Why are there different colored beer bottles and what does it mean? Today, beer bottles are manufactured in a number of colors, but has that always occurred? These are the questions I have been asking myself as I have been looking through Campus Archaeology artifacts, especially the several beer bottles curated in our collections.
Today we think of soda, or as we say in these parts pop, as coming in a few standard sizes: 12 oz cans, 20 ounce bottles and 2-liter’s to name a few. But as I’m sure you’re aware, sizes have changed substantially over the last century or so. That’s why this large, quart size bottle from the Brody/Emmons complex (the East Lansing dump) stands out. The first two-liter bottle was produced by Pepsi-Cola in 1970 (http://www.pepsico.com/About/Our-History). In fact the two-liter bottle is the only standard soda bottle in American that comes in a metric serving. With the exception of a few liquor and cleaning bottles this is the largest food related bottle recovered.
The embossed marks “Nehi Bottling Company”, “32 OZ Capacity” provided the first clue in identifying this bottle – it’s from the Nehi Cola Company Par-T-Pak line. Nehi Cola first appeared in 1924 as a addition to the Chero-Cola companies line of products. Nehi Cola offered a wider variety of flavors including orange, grape, root beer, peach and others. Nehi was so successful it outsold Chero-Cola and the company changed its name to Nehi in 1928. In a slightly ironic twist of fate, once the company reformulated Chero-Cola and rebranded it Royal Crown Cola (or RC Cola), the new cola outsold Nehi and the company eventually changed it’s name to Royal Crown (SHA / Wikipedia).
The large bottle Par-T-Pak line included cola, ginger ale, sparkling water/club soda, black cherry, lemon lime, orange, grape, strawberry, root beer, and Tom Collins mixer. The Par-T-Pak line was first introduced by Nehi in 1933 (Lockhart) and was likely offered until the mid 60s. The tag line was “When you celebrate … Enjoy America’s Party Drink!” This size bottle was specifically marketed as drink mixers with the larger size noted as being economical for parties (since it was meant to serve six). It is perhaps not a coincidence that these “party size” bottles went on the market right at the end of Prohibition.
Marketing from the 1950s was pushing the benefits of the bottle size specifically as an alcoholic drink mixer: “There’s extra sparkle at parties whenever Par-T-Pak is served! For Par-T-Pak “mixers” are so sparkling they stir as they pour! No longer do highballs have to be swizzled or stirred!” (Life Magazine March 27th, 1950). This full color advertisement suggests that the bottle we have is likely ginger ale, as it is the only notable dark green bottles. Although our bottle predates these advertisements (the East Lansing dump was used from 1907 to the late 1930s), the bottling coloring and flavor options appeared to have been stable.
It’s easy to focus on alcohol bottles and overlook their best friend – the mixer! Many of the cocktails we know and love today have their origins in pre-prohibition (drinks like the daiquiri, the Manhattan, the martini, or the mojito). The 13 year legal draught caused by prohibition, and the long lasting impact of the Great Depression, certainly put somewhat of damper on American cocktail culture. The introduction of Nehi Par-T-Pak’s in the 1930s fit right in with America’s budget friendly mindset, and the welcome legal re-introduction of alcohol.
As archaeologists, some of our most common findings are in fact trash, the things people not longer want or need which are then thrown away. As a result, dump sites, or middens, are some of the best contexts from which to reconstruct the lives of past people. The Brody/Emmons Site (location of the old East Lansing Dump) has given us here at CAP a large swath of different kinds artifacts which has allowed us to catch a glimpse of the lives of those on campus or from East Lansing during the first half of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, a large number of alcohol bottles were found. Throughout this academic year, I have written two previous blogs over some of these bottles (liquor on campus and one over a gin bottle) as has Jeff Painter. Each of these bottles present a unique history or has an interesting story that may otherwise not be told.
The liquor bottle for this post is a clear, one pint whiskey bottle with “THE A-M-S CO” embossed on one side near the base. The “AMS” stands for American Medicinal Spirits, a distilling company that was started by the Wathen brothers, Otho and Richard Eugene. The brothers came from a long line of distillers in Kentucky, dating back to some of the early settlers in the area (Odell 2004). AMS was not their first distilling company, but it might be one of their most interesting. The company was started around 1920, during Prohibition. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Prohibition (known as the18th Amendment or the Volstead Act) did not ban the consumption of alcohol, but the production, transport, and sale of it. If it was technically illegal to distill whiskey during the Prohibition years of 1920-1933, how were the Wathen brothers even able to start a distillery during the first few years after the 18th Amendment was passed? They found a loophole.
