Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ferdinand Lutz — Master Maltster of Louisville

Malt is an essential ingredient for both brewing and distilling.  Because many distillers did not have the capacity to undertake the malting process, they purchased it from “malt houses” whose primary purpose was to turn a grain, usually barley, into malt.  As one pre-Prohibition writer observed, “Malting is the task of maltsters, and its technology is now far advanced.”  As a master maltster, Louisville’s Ferdinand F. Lutz, was well aware of that.

Lutz was born in Louisville in August, 1856, and may have lost his father at a young age.  The 1860 census found him at four years living with his sister and mother who was described as a “yeast maker.”   He was educated in local schools and apparently served an apprenticeship with one or more of the many whiskey-related enterprises located in the city, likely working in the malting process.

He became skilled in producing barley malt, the most common, where the barley grain is put in an warm and damp environment in order to make it germinate. The inevitable happens: The grain activates the solar energy it has accumulated on the field and converts the starch into sugar. The barley grain is like a small factory and wants to convert the sugar into cellulose in order to grow roots and a germ with leaves.

However, after the starch is converted into sugar the process is interrupted. The malt is dried, and the malt sugar (maltose) is used to produce a sweet liquid called wort. The malt is ground to a coarse consistency, then the sugar is dissolved with hot water, and the results left to ferment by adding yeast. After that, it’s time for distillation.

By the age of 23, Lutz had mastered the art and science of making excellent malt and determined to strike out on his own.  He opening a modest malting operation in Louisville that soon gained a reputation for quality and allowed him greatly to expand.

By 1891 Lutz was operating three malt houses:  The City Malt House at Monroe and 12th Street with a capacity of 250,000 bushels, shown here; the Louisville Malt House, corner of Franklin and Wenzel Streets with 150,000 bushels capacity; and another in Versailles, Kentucky, of 100,000 bushels.  Those facilities would have incorporated drying floors and kilns similar to those shown above. An illustration of the City Malt House is shown below.

In addition to manufacturing various types of barley, rye and corn malt, Lutz was dealing in brewery and distillery supplies, and filling orders for yeast malt.  Accounted one of the largest manufacturers of malt in the South, Lutz in an 1893 ad suggested “Give Me a Trial.”  Many brewers and distillers obliged and his trade was reported to extend throughout Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia.  He also was selling locally, providing product to many of the whiskey and beer makers of Louisville and its suburbs.  His business was grossing $350,000 a year (equivalent to more than $7 million today), hailed by one writer as “striking proof of Mr. Lutz’s enterprise and skill.” 

Lutz also was a whiskey man, advertising his F. F. Lutz & Co. dealership in “high grade” bourbon malt and rye whiskeys.  A specialty, as his1893 ad states here, was “fine bar and medicinal whiskeys.”  His proprietary brands were “Lutz’s Famous Old Malt Whiskey” and “My Own Favorite Sour Mash.”  Although he said both labels were copyrighted, I can find a 1890 trademark registration only for the latter.  Lutz’s liquor house and store room were located at 1120-1214 Rowan Street, apart from his malting operations.

Even at the age of 35 — the vintage of his picture above — Lutz had made his mark on in the Louisville business community.  He was a member of the Commercial Club and of the Louisville Board of Trade, was a major investor in the Belt Line Railroad Company, a stockholder in the South Park Brewing Company and the Shaefer-Meyer Brewing Company.  He also was a member of the Brewers and Maltsters Protective Association and active in the St. Joseph’s Orphan Society, perhaps further indication that he himself had lost a parent.

Although continually extolled for the hours and energy he put into his malting enterprises, Ferdinand also found time for family life.  In the late 1870s, while still in his early twenties, he married Anna Mary Wunsch, Kentucky-born of German immigrant parents.  He became a father at the age of 23 when a son, baptized Ferdinand Louis Lutz, was born in 1879.  The boy was followed by a daughter, Isabelle C., in 1886 and a second son, Arthur C., in 1890.

