Monday, May 30, 2016

The Kraus Brothers Were Dealing in Wheeling

You know you have made it in your home town when more than a hundred years after your death, someone, as shown right, is impersonating you for the tourist trade.  So it has been for Samuel Kraus who, with his brothers, Solomon and Charles —  Jewish immigrants from Bavaria — found a home and forged notable careers in Wheeling, West Virginia, as, among other things, whiskey men.

Samuel’s principal claim to local fame was as a soldier.  Not long after arriving on these shores, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corp, serving from 1848 to 1852 during the Mexican War, and is said to have “worthily served his country.”  When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Samuel enlisted in the Union Army and, because of his prior military experience was appointed a captain in the 7th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  This unit was famed for its determined charge on the Sunken Road at Antietam, shown below..  Wounded in that engagement, he eventually recovered and rejoined his troops, being present for the fall of Richmond.

As described by a biographer, Samuel “…so thoroughly appreciated the superior advantages to be found in West Virginia that he induced his brothers, Solomon and Charles, to share his prospective good fortune.”   Accordingly, Solomon (Sol) arrived in 1854 and like many Jewish immigrants worked as a peddler, selling dry goods and notions.  In 1859 Charles joined his brothers in Wheeling.  By that time Sol had found employment with S. S. Bloch selling groceries, tobacco and, most important, liquor.

S. S. Bloch would become the richest man in Wheeling as a famous tobacco manufacturer. With a brother, Aaron, the Bloch Brothers originated so-called “scrap” chewing tobacco, flavoring it with licorice and other ingredients.  Their products became nationally known as Mail Pouch, advertised on barns from coast to coast.  The association of the Kraus brothers with Bloch was a crucial step toward their success in Wheeling.

In 1962, while Samuel was away at war, Sol, a member of the West Virginia home militia, left Bloch’s employ to go to work in the liquor trade of George W. Franzheim, another prominent Jewish businessman,  After three years learning the business from Franzheim, Sol left to work for Henry Schmulbach, shown here, who operated a competing Wheeling wholesale whiskey house.

Meanwhile the brothers were having personal lives.  About 1862 Sol married Caroline (Carrie) Weinrich, a woman seven years his junior, and in 1865, back from the war, Samuel married her sister, Rebecca, thirteen years younger than he.  The Weinrich sisters had grown up as orphans in the care of S.S. Bloch and his wife, their mother having died when they were infants and their wealthy father when they were pre-teens.   Sol and Caroline would go on to have a family of six children, five girls and one boy, Nathan, later employed by his father as a clerk.  Samuel and Rebecca raised five girls. In 1865 Charles married Frances (Frannie) Buckman, a native of Baltimore.  They had four children, of whom three survived infancy.

With the Civil War over and the Kraus brothers settled into family life, they began to climb in earnest up the ladder of business success in Wheeling.  In 1865 Charles started a clothing store on Water Street, three years later moving it to Wheeling’s Main Street where he was joined in the enterprise by brother Samuel.  Sol entered a partnership with Schmulbach.   The brothers continued in these occupations until 1881 when they struck out on their own in the liquor trade.  Sol and Charles bought out Schmulbach.  Charles, determining that the future belonged to whiskey not waistcoats, shut down his clothing business and undertook day-to-day management of the firm. Sol went on the road as a traveling salesman.  Samuel joined them, rounding out the triumvirate.

The name of the company changed over the years, variously Kraus Brothers and Kraus & Company, the latter shown here on an 1896 letterhead.  The brothers were unabashedly devoted to West Virginia, carrying part of the state seal as a logo and naming two of their proprietary brands, “Mountain State Rye” and “West Virginia Pioneer Rye.”  Other labels  were “Kraus’ Golden Pheasant,” “Private Stock High Grade Whiskey,” “Ohio Valley, and “Ivanhoe.” 
For much of the its life, the company headquarters was at 1133 North Market Street, the avenue shown above.  The building originally had been erected by Franzheim for his liquor trade.  Three stories tall, the structure had room for the Kraus’ business office, storage for foreign and domestic wines, and space for Pennsylvania Rye and Kentucky sour mash whiskey.  The Kraus’ vault had capacity for 80,000 gallons of spirits.

