Friday, March 29, 2019

Yukon Bill McPhee: Gold and a Whiskey Chaser

The contention that “every bottle has a story,” is fully borne out by the small ceramic flask shown here.  It tells the story of W. H. (“Bill”) McPhee, a figure in the frozen North whose role in the Yukon Gold Rush was not to moil for the shiny stuff in the earth but to get it in payment for whiskey in his saloons.  Said the Dawson Yukon Sun:  “The memory of man runneth not back to the time when Bill McPhee first came to the Yukon.”

According to his response to the 1910 census, McPhee was born in Eastern Canada in 1841 of Scottish ancestry.  Shown here, he came to the United States in 1870 and eventually became a citizen, although equally at home in Canada.  Of his early years, information is scant.  He appears to have had some early employment in the whiskey trade, likely spending a period employed in a saloon.  He is shown here in middle age.

Although he indicated he had arrived in the Canadian Yukon in 1888, McPhee first shows up in the public record six years later running a drinking establishment in “Forty Mile,” accounted as the oldest town in Canada’s Yukon.  It was established in 1886 at the confluence of the Yukon and Fortymile Rivers by prospectors in search of gold after a strike had been made on the banks of the Fortymile. With a population of about 600 by 1894, the town, shown below, boasted two general stores, a lending library, billiard room, ten saloons, two restaurants, a theatre, an opera house, a watchmaker, and several distilleries.

After McPhee with two partners opened a saloon in Forty Mile he was soon active in public affairs in the town and became one of the founders of the Yukon Order of Pioneers.  This group was formed in 1894 by members of the community to bring an element of “law and order” to Forty Mile where claim-jumping and violence were all too common — and there was no local police force.  At the first meeting of the Order the popular Bill was elected treasurer.  Shown here is a photo of the Pioneers against a backdrop of log buildings.  McPhee is second from left, seated in the first row.

It was at McPhee’s saloon, late in the afternoon of August 17, 1896, that George Carmacks made his initial announcement that he had discovered gold on a tributary of the Yukon River forty miles to the south.  Although townspeople at first were skeptical, Carmacks pulled out a shotgun shell full of the metal plus a nugget the size of a dime.   He had found a huge quantity of gold, describing seeing raw gold in pieces of bedrock “laying thick between the flaky slabs, like cheese sandwiches.”  and had marked out four claims along the creek for himself and two companions.  The next day he registered them at at the nearest police post and news spread rapidly from there to other mining camps in the Yukon River valley.  The Klondike Gold Rush was on.

The denizens of Forty Mile did not wait.  Many of them set out immediately that evening to the site.  By the next morning Forty Mile was a ghost town as residents used every available pole boat to get upriver.  Among those quick to move was Clarence Berry, one of McPhee’s bartenders.  Berry, a muscular giant, was a California fruit farmer caught in the depression of the 1890s who had come North in 1894.  With little initial luck as a prospector, he had gone to work in the saloon.

When opportunity beckoned, Berry did not hesitate and with partners staked claims along what became known as Bonanza Creek.  By the following summer he and his buddies were millionaires.   While waiting for the rivers to thaw so he could ship out to civilization and spend money,  Berry reportedly placed an coal-oil can full of gold and a bottle of whiskey in front of his cabin with a sign reading “Help Yourself.”

McPhee himself was not slow in realizing the need to move his saloon to what was becoming known as Dawson City.   There he opened an establishment he called the “Pioneer.”  Said one observer: “In a city of greenhorns like Dawson, McPhee was a genuine oldtimer and his watering hole was one of the most popular in town.”  According to author Michael Gates, however:  “McPhee was not universally admired, because he was reputed to encourage men to drink themselves into insolvency.”

In the spring of 1898, Dawson’s population ballooned to 30,000 as prospectors arrived from all over the globe. As shown here, the main drag, Front Street, was lined with hastily built frame buildings and warehouses, together with log cabins and tents spreading out across the settlement. In Spring, the unpaved streets were churned into thick mud and in Summer the settlement reeked of human waste and was plagued by flies and mosquitoes.

Despite the squalor, the quantities of gold coming through Dawson triggered inflationary prices for land, food and other hard to get commodities.  At his Pioneer Saloon, McPhee was benefiting from the lavish spending among the wealthier prospectors.  Establishments like McPhee’s typically were open around the clock.  Whiskey, much of it of dubious quality, was the standard drink.  Gambling was popular, with major saloons each running their own gaming rooms and taking a generous cut for the house.

