Pluto Water got its name from a naturally occurring mineral spring also named Pluto whose waters were thought to restore good health to those with a wide range of illnesses. Located in Orange County, Indiana, the Pluto spring was named for the Roman god of the underworld, a reference to the water’s subterranean source. A resort called French Lick Springs grew up around the Pluto spring, and the water named after it was bottled and sold locally and later nationally from 1890 to 1973.
Over the years bottled Pluto Water was primarily advertised as a natural cure for constipation, with newspaper advertisements as early as 1904 referring to it as “America’s Physic.” Sometime around 1920 this iconic slogan began appearing in their advertising.
A tagline that sometimes drew the sarcastic response:
When Pluto Won’t, Make Your Will.
The story of Pluto Water and consequently French Lick Springs began in the early 1830’s when Dr. William H. Bowles, purchased the land where the mineral springs were located from the State of Indiana. According to the “History of Lawrence, Orange and Washington Counties, Indiana,” published in 1884:
At this sale, Dr. William A. Bowles…either by himself or agent, succeeded in obtaining a considerable tract of this land upon which were situated the principal of these mineral springs now so widely known as the French Lick Springs. Soon after this, in partnership with John Hungate, he began a mercantile trade there…
A history of French Lick Springs, published in the July, 1902 editions of several Indiana newspapers, picks up the story from there.
Perhaps as early as 1839 Bowles erected a two-story frame building on the present site, but it had no occupant as it was not finished until 1845 or 46, when Dr. John A. Lane, a genuine “down-easter,” who at the time was traveling in the interest of Dr. Brandeth of “Brandeth Pill” notoriety, chanced to stop for the night with Mr. Hungate, who resided near the springs. Dr. Lane, who was a man of quick perception and foresight, coupled with indomitable energy, became enamored of the place and in 1846 leased the springs of Bowles for a period of five years, and in the spring of that year completed the house and at once opened it for the accommodation of the public.
By 1851, Lane was advertising his resort in nearby Louisville, Kentucky, as evidenced by an announcement of his seasonal opening that appeared in the July 5th and July 14th editions of the “Louisville Courier-Journal.” The announcement suggested that 1850, not 1846, may have been French Lick Springs inaugural year as a formal resort, so suffice to say, the resort was certainly up and running by 1850.
FRENCH LICK SPRINGS
These Springs, located in Orange County, Indiana, ten miles west of Paoli, were offered to the public as a place of resort and the means of the cure of disease last summer for the first time we believe. For the present season the proprietor opened his doors for the reception of visitors on the first of the present month, June.
There are a number of springs affording almost every variety of sulphur and chalybeate water, which scientific men pronounce of great value to the sick and afflicted. The country around is wild and romantic, and abounds in various kinds of game, such as deer, turkeys, pheasants, quails, squirrels, etc. The man of business, tired of the cares and turmoils of city life, can here find a place of retreat and amusement. If fond of hunting, he can take his gun along with him, and after arriving at the springs and partaking, if he chooses, of the healing waters which they afford, head to the surrounding hills and hunt to his heart’s content. If the visitor be an angler, and takes pleasure in catching the “finny tribe” with the “baited hook,” Lost River is nearby, and he too can enjoy his favorite sport. And those fond of fancy amusements can also be accommodated to their liking on the grounds about the springs…
This rendering of the initial hotel appeared in a feature on French Lick Springs that appeared in the October 18, 1902 edition of the “Boston Home Journal.”
In case you’re interested, a letter published in the August 19,1851 edition of the “Louisville Daily Courier” made it clear that the 80 mile trip from Louisville to French Lick Springs could be accomplished in one day.
You can leave Louisville at 5 o’clock in the morning in one of Mr. Eastham’s fine daily coaches, with good horses, and very prudent and accommodating drivers, and arrive at New Prospect by 4-1/2 in the afternoon. This is two miles from the Springs, where the traveler falls into the hands of our very worthy and obliging friend, the Postmaster of New Prospect, Mr. Techemacher. He is a Polander and his history is full of interest, and he, together with his learned dog, attracts a great share of the attention of the visitors. You pass over a beautifully romantic country for two miles, crossing the celebrated Lost River, and reach the Springs, where I hope many of your readers may arrive safely, and realize the same amount of benefit which the writer has received for the last few weeks from use of the water.
