Saturday, July 16, 2016

When Dr. Seuss Shot Down Lucky Lindy

 When an American icon in the making launches a strong attack against a nationally recognized and up-to-then respected American icon, it definitely has historical interest.  The incident occurred in 1941 during the run-up to World War Two and involved Theodor Geisel, “Dr. Seuss,” and Charles Lindbergh, “Luck Lindy,” hero of the first trans-Atlantic solo flight.

In 1941, Geisel as “Dr. Seuss” was barely known.  He had done several modestly received children’s books and a number of advertising cartoons.  In 1941, with World War II raging in Europe and impending for the U.S., he turned to political cartoons, drawing more than 400 during two years as the editorial cartoonist for a left-leaning New York City daily called PM.

By contrast, Charles Lindbergh was known in virtually every household in America as the “Lucky Lindy” who had earned worldwide fame when he piloted his monoplane, “Spirit of St. Louis,” nonstop from Long Island to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France.  By 1941, however, Lindbergh had become the face and voice of The America First Committee, the most powerful isolationist organization in the country.  The photo left shows him speaking at a meeting of that group.
When Geisel, who strongly favored standing up to the Fascist powers, took up his editorial pen for PM in 1941, he quickly used it to skewer Lindbergh.  Three of his first four cartoons dealt with the aviator.  The first, on April 25, showed Lindbergh in a airplane trailing a banner that read, “It’s smart to shop a Adolf’s, all victories guaranteed.”  This was a reference to Lindbergh’s contention that the German war machine was invincible.  The high-flung bird at the top of the cartoon is a typical Dr. Seuss whimsical animal depiction.

The next PM cartoon, dated April 28, continued the comic assault on Lindbergh.  Captioned, “Since when did we swap our ego for an ostrich,”  the image is a Seussian idea of the flightless bird, one that legend said stuck his head in the sand at any sign of danger.  It is displayed on a mythical “Lindbergh quarter.”  Geisel’s reference to the ostrich was taken from an allusion FDR had made in his inaugural address earlier that year.

Obviously taken by the symbolism of the ostrich, Geisel repeated it the very next day.   This time it is an “ostrich bonnet” being handed to Americans by someone who has donned the hat and is promising that it relieves “Hitler headache.”  A piece of verse, often a part of a Dr. Seuss production is included:  “Forget the terrible, news you’ve read.  Your mind’s at ease, in an ostrich head.”  The dig at Lindbergh is in the smallest print:  “Lindy Ostrich Service, Inc.”
In May, the aviator was the cartoonist’s target only once, on the 28th, apparently after Lucky Lindy had made a speech for the America First Committee that apparently was considered an embarrassment by some observers.  Geisel never attempted to depict Lindbergh realistically, often showing just his back but here he shows a partial face that bears little resemblance to the man himself.  We know it is Lindbergh only because it is written on his hat.  By this time the artist had settled on an eagle with an “Uncle Sam” headpiece as the symbol for America.  Here the eagle comments: “BOY!  Is His Face Red Today!”

Geisel followed up five days later with one of his most memorable Lindbergh jabs.  Here the American Firster is seen on a soap box petting the head of a sea monster with a Hitler-like hairdo and swastikas running down his body.  In the background is a smoldering ruins of a city.  Lindbergh is intoning:  “Tis Roosevelt, Not Hitler that the World Should Really Fear.”

In July Geisel made Lindbergh a target three times.  His first cartoon ran on Independence Day, July 4.  He resurrected the ostriches who now are carrying a sign reading “Lindbergh for President in 1944.”  The humor of twenty-some marching birds with smug smiles is dampened by a trailing, furtive individual wearing a mask and identified as “U.S. Fascists.”  His sign says “Yeah, but why wait ’til 1944?  The implication here is that some may be plotting to oust Roosevelt who was still in the first year of his third term. 
The July 16 offering was truly in the Dr. Seuss ludicrous mode.  There a whale, spouting water, sits on the top of a mountain peak, startling a climber.  The image sets the scene for a limerick that prefigures so many clever rhymes from the head of Geisel:

The Isolationist
Said a whale, “There is so much commotion,
Such fights among fish in the ocean,
I’m saving my scalp
Living high on an Alp…
(Dear Lindy!  He gave me the notion!)