As had occurred earlier at Forty Mile, the Yukon Gold Rush slackened after 1898.  Most land with potential for gold had been claimed.  Many of the prospectors arriving in Dawson City could not make a living and left for home.  Most important were gold strikes elsewhere in Canada and Alaska.  A stampede of prospectors left Dawson City for other locations.  Among the destinations was a former trading post on the south bank of the Chena River in Alaska where gold was discovered about 1902.  Thousands of people flocked to the area in search of their fortune, creating a boom town the residents called Fairbanks.  The main street is shown below in the 1900s.  

McPhee was relatively quick to see that the local boom economy was finished and as he had done before at Forty Mile, he left Dawson City and in 1904 moved down the Yukon River to Fairbanks.  There he established the Washington Saloon at the corner of First and Lacy Streets, an establishment the locals called “McPhee’s Place.”  The proprietor’s genial personality and reputation as an “old pioneer,” combined with his generosity in handing out tokens good for 25 cents in trade.  He made the Washington Saloon one of the most popular in Fairbanks.  

Two years after opening, however, McPhee’s place was consumed in the Great Fairbanks Fire of May 26, 1906.  Shown here, the conflagration destroyed most of the town, which was quickly rebuilt.  McPhee had men working the day after the flames ended constructing a new one story saloon and store building.  Remembering the kindness the proprietor had shown him by hiring him when he was down on his luck, the millionaire Clarence Berry quickly had wired McPhee all the money he needed to rebuild. 

McPhee’s saloon was famous for harboring his pet moose that reputedly had a habit of eating potatoes and stale bread and chasing it down with beer — causing considerable havoc when the moose got drunk.  According to the local press: “Since the mayor’s repeated demands to remove the moose from the Saloon were refused, he drew up an ordinance prohibiting moose on the city sidewalks—so that the large ungulate couldn’t lawfully enter the bar.”  With McPhee’s permission, the moose was killed and his patrons ate it.  

In 1909 controversy arose about a hiker’s claim to have climbed Denali (Mt. McKinley).  To prove whether the story was true or not, McPhee who had been drinking beer, offered $500 to anyone who would make the climb, claiming, according to a New York Times story, that “no living man could make the ascent.” He gathered two other sponsors and each contributed $500 (the total worth over $37,000 today.)  A group of four prospectors took him up on the challenge.

The prospectors subsequently claimed to have reached the summit after climbing more than 8,000 feet of steep snow and ice, then back down again— all in a single day in 1910.  Lugging a 25-pound, 14-foot flagpole to mark their success, they claimed to have mastered North America’s highest peak using sheet metal crampons, coal shovels, hatchets, and alpenstocks to carve their way up the mountain. The claim of the prospectors soon was proven spurious. They got no payoff. The Denali was first conquered in 1913 by professional mountaineers.

Meanwhile, McPhee’s saloon business continued brisk as Fairbanks advanced from a camp to a settlement to a town and then to the largest city in Alaska.  The flask that opens this post is an indication of the proprietor’s prosperity.  It was made in Germany by the Schafer & Vader, a German company known for their humorous small ceramic items.  Founded in 1890, the factory was located in Volkstedt-Rudolstadt.  Shown here front and back, this was an expensive giveaway item for McPhee.  The ceramics themselves were not cheap.  Then they had to be brought by ship from Germany all the way to the American Yukon, likely after rounding the tip of Latin America.  Upon arrival, McPhee was obliged to fill them with whiskey before presenting them to favored customers. 

Gestures like this made Bill McPhee a legendary figure, known well to the power brokers in Alaska.  He is shown here, right, posing with Tom Megowan, his good friend and a political insider.  There is no evidence McPhee ever married or had children to assist him as he aged.  At 72 years old in 1913 he was still running the Washington Saloon and continued, despite declining eyesight, until closed by National Prohibition.  By then he was almost blind and about 1921 left Fairbanks for San Francisco and better care.  Then McPhee fades into history and I have been unable to find his burial place.