Lutz also drew attention because of his writing ability, contributing regularly to monthly trade publications, including Bonfort’s Wine Spirit Circular Journal and the Wine and Spirits Journal.  Those writings allowed him to advertise his wares as well as, upon occasion, voice his concern about encroaching competition.  Bonforts reported that “notwithstanding the big competition of this season,” Lutz had shown a satisfactory increase in sales because:  “His rye malt is somewhat of a specialty and many distillers will use no other.”

Eventually, competition caused Lutz to abandon directly manufacturing malt.  Citing the difficulty of getting barley in Kentucky because of a short growing season, his need to obtain expensive supplies in distant  Wisconsin and Minnesota, and burgeoning new technologies in malting, Lutz retired from making malt and went to work selling it as a representative of the Wm. Rahr Sons Co. of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  As Rahr Sons’ southwestern agent, he was joined by his two sons, Ferdinand L. and Arthur C. Lutz, the three covering a territory extending over the entire Midwest and South.  Shown here as he aged, the father continued to work virtually up until the day he died on August 12, 1915, felled by a cerebral hemorrhage.

Shown here as he aged, Lutz was a relatively young 56 when he passed.  His funeral services began with a viewing at his home on South Brook Street in Louisville, moving to a funeral Mass at St. Mary’s Church, the Catholic parish where he had been active.  Burial was in Louisville’s St. Louis Cemetery.  The Lutz monument is shown below.  His obituary noted that Lutz had been prominent in the malting business for more than forty years.  His sons carried on his enterprise renaming it F. F. Lutz Sons and operated until the advent of National Prohibition.

In both life and death, Ferdinand Lutz drew extravagant praise:  The Illustrated Louisville publication (1881) hailed him as “not only a whole-souled, clever gentleman, but also a liberal minded citizen, progressive, and always ready to do one a favor.”  Bonforts (1890) called him:  “a whole-souled, jovial fellow, and one who values a friend, and is valuable as a friend.”  His obituary in The Western Brewer (1915) stuck similar themes:  “His amiable disposition and polished manner won him a host of friends, not alone with the brewers and distillers, but with everyone with whom he came in contact.”   

Saturday, November 18, 2017

James Maguire and Allies Snubbed the Whiskey Trust

In September 1892, the press reported that a group of major liquor dealers in Philadelphia had announced the purchase of 103 acres in Bucks County to build “an enormous distillery for the production of rye whiskey.”  A leader among them dealers was James Edward Maguire, an Irish immigrant whose Montezuma Rye was a nationally recognized brand.  Although denied, this project was a direct snub of the so-called “Whiskey Trust.”

Several year earlier a number of Midwest distillers had turned their plants over to a board of trustees who aimed to control the liquor trade through the kind of monopolistic cartel that had developed in oil and other American industries.  Officially named the “Distillers and Cattle Feeders Trust,” it was popularly known as "The Whiskey Trust.”  That organization, based in Peoria, Illinois, gathered in more than 80 distilleries, often using tactics like dynamite to convince holdouts.  Most of the plants the Trust procured were shut down. The idea was to control supplies and drive up whiskey prices.

For a time the Trust was successful, cornering, some said, ninety percent of the available liquor stocks.  The monopoly drove up prices for “raw” whiskey used by wholesalers, like Maguire and his allies, for blending (“rectifying”) their proprietary brands.  By creating their own source of supply these Philadelphia whiskey men were striking a blow to end their dependency on the Trust.

The new facility, organized with capital of $3 million (equivalent to $60 million today) was titled the Pennsylvania Pure Rye Whiskey Distilling Company.  “Nearly every large liquor dealer [in Philadelphia] holds stock in the company,” said one press account.  A prominent member of the venture noted:  “I suppose those 40 firms represent about $30,000,000.  All the subscriptions have been paid in.  The plant eventually had a capacity of 30,000 barrels a year. The site selected had a large frontage on the Delaware River and a wharf was constructed.  The Pennsylvania Railroad line was a mile from the distillery, necessitating the building of a branch spur to the site.

