Saturday, December 12, 2015

When Mrs. Klausman Inherited The German House

When her husband died in 1912, leaving her with several minor children and a saloon, a liquor store, and a small hotel, together known as “The German House,”  Catherine Klausman hesitated for not a moment in taking over their management.  As a result, “Mrs. Klausman” as she was respectfully known in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, put her own mark in selling whiskey.  

Catherine Klausman (nee Kronenwetter) was born St. Marys in 1875.  She was the daughter of Nicholas Kronenwetter, an immigrant from Wurtemburg, Germany, and Barbara Bindel Kronenwetter, a native Pennsylvanian.  She had one sister who later became a nun.  Although Catherine could read and write, her schooling appears to have been limited.   By the age of 22 she had met and married William Aloysius Klausman, who was four years older and likewise had been born in St. Mary’s.
Their home town, shown above in an 1895 map, had been founded by devout Bavarian Roman Catholics in 1842 originally as “Marienstadt,” (Mary’s City).  It is situated in North Central, Pennsylvania, in Elk County, so called because it is the center of the state’s elk country.  The Klausman’s home town was nestled within a wooded region with some agriculture and mining of coal and other minerals.

At an early point William became the proprietor of “The German House,”  a saloon, liquor store and small hotel located on Railroad Street, not far from the depot where trains disgorged their passengers.  Shown here is a photo of the German House, taken in 1906.  The man with a hat standing to the right in the photo is believed to be William Klausman.  The other figure is that of Charlie (aka Henry) Groll, the bartender.  Note that St. Marys still had wooden sidewalks.  The door on the left with white curtains was the ladies’ entrance.  A passageway took women around the bar and back to the hotel restaurant.

The German House was one of the more ornate buildings in town and had a pressed metal facade, a common architectural feature of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  This one was made by the Mesker Brothers Iron Works of St. Louis, a well-known manufacturer and designer of ornamental sheet-metal facades and cast iron storefronts.  The design had been selected by perusing Mesker’s catalogue of facings, taking measurements and ordering by mail.  The hotel still stands, part of the St. Marys Historical District, with the ironwork intact and a plaque attached by the Meskers.  A photo of the interior of the barroom, below, showing patrons hoisting beers, was also appears to be well-designed space.  Groll is identified as the man standing behind the bar.

By this time, William and Catherine Klausman had a family.  Son Karl was born in 1899 when she was 22,  followed by Albert (1902), Gertrude (1906) and Helen Marie (1909).  The 1910 census found the family living at 22 Railroad Street, the German House.  In addition to their hotel guests, most of them construction workers, Groll, the hotel cook, a waitress and a porter all were living on the premises.

In 1912, the Klausman’s last child, William, was born.  That same year his father, William, suddenly died at the young age of 41.  As his family grieved at his gravesite, he was buried in Saint Marys Cemetery, a place where both his own and his wife’s parents were interred.  Catherine was left with an infant, a toddler, and three other children under ten.  Many women quickly would have sold the German House.  Catherine Klausman, however, was made of strong stuff — like the iron facade on the hotel.  With the help of Bartender Groll, she kept the place open and prospered by selling both at wholesale and retail her own brands of whiskey.

Shown here are some of the colorful labels that bear either her name or that of the German House or both.  Taking a leaf from the liquor wholesalers and whiskey rectifiers of the time, she was buying product of  both Pennsylvania and Kentucky and sometimes blending the spirits, bottling them and then applying her own labels.   My favorite is Mrs. Klausman’s “Corn Whiskey,” with its predominantly yellow label showing a rural distillery and a shock of corn, a design worthy of one of the big urban liquor outfits. 

Another outstanding label was the German House bottled “Beech Grove Whiskey.”  This a brand from a Boston wholesaler named C.H. Graves. The red seal in the center shows two colonial types with the motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”  “Kentucky Dew,” despite its name was a Pennsylvania product, from 23rd Revenue District, one that contained no fewer than 80 individual distilleries from which these supplies might have been drawn.  

