Friday, June 28, 2013

The Froehlichs of Newark: Notable in New Jersey

Downtown Newark, early 1900s
One of my objectives for this blog is to have at least one whiskey man or family from every state in the Union. After more than two years, I have been unable to find an interesting subject in about dozen states.  Most are states with early prohibition efforts.  It had not occurred to me that New Jersey might be one in which finding notable candidates for a vignette would be difficult.  But the search has proved frustrating.  After considerable time, I have centered on the Froehlich family of Newark -- three generations of wholesale liquor dealers.

The progenitor of this family was Ignatz Froehlich,  born in Europe in 1819.  His country of birth was given variously as Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia.   His wife, Henrietta, was of a similar background.  Both were of Jewish heritage.   The 1870 Census found Ignatz living with his family in Newark,  his occupation given as “wholesale liquor dealer.”   There were two children,  a son, Samuel, age 20, listed as a “clerk,” likely in his father’s liquor store, and a daughter, Lizzie, 14.

By 1880,  Samuel, now 30, shown below, had stepped into his father’s shoes.  He was running a wholesale liquor business, with a partner, Philip Koehler.  At this time Samuel was married to a woman with a similar immigrant background.  Her name was Laura Schwartz.  They would have a family of at least one son, Irving, and two daughters.

Samuel’s firm, Froehlich & Koehler, issued a saltglaze stoneware jug with a cobalt script label that bore their names.  It also mentioned Newark prominently.  By the late 1800s,  the partnership seems to have been dissolved and Samuel Froehlich struck out on his own.  As his son, Irving, came to maturity, Samuel brought him into the business and the company name became Froehlich & Son.  Their liquor business was located at 49-51-53 Mechanic Street in Newark.

The Froehlichs had a single flagship brand. It was “Black and Gold Rye,” a label they merchandised heavily and trademarked, somewhat belatedly, with the federal government  in 1912.  For favored saloons and other establishments the business provided a embossed back of the bar bottle and shot glasses, all advertising Black & Gold Rye.  The glasses also featured a monogram F & S in an outlined shield design.

The Froehlichs also also provided a “bar coin” to be used by patrons flipping for drinks.   The winner “heads” showed a donkey head and an ad for Black and Gold Rye.  The loser “tails”  showed a different element of the donkey’s anatomy.   They also issued a unusual but practical scorecard in the shape of a baseball.  On it one could chart the score, innings, and outs. A unique giveaway in the whiskey trade, it probably was aimed at the retail customer.

There is other strong evidence of the Froehlichs success in Newark.  Samuel was elected as a member of the Newark Board of Trade, an organization dominated by Anglo-Saxon names such as Brewster, Heath, Tompkins, Halsey and Bathgate.  Despite the success and prestige the firm achieved,  Froehlichs ultimately ran afoul of the Pure Food and Drug laws.

In November 1915 the United States attorney for the District of New York,  acting on a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,  filed a case against Samuel and Irving Froehlich, charging that they had violated the law on a quantity of apricot brandy, “which was adulterated and misbranded.”   Although the label read that it was apricot brandy, an analysis by the government showed that: “The product contains little or no apricot brandy.” Instead it was, according to the analysis,  “neutral spirits, artificially colored and flavored in imitation of apricot brandy.”   Moreover, it contained a high level of “fusel oil,” considered an unsavory and unhealthy byproduct of alcohol distillation.  The word “fusel” was from the German and originally meant “bad liquor.”

On January 10, 1916, the Froehlichs entered a plea of guilty to the charges and the U.S. District Court imposed a fine of $25, the largest amount allowed under the Food and Drug Acts.   The Froehlichs must have smiled at that small financial “slap on the wrist” as they paid the fine.   But more serious challenges were on the horizon.  In 1919 the U.S. approved an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that banned liquor everywhere.   New Jersey, which never had had statewide prohibition, was made to comply.  Froehlich & Son shut its doors.

The 1920 census found Samuel, now age 70, and his wife, Laura, living with their daughter, Edna, her husband and three children in Newark.  Samuel listed himself as “retired.”   Two years later he would die.  He was interred at B’Nai Jeshuron Cemetery in the town of Hillside, Union County, New Jersey.  His gravesite and that of his wife are shown below.

