Friday, October 31, 2014

The Baltimore Walters: From The Art of Whiskey to Whiskey and Art

The Walters Art Museum of Baltimore recently ran a newspaper ad headlined:  “From Rye to Raphael:  The Walters Story,”  highlighting the fact that its founder, William Thompson Walters, shown here, initially made his fortune selling quality whiskey, using the proceeds lavishly to buy fine art and antiquities.  Although William eventually left the liquor trade for other enterprises, his brother, Edwin, carried on with his own “artful” whiskey.  
The Walters brothers came from Liverpool, Pennsylvania, a small mining town about 23 miles from Harrisburg.  Born in 1819, William was the eldest of eight children.  Edwin was 14 years younger.  Both were brought up with little education and had limited chances for financial success in Liverpool.  Recognizing those limitations early,  William by age 21 had decamped for Baltimore, a city that was booming economically.  There he was able to apprentice with a civil engineer and work in the grain trade.  Dealing in grain apparently was a short move to selling Baltimore rye whiskey. By 1847, age 28, Walters was able to open his own liquor company.

Shown here in an 1855 advertisement is his impressive five story building at 68 Exchange Place in Baltimore.  By this time, younger brother Edwin had joined him as an employee in the enterprise.  In the meantime, at age 26, William married Ellen Harper.  The couple had three children, William Jr., who died in childhood, Henry born in 1848 and Jennie born in 1853.  As his prosperity grew, William moved his family from quarters in downtown Baltimore to a mansion in the fashionable, suburban-like setting of 65 Mount Vernon Avenue (now 5 West Mount Vernon Place).   A stereopticon view of the house shows it boasting a four story “Chinese” looking architecture.  That may be Ellen Walters on the front porch in a white dress.

The Civil War brought a dilemma for William.  Like many Marylanders, he was torn in his loyalties.  Some of his friends had gone south to join the Confederates.  Others had stayed and joined the Union Army.   His distilling colleague, Outerbridge Horsey, had decamped for Europe.  Packing up his family, William did the same, arriving in Paris in the summer of 1861.  Meanwhile  the William T. Walters Company continued generating profits, probably under the watchful eye of Edwin.  Almost immediately the Walters began collecting European works of art, scouring the Continent from England to Italy for paintings, sculptures, ceramics and other object d’art.  They and their money were eagerly welcome by a host of artists, dealers and exhibitors.

Then tragedy struck.  While on a trip to London in November 1862, Ellen contracted pneumonia and with antibiotics still unknown, died quickly.   She was only 40 and left two minor children.  Even her death could not prompt William to return to the United States.  Instead — it has been suggested to console himself — he threw his energies even more fervently into  collecting.  Only at the end of the Civil War in 1865 did Walters return to the U.S. with his children.

With characteristic vigor Walters resumed everyday management of his liquor business.  He was not a distiller but “rectifying,” that is blending and compounding whiskeys purchased from Pennsylvania and Maryland distillers, using an upper floor of his Exchange Place building. Rectifying is an art and William and Edwin had mastered it.   Among the firm’s proprietary brands were "Imperial Monongahela Rye,” "J. Martin Old Rye,” Superior Old Monongahela Rye,” "Superior Rose Gin,” "Tuscaloosa Monongahela Rye,” and "Very Fine Old Monongahela Rye.”  Walters packaged many of these products in glass bottles bearing two slim panels and two larger panels.  Embossed on one slim panel is “Walters & Co.”  On the other, “Baltimore,” as shown here.  In olive green, the bottles have been blown in a mold with a separately applied mouth, and much coveted by collectors for their rarity. 
Not satisfied with collecting for his own pleasure, Walters wanted to bring art to the Baltimore public, at the time virtually bereft of viewing opportunities.  Beginning in 1874,  he opened his house every Wednesday in April and May, charging the public 50 cents admission, the proceeds donated to charity.  These openings became an annual event.  Meanwhile, William was turning his attention to other investments.   Early on he had put money into East Coast railroads and subsequently was involved in the coal and iron industries.   Walters managed a smelting operation in Pennsylvania said to have produced the first iron manufactured from mineral coal in the United States.   He also had maritime interests.  As these other activities took his attention, in 1882 William Walters dissolved his liquor company.  In 1889, a city directory listed him under the heading “capitalist.”

