Tuesday, June 28, 2016

“Hi-Hi” Seligmann, Milwaukee’s Celebrity Whiskey Man

In 1934, The Milwaukee Sentinel did a retrospective on pre-Prohibition drinking at the Republican House, then the city’s fanciest hotel, shown above, reporting this:  “Seated every afternoon at the bar, where merchants, bankers, actors, cigar manufacturers, brewers and men about town discussed politics, baseball and other topics of the day, was Hi-Hi Seligman, immaculate and resplendent in a high silk hat and black suit and a red carnation in his buttonhole.  As sure as 4 o’clock rolled around, ‘Hi-Hi’ walked in.  He was a great baseball fan and did a lot of talking between drinks.”

This was Moritz Seligmann (often written with one “n”), a successful whiskey wholesaler whose passion for the local baseball team, the Brewers, and whose tall silk top hat for years made him “the talk of the town” and rendered “Hi-Hi,” a virtual household name in Milwaukee.  Born in the state of Hesse Darmstadt, Germany, in November 1843, Seligmann immigrated to the United States in 1866 or 1867 at the age of about 24, settling in Milwaukee.  A description from a passport application indicates that Moritz had a thin face, pointed chin, auburn hair, hazel eyes, and was a diminutive five feet, four inches, tall.  On his right cheek he bore a large scar, likely a fencing scar, long considered a badge of honor among German youths of his era.

In heavily German Milwaukee Seligmann seemingly had no difficulty finding employment in a liquor house founded by Charles Schuckmann known as Schuckmann & Waldeck, founded about 1857 and located on Chestnut Avenue, now West Juneau.  In 1876, when Moritz was 33, he became a partner and the company name was changed to Schuckmann & Seligmann, a firm increasingly recognized as a leading Milwaukee wholesaler of liquor and wine.

Meanwhile Moritz had been having a personal life.  In 1871 he had married Rachel Hardt, the daughter of Joseph and Laura Hardt.  Born in Wisconsin, she was eight years his junior.  They would have one daughter, Lena, born in 1890.  The Seligmanns appear to have lived most of their married life with Rachel’s sister,  Fanny, and her husband,  Alfred Michelstetter, who became involved in the liquor business with Moritz.  Perhaps Seligmann’s flamboyant lifestyle did not lend itself to home ownership.

After Schuckmann died suddenly while on a trip to Austria in 1885, Seligmann carried on as a single owner.  He kept the name unchanged for many years but in 1892 incorporated with capitalization of $100,000 — $2.5 million in today’s dollar.

The company featured a variety of brands, called “potent” by one writer,  They included “Eremite Sour Mash Rye,”  "Prince William Rye,” “Challenge Kentucky Bourbon,” and  “Gold Star Sour Mash.”  These appear to have been proprietary labels, although he bothered to trademark only “Gold Star Sour Mash.”  Shown here are two tip trays, each showing three gents, one of them on each tray wearing Moritz’s emblematic tall silk hat.  Seligmann also gifted saloons and restaurants that carried his brands with advertising signs and shot glasses.

Moritz also featured “Rolling Fork” bourbon and rye, a brand from the Kentucky Wathen distilling family, that he advertised with a fancy reverse glass sign.  He also sold “Maryland Club,” a nationally marketed whiskey from the Cahn-Belt Company of Baltimore. [See my post on this firm,  August 2013.]  This connection may have occasioned Seligmann’s advertising claim that he had an “Eastern office” in that city and carried an illustration, shown here, purporting to be his Baltimore headquarters.  While Seligmann may have had a contract with Cahn-Belt, his company name never appeared in city business directories.

Moritz’s fancy headgear gained considerable attention in 1908 when he was among Milwaukee businessmen, mostly manufacturers and wholesalers, who took a week’s marketing excursion by rail to some thirty towns in Southern Minnesota and South Dakota.  When the whiskey man stepped off the train in those largely rural communities, it was reported, the top hat “…attracted considerable attention because it was the only one of its kind.”  His traveling companions tried to talk him into a traveling cap, but Hi-Hi stuck with the tall silk chapeau. “It was predicted that the hat would meet with some mishap, but it came back safely to Milwaukee with Mr. Seligmann’s head in it.” 