As the name “American Medicinal Spirits Company” implies, alcohol produced by AMS Co. was intended for medical purposes. At the time of Prohibition, many doctors believed that alcohol could be beneficial to one’s health if taken in appropriate doses. Maladies that alcohol was supposed to have help with included tuberculosis, high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, pneumonia, cancer, anemia, and many others (Nespor 2010; Appel 2008). While Prohibition had mostly religious underpinnings, many doctors saw the enactment of the Volstead Act (and subsequent additions further restricting medicinal alcohol) as government overreach and its interference in their medical practices (Appel 2008). As a result, prescription pads for medicinal alcohol were issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and liquor could only be prescribed under certain circumstances and in federally regulated amounts (Nespor 2010). In addition to paying for the alcohol itself (which cost around $3 or $4), patients would have to pay an additional prescription fee of $3, making it costly to legally obtain liquor which was in regulated quantities (Gambino 2013). Individuals who did legally obtain liquor could receive one pint every ten days and were required to glue their prescription slip on to the back of the bottle. However, most bottles from this period with still intact labels do not have the prescription on the back either from people not caring or that many pints were sold illegally (Appel 2008).
As most of the distilleries in the country shut down from Prohibition, AMS opened up and filled a need in the small and legal liquor market. However the presence of the embossment that reads “Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re-Use Of This Bottle” means this specific bottles was produced between 1935-1964 (glassbottlemarks.com), post dating the repeal of prohibition. In 1929, before the repeal of the Volstead Act, the Wathen brothers sold AMS Co. to National Distillers. Some records indicate that Otho became Vice President of National Distillers but then mostly left the business around the repeal while Richard appears to have continued in the liquor industry. Nevertheless, AMS Co. was one of the few companies at the ready for when Prohibition ended in 1933 and was incredibly successful in the following years. Numerous brands of liquor operated under the name of American Medicinal Spirits Co., with Old Crow Kentucky Straight Bourbon being one of the longest lasting (although Old Crow is now produced by Beam Suntory which also produced Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark). Patent records indicate that the name “American Medicinal Spirits” has not been renewed since the mid-1970s. National Distillers was sold to Beam Suntory in 1987, meaning that AMS has mostly dissolved, although products of its legacy are still consumed today.
The discovery of this bottle in the Brody Dump tells an interesting story of a company that legally skirted prohibition regulations of alcohol sales. Since the East Lansing dump under the Brody complex closed in the late 1930s, this bottle could only have been produced and consumed within a tight window of time. Was this particular brand purchased because it was familiar from the prohibition years? Was the owner previously prescribed whiskey? Unfortunately these are questions we will never know the answer to. However, it is through discoveries like these that we can add more pieces to the puzzle of what life was like in this area during the first half of the 20th century and how students may have coped with maladies (or thirst…) during Prohibition.
Appel, Jacob M, 2008. “Physicians are Not Bootleggers”: The Short, Peculiar Life of the Medicinal Alcohol Movement. Bulletin of the history of medicine 82.2: 355-86.
Gambino, Megan, 2013. During Prohibition, Your Doctor Could Write You a Prescription for Booze: Take two shots of whiskey and call me in the morning. Retrieved from: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/during-prohibition-your-doctor-could-write-you-prescription-booze-180947940/#
Nespor, Cassie, 2007. Medicinal Alcohol and Prohibition. Blog of the Melnick Medical History Museum, posted April 7, 2010. (https://melnickmedicalmuseum.com/2010/04/07/medicinal-alcohol-and-prohibition/)
Odell, Digger, 2004. American Medicinal Spirits Company
Dating archaeological sites that we discover is one of the most basic tasks that archaeologists perform. While we all must do it, dating archaeological assemblages is not always easy. Luckily, marketing and branding, a crucial part of our consumer world, helps to make dating historic sites a little easier. Every company needs a brand, something that makes them stand out among their competition and reminds the consumer that they are buying a quality product. A great deal of branding is done through material culture, creating visual cues that trigger people’s memories and make them want to buy your product. Like clothing lines, long-lived brands must change over time to keep up with both their competition and the current fashions and culture, leading to variation in the products of companies. This variation, when documented, can help us to date different deposits at archaeological sites. One great example is the Coke bottle. Here at Campus Archaeology, we occasionally come across Coke bottles in various forms. Depending on some particular characteristic of the bottle, we can give a general date to the materials found with that bottle.