A spokesman for the group was quick to disavow any intent to be antagonistic to the Whiskey Trust.  The reasoning behind the new distillery was to established an industry close to home, he said, economizing on shipping and buying local grain.  He added:  “Then too, we are going to try some new experiments in the manufacture of whiskey which are entirely original, and which, if successful, will have a tendency to revolutionize things.”  Nonetheless, alarm bells must have gone off in the Trust’s Peoria headquarters.  Not only would they lose the Philadelphia houses as customers, members of the new distillery were being  encouraged to promote sales of excess whiskey stocks to dealers outside the membership.   According to the press account: “Each stockholder will virtually be an agent, and will use extra efforts to sell the whiskey, because he will reap a decided benefit from it.”   And the Trust would be the loser.

A year after it opened in 1893, the new Philadephia Pure Rye Distilling Company was surveyed by Ernest Hexamer, an insurance assessor based in Philadelphia.  There were two large stills, one wooden with a capacity of 16,840 gallons and a copper still holding 2,554 gallons.  A single bonded warehouse was constructed of brick, six stories tall, with a capacity to age 14,000 barrels.  At that time the distillery was employing six men.  Hexamer’s drawing is above.  Below is an artist’s representation of the distillery several years later at build-out. 

The important role played by James Maguire in organizing the distillery company was indicated by its board meeting at his headquarters at Third and Noble Streets to sign the original building contract.  Maguire had been elected by his colleagues as the treasurer of the new distilling company.   This represented recognition by his peers that this Irish immigrant had risen to the top ranks of Philadelphia whiskey men.

It had been a long road for Maquire, born in County Cavan, Ireland, in 1833 and coming to the United States as a young man.  His early years in this country have largely gone unrecorded, but a reasonable assumption is that he was working for one of the many liquor houses in Philadelphia, learning the trade.  He was also having a personal life, in the late 1850s marrying Rosalie Pauline Martin, also Irish-born.  They would have five children, three daughters and two sons.  Among them, born in 1864, was Thomas A. Maguire, who eventually would go to work for his father in the liquor house.

James had struck out on his own in 1872, opening a store at 472 North Third Street in Philadelphia and by 1874, a second outlet at Callowhill and North Fourth Street.  Eventually he expanded at the Third Street location, to encompass the store fronts on either side.  An important part of Maquire’s rise in Philadelphia was his success in making Montezuma Rye Whiskey a nationally recognized brand.  When he trademarked the label in 1894 he claimed that the name had been in use since 1875.

He was particularly intent on providing saloons, hotels and restaurants featuring the brand with attractive back of the bar bottles.  Of particular note was an elaborate metal overlay bottle used to dispense Montezuma Rye.  It stood just over eleven inches high, completely encased, as shown here, in a soft metal cage with a filigree vine and flower design. Plaques on the front contained a hammered and engraved text that read:  “Celebrated Montezuma Rye Whiskey, Jas. Maquire,” and his address.  Two variants are shown here.

Retail customers could buy Montezuma Rye in glass bottles, sized from quarts to flasks, or get their liquor in an attractive canteen sized metal bottle that carried a bronze plaque on each side, shown above.  McGuire also featured such giveaways as shot glasses and pocket mirrors.  Through the excellent color qualities of celluloid, the latter provided an effective merchandising tool when distributed among the public.  Shown below, he also handed out a “good luck” token to customers, one side advertising Montezuma Rye and the other side, Belle of Nelson, a brand from a Louisville distillery.

Throughout this period, the Philadelphia Pure Rye Whiskey distillery in Bucks County continued to prosper with liquor house owner, Angelo Meyers, as its chairman, and Maquire as treasurer.  The group succeeded in undercutting the Trust.  Noting this success, other whiskey men banded together to open distilling operations.   Similar steps were taken in New York under the leadership of Henry Naylon and in Indiana by John Beggs.