I assume that Moritz also wore a top hat to the Milwaukee Brewers baseball stadium where he was a familiar figure and frequently the subject of attention by local sports writers.  On June 26, 1896, The Sentinel, reporting on a bad loss by the local team recorded that:  “Even Hi-Hi Seligman left the scorers stand and took a seat in a rear section of the grandstand where he grieved alone….”  He also was remembered attending Brewers spring training in snowy Rockford, Illinois.   How Seligmann came to be nicknamed “Hi-Hi” is not clear.  From hints in press accounts, it likely stemmed from his familiar loud cheering for the home team.

Through the years, the Seligmann’s liquor business knew several locations.  About 1881, it moved to 291-293 Water Street, the avenue where many of the city’s liquor establishments were located, and stayed for 29 years.  In 1911, according to business directories, the company moved to 253 Fourth Street. Then in 1912 Moritz changed its name to M. Seligmann & Co. and moved to Room #725 in the Germania Building at 125 West Well St., shown left.  This indicates to me that the owner, now almost 70 years old, was scaling back on his activities, acting strictly as a liquor “jobber” or middle man, without storing stock on premises.  This reduced operation subsequently was moved to 107 Wells Street about 1916 and shut down in 1918 when Seligmann was 75.  That same year a Wisconsin commercial organization to which Hi-Hi had been a longtime member honored him with a presentation: A baseball bat decorated in red, white and blue ribbons.

Seligmann lived long enough to witness the imposition of National Prohibition, dying in 1922.  He was buried in Milwaukee’s Spring Hill Cemetery;  his gravestone is shown here.  Only a year later, his widow, Rachel, would join him there.  Hi-Hi Seligman continued to be remembered years after in Milwaukee for his tall silk hat, his passion for baseball, and, as the 1934 newspaper article that opened this post suggested, being emblematic of pre-Prohibition good times.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Peter Van Vleet’s Whiskey Filled a Prescription for Success

Although Philip P. Van Vleet, was known as a wholesale druggist in Memphis, Tennessee, his success depended heavily on his marketing a wide array of whiskeys.  Liquor, along with proprietary drugs and nostrums,  brought him wealth and allowed him to hobnob with the rich and famous, including a future President of the United States.

Van Vleet’s story was a true tale of “up from the bootstraps.”  He was born in Galesburg, Michigan, in November 1849 of Dutch-English descent, the son of Ralph S.  and Henrietta (Lockwood) Van Vleet.  One of his ancestors was reputed to be among the earliest settlers of Manhattan Island. Peter was educated in local public schools and, although his parents were of modest means, afforded an opportunity to attend nearby Kalamazoo College, a highly regarded liberal arts school.  During his college years he worked his way as a clerk in a Kalamazoo drug store, learning the trade. 
According to one account, upon completing his courses, Van Vleet decided to seek his fortune outside of Michigan and in 1871 traveled South, possibly heading for New Orleans.  Upon reaching Memphis, according to a biographer, “…He was quick to see and realize the possibilities of the place…”  Shown above is the city’s Main Street in the late 1800s. Van Vleet found employment as a prescription drug clerk with G. W. Jones & Company, at that time the largest wholesale drug house in the city.  He rapidly was advanced to management and in 1879 purchased a half interest in the business.

When Peter was 29 years old, he married Ramelle McKay in Memphis. a woman about ten years his junior who had been born in DeSoto County, Mississippi.  Her father was a New Yorker and her mother an immigrant from England.  Together the Van Vleets would have three children, Elsie born in 1885;  August, 1888, and Ramelle, 1893.  Despite the difference in ages, they had an enduring marriage.

In 1884, Peter sold his shares in Jones & Company and striking out on his own established the wholesale pharmaceutical house of Van Vleet & Co., located at 320-324 Main Street, a major Memphis commercial avenue, shown above.  He managed this business to such affluence that he was able to buy up several other Memphis drug firms.  They included the Mansfield Drug Co., a well established company, whose purchase by Van Vleet was considered a coup in Memphis business circles.  He called it the resulting enterprise Van Vleet-Mansfield Co., its building shown below.

The new corporation was instantly profitable, attributed by one author to Peter himself:  “He created this colossal pattern of success through his guidance and by his service-driven attitude.  The result was one of the largest and most progressive wholesale drug companies in the country.”   Essential to this prosperity was the emphasis that Van Vleet put on making and selling whiskey.

