portraits with as a biographer says “much pecuniary and professional success.”

Soon that occupation began to pale and in 1852, age 24, Hotaling sailed from New York to California in the ship “Racehound,” along with other men joining the Gold Rush.  Enroute the ship was forced to dock for an extended period at Valparaiso, Chile, for repairs and refitting.   Hotaling enjoyed the Latin lifestyle and determined to stay.  Just before the ship sailed again, he changed his mind and went along to join the thousands hoping to “get rich quick” in the California placer mines.  Moiling for gold did not suit him long and he went back to clerking,  this time in a San Francisco liquor store owned by W.J. Griffin, located at the corner of Sansome and Jackson Streets. There Hotaling found his true calling.

Working for Griffin for several years and amassing a substantial amount of capital, in 1865 the youth bought out his employer and opened his own wholesale liquor business under the name “A.P. Hotaling & Co.”   About the same period Anson also  found time to marry.  His  bride was Lavinia Linen, the daughter of James Linen, a well known San Francisco writer and poet.  She was sixteen years Hotaling’s junior.  They would have four sons.

Hotaling remained at the Sansome and Jackson address for eight years and then, needing larger quarters,  he moved to 429-439 Jackson, where the firm remained for the rest of its business life.  A company sign shows his complex of buildings straddling a major street.  The one on the left was his sales office; on the right his warehouse.   By 1880 he was the largest liquor wholesaler in San Francisco  with a sales volume of 1,750 barrels annually.

With his San Francisco success,  Hotaling opened offices in other major West Coast cities. Directories indicate that he maintained a retail outlet in Seattle, Washington, on Commercial Street from 1889 to 1893, and in Portland, Oregon, from 1875 to 1887, at addresses on Front and subsequently North First Streets.   An embossed bottle from Portland that held “J. H. Cutter Whiskey” is shown here.  Cutter was Hotaling’s flagship brand for many years, vigorously advertised through newspaper ads and bar signs.  The sign shown here is an unusual three dimensional display. 

In 1903 the A.P. Hotaling Company sold the rights to the Cutter name to Sherwood and Sherwood.   After that the company’s principal brand became “Old Kirk.”  It was a proprietary brand, trademarked with the government in 1906.  Over the years Hotaling’s firm also featured other labels, including “Hotalings Special Reserve,” “O.P.S. Bourbon,”  “St. George,”  “OK A No. 1 Old Bourbon,” and the interestingly named, “Death to Imitators.”

Old Kirk was vigorously marketed.  The company provided bar signs that could be as topical as the Great White Fleet. shown below.  That was the popular nickname for the United States Navy battle group that completed a circumnavigation of the globe from December 1907 to February 1909 by order of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.  Another sign advertising “Old Kirk” was in medieval-looking stained glass.   A. P. Hotaling & Co. also provided a number of giveaways to favored customers, including back of the bar bottles and, to retail customers,  medallions that might be used as watch fobs or good luck charms.

Hotaling himself became a well known figure in San Francisco, an active member of both the Old Fellows and Masonic organizations.  His write-up covered more than two full pages of an 1881 book entitled “Contemporary Biographies of California’s Representative Men.”  That author, without mentioning specific names, affirmed that Hotaling was active in several  benevolent organizations and also supported leading literary and art associations of San Francisco.

The biographer also devoted considerable time to Anson’s religious beliefs, stating:  “Contact with the world, and especially the world of California, in Mr. Hotalings case, as in that of many others, has lead to extreme latitudinarianism....”  That term, meaning no taste for organized religion, was not going to endear this whiskey man to local clergy.  The writer had more to say about Hotaling’s theology:  “He believes that religion is a life,not a creed; that only a soul at liberty can be a liberal soul;  that stiff zeal and uncompassionate rigor do not constitute genuine piety;  that the religion most needed is that which takes hold on the daily life about us, and promotes just dealing between man and man.”  All the more for folks later to wonder why the churches burned and Hotaling’s whiskey was spared. 

