Saturday, April 22, 2017

More When Drinking and Driving Was Cool

In November 2015 this blog featured a series of pre-Prohibition ads in which the automobile and beer drinking were juxtaposed in a fashion that would be generally unacceptable today.  In the ensuing months I have found a number of other examples of drinking and driving that deserve some scrutiny.   Although almost all of the examples here are from beer ads, I begin with one right from a whiskey dealer.

He was C. H. Ritter, a liquor wholesaler from Detroit, noted for issuing this humorous saloon sign for his flagship brand, Westminster Rye.  Done by fine lithograph, the image was of a young man offering a drink to  a local farmer.  A closer look showed  a pig lying dead in the road, apparently struck by a roadster from which three passengers are watching. The title is “Settled Out of Court” and implies that a drink of Westminster Rye is so appealing that the farmer will let he motorist off the hook for the death of his hog.  Representing the dawning of the automotive age, Ritter’s sign likely was a favorite of the drinking crowd.
While Ritter’s farmer seems ready to trade a sip of whiskey for his hog, the farmer in the Falstaff beer ad above appears to be less convinced that a glass of foaming brew will pay for the wreck of his wagon and the spillage of his apples on the road.  Entitled “The Peacemaker,” this was a lithographed saloon sign issued by the Lemp Brewery of St. Louis.  Note that the owner of the errant automobile has come well stocked.  From the hamper at his feet are peeking several bottles of Falstaff.

Ruhstaller was a West Coast brewery, founded in 1898 and located in the heart of Sacramento California.  It provided a lithographed image on a serving tray that would have been given to saloons and restaurants carrying its Gilt Edge beer.  A young dude, apparently the driver, is pouring a beer for two female riders.  A full bottle and a glass remain, indicating that the driver himself will imbibe before driving on.  

The Edelweiss beer ad is entitled “A Case of Good Judgment.”  Is this a double entendre message?  Can it mean both a wise buy of beer as well as where the case is stowed, safely away from the driver and passengers?  Edelweiss was a brand of beer made by the Schoenhofen Brewing Company of Chicago.  The founder, Peter Schoenhofen was a Prussian immigrant who was working in the brewing trade as early as 1850.

This saloon sign shows two couples being served at curbside.  A waiter in a tuxedo has come from the confines of his restaurant to serve the motorists.  The Oshkosh Brewing Company was formed in 1894 with the merger of three Oshkosh, Wisconsin, breweries facing a tsunami of beer from Milwaukee.  Both Schlitz and Pabst had created distribution centers in a town known for its voracious beer drinkers.  With their survival in doubt, the three combined to create a viable brewery. 

Although no open alcohol is on display in this saloon sign, Schell’s Carbonated Mead was no mere soft drink, but a fermented beverage involving honey.  The New Ulm, Minnesota, company is still around, second only to Yuengling as the Nation’s oldest family-owned brewery.  Founded in 1860, Schell claims that through the years it has produced at least 100 varieties of “German craft beer.”

The Seattle Brewing & Malt Company, from the city of the same name, was famous for its Rainier Beer for which this picture was an ad.  The automobile shown here clearly is one of the earliest models, steered with a lever rather than a wheel.  Interestingly, unlike all the other vehicles shown here, it is being driven by a woman while her male companion looks on from the passenger seat.

Of Seib Beer I can find little information.  Its founder appears to have been William Seib, who is credited with bringing scientific knowledge to bear on the brewing process.  His brewery may have been in the Chicago vicinity.  Here on a lithographed pin an early automobile with passengers is stopped on the road, apparently stymied by a huge bottle of beer smack in the middle.  

The final example is an advertising sign from the early post-Prohibition era.  It shows an automobile that has frightened a horse but not a dog, the latter barking at the white-garbed driver who is attempting to crank the vehicle to life.  Pabst issued a series of these signs, all of them aimed at eliciting nostalgic responses about the “good old days” from potential customers.
 This image ends this second parade of drinking and driving examples from the people who ran some of America’s notable breweries and one liquor house.   While the close proximity of alcohol and gasoline in advertising today would be unthinkable, in earlier times drinking and driving was definitely cool.

Labels:  C. H. Ritter & Co., Falstaff Beer, Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge Beer, Oshkosh Brewing Co., Schell’s Carbonated Mead, drinking and driving, Eidelweiss Beer, Rainier Beer, Seib Beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Five Women Who Found Success in Whiskey

The history of the liquor industry in the United States traditionally has been dominated by men, particularly in the era before National Prohibition was imposed in 1920.  Over time as I have profiled more than five hundred “pre-pro” distillers, whiskey wholesalers and saloonkeepers, I have found five women whose careers in whiskey were truly outstanding and deserve special recognition.

Mary Dowling from Anderson County, Kentucky, not only owned and ran major distillery, shown here, she found a way to stay in the liquor business after 1920 and, in effect, thumbed her nose at Prohibition.  Kentucky-born to Irish immigrant parents, at seventeen she married a distiller at least 17 years her senior who saw her intelligence and brought her into the business.  When he died, she inherited his interest in the Waterfill & Frazier distillery, bought out his partners, and ran it successful for two decades.
Her success, however, came to screeching halt with the imposition of National Prohibition.   Federal records shown her withdrawing large quantities of whiskey from her bonded warehouse in the run up to the ban on alcohol.   Some of this whiskey she is reported to have sold to those Kentucky distillers fortunate enough to be licensed to sell liquor for “medicinal purposes.”   Other stocks, she successfully “bootlegged” for four years until Federal agents arrested her. 