Mrs. Klausman also apparently was bottling — or arranging bottling under the German House (or alternatively “German Hotel”) name, of nationally known brands.  “Boston League” whiskey was the product of a Cincinnati wholesaler/rectifier, Ferdinand Westheimer, who was obtaining his supplies in Kentucky.  Two Sam Thompson labels are shown below, one that accompanied a quart bottle and the other a half-pint flask.  Thompson’s was a well known “Monongahela Rye” straight whiskey, distilled on the shores of the river near Brownsville, Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Klausman clearly had good taste in whiskey.
By 1920, however, National Prohibition had brought a close to the thriving business she was doing with whiskey sales.  Moreover, the hotel bar no longer could serve alcohol.  Regardless of these setbacks, however, she persevered in running the hotel  The 1920 census found her still living at the German House, a widow, with her five children still with her.  Karl was an adult of 21 and helping in the hotel, as were the other children down to seven-year-old William.  At the time of the 1930 census, Catherine, now 54, was continuing to run the hotel.  Her two youngest children were still with her.  Mrs. Klausman operated the German House as a hotel through the 1930s, but there is no evidence that after repeal of National Prohibition in 1934, she went back to liquor sales.  

When she died in 1963, at the age of 88, she was buried next to William in the St. Marys Cemetery.  As noted earlier, the German House building remains standing as part of the town’s historic district on Railroad Street.  A 2010 photo below shows the iron facade — the structure with the street light in front —but it appears that  the building may have been boarded up.
Including Mary Dowling and Mary Moll, I have profiled three women on this blog who inherited a whiskey-related business from a deceased husband.  Among the three, however, Catherine Klausman is unique.  She continued to run the German House and expanded operations to include bottling and wholesaling of both her own and other brands of whiskey, while bearing the simultaneous responsibility of raising five minor children.  Little wonder the name “Mrs. Klausman” was uttered with respect on the streets of St. Marys.

Note:  Both Ferd Westheimer and Sam Thompson, referenced on labels above, have been subjects of my prior posts:  Westheimer in May 2014, and  Thompson in September 2012.  My post on Mary Dowling was January 2014 and on Mary Moll, October 2015.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nudity, Prudery, Tippecanoe — and Jake Pfeffer Too!

Nudity sells.  Not just in today’s marketplace but also in pre-Prohibition times. Then the principal expression was through whiskey advertising signs that were designed for use in all-male drinking establishments.  One of the most popular of saloon signs was for Tippecanoe Whiskey and Jake Pfeffer of Cincinnati was the distributor.

The Tippecanoe sign, shown below, disclosed an Indian maiden paddling a canoe with her breasts uncovered and very prominent.  She is shown in a landscape of water and vegetation that bespeaks of pristine nature and unsullied wilderness.  That image reenforces the labels asserting that this Kentucky whisky is “medicinally pure” and “recommended by physicians.”

Colorful and eye-catching, the sign had been lithographed on tin, giving it permanence.  Note the holes in each corner.  They allowed the saloonkeeper to tack it above his bar or on a prominent wall.  The same nude image also was available on color lithographed paper, tastefully framed as shown below.

The Native American beauty also appeared at the bottom of a shot glass,  bare chested, again the work of Jacob J. Pfeffer.  This item would have been prominent on a bar.  A patron who was served a shot of whiskey, could knock it down, look down upon this buxom lass — and perhaps order another.  But nudity on wall signs and shot glasses were items for inside the saloon, a place where women, and particularly women of gentility, were never to be seen — often not allowed.

Pfeffer employed a different standard, some might contend a prudish (or hypocritical) standard for Tippecanoe images that might be seen by the general public.   Thus the paper label of a Tippecanoe flask he issued showed the same Indian maiden and the same landscape, but — lo!” — the lady was all covered up.  Even the most easily scandalized would find little to fault if they saw a bottled of whiskey sitting on a drugstore or grocery shelf that bore that image.

Although he claimed proprietorship of Tippecanoe “Double Fire Copper” Whiskey,  Pfeffer was in fact the merchandiser, not the originator of the brand.  The source was the Union Distilling Company, located in Cincinnati, that had adopted the motto “None Better.”  This organization advertised as distillers but evidence is that it was getting its whiskey from Kentucky, including the Latonia Distillery in Kenton County.  Union Distilling almost certainly was a wholesaler and “rectifier,” that is blending and mixing raw whiskeys to achieve certain taste and color.  Like most dealers of this class, Union Distilling featured a blizzard of brands, using supplies from multiple sources and  then slapping on its own proprietary labels.  Among its brands  was “Tippecanoe,” a name it trademarked in 1905.

