Friday, April 24, 2015

Uncle Sam: All-American Suds Salesman

The attention-getting advertising above has a very forceful Uncle Sam thrusting a mug of suds toward the viewer and emphatically intoning: “We want beer!”  Two prior posts have had Sam merchandising whiskey which is not surprising given the federal government’s intensive role in bonding whiskey warehouses and collecting taxes.  This same symbol of our Nation, from time to time, also has been tied to brewery products.  As shown here.
Among the oldest manifestations is the trade card above issued by the Anheuser-Busch company in connection with the forthcoming 1896 national party conventions in St.  Louis.  This ingenious card shows a group of 13 prominent American politicians sucking on straws placed in bottles of the company’s “Malt Nutrine,”  reputedly to help them overcome the hardships of the coming Presidential Campaign, both Democrats and Republicans. They include President Grover Cleveland (2nd left) and the ultimate winner that year,  William McKinley (the clean shaven one, center).  Uncle Sam is directing them all, while above famous newspaper editors are shown at work.  It is a remarkable illustration.
Uncle Sam showed up from time to time on advertising items with an international theme, as the nation’s breweries sought to sell their suds in European countries.   When the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company sought to introduce its beer into England, it issued a trade card that showed a dark-haired Sam tipping his cap to the image of Britannia.  She seems less than impressed with his presentation.   

Contrast that with the enthusiastic reception that Uncle is getting from an international audience that include, from left, a Spaniard, Frenchman, Englishman, German and Irishman.  This image appeared on a color lithographed serving tray from Cascade Beer, the product of the Union Brewing & Malting Company of San Francisco.  This organization was the result of a 1902 merger of two smaller breweries and subsequent purchase of a third.   The tray sold for a whopping $2,020 in 2015.
The Glencoe brewery of Glencoe, Minnesota, went a step further by naming its beer after the famous old gentleman.   Its choice of a name may have been dictated by the strong competition it received from outside beers, like Heileman’s and Hamm’s.  The brewery had received a setback in 1907 when a large fire gutted the brewery.   Although short on insurance money, the owners rebuilt and by 1915 were said to have increased production from 4,500 barrels before the fire to 13,000 barrels.  Their Uncle Sam New Style Lager Beer — later just Uncle Sam Beer, as shown here on can and bottle labels — was popular through that part of the Upper Midwest.
“Uncle Sam Ale” was the product of the Conroy Brothers of Troy, New York.  That city is closely identified with the creation of the notion of Uncle Sam.  As the story goes, Samuel Wilson of Troy, who was known as Uncle Sam, was an army meat inspector who stamped his initials on every barrel of salt meat for the military drink the War of 1812.  The legend grew until Uncle Sam and the United States became synonymous.  In 1961 Congress passed a resolution, signed by John Kennedy,  declaring that Troy was the official home of Uncle Sam.    

The Conrad Seipp Brewing Company of Chicago made use of the patriotic image to bring home the idea that Seipp’s Extra Pale Beer “meets every requirement of of the Pure Food Laws.” Those laws had been passed first in 1906 and essentially had nothing to do with beer so long as no extravagant health claims were made to consumers.  Seipp was a German immigrant who first began making beer in 1854 in the Windy City.  His brewery grew to dominate the Chicago beer market by the late 1870s, becoming one of the largest in the United States.  At its height it produced more than 250,000 barrels of beer annually. 
Washington, D.C., as the National Capital, could also make a claim on Uncle Sam.  Christian Heurich Brewing Company, the District of Columbia’s leading beer-maker,  used the image in a 1904  newspaper ad.   It claimed that its Maerzen, Senate and Lager beers were “Uncle Sam’s Favorite Beverage.”  Heurich had founded his brewery in 1872 and incorporated it in 1890.  It became the largest in Washington history, capable of producing 500,000 barrels of beer a year and 250 tons of ice daily.  It closed in 1956 because of a decline of sales and its impending demolition for a new bridge over the Potomac.
Although neither Milwaukee nor the Fred Miller Brewing Company had any special claim on Uncle Sam,  he appeared in an ad with the “Miller High Life Girl,” a modestly dressed, very perky young woman who often was depicted with a tray of beverage.  The image originally was painted by an anonymous artist in the early 1900s.  By legend the young lady was patterned after brewery founder Frederick Miller’s granddaughter.  The message of the ad was: “Uncle Sam and the Miller High Life Girl are both known worldwide.  The one stands for the greatest country in the world and the other for the finest beer on earth.” In more recent years the figure was been revived by Miller as “The Girl in the Moon.”

Our final Uncle Sam is a distinctly humorous version from the Lion Brewery in Detroit.  It shows a young looking Sam, holding a stein of beer and riding a goat, symbol of bock beer,  through a framework of foliage.  The image is dated 1881.  Bernhard Stroh founded the brewery in 1850 and continued to operate it under that name until 1882 when it became the B. Stroh Brewing Co. and eventually the Stroh Brewing Company.  The firm survived Prohibition by selling ice, ice cream and near beer.  In my youth Stroh’s was my beer of choice at $2.50 a case or a little over a dime a bottle.

