P. F. O’Neill was a bottler and soda water manufacturer located in New York City’s Lower Manhattan for almost 40 years. According to the 1900 census records, he was born in Ireland in 1859 and immigrated to the United States in 1876. It appears that he acquired the bottling business of James C. Kelly sometime in the mid-1880’s.
Kelly was listed in the NYC directories beginning in the mid-1860’s with the occupation “liquors.” Over the next fifteen years he was listed at 37 Front Street (1864 to 1866), 395 Washington Street (1866 to 1869) and 342-350 Greenwich Street (1868 to 1882) before landing at 185 Franklin Street in 1882. A publication entitled: New York’s Great Industries, published in 1884, featured Kelly’s business.
United Bottling Co., James Kelly, No. 185 Franklin Street – The bottling of ale, porter and other liquors forms a very important branch of industry in New York, and those engaged in the trade are among the most enterprising of our merchants. A prominent house engaged in this trade is that of Mr. James Kelly, who established this business many years ago, and has since conducted it with an annually increasing success. The large demand for non-intoxicating drinks has led to the foundation of numerous factories which produce many varieties of aerated and mineral beverages, such as soda, seltzer and vichy, and others too numerous to mention. Mr. Kelly makes a specialty of the above named articles, and likewise keeps always in stock a splendid assortment of London and Dublin porter, Bass ale, lager beer of the best brands for shipping and home trade. The trade of this house extends throughout the city and its vicinity. Mr. Kelly is highly esteemed in social and commercial circles for his unswerving honor and strict integrity, and has always been an earnest advocate and supporter of any movement which has been advanced for the benefit and welfare of his fellow citizens.
Kelly was listed at 185 Franklin up through 1884/1885. In 1886/1887 Paul F. O’Neill was first listed as a “bottler,” at 185 Franklin Street, suggesting that O’Neill acquired the business sometime in 1885 or 1886. That being said, as early as September 1, 1883, the “City Record” included O’Neill on a roster of First Assembly District members, listing him as “Paul F. O’Neill, mineral waters,” with the 185 Franklin St address. Based on this, he could have acquired the business as early as 1883 or more likely, was simply employed there prior to taking it over.
O’Neill began listing the United Bottling Co. as a registered trade name in the 1890 Copartnership and Corporation Directory. That year the business was listed as: “United Bottling Co. (Paul F. O’Neill, propr.) 185 Franklin St.” However, it’s clear from the above feature that Kelly was using the United Bottling Co. name as early as 1884 and likely earlier.
In the 1891 NYC General Directory, O’Neill’s address changed to 508 Greenwich St. A relatively small operation, the Annual Report on Factory Inspections in New York State for 1898 listed the business with 5 male employees.
Sometime after 1927 O’Neill changed his address to 74 Varick St where he was listed as a soda water manufacturer in the 1931 and 1932 commercial directories. In 1933 he was still listed at 74 Varick Street but under the occupation of real estate.
Today 508 Greenwich is a four-story walk-up with a bar/restaurant at street level and an ornate exterior fire escape.
“Street Easy says it was built in 1900 but O’Neill was using it as his address continuously since 1891. I assume that the 1900 date was probably the construction date of an addition. It must have housed the business.
The bottle I found is a tooled blob (8 oz) embossed with the 508 Greenwich Street address dating it no earlier than 1891. I’ve seen 2 different variants of this bottle on the Internet and this appears to be the newer version, so I’d say it likely dates to the early 1900’s.
Although the business extended into the early-1930’s, I’ve not yet seen an example of a tooled crown finish or machine made bottle associated with this business.
This post was updated on April 20, 2012 to include the information on James C. Kelly’s business. Thanks to Niall, a reader of the original post, who informed me of the connection between O’Neill and Kelly.