Among brands Edwin Walters was selling were “Baker’s,”  “Mountain Pure Rye,”  “Walter’s Private Stock.”  The flagship label was “Orient Rye.”  Because the distillery had its own dock, barrels could easily be loaded and from the Port of Baltimore shipped to other parts of the country.  According to Jim Bready, the guru of Baltimore whiskey, Orient Rye eventually was being sold in San Francisco and other points West.  Edwin obviously had mastered the “art” of making whiskey. 

When William Walters died in 1894, his passing was marked with long newspaper obituaries that discussed his career in railroads and other industries.   Almost nothing was said about the 35 years he had owned one of the largest and most successful liquor concerns in Baltimore.  At his death he bequeathed his entire collection to his son Henry, who also added to the artworks.  The assemblage came to include everything from European master paintings and decorative arts to Greek and Roman antiquities and Far Eastern ceramics — a total of nearly 22,000 works of art.   Henry Walters, true to his father’s interest in opening the collection to the public, created an art gallery on Charles Street at the edge of downtown Baltimore.  The original gallery interior is shown here.

The whiskey business bearing the Walters name has long been gone, distillery and office shut down by National Prohibition.   At his death in 1931,  Henry Walters gave his gallery building and its contents to the City of Baltimore where it has become the Walters Art Museum.  On October 26, 2014, that institution opened a special exhibit dedicated to its founders.  Hence the headline:  “From Rye to Raphael.”   Walter’s beginnings in whiskey, albeit belatedly, are being acknowledged -- as they should be.

Note:  Information for this post was obtained from multiple sources, principal among them the Walters Art Museum website and Ferdinand Meyer’s “Peachridge” site.  Several illustrations also are from those sources.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Schloss Family Westward Took the “Jug of Empire”

“Westward the Jug of Empire takes its way.   How solemn and beautiful is the thought, that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van-leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath-school, never the missionary — but always whiskey!  Such is the case.  Look history over; you will see.” — Mark Twain

The “Jug of Empire” did not move by itself.  It took human intervention.  As a result, the Schloss family should be considered exemplars of Twain’s observation.  Jacob, Henrietta, Simon, and Abraham Schloss, with son-in-law Moses Stern, bought many jugs of whiskey to Western sites like Leadville, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.   As such, they can be accounted among Twain’s “civilizing” pioneers of the West.

The Schloss family odyssey began in Germany where the father, Jacob, was born in 1838.  His wife, Henrietta, also was German-born in 1840.  The newly married young couple emigrated to the United States about 1860 before the outbreak of the Civil War, settling in St. Joseph, Missouri, where Jacob found work as a butcher.  The 1870 U.S. Census found them living there with four children.  Among them were Rosa, born 1860; Simon, 1865; Carlotta and Eva, 1869.  A fifth child,  Abraham (“Abe”), was born a year later. 

St. Joseph, Missouri, in those days was a bustling frontier town, serving as the last supply point and the “jumping off” place on the Missouri River heading to the “Wild West.”  It was the western most point in the United States accessible by rail until after the Civil War.  It is likely that Jacob Schloss was involved in provisioning settlers traveling West and likely hankered himself to join them.  The tipping point for him likely occurred in the mid-1870s when lode silver deposits were found near a place called Oro City, setting off the Colorado Silver Boom.  Mine owners had set up a town to serve their strikes, first calling it “Slabtown,” but later changing the name to “Leadville.”  Shown here in an magazine illustration, by 1880 Leadville was one of the world’s largest and richest silver camps, boasting a population of more than 14,000.

