Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Whiskey Men and “German-ness”


Foreword:  The number of Germans, particularly immigrants who engaged in making or selling liquor in America at first glance might seem remarkable.  It is less startling when one remembers the religious identities of most of those whiskey men — Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, and Mennonites.  None of those religions prohibited alcohol.  Treated here are three Germans engaged in the liquor trade who celebrated their “German-ness."

As a center of Germanic culture, Milwaukee for years was known as the “German Athens of North America.”  Steeped in the literature, music and fine arts of his homeland, John Philipp Kissinger contributed to that reputation of the Wisconsin city even as he provided Milwaukee’s populace with the spirits that enlivened Das Deutsch-Athen Amerikas.  His sculptured likeness is shown below.

Kissinger, a Lutheran, was born in 1830 in Selzen, a village situated near the Rhine River in the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany. He and came to America in 1855, settling in Milwaukee.  He established his own small wine and liquor store at the corner of Reed and Lake Streets, soon attracting a patronage of wealthy German businessmen.  Needing more space for his expanding sales, Kissinger moved to larger quarters at 155 Reed Street where he remained until just after the end of the Civil War.  His business having grown considerably during the conflict, he now had sufficient capital to erect his own building at 278-280 East Water Street, a district known for wholesale liquor dealers.

Increasingly prosperous, the German immigrant was branching out in other directions.  After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, with partners he established the Riverdale Distilling Company, the largest plant of its kind in Chicago, covering sixteen acres.  The facility distilled and blended whiskey, gin, and other alcoholic products.  It also made yeast. The company, of which Kissinger was first president and later a board member, was reported to use up to a million bushels of grain annually and employ one hundred workers.  The central figure in a Riverdale trade card may be John Phillipp.   

Meanwhile, Kissinger was becoming recognized for his contributions to cultural life in Milwaukee.   His biographer reported:  “He is a great lover of music, of all the fine arts, and since his early youth he has been deeply interested in…the promotion of culture and the consequent betterment of mankind.”  A major effort was expended on the Milwaukee Sangerbund, German singing groups that competed for prizes in song festivals, an organization of which Kissinger was a longtime president. He was widely hailed for his interest and labor on behalf of the organization, resulting in its development and prosperity.   At the age of seventy, a very wealthy Kissinger died in December 1900 not long after his wife of 46 years passed away. 


Although many German immigrants were quick to “Americanize” their approach to marketing their liquor.  The Stulz Brothers of Kansas City were notable exceptions.  Shown above on their letterhead, the Stulzes — Emil Arnold  (E.A.) left, and Sigmund Carl (S.C.) — energetically pitched their merchandising to a German-speaking populace, estimated at 95% of their customer base.  The brothers were born in Wittich, in Prussian Germany, into a Jewish family that had come to the area from Klattau, southwest of Prague.  Sigmund was born in 1860;  Emil was five years younger.  The Stulz Brothers immigrated to the United States in 1886, settling in Kansas City in 1887, a city with a strong German population.  

In 1893 the brothers opened a liquor house in Kansas City that quickly grew.They eventually moved to more impressive quarters, boasting four stories and long frontage on a major street.  The building was large enough to hold huge vats for whiskey and wine that were decanted into barrels to be sold at wholesale.  The brothers claimed that their storage casks in total held 375,000 gallons.  

Stulz Brothers were comfortable addressing their customers in German.  As an example, about 1913 they self-published a 240-page book of German songs under the title “Neuestes Deutsches Liederbuch” (New German Songbook).  In it the Stulz Brothers claimed that 95 percent of their customers were good Germans who had been buying their liquor and wines for twenty years.  The book clearly was aimed at preserving the German language and culture in America: “By having your children sing these German songs you not only help preserve the German language, but you make them aware that the blood of the heroes of Germany flows in their veins.”

The German songbook was not the only item published by Stulz Brothers to celebrate their native language and beloved culture.  They issued a booklet entitled “Zum Wohlsein!.”  (“For Well-Being.”)  Despite an American eagle and Old Glory on the cover, it was a 64-page booklet of German toasts.  This publication likely was a gift the brothers gave special customers.  After Emil died in 1917, Sigmund shut down the liquor business, dying himself in 1928.