In addition to mixing up drugs and proprietary medicines on his premises, Peter was blending, bottling and selling his own brands of booze.  Among his labels were “Chickasaw,” “Clarendon,”  “Gayoso Club,”  “King’s Choice,” “Mossy Dell,”  “Old Southern Home,” “Rosadora Rye,” “Silver Plume,” “Sweet Fern,” and “Wayside Inn.”  Although he trademarked “Old Southern Home,” in 1900, Van Vleet waited until Congress strengthened trademark laws in 1904 and 1905 to protect his other brand names. Shown here is a Van Vleet molded glass whiskey decanter that declares of the contents:  "Not a headache or a cross word in a barrel of it."
Alcohol also was a familiar ingredient in many of Van Vleet’s patent medicines.   Shown above and below are colorful trade cards for four of his products. “Femenina,” advertised as “an infallible remedy for female disorders” contained such herbals as “unicorn root,” “cramp bark,” “squaw vine” and “black haw.” but most importantly to patient relief, a strong dose of alcoholic spirits.   Van Vleet's “Plantation Sarsaparilla,” was an elixir said to purify the blood that “Cures by Eradication, Not by Suppression.”   In an era when no one knew what caused malaria, Van Vleet also featured “Plantation Chill Cure,” guaranteed to cure chills, fevers and all other “malarial troubles.”  It too was generously laced with alcohol.

Van Vleet-Mansfield boasted a team of twenty-five traveling salesmen fanned out across the South and Southwest — from Tennessee to Texas.  “There is probably no other line of business in Memphis which has a more carefully organized and better trained force of drummers than are to be found in his wholesale drug house,” opined one writer.   Among the products they were selling were the myriad Van Vleet whiskey brands.  Even in “dry” states and localities, “medicinal” whisky could be sold in drug stores.

With continuing success, the Van Vleet-Mansfield Drug Co. eventually moved to a larger building, located at the corner of Second and Gayoso Streets.  It was a handsome brick structure of seven stories, offering ample space for his employees to mix up Van Vleet’s proprietary whiskeys and patent medicines.  Obviously proud of this “new home”, Peter issued a glass paperweight that showed the structure.  The building still stands in Memphis, now converted into apartments and known as “Van Vleet Flats.”

Shown here on a paperweight, Van Vleet himself increasingly was being recognized as a Memphis business leader.  In addition to his drug business, he was a founder and director of the Bank of Commerce & Trust Company, and active in the Merchant’s Exchange and Memphis Business Men’s Club.  He was leading an social life as a member of The Tennessee Club, The Chickasaw Guard’s Club, and the Memphis County Club.  Reflecting his interest in hunting were memberships in the Waponoca Club and the Mud Lake Ducking Club.  

Accounted a multi-millionaire in his own time, Van Vleet bought an tract of land on Poplar Avenue and built a mansion for his family, shown here.  The frame house was distinguished by a portico that featured four two-story Corinthian columns.  Peter’s estate was so large that today the grounds hold the Memphis Technical High School and a housing development.

Described as “great globe trotters,” Peter and Ramelle visited the Philippines, newly acquired by the United States from Spain, and came to know William Howard Taft, who was the appointed civilian governor of the islands.  According to the Washington Post, “a warm and enduring friendship was established.”  When the Van Vleets visited Washington, D.C., in July 1905, they visited Taft who now was the Secretary of War in Teddy Roosevelt’s cabinet and expected to be the Republican candidate for President in 1908.  Pressed about his views, Van Vleet told the Post reporter that although he was “an extreme Democrat,” he would feel a strain on his party loyalty if Taft were the nominee “as everyone must admit he is magnificently equipped for the highest office in the land.”

Van Vleet lived to see his friend, William Howard Taft, elected President only to lose his attempt at re-election in 1912.  As he aged, Peter developed heart disease and died in April of 1915, 65 years old.  He was buried in a large family mausoleum in Memphis’ Forest Hill Cemetery, shown here.  