The census that year found Jacob and his family in Leadville. Earlier in the decade they had made the trek west from Missouri, through Kansas to Colorado and Leadville, a journey of some 700 miles,  With many thirsty miners and dozens of saloons, the Schlosses decided that a wholesale liquor business, supplying an evident need for lots of whiskey, was an profitable trade.  Jacob accordingly established a “whiskey depot” on what is now Second Street.  Apparently needing larger quarters as the business grew, he moved to 116 West Second.  The family was living at 216 West Fifth Street, several blocks away.

A 1879 bill from J. Schloss makes it clear that he was dealing “strictly” wholesale.  His wife, Henrietta,  apparently was actively working with him in the business.   In the 1870 census in Missouri Henrietta had been recorded as “keeping house.” Both of them were recorded by the 1880 census with the occupation of “liquor dealer.”   Evidently not just male Schlosses had taken the jug westward.  

Moreover, it appears that the family were having a civilizing influence in rough and ready Leadville.  One commentary says of them:  “Jacob Schloss and his family were significant contributors to Leadville’s economic, political and social life.”   Just a few examples:  In 1880, Jacob was elected as treasurer of the Turnverein Society, the German gymnastics organization.  The next year he was part of a citizen group that organized an electric light company to supply power to Leadville and surrounding areas.  Later he joined with other businessmen to underwrite the construction of the Tabor Grand Hotel.  

Henrietta also was busy.  She became president of the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Association, providing assistance to less fortunate Jewish residents at a time “when sickness and destitution prevailed.”  According to local press accounts, even the the Schloss children had a civilizing influence, by regularly participating in local theatricals.

When an 1881 fire in the next door Pioneer Saloon did some damage to their 2nd Street location, the Schlosses moved into space at 108-110 Harrison Avenue.  Their business continued at that address until 1899 when it was moved to 322 Harrison, its final location.   Meanwhile Jacob’s sons were being brought into the whiskey trade.  Simon Schloss is recorded clerking for his father as early as 1881, but left for a time to partner in a Leadville stable and horse sales business.

About 1897, a major management shift occurred.  Perhaps for reasons of health, Jacob turned over the business to Simon and his younger brother, Abe.  Simon was president while Jacob remained a director.  The company, at the same address, now became Schloss Bros., as shown above in an early photo.  Simon moved in to live above the liquor store.  He was joined for a time by Abe who shortly after died at the age of 30.  Moses L. Stern, who had married their sister, Carlotta, was brought into the firm as the secretary and treasurer.  

As wholesalers, the Schlosses received whiskey by the barrel and often transferred it into smaller containers, usually one and two gallon ceramic jugs.  As shown here, the Schloss Bros. jugs featured Albany slip brown tops and neck with Bristol glaze bodies with cobalt blue lettering.  Today the jugs are much sought by collectors.   As many other saloons and liquor dealers,  the Schloss brothers also featured tokens, good in trade.  The one shown here was could be redeemed for 12.5 cents.  Sometimes these Schloss tokens are over-stamped for five cents.
That reduction in value may have been symptomatic of what was happening in Leadville. The collapse of silver prices and the slowing of mining activity led to a significant economic decline in the region and a strong exodus of the citizenry to other climes. Among those decamping was Simon Schloss.  Shutting down the Schloss Bros. liquor dealership in Leadville and accompanied by his brother-in-law Moses Stern, he set out to take the “Jug of Empire” even further West. 

Schloss’s objective was New Mexico and the town of Albuquerque.  After New Mexico had been wrested from Mexican control by war, the town slumbered along until after the Civil War when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1880 and along with it many mountain men, settlers and Anglo merchants.   Although for a time it was a wild and violent place, by 1885 it boasted a major commercial center, shown here.  As Leadville was declining, Albuquerque was on the rise. 
The partners saw the possibilities there and established a liquor dealership they called Stern, Schloss & Company, wholesale liquors, located at 115 West Copper Street.  Simon was president; Moses was secretary and treasurer.   Using the successful model the Schlosses had developed in Leadville, they sold much of their whiskey in ceramic jugs, of which two are shown here. 