Lane was still managing the resort for Bowles as late as 1853, as evidenced by this June 28th “Louisville Courier-Journal” advertisement announcing the resort’s seasonal opening that year.
Then, sometime in the mid-1850’s, Lane left French Lick Springs and established another resort nearby, calling it “West Baden Springs.” A story announcing what appears to be West Baden’s grand opening appeared in the July 20, 1857 edition of the “Louisville Daily Courier.”
Dr. J. A. Lane, formerly of the French Lick Springs, Orange County, Indiana, but now the owner and proprietor of the “West Baden Springs,” which are situated about a mile from French Lick, was in the city Saturday last, and informs us that he is putting up good improvements for the accommodation of his old friends, and will be ready and glad to see them on or about the 15th of August next. The mineral water, in that section of Indiana, cannot be excelled in the Union.
This July 8, 1859 item in the “Louisville Daily Courier” makes it clear that by then, stages from Louisville were servicing both French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs. The two resorts would remain competitors well into the next century.
Meanwhile, back at French Lick Springs, Bowles, now apparently managing the resort himself, added a “Bathing Establishment to the resort. His August 4, 1859 advertisement in the “Louisville Daily Courier”read in part:
…To the former accommodations and advantages of this place, there has been added an extensive “BATHING ESTABLISHMENT, where every variety of Bath can be had that are usual at Watering places, and some that cannot be had elsewhere…
According to the 1902 History of the Springs, in 1864 Bowles turned management of the Springs over to Dr. Samuel Ryan who went on to manage it for the next 15 years. This change in management was reflected in a July 14, 1865 item published in the “Louisville Courier-Journal,”
The reasoning for this change is quite evident considering this notice that appeared in the Evansville (Indiana) “Daily Journal.”
General Order No. 27 Headquarters District of Indiana, Indianapolis, May 9, 1865
In accordance with General Court Martial Orders No. 214 dated War Department, Adjunct General’s Office, Washington, May 2, 1865, to wit:
William A. Bowles, citizen of the State of Indiana, will be hanged by the neck until he is dead, on Friday, the 19th day of May, 1865, between the hours of twelve o’clock P.M. and three o’clock P.M., on the parade ground between Camp Morton and Burnside Barracks, near the city of Indianapolis, Indiana. Brevet Brigadier General A. A. Stevens, commanding Camp Morgan and Burnside Barracks, is charged with the execution of this order, and will make report thereof to the Commanding General.
Bowles’ troubles were summarized in a story published years later in the April 2, 1873 edition of Bloomington Illinois’ “The Pantagraph.”
When the rebellion broke out Bowles was suspected of being in secret communication with the Confederates, and…had organized and armed a large number of men belonging to the secret order of the Sons of Liberty, and had planned an attack upon the Government arsenal at Indianapolis, and upon Camp Morton near that city, where 7,000 Confederate prisoners of war were confined under guard. The plot also involved the assassination of Governor Morton, the release and arming of the prisoners, and the inauguration of an insurrection in aid of the Confederates throughout the Northwest.
The story went on to say:
President Johnson stayed the execution of sentence until the Supreme Court should pass upon the validity of the judgement pronounced by the military commission. The Supreme Court decided, after a full hearing, that the sentence of the commission was void; that the defendants should have been tried in the United States Court at Indianapolis, and there was no emergency justifying a resort to military law…
This meant that Bowles, along with two coconspirators, had not been convicted by any legal authority and so they were released from prison in April, 1866. A follow-up story in the January 11, 1867 edition of the “Evansville Daily Journal,” announced that the United States Court at Indianapolis would not prosecute the case, effectively putting the issue to bed. Bowles lived out the rest of his life at French Lick Springs, passing away in March, 1873.