According to his descendant, Irving Froehlich married and lived in northern New Jersey.  He left the liquor trade, however, possibly because of the advent of National Prohibition.

With Prohibition came the end of at least a 50 year tradition of Froehlichs in the liquor trade in New Jersey.   They were truly a successful liquor dynasty in a state that gave the Nation few notable whiskey men.

Note:  The photo of Samuel Froelich and of the gravesite both were courtesy of one of his descendants, Andrew Schwartz of Clifton, N.J., to whom I am very grateful for the help.  He also provided the information on Irving Froehlich's future.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Irishman on DC’s “Rum Row”

When the inaugural parade for Theodore Roosevelt stepped off on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC in 1905, many of the spectators held in their hands a souvenir program.  Edward J. Quinn,  a saloonkeeper on the avenue,  likely watched the marchers  from his business address,  knowing that the program held a prominent ad for his flagship brand, Oronoco Rye. The Irishman Quinn had truly “arrived” in the Nation’s Capital.

Quinn’s story began in Galway, Ireland, from whence his father, also named Edward, emigrated to the United States in 1859.  Three years later, during the midst of the Civil War,  he settled in Alexandria, Virginia,  a town then occupied by Federal military authorities.  Shortly after the end of the war the Senior Quinn established a grocery business on a tract of land he had purchased lying north of Oronoco Street and west of St. Asaph Street.   He married and had a family of seven children, including a son, Edward, whom he brought into the business with him as the boy matured.  The father featured a flagship brand of whiskey which, appropriately enough, he named “Oronoco.”

Fast forward a few years.  In the late 1800s, Edward J., with his father’s blessing and likely financial support, established a saloon and a retail liquor store at 604 Pennsylvania Avenue,  strategically placed in DC opposite the Pennsylvania Railroad Station and adjacent to the National Hotel.  The avenue held a plethora of drinking establishments and had earned the nickname “Rum Row.”  The 1900 Census found Quinn, age 33,  living above the saloon with his wife Ellen.  With them was his widowed mother, Brigid, and two children, Mary,  three years old, and a baby, Helen, who later died in infancy. Two servants were also recorded in the household.

Edward Quinn also had the rights to market the whiskey his father had created.  He advertised Oronoco Rye vigorously in Washington newspapers and other media outlets.   He boasted that his whiskey was “a time-honored stimulant of absolute purity.” He suggested that when the doctor prescribed “a little whiskey,”  he meant Oronoco Rye.  “Therefore, it is essential that you always have a supply of Oronoco Rye on hand.”  Almost as an afterthought Quinn also suggested it was preferred for mixed drinks -- something the doctor may not have ordered.  Quinn also offered a second brand, “Bluemont Whiskey.” He trademarked Bluemont in 1904 and Oronoco in 1905.

In addition to selling Oronoco behind his bar, Quinn retailed it in glass bottles. Some like the one shown here had a fancy label that described the Irishman as the “sole distributor.    He also featured fancy embossing of many of his quarts and flasks, again bringing his Oronoco brand to the fore.   Like many other Washington whiskey men,  Quinn found it expedient to provide giveaway items to favored customers for his whiskey.   Such gifts principally found expression in fancy etched shot glasses for bartender use.  Those also prominently advertised the Oronoco brand.

A Republican like his father, Edward must have been proud to have his ad in the program for Roosevelt’s inaugural.   We can imagine him standing in the doorway of his drinking establishment waving as the President-elect rode by in the parade.  His whiskey sales were making Quinn increasingly prosperous.  As a result he found it possible to move his family away from his saloon to a real home.   By the time of the 1910 census the Quinns had moved to a house on fashionable Massachusetts Avenue, number 1234.  In addition to wife Ellen and daughter, May, he now also had a son, Edward, age 4.  His mother, now 73, was still living with them as were two boys named Cox, possibly relatives of his wife.

Quinn, however, was not long to enjoy his riches.  About 1911,  he died and his widow, with young children to raise and clearly needing money,  almost immediately sold the Pennsylvania property and business, including the rights to Oronoco Rye.  The buyer was another DC Irishman named D. J. O’Connell.  The latter lost no time in making the switch of identification.  Shown here is a bottle or Oronoco Whiskey in which the regular label has been pasted over with a second label identifying it as D.J. O’Connell’s.

