Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Whiskey Men and the Gunslingers

Foreword:  Whiskey and the American West have been inextricably intertwined in both history and myth.   Saloon scenes seem to be a requirement for any motion picture depicting the “Old West” and are a favorite location for shootouts.  As exaggerated as such depictions may be, gunslingers did exist and whiskey men had to deal with them.  As the four saloonkeepers featured here demonstrate, they chose a variety of strategies.

Austin’s Iron Front Saloon, shown right, has been recognized widely as one of the notable “watering holes” of the Old West.  Like other Texas saloons, it saw its share of violent encounters but was known for its gracious and well-liked owner, John B. Neff, a proprietor who was overshadowed in his own establishment, however, by the man who ran the gambling concession upstairs, the notoriously dangerous Ben Thompson.  

Thompson, shown left, was a gunfighter with a number of killings attributed to him, quick to anger and reach for his gun, especially when he had been drinking.  That Neff selected Thompson to operate the gaming room with its faro, monte, poker, dice and roulette tables, might have puzzled his customers, but the owner had good reason.  Thompson had reputation for running honest games, an oddity in Austin, and his prowess with a pistol kept things orderly .  As much as $30,000 month might pass over the tables — equivalent to a quarter million dollars today.  Shown here is the actual roulette wheel used by the gunslinger.
Unfortunately, Thompson could not avoid violence.  In 1881 he had gotten involved in a dispute with a saloon and hotel owner in San Antonio, shot and killed him.  Although it cost him his job as town marshal, he was tried and ultimately acquitted of murder and returned to Austin to continue to run the gambling at Neff’s Iron Front Saloon.  In 1884 he ventured back to San Antonio, was lured into an ambush, and met with a hail of bullets.  Shot in the head, Thompson died instantly.  

The life of Ben Thompson has earned him considerable attention in subsequent years, including a long Wikipedia entry and many Internet photos.  Meanwhile, John Neff, the genial saloonkeeper, ironically has gone largely forgotten.  The bad men of the West unfortunately get far more publicity than the good guys.

Known as among the wildest of Western towns, Dodge City, Kansas, shown here, had a reputation for frequent murders and casual justice.  A Kansas newspaper in the 1870s declared:  “…We have only room for one Dodge City; Dodge, a synonym for all that is wild, reckless and violent; Hell on the Plains.  This milieu failed  to deter Henry Sturm, a German immigrant saloonkeeper and liquor dealer, who faced off in Dodge against formidable odds — a gun-toting gang led by Bat Masterson, shown below.

Sturm had arrived in Dodge City about 1876 to establish a wholesale and retail liquor store.  He prospered and a year after arriving bought the Occident Saloon.  It is shown above as reconstructed as part of an “Old Dodge” exhibit.  Sturm soon was heavily engaged with other business owners in efforts to tame Dodge City’s image as a lawless frontier town, involving him deeply in what became known as “The Saloon War of 1883.”

The conflict began when authorities banished from town Luke Short, the owner of the Long Branch Saloon.  Quick with a gun himself, Short was backed by gunslingers like Bat Masterson, described at the time as “one of the most dangerous men in the West.”  Repairing to Topeka, Kansas, Short and Masterson assembled a group of armed men with the purpose of returning to Dodge and reeking revenge. When the pair threaten to bring their rowdies to town, the local sheriff enlisted local guns.

Sturm put himself on the line, signing an anti-gang telegram to a reluctant  Kansas governor, asking that state troops be deployed.  The message talked of the need in Dodge for “clearing out” the guntoting crowd.  It continued “This element has to be banished or else respectable people have to be bulldozed and browbeat by a class of men without any vested interest or visible means of support….”  High tension gripped Dodge City for days.  In the end issues were negotiated and no shots fired.  Masterson returned to town a year later where he opened a short-lived newspaper, seemingly devoted to justifying his position during the Saloon War.