With those repeated blows, the power of the Trust ebbed.  Although the cartel survived until the advent of National Prohibition, it now controlled only a fraction of the Nation’s available whiskey supplies.  The Bucks County distillery, by contrast, continued to thrive, with multiple transactions recorded into 1920 when activity ceased.  By that time James Maguire had died.  He passed away on January 28, 1900, at 65 years of age.  His rites were held at Philadelphia’s Church of the Gesu.  He was buried in New Cathedral Cemetery, next to Rosalie who had preceded him two years earlier. Management of the Maguire liquor house fell to his 36-year-old son, Thomas.

Thomas, left, maintained his father’s name at the head of the firm, as shown in a 1909 letterhead, still located at the North Third Street address.  He successfully managed the liquor house for the next 18 years. 

Then tragedy struck the family. In October, 1918, Thomas fell victim to the deadly strain of flu virus sweeping the country, as did his 17-year-old son, Thomas A. Maguire Jr.  Both were buried the same day in Section R of New Cathedral Cemetery, adjacent to the Maquire monument marking the graves of James and Rosalie.  

Many U.S. whiskey men had publicly and vehemently opposed the Whiskey Trust but it likely was James Maquire and his allies, while denying any intention of doing it any harm, that struck the first important blow against the monopolist intentions of the Trust and in the process sent it into its descent into ineffectiveness.

Note:  This blog contains profiles of several of the whiskey men mentioned here, Angelo Meyers, December 2, 2011;  Henry Naylon, February 7, 2014, and John Beggs, October 25, 2017.  Much of the information about the formation of the Philadelphia Pure Rye Whiskey Distillery is from an article in the Pittsburgh Dispatch dated September 16, 1892.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Whiskey Men Targeted by Prohibitionists

Foreword:   While prohibitionists as a movement seldom targeted individual whiskey men for their wrath, some free-lancing zealots did — Carrie Nation stands out as an example but others as well.  As a result publicans and liquor dealers who simply were tending to business could find themselves singled out in their communities as targets.  Presented here are four such situations and their often unforeseen consequences.

In 1914 Max Friedlander was operating a successful liquor house in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, when a traveling evangelist named Henry Stough, preaching at a tent revival there, leveled a personal blast at four men he said were principally responsible for sin and corruption in Hazelton.  Among them was Max Friedlander.  If it were not for that four, the evangelist declared, there would be no houses of prostitution, no saloons open on Sunday, no slot machines, no gambling dens or poker games in town.  “I lay the moral condition of Hazelton and the vicious things here at the foot of these four.  Let them take up the gauntlet.  I have thrown it down,”  Stough declaimed.

Friedlander and the other three were quick to retaliate, filing suits for slander against Stough, shown left, each asking for $50,000 in damages, the equivalent of $1.2 million each today. The legal battle that ensued became a circus. The trial was disrupted by demonstrations by the preacher’s followers who crowded a Hazelton courtroom to “hoot and holler” during the taking of testimony.  The trial had to be moved to Wilkes Barre and no one was allowed inside the courtroom except attorneys and “interested parties.”  Nevertheless, the demonstrators followed and continued their loud protests in the courthouse corridors. 

Eventually damages of $2,700 each ($65,000 today) were awarded to Max and the others.  This time Stough went to court, appealing the judgment.  His lawyer, explicitly cited the ethnicity of the allegedly slandered four, declaring in court that a Jewish liquor dealer (Max), an Irish councilman, an Italian politician and German brewer together held so much influence over the judges of Luzerne County that Stough could not get a fair trial there.  The attorney was disbarred but in the end the State Supreme Court dismissed the cases against Stough.  The preacher had been within his First Amendment rights and his charges were not slanderous or actionable, the judges ruled.  Max and the others saw no compensation. 

