Dayton Company Lifted Spirits of Many During Dry Season


 

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on June 26, 1993

 

DAYTON COMPANY LIFTED SPIRITS OF MANY DURING DRY SEASON

Roz Young

 

            You may have read here about a year ago the story of how the St. Louis company that manufactured Dr. Harter's Iron Tonic relocated in Dayton a century ago. It was made and bottled in a building on the northeast corner of East First Street and the canal, now Patterson Boulevard. Dayton businessmen raised the money to purchase the site and erect the building, which, by the way, is still standing.

            When the Harter Company moved to Dayton, arriving with all their equipment in an 18-car railroad train, local businessmen closed their shops, every factory whistle blew in welcome, and the fire bell in the Central Fire Station rang to signal the arrival. Thousands of Daytonians hurried downtown to join in the jollity of welcoming a new business.

            William M. Hayner, president of the Hayner Distilling Company in Troy, was responsible for bringing Harter to Dayton, and he became manager of the firm. William Kidder was assistant manager.

            "Hayner and Kidder sold the business in 1911 and opened the first mail-order whiskey business in the country," said the old newspaper story where I found the Hartsell information. I wondered at the time how the business worked out, but with that little sentence, so far as I knew, they marched right into history.

            I was browsing through some musty old papers the other day when the names of Hayner and Kidder popped out of the faded print.

            William Hayner inherited a distillery in Troy from his uncle, Lewis Hayner, who had started the plant in 1856. It was in about 1890 that Harter, then located in St. Louis, hired Hayner to manage the patent medicine company, and in few years he recommended the plant should be relocated. In 1895 he brought the company to Dayton, although he still owned the distillery in Troy.

            Walter Kidder, the assistant manager of Harter in Dayton, began his business career as a telegraph operator. The two made Harter the top patent medicine in the country.

            Around 1910 the local option movement began gaining popularity in the country. Townships and even whole counties voted themselves dry. This did not mean that everybody in a dry area stopped drinking; it meant that they had to go farther to get a drink.

            Kidder got the idea that people living in dry areas would be good customers for a whiskey-by-mail business. Since Hayner was still operating the Troy distillery, the two decided to go into the mail-order business with Hayner's whiskey. They sold the Harter medicine plant in 1911 and opened a shipping office on East Fifth Street in Dayton.

            Kidder remained in Dayton, wrote publicity, advertising and direct mail letters and headed the shipping department. Hayner stayed in Troy to run the distillery.

            They began by advertising in the Dayton newspapers. "Hayner's Great Special Offer," the ad read. "3 quarts Private Stock bottled-in-bond whiskey at 80 cents a quart. 1 quart Old W.S.K. straight whiskey at $1.30 a quart. 4 quarts $3.70. Direct from distillery - express charges paid. Free lock-stopper decanter with each order."

            Orders came in by the hundreds.

            One day in 1913 a Dayton Daily News reporter stopped in a little Ohio river town that had gone dry a few weeks before. Liquor was available across the river in Kentucky, but not many people in the town owned boats and there was no bridge.

            At the express office he found a long line of men at the agent's window, each patiently waiting his turn. The reporter, Howard Burba, sensing a story, asked the reason for such an exceptional business in a small, cross-roads town. "I'm making out money orders for Hayner's whiskey," the agent told him. "I fill out more the 200 orders a week and none are for less than four quarts." The whole town didn't have 200 residents.

            The business grew rapidly until Hayner ads were running in every part of the country, and orders came in from every state. For a time the distillery had to keep 80,000 gallons of whiskey in the Dayton and Troy warehouses to meet the demand. The distillery occupied three city blocks in Troy, consumed 2,000 bushels of grain a day and had a warehouse capable of storing 5 million gallons.

            Dayton's name became famous across the country as the center of the mail-order whiskey business: Kidder also opened warehouses and order centers in New Orleans, St. Paul, St. Louis and Jacksonville.

            The company operated right up until the 18th amendment became law, when it was forced to close. Both Kidder and Hayner went into other businesses, but by that time both had built up large fortunes. When William Hayner died a few years later, he had amassed the largest personal fortune of any resident of Miami County.