The partners were in business for a relatively short time, likely about 12 years.   Temperance sentiment was strong both in the New Mexico territory and after statehood.  In 1917 residents approved statewide prohibition by the staggering majority of three to one.  That vote was three years before National Prohibition.  Stern, Schloss was forced to shut down by 1918.

Simon, who apparently never married, is recorded in the 1920 census as living as a boarder with an Hispanic family in Albuquerque .  His occupation was listed as “none.”  Meanwhile his father and mother who had hung on in Leadville for a few more years are said to have suffered financial reverses.  At some point they moved to the Denver area.

Section 7 of the Congregation Emanuel Cemetery in Denver is graced by a large granite plinth that is prominently marked, “Schloss.”  Having died in 1914, Henrietta is buried in the plot along with Jacob who passed in 1918.  They were joined by Simon in 1934.  Lying nearby is Abe.  The Schlosses are at rest having been instrumental in bringing jugs of whiskey — and presumably civilization — Westward.  Mark Twain would be proud.  

Note:  Some of the information about the Schloss family in Leadville and several illustrations shown here are from a website maintained by Temple Israel of Leadville about the history of Jews in that region.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Billie Bott Escaped from Behind the Eight Ball

 William “Billie” Bott and his brother, Joseph, were well known in Columbus, Ohio, as proprietors of the city's most prosperous saloon and liquor dealership, as well as the largest and most elegant billiard parlor.  Then Billie found himself “behind the eight ball” at the center of a well publicized sex scandal.  It was a soap opera with twist that supplied a fortunate ending for the Botts.
Billie, pictured right, and Joseph, left, were born in Zanesville, Ohio, the sons of Caspar and Magdalena Huff Bott.  Caspar, a shoemaker, had emigrated from Bavaria, Germany, and settled in Zanesville in 1840.   Ending his formal education at the age of 13 and seeking larger opportunities, Joseph came to Columbus in 1871 and found work in a variety of retail establishments.  Within a few years, he happened on his true love:  billiards.  Working in a local pool parlor, he became an expert pool and billiards player.

Billie, who had been nine when Joseph left, arrived in Columbus a few years later.  The brothers soon opened a billiard parlor in downtown Columbus immediately across from the State House, guaranteeing a lively traffic from lawmakers and gaining the reputation as the “third house” of the legislature, a place where “a meeting” was always going on.   Later the Botts would move to larger and more elaborate quarters, advertising 40 tables.   They were also branching out into other enterprises.  Their pool halls had always featured a bar;  in 1886 they opened a full-fledged saloon, a part of its interior shown here.  The long and ornate front bar had been purchased from a Chicago saloon erected at the 1893 World’s Fair.  The Botts featured an animated electric bulb sign outside that outlined a pool table where a pool cue descended and balls scattered.  Columbus had never seen its like; customers flocked to the place. 

The following year Joseph and Billie organized the Bott Brothers Manufacturing Company, an enterprise that sold pool and billiard tables and supplies, bar fixtures, refrigerators, playing cards, and even bathroom fixtures.  In short, the Botts handled everything needed to set up, in the minds of many, “dens of iniquity.”  Joseph Bott headed this operation which had a traveling sales force and did business coast to coast.

In 1888, obviously seeing the money to be made in whiskey, the brothers, with a third partner,  founded the Bott & Cannon Company, a liquor dealership, whose principal address was 269 High Street, the main commercial avenue of Columbus. They advertised themselves as “wholesale whiskey and wine merchants, straight and blended whiskies.”  Billie Bott was the president.  Although the company ads sometimes claimed them to be distillers, they were in reality “rectifiers,” blending and compounding whiskey and selling the results under their own brand names.   Those labels included “Old Botts,” “Columbus,” “Edgewater, “Cannon,” and “Old Cannon.  The latter was the flagship brand, advertised most heavily and featuring a Civil War gun on the label.  Bott & Cannon packaged their whiskey largely in embossed glass containers of various sizes, including quart and gallons with bail handles. 
During this period, the Bott brothers also were having personal lives.  Joseph married a woman named Annie Schimpf, a Philadelphia native who was eight years his junior.  I can find no record of children.  Living in the Chittenden Hotel, a recognized socialite and lady’s man, Billie Bott, now his late 30s, had taken a different path.  That path led to the mansion home of a woman named Mary Sells, a woman 18 years of age when she had married a rich man in his mid-30s who subsequently was much absent.  Restless, Mary accepted male visitors when her husband was away, of whom Billie was accounted the first.

