Saturday, September 28, 2019

Uncle Sam and More Alcohol Ads

Enlisting Uncle Sam in the marketing of alcoholic beverages was a common occurrence in pre-Prohibition America.  In three prior posts I have featured the national Uncle as he has been depicted endorsing a range of whiskeys.  [See references below.]  That rush to identify with the old man in the red striped trousers was related to the passage by Congress of the Bottled in Bond Act of 1879 that empowered Federal authorities closely to monitor distillery warehouses for tax purposes.  Even without such direct government scrutiny, purveyors of imported scotch, spiritous bitters, premixed cocktails, wine and beer, also saw Uncle Sam as advantageous to their marketing.

Kicking off this vignette is a colorful image of Uncle Sam holding out his loving arms to a little girl whose dress identifies her as “Belgium.”  He is surrounded by ten other youngsters, all identified by costume and name as representing other European countries.  The poster was issued by Victor Brzezinski of Syracuse, New York.  Appropriate to the theme here Brzezinski sold a range of alcoholic goods, including wine, liqueurs and beer. 

Judge W. H. McBrayer of Anderson County, Kentucky, with three whiskey warehouses was one of the distillers who used Uncle Sam frequently in his advertising.  McBrayer concentrated on making a high quality whiskey and marketing it widely. According to legend, Wife Mary urged him to call the brand after the nearby stream. Thus, In 1861 Cedar Brook brand is first recorded as being used in commerce. Its growth over the following years was swift, aided by winning first prize and a gold medal for whiskey at the Philadephia Centennial Exposition of 1876.

Another whiskey that saw fit to identify with Uncle Sam was Jim Beam, a brand of bourbon produced in Clermont, Kentucky.  Founded 1795, seven generations of the Beam family have been involved in producing the brand, although the name “Jim Beam” dates from after Repeal.  The jug, often called a “toby jug “ was the product of England’s Doulton Pottery.   That company also produced the Dewar’s Scotch jug of Uncle Sam smoking a long clay pipe.  Dewar’s whiskey brand was created in 1846 in the Perthshire region of Scotland by John Dewar Sr.  Since then Dewar’s has had several international owners.

In its color lithograph trade card, Abbott’s Aromatic Bitters featured an Uncle Sam arm in arm with a distinguished gent who in turn is linked with a clownish figure with a crown identified as Old King Cole.  What any of this trio have to do with the bitters is unclear.  We do know that the original name was C.W. Abbott's Angostura Bitters, adopted in 1872, and many subsequent legal battles resulted with the word “Angostura” being stricken in 1908.  Nonetheless, the principal ingredients in this bitters was angostura (tree) bark and lots and lots of alcohol.

The Garrett Company of Weldon, North Carolina, furnished customers with a wall sign that featured Uncle Sam in a toast with Miss Liberty (was she a drinker?) of “Escapernong,” billed as “An American Wine for Patriotic Americans.”  From its home in Weldon, the Garrett Co. operated as a thriving business for years, shipping grapes from regional vineyards to the winery in Weldon. Garrett's wines began to be recognized worldwide, but in Weldon, the winery was threatened by state prohibition and forced to move to Norfolk and later to New York.

By trademarking its facilities as “Uncle Sam Wine Cellars and Distillery, the C. Anduran Company of San Francisco stole a march on other wineries who might have wanted a similar image.  Uncle Sam became a “man on a barrel,” a traditional pose described in depth in my post of May 12, 2018.  This wine company is recorded as in business from 1876 from 1887, located at 515-517 Sacramento Street.  The owners were C. Anduran and C. Carpy.

Brewers did not shrink from using the national symbol. Shown here is a slightly manic-looking figure assuring us that Sterling Beer from the Evansville (IN) Brewing Assn. was not only Uncle Sam’s favorite beverage but “just the mildly stimulating drink you want….”  Well maybe.  On March 13, federal authorities seized and condemned 295 cases holding 10,380 bottles of Evansville Brewing beer in Louisville, Kentucky, claiming that it had been adulterated and misbranded.  The government testing found that an unidentified substance had been added to the beer, substituting for malt.  The company pled guilty and was fined $200, a slap on the wrist.

Not all Uncle Sam ads were pre-Prohibition.  Here is a Budweiser ad from 1934, shortly after Repeal.  It shows Uncle Sam sitting on top of the world with figures in national uniform, left to right — France, Germany, Sam,. England, Spain and Japan.  The message is that during Prohibition, each country had its own beer but all were delighted to have Budweiser back in production:  “The biggest-selling bottled beer in history and the demand for Budweiser quality have built the world’s largest brewery.” 

