The Clicquot Club story can also be billed as the story of ginger ale in America.
According to an article in the January, 1928 edition of a publication called the “American Exporter,” when the Clicquot Club business was founded the American market for ginger ale could be divided into two groups. One was the Belfast people, whose products were high grade and high priced, and sold almost exclusively to hotels, clubs, bar-rooms and cafes. The other group consisted of the local “pop-bottlers” who operated in practically every town that the annual circus visited or county fairs were held. Both groups depended on selling to people who were traveling or otherwise on parade.
Cliquot Club, while not neglecting the traveling public, focused their marketing and sales efforts on home consumption and ultimately revolutionized the industry.
According to a recent article in the September 15, 2011 edition of the Boston Globe, the Ciccquot Club story started with a sparkling cider that was produced locally by Charles LaCroix of the LaCroix Fruit Farm. The farm was likely located somewhere on or neighboring the estate of Lansing Millis for whom the town of Millis, Massachusetts was ultimately named.
Sometime in the early 1880’s LaCroix partnered with Lansing Millis’s son, Henry Millis, and began bottling the cider under the name “Aqua Rex Bottling Works.”
The Boston Globe story goes on to say:
In the 1880’s, Henry Millis suggested he call it “Cliquot” after a famous French champagne, Veuve Clicquot.
Local advertisements for Millis’s Oak Grove Farm suggest that the name change to Clicquot may have taken place sometime in 1887. A March 27, 1887 advertisement in the Boston Globe mentioned an item they called “Refined Cider.” By the end of the year, their December 24, 1887 Christmas advertisement called it Clicquot Club Cider.
When Henry Millis incorporated several local businesses and utility systems under the “Millis Company” in June, 1891, the Aqua Rex Bottling Works was one of them. The description of the bottling works included in the Millis Company stock offering, published in the July 11, 1891 edition of the Boston Globe, made it clear that by then the focus of the business had shifted from cider to ginger ale.
The Aqua- Rex Bottling Works who manufactures the well known “Cliquot Club Ginger Ale.” Actual profits for the first 19 days in June were $1,000.
Newspaper advertisements for their ginger ale began appearing at around that time. The first one I could find was printed in the August 1, 1891 edition of the Boston Globe.
In fact, a bottle from this era, embossed “Aqua Rex Bottling Works Millis, Mass” that likely held their ginger ale recently appeared on an internet sale site.
A year later, a June 28, 1892 advertisement in the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant provided evidence that they had quickly added birch beer, orange soda and sarsaparilla to their menu. It also suggested that by then they had started to use a pint bottle, something they would continue to use throughout their history.
By 1894, the Millis Company, as well as Henry Millis’s other financial interests, were in such serious financial trouble that it ultimately resulted in the failure of his businesses and the personal loss of over half a million dollars.
After failure of the Millis Company management and ownership of the bottling business during the 1890’s is unclear. Suffice to say, Clicquot Club continued to be advertised throughout the decade and the Aqua Rex Bottling Company was still listed in the New England Business Directory and Gazetteer in 1896. Up to that point the state of the business was best described in a feature published in the April 21, 1921 edition of an advertising publication called “Printers Ink.” It was written by Edward S Price who in 1921 was the manager of Clicquot Club’s advertising.
During its first fifteen years this was an honest, straightforward, but slow growing, small, countryside bottling business; handicapped at times by lack of capital and other annoying troubles due to lack of experience in buying, selling, manufacturing and exploiting.
The now famous Clicquot Club blend was there, however, and by sheer force of its goodness, the business grew. Then came a man who believed in advertising, a man who had the courage of his convictions.
That man was H. Earle Kimball whose father, Horace A. Kimball of Rhode Island, acquired the controlling interest in the business in 1901. He put his son in charge who would then manage the business until his death in 1952.
Shortly after the Kimball’s took control, their 1901 patent applications referred to the business as the Clicquot Club Bottling and Extract Company but soon after the name was shortened to the Clicquot Club Company.
Under Kimball’s management, the Millis plant grew quickly. A March 1906 feature in the “National Magazine” described the early 1900’s plant as three buildings with a floor space of 45,000 square feet.
In 1915, Clicquot Club advertisements in the January and February editions of the American Bottler mentioned that by then the plant had grown to 100,000 square feet and had a capacity of 60,000 bottles per day. The advertisements included this photograph of the plant presumably taken at around that time.
Documenting the company’s continued growth, the October, 1923 edition of the RE-LY-ON Bottler provided this description of an even larger plant.
The plant itself, located about 20 miles from Boston, on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, is situated on a 17 acre tract of land and is housed in fire-proof brick buildings, consisting of the main bottling plant, 200 by 175 feet; four warehouses, from 100 by 180 to 100 by 280 feet; one three story building, 150 by 50 feet; a modern power house, 50 by 70 feet, containing two boilers, two generators and two engines; and the two story office building, containing 5,400 feet of space and given over to the administrative, advertising and clerical forces. Three railroad sidings, with a total trackage of 3,070 feet, make for speedy loading and unloading.
