Friday, May 30, 2014

Ferd Westheimer Spun the Red Top -- And Won

When a man has eleven children he has to find a way to support his family. Ferdinand Westheimer made his livelihood in the liquor trade beginning in St. Joseph, Missouri, by advertising throughout America a whiskey he labeled “Red Top Rye.”  As a result, Westheimer not only grew wealthy, he created lucrative opportunities for his eight sons.

Ferdinand was born in Darmstadt, Germany, the fourth son of Leser and Bessel (Kahn) Westheimer.   With his family in straitened circumstances and seeing little opportunity in his native land,  in 1847 at the age of 22,  he emigrated to the United States,  possibly accompanied by his younger brother, Samuel. The 1850 U.S. Census found him living in New York City,  his occupation given as “peddler.”

At some point between that time and 1861,  Westheimer moved to St. Joseph, Missouri.  He had made a good choice.  Ever since the 1840s,  “St. Joe,” as it is popularly known, had been booming.   Initially the growth was generated by the covered wagons, oxen and supplies purchased by pioneers on their way West across the Missouri River.  Another economic boost was provided when railroads reached the city, making it a supply and distribution point to the entire western half of the United States.  Situated next to water that ran to the ocean as well as accessible by land and rail, St. Joe experienced what one historian has called “phenomenal growth” throughout the 19th Century.

In January 1861, Ferdinand, now age 36, got married.  His bride was Sarah Flarsheim, herself an immigrant from Germany.  Born in 1841, Sarah was 16 years younger. The couple immediately began growing their family.  Eugene was born in November of that same year.  Morris followed in 1863, Isadore in 1865, Leo in 1868, and Henry in 1870.  Then in 1872 Milton came along,  Sidney in 1874, David in 1877, and Irvin in 1879.  Tragically, the couple’s only daughter, Ida, died in infancy.

As his family size increased, Westheimer was advancing from peddler to established merchant.  By 1868 he became co-owner of a grocery, tobacco and liquor store in St. Joseph.  Before long he determined that his principal opportunity lay in the wholesale liquor trade.   Partnering with his brother Samuel, he opened a firm called Westheimer Bros. in 1871.  Over time they operated at several addresses on St. Joe’s South Second Street.  In 1878, however, the brothers parted ways.  Samuel kept the original business and the name, while his elder sibling struck out on his own in a liquor dealership he called “Ferdinand Westheimer & Co.”

The reason for the split may have been Ferdinand’s desire to bring one or more of his sons  into the business.  Eugene was the first to join the company, followed by Morris and Leo.In time all the Westheimer boys would be incorporated into the operation except Isadore who had died before his 13th birthday.  Reflecting the addition of his boys, the father in 1887 changed the name on the door to “Ferdinand Westheimer & Sons.”

As whiskey wholesalers,  the Westheimers also were rectifiers, that is, blending and compounding raw whiskeys to taste,  creating their own brands, and merchandising them.  Among them were such labels as “Boston League,”  “C .C. Bond,” “Clover Brook,” “Manhattan Reserve,” “McAllister,” “Number One,” “Old Hutch,”  “Planet,” “White House Club,”  and “Pullman Rye.”   Far and away the most featured brand was “Red Top Rye.”  As shown here, it was advertised in newspapers and magazine coast to coast, often with the motto, “If it’s Red Top, It’s Right.”  The whiskey might be presented with a Father Time/Avenging Angel drinking from an hour glass,  a ominous sickle on his shoulder, or cowboys in tough guy poses. As shown here, Westheimer packaged Red Top and other brands in glass quarts, pint flasks, and miniature bottles.

As the reputation of Red Top Rye grew, the need for a steadier supply of whiskey for blending became evident.   In 1897 Westheimer purchased a controlling interest in the Old Times Distillery of Louisville, Kentucky.  At that time, according to insurance records, the property included a single brick warehouse with a metal or slate roof, located 370 feet southeast of the still.  Within several years a new plant had been built across the street from the original distillery, located at the corner of 28th and Broadway.  He named it “The Number One Distillery.”  Westheimer also opened an liquor outlet in Cincinnati, Ohio, at 317-319 Main Street and called it his “Eastern Offices.”   Just as St. Joe was a window on the West,  so Cincinnati was a major center for whiskey flowing Eastward.   The Westheimer liquor “empire” was well illustrated on a letterhead from 1904.