The building also allowed the Kraus brothers to blend and bottle whiskeys onsite for their wholesale trade, packaging whiskey in large ceramic jugs with the Kraus name stenciled in cobalt.   For their retail brands, sold in quart and flask sizes, the brothers used glass bottles with paper labels.

For the next dozen years after 1881 the Kraus’ liquor business grew apace as the three brothers contributed their talent and energy.  Then Charles unexpectedly died in January 1893, not long before his 55th birthday.   A few months after his passing, Samuel died.  Although the official cause of his death was pneumonia, the lingering effects of his war wounds had claimed his life.  His share of the firm went to his wife, Rebeca, who is said to have “retained her husband’s interest in the liquor business.”

Solomon, the remaining brother, took over company management, bringing in two local partners but retaining the Kraus name.  A biographer said of him in 1902:  “…Mr. Kraus has become expert in every department of an important industry and has been the genial medium of exchange for enormous quantities of high grade beverages.”  Under Sol’s leadership, Kraus & Company continued to flourish.

The Kraus liquor business disappeared from Wheeling business directories in 1911, as Sol, by that time 77 years old, retired.  During his earlier career as a traveling liquor salesman he is said to have emerged unscathed from 15 different railway accidents.  He died in June 1916.  Both Sol and Charles received many encomiums upon their passing, but it has been Samuel who is best remembered in Wheeling today.  One writer opined:  “Samuel Kraus, who died in 1894, infused into his life much of worthwhile accomplishment, and it must be recorded to his everlasting credit that he was a patriot according to the best interpretation of the term.”
Samuel’s fame has been sufficient to make his grave a stop on the Wheeling Civil War tour, and to warrant an historical impersonator for tourists.  His brothers and other family  members are interred nearby.  Shown here, the graveyard is known as both the Mount Woods Cemetery and the Hebrew and Jewish Orthodox Cemetery.  Despite being on the National Register of Historical Places, it has fallen into disrepair in some sections and money is being raised for its restoration.

The Kraus brothers — Samuel, Solomon, Charles — have been characterized in a history of Wheeling as “…The family from Bavaria that arrived in America in the ‘fifties’ with justifiable hopes of future success.”  With their intelligence, reliability, determination and courage, aided by already established friends, the Kraus brothers found a home and success in Wheeling.

Note:  Much of the information for this vignette and direct quotes have been taken from the document:  ”History of Wheeling City and Ohio County, West Virginia and Representative Citizens,” by Hon. Gibson Lamb Cranmer, dated 1902.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Ralph Parilla's Youngstown “Miracle” — Turning Whiskey into Water

It must have seemed like the perfect scheme. With accomplices, Ralph Parilla, a Youngstown, Ohio, saloonkeeper and liquor dealer closed down by prohibitionary laws, in 1919 planned to remove barrels of whiskey that he owned from a government-guarded warehouse under the pretext of exporting them to Canada.  He first would extract the whiskey, substitute water, and truck the results over the border. The whiskey he could bottle and sell. Then things went terribly, terribly awry.  

Shown above in a happier day is Parilla with his wife Rose.  He had been born in Caserta, Campania Province, Italy, in 1884, the son of Sylvestro Parilla, who brought his wife and family of four boys to the United States in 1889, when Ralph was only five years old.  The family settled in Youngstown, Ohio, a city with a sizable Italian population.  Parilla was educated in the city’s public schools and it may be there he met the love of his life, Rose, a girl also of Italian extraction.  They married circa 1903 when he was 19 and she was just 16.  
At the time they wed, Parilla was working as a clerk, according to city directories.  Four years later he was recorded running a saloon at 324-326 East Federal Street, shown above.  About the same time he also appears to have been managing a whiskey rectifying business down the street at 229 West Federal.  It was called the Crab Creek Distilling Company, Crab Creek being a tributary to the Mahoning River that runs through Youngstown.  The company logo shown below is from a letter written by Parilla in 1906.