Moreover, virtually every other major stock of whiskey in San Francisco had been destroyed.  Hotalings' salvation may have been by the grace of God, but there also were more earthbound causes.   According to accounts, the warehouse was threatened and saved three times:  First by a fireman who hacked off smoldering roof cornices.  Second by a single length of hose from a Navy fireboat in San Francisco Bay that firefighters dragged over the ridge of Telegraph Hill for over a mile and eleven blocks to the Jackson street site. The final salvation was a bucket brigade, many of the participants Hotaling's workers, who slopped a compote of sewage and sea water on the structure from an adjacent site.   The mixture steamed and stunk as it hit the hot exterior but as one writer reported, “the muck did the trick.”  Moreover, while other liquor dealers in the city suffered from looting,  authorities allowed the Hotalings to hire a hundred men to stand guard. The firm lost nothing.

Unfortunately Anson Hotaling was not around to witness this excitement.  He died in 1899, much mourned by his widow, Lavinia, and four sons.   Hotaling had been bringing his boys into the firm as they matured.  Son Richard Hotaling, assisted by his brother Fred, was able to take over the business and appears to have run it with the same skill as his father.  The business continued to prosper at its Jackson Street address until shut down by National Prohibition in 1919.  Subsequently a bronze tablet with Field’s verse on it was attached to the Hotaling warehouse where it can still be found.  In addition, nearby Jones Alley was later renamed Hotaling Way.   Anson, the “latitudinarian” on whom Heaven smiled, may be gone but not forgotten in San Francisco.

Note:  The images of Hotaling signs are from the website and collection of Michael Dolcini, whose untimely death at an early age has been reported.  Much of the material on Anson Hotaling, including his religious views, are from “Contemporary Biographies of California’s Representative Men,” published in 1881, principal author Hubert H. Bancroft.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Andrew Hatke’s Window Faced the South

A favorite country song of mine is “My Window Faces the South,” which extols the pleasures and benefits of Dixieland.   Andrew Hatke of Richmond, Virginia, had a liquor sales window that faced the South and thereby achieved considerable prosperity.

Hatke was an German immigrant to the United States,  his birthplace in 1834 given as Hoerstal, Westphalia.   When he came to the United States is a fact not recorded in census data.  Sometimes his name was given as “Henry (Heinrich) Andrew Hatke.”  He seems to have dropped the Henry somewhere along the line.

Hatke claims to have started in business in Richmond in 1867, in the wake of the Civil War.   Richmond had suffered significant damage during the conflict and the social and cultural life of the city had been badly disrupted.  One result was a proliferation of drinking establishments.   Hatke’s saloon was among them.   The 1880 census finds him living in Richmond, with his wife,  Anna (nee Sitterding), also from German immigrant stock.  They had three
children at the time,  Mary,  Lewis and Henry.  A fourth child, Alphonso, would be born in 1886.

The 1880 census lists Hatke as as a grocer and barkeeper. It is likely that he was more than both.  In those days it was standard practice for grocers to be rectifying (blending) whiskey in their back rooms and offering it to the public.   Since he also had a drinking establishment on premises, the sign shown here,  it would be natural for Hatke to whip up his own whiskey from raw liquor supplied by distilleries elsewhere.

As the 19th Century progressed, more and more localities in the American Southland were voting to go “dry,”  as a result of adopting local option laws.  If you lived in one of those towns no alcoholic drinks were easily available.  An important exception was liquor arriving through the mails.   While localities might like to keep out mail order booze, local, state, and federal courts had ruled repeatedly that such sales were legal, despite local prohibitions,  usually citing the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Hatke and other Richmond liquor dealers were in the right place at the right time to seize this opportunity.   Richmond was strategically placed to serve the thirsty population of the South.  The Virginia capital was a major hub for three important railroads.  The Seaboard Air Line Railroad, headquartered in Portsmouth, Virginia, had a main track that ran from Richmond, via Raleigh, North Carolina;  Columbia, South Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia, to Jacksonville, Florida.  Seaboard competed with the Atlantic Coast Line that originated at Petersburg, Virginia, and went south.

A third major competitor was Southern Railway. This line came into existence in 1894 through the merger of the Richmond and Danville system, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad,  and the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad.  It operated 4,400 miles of track, primarily in Dixie.   Shown here is an 1895 map of The Southern Railway listing the hundreds of town it served.  The maps of the other two railroads would show the similar wide coverage.  In short, there was scarcely a Southern hamlet or town that was not available, via its freight office, to Hatke’s liquor.