While Eugene stayed in Missouri with his father, Morris and Leo, and later the youngest, Irvin,  were dispatched to run the operation in Cincinnati.  The three would make Ohio their home for a lifetime.  Henry and Milton Westheimer went East to Baltimore where the Westheimers also had financial interests.  Henry was recorded there as a vice president of the Cahn Belt Company (see my post on Eugene Belt, August  2013).  Sydney and David, as they came of age, remained in St. Joe,  working at  the 117-119 South Third Street offices.  Ferdinand had found productive employment for all his boys.  One obituary cited his “ the rearing of a family of sons who honor him in their records and achievements.”

According to city directories,  Ferdinand Westheimer  & Sons also operated a branch in Minneapolis from 1890 to 1914, apparently seeking a conduit for its whiskey into the Northern Tier of states.  Initially located on Nicolet Avenue,  eventually the office moved into a suite in the Met Life Building.  Now that he had spun his Red Top Rye from coast to coast, Westheimer was accounted in St. Joe as one of its millionaires.

As Red Top Rye became a top seller in America,  the Westheimers, like other whiskey wholesalers, provided a wide range of giveaway items to favored customers.  They included Red Top shot glasses, Red Top goblets and Red Top match safes.  Among the most impressive was a Red Top saloon clock.  The face was a reverse-on-glass with numerals in silver against black around the perimeter of the face.  The hands spun on the Red Top.  There could be no mistaking which whiskey was telling time to the faces along the bar.  

Another major gift item was an elaborate under glaze transfer ceramic bottle advertising Pullman Pure Rye, featuring a railroad passenger car as the principal motif.  Whether this was meant as a back of the bar bottle or for some other use is not clear.  Today this Westheimer issue is a highly sought and valuable American whiskey ceramic.

Even as he grew older, Ferdinand Westheimer never ceased to take an active interest in the operations of the wholesale liquor company he had founded.  For his 80th birthday, his employees presented him with a silver punch bowl and ladle, both decorated with rabbits. The 1910 U.S. Census found him at age 84 living in a mansion at 1723 Francis Street, a home he had built for his burgeoning family in 1885. Designed by the architectural firm of Eckel and Mann,the house is shown here as it originally appeared, a marvel of multiple porches and chimneys with a three-story tower.  Occupying the mansion with him were his wife of 49 years, Sarah; two sons, Sidney and David;  Sidney' s wife, Grace; and five servants.  Ferdinand gave his occupation to the census taker as “merchant - liquors.”

Three years later, at age 87, Westheimer died and, as his grieving family looked on, was buried in St.  Joe’s Adath Joseph Hebrew Cemetery.  After his death his sons carried forward the family business interests.  But Prohibition forces were closing in. The firm was taken to court in dry states like Kansas for whiskey shipments and although it won,  the effort was expensive and discouraging.   Anticipating the advent of National Prohibition,  Ferdinand Westheimer & Sons in 1919 shut down its operations in Louisville, Cincinnati and St. Joseph.  The sons either retired or sought employment in other fields.  Irvin Westheimer in Cincinnati became noted for founding the “Big Brother, Big Sister,” program.  The Francis Street home still stands.  Operating today as a bed & breakfast,  it is appropriately named “Whiskey Mansion.”

Ferdinand Westheimer himself deserves a last word. Among the outpouring of tributes to him at his death was one published in the National Bulletin of the Liquor Dealers Association.  Here are excerpts:  “Coming from his early home of restricted efforts to a land of promise and opportunity, his pioneering efforts were rewarded.  Through trials and difficulties he pressed valiantly onward to honorable success....High repute, splendid family, devoted friends, material fortune, all were his, and well did he merit and prize these unusual blessings.”  In short, Westheimer had spun the Red Top and won the game.




Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gallagher & Burton Were “Well Preserved” in Whiskey

Charles J. Gallagher and Edward Burton ran a liquor wholesale and retail operation in Philadelphia from 1877 to 1918 that advertised by showing sprightly looking elderly gentlemen intoning a rhyme that gave credit to G & B Whiskey for their vitality.  The same could be applied to the partners themselves:  In time they would be well preserved not only through the artifacts they left behind but also by a 1945 advertisement purporting to depict them live and kicking.

Except for short biographies of the partners by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, an organization to which both belonged, personal information about them is sparse. Gallagher was born in Philadelphia in March 1839.  His father was an immigrant from County Tyrone in Ireland.  Born in June 1847, Burton, also a native son of Philadelphia, was somewhat younger than Gallagher,   He was recorded as the grandson of Rebecca and Benjamin Hutton through his mother and the son of Robert Burton.   As youths both individuals apparently served apprenticeships working for other Philadelphia merchants, likely in the liquor trade. For a time Burton worked for Philip Powell, a immigrant Irish store owner.

