Theron L. Neff, and later T. L. Neff’s Sons (sometimes T. L. Neff & Sons) were soft drink bottlers that operated in Brooklyn, New York from approximately 1869 to 1935.
Theron Neff was born in Windham Connecticut in 1842. His obituary, published in the April 5, 1906 edition of the Brooklyn Times Union, mentioned that his arrival in Brooklyn came after his service in the Civil War.
When the Civil War broke out, Mr. Neff enlisted with Company H, of the Twenty -fifth Connecticut Volunteers, and during a number of engagements served as corporal in the Department of the Gulf under General Hanks. He participated in the Battle of Baton Rouge and Port Hudson.
The obituary goes on to say that after the war he settled in Brooklyn and joined the business of Mason O. Fuller, an old-time Brooklyn bottler whose business dated back to the late 1850’s. M. O. Fuller Neff ultimately took over the business in the late 1860’s.
Mr. Neff came to Brooklyn in 1865. He went to live in the Fifteenth Ward and accepted a position with Mason O. Fuller, who was the originator of the soda water business. The plant at that time was located in Grand Street near Graham Avenue. Mr. Neff worked for Mr. Fuller for three or four years, and finally took control of the business and afterwards conducted it under the name of T. L. Neff.
Neff’s obituary also credits him as being the originator of bottled root beer.
At that time yeast was used in the making of root beer and the beverage was put in stone jugs. Mr. Neff originated the idea of putting the root beer in bottles under the present carbonated system.
By 1875, and possibly earlier, the company’s factory was located at 105 Maujer Street where according to their 1889 “bottle registration notice, they bottled and sold soda water, root beer and other beverages.
Theron conducted the business until 1895 when he retired. At that point he turned the company over to his sons Lewis and Edwin, changing the name to T. L. Neff’s Sons. Lewis was in charge of the business end of the house, while Edwin oversaw manufacturing.
A story featuring Brooklyn’s mineral water industry published in the July 7, 1912 edition of the “Brooklyn Citizen” provided this early 1900’s snapshot of the business:
In the manufacture of soft drinks T. L. Neff & Sons, Inc., 105 Maujer Street, Brooklyn, N. Y., is one of the largest and most prominent in the city.
They occupy a two-story building 25 x 100, used exclusively for bottling their drinks, and also maintain a stable at 52-54 Ten Eyck Street where their many horses and wagons are kept.
The plant has capacity of fifteen hundred boxes of soda per day, and employs about thirty men. The business was established about 1858, and has served one customer for forty-six years.
A May 12, 1914 Brooklyn Daily Eagle advertisement, made it clear that the Neff company, with large contracts up and down the east coast, served more than just the New York City area.
Among the customers they are serving are the New England Navigation Company, which operates the Fall River Steamers, the Panama Steamship Company, the Central Hudson Steamboat Company and the U. S. Government Reservations between West Point and Governor’s Island, as well as the American Sugar Refining Company.
The Brooklyn Citizen feature went on to say that the company was in the process of planning the construction of a new modernized factory.
They are at present planning a new three-story building of concrete construction, and upon its completion they will have one of the finest plants for the manufacture of soft drinks in the country. The new plant will be equipped with all new and model machinery for the washing and sterilizing of bottles, which is one of the most important features of the business.
The company moved to their new accommodations, located at 179-181 Powers Street sometime in mid-1914.
According to a July 17, 1921 Brooklyn Citizen story, by the early 1920’s their daily output had increased from 1500 to 2,000 boxes and the business had established an international clientele.
Not only in Brooklyn are the products of the company supplied to hundreds of dealers in the city, but they are shipped throughout the country and Europe. Steady customers are on the company’s books with their business houses in Japan and other Asiatic countries.
The Neff’s Sons apparently remained in business until 1935 when the corporation was dissolved. The dissolution notice was printed in several November, 1935 editions of the Brooklyn Times Union.
Edwin Neff’s obituary published in the March 10, 1940 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle mentioned that he retired in 1935 so it’s possible that his retirement triggered the ultimate dissolution of the corporation.
The bottle I found is machine made with a crown finish and an approximate capacity of 28 ounces. “T. L. Neff’s Sons”is embossed on the front, along with their Powers Street address. This dates the bottle no earlier than 1914.
The back of the bottle exhibits their trademarked case of soda bottles.
Today, the building located at 179 – 181 Powers Street appears to be the same building built and occupied by the the company in 1914.