In both life and in death, Van Vleet was extolled for his personal care and concern for his employees, and their consequent loyalty to him:  “It is human interest, his great sympathy, given in practical form, that makes his milestones of success,” said one article.  To that opinion I would add that making and selling whiskey represented another often overlooked “milestone,” a prescription leading to Peter Van Vleet’s financial reward and recognition.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Hellmans of St. Louis and the Battle Over “Old Crow"

The Kentucky distillers of “Old Crow” whiskey were known for their willingness to fight for trademark protection.  In an 1949 ad the company informed the public:   “During the first century of its distinguished history, some 1,800 writs, summons, desists were circulated to prevent the imitation of the Old Crow name and label.”   The toughest fight of all, I believe, was with the Hellman whiskey clan of St. Louis whose label shown left unleashed a torrent of litigation, ultimately decided by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Hellmans were not the kind of folks to back down from conflict.  Brothers Louis and Isaac Hellman while both in their teens had the courage to undertake a long ocean voyage to America in search of opportunity.  They were born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, Louis in 1830, Isaac in 1833.  After their arrival during the 1840s, they headed for St. Louis, a city with a strong Germanic population.  They found employment, likely in the liquor trade, learned English and saved their money.

In 1863 the brothers took a risky step, with a partner, opening their own liquor business in St. Louis in the midst of the Civil War when Missouri was enduring a neighbor-against-neighbor intrastate war within the larger national conflict.  Within a year the partner had departed and the company became I & L M Hellman, originally located at 6 Pine Street, later moving to 112 Pine Street.  The company would claim that virtually from its founding it had produced “according to their own formula a blended whiskey…designated as ‘Crow’ or ‘Old Crow’ whiskey and branded and stamped upon barrels, keys, boxes, and bottles….”  For reasons unknown, however, the Hellmans never trademarked the brand.

In fact, the Hellmans never saw fit to trademark any of the many brands they were producing under their own labels as “rectifiers,” that is, blenders of raw whiskey to achieve particular taste, color, and smoothness.  Among those whiskeys were:  "Arlington Club Bourbon,” ”Arlington Club Rye,” "Arnold's Bourbon,” "Arnold's Rye,” "Elk Spring Bourbon,”  "Elk Spring Rye,” "Gold Seal Rye,” “Hellman,” "Hellman's Cedar Grove Bourbon,”  "Home Place B’b’n," "Home Place Rye,” "O. V. F. Bourbon,” "Porter Bourbon.” and "Silver Spring Rye.”  The Hellmans also featured a line of alcoholic tonics including “Congress Bitters” and “Kudros.” As containers they used an array of attractive green and amber bottles.
After about only about four years in the business, Isaac Hellman died in 1867, age 31.  Married, he left behind three children under eight years old.  Louis then brought a relative, likely a nephew, named Abraham into the company.  This Hellman had been born in Maryland in 1845 and migrated to St. Louis.   He and Louis guided the fortunes of the Hellman liquor house for more than a decade.   

As a major rectifying outfit, the Hellmans almost certainly had problems obtaining a steady supply of “raw” whiskey for their blending activities.  Competition for Kentucky product was fierce.  Then a solution appeared in the form of the Rock Springs Distillery, located on the Ohio River a mile from Owensboro, Kentucky.  By 1892, according to insurance underwriter records, the distillery property held a still house — frame with a shingle roof — three warehouses and cattle pens located about 50 feet from an iron-clad boiler house.

Working a deal with the owners of the Rock Springs, the Hellmans’ obtained assured supplies of whiskey for blending.  From 1904 until 1907 the St. Louis liquor dealers contracted for the entire distillery production.  Those supplies allowed the family to go into high gear producing “Hellman’s Celebrated Old Crow” whiskey blend and brought them to the sharp attention of the W. A. Gaines Company of Frankfort.  That distiller whose straight bourbon whiskey perpetuated the name of James Crow, widely considered the “father” of Kentucky bourbon, had gained national recognition with “Old Crow.”  Gaines trademarked the name and a figure of a black crow in 1882, 1898, and again in 1904.

Meanwhile Louis Hellman had died in 1901, age 71, and his younger brother, Moritz Hellman, also a Bavarian immigrant, had joined Abraham in running the liquor business.  The name changed to A. M. Hellman & Co.  The Hellmans found themselves hailed into Federal Circuit Court in Missouri by Gaines in June 1907 on the grounds that the Hellmans' use of “Old Crow” constituted unfair competition and jeopardized Gaines’ established trade and good will for its whiskey. 
The Hellmans' defense was a creative one.  They claimed that Gaines had known about their use of “Old Crow” since 1896 and had “acquiesced” in it.  They also bashed Gaines’ straight bourbon Old Crow as “a whiskey containing a large and dangerous percentage of fusel oil, a deadly poison, and a large percentage of other dangerous and deleterious impurities…unwholesome and impure….”  They contrasted it with a rectified product like their own…”blending and vatting for the purpose of removing such dangerous and deleterious impurities.”

