Continuing with my theme of alcohol bottles found on campus, I’ll be discussing one particular bottle that was discovered during excavations of the Brody/Emmons area. The bottle is a clear, rectangular-based bottle, no doubt a liquor bottle given this shape. If there was any doubt as to its intended use, all you would have to do is look on the side of the bottle where the words “DRY GIN” stand out in relief. Embossed on the other side is the name “FLEISCHMANN’S”, giving us the actual company name. In doing research about this bottle and this company, I went down a surprisingly interesting rabbit hole that has foundations all the way back into the Mid-Late 19th century.
Fleischmann’s Distilled Dry Gin boasts that this was the first gin to be distilled within the United States with production beginning in 1870 out of Riverside, Cincinnati, Ohio. However, gin production was not the original intention or only business and manufacturing venture by the company’s owners: Charles Louis Fleischmann, his brother Maximilian Fleischmann, and American businessman James Gaff (1).
The Fleischmann brothers came over to the United States in 1865 from Moravia-Silesia (now a region in Czechia). Their father had previously been a distiller and yeast producer in Europe, with the brothers following in his footsteps. After settling in Cincinnati, Charles Louis and Maximilian found that the quality of baked goods was not up to the standards they were used to back in Europe. Charles returned to Europe to retrieve yeast samples and upon his return, the brothers partnered with a businessman named James Gaff (1, 2). In 1868, they began a standardized production of yeast with their new company Fleischmann Yeast Company. Advances in their research and production into yeast led them to create active dry yeast which we all use today in our baking. This allowed for a much longer shelf-life of the product. Two years later, they opened their first gin distillery using their knowledge of distilling from their father and their newly improved yeast (2). This is still the Fleischmann Distilled Dry Gin that we know of today.
Despite their early advances, widespread success would not come until the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, PA, the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States. There, they set up a model Austrian bakery (The Vienna Bakery) and showcased the benefits of using their improved yeast in cake and pastry baking (3). Other new inventions and goods that premiered at the Exhibition were Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, the Remington Typographic Machine (the typewriter), Heinz Ketchup, the arm, hand, and torch from the Statue of Liberty currently under construction, and the Kudzu vine from Japan (3). The Exhibition brought massive commercial and financial success for the company. Their success at the Centennial Exhibition revolutionized baking in the United States and made the company a house-hold name. (A quick check of my cupboards confirmed that I too have Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast as I consider myself a VERY amateur bread baker.)
Newfound commercial success (each of the three owners became multi-millionaires almost overnight) allowed them to open another yeast factory and gin distillery in Peekskill, NY (2). More success for the company came when they developed yeast for the U.S. Army during WWII that could survive without refrigeration, meaning that a wider range of food could be consumed by U.S. troops abroad.
Prohibition, lasting from 1920 to 1933, no doubt hurt the company as they could no longer legally sell or distribute spirits. The Fleischmann’s gin bottle from the Brody dump dates to 1935, so we know that alcohol consumption at MSC and East Lansing was back in full swing after Prohibition ended, but a decade’s worth of minimal liquor sales would have hurt the company, despite their thriving yeast empire. To make up some of the potential loss in sales of liquor, the Fleischmann Company attempted to rebrand their yeast and market it as high in vitamins as well as a health restorative, especially for energy, constipation, and skin improvement (5). They even started distilling gin under a medicinal permit right after Prohibition ended (4)!
Fleischmann’s Yeast Company still exists today and is owned by Associated British Foods, but alcohol production is no longer directly associated with the original yeast industry. After changing hands a few times in the past few decades, Fleischmann’s Distilled Dry Gin is owned by Sazerac of New Orleans, LA (6). Although not the most popular gin on the shelves today, this gin has the longest distilling history of any in the United States and is intimately tied to modern baking practices. Without finding and researching artifacts such as the bottle from the Brody Dump, we potentially lose how people lived their daily lives. Few people write down exactly what they do everyday or what they use to do certain tasks (although social media is changing that narrative), be it using Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast while making bread, snacking on a Fleischmann’s Yeast Cake, or having a Fleischmann’s Gin & Tonic after a long day at the office or school, all of which may have been done by the original owner of the gin bottle, back in the late 1930s.
- Klieger C.P. The Fleischmann Yeast Family, Arcadia, 2004.
- Woods,M.L. The Fleischmann Treasury of Yeast Baking, The Company, New York, 1962.
- Gross L.P. & T.R. Snyder. Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Arcadia, U.K., 2005.
- Bottling Medicinal Gin, The Wall Street Journal. 1933. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/131061850?pq-origsite=summon
- Price C. The Healing Power of Compressed Yeast, Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2015 (URL: https://www.chemheritage.org/distillations/magazine/the-healing-power-of-compressed-yeast)
- Sazerac company website: http://www.sazerac.com/fleischmann.aspx