Unlike transcontinental railroads that had a reputation for price gouging,  competition along the Atlantic coast made for lower freight rates.  Moreover, Virginia had adopted a regulatory system that put fewer restrictions on railroads.  Rail “barons” for their part were interested in maintaining the favorable  state climate and kept their prices moderated.  Hatke’s company,  incorporated as A. Hatke & Co., and located at  800-806 East Cary Street,  concentrated on mail order sales.  The U.S. mails moved rapidly up and down the East Coast insuring that a thirsty Georgia or North Carolina customer ordering whiskey from Richmond would not have to wait too long for supplies.

Hatke’s flagship brand was “Richmond Rye.” He sent some of his whiskey in embossed glass flasks, usually a dozen to a box.  More often, however, he packaged his whiskey in ceramic jugs of quart, gallon or even two gallon size. From the striking variety of these containers we can assume he kept Henrico and surrounding county potteries very busy.  Some are in a saltglaze with dark underglaze lettering.   A variety were “shoulder jugs” with Albany slip tops and necks.   Others have brown tops with a blue cobalt stenciled label.

Note the wording on one jug:  “Next to the Express Office.”  Obviously a subtle guarantee that shipment would be swift.   Selling whiskey this way, however, was not without its pitfalls.  The localities with bans on alcohol frequently charged liquor dealers with an assortment of offenses with the aim of curbing the mail order traffic.   In 1913, Hatke’s  company was hailed into Superior Court of Craven County, North Carolina.   The charge was that in 1911 it had sold a case of whiskey to Carl Spencer, a local, identified as “...a minor...under 21 years of age and unmarried....”   The booze had been duly delivered via the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.  When the jury offered a convoluted decision but in the end did not convict Hatke, the judge directed a verdict of not guilty. 

The Craven County prosecutor,  however, would not let the matter die and appealed to the North Carolina State Supreme Court.  The case was reviewed by that high court and with with only one dissent the panel of judges upheld the lower court decision.   As time passed North Carolina,  Georgia and Mississippi completely abolished all alcohol sales and the mail order business in those states meant a bonanza for A. Hatke & Company.

Andrew Hatke, unfortunately, was not there to witness the skyrocketing sales.  In 1892, at age 58, he died and was buried in Richmond’s Holy Cross Cemetery.  A large tombstone marks his grave.  After his death, Hatke family members continued the business under his name, probably managed by sons Henry and Lewis.  After 1910 Alphonso Hatke also was cited as a key executive in the firm.   In the end the anti-liquor forces caught up with the Hatkes.  Not only did Virginia vote statewide Prohibition in 1916, but earlier Congress had passed the Webb-Kenyon Act that made it unlawful to ship liquor into a dry state or community -- a law that is still on the books.  A. Hatke & Co.  closed its “window on the South” and indeed its doors to its entire liquor business that same year.


Friday, March 22, 2013

How Jim Douglas Became a Kentucky Colonel

Two objectives are primary in the Kentucky tradition: To breed fast thoroughbred horses and to create good bourbon whiskey. James J. Douglas made his life work both pursuits and thereby was appointed a “Kentucky Colonel” and attained legendary status among his peers. How Douglas earned his title is the core of this vignette.

A Kentuckian through and through, James J. Douglas was born in 1846 to parents who themselves were native Kentuckians.  During his lifetime he would be known by several names:  Jim Douglas,  J.J. Douglas,  Colonel Douglas and occasionally as Douglass.  He was just 14 when the Civil War broke out and even though Kentuckians fought for both sides, there is no evidence of his participation and certainly not as an officer.  The rank of “Kentucky Colonel” was first formalized in 1813 to honor military heroes, but in the late 19th Century, administered by the governor, it became an honorary and ceremonial title for persons who had achieved distinction in other fields, particularly business.

The public record says little of Douglas’ early years.  It is documented that he settled in Louisville and he likely was engaged in the whiskey trade, a leading industry of that city.  In 1879 he married Ella K.,  a Kentucky-born woman.   There was a 12 year difference in their ages.  He was 33, she but 21.  There would be no children.