Whatever prosperity O’Connell gleaned from his saloon and package sales would be short-lived.   Temperance advocates had targeted Washington for prohibition, knowing that a simple vote of Congress, which governed the District, could do the job.  Accordingly on March 3, 1917,  by vote of Congress, DC officially went  “dry.”  At the time there were 267 saloons and bars in the city.  All of them, including those on “Rum Row,” were forced to close.  The Washington Times estimated that the District thereby lost 2,500 jobs and $500,000 (in 1917 dollars) in revenue.

That was the end of the booze business built by Edward Quinn on Pennsylvania Avenue.  For the next 17 years no parade down that storied street would pass by a saloon, “sample room,” beer joint or any semblance of a watering hole. The memory of that pre-Prohibition time and one enterprising Irishman, however,  is kept alive by the artifacts in bottles and glass still to be seen in local collections.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Wiley Searcy: Kentucky Distiller in War and Peace

Battle of Perryville
As he looked back on his life, Kentucky whiskey man Wiley Searcy probably fixed on the  years of his service in the Union Army during the Civil War as perhaps the most memorable time of his life.   Few soldiers on either side saw as much action as Searcy did, in the process rising from a lowly private to the rank of captain.

The Searcys were a large and well-known clan in Anderson County, Kentucky.  Wiley was born in 1843, the son of Madison Searcy and Susan Mountjoy.  The 1850 census found him, age seven, living with his parents, a brother and two sisters. His father’s occupation was given as “tavern keeper.”   As Wiley was growing up, his mother died, leaving Madison Searcy a widower.

Wiley reached maturity just as the Civil War was beginning.  Kentucky citizens were torn between North and South in their loyalties.  For unrecorded reasons, the Searcys chose the Union side and rosters of Kentucky federal regiments included many with that name. Wiley, age 19,  joined Company  E of the 21st Kentucky Infantry, serving as a private in the ranks.  This company was recruited from parts of southern Anderson and the adjacent Mercer County and mustered at Green River Bridge on January 2, 1862.   With the 21st, Searcy saw action in several battles, including Perryville in October 1862,  shown above.  During that period he advanced to sergeant.

Early the following year he was discharged from his infantry unit and had accepted an officer’s commission to become a 2nd lieutenant in Company L of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry.  The unit was  commanded by a relative, Captain William M. Searcy.   With the 9th Cav Wiley rode in pursuit of Col. John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry raiders as the Confederates slashed and burned through Kentucky and on into Indiana and Ohio.  Battles ensued at Marrowbone, Burkesville, Buffington Island, and, at last, the capture of Morgan at New Lisbon, Ohio, on July 26, 1863.  Several months later,  his enlistment period apparently over, Searcy was discharged and went home.
Saltville Battlefield

Still restless for action, in March 1864 he enlisted again and helped to raise a troop designated as Company G of the 30th Kentucky Mounted Infantry.  This time he was elected by the men and served as the company commander with the rank of captain.  Searcy would carry the title “captain” for the rest of his life.  The company saw action in central Kentucky,  southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee, fighting many pitched battles.   According to an obituary,  Searcy had two horses shot from under him in one afternoon.   In October 1864 during the second battle of Saltville, Virginia,  the 9th Kentucky lost two officers killed and several others “severely wounded.”   Among the latter was Wiley Searcy.

When he had sufficiently recovered,  he rejoined his unit and as an officer saw action against guerrillas (called “bushwhackers”) in Central Kentucky until the regiment was mustered out at the close of the war and discharged from service in April 1865.   Even then Searcy sought to serve.  He was recorded as an officer of the Kentucky militia that was enrolled to maintain a military presence and keep the peace in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, a reserve unit that served until 1869.

In 1867 Wiley was married in Anderson County to Susan Linney. They would have one child but not long after childbirth Susan died.  The 1870 U.S. census found Searcy a widower with a young son named Frank.  Searcy was working as a “U.S. storekeeper,” a job that apparently entailed his being responsible for government supplies and also possibly for the mail.  In 1871 Searcy married again.  This time his wife was Mary Agnes Mountjoy, likely a relative of his late mother.  The couple would have another son,  Matthew.

