Work – A Family in the Distillery Business

I always enjoy getting a chance to explore my German ancestors, and this week’s post is a perfect opportunity! My family, the Kriegs and Althausers, came over in two waves. Martin and Barbara Krieg immigrated in 1837 with most of their children. They landed in New York City and traveled west to Cincinnati where many other German families had already settled. One of their daughters, Anna (and my ancestor) had already married, and she and her husband chose to remain in Germany. In an earlier post, I explained the tensions and problems that existed between Anna, her husband Jacob Althauser, and her parents, so there is no need to retell that whole story. However, there are some points that are essential to make about Jacob’s trade and Anna’s land that shed some light on the employment chosen by their sons in America.

Jacob Althauser was the only child of Jacob Simon Althauser and Anna Sutter. His father was a baker, but it is likely that they also owned some farm land near town. Jacob trained as a cooper, or barrel maker, and as an adult, also farmed. Being a cooper was an important trade in southwest Germany because the area was wine country, and many barrels were needed for production. When his wife’s family left for America, the Kriegs signed over land where grapes were grown to Anna and Jacob. It wasn’t a large amount of land, so they probably made wine for the family and sold extra along with other produce from the farm. When Jacob died in 1852, he left Anna and their five children destitute. A little over a year after Jacob’s death, Anna and her children – Pauline, Andreas, Jakob Friedrich, Johann Jacob, and Wilhelm – immigrated to America. They also settled in Cincinnati near Anna’s siblings. The older children attended school in both Germany and America, and the boys probably began learning a trade.

Althauser family on the Helvetia manifest.

In the 1860 census, the first in which the family was enumerated, Andreas and Friedrich were both listed as laborers, Johann as a carpenter apprentice, and no occupation was listed for Wilhelm. Carpentry is somewhat similar to being a cooper, though of course there are some major differences. Through the years, Johann worked as a carpenter and sold dry goods in Cincinnati.

The other three sons and their brother-in-law became involved in the distillery business in Cincinnati, Louisville, Kentucky, and Robertson County, Tennessee. Germany produced beer and wine, but whiskey was an important staple in American households, and Germans and others in Cincinnati took advantage of the opportunities its production furnished. In 1865, the city directories listed Andreas and his brother Friedrich as distillers working for the White Mill Distillery near Western Avenue, close to where they were living with their families. Both Andreas and Friedrich worked in distilleries for the rest of their lives.

Andreas – In 1870, Andreas was working in the vinegar factory in Cincinnati, which still required a form of alcohol distillation. By 1880, he was again working in a distillery at an unspecified job. In the 1890s, he served as the night watchman, which meant he stood guard over the warehouse to prevent break-ins. In the 1910 census, he was widowed and living with his niece. He died shortly after it was taken on 9 December 1910 and was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.

Jacob Friedrich – Friedrich was employed by a distillery in Cincinnati, probably White Mill Distillery. He continued to work there until about 1883/85, when he was recorded in the City Directories of both Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky. In Kentucky, he worked for a branch of White Mill, J.B. Wathen & Brothers Distillery, and Marion Distillery Company. Friedrich continued to work until his death in 1907 in Louisville at the age of 67.

1870 Census, shows Friedrich and William working for distilleries.

Joseph Beck – The oldest sibling, Pauline, was 21 years old when she landed in New York. By 1858, she had married Joseph Beck, himself an emigrant from Württemberg. Joseph  worked as a distiller for the White Mill Distillery, like his brothers-in-law. Perhaps that is how he met Pauline, through her brothers.

Wilhelm – The youngest child, Wilhelm, my third great grandfather, was born on 11 January 1846 in Baden, Germany. His father died when he was 6, and as a 7 year old, he made the trip across the Atlantic to a new place. In 1860, he was 14 years old and living with his mother, and his 3 older brothers. No occupation was listed, and he did not attend school that year. However, I do know that he received a good education as he reported in a deposition that he was educated in schools in Cincinnati. When he gave the deposition, he was 72 years, and he stated that he could read and write in German, but not well enough to hold a conversation. This was possibly exaggerated as he was applying for naturalization during WWI when German nationals were vilified in American papers and courts. He likely attended a German school in Cincinnati where the children learned both German and English.  His German may have fallen out of use after he left Cincinnati for Tennessee, especially if he wasn’t speaking it regularly.

Sometime during the 1860s, he was employed by S.N. Fowler, a distillery in Cincinnati, keeping the business records. In the 1870 census, William was recorded twice, once living with his brother Friedrich and his family and working as a “bar keep.” And second with his older sister, Pauline, her family, and his ailing mother, Anna. In either 1870 or 1871, he was hired to keep the books for Charles Nelson who had recently purchased a distillery in Robertson County, Tennessee. Nelson was a fellow German immigrant and by 1871, William had moved to Tennessee and was officially employed by the Green Brier Distillery. William was smart, capable, and trustworthy, so he was made the general superintendent and bookkeeper of the distillery and oversaw the everyday workings.

Employees of the distillery

Distilleries were dangerous places to work, especially large-scale operations like the Green Brier Distillery. Machinery could easily main and kill employees. The Green Brier Distillery became one of the most successful distilleries in Tennessee, producing 380,000 gallons of whiskey a year by 1885. He worked for the distillery for 31 years, and after resigning, began the Althauser-Weaver-Webber Lumber Company. He helped run the company for 11 years until his age induced him to resign. William died in Nashville on 16 January 1922, and his family placed the following death notice in the paper.

None of William’s children followed him into the distillery business, possibly because prohibition was about to destroy whiskey production. It was also possible that his sons were provided different opportunities than their father because he sent them to college. But it is interesting that due to time, place, and circumstances, William, two brothers, and his brother-in-law all worked in the industry for many years.