When Max Fruhauf, a successful Cincinnati liquor dealer, read his morning newspaper on September 20, 1918, his mind might have raced to his own situation.   A high Federal official had testified before a U.S. Senate Committee that: “The organized liquor traffic of the country is a vicious interest because it has been unpatriotic, because it has been pro-German in its sympathies and its conduct.  Fruhauf, the American-born son of German immigrants, ensconced in a strong German city, had packaged his flagship whiskey with an unmistakeable Prussian design. 

Fruhauf called his flagship brand “Helmet Rye,” merchandising it, as shown above, in a ceramic “nip” with the distinctive shape of a German military helmet.  Called a Pickelhaube (from the German Pickel, "point" or "pickaxe", and Haube, “bonnet,” a general word for headgear),  the helmet is marked by a substantial spike at the crown. By royal order in 1842 Frederick William IV ordere the helmet for general use by the Prussian infantry. 

When Max first conceived the shape early in the 20th Century, a majority of Cincinnati residents were either born in Germany or had German parents.  Residents had a two in five chance of meeting someone who could speak to them in German. The city had three German morning newspapers and one evening paper. German was taught in all 47 schools. Seventy churches held services completely or partly in German. In 1915 there were 110 German societies in Cincinnati for mutual aid, athletics, trade unions, sharpshooters, music, culture and charity.  

Everything changed virtually overnight during World War l when the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917.  All over America, individuals, groups, and politicians took actions aimed at ridding the country of German culture and influence.  Among the more absurd moves, sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage”; hamburgers were “liberty steaks” and dachshunds “liberty pups.”  Fruhauf shut down his liquor business and moved to Detroit. There he became vice president of a cigar factory, dying in 1929.

Note:  Longer posts on each of these three whiskey men may be found on this blog:   John Phillipp Kissinger, March 25, 2020;  Stutz Brothers, February 8, 2016; and Max Fruhauf, February 2, 2020.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Wittenberg’s Whiskey Flew on Duck’s Wings


The blue winged teal is a species of North American duck that breeds from southern Alaska to Nova Scotia, and south to northern Texas. A dabbling duck, the teal is a favorite of hunters because of its excellent flavor.  Charles H. Wittenberg of St. Louis made the “Blue Wing” his flagship whiskey and the bottles literally flew off the shelves.

Wittenberg’s story begins in the latter part of the 19th Century when his father, also named Charles, emigrated from Hanover, Germany, and settled in St. Louis, Missouri.  There he found a bride in Marie “Mary” Preiss, born in Missouri and some nine years younger.  They would have three children,  August born in 1864, Charles H.,1866, and Henry “Harry” B.,1870.   According to the 1870 federal census the father ran a saloon and was doing well. His assets were estimated at the equivalent today of more than $100,000.

Like many saloonkeepers, even though serving drinks over the bar was profitable, the elder Wittenberg soon learned that even more lucrative was selling whiskey by the bottle and jug as a wholesaler supplying liquor to the saloons, restaurants and hotels of St. Louis and vicinity.  Although business directories are incomplete, Wittenberg was listed as a wholesaler in 1884, located at 1015 Washington Avenue.  With success he later moved to larger quarters at 2652-2656 Franklin Avenue, the street shown below.  It would be the address of the Wittenberg liquor house for the next 31 years.

As Charles H. and Harry grew to maturity their father took them 
into the business before he died in 1893.  .  The following year the brothers changed the company name to Charles Wittenberg & Sons.  Shown left in middle age, Charles H., the president, married at 30 years old in 1896. His bride was Leonora T. Wagenman, the daughter of Louis and Leonora Wagenman.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch article on their wedding described Leonora as “a brunette beauty” and possessing “a petite form.”  The couple would have four children over the next eight years, two girls and two boys.

After about four years of joint management, Harry Wittenberg departed. According to census data,  he went on to own and operate a livestock farm on the outskirts of St. Louis.  With the family liquor house now fully under his control, the elder son changed the company name to his own.  Thus was the Charles H. Wittenberg Company launched into a trajectory of becoming one of the largest liquor houses in St. Louis.  The “Blue Wing” took flight. 