Uncle Sam has been put to many purposes over the years since his creation as a symbol of our country.   It probably was inevitable that he would wind up on ads for one of America’s most popular beverages.  Let’s hoist one for Uncle Sam!

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Spanish American War Through the Glass

After we have dragged through seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and earlier Vietnam)  an  American war that lasted only three months, two weeks and four days, might seem an impossibility.  That, however, was the duration of the Spanish-American War that began this month 117 years ago.   Despite its short duration, the conflict was an important event in our national history.   Moreover, it generated any number of memorabilia that continue to be of interest to collectors.   Those artifacts include a great many items made of glass and are the subject of this post.  
The proximate cause of the war was the sinking of the U.S. cruiser, the S.S. Maine, in Havana Harbor in February 1898 with the loss of 260 sailors.  President McKinley ostensibly had sent it to Cuba as a sign of American goodwill toward the colonial power there, Spain.  While the  explosion that sunk the Maine has never quite been explained, war hawks in the U.S. were quick to call it “dirty treachery on the part of the Spanish.”  “Remember the Maine,” became the watchword.
The proximate cause of the war was the sinking of the U.S. cruiser, the S.S. Maine, in Havana Harbor in February 1898 with the loss of 260 sailors.  President McKinley ostensibly had sent it to Cuba as a sign of American goodwill toward the colonial power there, Spain.  While the  explosion that sunk the Maine has never quite been explained, war hawks in the U.S. were quick to call it “dirty treachery on the part of the Spanish.”  “Remember the Maine,” became the watchword.

As a result many Spanish-American War souvenirs depict the ship that launched the cry for war against Spain.  Shown here are two items both featuring a similar photograph of the Maine. They are often characterized as “label under glass” bottles.  One is a flask;  the other is a canteen, with holes for a strap to loop through.  The bottles were blown in mold, the picture inserted, and another layer of glass fit over the front.  This insured that the illustration was left intact so long as the glass is not broken.

Yet another familiar war souvenirs and Maine memorials were glass paperweights.  The war occurred during the peak years of American paperweight production as glassblowers made them either as part of their job or as lunchtime and after work diversions.  Although neithe weight shown here were signed by their maker, both contain the familiar war cry and illustrates the Maine heading to the bottom.  The weight at left has only a crude representation of the ship, done in white, with wavy lines indicating its passage downward.  On the second at right, the seas seem to be boiling up around the ship, of with only two smoke stacks and a mast  visible.  
The Maine incident could decorate even mundane objects.  Two shown here, for example, involved mustard,  The one at left is a lidded clear glass mustard jar on which has been embossed a representation of the ship sinking while smoke rises in the air.  Cuba’s Morro Castle is embossed on the other side.  At right is a mustard dish with the Battleship Oregon represented in milk glass.  The Oregon was a Navy battleship that took part in the naval battle of Santiago de Cuba.  Fast enough to chase down and force the surrender of a Spanish cruiser, the ship gained the nickname “Bulldog of the Navy.”  The mustard could be found by lifting the top of the dish.
Another favorite war theme was the cooperation between the U.S. Army and Navy in routing the enemy, both in Cuba and in the Philippines.  This supposed camaraderie was captured in an illustration of a well accoutered soldier shaking hands with a sailor whose sword is posed perilously close to the solder’s knee.  The image, again a label under glass, can be found on several bottle shapes, including canteens and flasks.  
Although the common fighting man got some recognition for his service, the greatest adulation was reserved for the victorious officers.  Admiral George  Dewey had arrived in Manila Bay, the Philippines, with the U.S. Pacific fleet early in the conflict.  He found a large number of Spanish ships anchored there and sank all of them in the ensuing battle.  Not long after 11,000 Army troops stormed ashore and captured Manila.  
Both Dewey and Rough Rider Theodore Roosevelt (whose souvenirs are elsewhere presented on this blog) emerged as the uber heroes of the war.   The flask shown here makes that clear with the patriotic symbols that surround the admiral, as well as the motto:  “Our Hero.”  This is an excellent example of a label under glass bottle and how it can preserve colors.  Dewey’s image also could be found on less decorative items, such as the drinking glass shown here. 
The final label under glass canteen memorializes a most unusual man to be honored for his service.  A cousin of Robert E. Lee, Fitzhugh Lee had fought Union troops as a Confederate cavalry commander. Indeed, near the end of the war he headed of all the rebel horse soldiers.  Fitzhugh had redeemed himself sufficiently by the late 1900s that President Cleveland appointed him U.S. consul-general in Havana.   He was retained in the post by McKinley and lived in Havana through riotous days in Cuba, including the sinking of the Maine.  Upon the declaration of war between Spain and the United States, he re-entered the army.  By this time, however, he had grown so heavy that he hardly could fit on a horse and his duties were largely administrative.  Even so, good old “Fitz” Lee was swept up in the patriotic fervor the day and awarded his face on a label under glass canteen.   

Because the Spanish-American was a short war, it did not produce as much memorabilia as other U.S. conflicts before or since.  Still, the conflict has its place in American history and the glass memorabilia shown here testify to the high emotions it engendered.