Coca-Cola first made its appearance in 1886 as a soda fountain drink in downtown Atlanta, GA. Over the next number of years, Coca-Cola was only served by the glass at drinking fountains until around 1899, when the company signed its first bottling contract (Coca-Cola 2011). The earliest Coca-Cola bottles were Hutchinson style bottles, but were quickly followed by straight-sided bottles with crown tops in a number of different colors of glass. Dating to between 1900 and 1920, the dates of these straight-sided bottles can be narrowed even further based on the shape of the script and where the script is placed on the bottle. For example, straight sided Coke bottles with script in a diamond shape in the center of the bottle are dated to 1907-1912, while ones with a vertical arrow in the center date to between 1912 and 1916 (for more variations: www.antique bottles.com/coke/). During the time of the straight-sided Coke bottles, the Coca-Cola brand was expanding greatly. As such, competitors tried to take advantage of this brand by closely mimicking Coke branding strategies. In response, the Coca-Cola company had bottle manufacturers create a unique bottle type, one that had a distinct look and feel, which would forever be synonymous with the Coca-Cola brand: the contour (or hobbleskirt) bottle. Patented in 1915, the contour bottle went into production in 1916 and was subsequently sold all over the world (Coca-Cola 2011; Lockhart and Porter 2010).
Since the beginning of their production, Coca-Cola contour bottles have changed very little, as this bottle served as the hallmark of the Coca-Cola brand. While the bottle designs stayed relatively consistent, the patent for the bottle was renewed several times. Since the patent date or patent number was included on the bottles to prove that they were from true Coca-Cola distributors, these numbers can help narrow down the date range of when the bottle may have been made. For example, from 1917 to 1928, Coke bottles had the patent date of “NOV. 16 1915” on each bottle. When a different patent was acquired on Dec. 25th, 1923, the bottles eventually began to display this date. From 1928 to 1938, the so called “Christmas Cokes” (due to the Christmas patent date) were produced that possessed this second date. Other such markings are “PAT. D 105529” (1938-1951), “US PATENT OFFICE/MIN CONTENTS 6 FL OZ” (1951-1958), and “US PATENT OFFICE/ MIN CONTENTS 6 ½ FL OZ” (1958-1965) (Lockhart and Porter 2010; www.antiquebottle.com/coke/). Starting in 1960, Coke began selling their products in cans, followed by plastic bottles in 1978, marking the slow decline of the glass Coca-Cola contour bottle (Coca-Cola 2011; Coca-Cola Journey Staff 2017).
On campus, if we find a Coke bottle during excavation, we know that the deposit dates to around 1900 or younger. We can then use more specific details about the bottle to further narrow down the date range. For example, within the Brody/Emmons dump, an early trash disposal site for East Lansing, CAP recovered at least one Coke bottle. The presence of this bottle indicates that at the dump was being used sometime between 1900 and the present. Looking closer on the bottle, one sees a patent date of Dec. 25th, 1923. This date indicates that the bottle was an old “Christmas Coke” bottle, made and sold between 1928 and 1938; a date range that fits well with what we know about the use of this dump. Coke bottles, used in this way, serve as excellent diagnostic artifacts for more recent historic sites. But, as marketing never ceases, we must also be wary of recent reissues of old Coke bottles, which promise to confound our efforts in the future.
Antique Bottle Collectors Haven
n.d. “Antique Coke Bottles.” Website. http://www.antiquebottles.com/coke/
2011 125 Years of Sharing Happiness: A Short History of the Coca-Cola Company.
Coca-Cola Journey Staff
2017 “Contour Bottle History.” Coca-Cola Website.
Lockhart, Bill, and Bill Porter
2010 “The Dating Game: Tracking the Hobble-Skirt Coca-Cola Bottle.” Bottles and
In archaeology, we frequently use large assemblages of different artifacts to interpret what happened at an archaeological site. While a greater number of artifacts is always useful, the ability of just one single artifact to tell us a story is also amazing. I am reminded of this while researching an old whiskey bottle recovered by CAP from the Brody/Emmons Dump. Seemingly simple enough, this object has unlocked a small piece of Michigan history that I had never heard before.