The last PM cartoon for July returned to the pilot theme that marked Geisel’s first slap at the tarnished hero.  Here Lindbergh is depicted as an aviator presumably guiding the American eagle with a detached steering wheel.  The message here is a bit opaque:  “Atta boy, Lindy!  Keep me under control.”  The implication is that the Nation itself is happy to guided toward isolationism, as Lindbergh was preaching, at a time when public opinion actually was moving, albeit slowly, toward intervention.

Avoiding Lindbergh in August, Geisel returned to the attack on September 2. This time the Uncle Sam eagle is seemingly an alarmed captive bird who is being asked by the America First orator to mate with a similarly distressed jellyfish.  A little over a week later Lindbergh would give a speech that one author has said, “fully knocked him off his pedestal.”  His anti-Semitism was fully on view as he blamed the Jews for pushing the country into war.  “Their greatest danger to this county lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”  
This outburst was met with outrage from many quarters, including from Geisel. It triggered a Dr. Seuss editorial cartoon with the most savage attack yet.  Geisel depicted Lindbergh standing on top of a pile of garbage, shoveling it off, replete with cats and fish bones.  Written on the side of the wagon was “Nazi Anti-Semite Stink Wagon.”  The identification of the former U.S. colonel with the Fascists was in the caption:  “Spreading the Lovely Goebbels Stuff,”  a reference to the anti-Semitic rants of Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda.  On September 22, he followed up with another with the American eagle wearing a sign, “I am part Jewish,” and an alleged repost by Lindbergh and Senator Nye, an anti-Semite , that “This bird is possessed of an Evil Demon.”
With increasing number of U.S. merchant ships being torpedoed in the Atlantic,  on October 31 the cartoonist featured an American sailor floating on a raft with a radio, hearing that “Uncle Lindy-Windy” would be explaining that: “There ain’t no boogy man now!”  That was a clear reminder that Hitler’s Germany was not shy in targeting American shipping.

Then on December 7, the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor and four days later Hitler declared war on the United States.  On December 8 Geisel featured an editorial cartoon that featured an explosion labeled “WAR,” blowing the isolationism bird out of the sky.  He would go on for the rest of the war doing cartoons that encouraged the U.S. military effort.

Lindbergh attempted to recoup his reputation by seeking to re-enlist in the U.S. military.  Roosevelt denied him that privilege.  As a civilian he later flew 50 combat missions in the Pacific (avoiding Germany) and in later years redeemed some of his reputation by becoming a prolific author, international explorer, inventor and environmentalist.  Whether he ever changed his anti-Semitic views seemingly is not recorded.

Note:  The complete set of Seuss/Geisel’s cartoons for PM were archived 2012 on the Web by the University California - San Diego under the title:  “Dr. Seuss Went to War:  A Catalogue of Political Cartoons. The Dr. Seuss Collection in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the university contains the original drawings and/or newspaper clippings of all of these cartoons. This website makes these cartoons available to all internet users and were the source of this article. In a post of July 7, 2010, entitled, “Dr. Seuss Sells the Sauce,”  I previously featured the cartoonist’s ads for whiskey and beer.  

Postscript:   Since June the number of "hits" that this blog has experience have increased markedly.  Since it was begun in 2010, Bottles, Booze and Back Stories has averaged from 1,000 to 2,000 look-ins per month.  By contrast, this past June 39,583 hits were recorded, about 18% of the five year total of 221,624.  That pace seems to be continuing in July.  What is going on?  I am hoping some alert follower will give me a clue by leaving a comment below.  