An arrangement by an outfit like Union Distilling with a distributor like Jacob Pfeffer for Tippecanoe Whiskey would not have been unusual.  The advantage to Union Distilling was that it could count on aggressive promotion of its whiskey without bearing marketing costs.  To Pfeffer it meant that he had a quality whiskey to sell that bore his imprint without being required to worry about from whence raw liquor supplies might be coming. 

Pfeffer had established his liquor business in Cincinnati in 1876, according to city business directories, the same year the German national became a citizen.  His first address was at 733 Freeman Street but he soon moved to the southwest corner of Eighth and Depot in the 21st Ward.  From there Pfeffer moved to Gest Street, a major Cincinnati thoroughfare that loops around the downtown.  After three moves on Gest, the company in 1898 moved to 1216-1220 Gest where it remained for twenty years.  In 1905 he incorporated the business as the Jacob J. Pfeffer Company and installed himself as president and manager.  Andrew Hochstrasser was named secretary-treasurer.

Born in February 1853 in Endingen, Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany, Pfeffer had emigrated from his native Germany to the United States in 1870, when he was about 17.  That was an age when many German boys left home.  At eighteen years they could be drafted into the Prussian army where many recruits died in basic training.  Jacob sailed on the steamship, Hamburg, into New York City and headed for Cincinnati, a city known for its strong German population and culture.  My assumption is that he early went to work for one of the city’s many whiskey wholesalers, learning the trade.  

The same year that he founded his business, Jacob found a wife.  She was Margaretha (sometimes given as Marquerite), a woman slightly older than he was, who also had been born in Germany.  They had one child, Regina, born in 1879.  At a relatively young age, Margaretha died in 1901.  Sometime during that same decade Jacob remarried.  This time his wife was Henrietta Marie Schorr, born in Ohio and 12 years younger than he.  In 1910 Jacob and Henrietta traveled to Germany together.  Among Pfeffer’s sales products in Cincinnati were German wines and the trip may have been on business as much as a honeymoon. 

Meanwhile, Pfeffer was vigorously promoting his whiskey.  Like other liquor wholesalers, he was advertising his flagship brand by giveaway items to favored customers, like saloonkeeper and restaurant owners.  The gifts included advertising shot glasses and back-of-the-bar bottles, such as the damaged one shown here.  A unusual item was a bartender’s stirring spoon, with “Tippecanoe” etched in the bowl and Pfeffer’s name on the handle.

Pfeffer also was featuring other United Distilling products in his advertising, including “Zeno” and “Lenox,” trademarked respectively in 1905 and 1906.  He issued a tip tray that featured those brands, along with Tippecanoe Whiskey.  Note that any hint of nudity had vanished from his advertising.  In its place was a sweet-faced little tyke, the picture of innocence and purity.

Pfeffer never got to enjoy the fruits of his endeavors in retirement.  He was still working at the head of his company when he died in 1913, sixty years of age.  He was buried in Cincinnati, not far from his first wife. The Pfeffer plinth and his gravestone are shown here.  The business he had created continued under the management of Andrew Hochstrasser until 1918, apparently a casualty of the statewide ban on alcohol sales in Ohio.  

One last thought on Jacob Pfeffer:  By dying early he missed the imposition of National Prohibition that closed saloons but opened speakeasies, where women were welcome.  With Repeal, women were allowed in barrooms everywhere and one by one the nude saloon signs came down in drinking establishment all over America.   By clothing his Tippecanoe maiden, it would appear,  Pfeffer was not being prudish — just prudent.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Barner & Kehlenbeck: ‘Frisco Liquor “Shaken But Not Stirred”

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, magnitude 7.8, struck the coast of Northern California on April 18.  Devastating fires broke out in the city that lasted for several days.  Among those burned out of their business quarters were Louis H. Barner and Henry Kehlenbeck, thriving wholesale liquor dealers.  Surviving a disaster in which 3,000 people died and 80 percent of the city was destroyed, the partners obviously were “shaken” by the experience but did not “stir” from their resolve to remain in downtown San Francisco.  Less than a year later they were back in business.