Although Wittenberg claimed to be a distiller, only three distilleries are listed in federal records as having existed in St. Louis prior to National Prohibition. His is not among them.  My assessment is that Charles H. instead was a “rectifier,” that is, obtaining “raw” whiskeys from a variety of distillers and blending it to achieve a desired taste, color and smoothness.  Unlike many liquor wholesalers who featured multiple brands, Wittenberg seems to have concentrated his effort on just two, “Blue Wing Bourbon Whiskey” and “Blue Wing Rye.”

Like other wholesale liquor dealers, Wittenberg gave away advertising items to selected customers, including saloon signs, as seen here.  For outfits selling food and drink, serving trays with bright colors also were a favorite gift.  Below are two trays featuring blue winged teal.  I have imagined that the wary look on the duck at right may indicate an awareness that he might end up like the birds on the left.  Recently both these trays came up for auction.  The one at right drew 13 bids and sold for $456.55.  The one at left had six bids and sold for $325.00.  Remember that Wittenberg gave them away.

The St. Louis whiskey man also handed out shot glasses featuring Blue Wing Whiskey, a relatively inexpensive way to advertise.  As shown here and below these items varied considerably in the quality of their design.  The ill-formed duck at right looks as if he is standing in a mud puddle.  Those below display better art work and more precise etching. 

Under the guidance of Charles H. the liquor house became one of the largest in the Middle West.  As nearby states like Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma went “dry,” markets for mail order liquor opened up.  St. Louis whiskey merchants profited.  When new federal laws cut off that trade and National Prohibition loomed, Wittenberg in 1919 after more than three decades in business shut the door on his Franklin Street establishment.  In the 1930 census Charles, now 64 years old, was listed as having no occupation.   He lived to see Repeal in 1934 but did not return to the whiskey trade, dying in February 1948.  He was interred in St. Peter’s Cemetery, St. Louis, along side Leonora.

But the duck flies again!  Above find a re-creation of the original Blue Wing  drawn by an artist descendant as part of the Wittenberg family’s return to selling whiskey.  As explained by William C. Wittenberg, owner of the enterprise:  “I am collaborating with a small local distillery…Square One Distillery in Lafayette Square [St. Louis], to make the whiskey. This is a rare opportunity to bring back this spirit to the market.”  Shown right is a bottle of the reborn brand along with a shot glass.  Somewhere the two Charles must be smiling.

Note:  This post was created from a wide variety of sources after the sale of the two Blue Wing trays caught my attention.  Married to a master birder, I also have been drawn to whiskeys that feature avian names.  See my “Memories and Miscellany” blog of July 2, 2016, for other examples.


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

From 10 Cents to $1,400 — A White Elephant Makes Good

The dictionary definition of a “white elephant” is “an unwanted, useless, and troublesome possession or item that is too expensive or too much work to maintain and which is not worth the effort.”  Yes, but not always.  Asa B. Jones valued his “White Elephant Saloon” whiskey jugs so much that he offered a princely ten cents (equiv. to $2.20 today) rebate if he refilled it.   Asa could hardly have imagined, however, that in 2021 one of those same White Elephant jugs would fetch $1,400 at auction.

Asa Jones was born in Mississippi in January 1860.  His father was from Alabama and his mother from Georgia, according to a 1900 census document.  At that time he was living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, illustrated below as it looked in that era.  Asa was married to Rossie, a woman 17 years younger, also born in Mississippi.  At that time the couple had a six month old baby boy, christened Wriston and had lost an earlier child.   The census gave Jones’ occupation as “saloon.”  

A local news item from the early 1890s set the stage:  “Mssrs. A. B. Jones and L.G. Daniels have purchased the lot facing the McLester House in Tuscaloosa and are preparing to erect a fine two story brick building as a permanent home for the “White Elephant.”  They are enterprising gentlemen and deserve the success which they have attained.”   The hotel is shown below.

