Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Brewery Millers: Laughter Amid Tears

Coming across a set of comic postcards that Miller Brewing Company of Milwaukee issued before National Prohibition, I decided to make the cards and several other examples the subject of a post.  Although I am from Milwaukee and knew something about the family, some additional research revealed that although the Millers could see humor in their brewing efforts, tragic events seemed to stalk them.

First the Miller cards:  It is a set of six, artist unknown, in which the comic theme was linked to various modes of transportation ostensibly available in Milwaukee.   Street cars were common in the city but none like the one shown below.  Entitled “A Trolley Ride in Milwaukee,” the card depicts a beer barrel teaming with passengers, all seemingly drinking beer, rolling down the tracks on bottle caps (!) in front of the Miller plant.  A pedestrian has been knocked down and a dachshund runs along side.

“The Water Wagon in Milwaukee” enlists two of those “weiner dogs” to pull another High Life barrel that has been transformed into a street sprinkling device while locals aboard enjoy steins and goblets of beer.  Note that the gent sitting right behind the driver holds an outsized bottle of Miller beer.  Unlike its Milwaukee competitors, Miller always sold in clear (not amber) bottles. 

Even a sightseeing van could become a vehicle using a High Life Beer barrel to hold customers.  The engine is case of Miller bottles, the wheels are sausages, and one of those weiner dogs is running along side.  Although the beer-swigging passengers are alleged to be “touring Milwaukee,” they appear to be in front of, what else, the Miller brewery.

One of Miller’s bottles became the “S. S. High Life” on the next postcard.  Although the ship seems to be steaming through choppy waters, the crew seems mostly intent on drinking beer, ignoring the mustached captain who is peering anxiously at the horizon.  Note that the ship’s antenna is a string of hot dogs.

An intact beer barrel became a substitute for a balloon in a postcard entitled “In Milwaukee Looking Over the Town.”  It illustrates three hirsute men floating over the Miller Brewing Co.  The pilot carries a stein of beer while one passenger carries a foaming goblet and a second is sucking at a hose directly connected with the barrel.  The propeller is four bottles of Miller High Life beer.

The final card in this series is an airplane with weiners and pretzels for struts and sausages for propellors.  At the single control is a little old man who seems as intent on his foaming stein of beer as he does on piloting responsibilities.  As aways the brewery provides the terrestrial scenery.

Although these postcards deserve special attention for the their ingenious designs and humor, Miller also provided other light-hearted cards, some of them linked to Milwaukee.  Seen here is one that presumably shows a stout German gentleman swigging from a bottle and intoning “How Ish Dot for High Life Beer.  The brewery issued it at a time when it was not uncommon to hear German spoken in everyday discourse.

A final card likely dates from the post-Prohibition era when Miller was able to resume making beer.  It shows a suited gentleman looking at a soaring thermometer in the heat of a summer while holding a towel to sop his brow. 
In the next frame, he has found a bottle of Miller High Life and as the cartoon indicates, the temperature is going down.

The use of humor by the Miller Brewery to sell beer, while not unique in Milwaukee, was taken to a new level by that company.  It made all the more interesting when one considers the tragic circumstances that have plagued the Miller family over the years.  I was in Milwaukee in 1954 when Frederick C. Miller, the president of the firm, and his college age son both were killed when their plane crashed on take off.

The original brewery founder, Frederick Edward John Miller, and also suffered heartaches.  He and his wife Josephine had six children, most of whom did not survive infancy.  Josephine is said to have died of influenza in 1860 while on a trip traveling back to the couple’s German homeland, leaving Frederick with a two-year old daughter who herself would succumb to tuberculosis at age 16.  

Although Frederick married a second time and sired five children who survived to run the brewery after his death, this marriage also produce several children who died in infancy.  In an 1879 letter, Miller offered a glimpse of his personal torments: "Think of me and what I had to endure - I have lost several children and a wife in the flower of their youth…."Whenever I think of all of them, how they were taken away from me so quickly and unexpectedly, then I become sad and melancholy….”

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Tale of a Tee-Shirt

Shown above is a tee-shirt that now resides in the Anthropology Division of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History, an item of clothing that I donated several months ago.  Why should such a mundane artifact deserve preservation one of America’s premier museums?  Therein lies a tale.