But Friedlander had other rewards.  The local community strongly rallied around him and not long after clergyman’s diatribe, he was elected president of the Hazelton Board of Trade.  The newspaper account of Max’s election dismissed Stough as an “itinerant evangelist” and his accusations as “unpleasant.”  Before the legal processes had run their course, Friedlander also had been elected a director of the Markle Banking and Trust Company, a Hazelton financial institution with assets equivalent to more than $12 million.

John Nunan’s travails began about 1906 when Professor H.K. Taylor, was named president of the Kentucky Wesleyan College at Winchester, Kentucky.  Early in his presidency Prof. Taylor became highly affronted by the saloons in Winchester, apparently feeling they were hotbeds of temptation for his male students.  In 1908 Taylor plotted a “sting” he hoped would put Nunan, and other Winchester saloonkeepers either out of business or facing heavy fines and maybe jail time by having an underage student named Green buy a bottle of beer in each.  

Being of a theological rather than legal turn of mind, the don had failed to mount an airtight prosecution.  At the trial, young Green said he was sure the proprietor had not sold the beer to him but could not positively identify either of the bartenders.   Other evidence that might have helped Prof. Taylor’s case were the bottles of beer that Green bought in each drink emporium.  Taylor had marked the each bottle to show the saloon it came from.  A local newspaper told the rest of the story:  “…But the first night of the trial Prof. Taylor brought the bottles to the police court room and the trial was postponed.  Prof. Taylor left the bottles in the court room but they disappeared and therefore could not be produced.” 

The judge summarily dismissed the case on the grounds that not only was there no physical evidence of purchases, Green could not identify who had sold him the beer.  The decision applied to Nunan and the other saloonkeepers, who walked out of court seemingly vindicated.  Prof. Taylor became a laughing stock in Winchester.  Within several months, he resigned as president of Kentucky Wesleyan and his resignation was accepted, seemingly with alacrity, by the Methodist Educational Board.  For a time Nunan went back to a more normal existence.
In November of 1908 Martin J. Breen, a Chicago wholesale liquor dealer, was arrested on a charge of giving liquor to a minor in suburban Englewood, and released only after posting a $500 bond. The warrant claimed that nine-year-old Elmer Flodin had been enticed to drink whiskey.  “My boy had left the house on his way to school and was standing on the front porch when a man came up to him and gave him a bottle of whiskey,” his father related. “He hardly knows what whiskey is and is certainly not fit to handle it.”  Down the street Flossie Thompson, age nine, and Emma Lindquist, thirteen, also reputedly were given bottles of liquor.  Breen had been targeted by Little Elmer’s outraged father, A. S. Flodin, an anti-drink zealot.   

The law provided a fine of from $20 to $100 or a jail sentence of from ten to thirty days, or both, and Flodin was demanding a jail sentence.  In his defense, Breen issued a statement admitting that his firm had been distributing sample bottles of whiskey but insisted that they were being given only to adults. He intimated that he was being framed by prohibitionary forces:  “If bottles of our whiskey were delivered to children it probably was done by persons not connected with us in any way and who desired to prejudice the public mind against us merely by reason of our being engaged in the wholesale liquor business.”  Although Breen likely paid a fine, there is no evidence he ever went to jail and he continued to run his liquor house.

During the early 1900s Conrad Glosking and Jacob Levy had formed a highly successful distilling and wholesale liquor dealership in Wilmington, Delaware, attracting the attention of temperance advocates.   The “drys” had succeed in getting a law passed in Delaware that decreed that no one under the age of 21 could work in a saloon or barroom. Because much of the help for such establishments came from youths under 21, the laws severely constricted the labor pool for drinking establishments.

In 1914 Levy & Glosking reapplied for their usual state license. It allowed the company to compound and rectify as well as sell intoxicating liquors to be drunk off premises, in any quality not less than one-half gallon. To their surprise and consternation, the issuance of the license was challenged in court by local prohibitionists.  They argued that the company employed minors in their store to handle liquor by transferring whiskey from barrels to bottles on premises. As a result, the Society contended, the liquor was unsealed and the opportunity given to minors to drink some. In effect, Levy & Glosking were being accused of running the equivalent of a saloon.