No one who ever knew him ever forgot Bill McPhee,” according to one author.  Today, however, no one who ever knew him is still living.  Yet through the iconic ceramic flask McPhee issued we can learn the story of this resourceful Yukon pioneer who preferred pouring golden liquid over a bar to laboriously unearthing the shiny stuff in the frozen tundra.

Notes:  While this post was composed from many sources, a key one was an item entitled “A Most Popular Resort:  Bill McPhee’s Saloon” by Terrence Cole from “A Walking Tour of Fairbanks” published by the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society.

Addendum:  This is to alert both followers of this blog and others that I have a new website involving whiskey.  It is a compilation of more than thirty vignettes about Old West saloons and saloonkeepers.  Outlaws, gunslingers, and shootings abound.  This new blog can be accessed at wet enterprise: select saloons of the old If this new site proves popular, other compilations under the “wet enterprise” heading may be forthcoming.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Whiskey Men Hounded by Tax Collectors

Foreword:  Almost from the outset of the Republic, the Federal Government has collected taxes on the production of whiskey.  George Washington himself rode out to help put down the Pennsylvania “Whiskey Rebellion” of farmer/distillers objecting to federal taxation.  For many years the principal revenue stream into Washington, D.C., came from taxing liquor.  Shown here is a $500 whiskey revenue stamp.  Before and even after passage of the Bottle-in-Bonding Act of 1897 by Congress, tax collectors could use their authority to harass and even bring ruin to distillers.  Recounted here are three examples of government overreach.

William McRoberts, an immigrant from Northern Ireland, found considerable initial success as a distiller and wholesale liquor dealer from Cincinnati.  When the Civil War ended, McRoberts built a distillery near Latonia Station, on the Louisville Short Line & Kentucky Central Railroads, located about four miles south of Cincinnati.  Known on Federal rolls as RD #2, 6th District of Kentucky, McRoberts designated this plant the Willow Run Distillery.  His success was such that he was able to build his family the mansion home, shown below.

Fire was to be McRoberts’ undoing.  Just after Christmas 1867, a conflagration ignited at the distillery, destroying the plant.  Storage areas held 9,000 barrels of highly flammable whiskey that fueled a fire so intense that the stone walls of the building crumbled.  The loss to McRoberts and his partner was set at $450,000, equivalent to more than $9 million today.  Although insurance paid $200,000, the remainder came from the owners’ pockets Undeterred by this setback,  McRoberts immediately rebuilt. 

His fire precautions proved unavailing.  In 1869 McRoberts suffered a second major fire, again with great monetary loss.  This time he lacked the resources to rebuild.  He sought to recoup from the Federal government the amount he already had paid in taxes for the now destroyed whiskey, but was refused.  Prior to passage of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, distillers were taxed on product immediately after it was put in barrels and stored for aging.  

Eventually McRoberts sued in Federal Court for a refund, triggering a tense confrontation with authorities.  In 1870 a Federal liquor gauger/inspector named Mohan had a heated argument with McRoberts, attacked him with a knife and was arrested.  In the end the distiller was forced to sell his mansion, his wife left him taking their two children, and he faced financial ruin.  When McRoberts died in 1875 at the age of 52 following a train accident that cost him both legs, his lawyers were still arguing unsuccessfully for a refund.

Fast forward eighteen years.  Jacob Sheaffer was highly respected in his home town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  The scion of an early settler family, Sheaffer owned a distillery, a liquor dealership and a shoe store.  Times were good until October, 1893, when a fire destroyed his distillery, resulting in relentless pressure from a federal collector of revenue that ultimately may have resulted in ending Sheaffer’s life.  As the U.S. Government years later tacitly acknowledged, he deserved a better fate. 

In 1893, Sheaffer’s warehouse was destroyed by fire, taking with it some 40,000 gallons of whiskey that was aging there.  He had insurance, but that proved problematic.  Although the policies were in full force, many of the companies that had issued them refused to pay on the grounds that the fire had been set, in effect accusing Sheaffer of arson.  He took them to court and won.

Using the money he received in the insurance settlement, Sheaffer rebuilt his distillery and began to make whiskey again.  Then, after a delay of three years, the U.S. Government in 1896 demanded immediate payment of the tax on the whiskey that had been destroyed in the fire, assessing the debt at $45,166, equivalent today to about $1 million.  Although Sheaffer asked authorities to abate the tax in view of the circumstances, he was was refused and the Treasury Department proceeded to enforce collection.  In desperation, the Pennsylvania distiller stole some cattle, sold them, and was caught.