What brought Searcy into the whiskey trade is unclear.  Obviously as the son of a tavern keeper, he had been around liquor much of his life.  In 1886 he is recorded as having purchased a distillery that had been established in Anderson County in 1818 by Joe Peyton, widely known as “Old Joe.”  It is said that Peyton pitched his tent near the mouth of Gilbert’s Creek and commenced to build a distillery.   After a succession of owners, it looked as shown here.   When Searcy bought it, according to insurance records,  the distillery was of frame construction with a metal or slate roof. The property included two bonded warehouses, also of frame construction with metal or slate roofs. Warehouse "A" or No. 1, was located 600 ft south of the still. Warehouse "B" (No. 2) stood 10 ft from No. 1.The facility was known as Distillery No. 45,  8th District of Kentucky.

The Captain wasted no time in advertising his “Old Joe” brand of whiskey, as shown here.   His product contained “no jug yeast,” he claimed and was “The best whisky that can be made.”  At a time when Eastern money men were contemplating “whiskey trusts” in Kentucky, Searcy emphasized that he was an independent distiller. He packaged “Old Joe” in ceramic jugs, making sure that his name was prominent.

Under Searcy’s leadership, the distillery flourished. He added structures and boasted two bonded warehouses and a third “free” (not under the Bottled-in-Bond Act) warehouse. Federal revenue records indicate his very active insertions of raw whiskey into the bonded warehouses and subsequent withdrawal of aged liquor.   At one point he called the facility the Zeno Distillery Company but after 1898 dropped that name in favor of The Wiley Searcy Distillery.
Wiley Searcy Distillery

In 1909, as occurred many times for distilleries, fire ravaged the complex, destroying all three warehouses.   The loss of whiskey was considerable. Searcy, by now 66 years old and perhaps feeling the effects of his wartime wounds, declined to rebuild and instead sold the property to the local Ripy Brothers in 1911.  They rebuilt the distillery and operated until shut down by Prohibition.  The Ripys also changed the name to the “Old Joe” Distillery The mini jug shown here is likely is from the post-1911 period, as is an “Old Joe” label with the picture of a Kentucky “colonel.”

Wiley Searcy died in January 1917. The local newspaper gave the cause as “la grippe (influenza) and other complications.”  He was 74 years old. Surviving him were his widow,  both sons and two young granddaughters. After a service in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, he was buried  at the Old Lawrenceburg Cemetery, Section #9. The  graves of Wiley and Mary Searcy are said to be marked only with a large boulder for a headstone with a small bronze plaque with names, but no dates or mention of the Captain’s extraordinary military service.  One of his labeled jugs might serve as a monument:

Note:  Although Searcy was not honored with the kind of monument that many Civil War soldiers have been given,  his story was recounted in a large tome, featuring several authors, entitled “Anderson County History and Families.”  Information here was derived from that and other sources.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Tallcotts: No Blues from “Little Town” Booze

Who can forget when Frank Sinatra sang, “New York, New York,”  pledging that by going to the Big Apple he would get rid of his “little town blues.”  The Tallcotts, father and sons, were whiskey men living in a small New York State village called Parish but never seemed to mind being in a little town and prospered greatly from their liquor dealership.

Parish is a village in mid-state, named for David Parish (1778-1826).  Shown here, Parish was a English land speculator and financier who in 1808 acquired 200,000 acres in the St. Lawrence River Valley to sell to settlers in farmland parcels.  Among his holdings was the village site,  later named for Parish by the state legislature.  Over the years its population never exceeded 2,000;  the 2010 census put the modern day number at 450.  A 1900 postcard view revealed a sleepy little community.

The Tallcotts did not arrive in Parish until near the end of the Civil War.  The father, Cyrus Sayles Tallcott,  was born in Rensselaer County, New York, in 1839.  His father was Jabez H. Tallcott and mother was Melinda Goodling, both native New Yorkers.  Soon after Cyrus’ birth his parents moved to Vermont where they stayed for fifteen years,  moving back to the Empire State in 1854 and settling in Constantia,  Oswego County.  When Cyrus  grew to manhood there he managed a hotel in Constantia, New York,  a position that  apparently afforded him the wealth to marry.  His bride was Catherine Warn, the daughter of John C. Warn of Oswego County.

