Friday, October 28, 2022

Dr. Charles Hazeltine: His Prescription Was Alcohol

After earning an education from the prestigious University of Michigan Medical School, Dr. Charles Storm Hazeltine  upon moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan, abandoned his practice in favor of operating a wholesale drug business with a full line of liquor as well as highly alcoholic remedies of his own concoction.  If you had stomach problems or difficulties urinating, Dr. Hazeltine, shown here, had just the right answer.

For example, his “Fluid Extract Rhubarb” show below, was recommended as a “Laxative, purgative, stomachic…and corrective in diarrhea.”  The dose indicated was 1 to 2 “fluidrachims,” an archaic term for fluid ounces.   One had only to turn to the front of the medicinal bottle to discover that this rhubarb packed a punch.  It was 50 percent alcohol.  Measured as “proof” in liquor, it was 100 proof, higher than most whiskey (80), vodka (80), gin (80) and brandy (70 to 120). 


Shown below is Hazeltine’s “Fluid Extract Dwarf Elder” (e.g., sassafras). This remedy was touted as a diuretic “much employed in dropsy, suppression of urine, and other urinary diseases.”  The dose was the same as for rhubarb extract but the alcoholic content was 40 percent or 80 proof.  Of what use this woody extract might be against “dropsy,” a severe heart condition, went unexplained.

In addition, Dr. Hazeltine offered “A full line of whiskey, brandies, gins,  wines, rums.”  Moreover the drug company claimed to be “…Sole agents in Michigan for W.D. & Co. [Withers, Dade] Henderson County Hand made Sour Mash Whiskey and Druggists’ Favorite Rye Whiskey.”   Moreover the doctor had his own proprietary liquor brands, among them, “Canada 1890 Finest Malt Whiskey” and “Canmalt Finest Blended Whiskey.”

The journey of Dr. Hazelton from the medical profession to huckstering alcohol began in Jamestown, New York, where he was born in October 1844. His parents were Caroline Boss and Dr. Gilbert W. Hazeltine, an eminent East Coast physician and surgeon, who taught anatomy in Philadelphia and New York medical schools.  As the eldest of four children, perhaps it was pre-ordained that Charles would be a doctor. 

With his father affluent enough to give Charles excellent schooling opportunities, he was educated at the Jamestown Academy, founded by a Hazeltine relative.  From there he entered the medical school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  From the beginning this institution was known as a leader in cutting edge medical education, with emphasis on basic clinical research and patient care.  After a subsequent internship at an Albany, New York, hospital,  Hazeltine returned to Jamestown and conducted a medical practice for 18 months.

Despite his family pedigree, the life of a doctor seems to have held little interest for Hazeltine.  He jettisoned the profession and opened a retail drug business in Jamestown.  A biographer chronicled:  “…But his native town proved to be too limited a field for a person of the doctor’s ambition and he sought the advantages afforded by the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan.”   Why Grand Rapids?  The city is 132 miles from Ann Arbor, but it is possible Hazeltine may have visited there as a med student.   A national center for furniture manufacturing, Grand Rapids was one of the fastest growing cities in America.  With a population of only 2,600 in 1850, by 1900 it boasted 87,500 residents.  About 1872 the doctor moved there.

By this time the Hazeltine was married to Ella Burwell of Jamestown and the couple had two children.  How his wife reacted to the move 445 miles west has gone unrecorded.  Hazeltine initially had a difficult time establishing himself in the new environment and went to work for a local hardware and saddle store.  Not long after arriving in Grand Rapids, Ella, only 25 years old, died, leaving him with their young children.  Two years later Hazeltine married again.  This time his wife was Anna Fox, the daughter  of a wealthy Massachusetts manufacturer.  Charles and Anna would go on to have two children of their own.