If the Delaware license had been denied, Levy & Glosking were finished. The partners fought back by hiring perhaps the most potent lawyer available in the state. He was Daniel O. Hastings, a former Associate Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, shown here. Hastings effectively made the case in court that Levy & Glosking were not, in fact, a saloon and that the law on minors had no application to them. The opposition had no real answer. The judge agreed with Hastings and dismissed the argument of the prohibitionists.  Levy & Glosking received the precious license.

For Friedman, Nunan, Breen, and Levy & Glosking, overcoming those targeted attacks by prohibitionary “lone wolves,” marked only temporary victories for the whiskey men.  As state after state went “dry” and finally the entire Nation in 1920, all of them were forced to shut down their enterprises for good.

Note:  More extensive treatment of each of the men featured here can be found on this blog.  Max Friedlander, January 7, 2016;  John Nunan, October 20, 2015; Martin Breen, July 18, 2017, and Levy & Glosking, March 12, 2012.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Weis Men of Milwaukee and Their Artifacts

Sometimes the most memorable part of a liquor house is not the whiskey men who founded and operated it, but the out-of-the-ordinary artifacts they produced and left behind.  So it seems with the Weis brothers, Carl and William, who seem to have originated more than a few articles of above-average interest.

Note for example, their delivery wagon above.  Many liquor companies had such conveyances and some have been shown on previous posts.  Most often they were strictly utilitarian with little or no ornamentation.  By contrast the Weis Bros. van is covered with colorful cotton drapery with a scalloped fringe on top and the name prominently emblazoned on a lacquered fender.  The front held another design.  This wagon would have drawn notice as it clattered through the streets of Milwaukee.

Carl and William Weis were relative latecomers to town.  They were born in Germany, Carl in 1841 and William in 1845, and emigrated from their homeland as young men in 1868.  They arrived in Milwaukee eleven years later, their earlier locations and occupations unrecorded, but almost certainly already accomplished in the whiskey trade.  An 1896 biography of their firm noted that they had started their liquor house almost immediately upon their arrival in town, adding:  “…From the start [they] met the most advanced requirements of the trade, thus developing a widely extended and growing patronage.”  Their sales area was said to include not only Wisconsin but states in the Upper Midwest and as distant as the Dakotas and Montana.

Located at 383 East Water Street, their business occupied a four story and basement building, with access to the cellars of two adjoining buildings. It gave the Weises the space to store not only leading national brands but also to blend (“rectify”) their own proprietary brands, including "Balmoral Club,” "Crawford", "Fox Lake,” Mountain Cave,” ”Old Bedford,” "Old Norman,” “Policy.” and "Tom Cooper.”  Their biographer in the volume Milwaukee-A Half Century of Progress (1896) enthused:  “It is a matter of record that the best whiskies…are difficult to secure in ordinary trade.  The average dealer is not an expert, and it requires the vast experience of a representative firm like Messrs. Weis Brothers to secure in stock the oldest and finest of this, the leading tonic beverage of the age.”

Crawford Handmade Sour Mash Bourbon appears to have been the brothers’ flagship brand.  In keeping with their producing above average artifacts is a back- of-the-bar bottle advertising that brand.  Note that it bears a label under glass, a relatively pricey giveaway to saloons and hotel bars featuring Weis liquor.  A decanter type bottle of the same purpose bears the company name in Gothic letters.

Weis Bros. was also unusual in Milwaukee as one of only a handful of whiskey wholesalers to feature a brand of bitters, in this case Knickerbocker Stomach Bitters.  Although highly alcoholic, bitters were marketed as medicinals, a designation that also lowered the amount of federal taxes  The Weis’ sign for the nostrum is both colorful and interesting, featuring a chubby German contemplating a glass while a cross-eyed dog sits at his feet.

