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. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Searching Out the “Old Dexter Whiskey” Three

The unusual stoneware jug shown above once held a nationally known whiskey named “Old Dexter.”  Three men were responsible for giving it to America.  Two of them were named Dexter, — Edmund J. and Edmund J. Jr.   The third was Owen J. Carpenter.  All three operated in and around Cincinnati before National Prohibition.

Edmund Dexter — The Founder.   Shown left with a flowing white beard is Edmund Dexter in whose memory “Old Dexter” was named.   He created a thriving liquor business in Cincinnati, perhaps as early as 1826, just twenty- three years after Ohio became a state.  An immigrant and a Unitarian in religion, Dexter had been born in England in 1801.  The exact year of his arrival is unclear but his first residency was in New York City.  From there he moved to Cincinnati where he may have been involved in the liquor trade working for one of the many local dealers.

When Dexter established his own liquor business is not clear.  A 1870s ad would indicate a beginning as early 1828.  Certainly by 1839, he was was well established and thriving, accord to historical records.   In 1829, Dexter married Mary Ann Dellinger, a New York-born woman several years younger than he.  They would have five sons:   Charles, born in 1830;  Edmund Jr., 1835; George and Julius, 1840, and Adolphus, 1844.  As his boys matured, Dexter brought them into the liquor business, eventually calling it Edmund Dexter & Sons. 
Dexter was a rectifier, not a distiller.  He bought barrels of raw whiskey from numerous sources in Ohio and Kentucky,  blended it on the premises of his 49-51 Sycamore St. store, put it into kegs or jugs and supplied saloons, restaurants, grocery stores, and other places selling liquor.  Brands names associated with Dexter whiskey included “Arlington,”  Homesdale Rye,” “Quaker Seal,” “Target Rye,” and “Old A. Keller.”  The company’s flagship brand was “Dexter’s Whiskey,”  prominent in its advertising.   His customers seem to have been in the South and West, including cities like New Orleans and St. Louis, as well as in the vicinity of Cincinnati.

By 1939, Dexter’s enterprise was accounted one of Cincinnati’s leading wholesale liquor house.  Local media said of him:  “He had been in America long enough, and had been financially successful enough, to have developed contacts all the way to Washington, D.C.”  This comment referred to his ability to get Congress in 1850 to pass a bill providing him with financial relief for a shipment of his brandy that had been lost while he was on the hook for warehouse charges in New Orleans.

The 1860 census which asked about personal wealth indicated that Dexter, in today’s terms, was a millionaire several times over.   The symbol of that affluence was his mansion at the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway.  Shown here,it is said to have been a premier showcase in Cincinnati.  There Dexter was able to host such notables of the time as Charles Dickens in 1842 and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1860.

This estimable whiskey man, despite his notable long white beard, was not destined for a long life and died at the age of 61 in July 1862.  He was buried in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery.  The memorials to him were many, including this: “One supreme good fortune attended him in his death.  There were no animosities, no jealousies, no wounded vanities of the human heart, excited by his life, to find burial in his grave…His equable temper gave a uniform kindliness in his bearing to all.”

Edmund Dexter Jr. — The Inheritor.  Although all of Edmund Senior’s boys took a hand in the liquor business, the reins of management after the father’s death came to the second born, Edmund Jr.  At the time he was 27 years old and newly married to Emma Rowescroft, the daughter of Charles Rowecroft, a lawyer and for many years the British consul in Cincinnati.  Several of his brothers were also on hand to help with the company their father had built.

Although Edmund Jr. continued to call the firm, Edmund Dexter & Sons, he is credited with altering the name of the flagship brand from “Dexter” to “Old Dexter,” in honor of his father.  With his brothers he also spearheaded another memorial — this time  funding a family mausoleum  The Dexters hired a renowned Cincinnati architect James Keys Wilson to design and build a magnificent Gothic Revival monument in Spring Grove Cemetery. Said to be modeled after England’s Chichester Cathedral, it was complete with flying buttresses, catacombs, and a marble-lined chapel.

Shown above, the sandstone structure still stands.   From the outset it was a local attraction.  On its inaugural day in 1870 the family allowed the public to see inside before the mausoleum was closed off forever.   According to news stories of the time, thousands of Cincinnati residents in buggies swarmed to the cemetery for a glimpse.  Not long after Edmund Senior was re-interred there. Today four generations of Dexters lie inside.

