Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Whiskey al a Mida: Law and Trademark

When William Mida of Chicago died in October 1915 at the age of 76,  a leading beverage industry publications said in his obituary:   “He was probably the best known man among the distillers and liquor dealers in the United States and during his lifetime did much to advance their interests.”  

High praise, indeed, but a century later his name has faded into the background even as names like Daniels, Bernheim, Taylor, Weller, and Van Winkle continued to be remembered.  Why?  Although he also made whiskey, Mida’s reputation rested on his work in liquor laws and trademarks,  much of it wiped out by National Prohibition.

Mida was born in Warsaw, then part of Russian-occupied Poland, in July, 1839.  He came from a wealthy Jewish family that was able to give him an excellent education.  In addition to his schooling in Poland, he also studied the classics, mathematics and literature in Germany and France and spoke five languages, including English. Although there is no indication he had a law degree, his education clearly fit him for the tasks he later would undertake.

While in his early 20s, like many well educated Poles, Mida joined the Rebellion of 1863, a eventually unsuccessful effort by Polish partisans, shown here, to rid themselves of Russian domination.  During the fighting he was captured and imprisoned.  Eventually pardoned he made his way to Germany where he became revolutionary agent, aiding in  smuggling arms from France into Poland.  When his clandestine work on behalf of the Polish resistance was discovered, he was forced to escape to England.

In 1867 he came to the United States and after a few months in New York moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he likely found employment in one of the many liquor dealerships run by Jewish immigrants from Europe.  It was in Cincinnati that William became a naturalized American citizen and met the woman who would become his wife.  She was Lena Cahn.  They would have one son, Lee, and be married for almost 40 years.

Mida may have made an initial move to St. Louis.  A business directory there for 1872 lists him as a liquor dealer.  He did not stay long in Missouri.  About 1873 Mida and his family moved to Chicago which would be their permanent home.  During his stay in Ohio Mida seemingly had learned the craft of the whiskey rectifier, blending and compound whiskeys to render them smoother and more mellow.  His wholesale liquor dealership first shows up in Chicago directories in 1880.  He early located his business at 93 Washington Street but soon moved to 46-48 Clark Street and, apparently needing more space, to Dearborn Avenue, shown here, a major Chicago business hub.  He featured several proprietary brands including “Relish” and “Mida’s Confidential.”

While this trade apparently was lucrative, Mida’s restless mind saw a grave need in America’s liquor industry and determined to fill it.  In 1883 he published “Mida’s Handbook for Wholesale Liquor Dealers.”  Its success encouraged him to publish an informational semi-monthly journal devoted to the trade, much of it devoted to state liquor laws. He called it “Mida’s Criterion” and published it for nearly three decades.  The success of the magazine prompted Mida to establish a publishing house, called Criterion Press.  In quick succession he issued a number of publications.

Perhaps the most famous of them was “Mida’s National Register of Trade-Marks, published in 1893, with a second volume in 1895 and a combined volume in 1898.  During that period trademarks were a dicey proposition.  A tough 1870 law had been struck down as interference with interstate commerce.  Disputes over whiskey brand names were common and judges generally were unwilling to enforce the laws that existed if any home state interests were involved

Into this situation stepped William Mida.  He believed that the trademarking of brands was a key to the orderly growth of the whiskey industry and in his register listed the several hundred trademarks that already had been recorded with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Many had also registered them with Mida and his “Trade Mark Bureau.”  Most marks were illustrated as barreled designs but he also included registration of advertising items such as labels or pocket mirrors.  There also were several dozen pages of advertising at the end of the book.  Ads included full pages for liquor wholesalers like Freiberg & Workum.  Those likely helped to defray the cost of a volume that ran to 300 pages and was priced at a hefty (for the times) $10.

Mida’s work was valuable in letting other whiskey men know what brand names had been registered.   The index was by brand name, not company and thus easy to reference.  He also was pushing the importance of registration to the liquor trade. Thus when a stronger trademark law was passed in April 1905, it gained general acceptance among distillers and rectifiers.  Mida, true to his code, trademarked his Relish Whiskey in 1905 and Mida’s Confidential in 1907.

At the same time he was trying to make sense for the liquor industry of the blizzard of federal and state laws,  ever-changing and often reflecting the work of prohibition forces.  In “Mida’s Compendium” (1889) and later “Mida’s Compilation of State and Federal Pure Food Laws” (1906),  he parsed the laws and tried to answer questions about their application. He often did this in a question and answer format.