The marriage may have opened up a new financial avenue Hazeltine.  That same year, with a partner, Charles N. Shepard, he achieved sufficient resources to open a wholesale drug company.  The business was recorded as “prosperous from the start.”  Shepard had been the first Grand Rapids druggist to feature cure-all “medicines” of his own concoction.  Chief among them was Shepard’s Compound Wahoo Bitters, touted as “A Universal Tonic for Everybody.”  It was highly alcoholic and set the direction of the new drug enterprise.

When Shepard died, Hazeltine reorganized the business as a stock company, capitalizing it at $150,000, and, with a partner named Perkins, became its president.  From that position he built the Hazeltine, Perkins Drug Company into “the most extensive concern in its line in Michigan,” selling his products in Detroit and other Midwest population centers.

Dr. Hazeltine’s success was noted as far away as the Nation’s Capital.  Active in the Democratic Party and supporting the gold standard, he caught the attention of the similarly inclined Cleveland Administration and in 1893 was appointed U.S. consul in Milan, Italy.   As U.S. Consul Hazeltine was popular with Americans and Italians for hosting dances in the consulate’s third floor ball room.  Although the doctor had agreed to serve only a year, he was induced by the State Department to serve a second term.

Returning to Grand Rapids, Dr. Hazelton resumed his roles as president of the drug company and vice president of the Grand Rapids National Bank. In addition, he was on the Board of Trustees of Butterworth Hospital where his efforts were hailed as instrumental in the development of that medical institution.  Hazeltine also served as a trustee of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and was active in the Masons and Grand Rapids social and literary clubs.

His wealth allowed Dr. Hazeltine to own successively two of the most attractive homes in Grand Rapids.  Seen below left is his house on Heritage Hill and right, the final family residence on St. John Hill.  Both structures have considerable architectural interest.

As he aged, Dr. Hazeltine continued to manage the giant drug wholesale house.  The 1910 Census found him living with wife Anna, a 23-year old daughter, and two female live-in servants.  At 65 his health was already beginning to falter.  He developed gastric ulcers and a kidney condition known as nephritis.  After three years under a doctor’s care, Charles Hazeltine died on December 17, 1912, at the age of 68.  He was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery of Grand Rapids.  The family monument is shown here.

The wholesale drug company that Dr. Hazeltine had created and nurtured into Michigan’s largest continued in operation into the 1920s.  With liquor distilling and sales cut off by National Prohibition, remedies high in alcohol such as those the doctor created became ever more in demand.  They treated to general satisfaction the sharp increase in digestive and other issues that apparently plagued an alcohol-starved America.  With whiskey unavailable, rhubarb fluid extract would suffice.

Note:  This post was drawn from multiple sources, the most important of which was “Cyclopedia of Michigan, Historical and Biographical, General History of the State and Biographical Sketches of Men, Who Have in their Various Spheres contributed toward its Development,” by John Bersey, Western Publishing Co., 1903.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Whiskey Men and Their Medicinal Remedies

 Foreword:  Presented here are brief stories of three liquor dealers who invented or claimed alcohol-rich “medicines” that were advertised as remedies or cures for a wide range of maladies.  None of these potion purveyors were scientists or doctors or even druggists.   In a time when American medicine was still in its infancy, the cause of diseases like diabetes, tuberculosis, and malaria was still unknown.  Thus anyone could claim a curative — and those whiskey men did.

Simon Hirsch, shown here in caricature sporting a large handlebar mustache, got his start in a rowdy Colorado town called Leadville that had boomed with the greatest silver strike in U.S. history. He left town as the bubble burst and found riches and prominence in Kansas City, Missouri, working at the whiskey trade.

During the early 1900s and up to World War One, the Hirsch firm continued to thrive.  Worried that the growing national fervor for National Prohibition would spell an end to his business, Hirsch shut down his liquor house and created a patent medicine firm whose principal product was a nostrum he called “Lyko.” 

The company originally was incorporated under Missouri laws with a capitalization of $10,000. Hirsch advertised Lyko widely, even using full page ads to tout it as “The Great General Tonic” and offering a free bottle upon request. Newspapers from the Pacific Coast to the South and Midwest carried Hirsch’s ads.  The tonic was an immediate success. By December 1919, Simon was reincorporating his company as the Lyko Medicine Company under Delaware laws, capitalized at a cool $1 million.