Charles Gallagher open a wholesale Philadelphia liquor establishment in 1872 when he was 33,  locating it initially at 1001 Coates Street.  Adjacent to the Delaware River,  the street was so named because it ran through the estate of the Coates family.  A year after Gallagher moved there, the name was changed to Fairmount Avenue.  It seemed to be of no consequence to his liquor trade because by that time he had moved to 700 North 10th Street.

When Gallagher was joined by Burton in 1877 to form their partnership,  a new location was chosen at 10th and Filbert Streets.  An elaborate,  “art nouveau,” trade card advertised that address, as well as “fine whiskies.”  Gallagher & Burton, although at times claiming to be distillers, have no record of owning a distillery.  Many Pennsylvania distillers were very willing to supply them “raw” product for “rectifying,” that is blending and compounding whiskey to achieve desired tastes.  Rectifying is an art and not all whiskey men were accomplished at it.  Gallagher and/or Burton were talented at blending for smoothness and taste and their liquor began to achieve a national reputation.

Their flagship brand bore their own name.  It was vigorously advertised and featured on their giveaway items to favored customers like saloons and restaurants carrying their products.  Among those items were serving trays featuring the Gallagher & Burton name illustrated by prominently and well-dressed elderly gentlemen intoning the doggerel verse: “I am well preserved you see;  many thanks to G. & B.”  Two trays are shown here.  While each geezer is similarly dressed and holds a bottle, differences can be noted in their facial appearance.

Unlike other whiskey wholesalers/rectifiers, Gallagher & Burton featured only a limited number of brands beside their flagship label.  Among them were “Superior Whiskey” and  ”Black Label,” the latter shown below as reproduced on an ashtray.  The tray also displays the firm’s logo.  The partners trademarked that branding illustration in 1906,  describing it as follows:  “The representation of two cross bands, two concentric circles circles thereon, between which appear the words “Gallagher & Burton Philadelphia, within the inner circle appearing the letters “G. & B.” and the numerals “1877.”

Of the partners, Gallagher appears to have been the entrepreneur.  When Ocean City, Maryland was being platted and developed he invested in real estate there.  He was a stockholder in the Atlantic Hotel, shown here, for many years the premier hostelry in that resort town.  He also purchased two lots in town and opened a general merchandise store that prominently sold Gallagher & Burton Whiskey.  Gallagher also was prominent in the Philadelphia insurance business, serving as president of the Mechanic’s Insurance Company. That organization had been chartered by the State of Pennsylvania in 1854 and capitalized for today’s equivalent of $6 million. For a time Gallagher also was a Philadelphia insurance commissioner.  His banking interests included serving as a director of the Beneficial Savings Fund of Philadelphia.

Although Gallagher had investments in Ocean City, he built a spacious summer home for his family in Cape May, New Jersey, a resort town on the Atlantic that attracted many wealthy Philadelphians.  Shown here, the mansion featured a mansard roof reflecting the French Second Empire style.  The center entrance was flanked by a three story bay, second story porch, and large side verandah reminiscent of England’s Queen Anne architecture. The exterior displayed an abundance of American “gingerbread” millwork.  Its eclectic architecture defined it as a showy seaside manse,  The house still stands as a bed and breakfast.

Both Gallagher and Burton seemed to have avoided census takers throughout their lives.
City Directories, however, tell us that in 1890 Charles was living at 1725 Master Street and Edward had his residence at 1512 Tenth Street.  During that period the liquor dealership was also located on Tenth.  In 1902 the company moved to 1204 Arch Street and in 1914 a second outlet  was opened at 1205 Cuthbert.   The coming of Prohibition caused both stores to close in 1918.

After Repeal, a Seagram Canadian subsidiary obtained the rights to the Gallagher & Burton name. Trading on its national reputation for quality, the brand subsequently was marketed out of Baltimore, Maryland. That is how and where Gallagher and Burton came to be “well preserved.”  In 1945 at the end of World War II the company bearing their name issued an ad that purported to depict the founders.  By this time Gallagher would have been 106 and Burton 98.  The fact that both were dead proved to be no bar to the admen who featured them as very much alive and highly patriotic.

The message:  “Buy Victory Bonds.” The figure on the left, presumably Gallagher, faced toward an open door where a younger man in a homberg hat, presumably Burton, was flashing a wad of U.S. currency.    Gallagher:  “Victory, Mr. Burton, is what our boys brought us.  Backing this loan is the very least you and I can do in return.”   Burton emphatically agreed:  “What’s more,Mr. Gallagher we’re not giving.  We’re investing our money at interest in our own welfare.”   And, oh yes,  the ad additionally suggested that by choosing G&B whiskey “...All is well with your drinks.” 