With his reputation in Lancaster now besmirched, Sheaffer almost certainly knew and dreaded what  would come. In 1897 Federal authorities seized all Sheaffer’s business properties, including the distillery, the warehouse, its contents, and his shoe store.  Jacob had borrowed almost $15,000 from relatives and friends to rebuild his distillery; now he met to inform them he was forced to default on their loans.  The cumulation of these events threw  Shaeffer into deep despair and impaired his health.  A year later at age 52, he died.

Outraged at what had occurred, his relatives appealed to Washington for redress.  A Pennsylvania senator in 1903 introduced a sympathetic bill that asked the U.S. Court of Claims to determine compensation for the injustice. It passed. The Court agreed that a mistake had been made and that recompense was due. It awarded the Sheaffer estate $34,055.  Unfortunately, the money ceded to Sheaffer’s family could not bring Jacob back from the early grave to which his own government seemingly had hounded him.  

Mark Twain called it a “ten million dollar swindle.”  The U.S. Commissioner of Revenue saw it as the answer to preventing the government from being deprived of “a vast amount of revenue” through frauds committed by liquor distillers. They both were referring to the spirits meter invented by a New York mechanical engineer.  Peoria, Illinois, liquor dealers Adolphus and Julius Nusbaum were typical of the hundreds caught up in the Tice Meter controversy.

The story began in 1867 when evidence emerged that the U.S. Government was being cheated out of tax money through frauds committed by distillers, often in collusion with dishonest inspectors.  For the Commissioner of Revenue the answer was to improve measuring liquor output by means of meters attached to stills that reputedly would aid inspectors in detecting gross understatement of the amount of spirits manufactured.  After a competition, it selected the design offered by Isaac P. Tice. Called the Tice Meter, the patent design is shown below.  The Treasury subsequently demanded that all distillers and rectifiers in the U.S. buy the expensive device. This included the Nusbaum brothers.  

It did not take long for the Commissioner of Revenue to begin having doubts about the utility of the Tice Meter and an expert commission was appointed to make a series of practical tests.  When the report came in negative, the Treasury Department in 1871 discontinued requiring use of the device, claiming to have found a more accurate meter than Tice’s.  In the meantime, hundreds of distillers and rectifiers had been forced to buy them — and now the Tice meters had been trashed.  Some distillers asked for a payback from Congress.  A bill approving repayment was vetoed by President William McKinley.  Another recourse was to the courts, the path taken by the Nusbaums.  They sued Enoch Emory, the U.S. collector of revenue for the Chicago district in Federal District Court to recover the $1,500 they had sent him to pay for the Tice meter for use in their whiskey blending operation.  Today that cost would be equivalent to at least $33,000. 

Emory’s lawyers argued that the money was Tice’s and not his and implied the Nusbaums should be litigating against Tice. The judge agreed and threw out the brothers’ case.  At that point, the now wiser Nusbaums ceased their efforts at repayment and took their losses.  By 1873 — just two years later — they shut the doors on their Peoria liquor house and went out of business, likely agreeing with Mark Twain about the “ten million dollar swindle.”

Note:  More extensive articles on each of these whiskey men can be found elsewhere on this blog:  William McRoberts, November 19, 2016;  Jacob Schaeffer, January 22, 2016; and the Nusbaum Bros., January 29, 2018.
Addendum:  This is to alert both followers of this blog and others that I have a new website involving whiskey.  It is a compilation of more than thirty vignettes about Old West saloons and saloonkeepers.  Outlaws, gunslingers, and shootings abound.  This new blog can be accessed at wet enterprise: select saloons of the old If this new site proves popular, other compilations under the “wet enterprise” heading may be forthcoming.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

In Deadwood John Treber Served Liquor and the People

In May 1877 when John Treber drove his team of oxen and a stock of liquor from Leavenworth, Kansas, into Deadwood neither he nor the residents who watched him drive down the dusty main street could know the impact this 24-year-old immigrant from Germany would have on the often-rowdy, frontier Dakota Territory town.