The attempt at novelty extended to the bottles in which the brothers sold Kickerbocker Bitters.  As shown here, it was amber and held a “slab seal” that contained label information.   While slab seals were common in an earlier day before embossing was possible on the body of a glass bottle, by the time Weis Bros. was in business, they were considered an additional expense and little used.  Thelr seals were well realized and additional testimony to the good taste of the proprietors.  

Although Weis Bros. may have been the only liquor wholesaler to employ slab seals, it faced stiff challenges from its competitors.  Milwaukee was replete with liquor dealers providing advertising shot glasses to favored customers.  Shown here are two examples of the brothers’ offerings.  Both are etched, with good if not out of the ordinary designs. 

After about twenty years heading the business, Carl Weis appears to have left its active operations in 1898.  Business directories the following year listed only William and a manager.  Carl, who appears never to have married, was living with William and his family, one that included a wife, Anna, and a daughter, Louisa.  Carl’s interest apparently had become literary; he had invested in and become president of C. N. Caspar, a well-known Milwaukee bookstore that also published a variety of guidebooks and maps of city streets.

By 1912, William also had retired from the liquor business, the brothers selling out to a group of local investors who kept the well-respected Weis name.  Both brothers spent long lives in retirement.  Carl died in June 1921 at the age of 80, long enough to see National Prohibition shut down for good the company he had co-founded.  William, age 82, died in  March 1928.  The brothers are buried in adjacent graves in Section 47 of Milwaukee’s Forest Home Cemetery.  Their legacy remains in the well-designed and attractive artifacts they left behind.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Rosenfields Turned Whiskey into Peanut Butter

Skippy Peanut Butter is one of those iconic brands that can be found on grocers’ shelves from coast to coast.  Behind those colorful jars is the story of Manuel and Joseph Rosenfield, father and son Western pioneers, who parlayed their Colorado “Old Kentucky Liquor Company” into a blockbuster food industry and a spread that is as American as apple pie.

The elder Rosenfields originated in Wurtemburg, a southern province of Germany known for beer, wine and spirits, emigrated to the United States and settled in New York City.   Manuel was born there about 1842.  His early life has gone unrecorded but at the age of 28 in May 1870 he married Carrie Bakrow, a New Yorker whose parents likewise were immigrants from Germany.

By 1880 Manuel and Carrie had left New York to travel West.  The census that year found them living in Louisville, Kentucky with two small children, Sarah 3 and John, under one year.  Manuel’s occupation was given as running a men’s clothing and hat store.  It must have been successful since the family could afford two live-in servants in their home on Market Street. Two years later a third child — Joseph — would be born.

Manuel had a restless streak that eventually took him and his family even further West, this time to Cripple Creek, Colorado, shown above.  Located in the front range of the Rocky Mountains, the town sat just below the timberline at 9,500 feet.  The site of the last Colorado gold rush, Cripple Creek has been characterized as “a violent place, with a Wild West mentality.”  But it also was populated by a crowd of thirsty miners.  There Manuel opened the “Old Kentucky Liquor Company” that supplied local saloons with whiskey and also sold liquor at retail.

Manuel packaged his whiskey principally in ceramic jugs.  A variety of them are shown throughout this vignette.  They improved from relatively crude ceramics and labels to increasingly more sophisticated ones.  The progression probably indicates a growing capacity of Cripple Creek area potteries to provide more finished products.  Old Kentucky jugs have been eagerly sought by collectors.  The one at left below recently sold at auction for $2,425 and the one at right for $468.

The Rosenfield’s lives in Cripple Creek did not pass without incident.  John at the age of 19 had been sworn in as a deputy constable, charged with keeping order in a town where bloody battles were fought between mine owners and labor organizers.  At one period, a killing a day reputedly was the norm.  In November, 1898 John was viciously attacked by a drunken blacksmith. He shot and killed his assailant.  In the ensuring inquest, he was exonerated, the shooting determined to be justifiable homicide.   At the time Joseph was 16.