It is unclear how Barner & Kehlenbeck initially created their partnership.  Both men had been born in Germany,  Kehlenbeck about 1858 and Barner in 1867.  The older Kehlenbeck had immigrated into the United States in 1872, at the age of 14, Barner came in 1885, age 12.  This suggests that each might have arrived with other family members.  By the time of their collaboration Kehlenbeck was married with a family.  In 1889 he had wed a woman named Amelia, nee Pihlinbeck, who had been born in Missouri about 1869 of German immigrant parents.  At the time of the 1900 census the Kehlenbecks had two children, Lottie, 9, and Harry, 5.  The same year Barner was still a bachelor, lodging at a boarding house.

Their company first emerged in San Francisco directories in 1898 with an address on the southwest corner of Eighth and Mission.  With success and needing more space in 1900 the partners moved to 324 Clay Street.  Barner & Kehlenbeck were unusual as whiskey wholesalers for confining the number of brands under their label largely to two, “R.B. Hayden Whiskey” and “R.B. Blair Bourbon.”  Under the labels for each quart was an embossed glass cylinder with a large intertwined monogram of the owners names.  Company bottles, one shown here with a mirror image, were in shades of amber and blown in a mold either with a long tapered neck or, less often, with a inside thread closure. 

Barner & Kehlenbeck, keeping up with the competition from other local wholesalers, provided customers like saloons, bars, restaurants and hotels with giveaway items advertising their brands.  Show here are a reverse glass sign, somewhat degraded over time, featuring R. B. Hayden Whiskey.  

Better preserved is a well-designed white enameled back-of-the-bar bottle for the same brand.  The partner issued one R. B. Hayden shot glass, its lettering similar to the enameled bottle and several variations of shot glasses for R. B. Blair Whiskey.  Two examples are shown above.  

In 1905, just prior to the catastrophic year, a R. B. Hayden calendar featured the bust portrait of what was termed, “a Titian-haired beauty.”  The Pacific Wine and Spirit Review termed the image “high art in trade advertising.” 

By 1906,  Barner & Kehlenbeck had made its two whiskey brands among the most widely known on the West Coast and the company was thriving. The earthquake, however, triggered a fire at the California Fireworks Company on Front Street, burning north to Clay Street and creeping up that thoroughfare slowly but steadily. 

Shown right are a group of onlookers on Clay Street, including anxious shop owners that may have included Barner and Kehlenbeck, watching as the flames drew nearer.  Along Clay some buildings were blown up as a preventive measure but the progress of the fire was not halted.  Shown here is a picture of the street afterward, strewn with dead horses and ruins.

Burned out of their business, Barner & Kehlenbeck disappeared from directories and the telephone book for a time, displaced along with tens of thousand of other San Franciscans.  Fearing future quakes some residents simply moved away.  Not Louis Barner and Henry Kehlenbeck.  By early 1907, just a few weeks after the earthquake, they were back in business at Devisidaro Street, an area of town that had not been ravaged by fire.  By the end of that same year they had rebuilt permanent quarters at 714 Kearney Street and moved in to resume operations.

Barner appears to have died during this period.  Subsequent directories    indicated that the principals in the firm after 1907 were Kehlenbeck and  Mrs. A. Barner, the widow.  With a subsequent remarriage, Mrs. Barner became Mrs. Anderson, remaining an officer in the firm that bore the name of her late husband.  The business continued to thrive at the Kearney Street address until 1919 when the liquor dealership was shut down by the anticipation of National Prohibition.

In 1909 San Francisco threw a three-day party called the Portola Festival to celebrate the rebuilding of the city a short time.  I can imagine that Kehlenbeck was among those participating.  San Francisco virtually had been made new — 20,000 buildings had been erected in three years time, among them the wholesale liquor house of Barner & Kehlenbeck.  

As one observer has put it:  “Who would have imagined that just a new days after that people would step up and seek to rebuild…in the miraculous way that we see it here today?”  Lewis Barner and Henry Kehlenbeck must be hailed as among those who stepped up.  Like a James Bond martini, those whiskey men were shaken, not stirred.

Friday, December 4, 2015

“Billy” Pearson and Whiskey as Grandma Made It

When William “Billy” Pearson left South Carolina as an outcast for Tennessee in 1812,  he took with him four of his children, a few personal items, and as his most valuable possession, a recipe for making whiskey inherited from his grandmother.   That recipe eventually is said to have found its way to a man named Jack Daniel and the rest is history. At left is an artist’s representation of what Pearson might have looked like. 