The Federal judge was buying none of this nor was he impressed by the Hellman claim to have produced Crow whiskeys since 1863, asking “Where were they so used?”  On the other hand the judge credited the history provided by Gaines  that they were the anointed descendants of James Crow and had produced “Old Crow” since 1867. 

Abraham died about 1904, age approximately 59, but Moritz pushed on to buy an interest in the Rock Spring Distillery and changed the name of his St. Louis liquor house to Hellman Distilling Company.  Recognizing that so long as the matter was being battled in the courts, the company could continue to profit from the sales of their Celebrated Old Crow brand, Moritz filed an appeal of the circuit court decision with the Federal Court of Appeals in Missouri.

This time the Hellmans found a panel of judges who were sympathetic to their arguments.  To the contention by Gaines that the offending words, Old Crow, had rarely been used by the St. Louis firm prior to the early 1900s, the Court ruled that “the right to use could not be measured by the extent to which the Hellman’s employed it, whether more or less frequently.”  The final ruling reversed the lower court and found the Hellmans not guilty of either trademark infringement or unfair competition.
That decision sent Gaines back into court attempting to stop the Hellmans, and in various venues the case seemed to drag on forever.  In 1912 Moritz, age 61, died and management of Hellman Distilling Company fell into the hands of other family members.  In 1909 Gaines re-registered its Old Crow and subsequently asked for an injunction against the Rock Springs Distillery that was making Hellman’s Old Crow.  Still a third federal court, disagreeing with the Missouri judges, granted the Gaines injunction.  

That court put great stock in the testimony of William Mida, who ran the Bureau of Registration for brands and trademarks, considered authoritative in the industry.  Mida testified that “Old Crow” always and everywhere had been considered a Gaines brand.  The judges dismissed the argument that a trademark belonged to the Hellmans by prior appropriation, questioning the extent of earlier use of Old Crow by the St. Louis firm.  This time the Kentucky distillery, backed by the Hellmans, appealed.

The dispute over the use of Old Crow in 1918 finally rested with the United States Supreme Court.  The Supremes denied a petition by Hellman Distilling Company to intervene and ruled that the Rock Spring Distillery — and by inference the Hellmans — had acted “in fraud of the Gaines Company rights and in infringement of its trademark” in selling a whiskey the court termed “spurious.”

Although the battle was over, Gaines’ victory was hollow.  While the Kentucky distiller had spent most of a decade fighting them, the Hellmans during that period were continuing to profit by selling their “Celebrated Old Crow.”  Moreover, National Prohibition was just on the horizon when all whiskey was summarily banned for 14 years.  Recently someone unearthed a bottle of Hellman’s Old Crow, still in its wrapper and bearing a stained label, shown above.  It carries a 1917 tax stamp, suggesting that it may have been one of the last bottles the Hellman’s sold. 

Note:   I have posted material on W. A. Gaines Co. in a September 2011 vignette on Edson Bradley, a top company manager; and January 2016 on Charles Knecht, a Gaines antagonist.  William Mida was profiled in February 2014.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Charles Dreyer, Louvre Saloon, & “The Fight of the Century”

Sometimes an individual walks out of the mists of history, has a role in a major event of his times, and then fades again into obscurity.   So it is with Charles Dreyer, a saloon owner who has been credited with helping bring to Reno, Nevada, the 1910 heavyweight boxing championship bout between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries — an event that drew intense national attention and was ballyhooed as “The Fight of the Century.”   Subsequently Dreyer seems to have faded into the obscurity from whence he came.

Dreyer surfaced initially in the public record as the owner of the “Oberon,” a saloon and gambling hall located on Reno’s Commercial Row, strategically placed across from the train station.  Reno was a prominent junction of the Nevada & Oregon Railway Company, where it joined the Central Pacific and Virginia & Truckee lines.  Passengers alighting from the trains would find themselves facing a row of saloons, gambling casinos, and hotels.  The prominent sign for the Oberon can be seen on Commercial Row in photos above and below.