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Birds and Booze: Spirits on the Wing

Married to a master birder as I am, the juxtaposition of the avians with my interest in the whiskey trade is inevitable.   Birds have often been selected as the name of whiskey brands, usually with an illustration of the species shown on the label, in advertising and on giveaway items.  We begin by reviewing “Warbler Whiskey,”  a label produced by H. L. Griesedieck Distiller of St. Louis, Missouri.  The bird shown is identified as “Audubon’s Warbler.”
There are just two things wrong with this picture.  First, Griesedieck was not a distiller.  Born into a well-known brewery family,  H. L. (Henry) early determined he would not inherit any of the beer industry and gravitated to the whiskey trade.  By 1894 he was the proprietary of two St. Louis liquor stores.  He was “rectifying” — blending and mixing — whiskey supplied by actual distilleries and bottling them as his brands, Warbler Whiskey among them.  Except that the label is not a reasonable likeness of the Audubon’s Warbler (now known as the Yellow Rumped Warbler) as shown above.  A comparison of the two reveals that Griesedieck’s bird is much too large and the coloring is off.

But Henry was not the only St. Louis whiskey man to misrepresent his bird.  Charles Wittenburg of that city, identified as a whiskey wholesaler from about 1884 to 1918, had “Blue Wing” as his flagship brand and a label that showed a bird that obviously was a duck.  

His reference was to the Blue Winged Teal, a dabbling duck well known to the hunting community. The label illustration bears only passing a relationship to reality.  Note that the real teal has only a trace of blue in his wing (females are plain brown), while Wittenburg’s artist has made it solid blue.  The white patch in the face is accurate.

Connor, Jaycocks & Co. of Covington, Kentucky named their liquor, “Red Bird Whiskey,” with the admonition to “Drink Pure Whiskey.”   The bird most commonly referred to as the red bird is the Northern Cardinal, adopted as the state bird in seven states from Illinois to North Carolina and one of the Nation’s most familiar avians.  The label bears no resemblance to the cardinal nor, in fact, to any bird in the Audubon Guide.  It is purely drawn out of an artist’s imagination.  

Birds have figured large in many of the trademark wars about the right to a name and an image.  Although the well-known “Old Crow” whiskey was named after a Kentucky distiller named Elijah Crow, the several ownerships of the brand have been in frequent litigation over other whiskey crows, blackbirds, and even turkeys.  In 1949 the proprietors ran an ad in major magazines bragging: “During the first century of its distinguished history, some 1,800 writs, summons, desists were circulated to prevent the imitation of the Old Crow name and label.”

In 1905, Old Crow filed a legal challenge against the C. A. Knecht & Son Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, claiming that its “Raven Valley Whiskey” would “naturally lead to a confusion and enable the [Knechts] to perpetrate a fraud.”   After losing in a lower court they took the case to a higher court.  Those judges ruled that:  “When the words ‘Raven Valley’ are considered they are so different from the words ‘Old Crow’ that any confusion or deception would be very improbable.” While noting that ravens and crows were both birds, the Court also found no similarity in their depiction on the whiskeys.

When James Miller’s “Chicken Cock” from Kentucky challenged John Miller’s “Game Cock” from Massachusetts,  the one-on-one battle was not fought within a cockpit of feisty roosters but in a court of law. Those chickens came home to roost in a dispute over whiskey trademark infringement. The conflict ended with one cock defeated and the proprietor “licking his wounds.”

By dint of vigorous advertising Chicken Cock whiskey by 1886 was being sold nationwide through a network of distributors.  Off in Boston, John Miller noted its popularity and adopted the names “Miller’s Game Cock Bourbon” and “Miller’s Game Cock Rye” for his whiskeys and adopted a posture for his bird very similar to the Kentucky product.  In that case the court agreed that a trademark had been infringed, sending John Miller off to craft a different look, shown left, for his brand.

A third bird rivalry might be adduced between the American bald eagle, a bird frequently used by distillers and wholesalers to advertise their liquor,  S. Pett Company of Boston, for example, made “Bald Eagle Whiskey” his flagship label and issued the celluloid image of the bird on a pocket mirror.  Because an eagle eats carrion, however, Benjamin Franklin favored the turkey as the national symbols.  That brings us to “Wild Turkey” brand, a favorite of many whiskey-drinkers.  By the way,  Old Crow once sued Wild Turkey.  The turkey won.
Even extinct birds can arise again in the whiskey format.  No one knows exactly what the dodo looked like and images are fashioned from skeletal remains of this flightless bird.  Thus Morrison Plummer & Co. of Chicago could give their signature avian any look they chose.  It appears that the dodo kingship relates to a 1901 American musical called “King Dodo,” by Frank Pixley and Gustav Luders.  It contained such memorable songs as “Jolly Old Potentate” and “The Eminent Doctor Fizz.”

