Robert Robinson was born in Yorkshire, England in 1821 and arrived in the United States in 1841. His obituary, printed in the August 5, 1890 edition of the New York Sun stated that he:
established what was probably the first manufactory of bottled mineral water in America.
Another obituary, this one in the August 4, 1890 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, mentioned that upon arriving in this country he spent several years in Philadelphia before moving north to New York. McElroy’s City Directory of Philadelphia listed a Robert Robinson as a tavern owner (Maiden near Stone Bridge and later 233 S 6th St.) from 1841 to 1846. While I can’t confirm that this was in fact our Robert Robinson, the timing is certainly correct.
He’s first listed in New York City’s Borough of Manhattan in 1849 with an address of 7 Elm St. (now Lafayette St.) and the occupation “mineral waters.” By 1851 the business had moved to 376 Bowery where it remained through the mid-1860’s. A March 22, 1862 advertisement in the New York Times makes it clear that by then, in addition to his mineral water, Robinson was also selling bottles of both Champagne Cider and Crab-Apple Cider.
In early 1865 Robinson apparently shut down his Manhattan operation and sold its entire contents at auction on March 16th. The auction notice was printed in the February 25, 1865 edition of the New York Daily Herald.
The sale included “1500 gross (over 200,000!) of mineral water bottles, most of them with Putnam’s patent wire fasteners on.” One of the survivors of this lot was recently offered for sale on the Internet.
Soon after Robinson was up and running again. Now located in Brooklyn, his business was listed between 1867 and 1871 at 402-404 Atlantic Avenue and later, between 1873 and 1886, at 432-434 Atlantic Avenue.
On August 13, 1878, he filed an application to trademark what he called in his application, “the fanciful word ‘Queer'” in connection with his temperance beer.
Less than a year later, a May 29, 1879 Brooklyn Daily Eagle item advertised “Queer” with this little jingle:
According to his Brooklyn Daily Eagle obituary Robinson discontinued the business and retired to private life sometime around 1885.
The bottle I found is small, maybe six ounces, and mouth blown with an applied blob finish. Embossing that includes the 402 Atlantic Avenue address likely dates it to the period between 1867 and 1871 when the company listed that address in the Brooklyn directories.
On a final note, Robinson’s obituaries also note that he holds a place in the early sporting history of both Brooklyn and the Nation.
Mr. Robinson may be called the father of pigeon shooting in America and was known as such throughout this country. He was a peculiar example of the English sportsman. His gun and dog were his boon companions, and he shot snipe from northern New York all the way south to New Orleans, and west, through Ohio and other states to Iowa. Snipe was his hobby, but when snipe could not be had he shot pigeons. He originated the rules of pigeon shooting in this country and organized the first shooting club in this country – the old Long Island Club – which after forty years’ successful existence, was dissolved last year.
He was also involved in horse racing, serving, for a time, as president of the Brighton Beach Racing Association.