In 1886 after many years in apprenticeship to other whiskey men, Douglas struck out on his own.  He created a wholesale liquor business in Louisville and called his firm, J.J. Douglas  Co.  At first he was located at 135 Third Street but with success he soon needed more space and moved down the street to 148-150 Third Street.  When that space eventually proved to be too small, the company moved to 122 Second Street, its home for the next 13 years.   Although Douglas claimed to be a distiller, he more likely was a “rectifier,” that is, someone blending the whiskey from a variety of sources in Kentucky to achieve a smoothness and taste appealing to consumers.

The firm’s flagship brand was “Jim Douglas Whiskey.” As shown on the bottle here, the whiskey was openly advertised as a “blend.”  Jim Douglas was one of the few labels that he troubled to trademark with the federal government.   A key item of the trademark application was the circular band on the label with the name in the center and “rays radiating from said band.”   The company also used a number of other brand names for its liquors, including “Yosemite Pure Rye,” "Carlton,” "Douglas Gin,” "Eagle Elk,” "Glynn Valley,” "Meleager,” “Pastime Rye,” "Pewee,” "Salvator” and "Winetrop Club.”

Like other Louisville whiskey men,  Douglas was competing vigorously for the business of saloons, bars and restaurants to feature his liquor, as well as attempting to broaden his retail base.  An essential part of his merchandising strategy was to provide ample giveaway items.  Douglas seemed to have special flair for these gifts.  His advertising shot glass is a finely etched example,  with the script the same as his letterhead. He gave favored customers milk glass paperweights or celluloid pocket mirrors featuring a long tressed beauty displaying considerable bosom.  The slogan on the latter was: “A Whiskey That Is a Whiskey.”  More unusual were an ornate metal watch fob with a compass in the center and a cardboard baseball on which to calculate innings, outs and scores.   The scorecard was particularly appropriate for Louisville, the home of the Louisville Slugger bat company and a noted baseball town.

As his liquor dealership grew and prospered Douglas became very wealthy.  When asked his occupation by the census taker in 1900,  he replied, probably with tongue-in-cheek, “capitalist.”   Moreover, his interests were growing away from the liquor business and toward horse racing.  Called “an ardent racing fan,” in 1895 he developed and owned a trotting track known as the Douglas Park Racetrack.   Later the track expanded to thoroughbred racing and competed directly with Churchill Downs, eventually becoming the home of the renowned Kentucky Handicap race.  About this same time,  Douglas appears to  have turned over management and perhaps elements of ownership of J.J. Douglas & Co. to a Louisville resident named Jacob Bloch, born in Texas of French immigrant parents. 

In 1896 Douglas moved from Louisville to the nearby village of Middletown.  There he bought a 300-acre estate from the widow of a Louisville tobacco merchant who had established it as a horse farm.  As one account put it,  Douglas lived there “in elegant style.”  He also made improvements on the property, including building a stone waiting station along the inter-urban line to Louisville.

His estate, that came to be called “Douglas Place,” proved to be an excellent location to raise thoroughbreds.  His horse barns are shown here.  Douglas imported fine Irish stallions provide stud services.  Among them was a renowned racer named “Eothan.”  When Eothan died after siring such champions as “Requital”  and “Other Crack,”  his demise made headlines in the New York Times.  Douglas named his stables as the Eothan Stock Farm.  The annals of Kentucky horses are replete with his sale of thoroughbreds.  An example:  “Epilaska,” a chestnut filly foaled on April 4, 1904, “bred and consigned by J. J. Douglas.”  It was during this period that Douglas was designated a  “Kentucky Colonel” by the governor of the state.

Meanwhile, under the direction of Bloch, J.J. Douglas & Co., was continuing to thrive.  About 1905, the company moved to 224 Main Street,  on the periphery of Louisville’s famed “Whiskey Row.”  That was followed four years later to a location in the heart of that famed strip of whiskey distillers and dealers, shown here.   In 1915 the company underwent a corporate change.   It was incorporated, capitalized for $100,000,  and the name changed to Douglas, Edelman Distilling Company.  The incorporator was Jesse Bloch,  Jacob Bloch’s son.

