The initial proprietors of the business were John Bolen and John Byrne. The “History” section of corporate documents, prepared in 1929, stated that the original partnership of Bolen & Byrne was established in 1857 and that they were the first manufacturers of ginger ale in America.
The first listing I can find for the business is 10 years later, in the 1867-68 NYC Directory, listed as soda and located at 235 East 28th Street. Census records show that John Bolen was born in 1840 and would have only been 17 years old in 1857 so while it’s possible that he established the business at this young age, I’m leaning toward a start date closer to 1867 based on this initial listing.
The business remained at East 28th Street through 1877. Over this period they listed themselves in the directories as either chemists, soda or waters. This is confirmed by a company receipt from 1875 that was listed on e-bay.
The receipt listed their address as 220, 231 and 233 East 28th Street. It also names them as the proprietors of the American Mineral Water Co., located on President Street in Brooklyn. I can’t find any mention of the American Mineral Water Co., or Bolen & Byrne in the late 1870’s Brooklyn Directories. It’s possible that this may have been their factory location but who knows?
Around 1879 Bolen & Byrne moved from East 28th Street to 415 East 54th Street where they remained listed through 1902. Both Bolen and Byrne were also listed individually at this location until 1893, when Byrne’s listing disappeared. Most likely, he either passed away or left the business around this time.
During this time the business also maintained a Philadelphia location. They were listed in the Philadelphia City Directories between 1888 and 1896 as bottlers located at 813 North 11th Street.
A brief description of the size of the business around this time was provided by John Bolen himself, as part of a statement he made to the Senate Committee of Finance in 1888 regarding tariffs:
My concern, Bolen & Byrne, is the most extensive in this country. We have over 200 hands employed in our two establishments in New York and Philadelphia.
The business formed a New York Corporation in June 1897 with capital stock of $ 175,000 (reduced to $30,000 the next year). John Bolen was named president and his son, John K. Bolen; secretary.
By the turn of the century the business was headed in the wrong direction and by 1903 the company was engaged in bankruptcy proceedings. A story in the February 1, 1903 edition of the New York Times announced the bankruptcy.
A petition of bankruptcy has been filed against the Bolen & Byrne Manufacturing Company, bottlers of mineral waters at 415 to 424 East Fifty-Fourth Street, by the Whitney Glass Works, a creditor for $854. It was alleged that the company is insolvent; that within the past four months it has made payments to certain creditors to prefer them, and that the creditors of the company do not exceed twelve in number.
The story went on to describe the reasons for their poor financial condition.
When the corporation was formed John Bolen, the surviving partner, transferred the factory property at 415 to 423 East Fifty-Fourth Street, extending through to Fifty-Fifth Street, to the company subject to mortgages of $144,000.
James Kearney, attorney for the company, said yesterday that the trouble was due to depression in business last year, which was the worst year the trade has had in a long time. The liabilities are $10,900, and there are no available assets, as the real estate and machinery are covered by mortgages…
It appears that the bankruptcy proceedings resulted in Bolen & Byrne’s acquisition by or at least their association with another bottling business, S. A. Ludin & Co who operated under the registered trade name of the New York Bottling Company. In 1904, Bolen & Byrne was listed at 514 West 36th, the address of S. A. Ludin/New York Bottling Company. That same year New York Bottling Company advertisements began including Bolen & Byrne.
S.A.Ludin, New York Bottling and Bolen & Byrne were all listed with the same 36th Street address through 1914. In late 1914, five New York bottling firms, including S.A. Ludin consolidated into a new corporation called the New York Bottling Co., Inc. Neither Bolen & Byrne or S.A. Ladin were listed in the 1916 directory.
Bolen & Byrne, if not the first, was certainly one of the first U.S. ginger ale manufacturers. An advertisement from 1882 is the earliest advertisement I can find for a ginger ale called “Belfast Ginger Ale”
Pronounced by connoisseurs superior to the imported. Our Ginger Ale is not fermented – it is as sparkling as champagne – It is refreshing and invigorating, and we candidly believe the most wholesome drink in existence.
Prize medal awarded at New York, Vienna, Centennial and Paris Expositions.
For sale at all leading Hotels, Drug Stores, Groceries and Wine establishments in the United States.
Around this time, Bolen & Byrne’s competition in the ginger ale market came from a firm called Cantrell and Cochran who had places of business in both Dublin and Belfast, Ireland. They did business in Great Britan and Ireland, as well as throughout the United States. In the late 1870’s and early 1880’s they brought suit against Bolen & Byrne on the grounds of infringement of their trademarks. According to an article in the 1882 issue of Bonfort’s Wine and Spirit Circular:
This infringement was not confined to a mere timid attempt or colorable imitation of Messrs. Cantrell & Cochrane’s packaging, but was as close and elaborate copy of the original bottles, labels, corks, etc., as could be executed.
Bolen and Byrne went so far as to have the words Dublin and Belfast stamped or blown on the rounded bottoms of their bottles, regardless of the fact that they had no facilities whatsoever overseas.
The court ruled in Cantrell & Cochran’s favor stating in part that Bolen & Byrne’s packaging was:
calculated to deceive and mislead purchasers and others into the belief that the article of liquor called ginger ale of the said defendants is the article of liquor known as ginger ale of the manufacture of the said plaintiffs…
A decade later, Bolen & Byrne found itself on the other side of the fence and brought suit against Rudolph Jonasch and others for adopting a trade mark so similar to their’s that it would be likely to deceive consumers. According to court records:
Prior to March last the defendants were all employed by the plaintiff (Bolen & Byrne) or its predecessors, in various capacities, for periods ranging from 13 to 30 years. Shortly before April last, the defendants apparently by common consent, all left employment of the plaintiff, and a few weeks afterwards united in the business of manufacturing goods of the same kind as those made by the plaintiff. In putting their goods upon the market, the defendants adopted labels for their goods which the plaintiff alleges are imitations of his labels.
In this instance, Bolen and Byrne prevailed.
One final note:
On January 14, 1929, a corporation called the Bolen & Byrne Beverage Corporation, incorporated under Delaware laws, was registered with New York State as a foreign business corporation. Documents associated with their stock offering published in the January 29, 1929 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle stated that the new corporation was a successor to the original partnership of Bolen & Byrne, established in 1857. It went on to say that its president, Ehler Meyer, was a descendant of the founders (but they don’t say which one). The document also stated that the corporation will own all the stock of both the Orange Crush Bottling Company of New York and the Piping Rock Corporation of New Jersey.
Other than reviving the name “Bolen & Byrne” I don’t see much of a connection between this corporation and the original business.
As best I can tell, today, the Bolen & Byrne Beverage Corporation is still an active corporation registered with the NYS Department of State. However, their last listed address of 502-04 West 45th Street is currently a Hess Gas Station. So who knows?.
The bottle I found is mouth blown with an applied lip. It has a rounded bottom and is embossed Bolen & Byrne, New York. There’s no mention of Dublin and Belfast. It was probably manufactured in the 1880’s, after they moved to East 54th Street.