Despite the effort to keep  Gallagher and Burton “alive,”  if only in the minds of the drinking public,  the whiskey ultimately failed to find a strong consumer base.  G. & B. whiskey was taken off the market about 1960.  There may be a moral in the story:  Even the best preserved individuals and whiskeys have a shelf life.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Leo Straus “Loved His Fellow Men” and Sold Them Whiskey

It  is unusual to begin a story about an individual by focusing on his grave marker.  For Leo
(Leopold) Straus, however, the quote on his headstone sets the theme for this vignette on his life.  The inscription reads:  “I pray thee, then, write me as one that loves his fellow men.”  Heeding that admonition,  this post about Straus, a Chicago whiskey man,  emphasizes his contributions of money and time to charitable causes as evidence of his orientation toward humankind.

Straus was born in 1857 in Ligonier, a small town in the northeastern part of the Indiana, the son of  immigrant German Jewish parents. Given his subsequent interest in agriculture, it is possible his father was a farmer and that he was raised on a farm.  Although Straus failed to show up in any U.S. census,  he was recorded as engaged in the wholesale liquor business in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as early as 1878 when he would have been about 21 years old.  He was admitted to a partnership in a company called “Nathan Bros. & Straus,” described as wholesale liquor dealers and “redistillers,” that is, blenders and compounders of whiskeys.

About 1879 (dates differ)  Leo apparently decided that Fort Wayne, although considerably bigger than Ligonier,  was too small for his ambitions.   He moved to Chicago, Illinois. There he teamed with his younger brother, Eli, to open a liquor emporium at 203-205 East Madison Street.  They called it “Straus Brothers Company,  Distillers and Importers.” Leo was the president;  Eli was the secretary and treasurer.

Their business apparently was successful from the start.  Described in a 1900 business biography as “young men” (Leo was then 43 and Eli was 37), the publication extolled the prowess of the Straus Brothers:  “This firm is one of the most important wholesale liquor dealers in Chicago. It handles only the better quality of goods, principally those used for medicinal and sacramental purposes. It occupies three floors of the large business house at 203 and 205 East Madison Street. It is among the largest dealers in bonded goods in the United States, and is owner of a large distillery at New Haven, Kentucky; has in stock fifty brands of Kentucky whisky, a large line of Pennsylvania and Maryland ryes, and a full line of domestic wines...They employ seven traveling salesmen, and their goods are sold in nine different States. These gentlemen are prominent members of the "Chicago Liquor Dealers Association."

The assertion that Leo and his brother owned a distillery at New Haven, Kentucky, may have been exaggerated.   New Haven, a town in Nelson County, was indeed a center of the state’s whiskey industry, but my research into the histories of distilleries in or near New Haven has failed to disclose any Straus ownership.  More likely the brothers had a financial interest in one or more Kentucky distilleries that provided them with raw whiskey to use for “rectifying” into their house brands. 

There were a number of those labels, including “Monticello Club,” “Germania Club,” “Hecla,”  “Kenwood,”  “Syracuse,” “Roanhorse,” and “Wellington.”  Unlike many rectifiers,  Straus trademarked most of his brands,  Germania Club, Hecla, Solo, Sycamore, and Wellington in 1905;  Kenwood and Roanhorse in 1906.   They advertised Solo as “Best on the Bars.”  Germania Club was named after a well known gathering place for the German elites of Chicago.

Straus Brothers packaged their liquor in a variety of ways.  For wholesale customers, there were large four gallon jugs.  For consumers,  fancy ceramic  containers made by the Fulper Pottery of Flemington, New Jersey.  Their retail trade also included packaging brands like Monticello Club in glass containers from flask to quart sizes.   Stiff competition from other Chicago liquor dealers also occasioned the firm to distribute a variety of giveaway items to favored customers,  usually saloons and restaurants carrying their liquor.  The Old Cabinet bottle shown below was meant for back of the bar use, as a reminder to the boys on the stools. A fancy match safe embossed with the firm name would have been a gift to an owner or a bartender.  Even members of the drinking public might benefit from Straus Bros. largesse. The invention of printing on celluloid had made items like pocket mirrors inexpensive to produce with ads -- such has the one shown below for Old Cabinet Rye.

By 1913 Straus Brothers had adopted a new letterhead, one probably occasioned by a change in address.  Their company did not move,  the address changed when Chicago’s officialdom decided on a citywide street renumbering.  By that time both brothers had married.  Leo wed a woman named Emma.  His family included two children, a son and a daughter.  