One of his responses cleared up a problem I have pondered:  “May the  name “distilling company” be used on a sign by company not distilling?”  Rectifiers often called themselves distillery companies although they used someone else’s whiskey.  Yes, they can, Mida declared in his Compendium.  When a firm is incorporated and is authorized to conduct business as a distilling company, a firm can made use of its legal application, he explained.  But to advertise as a “distiller” would be a violation of Federal law, he cautioned, and the user would be liable to a penalty.

Among the many other publications Mida generated was a compilation of registered canned food brands.  Arranged by state and brand names under headings such as the one shown here, it was another exhaustive look at an area of trademarking.  This time there were no pictures. Although Mida regularly had railed against the force of Prohibition in the Criterion, in 1913 he launched a periodical explicitly aimed at fighting the “drys.”  He called it “Mida’s Epitome.”

That publication proved to be short-lived.  In October 1915 William Mida died, age 76.  He had been preceded in death by his wife, Lena, in 1909.  The work he had begun on trademark and law through Mida’s Trade Mark Bureau was continued unabated by his son, Lee.  In 1918 the son published a volume entitled “Trade Mark Protection and Penalties under State Registration Laws.”

Lee Mida and his wife were well known in Chicago sporting circles.  Lee won the Chicago City Golf Championship in 1919.  His wife (nee Lucia Gueth) became even more recognized.  Playing under the name Mrs. Lee Mida she won the 1930 Women’s Western Open, which later was designated by the LPGA as the first women’s major.  With her husband’s death the trade mark business passed to his widow who leased it to others. It survived into the 1950s when charges of ethics violations against its proprietors caused it to close.

Despite William Mida’s effort to thwart Prohibition, it came in 1920.  Many of the liquor brands and most of the companies he listed went out of existence.  The information his books contained quickly became obsolete. Unfortunately, for all his belief in trademarking, Mida never copyrighted his liquor trademark books.  Not even the Library of Congress has a copy.   The Filson Museum in Louisville owns one and several are in private hands.  Most of his other publications also have long since faded from view.   Nevertheless, his legacy for the American liquor trade was a highly significant one.  To paraphrase his obituary, during his lifetime William Mida, did, indeed, do much to advance its interests.

Note:  An acknowledgment to Howard Currier for his article on the Mida trademark books in the February 2003 issue of Bottles and Extras, the publication of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.  His treatment suggested to me that a closer look at the man, William Mida, would be a good addition to this blog.  And it is.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

John Wedderburn Peddled False Hopes and Whiskey

In the District of Columbia during the pre-Prohibition era John Wedderburn, a self-ordained patent attorney and liquor dealer, peddled dreams of wealth to would-be inventors nationwide and booze to Washingtonians.  His legal work got him disbarred; his whiskey made him rich. This is the Wedderburn file.

The Wedderburns are an old and distinguished family with roots in Scotland and England.  The heritage includes a bountiful list of lords, knights and clan chiefs.  The family motto is an unusual one in its negative tone.  In Latin it reads “Non Degenor,” meaning “Not Degenerate.”   It remains to be seen if John Wedderburn lived up to this less-than-lofty standard.

He was born in Washington, D.C., to George Chase and Virginia Mary Lawrence Wedderburn in 1869, not long after the Civil War.   Of his early life and education, little is known other than by some means he obtained a license to practice law.  When about  23 years old he married Beulah Fox,  a woman only 17 at the time of their marriage who had been born in Missouri. They had one daughter, Virginia, born about 1891.

Wedderburn first emerged in the public record during the mid-1880s when barely out of his teens.  Obviously a very canny lawyer and one looking “to make a fast buck,” he established the John Wedderburn Company with the apparent intent of using the Patent Office as his personal cash drawer.  By virtue of conning newspapers all across the country into running his ads at discount prices in exchange for “stock” in John Wedderburn & Co., he was able to tout his services, as shown in the ad above, to a nationwide audience.

The 1800s were the age of American invention and thousands of would-be Thomas Edisons responded to Wedderburn’s promise of wealth and the possibility of winning a $1,800 prize,  one later revealed as never having been awarded.  Wedderburn later contended that “an $1,800 prize offer would not be understood to be an offer of an $1,800 prize.”  Federal authorities did not buy that.   They contended that far from helping his clients become wealthy he was milking them for all he could get.  For an initial $5 he said he would see if the invention had already been recorded.  Inevitably he would find it had not and advise:  “There is no doubt that your invention is a  very valuable one and that good money could be made out of the same if properly handled.”  Handled, that is, by Wedderburn.  He suggested the figure of $5,000 to the inventor on direct sale of the patent.

