Most pre-Prohibition liquor wholesalers featured a few proprietary brands of whiskey in their product lines, usually with one or two flagship labels that they featured in their advertising. A handful of proprietors, however, thought there was profit in featuring a wide ranging list of whiskeys. Among that group, Abraham and Isaac, the Rheinstrom brothers, seem to have been champions. They featured 51 of their own brands and issued shot glasses advertising many of them.
The Rheinstroms were immigrants from Bavaria, Abraham born in 1845 and Isaac two years later. Abraham listed his immigration year as 1859 when he would have been about 14; Isaac likely came later. Both fetched up in Cincinnati, Ohio, a city with a heavy German population. Although I have been unable to locate photos of the two, passport applications provide descriptions. Both men were approximately five feet, eight inches tall, with similarly configured faces, except that Abraham was recorded with a broad chin and Isaac’s was given as “small.” Abraham’s eyes were gray; Isaac’s were hazel.
Where the brothers spent their early years in the U.S. has gone undocumented. They first appear in the public record in 1970 when the federal census found them living with Joseph Freiburg, a partner in the well-known Cincinnati liquor house of J. & A Frieburg. The brothers were working for him, Abraham as bookkeeper and Isaac as a clerk. The Freiburg firm was noted for its proliferation of brands, counting twenty-nine proprietary varieties of whiskey in their inventory.
By 1876, the Rheinstroms had left the Freiburgs and had established a liquor outlet at 24 Sycamore Street in Cincinnati. For whatever the reason, over the next few years they more than trumped the number of brands issued by their former employer, marketing at least 50 different labels over the 41 years they were in business.
Among them were: “Aetna," “Antioch,” "Beacon Light O.F.,” "Breckenridge Club,” "Capital Club,” "Cotton Bale Rye,” "Dave Copperfield,” "Del Monte.” "Delta Club,” "Derby Club,” "Dragon Gin,” ”Dunlap Malt,” "Eagle Malt,”Eagle Planet Gin,” "Eagle's Pride,” "East Port,” "Elk Club Rye,” “Fleetwood,” "General Arthur,” “Georgia,” "Golden Key,” "Golden Seal,”
"Good As Gold,””Hazel Dell White Rye,” "Home Guard,” "Jed Clayton,” "Kriskringle Rye,” “Lewisdale,” “Millville,” "National League,” "Novena Old Rye,” "Old Home Still,” "Old Jed Russell,” Old Reserve Rye,” “Padlock,” “Patriot,” "Santa Claus,” “Security,” "Seward Rye,” “Souvenir,” “Sydenham,” "Talisman Rye,” "Ten Broeck,” "Tom Howe O.P.S.,” "U. S. Mail Box Rye,” "Uncle John,” "Uncle Josh,” "Windsor Club,” and "Ye Olden Times.”
Rheinstrom Bros. trademarked only three labels — Aetna in 1876, Padlock in 1894 and Jed Clayton in 1908. Some of the names they used had been trademarked by other whiskey houses, namely Capitol Club by Bowlin of Minneapolis, Elk Club by Meyer & Co. of Pennsylvania, and Fleetwood by Guggenheim of Cincinnati. Moreover, some of these brand names are very close to those of whiskeys from other Cincinnati wholesalers and a question arises if they were intended to confuse buyers. Yet I find no trademark infringement actions against the brothers.
To advertise this blizzard of brands, Abraham and Isaac issued a large number of shot glasses, some them scattered through out this article. At the conclusion of this post, I have two whiskeys on Rheinstrom trade cards, depicting the firm's back-of-the bar bottles. These would have been given to saloons, eateries
and bars that featured the company whiskeys and other liquor. To the extent there was a flagship brand it was Jed Clayton Rye, marketed through newspaper ads, in colorful saloon signs, and the metal match holder that opens this article.
In addition to massing brands, Rheinstrom Bros. made an extraordinary number of moves over its business life, likely needing more and more room as its business expanded. After one year on Sycamore, the liquor house moved to 57 East Second Street and two years later to 56-58 East Third. By 1883 the Rheinstroms were back at 57 East Second, two years later moving across the street to 54-64 East Second, then back to East Third.
Meanwhile each brother was having a family life. In 1875 Isaac at the age of 28 had married Augusta Goldsmith, ten years his junior, a woman born in Kentucky of German immigrant parents. The couple would have two sons, Maurice born in 1877 and Robert in 1882. Abraham was a bachelor of 36 when he finally took the plunge, wedding Minna Wise, a native of Chicago and 17 years younger than he. They would go on to have a family of three daughters and two sons, both of whom, Harry and James, would later join the liquor house.
Followng 33 years at the helm of Rheinstrom Bros., Abraham, while on a trip to Maine, died, age 64. After his brother’s death Isaac, possibly to compensate Abraham’s family, appears to have given over management and possibly partial ownership of the liquor house to other interests. James Rheinstrom continued to be identified with the company until its forced closing after Ohio voted for statewide prohibition.
Meanwhile, Isaac and his sons moved in a different direction, founding the I. Rheinstrom & Sons Company and the I. Rheinstrom Engineering Company. The former manufactured bottling and conveying machinery; the latter was engaged in fruit canning. Both companies were run out of the same offices, with a factory in Ludlow, Kentucky. Isaac was president of both, son Maurice vice president and son Robert secretary and treasurer.
Isaac lived eleven years after Abraham’s death, passing in February 1920 at the age of 73, having seen prohibitionary forces triumph not only in Ohio but throughout the Nation. He was buried in Section 4, Lot No. 164 of the Walnut Hills United Jewish Cemetery outside Cincinnati, not far from the grave site of his brother Abraham.
Note: Thanks go to Joe Gourd for providing me with the images just above of Rheinstrom whiskey bottles that appear on trade cards in his major collection of bitters ephemera and other items.