It was widely understood that Leo  Straus after a few years in the liquor business had amassed a fortune.  It was then he set out to prove his love for his fellow man.  His philanthropy began to be recognized as something out of the ordinary, not just for Jewish causes, even though those seemed uppermost in his mind, but also his generosity to many local and national organizations.   Possibly because he had roots on tilling the land, at least two of his charities had farming connections.   One was the Jewish Agriculturalist Aid Society of America.  That was an organization that bought land in the Middle West and settled Jewish farmers from Europe.  Leo Straus was a director of the organization. By 1903 the Chicago branch he led had recruited more than 230 families for homesteading on the Great Plains, principally in North Dakota.

Leo was also a contributor to the National Farm School, an institution that trained young Jewish boys in “practical and scientific agriculture.”  Located in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the school had been founded about 1894 by Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf after a visit to a similar institution in Russia.  The institution was dependent on contributions from around the country.  Straus was a principal giver.

Straus also contributed to a program that  provided job opportunities to poor Jewish women in Chicago.  Employed by the organization, some twenty-five women sewed gowns, chemises, shorts, shirts, and other garments.  The products of their labors then were distributed to 400 Jewish families, estimated at 1,825 people, along with bedding, underwear, adult and children’s clothing.  Straus also was a benefactor of the Michael Reese Hospital, a medical  facility made possible by a contribution from a Jewish real estate developer who died in 1877.  The hospital was open to all people regardless of race, nationality or creed.  When the Associated Jewish Charities of Chicago was founded in 1900 on the eve of Passover, Straus was a founding member and elected as a director.

None of his charity work, unfortunately, could changed the Temperance tide. With the advent of National Prohibition,  Straus was forced to close the doors on his liquor establishment.  At that time in his 60s,  he apparently retired.  His younger brother, Eli, went on to be the treasurer of a paper factory.  In 1926 at the age 69 Leo suddenly dropped dead.  In apparent good health he had gone to the annual banquet of the Indiana Society of Chicago, collapsed, and died.  With his widow and children mourning his passing, Straus was given a funeral at Sinai Congregation, where he had been a trustee and benefactor, and buried in Rosehill Cemetery.   One Chicago newspaper obituary remembered him as “a well known figure in the city’s business, social, and philanthropic circles.”

Although the eleemosynary history of Leo Straus gave good evidence of his “love of fellow men,” the citation carved at his grave site raises questions:  “I pray thee, then, write me as one that loves his fellow men."  The quote is from an English poem about a man named Ibrahim ibn Adham,  a Middle Eastern legendary king who renounced his throne and became a religious ascetic.  Today Ibrahim is reckoned one of the most prominent Sufi Moslem saints.  It apparently was a different day when a Jew could quote a Moslem on his grave stone.  Or perhaps it was just another example of Leo Straus’s love for his fellow man.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How The Hayners and Walter Kidder Profited from Prohibition

As noted in earlier posts,  when I find an article on a whiskey man or men that bears repeating I will use it on this blog.   Although in the past I had written about Ohio’s Hayner Distillery, at one time the largest mail order whiskey house in America,  an article By Michael W. Williams caught my attention while I was researching my own vignette.  It first appeared 15 years ago in the October-March 1999 issue of Timeline Magazine, the journal of the Ohio Historical Society.  Because of the comprehensiveness of Mr. Williams’ treatment of the subject, this post, with some editing and added illustrations, reproduces the article, as follows:

History of the Company
Lewis Hayner was one of 10 children, born to John and Sarah Meeker Hayner in Warren County. Lewis built the first distillery at Farrington Lock south of Piqua in 1856, which was owned by Farrington and Sluson of Piqua, and, like most distilleries of the time, was very profitable.  In 1866, Lewis built Troy’s first distillery — “Lewis Hayner, Distiller, Pure Copper Distilled Rye and Bourbon Whiskies” — at the northwest junction of the railroad and Water Street. The distillery had various name changes during its years of productivity.

Though there were other distilleries around Miami County at that point, there had never been any within the city limits of Troy. The distillery had hog pens next to it and the hogs were fed the distillery slopes, but according to Thomas Bemis Wheeler’s book “Troy: The Nineteenth Century,” town council made Lewis Hayner remove the hog pens two years later as it was considered a ‘constituting nuisance.’

Hayner Distillery Company began progressing in a small, moderately successful way. While whiskey was the main product, Lewis introduced a product known as “Hayner’s Pine Tar Cough King” — a medicine to combat colds, coughs, bronchitis, asthma and all diseases for the throat and lungs. According to “Troy: The Nineteenth Century,” people standing on the platform of the D&M depot on Main Street or passing by on trains could see a large sign that said “Hayner’s Pine Tar Cough King — Your Cough Cured Overnight.”