Jack Ryan took an entirely different approach to the outlaw element.  Not being able to beat them, he has been accused of having joined them.  After robbing a coal company payroll of $8,000 the notorious Butch Cassidy and the outlaw gang he headed known as the “Wild Bunch,” stopped in Ryan’s Home Ranch Saloon in Baggs, Wyoming, got drunk and shot up his bar.  As the story goes, Ryan stayed calm through the chaos and was rewarded with a silver dollar for every bullet hole found in his walls and ceiling.

Moreover, Ryan was able to earn the confidence of Cassidy and the others as a reliable collaborator.  When he moved to Rawlings, Wyoming, the Wild Bunch followed.  Shown here is a photo from about 1889, showing the gang and Ryan posed in front of the saloon,  That is Cassidy in the bowler hat, standing fourth from the left.  Jack Ryan is standing on the steps above him, also wearing a bowler.  Mischief would follow.

Subsequently two of the last great American train robberies occurred in Wyoming, one at Wilcox where the Wild Bunch got away with $30,000 (equivalent to $750,000 today) and a second near Tipton, Wyoming, when $50,000 in gold was taken.  Suspicion immediately fell on Ryan who was a former brakeman on the Union Pacific and presumably had inside knowledge of railroad operations.  Giving him the code name “Basket,” investigators opened a criminal history dossier on him.

Nothing was ever proved, however, and Ryan continue to prosper as a saloon owner while detectives hunted down most of the train robbers.  The Wild Bunch became history, its members, including Butch Cassidy, shot dead or in prison.  Meanwhile, Ryan was expanding his business interests with large real estate holdings, oil rich lands, a productive stone quarry, and a horse ranch.  He became active in civic affairs and a co-founder of the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Elks.  Any taint from Ryan’s association with outlaws seem to have been forgotten.  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.”

For decades the men of the family of Ernest Schwethelm (pronounced “Sweet-helm”) were virtually synonymous with the famous Texas Rangers, lawmen whose mission was to bring law and order to the Lone Star State.  His father, Henry, was the captain of a ranger company tasked with patrolling the Texas hill country against cattle thieves.   Schwethelm, shown here at a ranger reunion, served with the organization before moving to Kerrville, a market town and county seat, where, with a partner, owned and operated saloons.  Among his drinking establishments were the Ranch Saloon, left, and the Favorite Saloon. Both were housed in sturdy Italianate style buildings and still stand in Kerrville.

Despite Schwethelm’s background as a lawman, the Ranch Saloon had a reputation for being a rowdy place and reputedly the site of the murder of a Texas Ranger.  His name was Tom Carson, a man with a reputation for being tough, bad tempered and somewhat mysterious.  Although details about the event and his assailant are sketchy, Carson reputedly was shot and killed in the Ranch Saloon in April 1893.

No such violence attached to Schwethelm’s Favorite Saloon.  While catering to the ranch hands who supplied the wool and fleece markets that operated in Kerrville, Ernest was rectifying liquor, blending whiskeys to achieve taste and color and selling the results via the post office and railroad express to the increasing number of “dry” counties around Texas.  He had progressed beyond pushing drinks over the bar into a commercial operation that sought a wider customer base.  In a word, the Wild West saloon was beginning to go Main Street.
A photograph exists that epitomizes the changes at work in Texas. It is 1912.  Henry Schwethelm and his three sons, Texas Rangers all, who had known the perils of being lawmen when the state teemed with outlaw elements, are with wife and mother, Emilie, for a 50th wedding anniversary.  Ernest Schwethelm is standing center. The men are all dressed in suits and ties, flowers in their button holes, looking like Rotary Club businessmen.  

Each of the four saloonkeepers featured here took a different strategy to dealing with armed and dangerous hombres --   from collaboration and tolerance to opposition and active law enforcement.  No matter their approach, a strong and inevitable march toward civilization was taming the West and ending the day of the gunslingers.