As one observer put it:  “For many Americans Reno was a moral as well as a physical desert.”  Gambling was wide open.  Visitors could see a swinging door, push through it, and inside find the roulette wheels spinning and faro being dealt.  Strong drink was readily available as well.  In a four or five block area were more than fifty saloons, most with board floors and bare wooden walls.  A few, like the Oberon, were “upscale,” combining drinking and gambling in more elaborate surrounding.   Another fancier establishment was “The Louvre,”  represented here by bar tokens.

A door or so down from the Oberon, the Louvre was run by partners named Robinson & Madsen.  In addition to their gambling and drinking activities, the proprietors also were rectifying (blending) and bottling their own brand of whiskey called “Belle of Nevada.”   They issued a good luck piece to favored customers featuring a metal collar around a 1901 Indian head penny.   They advertised it in the local newspaper, the Reno Gazette-Journal, urging customers to:  “Come to the Louvre and get acquainted with the jolly proprietor.

In April 1905 Dreyer bought the Louvre, apparently in an effort to expand his operations and rid himself of a competitor.  Robinson & Madsen, it seems, only had been leasing the property.  According to the press account, Dreyer paid the owner $18,000 (equiv. today $450,000) for the property.  A local newspaper account of the sale commented that the Louvre “has a splendid location on Commercial Row.”  The saloon issued at least two bar tokens shown here.

Running two saloons and gambling halls was not without its pitfalls for Dreyer.   In March 1905 a stranger entered the Oberon early one morning, called for a drink, complained of feeling ill, and almost immediately dropped dead, causing a considerable stir in Reno.  A few months later, the Oberon was the object of a complaint by the regents of Nevada State University to the mayor and city council of Reno.  In a letter the regents claimed that the “so-called” Oberon Saloon & Gambling House had permitted a minor — likely a Nevada State student — on its premises.  Said minor had loitered and gambled there, the regents complained, and demanded the city officials take appropriate action.

The Louvre, meanwhile, was generating its own excitement.   A local named Tom Riley had been robbed by two hold-up men who took money, valuables and a check drawn to his name.  One of them then forged Riley’s signature and cashed the check at the Louvre with an obliging bartender.   When Dreyer’s manager took the check to the bank the next day he found Riley there to stop payment.  The next day the police arrested the alleged gunmen.

A more notable “deadbeat” was the former heavyweight champion of the world,  Jim Jeffreys.   He came to Reno, not to box, but to be the celebrity referee for a heavyweight fight, paid $1,000 for his trouble.   “Renoites turned out in a cheering throng to welcome the retiring champion….,” noted one writer.  After the fight, apparently feeling in an ebullient mood, Jeffries entered the Louvre with $2,500 in cash and joined a group at one of the gambling hall roulette tables, as shown above.  He soon was parted from his money.

Unwilling to stop playing at that point, Jeffries wrote two checks for $2,500 each and then proceeded to blow the proceeds.  In today’s dollar his total losses would be equivalent to $187,000.  Before he left the Louvre, Jeffries’ checks were torn up in exchange for his note for $5,000 to be paid to the owner.  Jeffries never paid off the note, nor did he soon return to Nevada.

That was the situation until 1910 — and the 20th Century had barely begun — when the “Fight of the Century” was being touted for a Reno venue.  It was to pit Jeffries against a black man widely considered as the reigning heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson.  As one observer has put it: “The upcoming fight would be relentless hyped as a titanic clash of races, leaving little room for objectivity…Most Americans believed that Johnson was mentally and physically inferior and conversely believed in Jeffries’ invincibility.”

For Dreyer it was a chance to recoup on Jeffries debt. He sued him.  Although the case got little attention outside Nevada, the Nevada State Journal featured a front page cartoon of the boxer with a caption that read:  “Jeffries the Welcher.”  The boxer through his attorney claimed that the Louvre roulette wheel was crooked and that, anyway, gambling debts were not enforceable.  At the least, his attorney pleaded, the trial should be postponed until after the fight.  Recognizing that Jeffries was never likely to re-enter Nevada once he left, a local Reno judge set a trial date in advance of the fight and ruled Jeffries would have to appear.  Faced with that harsh alternative, Jeffries settled with the Louvre.  It is widely believed that Tex Rickard, the fight promoter, an acquaintance of Dreyer’s, and a man with a lot to lose if the bout failed to come off, paid off Jeffries’ $5,000.