Once in permanent quarters Asa advertised vigorously to Tuscaloosa’s drinking public, aware he was competing with at least six other downtown saloons.  An excerpt from an ad headlined “Something Good” that appeared in the Tuscaloosa Gazette of October 7, 1891 reads:  “If you want fine whiskey ask for “Old Gum Spring,” the finest three dollar whiskey to be found on the market….Mr. A.B. Jones has the exclusive right to sell it in this city, hence it can be found only at the White Elephant, where you can get it in any quantity desired.”  

“Old Gum Spring” was a brand distilled and aged in Kentucky by Thompson-Wilson & Company of Paducah.  This suggests that Asa was buying whiskey from distillers by the barrel and shipping it by rail to Tuscaloosa where he was decanting the contents into smaller containers.  He also claimed exclusive franchise for Paul Jones’ whiskeys, including advertising a personal 1891 certification from the Louisville distiller that declared: “…That the White Elephant Saloon has the sole exclusive control of my Whiskies in Tuscaloosa.”  Asa also advertised “Rosebud Whiskey” from the Applegate Distillery in Louisville and “Possum Hollow” from Thomas Moore Distillery in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

Evidence is that in addition to retailing national brands through the White Elephant, Asa also was buying barrels of non-brand whiskey and selling in smaller quantities to local saloons, restaurants and hotels, as well as the public.  For this purpose he used ceramic jugs that have become prized by collectors.  An early White Elephant jug was a crude ceramic in which the label was “scratched” into the brown Albany slip glaze.  In time, Asa bought more sophisticated containers from Alabama’s potteries as seen below..

Shown below is the same White Elephant jug that recently received so much attention on an auction site.  The item attracted 13 bidders during the week in which it stood for sale, gradually pushing the purchase price to the eventual $1,400.That figure is made all the more startling by the label offering ten cents to anyone refilling it at the White Elephant. 

In addition to issuing containers under the name of the White Elephant, Asa Jones had his own line of liquor.  A jug advertised his “Southern Bell Whiskey.”  Whiskeys with “Belle” in the name were common and the “Southern Belle” brand had been registered with the government in 1907 by J. Grossman’s Sons of New Orleans.   Asa may have feared violating a trademark and dropped the “e” for his brand, one likely blended to his specifications.  An interesting  A.B. Jones flask also exists, linked to Asa’s saloon by an embossed elephant.

Jones' drinking establishment obviously was a favorite of the locals. In an article entitled “I Remember Old Tuscaloosa,” author Fred Maxwell recalled his boyhood friendship with a supervisor for a railroad building a regional line through Tuscaloosa:  “It was Mr. Laland’s custom to ride horseback to the White Elephant saloon at the corner of 6th St. and 24th Ave….to get a cold glass of beer….Learning of my love of horses, he would frequently pick me up and let me ride behind his saddle to the saloon.  I would sit and hold his horse while he went inside.”

Despite the popularity of the White Elephant, anti-alcohol forces were on the move nationally and in Alabama.  Among steps taken by Alabama “drys” was a new tax on whiskey.   In 1895, Asa Jones took an ad in the Sumpter County Sun saying:  “A. B. Jones wants people to know the whiskey tariff has not affected him as he laid in a large stock of Fine Liquors before the law was passed and can still furnish his patrons with the best at cheapest rates.”  Nevertheless, over ensuing years new local and state enactments drew the noose ever tighter on the liquor trade until 1915 when Alabama went completely “dry.”  The White Elephant was forced to close.

There the trail of Asa Jones grows cold.  He seems only to have been recorded in the 1900 census and never thereafter.  In 1902 the city banned all saloons in favor of a public "dispensary" system that last six years.  Online Tuscaloosa directories offer no clues.  The saloon briefly was brought to mind in 1932 when workmen excavating at a downtown building unearthed 76 brown and white quart whiskey jugs that bore the name “White Elephant Saloon.”  Had they been stashed there a century ago to avoid destruction?  Or, just possibly, to gain value?

Notes:  This post was made possible by help from Bill Garland, an expert on Alabama advertising jugs and the companies that issued them.  His insights opened the way to discovering Asa Jones and the background of Tuscaloosa’s most famous pre-Prohibition drinking establishment.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Van Schuyvers: Prospering in Portland; Ousted in Oregon

Father and son, William J. and William O. Van Schuyver, for more than a half century were proprietors of a Portland, Oregon, wholesale liquor business that contemporaries called a “powerhouse.”  The elder Van Schuyver, shown here, was hailed as “pioneer” merchant of the Northwest but his son was threatened with disaster when Oregon went dry.