Note:  For more elaborated stories on the four whiskey men here, please access the following posts:  John Neff, September 18, 2014;  Henry Sturm, June 15, 2017;  Jack Ryan, November 18, 2015;  Ernest Schwethelm, November 15, 2013.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Robsons' Old ‘76 Distillery — Plague of Finchtown?

Being a close neighbor to a pre-Prohibition distillery was, at best, a mixed blessing.  It provided employment but at a cost to its surroundings.  In addition to the constant danger of fire, air and water pollution from the plant posed a problem, particularly if, as often occurred, the distillery kept cattle or hogs on the premises to feed spent mash.  A case in point was the Robson’s distillery near Newport, Kentucky, located in a small settlement on the Licking River called “Finchtown,” shown on a map here.

A local resident in a letter to the Newport newspaper about 1880 described Finchtown as a “beautiful little community” and insinuated its ultimate incorporation as a town.  Among amenities he cited was a first class hotel with a highly able management.  The writer also noted proudly the “large and extensive distillery of G. W. Robson Jr. & Company.”

By 1876 work had been completed on the sprawling set of buildings owned by George W. Robson Sr. in Finchtown.  Warehouses with capacity for 28,000 barrels sat astride Licking Pike and the plant itself adjoined the river bank. The massive distillery, whose flagship brand was “Old ’76,” was producing large amounts of whiskey.  With other factories locating within its boundaries, Finchtown gave the appearance of thriving community.

On September 4, 1888, however, the residents got a rude awakening when an explosion rocked the community.  Around 10 p.m. as a night watchman was making his rounds on the third floor of the distillery, he was flattened by a blast from a still.  The force of the explosion collapsed the south wall of the distillery onto a boiler shed.  The watchman suffered severe burns but survived.  No other injuries were reported.

Assisted by his son, George Jr., Robson quickly rebuilt.  A 1892 underwriter’s report described the distillery as new and constructed of brick with a fire proof roof.   Now there were four bonded warehouses, also of brick and with fireproof roofs.  Two were joined but separated by a firewall.  One was located only nine feet northwest of the still.  In this restored state, the distillery continued to operate successfully.

In 1903, additional improvements were made.  Copper tanks were substituted for wooden tubs throughout the plant and an elaborate heating system was installed, one considered to be less susceptible to fire.  The Robesons issued a statement that cited how much the improvements had decreased the fire insurance rates on whiskey held in its warehouses.  The danger of another fire was seen as low by insurers.

That is, until January 24, 1907.  About 9 p.m. that day, a watchman came across a blaze, one that quickly spread out of control into the community.  As the flames raged, a popular saloon and the Finchtown drug store were consumed.  The fierce conflagration moved rapidly toward the warehouses that were at maximum capacity with aging whiskey.  As the flames engulfed the storage areas, the barrels are said to have exploded like rockets in the night sky.  Once again the distillery was rebuilt, as shown here in a photo.  Finchtown, however, would never be the same.

Fire was not the only hazard to Finchtown presented by the Old ’76 Distilling Company.  When the plant was first constructed the Robsons received permission to dig three tunnels below the train tracks into the Licking River.  The tunnels allowed water to be pumped into the distillery to facilitate the production of whiskey.  By that method some 250,000 gallons of water daily were being drawn from the Licking. 

The tunnels also allowed the distillery to discharge into the waterway 3,000 to 4,000 gallons a day of “hot slop” waste material.  The facility also was feeding 350 head of cattle on premises with the spent mash.  According to a 1913  Kentucky health department report:  “The cattle pens cause considerable pollution of the banks and stream.”

Although the Robson’s distillery was not the only Finchtown factory contributing to the fouling of the Licking River, it was pictured as the major culprit.  The report continued:  “Just below the distillery…several fish were observed floating near the surface nearly dead from the lack of oxygen in the river.”   Although not part of the report, odors from the cattle pens also were wafting through Finchtown’s “beautiful little community.”