For eighteen years Edmund Jr. successfully guided the fortunes of the family liquor firm, building its reputation and expanding its customer base.  Recognized for his business acumen, he was elected Vice-President of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce in 1874 and re-elected in 1875.  He might have been in line to chair that important group when in March 1879, he died at only 44 years of age.

By this time, Edmund’s brothers were embarked on their own careers.  The eldest, Charles, was a gentleman farmer and a published poet.   Julius, embarked in politics and business, became so rich that he stopped accepting compensation for his work during the last 20 years of his life.  George and Adolphus also were wealthy in their own right.  Accordingly, the Dexters determined to shut down the Sycamore Street store and in 1880 sell the rights to their nationally known brands of whiskey, including “Old Dexter.”  

Owen J. Carpenter — The Innovator.  The man to whom the Dexters’ sold, Owen Carpenter, was a Kentuckian through and through.  Born in Boone County in 1854, his ancestry is said to have numbered among its members “some of the most valuable and interesting of the Blue Grass pioneers.”

With origins in Virginia his kinfolk were ministers and farmers, the latter including his father, Caleb Carpenter.  His mother was Zeurilda (nee Utz) Carpenter. Owen received a “common school” education and was about 18 when Caleb pulled up stakes in Boone County and moved to Covington to open a wholesale liquor business.

About 1872, Owen joined his father in the trade, working beside him until Caleb’s death in 1879.  At that point he joined with his brother, David, in a whiskey dealership located at 129 Pike Street in Covington.  In 1886, David Carpenter departed, leaving Owen the sole proprietor.  The same year the company moved to 15 West Seventh Street.

In 1883, at the age of 29, Owen found a wife.  His bride was Martha “Mattie” Adams, a native of Missouri who had been brought as a infant to Versailles, Kentucky, at the time of the Civil War.   Her father was William W. Adams, a prominent livestock trader in Lexington.   Owen and Mattie would have two sons, William A.  and Owen C.  The latter tragically died at the age of seven.
Carpenter was not content with simply running a liquor store.  He desired a steadier supply of raw whiskey for his blends, chiefly Old Dexter and Carteret Club, both which he trademarked in 1906.  As a result, he sought a distillery.  The one he found, shown above, was close at hand to Covington, designated in Federal records as RD#22, 6th District. It was located two miles south of Butler Depot, Kentucky, on Butler Pike at Flower Creek.

 Insurance records compiled in 1892 suggest that the distillery was of frame construction with a shingle roof that stood forty feet from a sawmill.  The property also included one bonded warehouse, also frame and shingle roofed, located 100 feet south of the still. By 1890 the name had been changed to “The Old Dexter Distillery” and the Covington office listed for the distillery was Owen Carpenter’s address. The extent of his investment in the facility, however, is not clear.  By the mid-1890s the distillery was mashing 24 bushels a day and had warehouse capacity for 450 barrels, expanded to 600 barrels by 1910.  Carpenter had found steady flow of product for Old Dexter whiskey.

He also was innovating a container for his flagship brand.  As shown above and here, Carpenter pioneered a unusual looking salt glaze stoneware jug.  One side has a flower motif in the center, surrounded by a legend that reads, “Old Dexter Distilling Company…Butler Kentucky.”  The other says “The Old Dexter Jug Whiskey” and notes that the design was trademarked on Aug. 11, 1893.  There are four grooves in each side that have suggested to some that when drained of its contents, the jug was to be turned on its side and used as an ashtray.

These jug must have been produced by the thousands and are quite commonly found for sale at bottle shows and online auction sites.  Less commonly seen are Carpenter’s labeled bottles of Old Dexter Rye and Old Dexter Bourbon.  The elaborate label illustration depicted a Kentucky scene with barrels and glass embossing that read “Warranted…Perfectly Pure.”  The bourbon also merited a shot glass from Carpenter.

As the forces of Prohibition began to tighten in Kentucky and elsewhere, Carpenter expanded his business savvy to other endeavors, turning to real estate development.  A commentator below suggests that he had sold the distillery by 1897.

Carpenter became known as the “Father of Fort Mitchell,” a suburbanhousing community that was said to “boast of some of the finest residences in this section of the country.”  He had bought the land, platted it, and arranged for trolley transit from the development to Covington.  He also was an organizer and later president of the Kenton Water Company that built another suburban development called Latonia.