In summary, although birds frequently have been adopted to name liquor brands, accuracy of portrayal has never bothered the originators.  The feathered friend on the label almost always bears little or no resemblance to the real thing.   Second, disputes over bird images in whiskey advertising probably have engendered more trademark court actions than any other category, with Old Crow leading the way.



Saturday, June 18, 2016

When the NRA Blue Eagle Flew High

Today when anyone mentions the NRA, the natural reaction is to think about guns.  In the early 1930s, the initials meant something entirely different to Americans.  That NRA — the National Recovery Act — was an attempt by the Administration of President Franklin Roosevelt to get the U.S. economy working again during the the Great Depression. 

When Congress passed the legislation on June 16, 1933 — 83 years ago this month — many thought its proposed stimulation of industry and recuperation of consumer purchasing power were the keys to economic recovery.  But an image was needed to represent this NRA and thus was born one of the most iconic symbols of American history — The Blue Eagle.  

Enter Charles Toucey Coiner, an artist and advertising director for the Philadelphia-based N.W. Ayer & Son advertising agency.  When the Administrator of the National Recovery Act (NRA) was dissatisfied with designs presented by Ayer, Coiner, shown left, himself designed the Blue Eagle symbol that is closely associated with the NRA.  It became a very popular icon of a hope for a country in the midst of a massive economic crisis.  The symbol was displayed by industries and businesses who had accepted the NRA codes of operation that attempted to boost the economy while protecting rights of workers.
As always, cartoonists had a field day depicting the colorful avian.  The November 1934 Vanity Fair magazine featured a cover depicting Roosevelt as a chef serving up a blue avian on a platter.  The eagle even seems happy about being someone’s dinner.

A more serious cartoon showed Uncle Sam looking at a manufacturing district labeled “all industry” with the NRA eagle perched on his arm.  The caption read “The Hunter’s Falcon,”  suggesting that the bird would swoop down on even those companies unwilling to cooperate.

The country seemed to go through an NRA craze.  Note the triplets wearing jaunty hats and belted dresses whose mother has sewed the appropriate letters on their skirts.  Of course, if the lass at the left had moved to the right side, the letters would have read “RAN,”  making even less sense.

Older girls also celebrated the NRA and its eagle.  Here are three genuine bathing beauties who have been able to transfer a pale eagle within their summer tans.  The slogan of the NRA was “We do our part.”  In this case the ladies have offered up a body part.   One hopes they avoided a sunburn.

In San Francisco, several thousand school kids turned out in a ballpark to create the outline of the world’s largest NRA Eagle.  Some wore blue.  It was all part of a  national effort to create enthusiasm for a program that sometimes worked and more often did not.
Of course an icon would not be an icon without a song about it.  Abdiel Phillips and Bessie Davies were happy to oblige with a ditty they entitled simply “NRA Song.”  Bill Cox wrote a country-style song he called “NRA Blues.”  It was aimed at the workers against the bosses and included these lines:

The rich men's all on easy street, 
Sweet thing, sweet thing. 
The rich men's all on easy street, 
And the poor man can't get enough to eat.
Sweet thing, yes baby mine.

When you all join the NRA, 
Sweet thing, sweet thing. 
When you all join the NRA, 
We'll all feel happy and all feel gay. 
Sweet thing, yes baby mine.

I've got the blues, 
I've got them NRA blues.
Lord, I got them NRA blues.

As shown above, glass is always a good touch in memorializing a icon.  This one looks hand-blown and carries a shield with two eagle heads, in a carafe type bottle that is, of course, blue.