Meanwhile the Robsons, father and son, were employing 45 men in manufacturing from 15,000 to 30,000 barrels of whiskey annually.  George Washington Robson Sr. was born in 1813 in Pittsburgh, one of four children of John and Mary Robson.   Of his early life details are scant but Cincinnati business directories indicate that with his brother, William, he was managing a factory that made brass fittings and steam pipe fittings.  This activity apparently resulted in his interest in the liquor industry.   With a co-inventor, George Sr. is credited with an improved still that heated mash with a series of steam-pipes deployed within the still itself through the use of an enclosing jacket and an internal chamber for steam.

After moving to Cincinnati, during the late 1830s at about 26 years of age,  George Sr. married Mary Ann Brack, a native Ohioan.  Their firstborn in 1840 was a son whom they named George Jr.  Six other children would follow, three of them sadly dying in infancy or childhood.  George Jr. would attain maturity and be a partner with his father in their highly successful Finchtown distillery, maintaining corporate offices across the Ohio River in Cincinnati.

Through the years, the Old ’76 Distilling Company produced a myriad of brands including “Finchtown,” ”Charles Frank,” "General Lacey,” "Geo W. Robson,””Lacy," "Licking Bourbon,” "Lord Lytton Gin,” "Metropolitan Club,” “Medallion,” "Old '76 Banner,” "Old 33,” "Old 76," "Old Lacey,” "Old Liberty,” "W. T. Hewitt,”, "Willmore Rye,”, and “Woodruff."  The Robsons bothered to trademark only three brands:  Woodruff in 1905 and Metropolitan Club and Medallion in 1906.  Medallion was the company’s flagship brand, advertised widely and featured on giveaway items such as shot glasses.  

Another Robson giveaway seemingly was an oblique allusion to the given names of father and son — George Washington.  Their Old ’76 Distillery, itself a name reflecting the American Revolution, provided to saloons and restaurants serving its products a wall sign that shows a winsome young woman serving a drink from a wicker-covered bottle to George Washington.  Structures in the background left appear to be a primitive still.  

As he aged George Sr. turned more and more responsibility over to his son.  The company became G W Robson Jr & Co. The founding father died in 1899 at the age of 86.  By that time George Jr. had married, his wife the former Clara B. Newman, born in Covington, Kentucky.  The couple would have two sons and three daughters.  To house this family about 1868 George Jr. contracted with a Cincinnati-based architect to build them a Queen Anne-Romanesque Revival style house in  Bellevue, Kentucky.  Shown here, the Robson home was the first large scale residence in what would become a desirable bedroom community across the Ohio River,  a mere three miles from downtown Cincinnati.

As he aged George Jr.’s health began to deteriorate.  After what was described as “ a lingering illness,” he died in March 1909, at his Bellevue home.  He was 68 years old.  After a funeral service at the residence, he was buried at the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, where his father and mother also were interred.  Subseqently managed by non-family members, the Robsons’ distilling company continued to produce whiskey until shut down by National Prohibition.

As Bellevue was flourishing, the five square blocks of Finchtown were waning.  Some observers blamed the fires and pollution.   While other local industries had contributed to those problems, the Robsons' distillery, as the largest enterprise, frequently was fingered as the cause.   In the 1890s and 1900s, Finchtown addresses were identified as such but listed under Newport, Kentucky.  The name stopped appearing in the 1920s and in 1938 the area was annexed to Newport.  

Over time all but one of the structures of the Robson’s Old ’76 Distillery were pulled down, until today there is virtually nothing to remind anyone of the 42 years when it was a major source of American whiskey and perhaps brought a “plague” of fire and pollution to the neighborhood.  As one writer noted:   “Today it is hard to visualize the location of the former community of Finchtown.  Even the street that was the center of the community, Finch Street, no longer exists.”  The 2015 Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky in its entry on Finchtown observed:  “Most of the streets of Finchtown are gone and forgotten, just as most of its history is.”  Perhaps this post can help.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Gunters Gave A Helping Hand to Jack Daniels

When Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, Tennessee, needed assistance in developing a market for his whiskey,  brothers in Nashville, William Thomas and Charles David Gunter, recognized the quality and appeal of Daniels’ product and helped make the distiller’s “No. 7” a widely recognized brand.  Relatively isolated in Lynchburg, a small town with one traffic light about seventy miles south of Nashville, Daniels needed the “big city” resources the Gunters could provide from their wholesale liquor house.