In 1885, Lewis’s nephew, William M. Hayner, opened the Hayner Distilling Company in Springfield, as importers, selling the products by express with charges pre-paid, and also at retail at 42 E. Main. St. in Springfield. Upon the death of Lewis in 1892, the distillery was taken over by Charles C. Hayner, the half brother of William Hayner, and became known as “C.C. Hayner Distiller, Pure Copper Distilled Rye and Bourbon Whiskies.” 

By the mid-1890s, William appointed his brother-in-law Walter S. Kidder, who had been serving as treasurer of the Hayner Distilling Company in Springfield, as manager of the Dayton operation. These men were entrepreneurs who built the Hayner Distillery into a nationally recognized and massively profitable mail order whiskey business.  William and Charles Hayner and Kidder essentially doubled distillery capacity by the mid 1890s, and yet it became hard to keep up with demand. The brothers sold their whiskey locally to saloons, but the largest part of their business became selling their product directly to customers.

The Game-Changing Gambit
By the 1890s, the Temperance Movement — the country’s first serious anti-alcohol movement — was beginning to cause concern among American distillers. The movement didn’t just attack the reputation of the distillers’ business, it also had the potential to destroy it. Many states, townships and villages began forbidding the sale of intoxicating beverages. Whiskey, however, could be shipped by express and parcel post — and that’s something Hayner Distillery took full advantage of.   Kidder came up with an innovative idea to “wet the innumerable whistles in the waning years of legal liquor.” That idea was mail-order alcohol.

Kidder understood that when a county or town voted itself dry, that drinkers who resided in those places were not instantly reformed. So, according to Williams’ article, Kidder asked himself, ‘what if their local paper carried an advertisement for competitively priced Hayner’s whisky available by mail order?’ In essence, the Hayner Distilling Company gained customers and profits each time another county went dry.

But was mail-order booze legal? Kidder assured William Hayner it was, in fact, legal. In nearly all cases, the answer was yes. The leaders of America’s temperance movement believed some forms of drinking were slightly more evil than others, and most local option laws were targeting public drinking in saloons, bars and taverns, as those places were viewed as attracting gambling, violence, prostitution and murder. The local option laws generally banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in retail establishments. Sometimes possession, consumption, and even the production of liquor for one’s own private use were generally allowed. Only Congress had the power to regulate interstate commerce, and in 1886, the Senate defeated the prohibition amendment by a 3-1 margin. After that, the only effort to limit distillers was an 1890 federal law that outlawed transporting liquor for sale into a prohibition state. Thus, shipping alcohol directly to the consumer was permitted.

The Hayner company shipped whiskey without any mark on the package to show its contents, and stealthy drinkers became loyal customers. As the need for Hayner products grew nationally, shipping offices were established in St. Louis, Kansas City, Washington, D.C., Boston, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Toledo, Springfield, Indianapolis and St. Paul. Hayner Distilling Company’s main office was in Dayton, and that was managed by Kidder, while William Hayner managed operations in Troy.

William Hayner married Mary Jane Harter in 1891 — which shocked the city of Troy, considering she was a member of the temperance movement locally. Mary’s father, Samuel K. Harter, was an investor in real estate, railroads and banks, along with being a chief stock holder in the St. Louis patent-medicine company that was began by his brother, Dr. Milton G. Harter. Eventually, management of the Dr. Harter Medicine Company was turned over to William, who was president of Hayner Distillery at that point.  While most of America struggled in the depression that followed the Panic of 1893, the Hayner Distilling Company expanded due to both the growing success of mail orders and the fact that William Hayner was now supplying the alcohol for Dr. Harter medicines. Hayner eventually moved the medicine company’s operations to Dayton.

The company spent nearly $80,000 on advertisements in magazines and newspapers in dry territories where saloons were prohibited by law in 1900, according to “Troy: The Nineteenth Century.” The book also pointed out that the company spent $200,000 on pre-paid express charges, and that the company also shipped some brands of whiskey in a special bottle with a combination lock at the top, so that no one except the paying customer could “imbibe” the contents.

In the early 20th century, Troy’s facility was run for 24 hours a day and it was capable of producing 12,500 gallons a day. The distillery covered almost three city blocks. It was the largest grain consumer in the county — requiring an average of 2,000 bushels a day,  A long line of horse-drawn farm wagons filled Water Street to the plant each day. William Hayner eventually felt the need to build a new warehouse, one with a capacity of 5 million gallons.