Douglas lived to see the business change but died two years later in 1917 at the age of 71.  Shortly after, control of his racetrack was taken by rival Churchill Downs which operated the facility until 1958.  Douglas’ liquor dealership was terminated by National Prohibition in 1919.    After his death, his horse farm went through several owners,  his home eventually was demolished and the farm developed into a residential subdivision known to this day as “Douglass Hills.”   How the extra “s” evolved into his name is unclear.  Of  the several names by which he was known in his lifetime, I believe this Kentuckian who so successfully mixed whiskey and horses should be remembered as Kentucky Colonel Jim Douglas.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ben Hollenbach’s Drive to Success

 Being a driver for a wholesale liquor dealer in the late 1800s was a highly difficult and taxing job.  Before the advent of the automobile, the driver was required to manage a team of horses hauling a large wagon filled with huge barrels of whiskey and heavy crates he usually loaded and unloaded by himself.  Benjamin F. Hollenbach was such a driver and he ultimately drove himself into the ownership of the Reading, Pennsylvania, company for which he toiled.

Born in January 1871 in Slatington, a small east central Pennsylvania town in Lehigh County, Hollenbach was the son of a Civil War veteran.  He was educated in the public schools of Slatington, likely a one-room school house.  We may speculate that he early had experience with the elaborate harnessing, driving and care of horses.  At an early age Ben ended his book learning to find work.  At the age of 17 in 1888 he arrived in Reading,  Pennsylvania.  There he was hired as a driver by George W. Hughes.  With a partner Hughes had started a wholesale liquor dealership in 1869,  located at 805 Penn Street, a major thoroughfare shown here in an early post card view.  He became the sole owner of the business in 1877.

Hughes obviously saw potential in the young Hollenbach as someone who handled his responsibilities with a maturity that belied his age.  Before long he brought the youth into the store as a clerk.  Two years later Hughes died and his son-in-law R. H. Jones took over management of the firm.  Not long after, however, Jones also died.   Hughes’ widow was left with a business to run and she turned to the trusted clerk.  Still in his early 20’s,  Ben Hollenbach took over running the firm.   For four years he managed the liquor dealership for the widow under Hughes name.  As the company prospered Ben saved his money and in 1900, with a partner,  he bought out the widow and became the co-owner and senior partner of the company.

His partner was Howard Dietrich,  a Reading druggist and businessman. One year older than Hollenbach, Dietrich was was from an established Pennsylvania family, married with five children, four sons and a daughter.  By this time Hollenbach also had married.  His wife was the former Carrie Sieger of Shoemakersville in Berks County.  They had one child, Florence, born in 1894.

The partners renamed the firm, Hollenbach, Dietrich & Co.  In buying the business they also acquired the Penn Street building.  It became the permanent home of the firm.  The two had advanced merchandising ideas for the times.  Barrels of whiskey, rum and brandy lined the walls and a customer could sample the goods before purchasing.  In those days one dollar would be enough buy a full gallon of decent whiskey.

Hollenbach and his partner also demonstrated considerable talent in marketing their whiskey brands.    As shown on a trade card here, they adopted as a trademark a keystone -- Pennsylvania being the Keystone State--emblazoned with a red star.  Advertising a long distance phone meant that the firm solicited mail orders.  They featured only two brands but marketed them vigorously.  One whiskey was named “Hodico,” an anagram of Hollenbach’s and Dietrich’s names. The firm’s other brand was “Social Rye”.   Its label featured a colorful scene of three gents sitting around a table drinking. As shown here, that whiskey could be purchased in both quarts and flasks.

Hollenbach, Dietrich were not distillers but blenders of whiskey to meet  standards of taste for their two brands.   Their raw product almost certainly came from the many distilleries that dotted the Pennsylvania landscape at that time.  Like many liquor dealers Hollenbach, Dietrich distributed multiple giveaway items to favored customers.  Shot glasses and jigger glasses were issued for Social Rye.  The slogan on the glasses -- “Pure and Old”-- was a nod to the national campaign for pure food and beverage that had its culmination in the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.  A more expensive gift item was the fancy paperweight shown below,  no doubt the product of a nearby Pennsylvania glass house.  For Hodico whiskey the partners issued a tip tray featuring a “Gibson Girl-like” figure with considerable bare bosom visible.  The slogan for this whiskey was “Every Drop a Pleasure.”

