Saturday, August 18, 2018

Uncle Sam — The Distillers’ Man


Foreword:  This is the third in a series of posts demonstrating how American whiskey distillers, rectlifiers (blenders), and wholesalers used the image of Uncle Sam prior to 1920 as the Prohibition “noose” tightened on the industry.  It was a ploy to lend a patriotic aspect to their marketing.  But as the cartoon shown above indicates, the force of “dry” also saw Uncle Sam abetting the liquor industry by profiting significantly from the taxes collected.   Before 1920 the largest source of federal revenues were excise taxes on alcohol.

The trade card from “Wolf’s Famous Distilling Company” of Kansas City was a typical depiction of Uncle Sam in the whiskey trade.  The old gentleman is pointing to a federal revenue stamp on “Wolf’s Monogram Whiskey” that indicates it has been “bottled in bond,” that is, under government mandated conditions that dictated length of aging, alcoholic strength or “proof” and other requirements in return for delayed taxation.  Although the claim that the stamp guaranteed “strength” might have some validity, it had nothing to do with quality or purity.

“Freeland Sour Mash” was a whiskey brand from Henry W. Smith & Company of Cincinnati.  Although this outfit has been described as operating a distillery in Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from 1890 to 1901, records indicate that Smith was a rectifier, re-distilling and blending whiskeys obtained from Kentucky distilleries, particularly several in the Covington area, Federal District #2.  It somewhat strange then that Uncle Sam is shown sitting whittling on the 7th District in Kentucky, some distance from Cincinnati. 

The Yellowstone Whiskey ad specifically identifies Uncle Sam with “Bottled in Bond.  A whiskey wholesaler, the firm of Taylor & William was established in Louisville just after the Civil War in 1865.  In 1871 the sales manager, Charles Townsend, made an annual trip to the West Coast. En route he visited the newly opened Yellowstone National Park and, noting the enthusiasm over this natural wonder, decided it might be a good idea to name a whiskey after it.  Viola!  a 
national brand was born! 

This tradecard from what purports to be “Mascot Rye,” is an unusual depiction of Uncle Sam.  In the first place, he is without his trademark top hat and bears a collar on which is written “honest and good as I am.”  The label on the bottle bears an image of a horseman riding through a horseshoe and identifies J. Polsnek” of Akron, Ohio, as the source of the whiskey.  My extensive research on Polsnek and Mascot Rye has failed to reveal any information on either.

By contrast, George Benz & Sons are well documented St. Paul, Minnesota, whiskey wholesales and eventually distillers, after buying the Blue Ribbon Distillery in Eminence, Kentucky.  One of the company’s premier brands was “Uncle Sam’s Monogram Whiskey.”   The image of Uncle, however, gives him dark skin, looking like a strutting performer in black face.

A second representation of this whiskey in a Benz saloon sign, finds him safely white, albeit with a pot belly.  George Benz and his wife bore five sons, many of whom entered the business. In 1887, the name was changed to George Benz & Sons to reflect their role in the business. The sons continued the enterprise following George Benz's death in 1908 at age 69, switching to real estate upon the advent of Prohibition in 1918. 

This ad for McCulloch’s Green River Whiskey, a major Kentucky bourbon is more subtle in its identification of Uncle Sam with the product.  In the background, is one or more “guagers,” federal officials tasked with testing each barrel from the distiller to ascertain the “proof,” i.e. percentage of alcohol contained on which the tax can be levied.  It may be symbolic That Uncle Sam is looking away from the testing process and busy whittling.  Too often, it seems, distillers bribed the gaugers to under-report the alcoholic content and lower their tax obligations. 

Theodore Netter, one of several Philadelphia brothers who were in the liquor trade, united two symbols of America for his trade card.  Uncle Sam stands on one side and (Miss) Freedom, here wrapped in the flag, stand toasting each other.  Netter adds in a shield to claim that his blended  — and not bottled in bond — “American Famous Fine Whiskey” is “guaranteed under the National Pure Food Act.”  This was yet another false claim in an effort to appear government approved.  The food and drug authorities soon reacted to such claims and levied sanctions against their use.

The notion of not just one but two symbols of the United States also appealed to the Scottish makers of Haig Whiskey.  A trade card for American consumers featured Miss Liberty of statue fame holding aloft a bottle of the famous pinch bottle while Uncle Sam takes an obsequious bow before this United Kingdom import.   Haig distillery, now known as the Cameronbridge Distillery was founded in 1824. In 1830, it became the first distillery to produce grain whiskey using the column still method.  

Each of the images above was created before 1920 and the advent of National Prohibition.   After Repeal in 1934, and the effective end of the “dry” threat, the use of Uncle Sam as a symbol for whiskey merchandising largely came to and end.  From time to time, however, a whiskey-maker will decide to resurrect the image in whole or in part.  One of the nation’s oldest and most iconic brands not so long ago decided to advertise its longevity at Christmas time by stowing a bottle with a gift package in Uncle Sam’s top hat.   The simplicity of the design can be compared with those shown earlier.

Note:  The two prior treatments on this blog that featured Uncle Sam in liquor ads were “Enlisting Uncle Sam as Booze Salesman,” October 1, 2011, and “Return of Uncle Sam - Whiskey Salesman,”  February 15, 2013.  