Pearson’s story reaches back before the Revolutionary War when he was born in April of 1761.  He was the son of Enoch (sometimes given as Enock) and Tabitha Jacocks Pearson in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They were Quakers.  Here sources differ about how he got to South Carolina.   A biography by a descendant relates that when Billy was only four years old his family moved to a 1,000 acre plantation near Sedalia in Cross Keys Township.   This likely was Cross Keys Plantation, described as “large and prosperous.  The manor house is shown here.  Enoch Pearson likely was working as a surveyor for the plantation owner.

An alternate story reputedly has Billy Pearson growing up in Pennsylvania and at the time of the Revolutionary War joining the 1st Battalion, Philadelphia Troops Militia.  Only later, according to this account did he move with his family to South Carolina.  My own research tends to discount that history.  In any case, the stories come together in 1777 when at the age of sixteen Billy got married in South Carolina — apparently this was not an uncommon age for a young Quaker to wed.  His wife was Sarah Jones Jacks, already a widow at nineteen.  She had been married to Edmund Jacks, a revolutionary sympathizer who had been killed by British Loyalists.

Not long after their marriage, Pearson managed to get into his first scrape.  His descendant told the story:  “In late 1777 or early 1778, Billy had a mare stolen from him.  He managed to get hold of a gun (the Quakers or Society of Friends did not believe in force or fighting and were strictly "Pacifist") and went after the horse-thief threatening to use the gun if the occasion required.  On March 23rd, 1778 he was condemned in the meeting for his misconduct.”  As a result Billy was ejected from the Quaker Church.

Although some accounts have accused Pearson of British sympathies, after the Battle of Kings Mountain, in which the Patriot Militia defeated South Carolina Loyalists, he is said to have become an ardent believer in the revolutionary cause and joined the 2nd South Carolina Spartan Militia Unit as a private.  Accounted faithful to the cause until the end of the war,  Pearson likely saw action at the Battle of Cowpens, shown here.  This was a decisive victory by the Continental Army over a British force and marked the reconquest of South Carolina by the Revolutionary Army.  

Meanwhile Billy and Sarah were having children.  Beginning in 1778,  they subsequently produced four boys and four girls, including one daughter who died in infancy.   No longer welcome in the Quaker Church,  Pearson and his family joined the Baptist Church of Padgett’s Creek, South Carolina.  Shown here, the Church now is on the National Register of Historic Places.

When Billy’s father died in 1780, he inherited 200 acres of farm land and five sheep. But his mother would bestow on him something that would prove to be even more valuable.  From her mother, a woman named Mary Stout Jacocks, Tabitha Pearson had received a formula for making whiskey that she passed along to Billy.  As his descendant tells it:  “Billy improved the formula and began making a very smooth sipping whiskey from a corn-mash, filtered through charcoal made from hard sugar-maple wood, and aged in oak barrels.”  He found ready customers for Grandma’s whiskey from a local clientele.

That success also got him in trouble a second time with a church.   The members of the Padgett’s Creek Baptist Church greatly frowned upon drinking any alcoholic beverage.  Making and selling it were even worse.  Pearson was hauled before the Baptist elders in August 1791.  They recorded:  “Met in Church Meeting and Laboured with William Pearson about the principle of falling from Grace [i.e. making whiskey] & he held his principle and refused to go with the Church in their standing, and Excommunicated for the same & his hard Spirit with the Church”   Having been thrown out of two local church congregations, Pearson with his alleged “hard spirit” continued to make and sell hard spirits.

With the death of Mother Tabitha and increasingly rocky relations with wife Sarah, about 1812 Pearson organized a wagon train and headed over the Appalachian Mountains to Tennessee, taking his four older children with him.  Sarah stayed behind with the four youngest and eventually divorced Billy.  He bought land and settled at Big Flat Creek in what became Bedford County, not far from Lynchburg.  A true pioneer, Pearson is credited with building the fourth log cabin in the area, located at the foot of Bobo Hill, named for another pioneer, Washington T. Bobo.  The first log cabin built there was by James Gowen, a Virginian with ties to Martha Washington; the second was by Davey Crockett and the third was the Territorial Courthouse in what was then still Indian Territory.

