Hudson Then Again…Hudson County Liquor Businesses in Early Days of the 20th Century

by Maureen Wlodarczyk

 Over the years, I’ve heard any number of men including my husband describe the benefits and healthful effects of drinking beer. Just this past week, my husband shared a printout of “The Buffalo Theory” with me. That piece of wisdom, attributed to the TV show “Cheers” and a conversation between bar regulars Cliff and Norm, equates survival of the fittest in buffalo herds to a similar process whereby beer drinking results in the death of one’s weakest brain cells, thus leaving the drinker with a more fit mind as a happy side effect of imbibing.

Long before Cliff and Norm entertained us on the small screen, Hudson County liquor distributors had advertised the important health effects to be derived from beer, especially for women. In 1911, a local liquor distribution company ran an ad in a Hudson County newspaper titled “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World,” featuring the image of a young mother gazing lovingly on her infant as she rocks the baby in a wicker cradle. The caption stated the following:

“The ever increasing strength and power of our Great American Nation depends largely on the physical condition of our children. Not only the strength, but also the very life of the child depends upon its proper nourishment in infancy. Good, pure, clean beer more fully supplies just the correct nourishment – in every sense of the word – that mothers require.” 

In the early days of the 20th century just before the dark clouds of Prohibition blew in, Hudson County was home to multiple thriving wholesale liquor houses. Among those were the Hoboken firms of Wachtel & Muller, Charles F. Kaegbehn, Paul Seglie, and Italian-born Angelo Podesta who established his liquor business in 1876. Union Hill was home to the liquor house of German-born H.F. Drewes who first trained in the spirits business in his native land at the age of 14 and whose enterprise also included 4 retail locations in Union Hill and Jersey City. Jersey City was the location for Krause & Co., Michael B. Holmes & Co., McArdle & Co., Lewis Fischer & Brother and Loewus Brothers & Co., the most prosperous of all the competing liquor houses, headquartered at 84 Montgomery Street with retail locations in Jersey City and Bayonne.

Loewus Brothers, established in 1890, was not one of the oldest firms of its kind in Hudson County but it was the most successful when it came to the measure that counted: sales. Gustave and Charles Loewus, the firm’s founders, were born in Bohemia and came to America in their late teens, each getting some early experience by working in liquor houses in New York before launching their own company. Their product line included beer, ale, California wines, cordials, whiskeys, champagnes, sherries and ports sold to saloons, hotels, druggists, grocers and private individuals. It was said that in the 20 years between 1890 and 1910, the company’s sales increased with each successive year.

The Loewus brothers were described as being among the smartest businessmen in Hudson County, expert in the selection of staff, trusted and admired for their character, business acumen and “logical minds,” and known for a directness and “absence of sentiment” in their business dealings. Case in point: In 1910, when the financially-troubled Bayonne Opera House failed to pay a $300 bill for liquor provided to its café by Loewus Brothers, the brothers quickly retained a local law firm and took legal action against the Bayonne Amusement Company, the owner of the Opera House. 

In 1914, a newspaper article reported that Hudson County would have strong representation at the Liquor Dealers State Convention to be held in Atlantic City. Among the notables from Hudson County was Charles Loewus, president of the Wholesale Liquor Dealers’ Association of New Jersey. Whether by design or not, the article immediately above that reported on the upcoming “aggressive campaign” planned by the Anti-Saloon Party and local Prohibitionists, including charges that Hudson County officials routinely ignored numerous complaints about chronic violations of existing liquor laws.  The struggle over alcohol was heating up and the dry days were on the horizon.  

Maureen Wlodarczyk is a fourth-generation-born Jersey City girl and the author of three books about life in Jersey City in the 1800s and early 1900s:  Past-Forward: A Three-Decade and Three-Thousand-Mile Journey Home, Young & Wicked: The Death of a Wayward Girl and Canary in a Cage: The Smith-Bennett Murder Case.  For info: www.past-forward.com.

 

  

 

 

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