After collecting an additional $20 to process the patent application, which in the vast majority of cases he never obtained, if the client seemed to be “a vein easily mined,” Wedderburn sent a letter informing the inventor as follows:  “We take pleasure in informing you that the Board of Awards has selected your invention for special merit and our name will appear on our Roll of Honor for last month for the Wedderburn prize.”  The letter was accompanied by a medal, shown here,  a pitch for more money, and the assurance that the invention “promises to be exceedingly profitable to you.”

It did not take long for Federal Patent Office authorities to react to Wedderburn’s scheme. In an exhaustive report, their investigator was unsparing in his opinion of this “Honor Roll” Letter:  “There probably could not be a more unblushing fraud perpetrated by the use of the same number of words  than crops out of this communication.”  Found guilty of “gross misconduct” by the Commissioner of Patents in 1897,  Wedderburn was disbarred from  doing business with the Patent Office.

But the patent business was not the only gambit that Wedderburn had going from his offices at 618 F Street NW in the District.  In 1891, the San Francisco Examiner newspaper announced it was establishing in Washington an “Examiner Bureau of Claims.”  The owner of the Examiner was William Randolph Hearst, one of America’s most powerful publishers.  He promised that the Bureau would handle claims before the U.S. Court of Claims for a standard modest fee instead the 50 percent of awards charged by many claims agents.  To head this seemingly philanthropic effort Hearst chose none other than John Wedderburn, hailed as a man who had ferreted out “gigantic contract frauds” at a California Naval Yard for the Secretary of the Navy.

Before long, however, Hearst would regret his decision.  In 1894 he went to court asking that the Examiner Bureau of Claims be declared bankrupt and asking that Wedderburn be restrained from further “intermeddling with its affairs.”  In his bill of particulars against the Washingtonian,  Hearst claimed that Wedderburn had mismanaged claims, created a large indebtedness, improperly used money for his personal expenses, and -- most egregious -- bilked Hearst’s own mother out of $8,000.
The 1900 census found Wedderburn living at 2208 Ruskin Avenue in Baltimore, with his  his wife, Beulah, and their daughter.  No occupation was recorded for John, now 33 years old and apparently out of work.   That would change within the next several years as Wedderburn, despite being disbarred and disgraced, decided to enter the DC liquor business, setting up John Wedderburn’s Pure Wines & Liquors at his old F Street address.

Shown here are two Wedderburn whiskey bottles, a clear pint and an amber quart.  He made no pretense that they were straight bourbons, merchandising them as “a modern improved whiskey” made from “pure grain distillates.”  It is clear he was operating as a “rectifier,”  that is, compounding and blending raw whiskeys with grain alcohol to achieve more mellow flavor. The labels indicate that over time he raised his prices from $2.00 a gallon to $2.25.  In addition to his “Wedderburn” brands of whiskey and rye, he also featured other proprietary labels, including “Hallmark,” “Karlan Club,”  “Over - Wood,” “The J. W.,” and “Three 3 Points.”  As a patent attorney (disbarred) he saw the benefit of  trademarks,  registering Wedderburn in 1904 and the others about a decade later.

Wedderburn also made use of ceramic jugs for his products, chiefly for wholesale.  As many other D.C. liquor dealers did, he gave away pottery mini-jugs to favored customers, each holding several swallows of his whiskey.  He also furnished saloon carrying his brands with thin-walled etched shot glasses.   On many of his ads and giveaways,  Wedderburn emphasized the word “pure.”  His, he claimed, was the “Pure Food Liquor House.”  His wines and liquors were “...ALL guaranteed under the Pure Food & Drugs Act of June 30, 1906.”   In matter of fact, they were nothing of the sort.  Unlike proprietary drugs, the Act exempted most wines and liquors.  State purity laws obtained for them but because the District of Columbia was a federal city, there were none.  What Wedderburn was putting into his products is anybody’s guess.

For all his notoriety Wedderburn apparently knew how to job the political system in the Nation’s Capitol.  Probably because of his largesse he was said to have many friends and acquaintances among congressmen and senators.   They may have been a principal source of demand for his alcoholic products,  easily shipped from F Street up to Capital Hill.  Political connections may also be the reason that in 1915 Wedderburn’s ability to practice patent law was restored.