The heavyweight championship bout drew thousands of spectators to Reno from all parts of America, as shown in the photo above, taken at Commercial Row a day before the fight.  The Louvre was mobbed with customers.  Dreyer’s establishment also might have been the site of the photo below in which Johnson was captured having a drink of whiskey with a group of his fans.

Given all the hype, the so-called “Fight of the Century” turned out to be a ho-hum affair.  In truth, Jeffries was several years away from his prime as a boxer, overweight and rusty from being on a vaudeville circuit rather than in the ring. By contrast,  Johnson for all his boozing and racy lifestyle was at the peak of his form.  In reality it was a mismatch and after 14 rounds of desultory boxing, Johnson dispatched his opponent.  

In late 1910 most forms of gambling were outlawed in Nevada (re-legalized in 1931), shutting down the casino element of the Louvre.  Apparently, however, slot machines were still allowed since the State of Nevada in 1913 recorded Dreyer paying $20 for a license to operate slot machines.  A liquor license cost him an additional $30.

Although some sources have credited the Louvre Saloon as one of the local businesses that helped bring the Jackson-Jeffries bout to Reno, Dreyer’s precise role in arranging the so-called “Fight of the Century” is unclear.   Dropping the lawsuit against Jim Jeffries certainly facilitated the fight going forward, but that was achieved by Tex Rickard paying up.  After 1913 Charles Dreyer faded again into the mists of history.  He seemed always to have avoided the U.S. census and my research into his burial site so far has gone unrewarded.

Note:  The information on Jeffries’ debt to the Louvre was gleaned from a book entitled “The Last Great Prizefight:  Johnson vs. Jeffries,” by Steven Frederick.  Frederick was a licensed Nevada bookmaker, not a historian or writer, but he has mastered the art of the narrative and his book is well-written, interesting and informative, well worth the read.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Andrew Urban’s Odyssey Ended in Quincy, Illinois

The man shown above standing on the back of a “photo montage” snapping turtle I assume is Andrew Urban, whose wanderlust took him from Germany to numerous occupations and locations in the American Midwest.  Urban was by turns a safe company employee in Cincinnati;  a brewery worker in Chillicothe, Ohio;  a farmer in Hancock County, Illinois;  a mill owner in Nauvoo, and a traveling salesman in Quincy.  Not until he was 56 years old did Andrew find his destiny in selling whiskey and thereby forging careers for four Urban sons.

Urban was born in Baden, Germany, in March 1830, the son of Andrew, a farmer, and Catherine Urban.  Educated in the schools of his homeland, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1855 at the age of 22 and went to work in Cincinnati for an uncle who owned a successful safe manufacturing company.  After being employed there for several years, Andrew exhibited the restless spirit that guided much of his life and moved to Chillicothe, located in south central Ohio along the Scioto River.

In Chillicothe, Urban worked in a brewery and met Katherine Baer, a native of the town, daughter of Mathew and Catherine Baer.  She was seven years younger and would bear him ten children, four of whom died in infancy.   Not long after their wedding Andrew pulled up stakes and with Katherine moved to Hancock County, located in far western Illinois. At that time he is said to have been virtually penniless.  A biographer observed:  “He borrowed money to make this trip, and this fact indicates somewhat his financial resources; but he possessed, instead of capital, a strong determination and resolute will.”  Beginning as an agricultural laborer, in time Urban acquired sufficient wealth to own three farms.  
Still looking for better opportunities for himself and his growing family, or perhaps obliging an enduring restlessness,  Urban left his farms in the hands of tenants and moved to nearby Nauvoo, Illinois, where he purchased the Ikerian Milling Company, operating it for eight years.  He was “swindled out of this property,” according to a biographer, who does not say how or why.  Dragging his family with him, that event propelled Urban 50 miles south to Quincy, shown above, where he went to work as a traveling salesman for a wholesale liquor establishment.  

By now well into his fifties, Urban saved sufficient funds to strike out on his own.  Taking his now-adult son, William, with him as a partner, about 1884 he created Andrew Urban & Son, a wholesale and retail enterprise selling whiskey, wine, and beer.   After an initial location at 239 North Third Street in Quincy, the Urbans moved their business to 639 Hampshire Street,   

Andrew had chosen a good place for his business.  Quincy boasted hundreds of saloons and, according to 1887 local directories, only three wholesale liquor houses, including the Urbans’.  Their retail business included a saloon, the interior shown on the comic postcard above.  The building also had room for the owners to blend and bottle their own brands, chief among them, “Urban Club Sour Mash Bourbon.”  They also featured “Lenox,” a blended whiskey from a Cincinnati distiller. 