The birthplace of William J. Van Schuyver variously has been given as Ohio and Indiana.  His mother, Mary Craw, was from a family that originated in New York and proudly counted ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.  Her father brought the family to Cleveland in 1832 where members were engaged in contracting and her brother became a member of Cleveland’s first city council.  There Mary met Joseph Van Schuyver and their only son, William Joseph, was born in July 1935.

His fortunate circumstances of birth soon darkened when his father died in 1839, only 27 years old.  This heartbreak was compounded ten years later when his mother, only 31, also died, leaving William J. an orphan of 14 years.  Mary had Craw relatives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who took the boy in, saw to his education, and raised him to maturity.   Early in his career William J. seemed headed for a business career in Fort Wayne, working as a bookkeeper in a branch of the Indiana State Bank.

That future apparently had little appeal for the young man.  When the California Gold Rush began, William J. chucked the banking job, departed Fort Wayne and hopped a boat for Panama.  Crossing the Isthmus he took another ship to San Francisco and headed for the gold fields.  His results were disappointing.  After toiling in California with pick and shovel for several years with little to show for his effort, Van Schuyver gave up and headed north, finally locating in Portland.

There he found employment as a bookkeeper for Ladd, Reed & Co., a Portland general merchandising outfit that likely sold whiskey among its products.  There William J. would have learned how lucrative the liquor trade could be.  After a brief foray into Eastern Oregon for employment with a steamship company, he  returned to Portland in 1865 to open a wholesale liquor house with a partner, Levi Millard, who like Van Schuyver had come to Portland from the East as a young man.

In October of that year, William J. married at the age of 30.  His bride may have been a sweetheart he had left behind in Indiana.  She was Harriet Hamelia Angell, six years his junior, who also had been raised in Fort Wayne, the daughter of Mrs. Orange Angell.  Wed in a ceremony in San Francisco, the couple would have three children.  Their first child was a boy, born in 1967 and christened William Orange Van Schuyver.  He was destined to be integral to his father’s enterprise and carry it on.  His birth was followed by two sisters, Mary C., born in 1869 and Helen A.,1877.  

According to city directory entries William J. and his partner first located their liquor house on Front Street.  Within a few years their business success caused them to move to larger quarters on Second Street.  In 1877 Levi Millard died leaving his partner as the sole owner of an enterprise rapidly renamed “W. J. Van Schuyler Company,” as shown on the letterhead below.  When William O., reached maturity he joined company management.

The Van Schuyvers featured a variety of brands.  They included "Atwoods Pure Alcohol,” "Beech Grove,” "Boat Club,” "Cumberland Club,” “G.O.Taylor,” "Graves' Maryland Malt,” "Judges Favorite,” "Kentucky Union,” "Laurel Wreath Gin,” "Mackinaw Rye,” "Old Heritage Rye,” “Old Bailey,” "Shields Gin,” “Superba," "The Judges Favorite,” "Union League Club,” "Walnut Hill Pure Rye.”  Many of these labels were trademarked brands from nationally known distillers and wholesale liquor houses, including five from Chester H. Graves & Sons Co. of Boston.  Records indicate that the Van Schuyvers’ Portland liquor house trademarked no brands of its own.

The company’s featured whiskeys were from Cyrus Noble, a distillery with roots in Ohio and Kentucky.  The Van Schuyvers featured an illustration of the facility on their letterhead.  This identification linked their firm to Lilienthal & Co,  a liquor wholesaler based in San Francisco that was the principal distributor of Cyrus Noble products on the West Coast.  [See my post on Lilienthal, Feb. 22, 2018.]   This link later would prove highly valuable to the Van Schuyver fortunes. 

The Van Schuyvers packaged their whiskey in quart amber bottles embossed with their name,“Portland, ” and a crest involving a crown and a shield, with a “V” prominent on the crown.  Those bottles would have had paper labels that have disappeared over time.  They also packaged their product in flat sided flasks of varying sizes.  Those also bore the company name and “Portland, Oregon.”