Crab Creek Distilling featured a number of proprietary whiskey brands, including “Cooper Distilled Pure Rye,” “Crab Creek XXX Rye,” and “Crab Creek Pure Malt.”
The company was blending and bottling “raw” whiskeys it likely received from the only true distillery in the area.  That was Wire, Welsh & Company in nearby New Middleton, Ohio.  Represented here by a trade token, this distillery had formed in 1889 when Ezra C. Welsh, a liquor salesman, became partners with Solomon M. Wire, a distiller.  Their facility was known in federal records as Registered Distillery #5, Tax District #18 (Ohio).

Apparently business early on was good for Parilla both at the Crab Creek address and his saloon.  Unfortunately, he was late to the liquor party.  The forces of prohibition were on the march in Ohio and the Nation.  The Crab Creek facility appears to have closed about 1912.  As late as 1917, however, Parilla advertised a liquor and beer wholesale and retail house at a new address, 330 East Federal Street.  His ad shown below signaled the possibility of future problems when it read:  “Bottled-in-Bond Whiskey Our Specialty.”

In order insure a regular supply of product, Parilla evidently had contracted with Wire, Welsh, who had a bonded warehouse, for a number of barrels of their whiskey, paying down cash and owning the whiskey on their premises as it aged.  With the imposition of Ohio’s statewide prohibition in 1918, the Italian immigrant was forced to shut down both liquor sales and his saloon.  Perhaps worst of all, he had thousands of dollars tied up in barrels of whiskey languishing in the Wire, Welsh warehouses.  The War Prohibition Act had made it impossible for him to remove it and National Prohibition was just around the corner. 

In 1919 Padilla had an idea.  No legal way existed for him as an owner of whiskey in bond to get it out — except to export it.  The law allowed him, upon getting an federal permit, to withdraw the whiskey from the warehouse without paying taxes, by giving a bond that he would forfeit if the whiskey were not within a prescribed time passed out of the U.S. through a designated port of export.  Recalling for us the Biblical miracle of “water into wine,” Parilla hatched a scheme to make whiskey into water.

A saloonkeeper named Henry C. Dammeyer who also had whiskey in bondage and Parilla applied for export permits, posting $30,000 bond to get 75 barrels from the warehouse ostensibly to be sent over the border from Niagara Falls to Canada.  The plot was that on the way they would substitute water for whiskey and export the barrels of water.  They had arranged with a trucker, David Friedman, to carry the tampered cargo.  It was a triple “killing.”  Padilla and his partner would have 1) retrieved their whiskey investment, 2) avoided the $6.60 per gallon tax, and 3) have the liquor in their possession to bootleg later at high prices.

At first the plot seemed to go well.  Friedman, with the help of two brothers, brought barrels to a farm Parilla owned on the outskirts of Youngstown.  There Parilla, likely with others, syphoned off the whiskey into smaller containers through small holes in the barrels that could be covered and concealed once the water had been substituted.  Other barrels were transported to Dammeyer’s shuttered saloon for processing.  Then things began to unravel.

Along the line, the plan to truck the watered barrels to Canada was abandoned and the conspirators decided to obtain a railroad car and load the barrels there. The process of obtaining the whiskey from the warehouse raised suspicions, however, and were communicated to Fred Counts, a government agent for prohibition enforcement.  Working with other federal agents Counts spent 24 hours gathering evidence and the next day authorities popped into Dammeyer’s saloon.  There they found one of the men with a pump and a hose in his hands, filling a barrel with water.  Dammeyer and his accomplices were promptly arrested.  

Then Counts went looking for Parilla, fingered by the others as the “mastermind.”  On the farm Counts found the empty barrels, soon caught up with Parilla, arrested him, and took him to jail.  The gambit proved costly to Parilla and Dammeyer who immediately forfeited their $30,000 bond to the Feds. Each also was required to post $10,000 personal bond to get out of jail, the sum total equivalent to $1 million today.

