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.