In March 1989 as a consultant I was selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in coordination with AFL-CIO officials, to lead a team to evaluate USAID-funded, union-run programs aimed at assisting black labor organizations in South Africa.  My being selected was related to similar prior evaluations and my history as a member of a labor union.

The assignment proved to be a memorable one.  While the policies of the George H. W. Bush Administration were not antagonistic to South Africa, still in the grip of “Apartheid” policies that denied blacks virtually any rights, pressures to do something for that population had led to funding a modest AFL-CIO program.

Agents of the South African government followed me and my evaluation team everywhere.  Under cover of night we were forced to meet union leaders like Cyril Ramaphosa, show here, then the head of the black mine workers union (NUM) and now president of South Africa.

Despite the surveillance, the team’s evaluation went well and about a year later, I led a team on a follow-up assignment.  During the ensuing period things had changed. F. W. de Klerk, shown here, now was president.  He was moving to remove discriminatory laws and had indicated that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison.  My team was not followed.  Somewhat dissatisfied with the AFL-CIO program, USAID employees had begun their own labor initiatives.

One of their efforts involved a garment factory in Durban. Although the project was beyond my mandate, the Mission Director asked me to go to Durban to assess the situation.  Purchased from a private individual and now owned by USAID, the factory had been given to the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) to operate.  That union only recently had been formed from two completing unions.  SACTWU was multi-racial and predominantly made up of women.

The idea of USAID owning a South African clothing factory was intriguing and I soon hied off from Pretoria to Durban, shown here.  At the airport I was picked up by SACTWU representatives and taken to the site — the Zenzeleni Clothing (Pty) Ltd.  Inside, dozens of workers, mostly female, were busy in all stages of making items of clothing but chiefly tee-shirts, some with militant messages.  As part of the formalities of the afternoon, I was presented with the shirt shown at the top of this post.  The raised fists so prominent in the design were a note of militancy against the government and its restrictive laws against black unions.

While it was evident that the factory was clean, well-lighted and appeared to be operating efficiently,  the thought was unsettling that a U.S. government agency owned it and had given its use to an organization strongly opposed to the existing government.  While I agreed with the sentiments on the SACTWU tee-shirt, my recommendation to the Mission was to divest itself of the factory as rapidly as possible, potentially by arranging to give it outright to SACTWU.  Eventually that occurred.  A Zenezeleni clothing outfit still exists in Durban.  I have no idea of its relation to the factory I visited.

Upon my return to the U.S., I stopped in London to discuss the South African situation with officials of the British Trade Union Congress (TUC ).  In the midst of our discussion, a staff member burst into the room to announced that Nelson Mandela had been released from his Robin Island prison.  A new era was about to begin in South Africa.

In subsequent years, I wore the SACTWU tee-shirt to Labor Day picnics.  In recent times, however, it languished in my closet until it occurred to me that the tee-shirt deserved to be preserved as a historical artifact.  After some calls and emails, I was put in touch with Dr. Mary Jo Arnoldi, a specialist of African anthropology at the Natural History Museum.  After consideration of my gift by Smithsonian curators, it was — to my great glee — accepted for accession and available for posterity.  That is the tale of the tee-shirt.

Afterword:  In 1995 I returned on business to South Africa. By that time union leaders with whom I had met surreptitiously were cabinet members.  They included Jay Naidoo, shown here, who had headed the black union federation, COSATU.  Now he was Secretary of Labor in the Mandela government and about to issue a new labor law, one replacing the Apartheid period laws.  I was humbled by his making me an “honored guest” at the ceremony attending the new law.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Wrapping Up Hearse Ambulances

Foreword:  This is the fourth and likely final post devoted to funeral home ambulances that have been preserved on glass paperweights and celluloid pocket mirrors.   Funeral homes seemed to gravitate to these advertising items and almost always emphasized their ambulance services, despite the fact that in many instances the vehicle doubled as a hearse.   While today such dual-use conveyances are banned by law, in many U.S. localities, particularly rural areas, the local undertaker also provides ambulance services.  Below are nlne paperweights that help tell the story.

The first weight shown here features the oldest ambulance of the group.  It is a horse-drawn conveyance from Hindle & Bayles, undertakers located at Fifth and H Streets in Washington, D.C.   The proprietors were Thomas A. Hindle and William A. Bayliss.   Hindle with wife Agnes apparently had his residence at the funeral home.  Bayliss, an immigrant from Nova Scotia, lived close by with his family.