The growth of the business into a national concern under Kimball was in no small way the result of their advertising campaigns. Situated between Providence and Boston they were quite successful in those markets but had fewer dealers elsewhere. Nonetheless in 1907 they began advertising on a national scale. According to the 1921 Printer’s Ink story:
We did our first national advertising in 1907, using a large list of magazines and accepted “waste circulation” – waste circulation on account of our lack of distribution. We bought space in national magazines and considered it a profitable investment for the good it did us where we did have dealer distribution.
Many advertising theorists have contended that one should have distribution first, but it was not so with us. Consumer demand was created in many places where we had no distribution, that is true; but a big consumer demand was created where we did have distribution. Perfectly logically, demand created distribution, and now one may, in normal times, purchase Clicquot Club ginger ale in almost any community from Maine to California.
Our selling scheme was about like this: A salesman was to go to the wholesale grocer and say in effect, “Here is our ginger ale which is good enough and made by a concern big enough to advertise in all the leading national publications.”
This full page advertisement printed in the April, 1908 edition of McLure’s Magazine was surely part of their initial 1907 national advertising campaign.
In May, 1913 their long time “Eskimo Boy” trademark began to appear in newspaper advertisements. One of the first ones I could find was in the May 23, 1913 edition of the Fitchburg (Mass.) Sentinel. The “Eskimo Boy” would go on to become the nationally recognized symbol of the company.
Their advertising wasn’t just limited to print and 10 years later, the Cliquot Club “Eskimo Boy” found himself on the world’s largest electric advertising sign smack dab in the middle of Times Square, New York. The sign was described in this June 18, 1924 story in the (Binghamton N.Y.) Press and Sun Bulletin, written around the time that the sign was illuminated for the first time.
BROADWAY’S GREATEST SIGN NOW ADVERTISES CLICQUOT CLUB PRODUCT
The largest electric sign in the white light history of Broadway was turned on last week at Times Square. The sign, advertising Clicquot Club ginger ale stretches a full city block and is over 50 feet high. Almost 20 miles of copper wire, tons of wrought iron, sheet metal and solder, hundreds of gallons of paint and nearly 20,000 electric bulbs contribute their parts to this colossal illiumination. Very striking design and ingenious action as well as gigantic size distinguish the Clicquot Club sign from all other Broadway displays. The Cliquot Club Eskimo Kid, whose face is so familiar in magazines and newspapers, sits on a dog sled behind a huge bottle of his ginger ale. His scarf flying in the Arctic breeze, he whizzes through the snow, drawn by three joyous little Eskimos. And as he rides, his great electric whip strikes the name of Clicquot Club Ginger Ale, one word at each illuminating crack.
The Clicquot Club company has erected this sign largely as a symbol of its entry into its 40th year of service to the American public.
This photograph of the sign is courtesy of the New York State Historical Society.
Cliquot Club was also a trailblazer in radio advertising. As early as 1925 it sponsored a radio program featuring a banjo orchestra called The Clicquot Club Eskimos. This photograph of the band appeared in the March 21, 1926 edition of the Pittsburgh Post and also appeared in several other newspapers that month as far west as Wyoming.
The caption under the photograph reads:
Picture in costume of the Clicquot Club Eskimos led by Harry Reser (seated in front). This banjo ensemble is making a great name for itself over the air every Thursday night. It is sponsored by the Clicquot Club Ginger Ale Company. The Eskimos are heard over 15 stations.
This description of the Eskimos appeared in the August 11, 1926 edition of the (Lancaster Pa.) Intelligencer Journal. They, and along with them the Clicquot Club name, entered homes across the country every week.
These remarkable producers of popular music under the leadership of Harry Reser primarily consist of solo banjo, plectrum banjo for rhythm,, two mandolin banjos, saxaphone, trombone, trumpet, tuba, violin, piano, drums.
When occasion requires, banjos are shifted to wood lutes, mandolins, guitars, ukuleles, an extra viola, cello and there are even further combinations sometimes worked out with this able group of four stringed instrument men.
An interesting feature has been added to the program of the Clicquot Club Eskimos of snappy popular songs handled mostly as chorus accompaniment to the orchestra or with banjo and guitar accompaniment.
The radio program ran until the Mid-1930’s and the orchestra continued to make live appearances up through the late 1930’s. Here they are, sans costume, circa 1936.
By the late 1920’s, their advertising had literally woven Clicquot Club ginger ale into the fabric of the nation. Consider a story in the October 15, 1929 edition of the (Caruthersville Mo.) Democrat-Argus about the Graf Zeppelin completing what they called “its epochal globe-girding flight.” The story marveled at the fact that “Such extraordinary events and apparently incredible achievements have been piling up (and) the world has come to take these marvels as accustomed events.” With the help of Cliquot Club the story went on to emphasize their point.
Curiously enough the man on the street was no more casual about the event than the Graf Zeppelin passengers. What do you think was on their minds as they approached the last leg of their trip around the world? Nothing more important than the replenishment of the steward’s supply of ginger ale. H. Earle Kimball, president of the Clicquot Club Company, tells me that his West Coast representative had to go to no end of trouble about it.