About 1917, with statewide prohibition in Kentucky,  Carpenter was forced to shutter his store and the Old Dexter Distillery at Butler was shut down.  Carpenter continued with his real estate enterprises until retiring.  During that period he saw the advent of National Prohibition, its repeal in 1934, and the return of whiskey-making and selling in Kentucky.  In 1944 Carpenter, age 90, died at Fort Mitchell, the community he had innovated, and was buried at adjacent Highland Cemetery.  His gravestone is shown here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Benjamin Griel’s “‘Bama Crimson Tide” Flowed Whiskey

Who is the aesthete in this photo, half in shadows, so refined in dress and features and resembling Leslie Howard as Ashley in “Gone with the Wind?  Is it a Southern poet?  Or perhaps an artist?   No, it is a Montgomery, Alabama, liquor dealer named Benjamin Sidney Griel, unusual among whiskey men as a college graduate, his school the University of Alabama.

“Bennie” Griel as he was known to family and friends, was born in Montgomery in 1872 to Jacob and Mena Lobman Griel.  His father was a native of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) who emigrated to the United States early in life, settling in Alabama.  Jacob Griel was 21 when the Civil War broke out and enlisted in the 14th  Alabama Infantry Regiment, assigned to F Company as a sergeant.   As a result the father was part of many fierce battles, including at Williamsburg, Frazer’s Farm, Second Manassas, Antietam, and The Wilderness.  The 14th Alabama surrendered at Appomattox, having lost virtually half of its original muster in combat or to disease, and almost all of its original officers.

After the war, Jacob Griel returned to Montgomery.  About 1871 he met and married Mena Lobman, a woman 13 years his junior and only 18 at the time of their wedding.  She had been born in Brooklyn Heights, New York.   The couple would have nine children during their married life, four boys and five girls.  Benjamin was their second born.  The 1880 census found the family living in Montgomery;  Jacob’s occupation was given as “grocer.”  

As with many grocers of the era, Jacob’s principal profit center likely was selling liquor.  As a result, by the time Benjamin was in his teen years,  the family was wealthy enough not to have to send him off to work upon finishing secondary school.  Instead, recognizing his aptitude for higher education, they sent him to the University of Alabama.   Established in 1831 as an all-male military school, the university had become one of the premier colleges of the South by 1891 when Benjamin entered.  During his years there, the famed Alabama “Crimson Tide” football team was established and women were admitted for the first time.  Shown here is a photo of the campus as it looked in the 1890s.

Although there is no evidence that Benjamin was a football standout, he clearly was making a name for himself as a figure on campus. In his sophomore year in 1892 for example, he was chosen as a “declaimer” at a student exhibition. This honor meant that he was able to give an oratorical presentation that was judged for his speaking ability and the pertinence of the topic.   He was the only sophomore declaimer from Montgomery.  University records indicate Griel was graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1893.

Griel’s brief biography in a Rotary Club publication does not record his employment early in his career, but notes that subsequently he was associated in a firm called Griel Brothers.  He likely was working with his older brother Naham (aka Nathan) Griel.  Following in the footsteps of their father, the brothers advertised themselves as grocers but also as liquor dealers — and sometimes as druggists.  

In all these pursuits they issued a variety of stoneware whiskey jug.  Two shown above are half gallon size, one shouldered container with an Albany slip top and the other with a bail handle design.  Formats differed for their jugs but even as glass was gaining popularity as whiskey containers, the Griels persisted with pottery.

Sometime in the early 1900s, Griel Bros. disappeared from Montgomery business directories to be replaced by Benjamin S. Griel & Co., Wholesale Liquor Dealers.  The educated son was on his own.   Once again stoneware jugs of several designs were Griel’s containers of choice.  The two shown below are said to be commonly found in Alabama.  The jug below, its label with a label of cobalt shown in detail, however, recently sold at auction for $363, despite its damaged condition.   Another salt-glazed stoneware featured Griel’s label in three straight lines.

Alabama pre-dated National Prohibition by five years, going dry statewide in 1915.   Bennie Griel’s liquor dealership was out of business.  In 1920 he almost certainly was engaging in some sardonic humor when, in response to a census-takers’s inquiry, he listed himself as the “proprietor” of an “industry” that included reading the mail and looking after children.  In 1898 he had married Marian Forcheimer (aka “Forceheimer), a woman who had been born in 1877 in Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of Ferdinand and Bertha Forcheimer.  The Griels had only one child, Antoinette “Toni,”  born in 1902.