Shown here in maturity, Treber was born in Hochheim-on-the-Main, Germany, in March 1853, the son of Philip and Margaret (Hofmann) Treber.  His father farmed grapes and manufactured wine, early on training his son in the trade.  As he reached his majority, however, perhaps to avoid the Prussian army draft, John left for America with an uncle.  They landed in New York in September 1874.

The young Treber is said to have traveled almost immediately to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he found employment, also reputedly spending some time working at a St. Louis brewery.  Why he chose to relocate to Deadwood is unclear.  In April 1877 he left Leavenworth and traveled by ox team to Fort Pierre and then to Deadwood, a trip of 730 miles.  With his stock of whiskey and cigars and a local partner named Herrmann, Treber rapidly set up shop on the town’s rutted dirt main street.  As shown left in a colorized photo, their store was in a rickety one story frame building, marked by a large sign.

In Leavenworth Treber had met Hermina Pasch, like himself a German immigrant.  She had been born in near Stettin and brought to the United States as an infant.  Landing at New Orleans, the Pasch family had traveled up the Mississippi River to Hermann, Missouri, where they made their home.  The couple married in Leavenworth in June,1878, and quickly returned to Deadwood. Their pairing would produce three children, a girl and two boys.

With a gold rush having visited the Dakota Black Hills, Deadwood was experiencing boom times.  Saloons abounded, slaking the thirst of prospectors and mine employees.  The Herrmann-Treber liquor dealership prospered, by 1884 estimated at doing $100,000 a year business.  The wealth allowed them to tear down their original store in 1885 and in its place construct a two story brick building.  About the same time Herrmann departed leaving Treber as the sole proprietor.

He brought whiskey supplies in barrels to his liquor house and decanted them into ceramic jugs.  Those would then be sold to Deadwood’s many saloons and cafes where their contents would be dispensed drink by drink.  As shown here, several different examples of Treber jugs have survived down the years.  The container shown right with its Albany slip body, Bristol glaze and cobalt underglaze label is particularly attractive and indicates the kind of attention the proprietor paid to the appearance of his containers.

Treber also recognized that as a wholesaler it was necessary to provide advertising giveaway items to select patrons who purchased liquor from him.   He seems to have favored match safes for gifting.  Shown here are two examples.  The first is of metal construction, attractively designed and straightforwardly carrying Treber’s message.  The second is celluloid, a plastic-like compound discovered in the search for a better billiard ball. It proved to be an excellent bearer of ad messages.

Meanwhile Treber also was seeking public office — a family tradition.  In Germany his forebears had served in a variety of public position.  For a quarter century his father, for example, had been the treasurer of Hochheim-on-Main.   About 1890, Treber ran as a Republican for a position on the Deadwood City Council. He was elected and repeatedly re-elected, serving at least 24 years on that body.  In 1910 the people of Deadwood sent him to represent them in the South Dakota legislature.  Shown here is the engraved top of a cane given Treber in thanks for his state service.

Treber’s liquor profits also made it possible for him to invest in other enterprises that helped develop Deadwood.  He was a co-owner of the plush Franklin Hotel, shown left, a co-founder of the First National Bank of Deadwood, and owner of a feed company at nearby Pluma, South Dakota.  Like many townspeople Treber also had mining interests.  Shown below is his stock certificate from the Deadwood-Heidelberg Mining Co., a gold mine located on a mountain not far from town.  He also was a director of the Homestake Mining Co., one of America’s largest gold mining firms for more than a century.  Said a 1915 biography of Treber:  “He is a man of good business discernment and sound judgment….”

As he aged, Treber brought his second son, William L., into management roles for his business interests.  By this time his firm was reported to having “dominated the liquor trade” of the Black Hills.  He was also able to travel, returning to Germany in 1907 to see his family.  His spacious home became a showplace in Deadwood. Things appeared to be going well for John Treber.

Prohibition forces at work in South Dakota, however, were about to upend Treber’s Deadwood liquor business.  In 1917 the state went “dry” and the German immigrant was forced to shut off liquor sales.  Treber seems to have planned for that eventuality.  He turned his liquor house into a firm “jobbing” cigars and non-alcoholic beverages such as “Bevo” and “Columbine.”  Note the soft drink bottle here.  At the same time Treber moved his liquor business about 30 miles across the state line into Beulah, Wyoming, still a “wet” state.  From there thirsty South Dakotans could carry liquor back home.