Simon installed his son Clarence as president of Lyko Medicine while he himself was listed as vice president. Their ads claimed that Lyko “relieves brain fag and physical exhaustion; builds up the nerves; strengthens the muscles; corrects digestive disorders and rehabilitates generally the weak, irritable and worn out.” Because of the 1906 Food and Drug Act, the ingredients were required to be listed. The principal one was something Simon knew a lot about: Lyko was 23% alcohol.

At 46 proof, this so-called medicine was stronger than beer, wine or even some liquor -- at the time nationally prohibited. A member of the medical staff at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, wrote the American Medical Association (AMA), worried that some soldiers were drinking copious amounts of Lyko. He inquired: “Can it be used in larger quantities than the dose shown on the bottle, and thus become a beverage?” After an investigation the AMA responded by dismissing the medicinal effects of Lyko and referring the matter to the IRS, a government agency policing Prohibition.  Despite this , Lyko was marketed through the 1920s. Simon Hirsch died in 1929, even richer than he had been before Prohibition. 


During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Ohio, the state that gave America Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, spawned thousands of inventors.   Among  them was Earl Lee.  Growing up in Sidney Ohio, Earl was able to get just a taste of public schooling. Recognized early as a smart youngster, Lee was only 19 years old when he started a liquor business in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Three years later, without closing this outlet, he returned to Sidney. There at age 22 he joined with an older brother, Valentine, to establish the Earl Lee Company.

That business not only sold whiskey, it made and merchandised a line of patent medicines. Despite having no medical education of any kind, Earl Lee invented and produced a series of nostrums under the intriguing brand name “Lee-Cur-U.” Highly alcoholic, they proved very popular. A contemporary account asserted about the Lee-Cur-U remedies: “They have a wide sale and are considered specifics for many diseases.”

When the Tax Act of 1898 was passed to help finance the Spanish American War, the revenue burden fell, in part, on proprietary medicines. Until 1902, each bottle of a remedy had to bear a stamp attesting that a tax had been paid to the Federal government. Lee was very careful to keep on the right side of the law and all his potions bore the necessary U.S. Government tax stamps. My research unfortunately has not turned up any pictures of Lee-Cur-U bottles or labels.

The presence of the Miami-Erie Canal meant that Lee could send his products from Sydney to a wider market via canal boat.  They transported his liquor and proprietary medicines north to Toledo and the Great Lakes area, and south to Cincinnati, the Ohio River and eventually to markets down the Mississippi River. Every indication is that he took full advantage of this good transport system to expand his customer base for both whiskey and cures. In 1913 Lee shut down his liquor house, perhaps as the result of the “local option” prohibition that was sweeping Ohio. The fate of his alcohol-heavy medicines is not recorded.


When saloonkeeper and whiskey dealer James Gorman looked out from his Lynchburg, Virginia, home to the Southern states and localities that had banned the production and sale of alcohol, he saw a vast thirsty audience and an open road to supply it.  But so had many others.  This son of Irish immigrants, however, had inherited a gift of “blarney,” a particularly beneficial quality in the liquor trade.  

Beyond his competition Gorman had the ability to shape the written word to amuse, dazzle and convince readers that his whiskeys not only were the best their money could buy but also had therapeutic qualities.  For example, a Gorman ad in his 18 page catalogue read:  “The World Cannot Beat It….Gorman’s Pure Rye is a brand made from the very best Maryland and Pennsylvania Ryes distilled, always mellow and nice.  The doctors’ best tonic;  good for the sick and doesn’t hurt the well.”

On another page of his brochure the liquor dealer suggested that his “Gorman’s Private Stock was “old, mild and mellow” and enhanced male potency, claiming that it “makes old men young again.”  Note that unlike the other two whiskey men profiled here, Gorman did not think it necessary to create a high-alcohol potion with a distinctive name to represent his remedy.  His trade whiskeys could do the job.