In actuality Griel did not stay idle long after closing his liquor business.  In 1916 he became associated with the Lippmann Manufacturing Company, a Montgomery firm that made ready-to-wear clothing, specializing in overalls, skirts and blouses.  Working with the Lippman brothers, he became a member of the firm and its general manager.  His prominence in Montgomery business circles was evidenced by his membership in the Rotary Club, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and the Woodley Country Club.

Griel’s business and social responsibilities apparently did not hamper his interest in pursuing a hobby.  The mood photo of Benjamin that opens this post was, believe it or not, a passport photo, taken at a time when the government obviously was less fussy about the images.  It accompanied his application to take a trip aboard a banana boat out of New Orleans to three sites in Honduras.

The purpose of the trip, he said, was “collecting.”   This blog has featured  whiskey men who became important collectors of art and one who was a leading expert on butterflies and moths, but what was Griel collecting?  The three destinations indicated on the passport application were all on the Pacific Ocean or Caribbean Sea.   Thus my guess is that Griel was a big time collector of seashells.

Benjamin Griel became a widower in 1923 when his wife, Miriam, died at the early age of 47.  He did not remarry.  Eight years later, age 57, he followed her to the grave.  Even though his seashell collection does not seem to have entered a museum, the whiskey jugs he engendered during his lifetime live on in collections in Alabama and elsewhere.

Note:  Most of the Griel jugs shown here are taken from the 2009 book, “Alabama Advertising Jugs,” compiled by Bill Garland.  The numbers that appear on some are from his catalogue, as are the letters that designate an item as “common” or “rare.”  Many thanks to Bill for permission to use his images for this post.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Jack Ryan: Saloonkeeper to “The Wild Bunch”

John Patrick Ryan, best known as Jack Ryan, was widely believed to be a confidant — and perhaps a co-conspirator — to the last of the famous outlaw bands of the West, the so-called “The Wild Bunch,” a gang that included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Suspected by railroad police of being complicit in two major Wyoming robberies of Union Pacific trains, Ryan ironically years later was killed while visiting a tunnel being constructed for that railroad line.  
Shown right,  Ryan was born in 1862 in Leavenworth, Kansas, of Irish immigrant parents.  He had at least two siblings, brothers Mike and Tom, who would play a role in his later life.  Upon reaching maturity Jack Ryan showed a propensity to go where the Wild West was still untamed. He reportedly first headed for the panhandle of Texas, working in the cattle business.  In the late 1880s he was recorded living in Dodge City, Kansas, long identified as one of the rowdiest of frontier towns.

In 1887 the Laramie Daily Boomerang reported that John Ryan had come to Wyoming and was staying at the Thornburgh Hotel, the finest hostelry in town.  Ryan must have liked the locale because the same year he hired out as a trainman for the Union Pacific Railroad at Cheyenne.  Meanwhile his brother Mike, with a partner, had bought a grocery store and its stock, much of it likely whiskey, in Rawlins, Wyoming.  In 1890, Jack Ryan transferred to Rawlins, shown above, as a brakeman and substitute freight conductor working between there and Green River, Wyoming.

After some eight years working on the railroad, Ryan apparently tired of a trainman’s life and resigned.  By this time he was 28 and likely married.  His wife’s name and origins are shrouded in history;  she is known chiefly as “Mrs. Jack Ryan.”  The marriage produced at least one daughter.  In July 1895, with a partner, James Kite, Ryan opened a saloon in Baggs, Wyoming.  Shown above, this town was a frontier settlement 57 miles south of Rawlins as the crow flies, located close to the Colorado border.  The third saloon opened in Baggs, the partners’ first location was in a tent.  Nevertheless, the Carbon County Journal reported in October of 1895 that “Kite & Ryan, former Rawlins boys, are engaged in the liquor business at Baggs and are doing a rushing business.”

By November the same newspaper reported that  Ryan and Kite had moved into their new frame saloon building in Baggs.  Shortly after, Kite sold out his interests to Doc Garner.  The following year Garner sold out to Mid (aka Mit) Nichols.  The new partners called their establishment the Home Ranch Saloon. In 1897 they advertised in the local newspaper:  “Take something. Then go to Nicols & Ryan’s ‘Home Ranch Saloon.’  All kinds of liquors, keg beer always on  tap.”   