Ryan managed French Lick Springs for Bowles, and later, for his estate up through the late 1870’s. Throughout most of the late 1860’s it was managed under the partnership of “Ryan & Adams” when, according to their opening day announcement in 1868 you could stay for:
$12 per week, $45 per month; children under 12 years of age and servants half price…
In 1869 Adams was replaced by E. Tucker, with the announcement appearing in the January 7, 1869 edition of the Evansville “Daily Journal.”
By 1871, according to their June 26th Evansville “Daily Journal” advertisement, the hotel was open year round with amusements that now included billiards, bowling, pigeons and croquet as well as a “good string band.”
After Ryan’s lease expired in the late 1870’s, the Bowles estate managed the Springs until 1881 when they sold it to Ryan and two others, Hiram Elwood Wells and James Madison Andrews. The sale was reported in the March 10, 1881 edition of the “Mitchell (Indiana) Commercial.”
The French Lick Springs property, including 320 acres of land…was permanently sold Saturday to J. M. Andrews and H. E. Wells, of Paoli, Orange, County, and Dr. S. Ryan, former lessee of the springs. The 320 acres, including the springs and hotel, cost about $30,000. They take immediate possession, and contemplate extensive improvements the coming season.
In 1888, Ryan was no longer involved and the business began operating as the French Lick Springs Company, with Wells serving as president. By then, according to a September 1, 1888 story in the “Boonville (Indiana) Enquirer,” access to the resort had significantly improved with the addition of a rail branch to the Springs.
…Of the wonderful improvements made in and about the springs is in the way of reaching here, was manifested by the enterprise of the Louisville, New Albany and Chicago, Railroad Co. (Monan Route) in building a branch of their splendidly equipped railroad from Orleans through Paoli to the springs, enabling passengers to reach here with comfort and pleasure and at reduced rates making three trips per day in close connection with the main line and to all points south, north, east and west.
That same year, the French Lick Springs Company invested upwards of $100,000 for improvements to the resort itself.
Subsequently, the upgraded resort was described like this in an August 13, 1891 story in “The Evansville Journal.”
It may not be generally known that there are three large hotel buildings here with a capacity for 400 guests. They are arranged in a section of a circle of which the principal spring is the center. These buildings are all the property of the French Lick Springs Company of whom Mr. W. S. Miller, Jr., is manager. The center one, “Windsor,” contains the office, dining-hall, bathrooms and many lodging rooms; the east one, “Pavilion,” a large well-lighted and well-ventilated music and dancing hall on ground floor and lodging rooms in two stories above; the west building, “Clifton,” is connected with the “Windsor” by a covered, latticed promenade, and has three stories with lodgings for guests. The grounds, 300 acres in extent, are composed of hilly and level ground with abundant shade from grand old forest trees. There are pleasant paths here and covered galleries at the houses for rest and exercise. A fourth, smaller building, the “Arno,” can be used for lodgings when necessary.
At a convenient distance are buildings for the help, for laundry, electric lighting and bottling the water for shipment away. In the hotel there is a resident physician, news and cigar stand, telegraph office, annunciator connecting with electric bells, barber shop and other conveniences so that guests can enjoy the conveniences of life as well as in the city.
Just before the turn of the century, the Windsor suffered a devastating fire that completely destroyed the Springs’ main hotel building. The fire was reported in the October 12, 1897 edition of the “Muncie (Indiana) Morning News.”
At 1 o’clock this morning, an alarm of fire was sounded at French Lick, and in less than two hours time the Windsor, the largest hotel and principal building there was a mass of smoldering ruins. The fire originated at or near the bakery, and made such rapid headway that the origin and cause can only be conjectured. In the burned building were located the hotel office, cigar and newsstand, telegraph office, dining room, kitchen, cold storage, bakery, bath rooms and store rooms. No casualties are reported among the guests or employees.
The contents of the building was almost a total loss, but little of the furniture or fixtures being saved. The buildings left standing are the Clifton and the dancing and amusement pavilions, which escaped owing to the fact that they are detached, and located some little distance from the Windsor. The amount of insurance on the property could not be ascertained. The loss is estimated at $40,000…
The next year, an August 14, 1898 story in the Courier-Journal made it clear that the fire had negatively impacted business.