That was evident in perhaps his most egregious assault on credulity. In an ad for “Gorman’s Piney River Corn” whiskey Gorman trumpeted it as “The Greatest Kidney Cure on Earth.”  Another ad claimed his “Piedmont Corn Whiskey”  had “cured more Consumptives than all Doctors.”  With the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 the wrath of the Federal Government soon descended on “cure” claims such as Gorman’s.  In the end, his “blarney” proved to be no match for federal sanctions.

Note:  Longer posts on each of these “whiskey men” may be found elsewhere on this website:  Simon Hirsch, December 10, 2011;  Earl Lee, April 10, 2012; and James Gorman, May 8, 2020.



Thursday, October 20, 2022

Capt. Crow and Taming a Bear in Syracuse

Charles M. Crow, was busy operating his wholesale wine and liquor dealership in Syracuse, New York, when a letter from the Canadian North Woods arrived in August of 1879.  In it a friend wrote that he had shipped him a “beautiful black bear” that had been captured 15 days earlier.  Deciding it was no joke, Capt. Crow hastened to a train station west of the city to intercept the animal.  He knew owning a bear would be a challenge but Crow had faced challenges before.

Details of Crow’s early life are sketchy.  According to census records he was born in Ireland in 1835.  That meant that he was just a child when the Great Famine ravaged the Emerald Isle during the 1840s resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands.  The disaster also sent many Irish on disease-ridden ships to America. The boy Crow was among them.  For many the decade of famine was a life changing experience, as we can assume it was for Crow.

Crow’s next challenge would come with the outbreak of the Civil War.  Taking a  cue from his being widely addressed as “Captain” Crow, I checked his name against a roster of six million Civil War soldiers and found a Charles M. Crow — the only one — and assume it was our man.  He was a member of the 42nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry, recruited in Evansville in October 1861 for a three year enlistment but he actually fought throughout the conflict until the Confederates surrendered in April 1865. 

The regiment lost a total of 310 men during service; five officers and 108 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded; one officer and 196 enlisted men died of disease.  Perhaps the 42nd’s most costly battle was in September 1863 at Chicamaugua, fought at the border of Tennessee and Georgia.  Shown here, a memorial in the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park commemorates the 42nd Indiana Infantry Regiment.  Although Crow entered as an enlisted man, it would not have been unusual for his promotion to officer rank over the course of the war.

As Captain Crow, the young man found his way to Syracuse, New York, where he faced a new set of challenges.  There he went to work for Dr. John M. Wieting, a Syracuse doctor, lecturer, and entrepreneur, who was well known for being difficult.   A biographer attempted to put it gently:  “Dr. Wieting was a man of great force of character….While not tolerant of the opinions and theories of others…to his settled beliefs he adhered unflinchingly.”

Initially Crow lived with Dr. Wieting and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, who was 25 years younger and six inches taller than her diminutive husband.  In the 1875 New York census, Crow was was listed as one of three “servants” in the household.  His real activity was as Wieting’s “agent,” presumably arrangingtenants for the Wieting Office Block and programs for the Wieting Opera House, left.

From Syracuse business directories it appears that after approximately a decade working for the doctor, Crow moved out on his own, opening a wholesale wine and liquor house in downtown Syracuse at the corner of Warren and Genesee Streets, opposite the posh Vanderbilt Hotel.  It was there that he received word about the bear.  Having overcome the Irish Famine, survived the Civil War, and labored successfully for the cantankerous Dr. Wieting, Capt. Crow was not to be intimidated by a bear.  He headed for the railroad station.

According to a local reporter, Crow found the train and shouted up to the American Express agent: “Have you got a bear in that car?” The agent replied “I should think I had, and if he belongs to you, you better come in here and take care of him.  He has tired us all out and we have got enough of him.” Crow mounted into the car to find in one corner an iron-bound cage. In it was chained a large jet-black bear, growling loudly and thrashing up and down the enclosure.