By joining the NRA, one merited a button  The one shown here presented the blue eagle on a red background and white letters.  The obvious message: “red, white and blue” patriotism.  Businesses who accepted the NRA “codes of conduct” could put an appropriate sign in the front window of their establishments.   The President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, was photographed with a handful of nails, presumably helping a woman nail up the blue eagle.
For all this hoopla, the National Recovery Act, while popular with workers, found some of the two million businesses who carried the blue eagle did not really follow the regulations it entailed.  During its brief life, the NRA did not achieve its goals of reemployment and recovery and too often failed to take action against recalcitrant businesses displaying the blue eagle.  In 1936 this attempt at a “guided economy” was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The blue eagle would fly no more — its legacy the many objects and images that remind us of that short but highly unusual era in American history.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Through the Years with Fred Sehring Beer Ceramics

Never before or since, to my knowledge, has a brewery over a span approaching a decade issued a series of dated steins and mugs.  The Fred Sehring Brewery of Joliet, Illinois, from 1900 through 1908 annually commissioned Hugo Theumler of Pittsburgh to provide it with a new items for gifting to favored customers.    By that time, brewery founder Frederick Sehring, an immigrant from Germany, shown here, had died.  His son, Louis, took the reins of management and may be assumed to have given the orders for the ceramics, and likely approved the designs. 

The first in the series, a stein, celebrated the Turn of the Century.  Nationally the 20th Century had been ushered in with great fanfare and Louis had caught the spirit. “Prosit! - 1900,” it reads.  This was a traditional German toast, indicating “to your good health” with a tankard raised high.  The decor also has the trademark of the Sehring Brewery, a shield with a foaming stein marked with an “S” rampant.  Stalks of wheat and sprigs of hops surround the shield.

The following year Sehring adopted a calendar motif.  The elaborate label includes, as shown here, a woman whose twisted body indicates a flamboyant mood as she lifts high a foaming goblet while straddling a wooden keg.   A monkish figure graced the other side of the 1901 calendar.  He has his arm around a beer keg.  The elaborate transfer-printed design is typical of the artistic and technical capacity of the Theumler factory.

For some reason I have been unable to locate a 1902 Sehring issue.  In 1903 the company replaced the stein format with a beer mug.  This one bears an illustration of the Joliet brewery, replete with dark smoke coming from a stack.  While such a picture today might indicate air pollution, at that time such plumes indicated that the brewery was operating full out.

For the 1904 version, Sehring decided on a dark brown glaze surrounding the same brewery logo seen on the 1900 version.  Although Theumler provided the design of the transfers on his ceramics, he did not make the actual vessels.  Those were purchased as “blank” ceramics from a variety of potteries in and around Pittsburg, decorated and often stamped with his own mark.  In 1904 Sehring also issued a mini-mug cum match striker, shown below  It carried a design similar to the 1903 mug.
In 1905, the front of the stein was a repeat of the 1904 stein.  The obverse, however, held portraits of lovely young women displaying considerable cleavage and a saucy manner.  In a departure from the past these Sehring steins were trimmed in gold with gold handles.  I am particularly fond of the woman at right who seems to have “bee-sting lips” and  two purple camellias in her hair.  Very fetching, indeed. 

The 1906 mug had an unusual label.  The lead word is “Gezundheit,”  literally meaning “God bless you,”  usually said when someone has sneezed.  This raises the issue of whether Fred Sehring Brewing Co. thought their beer would make people sneeze.  This mug carries the same glaze and logo that bedecks the offerings for 1904 and 1905.

My personal favorite among the Sehring offerings is the 1907 stein.  It is decorated in a Chinese blue and white motif that features a number of idealized flowers of varying sizes. If it were not for the Fred Sehring logo and “Joliet” to guide us, we might thing ourselves back in the late Ming Dynasty.   It is a truly elegant cup from which to drink beer. 

The last stein in the series is celebrates the anniversary of the firm, founded by Frederick Sehring in 1868.  It was issued by the brewery in two styles, one with the letters spelling “Sehring” in deep red, matching the familiar logo and a second   in which the letters are hollow.  Both stein wish “greetings” to the drinker, perhaps not as compelling as “prosit,” but better than “gezundheit.
In contemplating this array of steins and jugs I am curious about the decisions that went into approving the designs for each, year by year.  As to why the series stopped in 1908, we might look to the death of Hugo Theumler in September 1908 apparently of “acute indigestion.”  With his passing production in Pittsburgh ceased and and all references to the firm disappeared.  Nonetheless, the Sehring brewery has given us a unique series of stein and mugs.  Happy the collector who can line them up, year by year, on a display shelf.