The policy of the management of this popular resort has been to keep as quiet as possible this season as the buildings destroyed last winter by fire have not yet been replaced..
The fortunes of the resort changed three years later when the French Lick Springs Company sold the Springs to a newly formed company called the French Lick Springs Hotel Company. Headed by Indianapolis mayor (and later Senator from Indiana), Thomas Taggert, the company’s incorporation notice was published in the June 25, 1901 ” edition of “The Indianapolis News.”
The French Lick Springs Hotel Company, in which Mayor Taggert is interested, incorporated today with a capital stock of $600,000. Mayor Taggert and his associates in the company have gone to Louisville to make arrangements incidental to the final closing of the deal by which they become owners of the French Lick property.
Two days later the new corporation owned French Lick Springs. The closing of the deal was described like this in the June 27th edition of Bedford Indiana’s “Daily Mail.”
Mayor Thomas Taggert, of Indianapolis, came to Louisville about 7 o’clock yesterday morning with certified checks for over $400,000 in his pocket. When Mr. Taggert and his companions left for French Lick at 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon $294,150 of these checks had become property of Louisville businessmen and Mr. Taggert carried the deed to all the property of the French Lick Springs Company. The Columbia Finance and Trust Company has $86,000 more of Mr. Taggert’s money which will be used to redeem the bonds of the old company on July 1. The payment of this money opens a new era for French Lick Springs…
The property which changed hands yesterday consists of 320 acres, three hotels, the famous Pluto Spring and a number of minor springs, bath houses, bottling works and a number of other buildings. Work on the new 300 room stone hotel will begin at once. The old hotels will be remodeled and numerous other improvements will be made.
Within a year, this June 22, 1902 “Chicago Tribune” advertisement announced that the new brick (not stone) hotel was now completed and open for business.
A feature on French Lick Springs published in the October 18, 1902 edition of the “Boston Home Journal” announced that the upgraded resort now afforded accommodations for no less than seven hundred guests. The 1902 feature went on to provide this panoramic view of the resort.
The hotel office and dining room were also pictured in the feature.
By 1902 Taggert had also added a nine hole golf course.
Under Taggert’s ownership the resort continued to grow, with an August, 1916 story in the “National Drug Clerk” describing it like this:
French Lick Springs Hotel is a city within itself. The power plant not only furnishes the hotel light and power, but supplies the city of French Lick with light and power. The street car service between French Lick and West Baden is operated on the power generated at the Hotel Power House.
An 18-hole golf course and tennis courts serve as diversion, and the horseback riding is made a delightful exercise.
Three hot houses furnish the flowers for the interior decoration of the hotel and the pleasure of the guests.
A modern dairy is operated and comprises a fine herd of cows, which produce cream and milk under the most up-to-date and sanitary methods, and the butter is also made. All the dairy products on the dining room table are therefore of the best.
A modern up-to-date laundry is also run in conjunction with the hotel and the service is perfect.
The baths under the careful direction of the experienced attendants have a rejuvenating effect on the human system. As high as 175 baths a day are given in the men’s section, and 90 per day in the ladies’ section.
According to another feature on French Lick Springs, this one found in the June, 1923 edition of the “Practical Druggist,” sometime in the early 1920’s Taggert turned management of the business over to his son, Thomas D. Taggert, Jr. The family would remain in control of the property for another 20 plus years.
Sometime in the early 1890’s, prior to Taggert purchasing the Springs, the French Lick Springs Company began bottling their Pluto Water for sale outside the limits of the resort. The afore mentioned August 13, 1891 description of the resort in “The Evansville Journal,” included mention of a building for
bottling the water for shipment away
That building was likely the one pictured on this postcard that was recently offered for sale on the internet.
That same year, June, 1891 advertisements in the “Louisville Courier-Journal” announced the company had opened a sales office in downtown Louisville.
So they were certainly bottling and distributing their water locally by then. That being said, there’s no evidence that suggests that its distribution extended much beyond the Louisville city limits. That situation began to change in the late 1890’s when the Henry Pharmacal Co., of Louisville was named the sales agent for “Pluto Water.”