Distinguishing the Urbans’ operation was their emphasis on “giveaway” advertising items, principally corkscrews and  shot glasses in several designs. Examples are shown throughout this post.  Most of these advertising items were aimed at the wholesale trade, including saloons, restaurants and hotels — wherever Urban liquor was being sold.  Retail customers were provided with heart-shaped trade tokens.  The tokens could be looped on a chain as good luck charms or exchanged for five cents worth of booze at Urbans’ bar.

Andrew Urban had only about 15 years to enjoy the success he had achieved following the many years of his odyssey.  In 1902, likely in declining health, he made his will, leaving everything to his wife, Katherine.  He died the following year at about 73 years old.  She sold his Hancock County farms but retained ownership of a large business block at the corner of Sixth and Hampshire Streets that included the Andrew Urban & Son store and saloon.  One of Andrew’s last requests, according to a biographer, was to implore his wife and sons to remain together associated in the liquor business, apparently hoping that after his wanderings he had prepared a secure future for them in Quincy. 
Nevertheless, the founding father’s death in 1903 caused an upheaval in the Urbans’ enterprise.   That same year son Gustav (Gus) Urban took over as the manager. His brother Theodore became the bookkeeper and another brother, Edward, was working as a traveling salesman for the firm.  Katherine moved into a flat above the store with Gus and his wife.  In subsequent years the three brothers were listed in directories as officers of the company.   By this time they all were married, Gus to Catherine, originally from Nauvoo;  Theodore, to Dora Taylor, and Edward to Minnie Sherman.

Meanwhile, possibly upset over the fact that his father bequest had ignored him, William had left Andrew Urban & Son to begin his own liquor store at 508 Hampshire, just a block from the family business.  His liquor house was first recorded in Quincy directories in 1906.  In the tradition of his father, William provided customers with giveaway shot glasses, shown here.  He was able to move his wife, the former Dorothea Bader, into a home at 1219 Hampshire, several blocks from his business address.

Prohibition came to Quincy in July, 1919, with local enforcement of a wartime emergency act on liquor sales.  “There will be no dram shops in Quincy because no saloon licenses be issued and all existing licenses will expire July 1.”  the Chief of Police declared, adding: “There will be no sale of intoxicants after midnight, Monday, June 30.”  At the time an estimated 50,000 gallons of whiskey were stored in the city’s three wholesale houses, including the Urbans'.  The local press said the stocks were “enough to float a battleship.”

Before the deadline a brisk business ensued.  The Urbans sold $5,500 worth of whiskey to one local and had an order for $2,500 from an out-of-town customer.  Another patron walked into Urbans asking: “Do you have any Hermitage whiskey on hand.”  “Yes,” replied Gus, thinking he wanted a bottle.  Instead, the man ordered 10 cases at $3.50 a quart.  Later a customer bought $5,000 worth of whiskey and another $3,000.  (To achieve equivalent outlays in today’s dollar multiply each number by 14.)

Despite such massive sales, the Urbans remained desperate to unload their flood of stored liquor.  During the two weeks preceding the deadline the steamship Keokuk, shown above, a stern-wheeler that hauled freight and passengers on the Mississippi, carried great quantities of whiskey and beer from the Urbans and other Quincy liquor dealers to towns upriver in Illinois and Missouri that were not yet “dry.”   As a last gasp, the family kept their store open until midnight of the final day. Then July 1, 1919, arrived and after 24 years Andrew Urban & Son shut its doors and permanently went out of business.

Thus ended the crowning success of Andrew Urban’s odyssey through life.  His biographer says of him:  “He was particularly a self-made man, for when he arrived in Hancock County, Illinois, he did not have five dollars.  He worked earnestly and persistently year after year until he had acquired a handsome competence.”   In the end, however, none of Urban’s exertions or those of his sons was sufficient to offset the prohibitionary “fever” gripping America.  

Note:  Much of the information contained herein, as well as most of the quoted material, is from the volume, “Past and Present of the City of Quincy and Adams County, Illinois,” by William H. Collins, Chicago, published in 1905.