Showing up in D.C. business directories as a liquor dealer first in 1906, Wedderburn apparently had just a little over a decade to operate and flourish before Congress in 1917 declared D.C. “dry.”  During that period, however, he marketed a number of brands and left behind hundreds of bottles, jugs and giveaway items.  The coming of Prohibition seems to have ended Wedderburn’s entrepreneurship.  The 1920 census found him living in the District of Columbia at 810 North Carolina Avenue.  Although still only 51 years old, no occupation was listed for him.

Wedderburn does not show up in the 1930 Census. He died on March 15, 1932,  at the age of 64.  He was laid to rest in Plot B of Washington’s historic Rock Creek Cemetery.  There  he shares a gravestone with his wife, Beulah, and their daughter Virginia, while other Wedderburn relatives are buried nearby. 

Wedderburn probably did live up to his family motto.  No “degenerate” was he.  He may have more than earned other negative words heaped on him during his lifetime, however, such as “fraud” and “charlatan” (Commissioner of Patents) or “a man lacking in integrity and honesty” (Hearst).  It is unfortunate that he did not leave a memoir.  My hunch is that John Wedderburn had many more tales to tell.

Note:  The case for disbarment against Wedderburn was made in a lengthy 1897 document from the Commissioner of Patents that included a detailed report by an investigator of how Wedderburn operated to extract patent-related money from gullible inventors.  The photographs of bottles and jugs shown here were provided by Dr. Richard Lilienthal, a leading collector of DC bottles.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kentucky's John Thixton Really Deserved Better

Shown here is what remains of the graveyard statue of John Thixton, a marble likeness that lies shattered in Rosehill Cemetery in Owensboro, Kentucky.   Said to have been destroyed in a tornado,  it memorialized a man who achieved a great deal in his lifetime as a distiller, banker, and politician.   He did not deserve to be reduced to a pile of rubble.

Thixton was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky in March 1834.  His father, also named John, was a native of Maryland who came Kentucky and resided there until his death. reportedly working in banking and operating a brokerage house. Young John was one of six Thixton children, five boys and one girl.  He was well educated for those times, attending school until he was 20 years old and then teaching school.  Ironically, during the same period he was also selling tombstones.

When he was just 21 he married.  She was Mary Ellen Murphy of Daviess County, Kentucky, the daughter of Daniel Murphy and Harriett Kelly ,  and the same age as her husband when they wed.   Attempting to earn a better living for his family,  Thixton quit teaching and went into farming.  After ten years working the land, he apparently decided that other pursuits held more promise for his family, that eventually would number seven children. In 1865, therefore, he sold his farm and moved to Owensboro and engaged in the grocery business, with a strong emphasis on whiskey sales.  In January 1881, according to a contemporary biography, he sold out his grocery to give full attention to selling whiskey.

With a partner named Slaughter, he took over a liquor business on West St. Ann Street.  The partners succeeded Dr. A. D. Hill, who had owned the oldest wholesale house in Jefferson County.  They bought his stock and sold brands of whiskey being distilled in Daviess County.  Even an 1878 fire at their establishment did not daunt the partners who quickly repaired the damage.  An invoice dated Sept. 1, 1882, showed the capital in their liquor dealership to be worth $87,000, chiefly in the value of whiskey.  Their sales amounted to a substantial 150 to 200 barrels a month.

The John Thixton Distillery Company,  another enterprise of the partners, was incorporated in February 1881.  This distillery was situated about a mile east of the Owensboro courthouse and was constructed at a cost of $18,000,  incorporating all new buildings and equipment.  The mashing capacity was 280 bushels a day and the facility turned out an estimated 6,500 barrels of whiskey a year.  Thixton was the chief distiller.   About 1902, with Slaughter apparently gone from the scene, Thixton took a new partner, teaming up with E. P. Millett, who recently had sold his own Kentucky distillery.  Together they formed Thixton, Millett & Company, a wholesale and distiller’s agent concern,  located on West Main Street in Owensboro.

Thixton and Millett also were looking for an opportunity to purchase a second distillery and thus obtain an assured increased supply of whiskey.  That chance came in 1903 when Boone & Bro. distillery, located in Nelson County two miles east of Bardstown, Kentucky, was offered for sale. That facility was owned by Charles H. Boone and his brother, Nicholas, distant cousins of the famed Daniel Boone.  Insurance underwriter records of 1892 described the Boone distillery as being of frame construction.  It had a single bonded ironclad warehouse located 125 ft north of the still. A cattle shed stood 50 feet east of the still house.