It all started while researching the company whose name was embossed on the top of the bottle’s lid: Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc. Hiram Walker was born in Massachusetts in 1816. As a young man, he moved to Detroit in 1838 and began to go into business buying and selling various goods. By setting some of his earnings aside, he saved up enough money to begin his own distilling business, starting with vinegar. He also began producing whiskey (Chauvin 1927), whose name is an old corruption for a word meaning “water of life” (Lyons 1999). By the early 1850’s, Walker’s whiskey had become a local favorite, but the prohibition movement threatened his success. In 1855, a number of states, including Michigan, began to ban the sale of liquor except by apothecaries for medicinal purposes. In response, Walker began buying property in what would become Windsor, Ontario starting in 1856 and began building new facilities. In 1858, his new distillery and flour mill were complete and Hiram Walker and Sons was born. Their most popular product was Walker’s Club Whiskey, which was immensely popular in the United States (Chauvin 1927).
As the prohibition movement and the Civil War shut down liquor production in the Confederacy, where most U.S. distilleries were located, Walker’s Club Whiskey was smuggled across the Detroit River into the U.S. and then distributed across the Union (Chauvin 1927; Hill 2016). Walker’s whiskey was so popular that it was rumored that he had built a pipe running underneath the Detroit River purely for the purpose of pumping his whiskey directly into the U.S. As alcohol production once more picked up after the war ended, Walker’s Club Whiskey dominated the market, so much so that U.S. competitors begged the U.S. legislature to require a liquor’s country of origin to be clearly marked on every bottle. Once the law passed, his whiskey was rebranded as Canadian Club Whiskey (Chauvin 1927).
By the 1910’s, prohibition once again reared its head, this time leading to a national ban on alcohol in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933. Prohibition hit Hiram Walker and Sons hard, but they were once again able to find outlets for their product across the Detroit River (Chauvin 1927; Hill 2016). Al Capone, the famous gangster, was one of their best customers, who succeeded in distributing Canadian Club Whiskey across the Midwest with the aid of Detroit’s infamous Purple Gang (Pearson 2014). Despite their rum-running success, Hiram Walker and Sons was sold in 1927 for little of its original worth. Today, Hiram Walker’s distillery is now the largest distillery in North America and produces around 150 different products that are distributed widely. They still make world renowned whiskeys, but their first product, Canadian Club Whiskey, is now owned and produced by a nearby competitor (Hill 2016).
Aside from the name of the company, this bottle contains other information that can help us to place it within this history of Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc. Using the free bottle dating reference guide created by Bill Lindsey (https://sha.org/bottle/index.htm, supported by the Bureau of Land Management and the Society for Historical Archaeology), I was able to narrow down when this bottle may have been produced for sale. Present on this bottle are embossed designs and mold seams that reach the very lip of opening, which indicate that it was machine-made. This technology first became popular after 1900, meaning that CAP’s Hiram Whiskey and Son’s bottle post-dates the Civil War smuggling days of the company. Since there are very few bubbles present in the glass itself, it is likely that this bottle was made with more advanced manufacturing technology, further narrowing the time table of this bottle into the 1930’s or later. The presence of an external screw top also suggests this later date, as this closure type only became popular starting in the late 1920’s.
Our greatest piece of evidence is one simple sentence embossed prominently on the bottle: FEDERAL LAW FORBIDS SALE OR RE-USE OF THIS BOTTLE. Post-prohibition, this message was required by federal law on all liquor bottles to further discourage illegal liquor sales. Passed in 1935, the law was repealed and the message discontinued by the mid 1960’s, placing the manufacture and use of this bottle firmly between 1935 and 1965. Based on all of this evidence, this bottle of Hiram Walker and Sons’ whiskey was distilled and consumed legally in post-prohibition East Lansing. While this bottle may not have been part of Al Capone’s illegal liquor empire, it still has an incredible story to tell about Michigan’s past.
Chauvin, Francis X.
1927 Hiram Walker: His Life and His Work and the Development of the Walker
Institutions in Walkerville, Ontario. Manuscript accessed online through the
Southwestern Ontario Digital Archive, University of Windsor.
2016 “Hiram Walker and Sons Distillery No Longer Shy About Telling Its Story.”
Windsor Star, Windsor Ontario. Published Sept. 17th, 2016.