The Gunters bottled whiskey for Daniels. They had the staff and equipment to decant the barrels from his distillery into ceramic jugs that they ordered from area potteries and glass bottles bought from local glass houses.  Shown here are examples of the jugs that the brothers used for Daniel’s “No. 7.”  Early jugs have a primitive look to them with the labels in cobalt and black.  In time the presentation improved with more legible and professional-looking stenciled labels.  These jugs varied from quart size to one and two gallons. 

The Gunters advertised for Daniels.  In Nashville the brothers had access to a number of publications to run ads for “Jack Daniel No. 7” and his Old Time Distillery.  In the ad shown below that they proclaim themselves “sole agents” for the Lynchburg whiskey.  The Gunters also had access to modern printing techniques and specialists to design attractive labels for the glass bottles and flasks they merchandised under Daniels’ name.

The Gunters assisted distribution for Daniels. Nashville was a hub for roads and, more important, rail lines.  Nashville had good access to the North through the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) railroad, incorporated in Kentucky in 1850.  Several other Middle Tennessee railroads also provided Nashville connections. The Nashville and Decatur (N&D) ran from Nashville through Columbia to Tennessee's southern border, where it connected with the M&C and an Alabama railroad to Decatur.  The Edgefield and Kentucky (E&K), completed in 1860, ran from the Nashville suburb of Edgefield to Guthrie on the Kentucky boundary where it connected with other lines.  Shipment of Jack Daniels whiskey was possible to all points of the U.S.

Assistance from the Nashville brothers became particularly important after 1904 when Daniels’ No. 7 received a surge in popularity after receiving a gold medal for the finest whiskey at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.  The resulting demand required marketing capacities considerably beyond the capacity of the Lynchburg distillery — and over the next five years the Gunter brothers did their best to provide it.

The Gunters could not, however, hold off the “dry” forces that were sweeping the state.  In 1909 Tennessee passed a statewide prohibition law, banning the production and sale of alcohol, effectively ending the legal distillation of Jack Daniels whiskey.  The distillery, now under Lem Motlow, challenged the law in a test case ultimately appealed to the state supreme court where it was upheld as constitutional.   

The ban also shut down the W.T. & C.D. Gunter’s Nashville liquor business. That blow must have seemed particularly stinging since the Gunter family had deep ties to Tennessee.  Shown here, the progenitor was W. T. Gunter, born there in 1830, who served in the Tennessee militia during the Civil War.  He married Mary Elizabeth Ramsey and the couple had six children.  Among them were William, born in May 1855,  and Charles, born in December 1857.

When Tennessee went “dry,”, both men were married with families.  William, wed to Mary Reese of Moore County, Tennessee, had six children;  Charles, married to Delia Belle Newton, had three.   They were firmly rooted in Tennessee soil — and now their livelihood had been taken from them.  The brothers quickly decided to move their liquor house and chose Evansville, Indiana, as their new home, 150 miles north of Nashville.  That state seemed determined to remain “wet” despite prohibitionary forces.  By 1910 W.T. & C.D. Gunter Wholesale Liquors was recorded in local directories at 108 Main Street in Evansville, a major commercial avenue shown here on a postcard.

Although William appeared in Evansville business directories as co-owner of the firm, he continued to make Shelbyville, Tennessee, his home.  Charles, in contrast, had moved Delia Belle and his family to Evansville where they lived at 414 Chandler Avenue.   Two of William’s sons, Clyde and Herbert, also relocated to Evansville, working for the Gunter firm and listed as living at the business address.  Clyde was a salesman and Herbert a clerk.