The final ad in this series has an entirely different twist on the Uncle Sam personna.  No longer is he seen with a glass of whiskey, wine or beer in his hand, or sitting on a barrels of booze, but carrying a gun.  A New York City liquor dealer named Harry Hollander was warning the public that:  “Uncle Sam Will Enforce Prohibition.”  Existing stocks of good merchanise are almost extinct, he claimed.  As a result the public should “BUY NOW,” and Henry could accommodate  with gin, rum, whiskey, liqueurs, and wine.  At the time sales of alcohol were still legal, so Sam, for goodness sake, put the rifle down.

Note:  My earlier posts were “Enlisting Uncle Sam to Sell Booze,” October 1, 2011; “The Return of Uncle Sam, Whiskey Salesman,” February 15, 2013; and “Uncle Sam—The Distillers’ Man,”  August 18, 2018.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Requiem for the Barney Knob


It goes by lots of names.  In my northwest Ohio town we called it a “barney knob.” In other places it is known by other names.  Wikipedia uses the generic term “Brodie” knob after a man named Steve Brodie, a New York daredevil who is reputed in 1886 to have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge to collect a bet and survived. Other names for the device include necker, knuckle buster, and suicide knob.  A variety of them are shown throughout this post.

With my first automobile, a 1953 Chevrolet two-door that cruised at 80 miles an hour, for a while I had a barney knob on the steering wheel, have not used one since, and had largely forgotten about the device.  What put me in mind of it was a younger friend who fell, broke a wrist and was told not to drive.  “If you had a barney knob,” you could drive with one hand,”  I told him.  He had never heard of them. 

The object in question is a small, independently rotating knob (not unlike the standard door knob).  As shown here, it faces the driver and is securely mounted on the outside rim of a steering wheel. The knob is intended to help make steering with one hand less difficult and faster.  It was invented in 1936 by Joel R. Thorp, a resident of a Milwaukee suburb, West Allis, Wisconsin.  He called it a “steering wheel spinner knob.”  Later Thorp would invent an improved accelerator pedal.

In its heyday the knob made a fashion statement.  After World War II, hard plastic like lucite had hit the market and colorful knobs were the rage.  As I remember, mine was drum shaped with a bright yellow plastic flower display.  As shown here, others displayed plastic dice, the eight ball of pool, and sometime an image you did not want your mother to see. 

Placement of the barney knob was crucial.  It had to be available to the major driving hand and to turn a hard corner.  Being left handed, mine, I recall, was about 8 o’clock on left side of the wheel.  Others tended to locate it at 1 o’clock.

It was sometimes called the “necker” knob because it allowed the user to drive while having one arm around the shoulders of a girl friend snuggled close or perhaps holding her hand.  A youthful pal of mine was employing the knob to good use in that fashion but in his romantic haze drove into a busy intersection and had a fender bender that got him grounded for several weeks.

Wikipedia points out that the device is “notoriously useless” for controlling the automobile during an emergency.  The knob also be the cause of an emergency if it flips back and hits the driver’s arm. Today it frequently is termed the “suicide knob.”  Potential hazards also are responsible for it being called a “Brodie knob,” since his daredevil antics popularly were seen as a death wish.

During the 1950s, rumors constantly were flying among the barney knob crowd that the Ohio state legislature had passed a law making them illegal and if stopped by the police for a traffic infraction a second citation would follow.  I have no doubt that bills were introduced in many states to outlaw the knob and that nationwide proponents of the gizmo were left to worry.  To date, however, I cannot find any evidence that the barney knob ever was declared illegal in Ohio or any other state.

Nonetheless, whether it was fear of arrest or my father’s strong objection to it, I removed my barney knob only months after tightening the screws on my Chevrolet steering wheel.   The knob was kept lovingly in my dresser drawer where I would take it out occasionally and gaze at it in appreciation.
But I never replaced it on the steering wheel of my Chevrolet.

Some sixty years have elapsed since then.  The barney knob with the bright yellow flower long since has vanished from my possession.  I no longer cruise at 80 miles an hour and am usually holding tightly onto the steering wheel with both hands.  But it pains me that the knob has faded into almost utter obscurity even among the younger set.  I mourn its passing.  Thus the requiem.