In 1864,  Cyrus Tallcott moved to nearby Parish where his early occupation was as proprietor of a hotel and saloon called "The Martin Place." According to a local biography, he also served for four years as a traveling salesman for an unnamed Syracuse business.   My  hunch is that he was selling for a liquor dealership.  Apparently having acquired sufficient knowledge of the trade and a cash reserve, Tallcott in 1877 established his own wholesale liquor business in Parish.   The local customer base was not large and the town boasted only two small hotels and two saloons.

Undaunted,  Tallcott traveled extensively through Central New York merchandising his whiskey. A contemporary biography said of him:   “Mr. Tallcott is one of the prominent merchants of Oswego County, whose trade is not confined to that but extends over half a dozen adjoining counties.”  As his two sons matured,  Cyrus took them into the firm.  They were Frank  N.,  born in 1862, and his younger brother, Claude F., born in 1871. The Tallcott boys were said to have started as clerks but worked themselves up to partner levels “through their own industrious and intelligent efforts.” Eventually the name of the firm would be changed to C. S.  Tallcott & Sons.

Like many liquor dealers of the time,  the Tallcotts claimed a direct line to a distillery, especially marking the Eagle Distillery of Stanley, Kentucky, as a source of their whiskey.   The connection was a bit more complicated.  A 1906 billhead from the T.E. O’Keefe Company revealed that the family was buying its stock from O’Keefe, an Oswego whiskey man who was, in fact, a co-owner of the Eagle Distillery. (See my May 2013 post on O’Keefe.)  One invoice indicates that the Tallcotts bought 43.67 gallons of “Ontario Whiskey,” paying $65.51.  They apparently bottled it under their own brand names, a strategy that proved very lucrative.

With the success of his business,  Cyrus Tallcott became active in the political affairs of New York State.   In July 1906, the nearby town of Pulaski hosted what the press called “two of the largest conventions in the history of the Republican Party.”   The second and larger convention which covered the entire Congressional District was reported to have attracted “a tremendous crowd” to Belt’s Opera House.  When the meeting was called to order, it was Cyrus Tallcott who wielded the gavel.   According to a contemporary biographer, “his efforts are greatly appreciated by his party, in whose highest counsels he is a trusted confidant.”  Cyrus also was prominent in Masonic circles, cited as a member of the York Scottish Rite, the Egyptian Rite and the Order of the Mystic Shrine.

Some time about 1908 or 1909,  in his early 70s,  Cyrus Tallcott died.  It had been said of him:  “Mr. Tallcott is a man of large and comprehensive ideas, who impresses his individuality on those with whom he comes in contact.  His successful mercantile career has afforded him an ample fortune.”   His two son, already schooled in the liquor trade, took the reins of management.   They changed the firm’s name once again, calling it “C. S. Tallcott’s Sons.”   By this time  Frank had married and was the father of two girls.   Claude was a bachelor living with his widowed mother.  It is from this period that we can identify an amber strap-sided flask with a label advertising “C.S.T. Pure Old Rye Whiskey.”

By 1914 Frank Tallcott had departed the whiskey business.  A letterhead from that year identified his younger brother, C. F. (Claude),  as the proprietor.   The name of the company had been changed once again.  It was now just C. S. Tallcott’s Son.  The same letterhead identified the Parish business with the Imperial Distillery, a new name for the old Eagle Distillery.  The Tallcott firm also was self-identified as “rectifier,” that is, blender of whiskeys to be marketed under a proprietary label.   Among the Tallcott brands were “Highland Mary,” and “Aero Club.”   Both were openly advertised as blends. 

The label on  “Aero Club,”  shown here on an amber quart and in a detail,  is particularly interesting in its design.   In an era when the development of the airplane had gripped public attention the name and central illustration were a striking combination.  It appeared to show a winged semi-nude woman,  laurel wreath in one hand,  whiskey bottle in the other, swooping down on the viewer.   A kind of prototype of Wonder Woman.

