Skip to main content

Louis Forman photographs

circa 1930s-circa 1980s
 Collection
Accession: 2007-222

Abstract

Louis Forman (1908-2002) was a liquor broker who managed the creation and distribution of several different liquor and whiskey brands, including Michter’s. This collection documents the operations of Mitcher's Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania as well as Forman's efforts to import Kotobukiya Kabushiki Kaisha Japanese whiskies and wines to the United States.

Dates

  • circa 1930s-circa 1980s

Creator

Extent

1 Linear Foot

Physical Description

462 photographic prints : b&w : 8x10 in. or smaller. 27 photographic prints : color : 8x10 in. or smaller. 2 drawings : color ; 5x5 in. or smaller.

Biographical Note

Louis Forman (1908-2002) was a liquor broker who managed the creation and distribution of several different liquor and whiskey brands, including Michter’s.

Forman was born in Camden, New Jersey, on December 25, 1908. He entered business as a small-scale liquor broker in Philadelphia after the repeal of Prohibition as Louis Forman & Company, Inc., and also did business as the Philadelphia Brokerage Company. The latter business was incorporated in Pennsylvania on July 17, 1941. While making a survey of licensed American distilleries in 1937, he happened upon a small distillery in Schaefferstown, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, which dated back to the mid-eighteenth century.

The origins of the ownership of the distillery have been confused and conflated in many secondary sources. This is due primariy to the fact that the founder is a descendent of one of two Swiss Mennonite brothers Michael Shenk (1692-1763) and John Shenk (1696-1744) that immigrated to the United States in the early 1700s. Both settled in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, started families around the same time, and named sons after themseves and each other. The brothers opened a gristmill.

According to the 1753 Patent for the distillery, which is currently in the Records of the Land Office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the patent was granted to Michael Shenk (1726-1790), who is the son of Michael Shenk (1692-1763). There no records that indiate that Michael Shenk's brother John Shenk (1740-1814) opened the distillery with him, as he would have only been thirteen years old at the time.

In 1783 the distillery passed to Michael Shenk's son-in-law, Rudolph Meyer III (1755-1823). Meyer was married to married to Barbara Shenk Meyer (1757-1825) in 1772, the daughter of Michael Shenk (1726-1790) and Mary Landis Shenk (1732-1788). The Meyer family ran the distillery until 1827 when it was sold to a John Kratzer.

Between 1827 and 1860 the distillery is owned by a John Kratzer. Kratzer is said to have been a relative of the Shenk family through marriage to an Elizabeth Shenk, supposedly a great-granddaugther of John Shenk. Kratzer is said to have died in 1860. However, this information is not entirely accurate.

John Kratzer (1786-1845) was the son of Joseph and Anna (Yentzer) Kratzer (or Krotzer; dates for both are unknown). Joseph Kratzer was born in the United States, but his father immigrated from Rotterdam, Netherlands, in 1736. The family estate adjoined the Shenk land and was known as the "old Kratzer homestead." John Kratzer married Elizabeth Moyer (or Meyer) (1794-1881), daughter of Michael and Catharine (Becker) Meyer (dates for both are unknown).

John and Elizabeth Krazter had ten children; their youngest was Jacob Kratzer (1830-1921). Jacob Kratzer was a distiller, and he appears to have surveyed the land on his mother's behalf for sale to Abraham Bomberger.

It remained in the Kratzer family until 1861 when Abraham Bomberger (1837-1904) purchased it. Bomberger had ties to the Shenk family, being the son of Elizabeth Shenk Bomberger (1807-1845). Her parents were Barbara Bachman (1782-1818) and John Shenk (1777-1842), who is the son of Barbara hershey (1740-1786) and John Shenk (1740-1814) -- brother of the founder.

The Bomberger family owned the distillery until it was bought by Ephraim Sechrist (1886-1942) in 1920. The distillery ceased operations in 1919 due to Prohibition and it remained closed until Sechrist sold the distillery to Louis Forman in 1942.

Forman was drafted into the military in August 1942, and uncertain whether he would survive the war, he sold the distillery. Subsequently, it became the property of the Logansport Distilling Company, which in turn became a subsidiary of the big Schenley Distillers Corporation in the late 1940s.

By then, Forman had returned from the war and began to expand his liquor brokerage. In 1947, he formed the Distillers Warehouse Company and purchased a bonded liquor warehouse at Cheswick, Allegheny County, in the section of western Pennsylvania long known for its distilleries. Forman transferred the assets of the Philadelphia Brokerage Company to the Distillers Warehouse Company in April 1950, and the former company was renamed the Highspire Distillery Corporation on June 13, 1951, and The Holiday Company on November 16, 1953. Forman started marketing his own “Holiday” brand of whiskey in 1952.

In the meantime, Forman had regained control of the old Bomberger distillery in the spring of 1950. While renovating the property, he discovered some of Bomberger’s old records in the attic of the old house that had been the original distillery. Consulting his master distiller Charles Everett Beam (1907-1989), of the famous Kentucky family that produced “Jim Beam,” Forman decided to cultivate a premium niche market by making old-fashioned pot-still mash whiskey. This traditional method could not be adapted to mass production. Forman would market the whiskey under the name “Michter’s”, which sounded vaguely Pennsylvania Dutch but was actually formed by combining the names of his sons Michael and Peter. He packaged it in old-fashioned white china crocks, and only when customers seemed more interested in them as one-time collectibles did he add a line of conventional glass bottles. Although the new operation had no other connections to the Bombergers beyond the recipe and site, Forman made much of its association with the Colonial past, the Pennsylvania Germans, Washington at Valley Forge, and the Liberty Bell in his advertising. The Schaefferstown distillery was the smallest commercial distiller in the U.S. and the first distillery to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Unfortunately, Forman began his first batch of Michter’s in 1951, and by the time it had aged the requisite six years, the country was in recession, and the whiskey market was glutted. Forman lost full control of the distillery to Pennco Distillers, Inc., but kept the formula and stock. Pennco did contract distilling for large liquor companies, but Forman was able to distribute Michter’s as a specialty item. Through his brokerage business he also distributed other liquors, tried to import French wines, and was an early importer of Japan’s “Suntory” whiskey.

Forman organized Michter’s Distillery, Inc., in 1975 with the backing of some Lebanon County businessmen and was able to purchase the Schaefferstown facility at the foreclosure sale of Pennco Distillers. Michter’s closed in the early 1990s, and Louis Forman died on January 23, 2002.

Scope and Content

This collection documents the operations of Mitcher's Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania as well as Forman's efforts to import Kotobukiya Kabushiki Kaisha Japanese whiskies and wines to the United States. The majority of the collection focuses on the operations and employees of the Kotobukiya Kabushiki Kaisha and Michter's Distillery plants. There are a number of images of advertising campaigns and promotional events for the various brands of the company. A small portion of the collection contains mostly unidentified images of his immediate family.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Provenance

Purchase from Gilmore Books, 2003.

Separated Materials

Louis Forman business records (Accession 2290), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Louis Forman photographs
Status:
Author:
Elizabeth Fite
Date:
2013
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Audiovisual Collections Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400