The success of Ryan’s watering hole also had its down side.  In October 1897, the Rawlins newspaper reported that a petition was in circulation in Baggs asking that the saloon license of Nichols and Ryan be revoked for keeping a disorderly house.  The town was notorious for being a haven for outlaws, including the notorious Butch Cassidy and the loosely organized gang he headed known as the “Wild Bunch.”  

After a stick-up in Utah in which Cassidy and his boys robbed the Castle Gate-Pleasant Valley Coal Company payroll of more than $8,000 in gold coins and currency,  the outlaws ultimately reassembled at Baggs after celebrating by shooting up the nearby town of Dixon, the kind of antics had earned gang its name.  Most of Baggs was deserted in anticipation of the Wild Bunch arrival, but Jack Ryan stayed open and the gang obliged by getting drunk and shooting up his saloon.

As the story goes, Ryan stayed calm through the chaos and as a result he was rewarded by the outlaws with a silver dollar for every bullet hole found in his saloon, reported to be twenty-five.  Moreover, he was able to earn the confidence of Cassidy and the others as a reliable collaborator.  Apparently tired of life in an isolated hamlet,  Ryan took the outlaw money and likely riding the stagecoach from Baggs to Rawlins, shown here, he bought a saloon and relocated there.  He frequently played host in Rawlins to Cassidy and other members of the Wild Bunch.  

Below is a photo from about 1888 or 1889, showing the gang and Ryan posed in front of the Ryan’s place, probably one known as the Bouquet Saloon.  That is Cassidy in the bowler hat, standing fourth from the left.  Jack Ryan is standing behind him, also wearing a bowler.  Jack’s brother, Tom, is identified as the man behind him to the left.  Mischief would follow.

As one historian tells it:  “Near dawn on June 2, 1899, an engineer from the westbound Union Pacific Overland Flyer No. 1 fired off a telegram from Medicine Bow, Wyoming: ‘First Section No. 1 held up a mile west of Wilcox.  Express car blown open, mail car damaged.  Safe blown open; contents gone.’”   The robbers got away with $30,000 (equivalent to $750,000 today).  As the photo shown below indicates, the mail car was not just damaged but destroyed by the blast.  The Wilcox holdup would become one of the West’s most famous train robberies.

This hold-up was followed slightly more than a year later when a gang robbed the Union Pacific No. 3  train near Tipton, Wyoming, of $50,000 in gold.  Suspicion fell on Jack Ryan.  Known to be a confidant of Cassidy and other gang members and as a former trainman on the Union Pacific, Ryan presumably had inside knowledge of operations.  This time a posse, below, was early on the track of the robbers and the Union Pacific engaged the Pinkerton Detective Agency. 

RRyan, code named “Basket,” was fingered by Pinkerton operatives as an accomplice and they opened a criminal history dossier on him.  That record gave a physical description of the saloonkeeper:   At age 40, Ryan was five feet, eight and a half inches tall, and weighed between 150 to 160 pounds.   He had a light complexion, brown hair, a sandy mustache and spoke with a “heavy” voice. There was something wrong with his eyes and he was known by some as “cockeyed.”

Specifically, Ryan was suspected of knowing when gold shipments via Union Pacific were likely and tipping off  the outlaws.  It seemed suspicious when on the same day as the Wilcox robbery, he sold his Bouquet Saloon in Rawlins and promptly invested in another in the newly constructed Cheatum Building, taking a new partner, Joseph Buckley.   After the Tipton robbery, Ryan was rumored to have helped a gang leader bury some of the loot at a ranch owned by a friend twenty miles south of Rawlins.  Later, Charles Siringo, the lead detective for Pinkerton, joined a wild horse hunt with Ryan.  Siringo in his book, “Cowboy Detective,” claimed that during this hunt he discovered that Ryan had kept a hired man and a cache of food in a nearby mountain hideout to feed the Wild Bunch as they passed through.
Regardless of suspicions, Ryan stayed out of jail and continued to prosper.  With his partner, he was running the Home Ranch Saloon in Rawlins.  He and Buckley expanded their operations, opening a second drinking spot in Rawlins called the Club Saloon and in 1900 bought a saloon in a settlement not far from Rawlins, installing Tom Ryan as the manager.  Jack Ryan also owned a saloon back in Baggs for a time.  In 1906 Buckley left the liquor business, selling his remaining interest to the Ryan brothers. 

