Tag Archives: McClure Brothers

The sweetness of sour

Well, here it is again, November 1, National Vinegar Day – time to tip the hat to this incredibly versatile concoction, used in medicine, home canning and pickling, salad dressing, pest control, all-purpose chemical-free cleaning, and as a delicious condiment for French fries (ask a Canadian).  It’s also time to highlight the vinegar-esque features of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

As WKU folklife professor Lynwood Montell found in his research, Kentucky folk remedies are replete with vinegar: on brown paper applied to bruises, pains, swellings and sprains; in a poultice for an earache; with bloodroot for an itch; with salt and pepper on the chest for pneumonia; and taken internally with alum and pepper for rheumatism.  Vinegar is also an indispensable ingredient in homemade cough medicine (with moderating additives, mind you, like brown sugar, butter, molasses and alcohol).

Two of Louisville’s Vinegar Vendors

Speaking of alcohol, Kentucky distillers have found themselves well adapted to the secondary production of vin aigre – literally, “sour wine.”  Early in the 20th century, the McClure Brothers store in Grayson County ordered regularly from makers of vinegar and cider in Louisville.  The Friedman family, whose daughter Sunshine married prominent Bowling Green banker Max Nahm, manufactured vinegar in Paducah; Sunny’s brother Joseph then moved on to operate a large distillery in Nelson County. 

But in Bowling Green, the product most likely brings to mind the historic name for the highest point on WKU’s campus: “Vinegar Hill” – so known, according to legend, for the foul moonshine once brewed there by an old woman encamped in its cedar thickets (oh, and it’s haunted too).

A “Vinegar Valentine”

Vinegar’s darker side is also evident in the acidic attitude of “vinegar valentines,” many of which can be found in our ephemera collections.  A kind of “anti-Valentine” popular with the Victorians, they took a poke at the recipient’s looks, marital status, habits or personality.  Oh! What’s the use? one sneered.  Your form and face / Present indeed a hopeless case! / All the beautifiers ever made / Could not redeem you, I’m afraid.

Click on the links for finding aids and more information.  To browse other collections in WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Feast Your Eyes

As we learned during the pandemic, one of the challenges (and miracles) of grocery stores has been their ability to keep shelves stocked with our favorite foods and provisions, or at least with comparable substitutes.  Essential to their mission is the maintenance of supply lines with a corps of manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.

Early in the twentieth century, the McClure Brothers (Joseph Schuyler and Jonathan “John”), carried a vast inventory of foodstuffs, dry goods, farm equipment, clothing, shoes and toiletries at their general store in the Grayson County, Kentucky community of Millerstown.  The store purchased stock from dozens of suppliers; many were in Louisville but some were elsewhere in Kentucky or in neighboring states.  The invoices rendered to McClure Brothers tell us something of the thriving consumerism of the region.  In addition, their content gives us small history lessons about the businesses, and their striking designs show us the purely aesthetic side of commerce.

There was the American Grocery Company, wholesalers who supplied McClure Brothers with coffee, vanilla, toothbrushes, note paper, nails, sewing needles and more, on payment terms carefully enumerated on the invoice.

American Grocery Company, Louisville

There was Charles W. White’s Louisville Coffee Company, which sold McClure Brothers not just several brands of  coffee but sausage, cheese, turpentine, cigars, face powder, and castor oil.

Louisville Coffee Company

There was the K & I Fruit House of Fred Kohlhepp, the son of German immigrants, and Italian immigrant Joseph (Guiseppe) Iula, from whom McClure Brothers also bought potatoes and cabbage.

K and I Fruit House, Louisville

There was the Louisville Grocery Company, where McClure Brothers obtained candy, chewing gum, peppers and pickles.

Louisville Grocery Company

There was Italian immigrant Michael DeSopo’s fruit company, providing McClure Brothers with oranges, lemons, bananas and watermelons.

M. DeSopo & Company, Louisville

Finally, to prepare all these goodies, there were stoves supplied by the Louisville Tin and Stove Company, a firm in business since 1888.

Louisville Tin and Stove Company

And, for four-legged customers there was animal feed and medicines from the International Stock Food Company in Minneapolis.  Billing itself as the “Largest Stock Food Factory in the World,” the firm covered the reverse of its colorful invoice with fine print explaining its guarantees, offering a free “Spring Canvassing Wagon” for use by agents, and giving tips on “How to Have a Big Sale.”  Attractive displays and show cards were important, but the company warned that the “VERY WORST” thing a merchant could do was to discount prices.  Looking to protect its brand, the company advised sticking to the regular retail price in order to maintain profits and avoid the impression that the goods were somehow damaged or deficient.

International Stock Food Company, Minneapolis

Supplier invoices for the McClure Brothers store are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid can be downloaded here.  For more collections documenting Kentucky merchants, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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