The partners also sold other brands of spirits beside their own.  Among them were several that claimed to have medicinal values. “Malakof Bitters,” was such a nostrum,  a product of a Belgian firm with offices in New York.  Often marketed as a remedy, it eventually was exposed as merely a “liquor compound” by U.S. Food and Drug officials.  Hollenbach, Dietrich also marketed “Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey,” another alcoholic product that masqueraded as medicine.

The company proved to be a highly prosperous enterprise.   A contemporary account  noted the following:   “The firm...does a large business, handling nothing but the finest wines and whiskies, and they are the proprietors of the well known ‘Social Rye,’ handled by the trade all over the country.”   Ben’s prosperity also brought his family a large and comfortable home at 125 South Eighth Street in Reading.

Hollenbach was also recognized throughout the community for his business acumen and his participation in numerous fraternal and social organizations.   His memberships included Reading Lodge No. 115 of the Elks Club,the Sons of Veterans, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the Knights of Pythias and the Knights of Malta.   He also was a member of The Supreme Council of the Royal Arcanum, commonly known simply as the Royal Arcanum,  a quasi-Masonic fraternal benefit society founded in 1877 in Boston.

Ben Hollenbach died in 1915 at the young age of 44.   His funeral was held at the Lutheran Church in Reading,  to which his family were adherents.   He was buried in a local cemetery with his widow, Carrie, and daughter,  Florence,  mourning beside his gravesite.  Upon Hollenbach’s death,  Howard Detrich became president of the company, bringing his eldest son, Claude, into the business as secretary of the corporation.   As National Prohibition loomed,  Detrich in 1918 converted the business into a drug store and operated it until he died in 1940.

Prohibition and the forced closing of a liquor dealership that dated back to 1869, however, could not erase the mark that Ben Hollenbach had made during his lifetime.  This small town boy had gone from hauling a horse-drawn liquor wagon to the pinnacle of business and social circles in Reading.  He had proved to be a driver with real drive.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jose Gomes Serrao: Distilling in Paradise

As Jose Gomes Serrao grew up in St. Antonio, Fuchal, Maderia, Portugal, he clearly had no inkling that he would find fame and fortune on an “island Paradise” half a world away, a place 2,000 from the closest continent.  Nor knew that he would establish the only bonded distillery in the history of the Hawaiian Islands.

Born to Antonio Serrao and Maria Carlotta Neves in March, 1864, Jose, shown here at about age 30, clearly a very serious man, was educated in the schools of his native Portugal.   At the age of twenty,  possibly beckoned by relatives who were already in Hawaii working on the burgeoning sugar cane plantations,  he embarked aboard the ship Hankow,  arriving on the “Big Island” of Hawaii in July, 1883.  Initially he worked on a farm near Hanakua. Three years later Serrao moved to the capital, Hilo, to join two of his brothers and together they operated a grocery store on Waianuenue Avenue. The town is shown here as it looked before the turn of the century.  Note the two large volcanoes,  Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, that dominate the island.

Shortly after arriving in Hilo he met a young Portuguese immigrant girl who herself was a recent resident of Hawaii.   She was Emilia de Souza from San Migueal, who had come to the islands with her family.  She was 14 years younger than Jose.  Despite the age difference they soon married and begin a family.   The couple would eventually have five sons, Jose Jr., Louis, Antone, Alfred and Frank, and two daughters,  Emilia and Maria.

Meanwhile Serrao was demonstrating his business acumen.  He was hired to manage a local sugar mill and later bought a half interest in it.   After the mill was sold to other interests in 1889,  he struck out on his own and built a distillery on Hilo’s Kukuau Street.  The principal product was rum, made from the sugar cane grown on the island.  This was considered at the time a daring enterprise since the commerce of the islands largely was controlled by  descendants of missionaries, most of whom were opposed to alcoholic drinks.