In January of 1900 Mr. Sells filed suit against Bott, alleging he had “alienated his wife’s affections” and seeking damages.  He also wanted a divorce from Mary.  Here is a description of what ensued:  “The trial opened on Monday, November 12, 1900, to a packed courtroom…Columbisites were  fascinated with the proceedings and each day jammed into the courtroom in record numbers.” Local newspapers kept their customers rushing for the latest editions to read about the frequently steamy testimony of the participants.  

The most incriminating evidence against Billie was supplied by private detectives hired by the husband to watch the house during his absence.  One of them testified that he had seen Bott ride up on a bicycle and leave it in an archway when he entered the Sells mansion.  The detective stole the bike that night — apparently leaving Billie to walk home after his assignation — and stowed it in his attic as evidence.  When the detective wheeled the incriminating cycle into the courtroom, the sight is said to have been met “with considerable excitement.”  To many it seemed that Billie Bott, the Columbus billiard baron now was “behind the eight ball.”   

The trial lasted five titillating weeks with headlines most days in the Columbus press. Testimony that Mary Sells had entertained multiple lovers put the spotlight on her, however, and not her suitors.  The court found Mary guilty of “gross neglect of duty” to her husband.  This verdict absolved Bott of blame for alienation.  He walked away without paying a cent.  The aggrieved  husband, by contrast, had spent $12,000 on the trial. He was granted a divorce decree in which alimony for Mary was involved.  Although the amount of the settlement was kept secret by the court, the local press reported it at $30,000 (equivalent to $750,000 today).  Mary was forced to vacate the mansion her now estranged husband had built for her.  She soon left Columbus for parts unknown. 

Meanwhile Billie Bott apparently emerged from the trial relative unscathed. His business and personal life apparently went on as if nothing had happened.  The blame widely fell on Mary Sell.  One newspaper summed up the verdict by opining: "When a woman is a devil, she is the whole thing.”   Before very long, Billie married.  His bride was Frances C. O’Conner Farley,  who although nine years his junior was a widow.    She had been born in Columbus in 1870, the daughter of Irish immigrants,  Patrick T. and Mary Farrell O’Conner.  In 1915 Bott purchased a 6.5 acre estate on the outskirts of Columbus and built three homes, including a mansion for Frances and himself at 1070 Broadview, a house that still stands, shown here.  Although the home was spacious, the couple had no children.

Throughout the early part of the 20th Century Bott & Cannon continued to thrive in their liquors sales both retail and wholesale.  As other Columbus whiskey dealers did, they supplied etched shot glasses bearing their advertising to favored customers like saloonkeepers and bartenders.  All that ended for the Bott brothers in 1916 when Ohio voted to go “dry.”  Joseph Bott had already expanded into real estates as president of the Sun Realty Company.  Billie Bott was a partner in that firm as well as secretary of the Crystal Ice Mfg. & Cold Storage Co.  A later addition to their business ventures was the Bott Soda Water Company.  Both men had become  figures of affluence and influence in the Ohio capital.  They were acknowledged as such when the Bott Brothers photos were featured in the program for the 100th Anniversary of the founding of Columbus.

William “Billie” Bott died in 1930, at the age of 69.  His obituary gave the cause of death “apoplexy,” a term that covered several conditions including heart attack and stroke.  His funeral was held at Our Lady of Victory Church in Columbus.  Among the mourners was his widow, Frances, and three sisters.  He was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery.  Frances would join him two years later, as shown here on their joint gravestone.  Joseph Bott died in 1940 and is buried nearby. 