In truth the distillery was little more than a barn, with the Boone brothers buying local grain from which they produced liquor they sold only locally.  At the time Thixton, Millet bought the facility it  reportedly had the capacity to mash about 70 bushels of grain a day and a warehouse capable of aging up to 1,200 barrels. The partners lost no time in expanding the distillery,  seen above in an illustration.  Within two years the mashing capacity had been significantly increased and a new warehouse had brought storage capacity up to 2,600 barrels.  From a small local operation Thixton and his partner made the facility a liquor producer of regional and even national importance.

The partners sold their whiskey in wholesale quantities in large ceramic jugs and in glass bottles at retail.   Their distillery ownership also made it possible for Thixton, Millett to offer a number of whiskey brands.  They included “Thixton V.O.,” “De Soto,” "Hurdle Baltimore Rye," “Finnegan’s,” “Idlebrook,” and “Old Wagner.”   Their flagship label was “Old Boone,” a name they had bought with the distillery.  Shown here is a sign that the company provided to saloons carrying Thixton, Millett liquor that depicted Daniel Boone himself sitting in front of a primitive (and misspelled) Old Boone Distillery, a dog at his feet.  Variations of that  same image were part of shot and highball glasses the company issued to advertise their brands.  Thixton and his partner also presented favored saloons with back of the bar bottles, as shown here.

While he was growing his whiskey trade,  John Thixton also was attending to the banking business he is reported to have inherited from his father.  An 1888 bank directory listed him as the president of the Owensboro Bank of Commerce.  A member of the U.S. National Bank system, it was recorded as having assets of $95,000, more than $2 million in current dollars. Thixton also was having a political career.  In 1877 he ran for mayor  of Owensboro, apparently his first attempt at public office, and won, beating out a sitting city councilman.  He served two years in that position, apparently declining to run for a second term.

Meanwhile John’s personal life knew tragedy.  His wife Mary, the mother of his seven children, died in 1876 at the age of 42.  They had been married for 21 years.  Her death left him a widower with several young children to raise.  He was remarried six years later to Fannie G. Dickinson.  He was 48 years old; she was 21 and two years younger than his eldest son, Charles.  Fannie would outlive John by 38 years.

Even as Prohibition forces increasingly began turn states and localities “dry,” Thixton and his firm continued to expand.  In 1912 Thixton, Millett  acquired the Old Saxton distillery in Chicago, Kentucky.  They created a state-of-the-art facility there with a grain elevator, bottling house and cooperage shop where production of “Old Boone” continued.  They also opened a sales office in Detroit in 1914.  That same year John Thixton died at the age of 80.  While his children and widow  grieved at his graveside, he was interred in Owensboro’s Rosehill Elmwood Cemetery. The Thixton family erected a statue in the image of John on the family plot.

The liquor business that Thixton had founded and grown into national stature was taken over by his son Charles, who had been inducted into the firm’s management as he came to maturity.  Charles appears to have been a competent businessman but the coming of Prohibition caused Thixton, Millett & Company to cease operations in 1919. The firm’s Kentucky distilleries were shut down and the “Old Boone” brand of whiskey disappeared.

Although cemetery authorities say it was a tornado that destroyed the statue of John Thixton on their grounds,  I am skeptical.  The ruins look more like rampant vandalism than a storm.  For myself, I would have relished seeing the image of John Thixton, a man who developed three distilleries while managing a bank and serving as mayor of his town.  Surely he deserves more than a ruined monument.  That is why as a signature illustration here I have included the imposing Thixton plinth that stands over the entire family plot.  Without John and his accomplishments it would not be there.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Moses Weinberger Parlayed Bananas into Saloon Fame

In 1889 a Kansas grocer headed for the newly opened Oklahoma Territory to seek his fortune.   It came to him initially through the sale of bananas to homesteaders and later when he started the first legal saloon in the Territory. His name was Moses (Mose) Weinberger and today he is counted by some among “Oklahoma State Greats.”

We know a great deal about Weinberger, the central figure in the photo above, because of an interview he gave in August 1937 as part of a program by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).   He told his interviewer of his birth in 1859 into a poor Orthodox Jewish farm family in Hungary.  In search of a better life he left his little village when he was 18 and took the steamship “Fresia,” to New York City.  He settled there for several years, working as a butcher.  Then he made the mistake of returning to Hungary, at the time under Austrian rule, to visit his parents.  Over his protest about now being an American, he promptly was conscripted into the Austrian Army.   Biding his time for six months until eligible for a furlough, Weinberger did not stop until he was back in New York City.  He immediately applied for U.S. citizenship.