Without Jack Daniels whiskey to sell, in Indiana the brothers turned to blending and bottling their own brands. using the names “Gunter’s IXL,” “Gunter’s IXL No. 7,” and “Gunter’s Landing.”  As shown here, they issued a series of shot glasses for their brands.  Those giveaway items would have been provided to restaurants, saloons and bars featuring the Gunter brands. 

The Gunter family appears to have prospered in their transplanted liquor house, in 1911 moving to new quarters at 23 Main Street.   Clyde married about the same time, his wife listed as Nana R.  In August 1913, Charles Gunter died in Evansville at  the age of 56 and his body was returned to Shelbyville, where he was buried in the Willow Mount Cemetery, not far from where his father and mother lay.  Delia Belle would follow him to the grave seven months later.

Although William continued to be linked to the liquor house in Evansville after his brother’s death, his son Clyde actually was managing the day to day operations of W.T. & C.D. Gunter Co., assisted by Herbert.   They continued in that mode until forced to shut down with the coming of National Prohibition.   William lived long enough to see “The Great Experiment” widely disparaged and on the brink of Repeal.  He died in November 1932 at the age of 80, twenty years after his wife, Mary, had passed.  They too are buried in Willow Mount Cemetery.

Today the Gunters are best remember in Tennessee — not Indiana — because of the many artifacts that remind collectors and others of the contribution that the brothers made to the ultimate success of Jack Daniels’ Tennessee whiskey.   At a time when No. 7 was just getting a start, William and Charles had provided crucial assistance that Daniels’ distillery needed to achieve an expanded customer base and national attention.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Ben Franklin Spoke for Chicago’s Delaney & Murphy

Two Irishmen named Daniel and Michael found each other in Chicago and brought forth in Benjamin Franklin’s name a flagship rye whiskey that became a “good drinking” favorite throughout the Upper Midwest.    In the process the firm of Delaney & Murphy, according to an observer, “prospered exceedingly.”

Given Franklin’s frequent statements on behalf of spirits it is a mystery why his image does not appear more often on alcoholic products.  Among citations:  “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” and “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”   We remember Franklin as one of the Founding Fathers, involved in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, author of “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” and inventor of the lightning rod.  We also can remember him because of his love for imbibing.  Certainly Delaney & Murphy did, each traveling a long road before achieving their partnership and the emergence of “Ben Franklin Old Rye.”

Daniel Delaney was the elder, born in 1833 in the parish of Upperwoods, Queen’s (now Loais) County, Ireland, the son of a farmer.  His schooling was cut short at fourteen when his father became ill and his labor was needed in the fields.  When a uncle booked passage for America in 1851,  Daniel decided to accompany him.  Delaney’s first stop was Cincinnati where he found work with a wholesale liquor firm until March, 1864, when he relocated to Chicago, again finding employment in a liquor house.  Following a short-lived business partnership in 1866, for the next 13 years Delaney worked for other Chicago Irish whiskey dealers.

In 1879 at the age of 46 at last he struck out on his own, establishing a store on Chicago’s Market Street, near Randolph, later moving to Kinzie Street.  Although meeting with moderate success, it was not until 1888 when he hooked up with Michael W. Murphy that the business took off.  Murphy was 11 years younger and American-born in Hartland, McHenry County, Illinois, about 68 miles northwest of Chicago.

Michael Murphy’s father was a prominent grocer and, unlike Delaney, able to give his son advanced education.  Michael obtained a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s of the Lake, Chicago, and then attended the Union College of Law.  Admitted to the bar in 1868, he apparently found two years toiling in a local law office tedious and went to work as a bookkeeper and cashier for M. W. Kerwin, a Chicago liquor dealer.  