From modest beginnings and only a little formal education, the Bott brothers had turned a passion for billiards — coupled with their business genius — into a fortune and local fame.  Capping this success, Billie Bott, as I have never been able to do, figured a way out when seemingly stuck “behind the eight ball.”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Perrines: “Blue Bloods” in Philadelphia Whiskey

In the 1890 “Blue Book,” the defacto social register of Philadelphia, among the names to be found in that highly selective volume — 25,000 among 1.5 million population — were those of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Stout Perrine, living on fashionable Mount Vernon Street.  The entry did not mention that, along with his brother, Mathew, he was one of the city’s most successful liquor dealers.

The Perrines had long been an established American family.   Their founding ancestor, Daniel Perrin, known as “The Hugenot" (French Protestant), had arrived on these shores in 1665, settling in the New York area.   The Perrine brothers had been born in New Jersey.  Their father was Thomas Morford Perrine whose first wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of General James Cook.  When she died a year later in childbirth,  Thomas married a second time,  Elizabeth Stout, likely a cousin. She was the mother of Mathew, born in 1831, and Jonathan, shown here in maturity, born in 1836.   

Because the brothers claimed that the origin of their business was 1845 when both would still have been children, it has been speculated that their father started the liquor business in Philadelphia.  Thomas Perrine, however, was recorded serving many years the as the chief warden of the State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey, and is not known to have left the state.  A more likely explanation is that the Perrine brothers bought an unnamed liquor dealership in Philadelphia that dated back to 1845.  Both brothers were recorded by the 1870 census working in the liquor business. Their company first was listed in business directories in 1871, called “M. & J.S. Perrine” and located at 37 North Front Street.
The substantial three story building, shown here,  that housed the liquor dealership indicates that the brothers were “rectifying” whiskey, that is buying it from the many distillers then operating in Pennsylvania, blending and compounding it, and selling under their own labels.  As a result of these activities, the Perrines were able to merchandise a number of brands.  They included “Chemically Pure,” “Palace Club,” “Palace Rye,” “Perrine’s Monogram Pure Rye,” “Perrine’s Old Memorial Whiskey,” “Perrine’s Golden Lake Pure Rye,” and “Perrine’s Pure Barley Malt Whiskey.”  They also featured a line of gins, brandies and products they called “Apple Whiskey and “Apple Ginger.”  With the exception of “Chemically Pure” in 1886, the company does not appear to have trademarked any of its brands.

For retail purposes, M. & J.S. Perrine sold their products in glass.  Shown here is a quart of their Pure Barley Malt Whiskey, with a paper label below a similar fancy embossed label.  Other liquor was presented in square cathedral type dark amber bottles.  Frequently the company name and address was included on the base of a bottle. Particularly attractive was the embossing for Perrine’s Apple Ginger, showing a glowing apple on the front.  This product was advertising with images that harked back to life in the original 13 states.
The Perrines marketed their Barley Malt Whiskey as a medicinal, claiming that it was a remedy for “malaria, indigestion and all wasting diseases.”   Since no one at that time knew a thing about malaria, it was a claim unlikely to be challenged.  The brothers advertised it with a colorful trade card with a picture of a winsome young woman filling orders from the apparently ague-striken, and sticking the Perrine label on the bottle. Her comely   presence emphasized the “purity” of the product.  Unlike the many malaria cures that contained   opium, the Perrines’ nostrum only provided substantial swallows of alcohol. 

With their vigorous marketing and apparently quality liquors,  the Perrines flourished, opening a second retail outlet at 238 North Water Street.  Meanwhile Jonathan was having a personal life.  About 1862 he had married Anna M., who also had been born in New Jersey.  The 1870 census found them living in Ward 14 of Philadelphia.  With them were their two sons, Edmund, age 7, and, William, age 4.  Also in residence was Jonathan’s 40-year-old brother and partner, Mathew.  In addition to Jonathan’s photo  above, we have a description of him taken from his 1890 application for a passport.  It disclosed that this Perrine was six feet, three-quarters inch tall, had blue gray eyes, light brown hair and a “pointed” chin.  