Push Towards Prohibition
In 1908, the general assembly gave approval to local option at the county level. There were 63 out of 88 counties in Ohio that voted themselves dry. Dayton remained wet, while Miami County voted to go dry.

By 1910, there were 13 states that had some form of statewide prohibition, along with local option laws to limit restriction on liquor sales to more than 95 percent of the country.  Mail-order alcohol plus myriad illegal dodges meant that state and local prohibition laws leaked like a dribble glass. In Ohio, “alcohol producers combined long overdue initiatives at self-regulation with a vigorous political campaign to reverse local option laws.” In 1912, there were a number of counties that went back to being wet, although Miami County wasn’t one of them.

William Hayner, however, passed away at age 54 before the good news broke. The net worth of his estate was near $3 million. Kidder stepped in as president of the Hayner Distillery, which was dealt a “body blow” with the passage of the Webb-Kenyon Act in 1913. The law regulated the interstate transport of alcoholic beverages. It banned shipments of liquor intended for violation of state prohibition laws — making Kidder’s mail-order alcohol business virtually illegal.

More states entered the dry column in 1914, but still, Ohio voters rejected statewide prohibition and repealed the countywide local option. In the upcoming years, though, a total of 14 states became dry.  As Congress continued to push the entire United States closer and closer to full prohibition, there was little Kidder could do to keep business afloat. He added cigars to the company’s mail-order products … but sales continued to go down.

On Aug. 1, 1917, the U.S. Senate voted to approve the Prohibition Amendment. On Dec. 21, 1917, Kidder announced that the Hayner building in Dayton would be closing. On Nov. 18 of 1918, Ohioans voted to prohibit the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. The Eighteenth Amendment was ratified by the Ohio General Assembly in January 1919, and prohibition began in the United States on Jan. 17, 1920.

Kidder, then in his middle 50s, didn’t retire just yet. He and his wife, Georgeanna spent time at Resthaven, their farm north of Troy. They also helped establish the Miami County Golf Club. A scandal broke at the Hayner Distillery in 1925, with a federal investigation revealing a large liquor consignment had been withdrawn from the facility with fraudulent permits. Three years later, in 1928, the Hayner facility — Troy’s landmark business for more than 62 years — was finally shutdown.   Kidder died in 1953.

Postscript:  Memorabilia from the Hayner Distilling Company can be found at  the Hayner Cultural Center, located at 301 West Main Street in Troy.  Shown here, the Center is housed  in a beautiful Tudor-style mansion.  The house was built by Jane Harter Hayner, the widow of William, who filled it with objects collected during her international travels.  At her death she left it to the City of Troy.  The 100th anniversary of the mansion was celebrated 2014, as well as the 200th anniversary of the founding of the City of Troy.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

From Revolution to Renziehausen: A Large Whiskey Saga

The family name was Large, immigrants from a French Huguenot (Protestant) background who came to America when it was still a British colony.  Among them were Samuel Large and his wife, Amy, who settled in New Jersey.  Their son, John Large, served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.  After the end of the conflict in the early 1790s John moved to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, bought a farm and built a distillery.  This launched the Large family into three generations of making quality whiskey.  They were followed by a non-family member who built on what the Larges had accomplished and made their name known throughout the United States.

Western Pennsylvania at the time when John Large arrived was a hotbed of rebellion against the taxation imposed on whiskey by the newly created national government.  Things boiled over in 1794 when President George Washington, in his role as Commander in Chief, rode out with troops to quell the rioting.  Large does not seem to have been among the rebels, paid his whiskey taxes and, with wife, Nancy, raised a family of seven children.  Among them was Jonathan Large. He married Easter Finney, bought a farm and, like his father, operated a distillery.  Jonathan subsequently sold that property and bought a bigger farm in Jefferson Township of Allegheny County. It was located on Peters Creek, shown here.  Jonathan established his second distillery there, using the wheat and corn from his fields to make his whiskey.

When Jonathan died, the property ultimately devolved on his youngest son, Henry Large, who called himself “Junior” after an uncle.  Born on the Fourth of July 1836,  Henry was raised on the farm and apparently from his youth was involved in the distilling operation.  An observer later described the setting:  “There were fine springs of pure soft water on the property, which nestled cozily against the mountain, and fronted on the old country road for a long distance, until it crosses Peter’s Creek, a tributary of the Monongahela River.”

