Saturday, March 2, 2013

Simon Jung Gave Milwaukee His Best Shots

Once upon a time in Milwaukee there lived a liquor dealer who loved shot glasses and produced them in prodigious numbers to advertise his whiskey brands.  In so doing, it can be said he gave the people of that Wisconsin city his best shots. The dealer’s name was Simon Jung.

It is likely that growing up in his native Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Jung knew nothing about American whiskey or how it was measured out behind the bar.  Census data does not record his date of immigration to the United States.  When he arrived, probably in the 1870s, he may have had relatives in Milwaukee where he settled.  Sometime in the early 1880s,  Simon married a woman seven years his junior.  Her name was Adelheid Breslauer and she had been born in Germany and when young emigrated with other family members to Milwaukee.

The Breslauers were themselves liquor dealers with the establishment in 1883 of a retail liquor store on East Water Street,  later moved to  242-244 Broadway.   Simon Jung may have served an apprenticeship with his father-in-law, A. Breslauer,  at the Water Street address but within several years opened his own wholesale liquor dealership, located initially at 425 Chestnut St. on Milwaukee’s East Side.  It apparently was an amicable move,  likely funded by his father-in-law since A. Breslauer was listed as Jung’s partner for one year.

About this time, as well, Simon and Adelheid started their family.  Son Frederick, known as Fred for most of his life,  was born in 1883.   A second son,  Edward, would be born six years later.  After the departure of A. Breslauer from his dealership,  Simon added Michael Weiner as a partner.  In 1897 S. Jung & Company moved from Broadway to three addresses on East Water Street    Shown here in a postcard view circa 1909, Water Street was home to a number of retail and wholesale liquor houses.

In 1906 the company occupied a new building at 236 North Water, possibly built to Jung’s specifications.  According to a contemporary account, the premises consisted of a four-story building with a basement,  30 by 150 feet.  It was equipped with an elevator and allowed the storage of a large amount of stock that included imported liquors from Scotland, Ireland, Holland, France, England,  and the Caribbean.  The company also sold wines from California and Ohio, and  house labels, including “Grape Brandy & Rock and Rye,”  a beverage Simon officially trademarked in 1908.

Most important to S. Jung & Co. were sales of American whiskey.  Jung brought it from the major producing states of the time, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Kentucky. Doubtless he also had a blending operation in his building since he featured several of his own brands.  They included “Homer Club,” “Ole Bull,” and “Underhill,”  the latter which he trademarked in 1906.  His flagship brand was “Mountain King,”  In his 1905 trademark application for this whiskey Jung reserved the name and a label design that entailed,  as he wrote,  “a  scene composed of a group of mountains and on the top of one is a mountain goat.”

By employing salesmen to travel throughout the Midwest, Jung was able to build a customer base for his brands that, to paraphrase a contemporary account, “broadly radiated.”  Not only was he selling liquor in Wisconsin but also in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan.  To keep saloons and retail outlets coming back for their products, most liquor wholesalers featured giveaways to favored customers.  Jung was no exception.  As noted earlier, he loved shot glasses and gave away a wide variety.

The most elaborate was one of four extant shot glasses advertising Mountain King rye.   Although it is not marked,  this shot glass, shown top right, has been identified by experts as the work of George Troug, an Italian-born artist in glass who found his way to Cumberland, Maryland, and its thriving glass industry.  in 1892 he opened the Maryland Glass Etching Works where he produced the premier images found on many American shot glasses.  Jung, with his passion for shots,  sought out Troug’s artistry 


Although the Mountain King glass below it lacks similar elaboration, the fluted sides and gothic letters for the message give it a distinction beyond the ordinary.   Although the last Mountain King shot is plain, the letter was done through a soft etch process and is a thin walled item. The same can be said for the final three Jung-produced shot glasses, two issued for Homer Club Rye and one for Ole Bull Bourbon.  Although they are largely without decoration and feature plain lettering, they were a quality giveaway and prominently advertised his whiskeys.   In short,  Jung consistently gave customers his “best shot.”

Jung’s success did not go unnoticed in the Milwaukee business community.  An 1896 publication called “Milwaukee:  Half Century of Progress,” featured the firm and its founder with a laudatory article.   It credited Jung with building public trust of liquors by selling pure and unadulterated products.  It also noted that Simon was a prominent member of the Milwaukee Manufacturers and Merchants Association and an adherent of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization.

As Prohibition forces slowly strangled the Midwest markets for Jung’s whiskey, his business began to suffer.   Throughout the region, town after town, county after county, went “dry” under local option.  In 1916, with strong backing from 
Henry Ford,  Michigan voted a total ban on sales of alcohol.  By 1918, Jung recognized the bleak future and shut the doors of his business.  He never lived to see Repeal.  In 1921 he died at age 71.   He was buried in Milwaukee’s Greenwood Cemetery as his widow, Adelheid, and bachelor sons,  Fred and Edward, stood by his gravesite in the cemetery’s section 3, block 9, lot  6.   They all would join him there eventually, Adelheid in 1931.

The building that housed S. Jung & Company still stands along Water Street.  After the company closed, it lay empty for a time.  Then in 1922, Valentine Blatz, of the Milwaukee brewery family,  moved a candy company to the site.  In 1828 it became headquarters for the Columbia Knitting Company.   Shown here in recent photograph, the building that Jung first occpied currently is home to a supply house for cat medicine with condos on the upper floors.  On the National Register of Historical Buildings,  the structure is a stop on the walking tour of Milwaukee’s Near East Side.

1 comment:

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