The brothers operated their liquor business with growing success throughout the latter part of the 1800s.  As his sons matured, Jonathan took William into the business.  Edmund, however, was destined to become a medical doctor of considerable reputation in the Philadelphia area. About 1894, Mathew, now age 63 and possibly in bad health, withdrew from the firm.  The following year the name of the firm was changed to J. S. Perrine & Son Company.  William, age 30, now was a full-fledged partner in the business.  
During this period, the Perrines were active in the fight against the Whiskey Trust, formally known as the Distillers and Cattle Feeders Company.  In 1892, Jonathan was a leader in organizing a meeting of prominent wholesale liquor dealers in Eastern cities, said to represent $6 million ($150 million today) in assets.  Their purpose was to organize an association for their own protection against the Trust which was viewed as “stretching out its influence all over the land….”   

Most of these anti-Trust Eastern liquor dealers would have been “rectifiers” like the Perrines, blending and compounding whiskey bought from distillers.  The Trust was known to seek a distilling monopoly and then hike prices steeply to rectifiers.  The new association was described as seeking to “free its members from the exactions….” of the monopoly.   Perrine was elected treasurer.   Faced with similar organized opposition in New York State, Kentucky and elsewhere, the threat from the Illinois-based Trust eventually dissipated.

Meanwhile, the Jonathan Perrines had achieved “Blue Book” status.  While that publication disclaimed “to pass upon the social standing of the parties embodied within its pages,” the implication was clear.  Being in the Blue Book made one a Mainline Blue Blood.  The book recommended itself to “wives and daughters at home” (i.e. about marriage eligible men) and “the commercial and professional community in their offices and counting-rooms, (i.e., about doing business).  Wealth, even from whiskey, went a long way to gaining social status. 
Jonathan Perrine died in October, 1906, at age 72, while in Moorestown, Pennsylvania.  He left an estate to his wife, Anna, and his sons said to be worth $135,000 ($3.375 million today).  He was buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in suburban Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.  He would be joined in death by Anna six years later. The couple’s gravestone is shown here.  Lying nearby is Jonathan’s brother and partner, Mathew Perrine, who had died in 1898.  Meanwhile, William was guiding the fortunes of the Perrine enterprise that moved at least twice during his management.  Records indicate that William died in 1914, but the business continued on until 1918, apparently run by other family members.  The last address was 62 North Front Street.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Grommes Brothers Created a Chicago Landmark

Look closely at the quaint 1860s scene above.  It is an etching of a view of Chicago’s La Salle Street from its Court House Square.   Now look again at the close-up left of one of the buildings.  A caption that accompanied the picture advised:  “Before leaving the Court House, take a few minutes to stroll through its lovely grounds for a soothing respite from the busy city.  Across LaSalle Street stand two well-known Chicago enterprises:  the State Savings Institution and Grommes & Ullrich.”

That attention must have been gratifying to the Grommes Brothers,  Hubert and John Baptiste, immigrants from Germany, who had begun their liquor, wines and specialty grocer business only six years earlier.   Hubert was the elder, born in 1831, and John Baptiste, circa 1845 (dates differ).  They were the sons of Pierre and Catherine (Klein) Grommes of Malmody, Bavaria, They had emigrated to the U.S., settling in Chicago, when Hubert was 19 and John Baptiste was a youngster.

The first 10 years of the brothers' lives in this country have gone undocumented.  My surmise is that Hubert went to work for one of the many grocers in the Windy City, accumulating both the experience and the financial resources necessary to strike out on his own.  With a partner named Michael Ullrich, in 1860 Hubert established a liquor, wine and specialty grocery at 76 LaSalle Street under a company name that would prevail for almost a half century,  “Grommes & Ullrich.”  The partners issued a cheese crock that carried a cobalt reproduction of the LaSalle St. site — 
the low building was theirs — and the words, “Fine Foods.”  