On trial in Federal Court, Parilla and his co-conspirators were found guilty but appealed the decision on technical grounds to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court proved equally unsympathetic and upheld their convictions and fines.  There is no indication that they served jail time.  Their names and crimes, however, were splashed all over newspapers in Ohio and beyond.  Afterwards, Parilla seems not to have sought other work.  The 1930 census found him living with wife Rose at 173 West Chambers Street in Youngstown with his occupation listed as “none.”  With the couple were their three children, William, 27; Ralph,15; and Rose M.,13.

The disastrous scheme Parilla had perpetrated seems to have left him unbowed.  A photo of Ralph in his early ‘50s shows him relaxing on a lawn chair with a half-smoked cigar in his hand, smirking at the camera, the picture of contentment. Parilla did not have much longer to live, however, dying at the relatively young age of 53 in July 1938.  With his widow and children grieving by his graveside, he was interred in a family plot in Youngstown’s Calvary Cemetery.  Rose joined him there in 1965.

Ralph Parilla deserves to be remembered as a whiskey man who thought up one of the most audacious conspiracies in American history to circumvent the laws of Prohibition and avoid federal liquor taxes.  His attempt at turning whiskey into water fell considerably short of being a miracle, however, in the end becoming only what might be better described as the “Youngstown debacle.” 

Note:  Much of the information about Parilla’s “whiskey into water” scheme came from the extensive details provided in the opinion of the judges of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Parilla et al v. United States, dated May 12, 1922.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Kentucky Thompsons: Shrinking the Glenmore Colonel

The face seen at right is, perhaps, the most imposing visage to be seen on an American stoneware whiskey jug.  The imposing eyebrows, the thick mustache, and the goatee mark the individual as a quintessential Kentucky colonel.   He was the emblem of Glenmore whiskey, a product of James Thompson and later his sons.   Over time the Thompsons, even as they prospered, saw fit to “shrink” the colonel.  

As several authors have pointed out, there is no consensus about when or how the Thompsons or Glenmore appeared on the Kentucky distilling landscape.  James Thompson is said to have been born in May 1855 in the town of Eglington, County Derry, Northern Ireland, and emigrated to the United States in 1871.  He is reputed to have arrived here at 16 with only the clothes on his back.

Thompson had a singular advantage.  He was related to the Brown distilling family of Kentucky.   About 1873, the firm of J.T.S. Brown, Chambers & Co. had been established in Louisville and was producing whiskey.  Records indicate that in 1876 James was hired by the firm as a salesman.  Three years later, joining with another salesman, George Foreman, Thompson formed a sales agency to represent Brown, Chambers & Co. as a broker, selling spirits to both wholesale and retail customers.

When Chambers retired in 1881 he sold his shares in the Louisville plant to Thompson and his cousin, George Garvin Brown, with Foreman as a junior partner.  The distillery became Brown, Thompson & Co.  Shown here is a trade card from the company, showing its flagship brand “Old Forrester.”  For the next nine years this triumvirate ran a highly successful whiskey business.  As time went along, Thompson apparently was anxious to strike out on his own.  The opportunity arose in 1901.  Richard Monarch’s distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky, had gone into bankruptcy about 1898 and facility went on the auction block in 1901.  Thompson with his  brother, Francis P. Thompson, jumped at the chance to buy it for a “bargain basement” $30,000. 

Thus was born the firm of  “Jas. Thompson & Bro. Distillers and Whiskey Merchants.”  The company had its Louisville offices in a building at First and Main Streets that had been vacated in 1900 by the N. M. Uri Co.  The distillery itself was located two miles east of Owensboro, a distance of more than 100 miles from Louisville.  Insurance records and an illustration below dating from 1892 indicate that it was a relatively small operation. The property also included a cattle shed where cows were fed the spent mash.
Subsequently a legend has grown up that Thompson founded the Owensboro distillery, and named it and the flagship brand Glenmore after a castle in his native Ireland.  Not so.  As early as 1893, Monarch had called his plant “The Glenmore Distillery Company” and featured a Glenmore label he boasted as “the queen of Daviess County whiskies.”   It was Thompson, however, who hooked the brand to the Kentucky colonel.  Shown below is the flip side of the jug above.