No amount of merchandising prowess on the part of the Tallcotts could fend off the ultimate demise of their liquor business.  Although New York never enacted statewide Prohibition,  the passage by Congress of the Volstead Act in 1919 doomed the business and it terminated.  Over a period of more than four decades, the Tallcotts had thrived in their  village and produced liquor containers that are still avidly collected.   They clearly had no “little town blues.”  In fact, to paraphrase the same Sinatra song:  “If they could make it there, they could make it anywhere.”

Note:   The Aero Club bottle shown here currently resides with Peter Samuelson, a noted collector of labeled whiskeys. His recent comment about its label was:  “What nice wings!”  See the June 2013 issue of the “Antique Bottle & Glass Collector” magazine for Peter’s full  article on his labeled whiskeys.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Isaac Miller Turned a “Cash Cow” into Chicken Feed

When Isaac Miller, a man of  Russian Jewish heritage, emigrated to the United States in 1891, his last name almost certainly was not “Miller” but a difficult name that either he, or perhaps a guard at Ellis Island, New York, changed.  With his new all-American name,  Miller moved into the heartland at Sioux City, Iowa, where he found that the whiskey trade was a lucrative but ultimately risky business and settled on selling, among other things, chicken feed.

Miller’s initial years in America apparently went very well.  Early on in Sioux City, he found a mentor and companion in Herman Galinsky who had emigrated from Russia to America with other family members seven years earlier.  Galinsky appears to have established himself rapidly as an enterprising businessman and my surmise is that the older man provided a major part of the funding for Isaac to allow him to establish I. Miller & Company Wholesale Liquors in 1899.  Galinsky was listed as a partner.  The address was on Fourth Street,  shown here, a major commercial avenue in Sioux City.

The close relationship between Miller and Galinsky is reinforced by the revelation in the 1900 census that Isaac had married Herman’s younger sister, Anna, who had emigrated with the Galinsky family.  At that point the couple had a one-year-old son, Herman,  obviously named for the uncle.  In addition, another Galinsky named Etta,  51, was living with the Millers, likely Anna’s mother.  The 1900 census listed Miller’s occupation as “Merchant, liquor, owner.”

In short order, Miller and Galinsky  expanded their operation.  According to Barbara Edmonson in her book “Spirits Glasses,”  in 1901 they added a saloon five blocks down Fourth Street.   Three years later the partners became Iowa agents for Wisconsin-made Gettleman Beer.  In 1910 they added a second saloon at 1109 Fourth Street.

Meanwhile I. Miller & Co. was merchandising its “California wines and brandies” and “fine Kentucky whiskies” very vigorously.  It sold them in both large ceramic jugs and in glass containers with bail tops.   Despite the fact that only token competition existed in Sioux City for Miller’s lucrative liquor business,  he also issued shot glasses to favored customers.  The one shown here is a heavy bar glass with 12 molded flutes that rise halfway up the glass from the base and bears a white-etched label.

But even in the midst of prosperity, Miller must have worried.  For a long time the idea of Prohibition was supported in Iowa by thousands of people who believed passionately in the cause.  In many respects Iowa was considered in the forefront of the “dry movement.”  Initially Prohibition manifested itself in “local option” laws that allowed individual counties and towns to declare bans on alcohol.  Jurisdiction after jurisdiction in Iowa adopted them.

Miller apparently was able through mail order and railroad express sales to benefit initially from local option, supplying “wet” goods to “dry” towns,  but that loophole was closed by the U.S. Congress in 1913 by passage of the Webb-Kenyon Act.  Subsequently, four years before National Prohibition, Iowa in 1916 enacted a statewide ban on sales of alcohol.  Miller and Galinsky were forced to shut the swinging doors of their saloons and I. Miller & Co. Wholesale Liquors was out of business. 

Unlike other whiskey men, however, Miller was able to make a quick shift into new lines of merchandise.  In 1917 the firm reorganized to sell nonalcoholic beverages,  groceries, notions, paint, oils, fruits and syrups,  stoneware, wooden ware, paper, and school supplies.  His major commercial offerings were Miller Brand Feeds, prominently including chicken feed.  Shown here is an I. Miller ceramic chicken waterer, reputedly the product of the famous Red Wing, Minnesota, potteries.