Undaunted by the scene, Crow told the agent:  “I’ll fix him.  Wait till I get him home, and if I don’t tame him in 24 hours you may have my store.” Arriving in Syracuse, the cage (with Crow sitting on top) was transferred to his liquor house.  There ensued a struggle between the owner and the bruin while a phonograph played music in the background.  A crowd, including a reporter, jammed into the liquor store to watch.

The bear continued to roar and several times the crowd panicked and ran out of the store thinking the bear had escaped.  In the end Crow’s strength in pulling a chain around the bear’s neck prevailed. According to the reporter:  “…The bear gave up conquered and lay down peacefully in the bottom of his cage.  Capt. Crow eyed him in triumph and proudly said, ‘There you beast, I told you I’d fetch you.’ The Captain says that in less than 10 days he will lead the bear around the streets like a dog.  Of course he will have him muzzled.”

Notes:  The key source for this vignette was the story in the Syracuse Courier of August 20, as reprinted in the New York Times on August 23 under the headline:  “A Syracuse Man Who Never Gave In to Man or Beast.”  The quote about Dr. Wieting is from “The Memorial History of Syracuse, N.Y.: From Its Settlement to the Present Time,” by Dwight Hall Bruce, 1891.  Genealogical sites furnished other important information.  It appears that Crow never married.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

President W. H. Harrison: A Distiller Re-Distilled

 Years earlier having given up distilling whiskey himself on the grounds that his son had become an alcoholic,  William Henry Harrison during the Presidential election of 1840 campaigned by distributing bottles containing an alcoholic beverage with his nickname and home town on them.   Harrison won but died just 31 days after his inauguration as 9th President of the United States.

By the accident of birth, Harrison came in the world in a place where some historians believe whiskey was first made in America, later known as Berkeley Plantation, Virginia.  It was there that George Thorpe, an English gentleman and clergyman set about to turn corn into alcohol.  In December 1620 Thorpe wrote a friend:  “Wee have found a waie to make soe good drink of Indian corn I have divers times refused to drink good stronge English beare and chose to drinke that.”   Those spirits would have been clear in color and more akin to “moonshine” or “white lightening”  than contemporary whiskey. (See post Oct. 23, 2021.)

For his efforts, Thorpe and his fellow colonials were slaughtered by Indians in a raid in 1622, a century and a half before Harrison was born in the spacious 1726 plantation house, shown above, situated on 1,000 acres of land along the James River in Charles County, Virginia.  Perhaps Harrison had this massacre in mind when in 1811 he defeated a coalition of Native American tribes and Chief Tecumseh at the Battle of  Tippecanoe Creek, Indiana.   It earned him the nickname “Old Tippecanoe” and a reputation as a hero in battle.

After his military service Harrison decided to relocate to the Middle West.  By this time he was married to Anna Tuthill Symmes (1775-1864), a well-read, boarding-school educated, daughter of a wealthy western-land speculator named Col. John Cleves Symmes. An excellent horsewoman, Anna was said to be well suited to frontier and military life.  In 1796 she would bear Harrison the first of their ten children.

The Harrisons’ first home was a farm in southern Indiana.  Living in a log cabin while commanding the quiet post of Fort Washington, Harrison invested in a gristmill, whiskey distillery, and sawmill. None of the ventures proved profitable.  That prompted a move to a log-cabin house on a 160 acre farm outside the village of North Bend, Ohio (near Cincinnati), purchased from Anna’s father, likely for a bargain price.  Over the next few years, Harrison would expand the structure, illustrated below, into a much larger dwelling for his growing brood.  

Harrison also would take another venture into distilling.  Neighbor Samuel Burr Jones noted:  “His farm on the Ohio River contains very superior corn ground, and some years since, when corn was low, he established a distillery in order to convert his surplus into an article more portable and profitable.”  While no details exist about the size of the facility, the mashing capacity or daily production, a letter in the Gilder Lehmann Historical Collection records Harrison writing to a B. Tappin asking him to send more lime be used to create an aqueduct for the distillery.  The water would have been used to turn a mill wheel to grind grain for the whiskey mash.