The announcement was initially published in the August, 1899 issue of the “Louisville Medical Monthly,” a reprint of which I found in the September 22, 1899 issue of the “Virginia Medical Semi-Monthly.”
The French Lick Springs of Indiana, according to the Louisville Medical Monthly, August, 1899, have passed under the control of Mr. Frank A. Henry, of the Henry Pharmacal Co., of Louisville, who intends to bring the strong saline sulphur water, “Pluto,” to the attention of the medical profession. Too often, the therapeutic value of American mineral springs has been lost under the guise of fashion or summer recreation. The French Lick Springs have always maintained their medical reputation parallel with their celebrity over the United States. It is Mr. Henry’s intention to bring the merits of Pluto Springs to the attention of the medical profession through the medical press, and to show that the resort compares most favorably with the most famous of similar establishments abroad.
Also called the Henry Drug Co., of Louisville, around the turn of the century the company registered two labels with the United States Patent Office, one for “Pluto Natural” the other for “Pluto Concentrated.”
No. 7232 ” Pluto Concentrated” for bottled mineral waters on Dec. 12, 1899
No. 7560 “Pluto” for natural spring water on May 26, 1900
The very bottom of this early label for “Pluto Concentrated clearly identifies the Henry Drug Co., Louisville Ky. as the product’s “Sole Agents for the U.S.A.”
The need for “Pluto Concentrated,” as explained years later in the June, 1923 edition of the “Practical Druggist,” was one of economics.
…guests who came from many states to drink the water suggested that it be bottled so that they could get it at their own homes. This at first proved a costly venture until it was suggested by some learned chemist that it could be boiled down and concentrated.
That being said, both natural and concentrated versions were mentioned in this advertisement that appeared in several 1903 editions of “The Indianapolis Star.”
The Henry company’s relationship with French Lick Springs and Pluto Water continued throughout most of the first decade of the 1900’s. According to the 1923 “Practical Druggist” story
The product was marketed to the medical and drug trade through the selling agents of the Henry Drug Company of Louisville until the company retired from business; then the distribution was attended to direct from headquarters…
The Henry company was last listed in Louisville’s 1909 city directory, suggesting that this transition had occurred prior to 1910.
By this time, Taggert had pretty much abandoned the distribution of “Pluto Natural” in favor of “Pluto Concentrated.” According to the March 29, 1913 edition of the “American Medical Journal:”
To the average person the composition of the “natural” Pluto Water is largely a matter of academic interest, for practically it is only the so-called “concentrated” Pluto Water that is found on the market.
…While it is doubtless possible to purchase the “natural” Pluto Water by ordering it specially, we believe that not one drug store in a hundred carries anything but the so-called “Concentrated” Pluto Water.
The A.M.A went on to point out that the concentration process resulted in a beverage whose chemical make-up bore little resemblance to the natural water produced by the spring.
The public and the medical profession are led to believe that “concentrated” Pluto Water is identical with “natural” Pluto Water except that the former has been boiled down until it is ten times as strong. With this in mind, study the following analysis which the company issues as representing the composition (parts per thousand) of the “concentrated” Pluto Water: Sodium sulphate (Glauber’s Salt)…50; Magnesium sulphate…30.97 (Epsom Salt); Calcium sulphate…2.81; Sodium chloride (salt) and Magnesium carbonate…0.35.
From this, it will be seen that, even according to the company’s own figures “concentrated” Pluto differs from “natural” Pluto in that it has more than eighty times as much Glauber’s Salt; nearly 100 times as much Epsom Salt; less than twice as much calcium sulphate, only a trifle more sodium chloride and less magnesium carbonate than is found in the “natural.”
What does this mean? it means that “concentrated” Pluto bears but a slight relation to “natural” Pluto, and it means that, for all practical purposes, “concentrated” Pluto Water is essentially a solution of Epsom Salt and Grauber’s Salt in the proportion of three of the former to five of the latter.
Taggert neglected to mention any of this in his labeling and advertising. In fact, reading this excerpt from a December 31, 1917 advertisement found in the “Indianapolis Star” you’d have to think that the natural spring water and the bottled water were one and the same.