The “cash cow” that selling liquor had provided allowed the brothers-in-law to branch out into other enterprises.  Galinsky became a director of the American Savings Bank in Sioux City.  Probably with participation from Miller, he also bought and refurbished what came to be known as the New Grand Theater, shown here in a circa 1910 post card. The brothers-in-law also were part of a group of local businessmen who organized the Pioneer Iron Works, 
shown here on a photo .

A 1923 publication on Sioux City, entitled “Three Quarters of a Century of Progress, said of this plant:  “The Pioneer Iron Works business has now grown to a manufacturing and jobbing business for all iron products used in building as well as heavy machine work. Iron ladders and stairway fire escapes, iron and ornamental fences, all kinds of wire work, steel doors, stairs, smoke stacks and all kinds of mill supplies of iron are made and distributed here. The machine shop includes service such as heavy blacksmithing, machine work of all kinds, auto repairing on such things as springs, axles, crankshaft grinding and oxyacetylene welding. This is one of the best equipped welding plants in the city and work comes in from all over the surrounding territory.”  Galinsky was president and Miller the treasurer of this enterprise.

Isaac Miller continued to reside in Sioux City the remainder of his life. The 1940 census found him, apparently retired at the age of 69, living with wife Anna;  an unmarried son, Joe, age 36; and a female servant.  Although I do not have the date of Miller’s death, he and other family members are buried in Mount Sinai Cemetery in Sioux City.  Interred nearby are Herman and others of the Galinsky family.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Joe Choisser Put His Brand on Cattle and Whiskey

Joseph E. “Joe” Choisser, praised by a biographer as exemplifying “all the best traditions of the patriotic American,” put distinctive brands on both cattle and his own labeled whiskey during forty-five years of business enterprise and community service in the State of Montana.

This Westerner was a direct desendant of John Choisser, born in Illinois of French Canadian ancestry in 1784, a man who had twelve sons and one daughter, rooting a family tree that would branch into well over a thousand descendants today.  According to a family history both Joe’s grandfather and his father, William, served the Union cause during the Civil War in Company E of the 29th Illinois Infantry Regiment.   William is shown here, somewhat out of uniform, a pistol stuck in his belt.  After the war ended the father moved with his Southern-born wife, Mary Jane (Provine) Choisser, to Minnesota where in 1866 she gave birth to the boy they named Joseph E. and called “Joe.”

Shortly after, William returned to Illinois and began farming.  Son Joe attended the public schools of Illinois but early on left education to help support the family.  When he was seventeen,  his father once again pulled up stakes and moved his wife and entire family of seven children to Montana.  They came by train to Miles City and settled on a ranch William bought on Rosebud Creek, about twelve miles from the town of Forsyth.  The father prospered at ranching and to his original tract of 160 acres he eventually added 320 acres in the fertile Rosebud Valley as well as 680 acres of grazing land, raising cattle and horses.

Apparently not drawn to farm life, Joe soon left the ranching to his father and brothers and struck out on his own.  He is said to have traveled throughout the the Montana territory trying out several occupations.  He soon determined to make Forsyth his permanent home.  The seat of Rosebud County, this town had been established in 1876 as the first settlement on the Yellowstone River and was named for a U.S. general.  Notably, another general named Custer marched his troops through the town on the way to the Little Big Horn.  Today with a population of about 1,800,  Forsyth is an exit on I-94 through Montana.

After settling in Forsyth Joe Choisser got busy.  In addition to establishing a saloon and liquor store, he is credited with building one of the first substantial commercial buildings on Main Street, preferring the permanence of brick over the customary timbered structures.   His biographer says:  "He became the owner of much property and eventually employed his capital in the construction of the Choisser Block, a three-story brick building, the upper floors of which are the chief part of  The Alexander Hotel, while the lower floor is occupied by the post office and business concerns."  A postcard view of Forsyth’s Main Street, circa 10, shown here,  appears to show the Choisser Block at the far left.  It was completed in 1908 at the reported cost of $30,000.