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Chewing Gum As Viewed Through Glass

Although homo sapiens have been chewing a variety of substances for centuries,  it was an American, John B. Curtis, who first commercialized chewing gum in 1848.  He knew that American Indians chewed resin made from the sap of spruce trees and decided a market existed. As time went along other enterprising individuals enhanced the product by using other chewing substances and adding flavorings.  Today annual sales of worldwide are in excess of $26 billion annually.  Much of this growth can be laid to the imaginative, vigorous promotions by U.S. gum companies, including the use of glass advertising paperweights and change trays.

This post is devoted to a selection of these, beginning with a 1931 weight from the Beech-Nut Packing Co. of New York.  Best known for baby food, the company launched its line of chewing gum in 1910.  In May 1931, the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart flew across America in an aircraft that had been specially made for her by the Beech-Nut folks to promote their chewing gum.  Called an “autogiro,” they featured it on a paperweight.   A forerunner of the helicopter, this was a relatively new aviation design that many at the time believed to be dangerous.  Earhart made the trip safely only to disappear over the Pacific six years later.

Teaberry Gum, celebrated on a weight, dates from about 1900 when it was patented by Charles Burke, an inventor from Pittsburgh who was experimenting with various flavors of chewing gum in his basement.  Commercialized by the D. L. Clark Co. of Pittsburgh the product managed a slow and steady sales record, peaking in the 1960s when Clark, hoping to create a dance craze called “The Teaberry Shuffle,” created commercials using the Mexican-themed music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.  The dance failed to catch on and more recently manufacture of the gum went “south of the border.”

Few among us have never tasted Juicy Fruit, particularly popular with kids.  The average age of the typical Juicy Fruit consumer reputedly is under 20, with three to eleven year olds making up 60% of the business.  The Wrigley Company that issued the paperweight above, first marketed the gum in 1893.  Although the brand name is familiar to 99% of American polled, there is strong disagreement about what fruit serves as the model for Juicy Fruit flavor.  Some say a combination of banana and pineapple, others jackfruit, still others get a whiff of peach.  Wrigley won’t say.

Thomas Adams, an American scientist and inventor, is credited with substituting a natural gum called “chicle” for resin and founded a company that soon dominated the market with Black Jack, rolled out in 1884, and Chiclets, 1889. Prosperity allowed Adams to experiment with new flavors and substances, including pepsin, the chief digestive enzyme in the stomach.  By using pepsin (or claiming to) the gum could be marketed as a digestive aid. Since the enzyme apparently has little flavor, the company could add the taste of “tutti frutti” to the mix and issue a paperweight to celebrate it.

“I didn’t know that the Coca-Cola Company once upon a time issued a chewing gum?”   You didn’t because Coca-Cola didn’t.   This gum was produced by an entirely different outfit, The Coca-Cola Gum Company of Atlanta.  Although Coke’s people fiercely protected their trade name, by contract they allowed the gum to carry their trademark but insisted that the product include Coca-Cola as an ingredient.  A 1904 ad asserted that Coca-Cola Gum “contains the delightful tonic properties of Coca-Cola.”  The public, however, seemed averse to chewing — rather than drinking — their Coke.  Despite a dandy paperweight the gum company was in business only a short time.

Mo-Jo Gum may have been a latecomer to the chewing wars, made by The Chicle Products Company of Newark, New Jersey.  Its ads, circa 1915, were aimed squarely at denigrating the competition, suggesting that the others contained impurities.  “We have no monopoly, we simply will not make Dirty Chewing Gum.”  Take that Adam’s Black Jack!   Symbolizing its “purity” Mo-Jo was white but its labels, as shown on a weight, were highly colorful, likely to appeal to children.  Just how a tiger, squirrel and macaw sent a message of “pure, clean chewing gum” has gone unexplained.  Another Mo-Jo label featured an alligator and two egrets.

One of dozens of gum companies that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th Century America was the Chusit Gum Company that shows up in Cincinnati business directories around 1903.  It was a company headed by a well-known local businessman and investor named O. M. Bake, with an equally prestigious group of officers.   Their financial gamble, symbolized by the dice they included in their paperweight, may not have paid off because the company shortly disappeared from directories.  The name they chose for their gum, however, was clever, suggesting both “chews it” and “choose it.” 

As an afficianado of bubble gum myself, I am reminded that the product,  invented in 1928 by Walter Diemer for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company of Philadelphia, disappeared during World War II, as I was growing up, possibly because of a shortage of basic materials.   Fleers’ Double Bubble, the first commercially made bubble gum, made sales of $1.5 million the first year of its marketing even at one cent a pop.  To help sell the new gum, Diemer himself taught salespeople how to blow bubbles so that they in turn could teach potential customers.  In the post-war period, bubble gum returned and Double Bubble issued a number of paperweights, each with the same motif but various names attached of their dealers and representatives. 

Bazooka bubble gum, always my favorite, was first marketed in the U.S. shortly after WWII by the Tops Company of Brooklyn, New York.  As advertised on the weight shown here, the company included within its wrapper a color comic strip called “Bazooka Joe,” harking back to the war when “bazooka” was the name given to a man-portable recoilless anti-tank rocket launcher.  The offer of a “free gift” on the paperweight was a bit misleading.  For example, a telescope was offered “free” if someone sent in 200 Bazooka comics but just five and 40 cents also would suffice.

The ten paperweights shown here help to anchor in time chewing gum, a product developed more than a century and half ago as a result of American ingenuity and inventive spirit.  As a result, the jaws of  Americans, and indeed the world, ever since have been working up and down with regularity — “chewin,’ chawin’, chewing gum.”