The A.M.A. summed up the issue like this:
One wonders whether the contempt which the label of Pluto Concentrated Spring Water shows for “Food Inspection Decision 94” bears any relation to the fact that the French Lick Springs Hotel Company has for its president – Thomas Taggart – a politician whose influence at Washington is such as to make it unnecessary for the company to worry about such trivial things as mislabeling.
Mislabeling not withstanding, the sale of Pluto Water grew exponentially during the teens, much of it fueled by advertising, a fact Taggert made clear to retail druggists in the May, 1918 edition of a publication called “The Spatula.”
The French Lick Springs Hotel Company are conducting a campaign in which they utilize the biggest newspapers, nationally circulated magazines, leading medical journals, street cars and subway trains to send customers around to their drug stores for Pluto Water. A tremendous demand has already been created as indicated by the millions of bottles sold last year, and the druggists who are reaping the richest harvests from this publicity and sales promotion work, are the druggists who link up with the campaign and let their customers know they carry Pluto Water in stock, through window and counter displays.
The druggist who feels he should be getting more of this business can get all the cooperation he wants providing he shows a willingness to do his part. Attractive window display material, show cards and interesting literature for distribution will be promptly supplied on request to the French Lick Springs Hotel Co., French Lick, Ind.
Taggert also employed some less conventional methods of advertising as well. According to the 1923 “Practical Druggist” feature:
He catered to commercial men to come to French Lick for the weekend and not more than fifteen years ago these people were put up over Sunday for $2 and $2.50 a day including room and three meals; then they went out covering many states and talked and boomed the French Lick Springs and Pluto Water. It was advertising that could not be purchased…
A story in the Aug-Sept, 1915 edition of a publication called “Square Deal,” mentioned that even World War I contributed to the growth of Pluto Water.
One rather unexpected increase in business due to the conflict is in the bottling and sale of Pluto Water, obtained at French Lick, Ind. The amount of business is double this year what it was last year. That is due to cutting off much of the foreign water.
The demand associated with this growth was addressed with the opening of a new $185,000 bottling plant at French Lick Springs in 1914.
It was described like this in the January, 1914 edition of the “American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record”
The outside is finished with buff brick and the entire inside is white. The water is pumped from the Pluto Spring to the fifth floor of the building, where it begins a process of filtration and condensation and is finally delivered sparkling and clear to a glass receptacle in the main bottling room, whence it is piped to the bottling machines. The bottling process is on the continuous operation plan and the latest types of machinery are used throughout. Empty bottles are taken from the cars, subjected to a thorough sterilizing and taken to the main bottling room. This room is finished in white enamel brick and is provided with a gallery for visitors. After the bottles are filled they are sealed and taken by automatic conveyors to the cars for shipment. The new plant has a daily capacity of 1,000 cases. A complete printing plant is run in connection with the bottling house.
A January, 1916 “National Drug Clerk” story added:
There are facilities for loading three cars at a time. Pluto Water is shipped in special Pluto cars; twenty of these cars are used exclusively for transportation of Pluto Water.
By the 1920’s, in addition to their headquarters at French Lick Springs, the company maintained branch offices in New York, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco and according to the 1923 “Practical Druggist” feature:
The distribution of this famous water is now so complete that the writer saw it in Colorado Springs, Yellowstone Park, all large cities on the coast, at Victoria, Vancouver, Banff, Montreal and Quebec.
This claim is further supported by advertisements for Pluto Water found in small “off the beaten path”places like Twin Falls, Idaho where this advertisement appeared in the June 27, 1918 edition of that city’s “Times-News.”
The Practical Druggist feature went on to say
There is perhaps no drug store of any size in the United States that does not have in stock this famous water. The company has a large foreign business in Cuba and in many large companies in South America. Last year the writer saw it in Paris, Lucerne, Lake Como and Milan. There is also an agency in Japan that looks after its distribution in the Oriental countries.
