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.