Treber lived long enough to see the repeal of National Prohibition and South Dakota’s law.  He died in October 1937 at the age of 84.  After a funeral mass at his parish Catholic church, he was buried in Deadwood’s Mount Moriah Cemetery adjacent to his wife, Hermina, who had had died in 1922.

A tribute to John Treber, recognizing his contributions to his American home town, appeared earlier in a biography and bears repeating here.  Of Treber it says:  “His long connection with the city council indicates clearly the confidence and trust reposed in him…and that he has worked for the benefit of the city is a self-evident fact.”

Note:  Much of the material for this post is derived from “History of the Dakota Territory” by George W. Kingsbury, Vol. IV, published in 1915.  The photos of John Treber and his home are from the Treber Family Collection that claims a copyright on them.  I cannot find a website for the Collection to allow me formally to ask for permissions but have applied to a potential alternative source without response to date.  

Addendum:  This is to alert both followers of this blog and others that I have a new website involving whiskey.  It is a compilation of more than thirty vignettes about Old West saloons and saloonkeepers.  Outlaws, gunslingers, and shootings abound.  This new blog can be accessed at wet enterprise: select saloons of the old If this new site proves popular, other compilations under the “wet enterprise” heading may be forthcoming.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Max Reefer: Adman Foe of the Whiskey Trust

Shown here embossed with “Green Mountain Anti-Trust Distillery,” is, to my knowledge, the only time that a liquor bottle overtly challenged the powerful and feared “Whiskey Trust” of the late 19th and early 20th Century.  It was the work of Max C. Reefer of Kansas City, Missouri, whose reputation as an advertising genius tended to overshadow his aggressive success as a liquor dealer.

Described by his hometown newspaper as “irrepressible” and “indispensable,” to the Kansas City business community, Reefer devoted considerable attention to opposing one of the largest monopolies in American history, the Whiskey Trust.  The Trust was an attempt to consolidate distilleries, control liquor production, and hike whiskey prices. Known to resort to dynamite to intimidate resisters, it was organized in 1887, three years after Max set up his liquor house.

A circuitous road led to this point for Max.  He was born in 1848 in Czanow, a small city in Austria now part of Poland.  Early in life he moved to London where he learned the printer’s trade.  About 1861 Reefer came to the U.S. and found employment as a typesetter for the New York Tribune.  He subsequently moved on to newspapers in Chicago and St. Louis.  Shown here in his early 20s, Max cut a confident figure in bowler hat and floral cravat.

Reefer’s intelligence and creativity soon propelled him from the printshop to the advertising department and in turn to a sojourn in New York City where he solicited ads for several Midwestern newspapers.  He became increasingly recognized for his merchandising genius, a reputation that then sent him to Cleveland as business manager and publisher of the Daily Record newspaper.

Meanwhile, Max had found a bride in Marie Cohen, an immigrant from Germany who was 18 when they wed.  They would have eight children in quick succession, six girls and two boys.  His growing family may have occasioned Reefer to move to St. Louis where he ran a weekly newspaper and continued to gain a reputation for advertising prowess.  A trade journal would later claim that as an ad writer Reefer “stands without a peer in this profession” and jokingly advised firms to lock their safes and lose the combinations “when he calls.”

After the  birth in 1863 of his first son, Eugene Juliius  (“E.J”) however, Reefer with his family in tow moved from St. Louis 250 miles west across Missouri to Kansas City.  There, at the age of 33, he set up his liquor house, calling it “Green Mountain Distillery.”  His business plan was to advertise his whiskey repeatedly in national magazines like Munsey’s, emphasizing mail order sales.  Not only did Kansas City have good rail access to points west and east, it looked out on a number of western states where, in whole or part, prohibition had prevailed.  Mail order liquor was still legal, however, protected by the Interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution, and the only way many thirsty residents could get alcohol.

Reefer featured a relatively small number of brands, including “Reefer’s Green Mountain Whiskey,” ”Gold Medal,” "Green Mountain Rye,” "Real Kentucky Royal,” "Smoky Hollow Rye,” and “Tastewell."  Despite not trademarking any of these names, he featured them in splashy display ads with a clear message that “We pay the charges” for railroad express delivery.  Max’s advertising genius appears to have paid off rapidly and his business prospered.  By 1900, in addition to Kansas City, he claimed warehouse outlets in St. Louis, Louisville and Chicago.