Dr. Eckener had instructed his steward, Hendrick Kubik, to lighten the load to facilitate the ship’s crossing of the Rocky Mountains, and as ginger ale comes in heavy glass bottles, Herr Kubik appealed to the Clicquot people and they proposed supplying it in gallon aluminum containers, used for quite another purpose, but which had a spigot attachment. Herr Kubik objected that as part was drawn off the balance would become flat and useless. But the Sec brand was so dry that it could be de-cantered without loss of carbonation. This was proved by a hurried experiment and the Zeppelin passengers enjoyed their ginger ale, avoided airsickness, and Herr Kubik’s reputation as the best steward on the round-the-world air service was maintained.
It was sometime in the mid-1920’s that they began marketing their ginger ale in multiple brands, initially adding a second brand of ginger ale called “Pale Dry” to their menu.
One advertisement described the distinction between the two different brands, both of which they called thirst-erasers:
Wherever you go this summer from Bar Harbor Maine to Coronado Beach in California, you will find these two thirst-erasers. Choose Cliquot Club Ginger Ale, Regular, to get that rare and spicy flavor that is real ginger ale. Uncap Cliquot Club Pale Dry for a drink that is as delicate and subtle as Regular Cliquot is vigorous and full flavored. Both are full of life. Both have that famous Cliquot Club taste – the taste that, forty years ago, taught America what real ginger ale is like.
By the late 1920’s it appears that their original ginger ale named “Regular” in the above advertisement had acquired the more consumer friendly name of “Golden.” They had also added a third brand by then called “Sec,” describing it as:
The supremely dry ginger ale, a favorite in clubs, hotels, and wherever people of discriminating taste gather. Sec is the rarest ginger ale flavor in America!
During the 1930’s the company updated their packaging, adding a quart bottle to their long time pint and a canned option as well.
The quart was added in 1934 and was extensively advertised throughout that year starting in May/June.
Cans became available in 1938. This July 1938 advertisement exhibits a cone-shaped type can and it certainly appears introductory in nature.
The advertisement goes on to say that it was the first ginger ale offered in a can.
This fine old ginger ale is the first to come to you in cans. You’ll like the new way of buying Cliquot Club – because it’s so handy, and because it’s the same delicious ginger ale as Cliquot Club in bottles.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s the company was no longer manufacturing and bottling their beverages exclusively at their Millis, Massachusetts plant. By then they were establishing regional bottling plants in an effort to bottle and distribute their products closer to their end user. In the late 1940’s the New York City franchise was called the Clicquot Club Bottling Company of Manhattan, although it was actually located across the East River in Long Island City Queens, at 5-16 47th Avenue. Clicquot Club bottlers in upstate New York were located in Cairo and Binghamton.
According to a June 6, 1953 story in the Kingston (N.Y.) Freeman, by this time their advertising strategy was no longer national in scope but focused primarily on local newspaper advertisements in an effort to best service these regional bottlers.
Clicquot Club Selects Newspaper Advertising
Newspapers have been selected as the principal medium for the advertising and promotion of Clicquot Club ginger ale and other sparkling soft drinks for 1953, it was announced by Alton T. Barnard, vice president in charge of sales for the Clicquot Club Bottling Co., Millis, Mass…
Barnard, who has recently completed a coast-to-coast tour of Clicquot Club bottling plants, pointed out that regional bottlers were highly enthusiastic about this years sale possibilities and the advertising campaign which he outlined for them.
Ninety percent of the entire 1953 appropriation will be spent in local newspapers to bring the Clicquot Club story to the public.
“We believe that by placing our advertising directly in the newspapers in the areas serviced by Clicquot Club bottlers, we can best tell the American public about the goodness of our ginger ale and other drinks,” Barnard said.
After Kimball’s death on November 26, 1952, his lawyer, Thomas F. Black, Jr. assumed the presidency at Kimball’s request. The H. Kimball Foundation web site completes the story.
In the late fifties, officials of Veuve Clicquot (after whom the ginger ale had been originally named by Millis) threatened court action if the American soft drink manufacturer didn’t cease using the name Clicquot. Black traveled to France and a meeting was held at which it was agreed that the Millis based company would drop the name at an agreed upon future date.
Declining sales, increased competition and the thought of losing their long held name, probably had a lot to do with the company being sold to Cott Beverage of Connecticut in 1960.
The company operated a number of years under the direction of John Cott who continued to bottle Clicquot until the name change agreement went into effect. Cott Beverage was later sold to Canada Dry and the plant closed.
The Cliquot Club name completely disappeared from grocery store advertisements and price lists sometime in the early 1980’s.
Today, a smokestack associated with their plant still exists in Millis. Sadly, though not a surprise, this google maps image indicates that it’s now functioning as a cell phone tower.
The bottle I found is a machine made pint, typical of the bottle they used throughout much of their existence. The base of the bottle is embossed with a likeness of their trademark “Eskimo Boy.” The letters “A” & “B” are embossed on either side of the figure, suggesting it may have been made by the American Bottle Company. A “25” embossed below the “A” could indicate a 1925 manufacture date. The bottle appears identical to this one that appeared in a 1922 advertisement.
The presence of the Eskimo certainly dates it no earlier than 1913.