A key element of the company business was sales of Van Schuyver’s “Bohemia Bitters,” advertised as “a certain remedy for Indigestion, Biliousness, Constipation, Malaria, and other kindred disorders.”  A full wine glass of the bitters three times a day was advised.  Heavily laced with alcohol, this “palatable tonic” might have relieved some symptoms, but malaria was a stretch.  Since no one at the time really knew what caused malaria, such claimed cures were common for a wide variety of nostrums.  Advertised with “arty” trade cards with a definite feminine appeal, Bohemia Bitters seems to have been aimed at women.  If the lady of the house imbibed three full wine glasses a day of this “certain remedy,” however, she might have had difficulty making dinner.

Together the father and son built their liquor house into one of the most successful in the American Northwest.  Their trade extended well beyond Portland into surrounding regions.  As he aged, however, William J.’s health faltered.  Falling ill at Christmas, 1908, he came under the under the care of a physician and initially seemed to improve.  According to the Portland Oregonian: “It was believed at that time that he would in a short time be able to resume charge of his business.”  Instead his condition worsened and William J., age 73, died at home on January 7, 1909.  After a funeral service held in his home, the wholesale liquor dealer was buried in Portland’s Riverview Cemetery, Section 4, Lot 38.  A cross marks the family burial plot. 

 William O., now 42 years old and married, took full charge of the business, operating it with continued success for the next few years.  Although the loss of his father must have been a blow to the younger Van Schuyver, more trouble was to come.  In 1914, five years prior to National Prohibition, the voters of Oregon passed an amendment to the state constitution banning the manufacture, sale and advertising of intoxicating liquor.  After implementing legislation was passed by the state legislature, the law became effective Jan. 1, 1916.  Immediately, all stocks of liquor in the state were subject to confiscation and destruction at the hands of authorities.

The canny William O. was ready.  According to an article in the Pacific Wine, Brewing and Spirits Review,  Van Schuyler entrained to San Francisco on January 18, 1916, ostensibly to give a speech on the disaster the prohibitionary law had inflicted on Portland during the first two weeks of its enforcement.   According to investigative work by the author of the online Western Whiskey Gazette, Van Schuyver had an ulterior motive:  “Rather than allow the wholesale looting of his warehouse by police, and suffer complete and total financial ruin, William…met with the principals of Lilienthal and/or Crown Distilleries. He probably made arrangements to have his entire inventory transported by rail cars to their warehouses.”

This was just the first step in maintaining the Van Schuyvers in the whiskey trade.William O. then made arrangements to transfer his operations to San Francisco.  By opening a small depot there and obtaining a post office box, he was able to provide liquor to his Oregon customers by mail order.  Federal laws prohibiting such transactions were still working their way through court challenges and express companies were willing to ship whiskey in unmarked packages to “dry” states.  

Shown here is a quart bottle of 100 proof “Old Bailey Straight Whiskey” that “has been bottled and guaranteed by W.J. Schuyver & Co., San Francisco.”  The rear label below suggests:  “If you wish to reorder these same goods send for assortment number 7..2 which will assure prompt service and quality desired.”  The neck label states that the whiskey was made in 1911 and bottled in 1916.  This may indicate that Van Schuyver was successful in liquidating his Portland stocks and was able to continue by buying liquor from Lilienthal or other sources in “wet” California.  With the coming of National Prohibition in 1920, all such activity ceased.  After a run of 55 years the Van Schuyvers were out of business.

The 1920 census found William O. working as the manager of a construction company in Portland.  By the 1930 census he was running a stocks and bond brokerage.  This occupation may have proven less than profitable given the onset of the Great Depression.  By the 1940 census, William O. was listed as a commercial salesman in the metal polishing industry.  He died in 1961 and was buried in the Van Schuyver family plot not far from his father.

Note:  Drawn from a range of genealogical and other sources, this post draws heavily on a May 1913 post in the Western Whiskey Gazette online site for information and images on the Van Schuyvers’ operations. Obituaries for William J. from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and the Portland Oregonian provided other key information.