Since up to that time all liquor had to be imported into Hawaii and was expensive,  Serrao’s rum sales were brisk. From the profits,  he imported two stone masons from Portugal to construct the only stone building of its kind in Hilo.  Shown right, it housed the retail and wholesale liquor business Jose called the Serrao Liquor Company,  located at the corner of Keawe and Shipman Street.   He also owned a drinking establishment on Shipman Street  he called the Union Saloon.  It was operated by his brother-in-law until the latter’s death.

In 1902 Serrao acquired 80 acres of homestead land in Kaumana,  not far from Hilo, on the slopes of Mauna Kea.  There he built a large house for his growing family and used other land to grow Isabella grapes to make Portuguese type wines.  By 1907 his vineyards were mature enough that he built and opened a second facility, known as Distillery No. 2, shown left.   There he made wine and also distilled other spirits with an emphasis on gin.   His billhead from that time proclaims his firm to be “Distillers, Wine Makers,  Wholesale Liquor Dealers.”

Shown here are two Serrao gin bottles.  Both are clear and embossed with the company name.   Like many early Hawaiian glass containers,  these bottles are highly sought by local  collectors.   For example, the larger case gin shown here recently sold for more than $1,200.   The second bottle adds “Ltd.” to the company name.

When Prohibition took effect in 1920, Serrao had 14,000 gallons of alcoholic beverages in bonded warehouses in New York City and in confinement areas under his house.   They were sealed by the Federal Revenue Service.  He never got his liquor back.  During the “dry” period Federal authorities are reported to have destroyed it all. He then turned his vineyards and and winery to producing a fermented grape juice with less than one-half of one percent alcohol and changed the name of the company to the “Serrao Grape Juice Factory.”  An ad from the early 1920s touted this product,  claiming the grapes had been “grown in cracks on volcanic rocks on a famous bird’s eye view elevation of Hilo, Hawaii.”

The loss of his liquor markets proved disastrous for Serrao, a calamity that  grape juice could not remedy.   Serrao’s company struggled through the 1920s and by the early 1930s his land and businesses were heavily mortgaged.   The 1930 census found him living with Emilia in their Kaumana residence.  Three sons, 18 and over, and a teenaged daughter were still at home. As the Depression deepened the Bank of Hawaii foreclosed on his property and in 1932 Serrao was forced to sell out.  At that point Jose, who was then 68 years old, went into retirement.

When Repeal was enacted only two years later,  Serrao’s sons, who had been working with him in the business, reopened the winery and liquor sales , calling it “Serrao Wine and Liquor Co.”  Initially under the management of Jose Jr.,  he later sold out to his brother, Alfred.  During World War II, with shipping restricted to war-related materials,  brandy necessary for Serrao’s distinctive Portuguese wine was unobtainable.  The company shut its doors for the last time.

Jose himself lived until August 1943, dying at the age of 79.   Some fifty years a resident of Hilo,  he was remembered for his business acumen and assistance to other island businessmen, many of whom were said to owe their start to his generosity.   An editorial in the local Hilo newspaper apparently summed up the feelings of many on the Big Island.  It wrote:  “God rest you, Joe Serrao,  you were a good man.”

Note:  This vignette would not have been possible without a history paper done at Hilo College in 1977 by a grandnephew of Jose Serrao, a student named Walter Serrao.   Only one copy is known to exist and is held by the University of Hawaii Library on Oahu.   Intrigued by the fact that a bonded distillery had once existed in the Hawaiian Islands,  I tracked down the document.  Librarian Mary Haraguchi was kind enough to scan it and send to me it electronically.  That paper provided most of the information found here and also was the source of the several grainy pictures.   Thanks to Walter Serrao and Ms. Haraguchi, this story of the enterprising immigrant who founded a distillery “in Paradise” was made possible.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dreyfuss & Weil of Paducah: Gin and Sin

“Give me one more drink,
Of that Devil's Island Gin,
Give me one more drink,
Of that Devil's Island Gin,
I've been drunk once tonight,
And I want to get drunk again.”

(Excerpt from Devil’s Island Gin Blues, by Roosevelt “Honeydripper” Sykes)

In March 1905 a white teenager named Margaret Lear was on her way home from school in Shreveport, Louisiana.  As she passed through an African-American neighborhood,  she was brutally attacked and murdered.  Her accused assailant,  a black man named Coleman, allegedly was drunk on “cheap gin” he had bought at a local saloon.