As they matured both sons were employed by Manuel at the Old Kentucky Liquor Company that by 1902 had moved from the initial address at 129 East Bennett Avenue to larger quarters at 320-322 East Bennett, Cripple Creek’s main commercial avenue.  Part of the Rosenfield’s success was providing giveaway items to saloons carrying their liquor.  The fanciest was a reverse glass sign advertising the company.   Favored customers also were given shot glasses for the bar, most bearing the image of a raccoon, the Rosenfield’s adopted symbol.

As the gold rush ebbed and the population of Cripple Creek began to fall, Manuel decided to move the family about 90 miles south to Pueblo, Colorado, on the state’s high plain.  Pueblo was being heralded as a “beacon of development,”
with agriculture and manufacturing, rather than mining and ranching, representing the modernizing West.   With a growing population Pueblo proved to be a good second home for the Old Kentucky Liquor Company.  

Now 22 years old, Joseph married, the wedding taking place in Boulder.  His bride was Mae Sutherland, 22, who had been born in New Jersey, her parents from Pennsylvania and New York.  The 1910 census indicated that Joseph and Mae had two sons, Jerome and Marvin, and a daughter, Virginia.   As his father aged, Joseph increasingly was running the family liquor house.  In 1910 the Rosenfields had moved again, this time to Denver where they established the Old Kentucky Liquor Company one last time.  Manuel was now a widower as Carrie had died earlier that year.. 

Three years later while on a trip to Los Angeles on business, Joseph visited friends in Alameda, California, an island community on the east side of San Francisco Bay near Oakland.  Not only did he fall in love with the place, it occasioned significant changes for the family.  For starters he changed his name to “Rosefield,”  perhaps wanting to sound less German — this was about the time of World War One — or less Jewish.  He also sold off his Denver liquor business and began working in Alameda as an salesman, initially of ice boxes and later of foodstuffs.

About 1915, Joseph founded the Rosefield Packing Company, working out of the garage of his bungalow home on San Francisco Bay.  Although dealing in a variety of edible products, he manufactured two himself, pickles and peanut butter.  Said a former employee:  “He built the machinery himself and made his first jar of peanut butter in his garage.”  (Shades of Bill Gates!)

Although the San Francisco area boasted a number of peanut butter manufacturers, the spread was tricky to produce and market, often turning rancid by the time it reached the consumer.  Over time Joseph was able to improve the process and grow sales. It allowed him to move his company from the garage to the plant shown here, one that made only pickles and peanut butter.  Manuel lived to see his son’s success, dying in 1928 and was buried next to Carrie at the Temple Cemetery in Louisville where he began his business career.

Joseph proved to be an exceptionally astute and hard driving businessman.  He began merchandising Skippy in 1933, during the depths of the Depression, and saw it grow to the Nation’s leading peanut butter by 1946, a position it held until about 1980.  Described as “confident and self-assured, with a strong character and convictions,”  Rosefield’s convictions included allowing only females to tour his factory because he feared male visitors might be copying his production techniques.  Thus, Girl Scouts were welcome, Boy Scouts were not.

A photograph exists of Joseph and Mae Rosefield, taken when he was in his mid-to-late seventies.  They are on a cruise ship about to dock in Hawaii and someone has bedecked both of them with leis.  Joseph does not look amused. I have been unable to find information on his passing or place of interment, hoping that some alert descendent will see this piece and help me fill in the blanks.

In the meantime we have the coveted artifacts of the Old Kentucky Liquor Company to remind us of Manuel and Joseph Rosenfield and how their financial success in the liquor trade in the Wild West led eventually to an icon of American grocery shelves.

Note:  Much of the information contained in this post and the photo of the Rosefields were taken from the book “Creamy & Crunchy:  An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food.” by Jon Krampner, Columbia University Press, 2014.