In 1885, still looking for better opportunities, Weinberger headed to Kansas, farming at first and then moving to Wichita where he began merchandising fruit and later meat.  He also married a woman named Rose and started a family that eventually would include three sons.  When Moses heard that the Oklahoma Territory was to be opened for homesteading, he saw further opportunity by heading farther west.  On the morning of April 22, 1889, as the Oklahoma Land Rush was off in a cloud of dust,  Moses took a train from Wichita to Guthrie station, about a three hour trip.  Between noon and 6 p.m. on that date about 10,000 people descended on a once dusty railroad stop and by day’s end Guthrie was the largest town in the Oklahoma Territory.

Upon arrival Moses staked a claim to two lots in town, close to Cottonwood Creek on West Harrison Street, and pitched an improvised tent on them using a canvas wagon cover.  A provident man, he had bought two large sticks of bologna with him for his meals.  As shown here, hundreds of people stood in long lines in front of the Guthrie land office to stake their claims.  They had little or no food and dared not to leave the line to eat.  Many had virtually no money to spend for meals. Harpers Weekly had sent Correspondent William Willard Howard to Guthrie.  On May 18, 1889, he reported:  “During the first three days food was nearly as hard to get as water. Dusty ham sandwiches sold on the streets as high as twenty-five cents each, while in the restaurants a plate of pork and beans was valued at seventy-five cents. Few men were well enough provided with funds to buy themselves a hearty meal.”  Weinberger sized up the situation and immediately wired the Bryan Brothers Fruit Company of Wichita for boxes of bananas.  They came the next day by train and Moses went up and down the lines selling bananas at two for five cents.

With the proceeds he hired a team of mules and a wagon and during the following months peddled fruit all over town. In time he built a two room house on his lots and moved his family down from Wichita.  As time elapsed Weinberger abandoned the banana trade and went into the booming real estate business in Guthrie which had become the provisional capitol of Oklahoma. The short-story writer O. Henry characterized the region’s bursting energy,  writing that “when the Oklahoma country was in the middle of its first bloom, Guthrie was rising in the middle of it like a lump of self-rising dough.”  As shown here, it was still a Wild West town, but with a catch:  Because of its close proximity to Indian territory,  liquor sales were illegal although bootleg whiskey was common.

In June, 1891, Moses heard a rumor that it might be possible to obtain a license from the Federal Government to sell liquor in Oklahoma.  Although he never before had run a saloon he made application  and got it from Leavenworth, Kansas.  He quickly opened the first legal drinking establishment in the Oklahoma Territory.  As related by his 1937 interviewer, the following ensued: He fixed it up just like an ordinary saloon and began selling liquor openly.  He had put his license up on the wall with a piece of newspaper on it.  After a few days the officers came to raid him .  They said, “You can’t do this , Mose.”  “Why not?” he asked,. “Uncle Sam says I can,” and reached up and pulled off the newspaper so they could see his license.

The word soon got out that selling liquor could be legal.  Within two months there were 44 licensed saloons in Guthrie.  In time Weinberger would own an interest in seven of them,  the principal one known as “The Same Old Moses.”  It is the drinking establishment shown at the opening of this article.  Moses is standing between two of his bartenders, Mack O’Brien (left) and Ike Reed at the 211 West Harrison Avenue address.

The name of the saloon merits another story, as Weinberger recounted it to his interviewer:
On day he was on the street and met a fellow whom he had known in Wichita.  “Well if it ain’t the same old Moses,” was his greeting.  Mr. Weinberger took the man from Wichita  into the saloon and treated him.  Later Mr. Weinberger got to thinking about this expression and next day had a sign painter letter it on the window. “The Same Old Moses.”

Weinberger showed a sense of humor by inviting the saloon-buster Carry (Carrie) A. Nation into his place to give a temperance speech. The hatchet-swinging, whiskey-hating matron had settled in Guthrie after being run out of Kansas and was publishing her newsletter there.   Her likely motivation was to impact the Oklahoma state constitution to outlaw alcohol.   Weinberger made one stipulation, no ax swinging in his establishment.  Carry kept her promise until the end of her speech then did a “hachetation” on Moses’ mahogany bar, removing a chunk of it.  She was promptly removed from the premises and Weinberger hung a sign over the saloon that read:  “All Nations welcomed except Carry.”  The damaged spot reputedly became the place his patrons banged their empty beer mugs when they wanted another round.