Exactly how many years Harrison operated his distillery is difficult to calculate but it likely was for a decade or perhaps two.  He is said to have ended that activity when one of his sons became an alcoholic.  He seemingly then became a reformer.  Possibly with his eye on a Presidential run he declared his opposition to alcohol in a speech to the Hamilton County Agricultural Society in June 1831,declaring:  “I speak more freely of the practice of converting the material of the “staff of life” (and for which so many human beings yearly perish) into an article which is so destructive of health and happiness, because in that way I have sinned myself;  but in that way I shall sin no more.”

Harrison’s antipathy toward strong drink appears to have been modified significantly nine years later when he became the Whig Party candidate for the Presidency.   He and his party broke new ground in campaigning.   Up to that time it generally was thought vulgar for presidential candidates to make speeches or otherwise campaign on their own behalf.  When Harrison’s Democratic Party opposition characterized him as an elderly country duffer, he broke tradition and began to speak for his candidacy.   Making sure he always had some old veteran of the Tippecanoe battle on the stage next to him, Harrison would break off his oration suddenly to take several ostentatious swigs from a barrel marked “hard cider.”  

His campaign emphasized Harrrison’s having lived for a time in a log cabin, casting it as an icon of the genuine in America. Log cabins engendered great nostalgia for the simple virtues of the Nation’s rustic pioneer past, including neighborliness and fair dealing.  Below are two depictions of many used during the campaign.  The one at left purports to show Harrison shaking hands with a wounded veteran (note the wooden leg).  At the side of the log cabin are two barrels marked “hard cider.”  The picture at right shows a barrel on the roof and claims to be a replica.  

Harrison offered free bottles in the shape of a log cabin to the electorate.  Shown below, the bottles were made in two styles by the Mount Vernon Glass Works of New York. The bottle at left is blown in the shape of a cabin with a four-sided “hip roof.”  The front has the legend “Tippecanoe,” an allusion to Gen. Harrison’s battle success The other side of the bottle reads “North Bend,” his southern Ohio home.

With the originals now worth six figures, the almost universal assumption is that the contents were whiskey.  During the campaign Harrison was quoted saying he would “rather sit on his front porch sipping whiskey than run for President.”   Later Edmund Booz, a Philadelphia distiller,  would issue a series of log cabin shaped bottles, shown below.  Often are mistaken for the originals, Booz’s bottles did hold whiskey.

Although Harrison’s bottles clearly held some kind of alcohol, my speculation is that the contents might well have been hard cider, not whiskey.  Two reasons:  First, the alcohol content of hard cider is only from 4% to 7.5%, just about the same as beer, and clearly not as intoxicating as whiskey at 40% and higher.  Second, cost:  Distilling whiskey from corn or other grains is a lengthy and laborious process, involving time and expense.  Apple squeezings turn into hard cider quite naturally simply by sitting.  Since Harrison’s campaign was giving these bottles away, it might well have chosen cider over whiskey.  In truth, however, we will never know.

The rest of the story is short.  Harrison stood for two hours to give the longest inaugural speech in American history, some 8,000 plus words, despite having been physically worn down by many persistent office seekers and a demanding social schedule.  On March 24, 1841, Harrison took his daily morning walk to local markets, without a coat or hat. Despite being caught in a sudden rainstorm, he did not change his wet clothes upon return to the White House.  He became ill, the doctors of his time made matters worse, and nine days William Henry Harrison died.  His resting place is near his North Bend farm and marked by a memorial tower, shown below.

As one result of his untimely passing, we still do not know what Harrrison’s true feelings were about strong drink.

Notes:  With research from many sources, two stand out.  The chapter on Harrison in “Dead Distillers” by Colin Spoelman and David Haskell, undated, and the chapter on “Running for President:  The Candidates and Their Images (1789-1896),” edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, 1994.  The photo of the original log cabin bottles is through the courtesy of Ferd Myers.