Murphy may have intended return to the law later but never did.  Eventually he invested in the business and when Kerwin retired in 1888 took over its management, but soon linked his fortunes with Delaney.  The partners called their enterprise “Delaney & Murphy” and located it at 10-12 Wabash Avenue in Chicago.  Delaney was president; Murphy, treasurer.  In a local directory they identified their company:  “We are distillers and wholesale dealers in liquors of all kind and distribute our goods in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.”

That was when Ben Franklin Rye was born.  The whiskey was a “rectified” product, blended in the partner’s facilities to achieve a particular taste, smoothness and color that proved over time to have a great appeal in the Upper Midwest.  The company work force grew to twenty-five, with nine traveling salesmen covering the three states noted above, plus Indiana.

The partners went “all in” for Ben Franklin as their flagship brand, issuing trade cards, saloon signs, back of the bar bottles and shot glasses to advertise that label.   Examples of those giveaways are seen throughout this post.  

A unusual gifted item was a bronze colored watch fob, meant to be worn on the outside of a vest on a chain as a means to accessing a pocket watch.  Wearers were walking advertisements for Ben Franklin whiskey.

Meanwhile both men were having personal lives.  Delaney married Catherine  “Kate” Quinn, a native of New York State, in July 1858.  He was 25 at the time of their marriage; she was twenty.  They would have a family of eight children, four girls and four boys, one of whom, William, would eventually go to work for the liquor house as a salesman.  Daniel was known as a strong Democrat and a devout Catholic, noted in his elder years as oldest member of the Jesuit Sodality in America.

In December 1871, Murphy married Mary J. Synon, who at the time was the principal of a Chicago elementary school.   Described as “…a woman of most charming personal appearance and lovable character,”  she died in 1879, leaving Michael to raise their four young children, a boy and three girls.  He never remarried.  Like Delaney, Murphy was a Democrat and a Catholic, involved in social clubs and Catholic charitable organizations. He was an inveterate traveler, taking his motherless family with him on trips throughout the United States and spending a year with them touring Europe in 1895 and 1896, leaving business matters to Delaney.

The company continued to prosper through the 1890s and into the new century, credited with transacting its business “with attention to every detail and with due consideration to the comforts and requirements of its clients.  The company became the agents for Power’s Irish Whiskey, featuring the liquor in its Chicago ads.

While on vacation in San Antonio, Texas, in February 1906 Daniel Delaney suffered from a serious attack of gall stones.   An operation failed to relieve the problem and he died the age of 73.  His body was brought back by railroad to Chicago where his funeral services were held at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.  He was buried in Calvary Cemetery next to Kate who had passed a year earlier.

Murphy subsequently took over total management of the liquor house, assuming the post of president while remaining treasurer.  From examples of letters he wrote to suppliers, he was a stickler for quality in the whiskey and wine products he bought for bottling.  Also described as a “…man who gains and retains the affection and esteem of all who know him,” Murphy was tapped for leadership positions within the whiskey trade.  He served as both first vice president of the National Wholesale Liquor Dealers Association and president of the Distillers & Jobbers Assn. of Illinois.

Nothing in his leadership abilities was sufficient to fend off the effects of National Prohibition, however, and in 1919 he was forced to close the doors on Delaney & Murphy Company.  At that point 75 years old, Murphy retired.  He lived through much of the “dry” era, dying at his Chicago home in January 1931 at the age of 87.  Murphy’s funeral was held at Holy Name Cathedral with burial at Calvary Cemetery.   A 1933 biography of prominent Illinois citizens termed him “one of the true builders of the community.”

With the demise of the liquor business, the Ben Franklin Rye label disappeared and was not revived with Repeal in 1934.   Despite his celebration of spirits, Franklin has not, to my knowledge, been featured since as the inspiration for a brand of liquor.  With the many craft distilleries spring up all over America, surely one of them can celebrate the Founding Father who wrote:  “There is not good living where there is not good drinking.”

Note:  Much of the information for this vignette on Delaney & Murphy is from the 1897 volume, “Biographical History of the American Irish in Chicago,” edited by Charles Ffrench.