After authorities were unable to convict her, Mary Dowling hatched a new -- and more successful -- business plan.  About 1926 she hired Joseph Beam, one of Kentucky’s premier distillers but now out of work, to dismantle the distillery, transport the pieces to Juarez, Mexico, reassemble it there, and resume making whiskey.  Mexico had no prohibition so the liquor production was completely legal.  Using several strategies to get her whiskey legally over the border to American consumers, she continued to operate until she died, four years short of Repeal.

Mary Jane Blair also was a Kentuckian who inherited her late husband’s share of a distillery, this one in Marion County, shown here. She promptly bought out his partners and changed the name to the “Mary Jane Blair Distillery.”  Although the greater part of her life had been spent in the Blair home as housewife and mother, evidence is that she took an active role as president of the company, one that distilled about five months in the year.   Limited production was not unusual in the Kentucky whiskey industry,  some distillers believing that fermentation was done best only in certain months.  As the distiller Mrs. Blair hired W. P. Norris, a well known Marion County whiskey man.
For the next seven years, with the help of a son, Mary Jane Blair operated the distillery, considerably expanding its capacity.  By 1912  the plant had the mashing capacity of 118 bushels per day and four warehouses able to hold 9,000 barrels.  The Blairs produced whiskey sold under several labels; the flagship was “Old Saxon,”  as illustrated here by a back-of-the-bar bottle.  About 1914 the family sold the facility.  Mary Jane Blair died in 1922 at the age of 76.

Lovisa McCullough was a strong women’s rights advocate who successfully ran a liquor wholesale business in Pittsburgh following the death of her husband.  A 1888 Pittsburgh directory under the heading “Liquors, Wholesale,” lists forty-nine such establishments in the city.  All of them save one are readily identifiable as male-run companies.  The exception is “McCullough, Louisa C., 523 Liberty Av.”    That same year Lovisa became a delegate from Pittsburgh to the historic founding meeting of the International Council of Women (ICW) devoted to women’s suffrage.  It is a safe bet that she was the only liquor dealer at the convention. 

Obviously a woman of great energy, Lovisa McCullough threw herself into other causes.  A lover of animals, she was a longtime member of the Humane Society and served on the board of the Pittsburgh chapter.  She also was among women who worked toward buying up and preserving the grounds and structures at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where Gen. George Washington and his troops passed the winter.  A true “Daughter of the American Revolution,”  Lovisa’s grandfather may have been among those soldiers.

In 1893, after more than a half century of operation, the McCullough liquor dealership disappeared from Pittsburgh business directories.  Its demise cannot be explained by National Prohibition that still was years away and Pennsylvania was “wet” until the end.  Lovisa may have found her passion for feminist and other causes eclipsed her ardor for keeping alive the liquor enterprise.  Or it may have been advancing age.  Lovisa died in 1917, about 82 years old, and was buried beside her late husband, John, in Allegheny Cemetery. 

Mary Moll, living in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, earned this tribute from a local newspaper: Mrs. Moll, when she took possession of the business, had many obstacles to overcome but, being a woman of wonderful business tact, she bravely fought the many unpleasant features connected with the business and successfully built up a trade far superior to any in this country.”  Like the other women here, after her husband she died inherited his whiskey wholesale trade but also his three daughters from a prior marriage.  They are shown at the family home, Mary at far right.

Rejecting advice by friends to sell the business, she set out not only to run the liquor dealership, but also to expand it.  Her first instinct was to go on the road as a “drummer,”  and give customers and potential customers her personal attention to make sales.  The strategy worked and she was credited with ultimately tripling the business.   After three years, however, Mary tired of traveling.  Looking at the costs-benefits she concluded she could build her trade more effectively by staying home and keeping prices low.

Eventually,  Mary Moll was selling three hundred barrels of whiskey a year.  Although not a rectifier, that is a dealer mixing and blending her own brands, she was decanting the barrels into her own embossed glass containers, shown here.  Those barrels would have resulted in her selling 53,400 quarts of whiskey, an impressive number for any liquor house.  Mary Moll died in 1910 while still running her business. She was 64.

Catherine Klausman, when her husband died, was left with five minor children, a saloon, liquor store, and small hotel, together known as “The German House,”  shown here.  She hesitated not a moment in taking over their management.  As a result, “Mrs. Klausman” as she was respectfully known in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania, put her mark on selling whiskey.

With the help of her bartender, Mrs. Klausman not only kept all the businesses open, she prospered by selling both at wholesale and retail her own brands of whiskey.   Taking a leaf from the liquor wholesalers and rectifiers of the time, she bought whiskey from both Pennsylvania and Kentucky, sometimes blending the spirits, bottling them and then applying her own labels.   My favorite is Mrs. Klausman’s “Corn Whiskey,” with its predominantly yellow label showing a rural distillery and a shock of corn, a design worthy of one of the big liquor outfits.

In 1920, however, National Prohibition brought a close to the thriving business she was doing in whiskey sales.  Moreover, the hotel bar no longer could serve alcohol.  Regardless of these setback, she persevered in running the German House through the 1930s.  No evidence exists that after repeal of National Prohibition in 1934, she went back to liquor sales.  When Catherine died in 1963, at the age of 88, she was buried next to her late husband in the St. Marys Cemetery.  The German House remains standing as part of the town’s historic district on Railroad Street. 

These five women helped pave the way for the many women who have engaged in  the whiskey trade since Prohibition and today fill some of the top spots in the Nation’s liquor industry.  

Note:  Author Fred Minnick has written an interesting book on “Whiskey Women,” detailing the effects that women, past and present, have had on the American distilled spirits business.  It was through his writing that I came upon Mary Jane Blair.  Minnick failed, however, to pick up on his radar Mary Dowling, Lovisa McCullough, Mary Moll, and Catherine Klausman.  I am hopeful that this piece will bring these other four outstanding “whiskey women” the attention they also justly deserve.  For those interested in more details about these five women I have written more extended vignettes on each on my other blog,