Ryan is most closely associated with the Home Ranch Saloon.  Although the interior photograph shown here is poor, it shows an elaborate bar with brass foot rails, indicating an attempt at elegance. Trade tokens, similar to ones shown here, have been attributed to the Home Ranch in Rawlins.  The saloon closed about 1912.

At some point in his career as a saloonkeeper in Rawlins, Ryan issued a pint-size whiskey flask that has his name and "Rawlins Wyo" embossed in the glass. It is a screw top "dandy" style.  The Ryan flask is among the rarest of Western bottles.  According to Warren Borton, author of "Historical Bottles of Wyoming," there may be as few as four extant. It is shown below:

With his increasing wealth Jack Ryan was expanding his business interests.  He was described in the local press as having large real estate holdings at a settlement near Rawlins called Walcott, including owning the townsite, valuable oil lands and “one of the best stone quarries in the country.”  He maintained a horse ranch on the Platte River, ten miles north of Walcott. In his latter years he also was engaged in mining projects, particularly seeking gold in Colorado.   Ryan also was active in civic affairs and a co-founder of the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Elks.  Of him a local newspaper editorialized:  “A man with diversified interests is J. P. Ryan and since his advent in Rawlins no effort has been spared by him for the advancement of the town’s best interests.”

It is unclear why Ryan on a fateful day in May, 1924, was in a tunnel being dug by the Union Pacific Railroad through a mountain near Rawlins.  At the age of 62 it is unlikely he was working for the railroad.  Perhaps it was curiosity that brought him there.  The Rawlins Republican told the story:  “Work upon the afternoon shift had just begun, and it was thought everyone was beyond the reach of danger.  A charge of dynamite was set off, hurtling into the air a fragment of stone which fell on Mr. Ryan’s head, causing immediate unconsciousness and death within a quarter hour.”

Ryan was buried in the Rawlins Cemetery with full honors from his Elks Lodge brothers.  Among those at his gravesite were his brothers, Tom and Mike, and his married daughter, with whom he had been living since the death of his wife in 1920.  His headstone is shown here. The saloonkeeper went to his grave without revealing what, if any, involvement he had in the Wilcox and Tipton railroad heists.  By the time of his death the Union Pacific Railroad with its Pinkerton detectives had tracked down most of the robbers.  The Wild Bunch was history, its members, including Butch Cassidy, shot down or in prison.

Note:  When I first posted this vignette on Jack Ryan, I lacked a picture of the rare Jack Ryan flask and asked for help from readers.  As can be seen above, Warren Borton of Midvale, Utah, came to the rescue with a photo.  In his communication with me he says that he dug bottles all over Wyoming for some 40 years and never found one.  He did, however, purchase one from a fellow digger some years ago.  Warren is working on an updated fourth edition of his bottle book. It should be well worth the having.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

E. L. Anderson Marketed Whiskey to the Military

As commander in chief during the American Revolution,  George Washington ordered that there should always be “a sufficient quantity of spirits with the army, to furnish moderate supplies to the troop.”  E. L. Anderson, a liquor dealer of Newport, Kentucky, decades later made it his business to insure that the general’s wishes were carried out.
More than any whiskey man I have profiled, Anderson made the U.S. military an object of his marketing.  It could be a rich field for merchandising.  Both before the Civil War and after, consumption of alcohol by officers and troops was substantial.  Plagued with drunkenness in the ranks, the Army did as the British had done earlier and in the 1880’s created the “post canteen” where a service man could drink under supervision.  By 1897, admissions to sick call for drunkenness had been cut in half among the troops.

Nonetheless, military instillations required considerable supplies  — something Anderson recognized ahead of his competition.  He advertised heavily in the “Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association,” the cover shown above; the “Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States;”  the “Army-Navy Register and Defense Times,” and other publications aimed at the military.  Anderson’s ads asserted: ”We have a large patronage among officers of the Army and Navy.”  And: “We have been well and favorably known to among the officers of the Army and Navy for years.”

Bases and camps provided a boon to Anderson.  U.S. military reservations were exempt under federal law from state, county, and locally enacted alcoholic beverage laws.  For decades these installations frequently were “wet” zones inside “dry” districts.  The publishers of an armored vehicles journal noted:  “The E.L. Anderson Distilling Co. of Newport, is among the manufacturers in its line that stands as the very top of whiskey producers who do a mail order business.  A good share of it finds its way into the army.”

