View Full Version : Speculation on the Origin of 'Rebel Yell' Brand

09-26-2012, 04:53
In a closed thread I found this post:

Re: Rebel Yell (Posted 04-05-2004) - "Alex Farnsley worked at W.L.Weller and Sons with Julian Van Winkle in the late 1800's/early 1900's. They purchased the company about 1910 and George Weller became the President, with Van Winkle and Farnsley as Vice President and Treasurer. Farnsley also became President of the Bank of St. Helens (in what is now Shively) about the same time. Prohibition saw the retirement of Weller and the last family tie to the company.

In the 1940's Charlie Farnsley became Mayor of Louisville. At the same time he started bottling a few whiskies for his own use and to give as gifts. He created the brands "Rebel Yell" and "Lost Cause". There is a label book at the U.D. Archive with a 1948 label for Rebel Yell. It is white with a cannon shooting a cannon ball. Lost Cause did not have a graphic design and was even more plain than the Rebel Yell label.

In the 1960's to honor the cenntenial of the Civil War, Stitzel-Weller took the label to the public, but only below the Mason-Dixon line. It was a 5yo 90 proof wheated bourbon at that time.

United Distillers decided to take the brand world wide and amde it available anywhere in the U.S. I thought this was a mistake - A better selling point in London or Paris or Sidney would have been "What can you get here that you can't get in New York City or Boston?". They also lowered the proof to 80 proof. It became part of the brand sale to Heaven Hill and Bufallo Trace in the late 1990's and was in turn sold to David Sherman.

Mike Veach"

Now for my contribution:

I was researching Wendell Willkie and found that his brother Herman F. Willkie was a VP in charge of production at the Joseph E. Segram & Sons, Inc. distillery and co-authored a book, "Fundamentals of Distillery Practice," published in 1943. Another of his books, "A Rebel Yells," was published in 1946. Is the creation of the Rebel Yell brand related to the title of that book? Here's a summary of an oral history interview with Nancy Farnsley (11-14-1984, Univ. of Louisville):

"Discusses the distilling industry in general and Rebel Yell whisky in particular; Rebel Yell was a brand owned by her husband; mentions HF Wilkie and Seagrams corporation; gives the Farnsley julep recipe at the end. Nancy Farnsley was the wife of Charles P. Farnsley."

09-26-2012, 06:53
I have never heard of the connection to Wilkie's book, but that does not mean there is not one. Charlie Farnsley had a great intrest in the Civil War and i am sure he read the book. Whether that inspired him to create the brand, i don't know. I do know that he was very political in his life so he did not jsut deal with Stitzel-Weller but also used Schenley, Brown-Forman and Seagrams as sources of whiskey for his brands. I have seen labels for Lost Cause in the Schenley files since it was a blended whiskey and I have heard of his purchasing product from the other two distilleries.

Mike Veach

09-26-2012, 10:02
I agree with everything Mike said, both in his original post and the one from today. I would only add that the term or expression "Rebel Yell" was not coined by or original with Farnsley. He would have discovered that term in his research into the War Between the States (we don't say "Civil War" in the South). He undoubtedly liked the term and what it conveyed, and thought it would make a good brand name for a whiskey. The term described the battle cry of the Confederate troops as they attacked, something that perhaps derived, like whiskey-making, from their Celtic roots.

Although the Commonwealth of Kentucky was officially neutral in that war, it is doubtful that any individual Kentuckians were. I don't know if there are any actual statistics, but it seems like most Kentuckians favored the South. Certainly this was true of the founding families who, after all, came to Kentucky from Virginia.

09-26-2012, 12:20
To your post, Chuck I can't remember where I read or saw this but a passage in a book or perhaps in a documentary stated gist of KY's stance during the Civil War was that though the state was officially neutral Louisville was pro Union and pretty much the rest of the state was pro Confederacy.

09-26-2012, 12:23
Actually, most Kentuckians fought for the Union. There were about 3 Union Kentucky veterans for every southern Kentucky veteran after the war. The problem came when the radical republicans treated Kentucky as if it was in rebellion after the war that many Kentuckians began to associate itself more with the southern cause. The fact is Kentuckians wished they had joined the Confederacy after the war was over.