Thompson wasted no time in making improvements.  He hired his wife’s uncle, H. S. Barton, to upgrade the plant which had been dormant for a time.  Barton became the master distiller and plant manager, positions he held until 1919.  The new ownership greatly expanded the facility until it was capable of mashing 5,500 bushels, considered at one time to have been the largest capacity in Kentucky.   This permitted Thompson to market multiple brands in addition to Glenmore.  They included “Kentucky Tavern,” “Old Black Thorn,” “Old Chauncey Bourbon,” “Old Velvet Corn,” “Old Thompson,” and “Jefferson County Bourbon.”

Somewhere along the line, Thompson seemingly decided that his Kentucky colonel visage was too severe.  The artist had given him a look of intensity, bordering on a scowl that rendered him very formidable looking, indeed.  The colonel might well have been modeled on the fanatical John Brown of the Harper’s Ferry raid.  As the most striking face ever to appear on an American whiskey jug, perhaps the portrait was just too strong.  A later jug, shown here, definitely toned down the Colonel.  The bust was now smaller and within an oval medallion.   The Colonel’s eyebrows no longer were bushy and his beard was trimmed.   The scowl was gone and he seemed to be smiling.  He could have been someone’s favorite grandfather.

With his growing wealth and reputation as a leading Kentucky distiller, Thompson showed a flair for the giveaway items common in the whiskey trade, gifting his customers with attractive etched shot glasses advertising his distillery and products.

He also showed a taste for elegance by building his wife and family an impressive mansion about 1894.  Shown here, it is significant as an example of American eclecticism, combining the shingle style with Queen Anne motifs.  Thompson’s mansion boasted a porch with columns that surrounded three sides of the house and details such as oval windows and leaded glass.  Today it is on the National Register of Historical Places.

At the conclusion of World War One, James took his sons, Frank B. and James P., with him into the business.  By that time he had bought up several other Kentucky distilleries and is said to have been producing hundreds of whiskey brands.  Together the family weathered the coming of National Prohibition in 1920.  Their first effort was to make and sell vinegar.  “We didn’t do very well at it,” Frank Thompson admitted later. They found success, however, in lobbying for and becoming one of a handful of distilleries in the country allowed to operate on a limited scale for “medicinal uses.”  With prescriptions for spirits exploding in number during 14 “dry” years, this privilege proved very lucrative.  

Sadly, James Thompson died in 1924 at the age of 69, never to see Repeal. Frank, shown left,  became the chairman and president of the Glenmore Distilleries.   He was destined to become a true colonel, joining the U.S. Army in World War Two as a private and rising through the ranks to a lieutenant colonel and battalion commander.  With the end of Prohibition in 1934, unlike other Kentucky distillers, the Thompsons already were up and running with some 31,000 barrels of aged whiskey in their warehouses and Glenmore Distillery cranked up to make more.

In the post-Prohibition era, a final indignity was done to the Kentucky colonel.  Although the Glenmore brand was revived and packaged in stoneware as before, the once commanding visage was reduced to the size of a finger smudge. Finally, as if to add insult to injury, the distillery subsequently abandoned the tradition of stoneware packaging in favor of glass — glass made to look like ceramic.
Surviving floods and fires, the Glenmore Distillery, shown below in the 1930s, went on to fill its two millionth barrel of whisky in 1946.  The Thompson family maintained control of the distillery until 1991 at which time it was acquired by another firm of Northern Irish heritage, Guinness.  In recent years the Owensboro facility has been through many ownerships and name changes.  Although distilling ceased there in 1993, it remains one of the major whiskey bottling facilities in the U.S.  

Note:  George Garvin Brown and George Foreman, mentioned above, went on to found Brown-Foreman, still a major force in the Kentucky bourbon world.  I have done previous posts on two other whiskey men mention here, J. T. S. Brown (May 2012) and N. M. Uri (August 2012).