Lyons, T. P.
1999 Production of Scotch and Irish Whiskies: Their History and Evolution. In The
Alcohol Textbook, edited by K. A. Jacques, T. P. Lyons, and D. R. Kelsall, Pp. 137-
164. Nottingham University Press, Nottingham.
2014 “From the Vault: Prohibition.” Windsor Star, Windsor, Ontario. Published Nov.
Today the non-prescription medicine we can buy at the drug store is heavily regulated yet readily available. But in the 19th century patent medicine was dominant. Patent medicines are proprietary (i.e. secret formula) mixtures that were unregulated, advertised widely and sold directly to the public. The popularity of the patent medicine industry is tied to issues with the 19th century medical industry. Qualified doctors were sparse and expensive. Medical knowledge was also undergoing profound changes during the 1800s. Prior to the 1880s most people subscribed to the miasmic theory of disease transmission. It held that diseases like cholera or the Black Death were caused by poisonous vapors or mists (called miasmas). According to the theory, illness was not passed between people, but would only impact people that were near a miasma. In the 1870s and 1880s the work of Joseph Lister and Robert Koch were instrumental in moving the germ theory of disease forward (1,2).
A family member relying on home remedies, the recipes for which were often found in cookbooks, generally provided routine health care. However treating many of the terrible diseases that became widespread during the 19th century (typhoid, yellow fever, cholera) were beyond the skills of the average citizen. The fear of these diseases directly resulted in the incredible success of the patent medicine industry. Medicine became big business and entrepreneurs began selling all manner of completely unregulated medicine. During the 19th century any drug could be included in the formulas (like Heroin cough suppressant or cocaine toothache drops!), and any claim about the benefits and effectiveness of the medicine could be made.
Our patent medicine bottle was recovered from the Saints Rest dormitory during excavations in 2012. As a quick reminder, Saints Rest was the first dormitory on campus and it unfortunately burned to the ground in December of 1876. This small square bottle is embossed on four sides and reads: “Dr Sage’s”, “Catarrh Remedy”, “Dr. Pierce Propr”, “Buffalo”. So what’s the story with this bottle you might ask?
Catarrh is an excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose or throat – i.e. a very very stuffy nose with drainage. Today we would think of this condition as a symptom of a cold or allergy. The bottles sold for 50 cents (3).
The directions for use were published in newspaper advertisements as well as Dr. Pierce’s immensely popular book “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser”, which was essentially an advertisement for his various patent medicines. This book sold millions of copies and included patient testimonials touting the near-miraculous cures provided by his medicine. The Catarrh Remedy could be administered in several ways. After the powder was mixed with water, it could be snorted. Or, it is recommended that the best way to ensure that the remedy reaches all impacted areas is via hydrostatic pressure by means of Dr. Pierce’s Nasal Douche. Yes, a nasal douche. Think of it as the great grandfather of todays neti pot. The nose is first flushed out with a saline solution, and then the Catarrh remedy fluid (4). Dr. Pierce’s remedies dominated the patent medicine market. Pierce was a master of marketing, using newspapers, broadsides, and billboards to saturate the market (5).
By the beginning of the 20th century blind faith in patent medicine was beginning to waiver. A scathing exposé series, “The Great American Fraud“, was published in Colliers Magazine in 1905-1906. The journalist, Samuel Hopkins Adams, revealed the dubious practices of the patent medicine industry, and highlighted the many shocking ingredients (6). These articles created an immense public backlash and helped pave the way for the 1906 Pure Food & Drug Act. The patent medicine industry, spearheaded by Dr. Pierce, fought viscously against the legislation, but eventually lost the battle. The 1906 act dealt a substantial blow to patent medicine. While it did not outlaw the use of alcohol or opiates in the products, the new labeling laws meant that consumers were no longer kept in the dark. Sales of patent medicine declined rapidly (1).
This tiny bottle tells quite an interesting story that provides a glimpse into the everyday life of an early M.A.C. student. Perhaps he suffered from allergies brought about by the abundant campus plants, or had contracted a severe head cold while out pilfering fruit from the orchard. Either way it’s a fun peek into the medicine cabinets of the past.
- The Current Publishing Company. July 23, 1887. No. 188: page 128.