Weinberger proved to be a genial barkeeper, providing regular customers with bar tokens good for five cents in trade, similar to the one shown here.  He also advertised in the local newspapers.  In addition to selling liquor over the bar he was retailing a number of nationally known brand whiskeys like McBrayer, Old Oscar Pepper and Guckenheimer Rye.  He also was featuring major beer lines such as Budweiser, Blue Ribbon and Bohemian.  “The success of my business,”  Moses asserted in a 1901 ad, “is due to honorable methods and quality of goods.”

But no amount of honorable methods or quality goods could stem the “Dry” tide in Oklahoma.   Carry Nation would have the last laugh as Prohibition forces focused their efforts there. The State’s Constitution upon adoption in 1907 banned all sales of alcohol within its borders.   Overnight Weinberger and his fellow publicans were forced out of 
business.  Moses sold his saloon equipment and shipped it out of state but later said the sale hardly brought enough to pay the freight.

Before Oklahoma’s prohibition, Weinberger had tried other occupations, none of which seem to pan out.  When some Indian lands were opened for homesteading, he had staked a claim near the town of Chandler and settled his family on it.  He rode out from Guthrie weekly to see how they were doing.  Dogged by floods, rattlesnakes, sickness among the children, and a distraught wife, Moses eventually gave up the claim and moved his family back to town.   His attempts to find oil ended first with a dry hole and then a drilling effort that he said:  “Instead of oil we got salt water.

With the demise of his liquor trade,  Weinberger went into the transfer business, loading materiel and supplies on carts from railroad cars and hauling them to construction and other sites in Guthrie.  Although the transfer business proved considerably less lucrative than alcohol, the company gave employment to family members.  A Guthrie business directory for 1907-1908 shows several of his sons and their spouses working for the Weinberger Transfer Company, located at 501-509 Oklahoma Avenue. 

Always sensitive to the needs of the Jewish community in Guthrie,  Moses permitted its members to hold religious services in one of his buildings free of charge and for several years  a congregation did observe the high holy days there.   But the dream of a permanent place of Jewish worship in Guthrie was dashed when in 1910 a statewide referendum moved the capital to Oklahoma City.  Not only was Guthrie’s economy devastated but the blame fell on Jewish businessmen.   Seen here is an inflammatory headline in the Guthrie Daily Leader of November 1, 1912.  As a result of local enmity,  most Jews moved out.

Moses stayed.  His last business venture was a ladies’ ready-to-wear and men’s apparel store.  Business proved to be slack and he lost a considerable amount of money.   Regardless of that business setback and racial slurs, Moses was proud to have been an original settler of Guthrie and adamantly refused to leave.  The 1940 U.S. census found him living on West Oklahoma Avenue with several of his children.   He was eighty years old and died later that year.   He was buried in Guthrie’s Summit View Cemetery, Section 1, Block 4, Lot 12.   Interred near him are his wife Rose and several of their children.   Theirs are the only Jewish graves in the cemetery.

Although Weinberger is gone, his memory is enshrined in a marker on the spot of the “Same Old Moses Saloon,”  It reproduces the picture of the proprietor and his bartenders and tells the story in brief of Weinberger’s bananas, his saloons, his bout with Carry Nation, and the coming of prohibition.   His fame also is acknowledged in a history book used in Oklahoma  schools.  On a list of  “State Greats,” the name of Moses Weinberger can be found in the company of Humorist Will Rogers and Athlete Jim Thorpe.  His claim to fame:  “Opened first legal saloon in Oklahoma.”  Yes, Moses did -- and he started with bananas.

Note:  Much of this vignette was derived from a 1937 interview of Moses Weinberger by Ruth W. Moon for the Indian-Pioneer History Project, a WPA-sponsored effort to capture the stories of people about living in pre-statehood Oklahoma.  The full text is available on the Internet though the auspices of the University of Oklahoma Library.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Charles Gove Went From Pops and Hops to Schnapps

The road taken by Charles S. Gove of Boston to become a whiskey man began as a manufacturer of soda pop,  proceeded through the beer trade, and then progressed to blending and compounding strong liquors,  “schnapps,” as they are sometimes called.  Gove’s success can be measured in part by the number of artifacts he left behind for collectors.  

Gove was born in Hampton Fall, Rockingham County, New Hampshire into a Yankee farming family.  The 1850 census found him, age 19, living on a farm there with his father, Ezekiel, and his mother, Mary.  Rounding out the household was a sister, Mary, age 16.  Ten years later a Charles S. Gove was recorded working as a teamster in Boston.  He was married to a woman named Olive and had an infant daughter.  Five years later, however, Charles is recorded as a partner in Comstock, Gove & Company and living in a Boston boarding house.