Friday, May 20, 2016

The Wisdom of Solomon Herbst and Naming “Old Fitzgerald”

“Old Fitzgerald” is one of the truly iconic names in the whiskey trade.  The legend has been that this liquor first was produced by a master whiskey-maker named John E. Fitzgerald at a distillery near Frankfort, Kentucky.  Solomon C. Herbst, a Prussian-born wholesale wine and liquor dealer in Milwaukee, knew the tale well.  In fact, with the canny wisdom of his Biblical namesake, Herbst wrote the script for the story when he bought the distillery.  

Born in 1842 in Ostrono, Prussia, and educated in local schools, Herbst left his homeland in 1859 at the age of 16 for the United States.   Many German youth, including my own Grandfather, emigrated at that stage, many avoiding the Prussian military draft with its high death rate for recruits in basic training.  Herbst seems to have headed directly to Milwaukee, a city with a large German population where the language widely was spoken.  The 1860 U.S. census found him, age 18, living Milwaukee’s Third Ward with a family named Nathan.  He was working as a tinsmith.

Herbst soon understood that other employment opportunities offered greater reward.  In 1868 at the age of 22 he emerged in Milwaukee as a partner in wholesale liquor firm called Eggart & Herbst, located at 401-403 Chestnut Avenue, later to be changed to West Juneau Avenue.  By 1870 Eggart had departed the scene and left Solomon as the sole proprietor.  The  name of the enterprise became S.C. Herbst Importing Company.  According to Herbst’s newspaper obituary it was a “small beginning” for his liquor business.

During this same period Solomon had married.  Described as 5 feet, 9 1/2 inches tall, with gray eyes and an oval face, his hair already was beginning to gray.  His bride was Emma, a Wisconsin-born woman seven years his junior whose parents were immigrants from Bohemia, now a region in the Czech Republic.  The 1880 census found the couple living on Milwaukee’s 14th Street, an area of large homes, with their three daughters, Carsie, 12; Della, 6, and Helen, 4.  Indicating Herbst’s growing wealth, the household boasted two servants.

Herbst began his career as a “rectifer,” that is, someone blending and mixing raw whiskeys in order to achieve a certain taste, smoothness and color.  For his wholesale trade he packaged his products in multi-gallon stoneware jugs.  These were then stenciled in cobalt with his name and other information.  For his retail trade, he used glass.  Shown here is an amber quart bottle embossed with his name. He also issued flasks, like the two Herbst bottles, amber and clear, shown below.

As Herbst’s liquor trade grew, he likely was facing a problem in obtaining sufficient raw product for his rectifying activities.  Competition for supplies from Kentucky and other distillery sources, as well as attempts to create supplier “trusts,” were driving up prices and drying up available sources of whiskey.  Like many wholesalers, Herbst looked for a guaranteed flow of supplies.  About 1900 he found and bought a small distillery located outside Frankfort, Kentucky, on Benson Creek.  The locals called it the “Old Judge Distillery” for its flagship brand.  In Federal parlance it was known as Registered Distillery #11 of the Seventh Revenue District.

Now owning his own plant, Herbst began to fashion a myth for it.  He recognized that giving his own name to the distillery might not resonate far and spun a story, still perpetuated by some authors, that the distillery had been built by an Irish master distiller named John E. Fitzgerald who then sold the facility to him.  Fitzgerald then had moved to Hammond, Indiana, to run another distillery, so the story went.  

In reality, Fitzgerald was a U.S. Treasury agent assigned to bonded warehouses who had a reputation as a heavy drinker with a taste for the best in whiskey.  Using his post to good advantage, he held the keys to the warehouses of his assigned distilleries. While the owners discretely looked the other way, John E. frequently tapped the best barrels for his personal consumption.  As word spread in the trade about the revenue man’s practices, prime whiskeys began to be known as “Fitzgeralds.”