- Dr. Pierce “The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser” 1895. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18467/18467-h/advise.html
If you’ve been following the blog you may have noticed the many interesting artifacts, mostly bottles, found during the Brody Hall and Emmons Amphitheater area excavations. Since the Brody complex is built above the old East Lansing Landfill, these excavations provided us with an array of items that provide some insight into what life was like during the early 20th century in East Lansing.
As an intern for CAP this past semester, I’ve been given the task of going through these bottles to catalog and re-examine them. These bottles held everything from cosmetics to cleaning products to condiments that reflect everyday life in East Lansing during this the early 20th century. This landfill was active from the late 1910s to the late 1940s, which gave us a general range for a probable date on these bottles, but part of my task as an intern has been trying to get a more specific date. This has been interesting because I had never really thought about bottles in this way before. Researching the various shapes of historic bottles and using clues to find out how the bottle was used and when it was made has been a very educational experience. For some of these bottles, figuring out a date was relatively easy when you know the code they sometimes stamp on the bottle. However, many of the bottles had little to no markings that could be used to determine a date. This meant many hours of researching bottle shapes and looking through catalogs. Since many of the bottles were like this, it has taken us some time to get through all the bottles. Now, of course, I use bottles every day, but historic bottles are much different. I’ve been pleasantly surprised many times while researching to discover a bottle’s intended use.
Researching these bottles has also got me thinking a lot about trash and how we treat trash. Reading literature on the history of garbage and waste management was surprisingly very interesting and made me realize why archaeologists love trash so much. When I take the trash out, I don’t see where it goes. All I know is that someone picks it up and it’s not my problem anymore. Although I try to be eco-friendly and recycle, it’s the same deal. I put my recycling or trash in bin and someone takes it far away from me. No one wants to see trash, but we throw away everything. During the time that this landfill was active, municipal trash pick-up was a relatively new thing but since then, not much has changed in terms of how we deal with garbage after we throw it away. Realizing this got me thinking about sustainability on campus and if anything has changed. While the fact that these complete bottles are still here after 70 years has been helpful for our research, it’s daunting to think about how much of our trash will long out live us.
In the past, CAP has used archaeology to investigate how sustainable practices were used on campus. Many of these sustainable practices can be traced back to events like war or recession – being sustainable because it is necessary for survival. Building from the previous research on MSU’s sustainable past, I’m using these artifacts to assess how sustainable practices in waste management have changed and examine if we are truly more sustainable today. Although these bottles are made of glass which is not considered to be “eco-friendly” when thrown away, examining how they were used could be helpful in assessing sustainable practices at that time.
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
Peanut butter is a staple of the average American kitchen. It’s a favorite in the lunch boxes of school age children, college students, and archaeologist’s in the field. And although the peanut has been widely cultivated for a long time, peanut butter as we know it today only dates to the late 1800s. In 1895 John Harvey Kellogg (yes that’s Kellogg) applied for a U.S. patent for a nut butter made from peanuts or almonds. By 1896 the Kellogg Company was producing nut butter on a small scale. By the turn of the century peanut butter was fairly widely available from commercial sources, as it gained popularity following the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. By 1922 there’s even a National Peanut Butter Manufacturers Association (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 2015).
There’s a single peanut butter jar recovered from the Brody/Emmons amphitheater excavations: Frank’s Tea & Spice Company Jumbo Peanut Butter. In 1896, Jacob, Emil, and Charles Frank founded the Frank Tea & Spice Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company originally sold small, shelf-size packages of whole and ground spices. They later expanded their offerings to tea, spices, peanut butter, and olives (American Jewish Archive). However, their most famous and most enduring product was Frank’s RedHot® hot sauce, first produced in 1920 (www.franksredhot.com). Unfortunately this jar doesn’t have any makers mark or date stamps. The overall construction of the jar, and the date range of the other artifacts recovered from the Brody/Emmons complex suggests that this jar is from the 1930s.
Information about their Jumbo brand peanut butter is spotty. We know that the Frank Tea & Spice Company applied for a trademark on the world “Jumbo” in 1927 (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 2015). So, why Jumbo peanut butter? To unwrap this decision, we need to look to the elephant on the jar.