Charles had teamed with Hiram M. Comstock, another New England Yankee, who was about the same age.  Together they formed a company to manufacture soda water.  Shown here is a colorful trade card from the firm that depicts the tanks for making their soda and mineral waters.  The partners also were selling porter, ale & cider at their 30 Canal Street address.   By 1872 the partners had opened a second location at 27 Merrimac Street.  Among the containers in which they sold their “pop,” as shown here, were both stoneware and embossed glass bottles.   In the 1880 census, Gove’s occupation was given as “soda dealer.”

After Comstock’s early death in 1883,  Gove took over the firm and changed the name to the Charles S. Gove & Co.  His advertising featured a fancy monogram of his name.   His containers of this period included codd patent bottles for his soda water production and beer bottles embossed with his name.   Gove had moved  into the beer business,  but strictly as a bottler not a brewer.  He was buying beer from other sources and labeling as his own.  The bottle shown here is a clear champagne-style pint that advertises Gove’s sparkling lager.    The next step for Gove, taken early in the 1900s, was to become a whiskey “rectifier.”  Although he called himself a distiller, he actually was blending and compounding whiskey obtained from other sources.   As shown on a two gallon jug here, the Charles S. Gove Company was now a wholesale liquor house.  The Boston address was 78 and 80 Merrimac Street, at the corner of Pitt Street.  Among Gove’s proprietary brands were “Fernbrook Rye,”  “Hendrick’s Club,” “Forrest Club,” and “$1,000 Pure Straight.”   Apparently not fearing competition over the names, he bothered to trademark only “$1,000 Pure Straight.”  In 1903 he incorporated his company for the first time.

Like many whiskey wholesalers,  Gove featured a number of give away items.  One of the shot glasses he provided to bartenders at saloons featuring his liquor is particularly striking in its fancy etching.   On it are three barrels, each of them bearing the name of one of his brands.  Today Gove is most noted for the mini-jugs he gave away to retail customers.  Each held several swallows of liquid or as one jug was labeled, “samples of our fine whiskey.”   Several examples of Gove’s mini-jugs, which numbered as many as a dozen varieties, are featured here.

While Gove’s move from soft drinks to beer and on to whiskey was proceeding,  his personal life was turning somewhat mysterious.  In the 1880 U.S. census, age 49, he was  living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and listed as a “widower.”  In his household was a daughter, Gertrude, age 11, and Mary Hazeltine, 51,  who was listed as both the housekeeper and Gove’s sister-in-law.   By the 1900 census Gove had been remarried for  more than a decade.  His wife’s name was Julia A. Gove.  She was younger than he by some 23 years, born in Vermont, and apparently a widow with a daughter by a prior marriage. The couple lived on fashionable Warland Street in Cambridge.  A local newspaper in May 1913 noted that the Goves had left Cambridge for their summer home at Lake Mascoma in New Hampshire and would be there until the fall.

At this point Gove would have been 82 years old and clearly had turned over the reins of management of his firm to younger hands.  But he could not escape labor troubles.  In 1911 The Gove Company was among Boston brewers and bottlers who refused to sign a new contract for their workers with the International Union, United Brewery Workers, and their locals.  The union fomented a strike that included picketing and violence against workers crossing the picket line.  Seemingly most galling to Gove and others was a union publicity campaign to drive away their customers.  In a complaint filed under his name with the Massachusetts State Department of Labor, Gove alleged a conspiracy by the union:   “...By displaying on wagons, to be driven through the streets, certain false, malicious, and libelous cards, unless said company signed a new contract with increased rates of wages....”    He asked for and was granted an injunction against those tactics.

Gove died in March 1916 at the advanced age of 86.  The firm that he founded and bore his name disappeared from Boston business directories the very next year.  His wife Julia, after several years of bad health died in Gainesville, Florida in 1920.  My research has failed to disclose their final resting place.

Among whiskey men,  Charles Gove is not an particularly extraordinary figure.  He was not a pioneer. He was not an immigrant who made it in America by dint of relentless effort.  He did not establish a whiskey empire or even a brand name that survived National Prohibition.   What sets Gove apart is his path to the liquor trade, beginning with the fizz of soda pop, progressing to the hops and barley of beer, and finally arriving at the corn and rye of schnapps whiskey.   Just as impressive, he seemingly was a success at each step.