As his wealth grew,  Choisser found time to marry.   In September 1901 he exchanged vows with Florence Gilliland, who had been born in Nebraska.  Her father, a native of Missouri, and her mother, from Illinois, had brought her as a young girl to Miles City where she met Joe, some 16 years her elder.  A local newspaper described Florence as “a fair young woman” and reported that the newlyweds,  “...Left on the early train for the west, to spend their honeymoon.”   The couple would have one daughter,  Kirtlye, whose name is spelled variously but this way in family archives.

Choisser became involved in an array of commercial ventures, one of them raising and grazing cattle.   The 1903 Montana Stock Growers Association book of brands displayed his JEC brand on the side of a wistful looking steer.   He may have been grazing his cows on some of his father’s lands, listing as ranges Missouri Brakes, Devils Creek,  Dead Man Creek, and Old Range Lower Rosebud River.   His brother,  W. E. Choisser is noted as his foreman.   Although Joe was managing the Alexander Hotel and its downstairs saloon,   his energies principally were devoted to his wholesale liquor business.  Much of the Choisser Block contained space for a whiskey warehouse and sales.   A token from his saloon indicates one of Joe’s merchandising methods.
Choisser also may have been blending his own whiskey.  He called it “Flying U Rye Whiskey” and designed for it a label that featured a logo that could have been applied with a branding iron.  He also featured a center illustration of a team of four horses pulling a wagon full of barrels.  The label also included two “art nouveau” type decorations.  Shown here on a amber flask, the label was replicated on a reverse glass saloon sign that Choisser displayed in the Alexander Hotel and gave to other saloons featuring his liquor.  Given the elegance of the design, one might suspect a woman’s hand in its creation.  Florence, however, was said to be a
devout Presbyterian and possibly not enthusiastic about the liquor business.
As Choisser’s reputation as a businessman grew, he came to be tapped for important jobs.   Said to be a staunch Republican, although never seeking office for himself,  he was appointed to the State Fair Board of Montana.  He also lobbied for favored causes and is said to have been an interested spectator at many sessions of the Montana Legislature.  At the outbreak of World War One,  Choisser was hailed as “one of the real leaders of Rosebud County,”  serving as chairman of the County Council of Defense, chairman of the executive and finance committees of the Red Cross and as a member of the State Draft Board.  He was praised for being one of few in the county to reach the limit on war bond purchases.  Not to be outdone,  his wife Florence was superintendent of surgical dressings and later vice chairman of the local Red Cross Chapter.

One event that may have diverted Joe’s attention was a fire.  The rays of the sun filtering through a window apparently ignited straw packing in the basement of the J.E. Choisser Wholesale Liquor Company in July 1917.  Exploding bottles of liquor helped fuel the flames that completely gutted the building.  The Alexander Hotel next door, shown here, also sustained some damage. Almost immediately Choisser hired a noted Montana architect to help him renovate the block and add a third floor to the structure. A central open lightwell was added to the design, bringing sunlight to the interior.  The original pediment inscribed with Joe’s name was installed at the top.  Today the building is a centerpiece of the Forsyth Historic District and on the National Register of Historic buildings.

Two years after the fire, on October 21,1919, at the relatively young age of 53,  Joe Choisser died.   It was a particularly difficult time for Florence.  Just hours later her father, who had been living with the Choissers, passed away after a lengthy illness.  Joe is said to have made  monetary contributions to all the local denominations but was partial to the Presbyterian faith of his wife.  Appropriately then, his funeral was presided over by Rev. H. G. Kiemme at Forsyth’s First Presbyterian Church, a structure also currently on the National Historical Register.  Joe’s pallbearers, all said to have been his longtime personal friends, carried the Montanan to a grave site in Forsyth Cemetery, as his widow and daughter grieved along side.  Many in the region were said to have mourned his untimely passing.

The effusive tributes paid to this man testified to his importance in the eyes of of his contemporaries.  The Billings Gazette said in an editorial:  "In the death of Joseph E.  Choisser of Forsyth, the state of Montana has sustained a distinct and well nigh irreparable loss.  He was one of the factors in developing the resources of the Treasure State in which he had unbounded faith.”  In his book, “Montana: Its Story and Biography,” author Tom Stout said of Joe Choisser:  “...His years in the state were signalized by a high degree of business enterprise, an initiative that made him a leader in community affairs, and he exemplified all the best traditions of the patriotic American.”