Although picturesque, Henry Large’s distillery suffered from severe disadvantages.  To get his products to market required teams of horses or oxen to haul them five miles over rough mountain roads to the railhead.  Nonetheless, Large was able to sell his whiskey to a regional market.  A “History of Allegheny County” published in 1889 said of Large:  “He is engaged in the manufacture of Monongahela rye whiskey, the brand having been established by his grandfather, and has a national reputation for excellence.”

While the national reach of Large whiskey may have been exaggerated, it clearly was a superior product.  In his 1928 book, “The Case for Whiskey,”  George Coes Howell, a whiskey man himself, recounted how in 1891 he first tasted Large rye and found it extraordinarily good.  He was told that the whiskey was made back in the mountains and that the output was purchased mainly by neighbors and people in and about Pittsburgh. Intrigued, Howell made further inquiries about the Large’s whiskey:  “I learned that though it had the highest reputation for quality in the homes and clubs of the old families, it was not much handled by the trade, as it was not a “blending” whiskey.  It had a fine flavor and aroma, but it was too light-bodied for blending purposes, so the trade was not especially interested in that period when practically all commercial whiskey was blended whiskey.”

Even if “the trade” was not interested, a whiskey man in Pittsburgh was.  His name was Frederick C. Renziehausen, a partner in a wholesale liquor company founded about 1880 that eventually occupied an eight-story building on 427 Liberty Street, shown here. Renziehausen in 1884 purchased an interest in Henry Large’s distillery. During the lifetime of the owner, the liquor dealer is said never to have interfered in any way in the making of the whiskey or the manner of its merchandising.   When Henry Large died in 1895, however, Renziehausen purchased from his estate the farm, distillery, old family recipe for the whiskey, and the right to use the name “Large.”  Howell described the property at that time:  "The old farmhouse was in fairly good condition but the distillery buildings were old and dilapidated."

Now the sole owner, Renziehausen in 1897 set about vigorously to modernize and expand the facilities.  A new distillery was built and up-to-date warehouses added.  He also began a campaign to make his product known wherever rye whiskey was being exhibited.  After a small showing by Large Distilling Co. at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 brought considerable attention, Renziehausen seldom missed an opportunity to show his wares.  His whiskey won Grand Prizes with their attendant gold medals at Paris in 1900;  St. Louis, 1904; Liege, 1905;  Milan, 1906; Jamestown, 1907; Brussels, 1910; Ghent, 1913; London, 1914, and San Francisco, 1915.  Renziehausen regularly trumpeted those honors on his ads, bottles and even crates of Large Monongahela Rye.

The Large Distilling Co.was now fully in the forefront of the American whiskey trade.  It boasted four fireproof warehouses, ranging from 10,000 to 16,000 barrels capacity, racked and steam-heated to maintain the same temperature, winter and summer.  The bottling facility was described as containing the latest machinery for labeling, capping and casing the whiskey, each operation carried on in assembly line fashion by a conveyor system.  Just as important,  the arduous trip over mountain roads to the railhead was no long necessary.  The Wabash Railroad’s eastern connection had been built along Peters Creek with a siding leading right to the distillery.  This made it possible to unload grain directly from freight cars to the distillery and for cases of whiskey to be conveyed to a shipping platform and into freight cars.  Further attesting to the modernity of the distillery was a laboratory with a graduate biologist in charge to propagate the yeast scientifically and supervise fermentation. 

When fire destroyed the distillery building in 1907,  Renziehausen immediately replaced it with a larger one.  By 1910, according to Howell, “The Large distillery had become one of the most modern and efficient distillery plants in the United States, with freight facilities second to none.”   The facility is shown here in a company ad.  Note the train entering right.  As the Larges, from John to Jonathan to Henry, slumbered together in the Lebanon Church Cemetery nearby, they surely would have been astonished at the changes wrought in the whiskey manufactory they had founded.

The coming of National Prohibition obviously changed everything.   Renziehausen, however, was allowed ship his products overseas.  In 1923 he received U.S. Government permission to ship Large Monongahela Rye to the World’s Fair in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  It was seen as a bitter irony that, while illegal in the U.S., Large rye won another Gold Medal there, beating out the best whiskeys made in other parts of the world. Going out with that blaze of glory, the distillery was shut down.  Its termination closed out a 127 year distillery history, one lasting from the aftermath of the American Revolution to the onset of Prohibition, a record to be envied and one seldom equaled.

Note:  Much of the information about the Large Distillery is from the 1928 book by George Coes Howell.  Howell, who had worked extensively in the whiskey industry, sought to show how Prohibition actually had resulted in more drinking of inferior and even injurious liquor.  He featured the Large saga to emphasize the quality of pre-Prohibition distilling.