The murder and its aftermath garnered national headlines. Three years later a prominent muckraking American journalist, Will Irwin, writing in Collier’s Weekly of May 16, 1908, used the incident to indict the saloon trade and in particular inexpensive gin that was being produced by Northern distilleries and, as Irwin saw it, “sold in the low dives of all the black belt from the Carolinas to Louisiana and Mississippi.” .

Irwin also blamed the names and advertising for brands of gin as  suggesting that they possessed the properties of aphrodisiacs. “The gin was cheap, its


labels bore lascivious suggestions and were decorated with highly indecent portraiture of white women.”  Implicit was Irwin's conclusion that this liquor was responsible for sexual aggression in Coleman and other blacks.  The journalist  singled out for special attention Devil’s Island Endurance Gin. In quart bottles, like the one shown here, it sold for $1.

Two of the brand’s early 1900s trade cards seem to bear out Irwin’s contentions.  The first shows a man peeking into a woman’s beach dressing room where it is not clear how much clothing she has on.  Opened,  she is seen wearing a bathing suit and seems little disturbed about being watched and says:  “Those fellows who drink that Devil’s Island Endurance Gin seem to have the very “devil’ in them.”  Note that from the shadows,  Satan is watching.  The second trade card shows a woman in the process of undressing, with scads of bosom showing.  She sees the devil in the mirror with a large bottle of gin.   The liquor is credited with giving “that good and funny feeling”  and other positive effects.  This gin clearly was being merchandised as a stimulant for something.

“Devil’s Island Endurance Gin” was a product of Dreyfuss, Weil & Co.  of Paducah, Kentucky, that registered the trade name in 1905. One of its ads boasted that Devil’s Island Endurance Gin was made from a secret European formula and that by its third year in production 7,619,410 bottles had been sold in the U.S.  In business from 1887 until 1918 and the coming of Prohibition,  the company was both a distiller and distributor of a wide number of liquor brands, chiefly whiskey.  It was located initially at 120 North Second Street and later the address changed to 115-117 North Second in Paducah.

The owner was Solomon "Sol" Dreyfuss assisted by his son Samuel H.  Among their liquor brands were “Eclipse Whiskey,” “Old Cold Spring Rye,” “A.M. Jones,”  “D & W Pride,’  “Eaton Valley,” “Fairfield,” “Merchant’s Club,” “Old Dixie,”  “Old Picket,” “Peter Cooper, “  “Red Devil,” “S.H. Rollins,” and “Big Three.”  The company trademarked several of these labels, in 1905 Eclipse and SH. Rollins and in 1906,  Old Cold Spring, Peter Cooper and Red Devil.  It also issued a racy trade card for Eclipse Whiskey showing dancing girls ogled by elderly gents.  The firm featured shot glasses,  at least two in red, for Eclipse and Old Cold Spring.

Irwin’s linking of Devil’s Island Endurance Gin and the Lear murder caught the attention of one of America most prominent industrialists and millionaires, Henry Ford.  A notorious anti-Semite, Ford did a ghost-written weekly column for a newspaper he owned, called the Dearborn Independent.   On the assumption that Dreyfuss and Weil were Jewish,  he used the article to rail against liquor trade for selling the “products of Jewish poisoned liquor factories.”  The Jewish people, he more than implied, were responsible for lawless actions of the Negro race.  One derogatory racial stereotype thereby became the occasion for another.

As for Coleman,  guilty or not, he was nearly killed by a white lynch mob and the Louisiana militia had to be called out to protect him.  Within nine days after the crime, according to newspaper  reports, he was tried in a Shreveport court, found guilty, and  “legally” executed.  The New York Times reported that the Governor of Louisiana was expected to be in attendance at the hanging.  Another stanza of Syke’s lyrics for Devil’s Island Gin Blues goes like this:

Oh, you learn tomorrow,
'Bout a month ago,
You'll learn tomorrow night,
'Bout a month ago,
Couple bottles of mo' gin,
Mama, Lordy, an’ I had to go.