Sources are quiet about Pearson’s subsequent activities, but the assumption must be that he farmed his land and continued to make whiskey via Grandma Jacock’s recipe and that once again it proved popular to a local client base.  The key to the formula was what has come to be known as “maple leaching.”  The whiskey was distilled from corn mash and then filtered through charcoal made from hard sugar-maple wood. The charcoal is shown above beings made. The whiskey then was aged in oak barrels.  The charcoal leaching removed impurities, added color and some flavor, as did the oak barrels.  Grandma Jacocks was not the only one to discover this method.  Whiskey scholars say it also had been used early in Kentucky but had never caught on.

About 1925, at 63 years old, Pearson sold his whiskey formula to a local distiller named Alfred Eaton.   Eaton with a partner had been operating a still near Lynchburg at Cave Spring, shown here, and immediately began using the leaching process, filtering his whiskey through sugar maple charcoal.   When Jack Daniels in 1865 moved his still house to Cave Spring Hollow, he shared the spring water with Eaton.  The flow that came from the cave was sterile, had no iron content, and was a consistent 56 degrees — perfect for making good whiskey.  Daniels reputedly also bought Grandma Jacock’s recipe from Eaton — and never looked back.

Meanwhile William “Billy” Pearson had died in October of 1844 at the age of 83.  He was buried in what was called a “rock box” in a wire-and-wooden fenced area, shown here, at the foot of Bobo Hill, at the intersection of two local roads north of Lynchburg.  Pearson’s broken gravestone is shown below.  A son and other family members also have been buried at what is known today as Old Pearson Cemetery.

Over the years several claims have been made about teaching Jack Daniel how to make whiskey.  [See my post on Hop Lee, April 2014.]  Some validation of the Pearson family claim about grandma’s recipe can be found in a letter on Jack Daniels letterhead to a Pearson descendant, dated September 26, 2003.  The letter was written by Joe Rossman, director of the Daniel’s Visitor Center in Lynchburg.  In it Rossman says:  “If your Billy Pearson did indeed sell his grandmother’s recipe for making whiskey to Alfred Eaton, then the Lincoln County Process” using sugar maple charcoal, which in the hollow is now called our “charcoal mellowing process,” has an even more fascinating history than some of us have imagine.  And Mrs. Mary Stout (Jacocks) of Bucks County, PA, deserves to be warmly remembered for her early distilling skills back in the mid-1700s.”

The Jack Daniels letterhead, shown here, features the motto:  “Whiskey made as our fathers made it.”  Perhaps it should be amended to say:  “Whiskey as Billy’ Pearson’s grandma made it.”

Note:  Elton Pearson of Toluca, Illinois, was the man to whom the Daniels Company letter was sent.  Pearson in 1926 wrote the material quoted directly in several instances in this post.  He was a descendant of Billy Pearson, an ancestor whom Elton called “A colorful character.”  The drawing of Billy that opens this post is from a website that contains a biography of that pioneer whiskey man.   

Monday, November 30, 2015

An Emanuel Strass “Cocktail” Mixed Liquor and Literature

In his day Emanuel H. Strass was well known in Northeast Ohio as a published poet and author of declamations, that is, set speeches meant to show off rhetorical and elocutionary abilities.  At the same time, he was advancing the fortunes of a leading Cleveland whiskey dealership called L. Kahn Company.  Strass’s life was an unusual mixture of liquor and literature.

A biographer said of Strass in 1910:  “He is much interested in literature, finding delight in the prose and poetic writings of all ages and has done not a little in this line himself.  His poetry is of real merit and has been published in various newspapers and magazines…His poem on Liberty [has] been widely quoted, while his addresses on Fashion, Odd Fellowship, Women’s Influence, False Education and his poem on Creation have been largely copied.”

How Strass arrived at his taste for the literary is not easily explained.  Born in Buffalo, New York in November, 1851, he was the son of Jewish Bavarian immigrants, Albert and Rebecca Strass.  His father was a local merchant and  Emanuel pursued a public school education, but quit at the age of thirteen and began supporting himself as a clerk in a country store.  Strass came to Cleveland in 1875 at the age of 24 and for a time worked selling ads for the Cleveland City Directory Company and later worked as a clothing salesman.