Although the Mitchell-Fleming Funeral Home no longer exists in Tulsa or its branches in two other Oklahoma cities, the mortician’s records have proven of great interest to historians looking into the Tulsa race riot of May-June 1921. Those tragic events left at least 39 dead, 35 blocks of a middle-class black neighborhood burned out, and an estimated 10,000 people homeless.  During that period it appears that the Mitchell-Fleming ambulance operated mainly as a hearse, taking the dead for burial — at least twenty of the black victims to the city’s Oaklawn Cemetery.

The Geo. W. Scott undertakers at 2950 W. Madison Street in Chicago provided a “perfect ambulance service” using a Dodge motor vehicle that quite clearly could double as a hearse.  Note the outside ornamentation and the fancy windows.  Although I have been able to find out little about this establishment, someone saw it as significant and recently paid $137.50 at auction to own this pocket mirror.

Ford’s Funeral Home in Gastonia, North Carolina, was true to its name.  Those appear to be three Ford motor cars lined up in front of the pillared mansion that apparently is the funeral home, some of the vehicles on call for ambulance duty.  In its newspaper advertising, Ford’s, located at 137 South York Street, claimed the title “Leading Morticians” and took telephone calls both day and night.

In a departure from the usual, Greenhoe-Hatch ambulance service put photos of the proprietors on their paperweight.  They had pooled their talents, Barney W. Greenhoe earlier having operated Greenhoe’s Chapel and Fred F. Hatch employed at the Colonial Funeral Home.  They advertised vigorously in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, business directory as “funeral directors and licensed embalmers…service our motto.”  They could provide a private ambulance with a “lady attendant” or rent customers a limousine.

Geo. H. Long gives few clues to the city and state in which he plied his “motor ambulance.”  A bit of research reveals that Long was doing business in Kansas City, Missouri, located at 10th Street and Barnett Avenue.  He was one of 35 undertaking establishments listed in a Independence business directory, indicating that competition was brisk.  A large display ad in a 1924 business directory featured photos of both George and his wife, announcing “Kansas City’s Original Independent Undertaker…Assisted by MRS. LONG.”

Sampson Diuguid was a furniture maker who originally was a partner in a firm that made caskets and provided undertaking service in Lynchburg, Virginia.  The company advertised that its hearse would make a free run for customers.  In the 1820s Diuguid began operating independently to provide a funeral service that continues to this day and is considered to be the second oldest in the United States.

Some funeral homes advertised their ambulance services without having to display the actual vehicle.  So was it with the paperweight issued by the  Beardsley Funeral Home.  Edith and Sam Beardsley were an early “power couple” in Chariton, Iowa, said to be innovators at a time when undertaking was shifting from a furniture store sideline to full-time profession.  Like the Longs of Kansas City both Beardsleys were involved in the business so that when Sam unexpectedly dropped dead, Edith continued to operate the funeral home on her own for nearly 20 more years.

The next paperweight uses an illustration of the Frank A. Buley Funeral Home while advertising its ambulance service.  Unfortunately I cannot read the smaller type on the items and have not been able to locate the establishment, one that appears to have been sited in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The final paperweight depicts neither motor vehicle nor mortuary, but is strong for the ambulance service it provided in Wichita, Nebraska.  This one combines a weight with a mirror on the bottom.  Turning it over and looking into it reveals “a friend of ours.”  Wichita Undertaking Parlors were the scene of a dispute in January, 1921, about whether a prominent Wichita businessman, Joseph Nichols, had shot himself in a suicide as he lay pinned under his own automobile.  The coroner said yes. As he lay at the parlor for the viewing, Nichols’ family and friends contended vehemently that he was trying to fire in the air to call for help but accidentally had shot himself.

There they are — nine more artifacts of a time when a hearse could double as an ambulance, and vice versa.  This makes a total of thirty such paperweights and five pocket mirrors presented on this blog — a collection in its own right.

Note: My first article on this subject, “Where to Buddy?  Hospital or Graveyard?” was posted during July 2009. It presented six paperweights and two pocket mirrors.  A second, called  “Chasing the Ambulance:  But Wait…Is It a Hearse?” followed in May 2013.  That one displayed ten weights.   A third entitled “Funeral Home Ambulances:  A Conflict of Interest?” was illustrated with five paperweights, two pocket mirrors and three other advertising items. It appeared in November 2016.