09-26-2012, 12:23
Here's a review (Kirkus' Review) of the book, "A Rebel Yells":

"A leading and successful industrialist calls industry and management to task for struggling to turn back the clock of progress. Here is a challenge from one of their own to the leaders to recognize the need for an educational program in industry, if it is to maintain its part in the march of humanity. Courageously, honestly, intelligently, he exposes the failures, the weaknesses, the fallacies in making the profit motive an end in itself. He contends that human relationships, the common ground of management and labor, can be made to operate efficiently and contribute to society's well-being. Industry must develop their employees in technical skills and in other respects as well. Executives must know their men as men, with capacity for rounded personalities. Cooperation is not instinctive but can be achieved on the same as well as on different levels of responsibility. Leadership must understand the past in order to develop a pattern for the future, and he charts techniques and methods of putting his principles into effect, basing his advice on years of practical business experience. He reveals much of the vision, imagination, initiative and courage of his brother, Wendell Willkie, but his book should stand on its own merits for it has much to offer in leading industry to a philosophy of values within the framework of the profit motive. Here is a fearless challenge to business and its leaders."

As you may notice, this book is not about the War Between the States, but something much more relevant to current events. I believe the correlations in this thread are quite suggestive of a connection between the book and the brand (and is a nifty 'first thrust' into scholarly research on this possibility). Perhaps the 'lost cause' is that of constraining the profit motive from being the sole standard of American business.

Your focus on the historical origin of the phrase is exactly what Willkie was arguing against - clinging to the ways and ideas of the past. :skep: The humor in the 'Rebel Yell' moniker (for the book and the whiskey) surely cannot escape the attention of anyone 'in the know'.

[I love that the premium brand denotes the opposite concept of the standard - Rebel Reserve.]

09-26-2012, 17:52
Chronological evidence suggests the book's title may have been influenced by the whiskey brand, since the brand was trademarked in 1937 and the book published in 1946. I can only wonder about the relationship between these men, but I doubt the Rebel Yell connection is coincidental.

09-27-2012, 06:39
Ironhead, Kentucky was split more deeply than just Louisville and the rest of the state - that comes later, after the war. Unionist were strong in the eastern mountains and Louisville whereas southern sympathizers were strong in the larger slve holding areas of the bluegrass and western part of the state. Of course both areas had people who sided against the majority so the state was very much divided and Kentucky had more cases of brother fighting brother than other states as a result.

Rebel Yell was created by Charlie Farnsley as a gift bottle to give to friends and political allies. His other brands were created for similar reasons.

Mike Veach

09-27-2012, 07:55
his research into the War Between the States (we don't say "Civil War" in the South).

I thought it was called "The War of Northern Aggression" in the South?

09-27-2012, 11:32
I thought it was called "The War of Northern Aggression" in the South?

I had forgotten that one. "War Between the States" is more on the order of a concession or compromise.

Shortly after I moved to Louisville I used the term 'Civil War' while speaking to a local who also happened to be a history buff, and who incidentally wrote most of the early Evan Williams and Elijah Craig ads. He introduced me to the 'The War of Northern Aggression,' but he did it with a grin.

Mike, did you ever know Blaine Guthrie? He was probably before your time at Filson.

09-27-2012, 14:47
Mike Veach

Totally off topic here,...Hey Mike, long time no see.
I hope all is well.
Lynn & I are gonna be in L'ville in June, we hope to see ya.

09-28-2012, 06:41
Oscar, Look me up when you get here. It would be great to see you and Lynn again. Chuck, I have met Blaine a time or two, but it has been a while.


09-29-2012, 03:35
Well, I do not know too much about the rebel yell connection, but I am glad you started this thread. I never heard of his technical book on distilling, so I looked it up and bought it off of amazon. I love old books on distilling, this looks like a good one.

09-30-2012, 20:26
I'd be interesting if someone could listen to that oral history interview and discover if/how Nancy Farnsley connects Rebel Yell and H.F. Willkie.