After a year in haberdashery Strass seems to have found his true calling in the whiskey trade.  In 1877 he went to work for the wholesale liquor business of Ullman, Einstein & Co. [See my post on this firm, February 2012.]   He remained there for 22 years, working his way up from intermediate positions to manager.  A biographer noted:  “His ability and trustworthiness is clearly evidenced in his long connection with that firm….” 

Meanwhile,  a competitor to Ullman, Einstein & Co. had been founded by L. Kahn in 1877.  Its first address was 157-159 Woodland Avenue, but, likely needing larger quarters, the liquor wholesaler moved to 154 Erie Street for three years and in 1886 to 263-267 Erie.   The firm featured two proprietary brands,  “Driving Club” and “Elk Speed Rye.”  Advertising items for those brands are displayed throughout this post, including a metal sign above, etched shot glasses, a corkscrew, and a tip tray.

As indicated by Cleveland city directories of the period,  the L. Kahn firm underwent several management changes over the years.  In 1877 Kahn was given as the sole proprietor of a company with an emphasis on imported wines.  By 1884 Kahn had been joined by a partner, Leon Grombach.  By 1886, it appears that a relative, perhaps a brother,  Dr. George L. Kahn, a physician, had an interest in the firm.  A year later L. Kahn was gone from the scene, retired or dead and Grombach and Dr. Kahn were running the liquor wholesale house.  Dr. Kahn died in 1891 and Grombach became sole proprietor.  

Enter Emanuel Strass.  Quitting Ullman, Einstein, he bought L. Kahn & Company in 1897 from Grombach with an agreement to be able use the name of that well-known Cleveland firm for 25 years.  He also got the rights to the Kahn brands.   After several years in the Erie Street quarters Strass moved to a final location at 1325 Euclid Avenue, the major commercial street, shown above circa 1909. Strass’ biographer commented:  “Here he has one of the most complete wholesale, importing, retail and bottling wine and liquor establishments in  the state, employing many men and making shipments throughout the entire country.”

During this period Emanuel found a wife.  In 1892 he was wed to Rose Redelsheimer, the daughter of David Redelsheimer, a prominent Ohio merchant and Civil War veteran.  The couple would have two children, Rena Claire, and Albert Edgar.   Strass also kept up an active social schedule including holding memberships and offices in a number of Cleveland fraternal organizations, including the Masons, Odd Fellows, Elks, Eagles, Knights of Honor, Knights of Pythias, and Commercial Travelers.  He also was a director of the National Wines & Spirits Association. 

Strass also was attentive to his Jewish Heritage.  A member of B’nai B’rith, he was associated with the Huron Street Synagogue at the Old Temple, shown here, where he frequently read his poetry or gave prose recitations.  He also was the second president of a literary society known as the Young Mens Jewish Association of Cleveland.  His many memberships evidently gave Strass an outlet for his poetic and oratorical skills, as did local newspapers.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any examples of his verse to grace this vignette.

In the meantime Strass’ wholesale liquor house was said to have “reached extensive proportions and now returns to him a very substantial annual income.”  This wealth allowed him to enter other areas of business.  He became vice president of the Merchants Banking and Storage Company, vice president of the Euclid Building Company, and a stockholder in the Cleveland Trust Company.  Those ventures allowed him to survive the financial shock of being required to shut the doors of L. Kahn Company in 1917 after Ohio voted statewide prohibition.  That wholesale liquor business had survived 39 years, nineteen of them with Strass at the helm. 

Strass lived to see both the arrival of National Prohibition in 1920 and its repeal in 1934, dying in 1939 at the advanced age of 88 in Cleveland.   Although he had finished his formal schooling at 13, he had made his reputation as much for his literary skills as for his whiskey business acumen.  A biographer’s final word on Strass gave some hint about from whence this whiskey man’s creative abilities had originated:  “His reading has covered a very wide range, and his mind, therefore, is enriched with the best writings of present-day authors and those of the past.”

Note:  The Strass biography from which I have quoted extensively in this post is from the book,  History of Cleveland, Biographical, Illustrated, Volume II, issued in 1910 by the S. J. Clark Publishing Co. of Chicago and Cleveland.