View Full Version : Peoria's Whiskey History
In the Walker's Deluxe thread the discussion turned toward Hiram Walker's distillery in Peoria, IL....out of curiosity I did a little research and found this info on the historical whiskey industry in the region:
"Distilleries and Breweries
Peoria once produced more whisky than any city in history. So great was the revenue from the whiskey tax that Peoria's share of taxes paid to the federal government was larger than any other district in the entire United States. River access, good water, an abundance of corn and barley, and good means of transportation all contributed the unprecedented success of Peoria's alcohol industry.
It all began in 1843 with Andrew Eitle's small brewery just south of where the Bob Michel Bridge is today. Eitle eventually leased the brewery to Frederick Muller, under whom it became known as the Peoria Brewery. Almiran S. Cole launched Peoria's first distillery in 1843. Cole had little knowledge of the liquor business, but brought skilled workman from St. Louis to build his plant. Cole soon sold the company, but returned in 1850 with partners Tobias Bradley, William Moss, and Benjamin Bourland to set up another distillery. From these small beginnings, Peoria evolved into the Whiskey Capital of the World.
By 1832, more roads centered at Peoria than any other downstate city, and soon it became the largest corn-consuming market in the world. During the years of 1837 to 1919 Peoria housed 24 breweries and 73 distilleries.
The last brewery in Peoria is the John S. Rhodell Brewery at 619a Water Street, which has been in existance since 1998."
"When Andrew Eitle began his small brewery in 1837, no one could have known that in a just few short years Peoria would become the whiskey capitol of the world. Even in 1843, when Almiran S. Cole built Peoria's first distillery, little evidence of an upcoming booming industry could be seen.
In 1881 Joseph Greenhut, Nelson Morris, and John H. Francis built the Great Western Distillery. Even then it was known as the largest distillery in the world. Distilling became the leading industry of Peoria in 1896, with 18.6 million gallons of alcohol being produced each year.
Edward and Albert Leisy's Brewery was founded in 1884 and remained in operation until the Prohibition Act of 1920. The brewery was then sold to the Premier Malt Company, which eventually became associated with the Pabst Brewing Company. Pabst built a large plant in Peoria Heights in 1933 that remained there until 1982.
Peoria Illustrated reported that in 1893 185,000 gallons of spirits were being produced every 24 hours. The whiskey tax revenue from Peoria's share of taxes paid to the federal government was larger than any other district in the entire United States.
In 1933 Hiram Walker's & Sons purchased Greenhut's Great Western Distillery. Hiram Walker's continued in the Great Western's footsteps by remaining the largest distillery in the world."
The Great Western produced:
"Ravenswood Rye" and "Ravenswood Bourbon."
"The Woolner Distillery made "Old Grove Whisky" and "Old Ryan Whisky," and "Bucha Gin."
The above info came from a site that contained a long, anti-semitic diatribe by Henry Ford in 1921.
The "article" can be found here: [url]http://www.churchoftrueisrael.com/Ford/original/ij62.html.
Note....despite the anti-semitic rant....it lists quite a few old whiskey brands etc. Reader be forewarned re the anti-semitism attitude of Henry Ford.
Old photo of distillery after explosion.
"The company used the brand names:
"Better Times", "Canterbury Rye", "Cronies", "Donnybrook", "Eastland", "Eureka Gin", "Gilt Edge", "Leetsdale Rye", "Measure", "Mosswoods", "Old Cronies Rye", "Old Grove Pure Rye", "Old Measure", "Rock Cave", "Rock Cave", "Satin Finish Spirits", "Sparland", "W. B. Bourbon", "Woolner’s Dry Gin", "Woolner’s Excelsior", "Woolner’s Monarch Gin", "Woolner’s Pure Grain Alcohol", "Woolner’s S. M.", and "Woolner’s Satin Finish."
The Peoria Walker plant.
What the histories above don't tell is that the Whiskey Trust started in Peoria and most of the distilleries there fell prey to it. So did many in other parts of the country, including Kentucky, but the complete consolidation of the Illinois industry into the Trust is, I think, one of the reasons it did not survive into the modern era.
Here is a paper re the Whiskey Trust -
"2.a. The History of the Whiskey Trust
The Whiskey Trust produced a widely consumed commodity–namely, distilled spirits. In 1880, the average American adult consumed 2.4 gallons of spirits annually. And even though Americans consumed more beer (11.1 gallons annually), the majority of absolute alcohol (58 percent) was consumed through spirits because spirits had a much higher alcohol content.
The formation of the trust was preceded by a series of unsuccessful pools. After the pools failed, distillers organized the Distillers and Cattle Feeders’ Trust, better known as the "Whiskey Trust" in May 1887. Modeled after Standard Oil, the Whiskey Trust was bona fide trust so that when a distillery joined the trust it surrendered control of its operations to a board of trustees. Of the eighty-six distilleries that eventually joined the trust, only ten or twelve were kept in operation; the remainder were shut down.
Perhaps surprisingly given its large market share, in January 1895 the trust entered receivership. The primary cause of the demise of the Whiskey Trust was market entry. According to industry observers, as the trust gained market share it also tried to raise prices. This attracted new firms to the market, who in turn, undercut the trust. Although the Whiskey Trust reorganized in August 1895 as the American Spirits Manufacturing Company, it never regained its former market dominance. A government investigation of the distilling industry conducted in 1900 found that "since the new company was organized there has been very little profit in the business," because "outside distilleries that were being built all of the time came into direct competition" with the company."
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