Well, today jumbo as a word is part of every day speech – a word to describe something that is large. Merriam-Webster notes that the first use of the word was only in 1883. That’s because the common use of the word comes from Jumbo the Elephant. Jumbo was the most famous elephant of the 19th century. He was sold to the London Zoo in 1865, and became famous for giving rides to visitors. Jumbo was fold in 1882 to Barnum & Bailey Circus, where he quickly became their most popular attraction. Jumbo was a beloved public figure and was featured on soda bottles, popcorn bags, matches, playing cards, puzzle, children’s toys, and even used as advertisement for tires and spark plugs (http://now.tufts.edu/articles/glory-was-jumbo).
Jumbo was killed in an unfortunate train accident in 1885, but that did not mark the end of his illustrious career. Barnum had his hide taxidermied and his skeleton mounted. The skeleton and mount traveled with the circus for years. Today the skeleton is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The hide was donated to the P.T. Barnum Hall at Tufts’ University. Although the hide was unfortunately destroyed in a 1975 fire (Jumbo’s ashes are kept in a Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter Jar in the Tufts athletic director’s office), Jumbo remains the Tufts mascot. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo)
The fact that Jumbo had died more than 40 years before Jumbo Peanut Butter was produced speaks to the endurance of his legacy. And the connection between elephants and peanuts. Elephants don’t eat peanuts as part of their natural diets. However, roasted peanuts were popular fair at the circus, and were often purchased to feed elephants. So perhaps Frank’s Tea & Spice Company was playing on national nostalgia in naming their peanut butter Jumbo. Although our jar only has an image of Jumbo, they also produced small jars in the shape of an elephant (wouldn’t that be fun to find!).
Jumbo Peanut Butter was also known for the eclectic sayings on the bottom of the jars including “Try Jumbo Peanut Butter Sandwiches”, “Best for the kiddies”, or like our jar says “Jumbo Good Enuf for Me”.
When I started researching this peanut butter jar I never imagined I’d be learning about a famous elephant (but that’s what makes research fun!). Jumbo the elephant impacted many facets of history: rise of mass entertainment/pop culture, museums, advertisement, ever our lexicon. To learn more about Jumbo, and the wild rumors P.T. Barnum concocted about his death, check out the information video produced by Tufts.
William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. 2015. Origin and early history of peanut butter (1884-2015): Extensively annotated bibliography and sourcebook. Soyinfo Center.
Jumbo and care taker”: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/02/05/article-2552606-1B14452D00000578-388_634x589.jpg
Jumbo at coney island: http://www.heartofconeyisland.com/uploads/5/1/5/8/51585031/8778343_orig.jpg
Jumbo trade card: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/soapona-ordered-this-anthropomorphic-trade-card-news-photo/93302350?esource=SEO_GIS_CDN_Redirect#soapona-ordered-this-anthropomorphic-trade-card-capitalizing-on-the-picture-id93302350
The artifacts recovered from the Brody Complex/Emmons Amphitheater excavations are providing many research avenues.. As Mari mentioned in her previous blog, this area was originally used as the East Lansing City Dump for about three decades – from the 1920s to 1950s. One cultural and constitutional phenomenon that this period encapsulates is the enacting and later redacting of the 18th Amendment, also known as Prohibition. This amendment made it illegal to produce, buy, sell, or transport alcohol although private ownership and consumption was not illegal (Tyrell 2015).
Various liquor bottles from many types of spirits were recovered during the excavations at Emmons Amphitheater including gin, whisky (and whiskey), beer, and wine bottles, as well as a few yet-to-be identified alcohol bottles. For this post, I will not go too specifically into the history of any one liquor bottle (that will be in my next post), but will dig more into what these bottles tell us about student life during the Prohibition and how a few variations of these laws made a surprising resurgence in East Lansing in the 1990s.
First, a quick history of prohibition in Michigan. Although the 18th Amendment received the required number of states to pass in 1919 and was enacted in 1920, Michigan was actually the first state in the nation to go dry. The state enacted its own alcohol prohibition starting on May 1st, 1918. Due to its easy access to Windsor, Canada, Detroit became the biggest pipeline in the nation for liquor smuggling (Tyrell 2015). Some researchers estimate that up to 75% of liquor smuggled into the United States during this time came through Michigan via what was called the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel. During this time, people tried to get alcohol any way they could. Speakeasies (also known as blind pigs or blind tigers) popped up all over the country. Organized crime soared in Detroit (ever hear of the Purple Gang?) and the illicit liquor trade became the city’s second largest industry. However, when the 21st Amendment was passed which repealed Prohibition, Michigan was the first state in the nation to ratify the amendment, mostly due to the rise in organized crime in the Detroit area during the period (Tyrell 2015). On December 5, 1933, a ¾ majority was reached in Congress, thereby officially repealing the 18th Amendment. This day became known as Repeal Day and is still celebrated by pubs and bars everywhere with great drink specials.