Anderson’s liquor business first was recorded in business directories in 1895 as the E. L. Anderson Distilling Company.  The Newport company letterhead, shown above claimed that the firm was “distillers of fine Kentucky Whiskies." The letterhead also displayed Anderson’s general office and shipping department at Sixth and Overton Streets.  After locating initially at two other addresses on Sixth Street, it had moved to Overton in 1899.

The letterhead added “We don’t belong to the whiskey trust.”  Probably for good reason.  The Trust bought up distilleries, not mail order houses, wholesalers or rectifiers, that is, outfits that blended and mixed whiskey for sale under their own labels.  In a 1905 legal case, the company is referred to as “organized for the purpose of blending and sale of fine whiskies.”  That would make E. L. Anderson a rectifier, not a distiller.

Nonetheless, the company displayed a distillery on its letterhead, as shown above.  Anderson claimed it was located in Anderson County, Kentucky,  about 110 miles south of Newport.  Many distilleries existed in Anderson County and the illustration is fairly generic.  It emphasized the plant’s proximity to both water and rail transport.

Mail order sales constituted most of E. L. Anderson’s trade.  His advertising emphasized that his rye and bourbon whiskeys were going straight to the consumer in his self-designated “famous little brown jug.”  The jugs definitely were brown but as shown here, anything but little.  They held a full gallon of liquor and were heavy.   According to the ads, they sold from $2.90 to $5.25 per jug depending on the age of the contents and were delivered in a sealed box with no identifying markings — thus presumably thwarting any nosy neighbors.

Anderson featured a limited number of brands, including “E.L. Anderson’s Malt Rye,” and “Belle of Newport.”  The latter was a rye whiskey that was openly advertised as a blend.  It sold in quart and flask size glass bottles carrying attractive labels.  Under the labels was an embossing that spelled out “E. L. Anderson…Distilling…Newport Ky.” These containers do not seem to be as common as the jugs with their “scratch” labels.  As shown below he also provided glass shot glasses to favored customers.

Details about Anderson’s personal life are sketchy.  He is listed as having served as an executive board member of the Cincinnati Society of Natural History during the early 1890s.  He also played a leading role in trade associations and served as president of the National Association of Wine & Spirits Representatives, an organization of about 200 members originally formed to present a common front to the federal government on taxation issues, but increasingly was drawn into the fight against prohibition.

A mail order business strategy required the company to advertise widely.  In addition to regular ads in military publications, E.L. Anderson advertised in national magazines of general circulation like “Harper’s Weekly” and the original “Life.”  He also favored medical publications such as “The Medical Standard,”  “The Medical Brief,” “Dietetic and Hygienic Gazette,” and “Homeopathic News.”  Those ads hyped the medicinal values of Anderson whiskey.

Almost certainly it was this heavy emphasis on advertising that drew the attention of the founder of the most famous advertising agency in America, J. Walter Thompson,   Although based in Manhattan hundreds of miles away from Newport, Thompson, a Civil War veteran, became  impressed by what he saw the liquor man doing.  He once said:  “An spot on earth where goods are to be sold by advertising is inside the fence of the Thompson field.”  Acting on his words, he emerged as the major stockholder in the E.L. Anderson Distilling Company.

It is entirely possible that Thompson, the advertising genius shown right, was responsible for designing some of the ads for Anderson’s whiskey.  In 1905, however, the association led to a legal dispute that was fought in the U.S. District Court, and on appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court.  Thompson sought an injunction to prevent Anderson and other members of the board of directors from exchanging stock worth an equivalent today of $750,000 to purchase a house and lot from the Wadsworth Watch Case Co. and move the offices of the distilling company there.  Thompson’s request was turned down at the district court level and again denied on appeal.

Despite that favorable outcome, the life span of the E. L. Anderson company was limited.  The firm seems to have terminated shortly after 1905, likely an effect of the so-called “Canteen Act of 1901” passed by Congress that forbade "the sale of, or dealing in, beer, wine or any intoxicating liquors by any person in any post exchange or canteen or army transport or upon any premises used for military purposes by the United States."  Anderson’s whiskey no longer had easy access into the U.S. Army.  Before long his company was out of business.   During its lifetime, however, Anderson had proved that targeting a specific segment of the population, like the U.S. military, could be an effective and profitable strategy for the whiskey trade.