By 1870 the firm was using the LaSalle St. building principally for warehouse purposes, moving it sales operations to several locations on Randolph and subsequently Madison Street.  An 1887 letterhead, shown here, cites the latter address and identifies the firm with “cigars, wines, and liquors.”  Grommes & Ullrich featured a number of proprietary whiskey brands, indicating that they were also rectifiers, that is, blending and compounding whiskeys to achieve smoothness and flavor.  Among their brands were “Marquette Pure Rye,” “Great Union Pure Rye,” “National Club,”  Pullman Palace Car Rye,”  “Westmoreland,” and later for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition a “World’s Fair Rye.”  For wholesale purposes the company packaged these whiskeys in ceramic jugs, of several sizes and shapes, some as large as five gallons.   Its retail sales were in glass, from quart size to flasks, often in amber with the firm name embossed.

As he was growing his business,  Hubert Grommes had married a woman named Louisa and begun a family.  They would have five children, four girls and a boy.  The only son, born in 1876, was named John Baptiste Grommes.   This identical naming with his uncle, who had been taken by Hubert into Grommes & Ullrich at an early age, seemingly caused considerable confusion in Grommes biographies of the time.  

Meanwhile the company was gaining in reputation both for its fine groceries, wines, and superior brands of liquors.  The Filson Library has letters from the famous Kentucky distiller, Col. E. H. Taylor, written during the 1870s urging the Grommes to feature his OFC Bourbon, claiming that it was at least the equal of other brands they were carrying.  The company also was making a reputation for the number and quality of its “giveaway” items.  Competition among liquor dealers in Chicago for the business of its many saloons was fierce.  Grommes & Ullrich understood that and were noted for their gifts.  Among them were glass etched, clear “back of the bar” bottles that advertised their several brands.  Shown below is one for Marquette Rye.  Another was for National Club.  For their World’s Fair brand, the company would issue both an attractively etched shot glass with a globe showing North America and marking Chicago.  An even more expensive item was a silver plated World’s Fair teakettle.  Placed on a bar it might hold tea or hot water to be mixed with the firm’s whiskey.

Meanwhile a management change had taken place at Grommes & Ullrich.  Hubert Grommes, widely viewed as the founder of the firm, was no longer involved, according to city business directories. In a1876 directory only John Baptiste Grommes was listed, along with Ullrich.  Hubert Grommes was recorded as an insurance agent.  By this time John B. also had married.  In 1873 he took to wife Bertha Lehrkind.  They had three daughters,  born in 1877, 1881, and 1885. The family lived down Dearborn Street, several blocks from the company address at 194 Dearborn.  John Baptiste also was branching out in business as a member of a Chicago cigar firm called Grommes & Elson.

By the early 1900s, other management changes had taken place at Grommes & Ullrich.  John B. was still the president but Ullrich, while listed as a director, was no longer in direct management.  Frank A. Rehm was listed as vice president and director; F. Diehl was Secretary and director.  The 1900 U.S. Census found Hubert, now apparently retired, living with his daughter and son-in-law.  His occupation was given as “capitalist,” a term used for person no longer in the workplace but investing.  With the family was his son, the younger John B., who was working in the cigar trade.  Five years later, at age 86, Hubert Grommes died in Chicago.

As he aged, John Baptiste Grommes turned over the day to day operation of the firm to younger associates.  Likely under his watchful eye, the company continued to be a major Midwest liquor house until 1918, as National Prohibition closed in.  His wife, Bertha, died in 1919.  The following year the census found John B. living alone in a boarding house in Chicago.  He also maintained a summer home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and was residing there in August 1922 when he died.  He was buried in the Grommes family crypt at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  His name appears over the doors.

The immigrant Grommes brothers had proved themselves to be outstanding businessmen, intent on quality.  Their first retail establishment had been pointed out as a landmark to visitors as early as 1866.  Their real Chicago landmark, however, was the liquor dealership they headed, one that began before the Civil War in 1860 and endured until after World War One, a period of 48 years.  Another tribute to their quality products was the resurrection of their whiskey as a brand name after Repeal in 1934 when Schenley bottled whiskey for a time under the Grommes & Ullrich label.