Reefer soon came in conflict with the Whiskey Trust.  He was not a true distiller, making whiskey from raw grains, but a “rectifier,” that is, receiving whiskeys received in barrels from distilleries in Missouri, Kentucky, and other states, blending them on his premises, and bottling them under his own label for shipping.  Rectifiers often found themselves at the mercy of the Whiskey Trust.  By shutting down distilleries the Trust controlled a large percentage of existing whiskey stocks and hiked prices to the blenders.  If they refused to pay, they ultimately ran out of raw product, adding to whiskey shortages — the delight of the Trust.  As Reefer knew, the Trust would have been very happy to put Green Mountain and its owner out of business.

Reefer struck back.  Apparently able to obtain enough liquor for his blends, he advertised vigorously that he could undersell the Trust.  “The whiskey we send is distilled from the purest grain (no seconds), is matured and ripened in wood and will cost you but a few cents over $2.00 per gallon.  We guarantee that no Trust house ever sold the same quality goods for less than $3.00 to $4.00.”  Buy a five gallon keg for $10.37 and Reefer would throw in a gallon of blackberry brandy.   As shown on the two bottles that open this post, he made his anti-Trust stance also clear on the embossing under his labels.

Like many liquor dealers, Reefer also advertised by providing
giveaway items to his customers, providing a “gold rimmed, fine etched whiskey glass” and a corkscrew with purchases.  Shown above, his shot glasses came in several styles.  On one glass Max seemed to claim that Registered U.S. Distillery No. 9 of the 7th District of Kentucky was his own.  While it may have been a principal source of his whiskey supplies, this was the Glename Distillery of Woodford County, Kentucky.  Established in 1882 by Thomas Edwards, by 1892 the plant had become a component of the Woodford Distilling Co., headed by S.J. Greenbaum.  Not part of the Trust, federal records show this facility was supplying several rectifying outfits.

Reefer also was involved in outside commercial enterprises.  For a period in the 1890s he divided his time between Kansas City and New York where he ran an advertising agency from an office in the Tribune building.  He subsequently returned permanently to Kansas City where in addition to his liquor trade he managed the Reefer Publishing Co.  In 1897 he joined with other local businessmen in starting a new trade journal devoted to the manufacturing and wholesale trade interests of Kansas City.  In 1906 he organized and incorporated the Mutual Ice, Fuel & Storage Company.

With the passage of time Max was able to bring his elder son,  E.J Reefer, into the management of Green Mountain Distilling.  He incorporated the company in 1904 with himself as president and E. J. and an unmarried daughter, Zerllna, as directors.  As Max’s interests turned to his other enterprises, his son increasingly was operating the liquor house, with continued success.

In failing health as he aged, Max Reefer died at the age of 68 in December 1916.   Not only was his obituary noted in Kansas City media but in national trade publications like The Advocate:  America’s Jewish Journal;  American Printer and Lithographer, and Fourth Estate, a newspaper trade publication.  Reefer also gained recognition for a prize he created and funded through his will.  Called the Menorah Prize, it was awarded annually, regardless of creed, to an undergraduate at the University of Missouri for the best essay on Jewish history, literature, or religion.  Max was buried in a family plot in Kansas City’s Elmwood Cemetery.  Four months later his widow, Marie, would join him there.

In the meantime E. J. Reefer was continuing the vigorous mail order advertising campaign begun by his father.  Without specifying a source he was claiming to sell “genuine straight Kentucky Whiskey” while citing the Bottled-in-Bond Act.  Within just three years, however, National Prohibition made him shut the doors on the liquor house his father had founded 35 years earlier.  Although the Whiskey Trust had been greatly weakened by mismanagement and the pushback from whiskey men like Max Reefer, it survived until 1920 when it suffered the same fate as the Reefers’ enterprise.

Addendum:  This is to alert both followers of this blog and others that I have a new website involving whiskey.  It is a complication of more than thirty vignettes about Old West saloons and saloonkeepers.  Outlaws, gunslingers, and shootings abound.  This new blog can be accessed at wet enterprise: select saloons of the old If this new website proves popular, other compilations under the “wet enterprise” heading may be forthcoming.