So generally, what do these bottles tell us? Primarily, that people (and presumably students since the dump abutted the school and students lived off campus in East Lansing) drank alcohol. Drinking on campus has been prohibited ever since the school’s foundation, yet that hasn’t stopped students from breaking the rules. Students have always engaged in breaking rules, and it’s probable that they were still purchasing alcohol during Prohibition. One of the driving factors for breaking a school rule is just to break it – an act of revolt against “The Man” or the administration. It gives a sense of both agency and community with other students who can feel weighed down by rules and regulations.
Although these liquor bottles date to the post-Prohibition era, it still gives us insight as to the nature of student life and activities. The year of 1920, the first year of national Prohibition, was reported to be a particularly rebellious year. The Age of Jazz was in its early years with many people around the nation considering this new form of music to be immoral. Kuhn notes that due to the strict regulations of the college at this time, students revolted by hosting unscheduled and impromptu dances with lots of jazz music, much to the chagrin of the professors who were said to have been “quite dejected at all the goings on” (p. 321). Most likely a culmination of the desire to break school rules, rebel against the administration, and put the devastation from WWI behind them, students at M.S.C. regularly engaged in activities of this sort which led some people to refer to this period or student revolt as the “Bolshevik Days” at the college (Kuhn 1955, pg. 321). Further, the academic year of 1919-1920 earned its own nickname as the year of Jazz and Bolshevism.
The desire to socialize further from school-sanctioned activities also led to an increase in parties where alcohol flowed freely. Planning and throwing one of these liquor-laden parties would have been a difficult process for a few reasons. First, when the charter for the City of East Lansing was issued in 1907, it was incorporated as a dry city so local vendors and establishments would not have had alcohol. Second, state prohibition in 1918 and National Prohibition in 1920 would have meant that the procurement of liquor would have been difficult and both a state and federal crime. However, the convenient geographic distance to Detroit would have meant that students at the school most likely obtained their illicit alcohol from connections with the rum-running capital of the nation. One account on campus during this time states that a briefcase with no less than 12 bottles of fine whiskey was found in a bush with a note inside saying “This is a sample of what you won’t get if the State goes dry” (Kuhn 1955, pg. 321).
Even in recent decades there have been Prohibition-esque crack-downs on liquor and parties at MSU. In 1980, the City of East Lansing amended its definition of what constitutes a ‘blind pig’ which up to that point was an establishment that sold liquor without a liquor license. The amendment expanded that definition to include parties where there is a cover charge, required donations, or a purchase of a cup for unlimited alcohol – common house or student party practices. In 1989 and 1990, East Lansing felt that parties of this nature were getting out of control and decided to revive the Prohibition-era law and began shutting down these MSU student parties which, under the new city amendments, were considered blind pigs – a possible felony. Arrests and charges were brought up on students, particularly at Cedar Village, as reported by a September 20, 1990 edition of the uR-I (the university Reporter-Intelligencer – a student-run newspaper).
The past is not as far back as we think, be it an old law that has risen from the dead or just the attitudes of students towards the rules and regulations of the day. Students rebel and revolt in any way they can. There is something satisfying about going against the establishment, whether that means holding unscheduled dances, stashing briefcases or liquor in shrubs across campus, or hosting blind pigs. So next time you’re strolling around the Brody Complex near the Emmons Amphitheater, remember that you’re not just standing above an old city dump site, you’re standing above the material memory of student acts of rebellion as they tried (and will always try) to assert their own agency and independence.
Kuhn M. 1955 Michigan State: The First Hundred Years, 1855-1955. MSU University Press, East Lansing, Michigan.
Tyrell P. 2015 Utilizing a Border as a Local Economic Resource: The Example of the Prohibition-Era Detroit-Windsor Borderland (1920–33). Comparative American Studies an International Journal, 13 (1-2): 16-30.
university Reporter-Intelligencer, Vol. 2, No.1. 20 September, 1990. (http://spartanhistory.kora.matrix.msu.edu/files/1/4/1-4-1636-54-A006374.pdf)