Even before buying the distillery Herbst had recognized the attraction of an Irish name and in 1884 registered the brand of his flagship blend under the name “Jno. E. Fitzgerald.”  With his purchase of the Frankfort distillery, in 1905 he re-registered that name, adding a second label as “Old Fitzgerald Bourbon.”  Vastly expanding the plant size and capacity to become one of the largest distilleries in the country, he renamed it the Old Fitzgerald Distillery Co.  An illustration below shows the name on all the buildings and even on freight cars being transported past the site.  To run this major facility as manager and master distiller Herbst hired Jerry Bixler, a member of a highly respected Kentucky whiskey-making family.

Despite the impressive size of his distillery, Herbst in his advertising featured workers using an “old fashioned process,” preparing the mash in a wooden tub.  His proof of the claim, he advertised, was a letter from Sam J. Roberts, the collector of whiskey revenue for the Seventh District.  Herbst had asked the official to attest that in his Frankfort distillery “small tubs are exclusively used.”  Without responding directly to the owner,  Roberts replied that the paperwork in his office indicated that the process “called for the use of seventy-one mash tubs, of which seventy are small and one large used as a cooler; the mode of mashing ‘by hand;’ the mode of fermenting ‘yeasting back, sour mash.”  Period. Roberts signed off without really confirming Herbst, who still found his reply good enough to run in an advertisement that contained the illustration here.

With his distillery running full out, the Milwaukee entrepreneur featured at least five brands, among them “Benson Creek,”  “Old John,” “Clifton Springs,” and “Old Judge,” the last a brand purchased with the distillery.  Herbst’s flagship, needless to say, was Old Fitzgerald, bottled as both bourbon and rye.  It was sold over the counter in quart and flask sizes bearing a highly recognized label.  Old Fitzgerald found a ready audience on steamships, trains, and high class “gentleman’s” clubs. To help distribute these whiskeys from a central location Herbst opened an office in Chicago in 1901 and maintained it for a dozen years. 

As his reputation for success in business grew in Milwaukee, Herbst expanded into other fields. In 1904 as S. Charles Herbst, he became an investor, incorporator and vice president of the Milwaukee Investment Company, a local financial institution.  Later, He help found the Citizens Trust Company with assets of more than $3 million.   With his family he moved from the downtown fringe of Milwaukee to a house on at 3015 Shepard Street in the more fashionable Upper East Side, adjacent to Lake Michigan.  It is shown below.

With no sons to succeed him, even as he aged Solomon continued to manage his major whiskey distilling and distribution businesses.  He was well into his seventies when National Prohibition caused the shut-down of both his Kentucky distillery and Milwaukee liquor dealership.  Herbst sold the rights to Old Fitzgerald to W.L. Weller for “medicinal  whiskey” during the “dry” 14 years, thus keeping the brand name alive and recognized by the drinking public.  After Repeal it became the lead label of the Stitzel-Weller distillery when “Pappy” Van Winkle and others in 1934 reorganized the Frankfort area plant.  [See my post on Van Winkle, November 2014.]

As he aged Herbst must have had many a quiet chuckle as he saw the fictitious origin story he had concocted being repeated again and again.  Late in his life he is said to have revealed that naming a brand for the tippling Fitzgerald was a wickedly funny insider joke.  This Solomon lived to be 98, dying in February 1941.  As his three daughters and their families looked on, Herbst was given a funeral of the Masonic orders at his Shepard Street home and buried in Milwaukee’s Greenwood Cemetery beside his wife, Emma, who had preceded him in death by 31 years.

Note:  The story Solomon Herbst had concocted about John E. Fitzgerald, as a famous distiller, rolled on for decades.  I have a 2001 book on bourbon that repeats the myth.  Well-known bottle authority,  Chuck Cowdery, using evidence he says surfaced a decade earlier, in 2011 wrote an expose’ of Herbst’s story that now is generally accepted as the truth behind the naming of Old Fitzgerald.  The last image here is of a post-Pro Old Fitzgerald milk glass decanter featuring a famous Irish castle.  The legend says, :”Shure’n it’s the Blarney.”  “Blarney” aptly describes Herbst’s story about the origins of the Old Fitzgerald name.