In 1920 their famous slogan “When Nature Won’t Pluto Will” began appearing in newspaper advertisements. One of the earliest I can find appeared in the January 13, 1920 edition of the “Pittsburgh Press.”.
In 1930 the company began advertising a crystalized version of Pluto water called French Lick Salts. According to this 1933 advertisement:
The same essential minerals contained in the famous Pluto Water have now been concentrated into pleasant tasting effervescent laxative crystals known as FRENCH LICK SALTS.
Other advertisements, like one published in the July 1, 1931 edition of “The Indianapolis Times,” touted it for weight loss.
Why allow yourself to be overweight and unsightly? You can so easily have slim ankles, graceful hips, a stylishly slender form. French Lick Salts works wonders.
French Lick Salts gets right at the causes – clears out stagnant body wastes that impair health and cause unhealthy fat…Take a little French Lick Salts every morning. Watch your weight go down and your health improve. Dropped in cool water, French Lick Salts effervesces delightfully, is as pleasant to drink as a fountain beverage! A generous bottle is only 50 cents at any drug store.
Short-lived, as far as I can tell ads for French Lick Salts disappear by the early 1940’s.
In 1946 a hotelier and business man named John B. Cabot bought the hotel along with the bottling works and began operating them under two newly established corporations called the French Lick Springs Hotel Company, Inc., and the Pluto Corporation. The sale was reported in the November 30, 1946 edition of the “Louisville Courier-Journal.”
A New York hotel syndicate tonight purchased French Lick Springs Hotel, nationally famous spa in southern Indiana.
The purchasers were the French Lick Springs Hotel Company, Inc., and the Pluto Corporation of Delaware, headed by John B. Cabot of New York…
The hotel was part of the estate of the late Thomas D. Taggert, Sr., former United States Senator and former Mayor of Indianapolis. The heirs included Thomas D. Taggert Jr., a son, and four sisters…
Although the consideration was not announced, it was reported to exceed $4,000,000.
The story went on to describe the property at the time which had certainly continued to grow under the Taggerts.
The sale includes the 600-room hotel, 1,800 acres, three swimming pools, two golf courses, an airport, a riding stable, three mineral springs and the Pluto Water Bottling Works, and a large dairy and two herds of Jersey and Holstein cattle.
This photograph of the hotel accompanied an “Indianapolis News” story regarding the sale.
Six years later, Massachusetts Mutual Insurance Company, who helped underwrite the sale and held a $1,550,000 mortgage on the hotel took over sole possession of the property. The take-over story appeared in the October 29, 1952 edition of Munster Indiana’s “The Hammond Times:”
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company today announced that it will continue to operate the French Lick Springs Hotel as a resort and convention site.
The insurance firm assumed possession of the famous Southern Indiana hotel when New York – Florida hotel man John B. Cabot was unable to exercise an option to pay indebtedness and buy off the firm’s $1,550,000 mortgage.
Insurance company Vice President J. Truman Strange said present French Lick policies will be continued and improved service will be offered. He also said the company is willing to negotiate for sale of the 600-room hotel and 2,000 acres of land but that no negotiations are under way.
Negotiations must have started shortly after the above story was written because within a year Mass Mutuel sold the hotel and bottling works to separate entities. A story in the October 15, 1953 edition of the “Indianapolis Star” reported both transactions.
Purchase of French Lick Springs Hotel by a New York City corporation was announced yesterday. The reported price was approximately $2,000,000.
The nationally-known southern Indiana convention center and health resort was purchased by Tishman Realty and Construction Company Inc. from Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.
The story went on to say:
Sale of the Pluto Corporation, bottlers of water from mineral springs on the spa property, to an Illinois businessman, also was disclosed yesterday.
New owner of the 50-year-old Pluto Corporation is Maxwell R. Hott, Monticello (Ill.) patent medicine tycoon. The price was reported to have been between $100,000 and $200,000.
Shortly after purchasing the hotel Tischman closed it for three months during which time they remodeled it to the tune of $1,000,000. The hotel reopened in March, 1955 and was ultimately sold to the Sheraton Corporation in September of that year.
Hott’s plans for the Pluto Corporation were outlined in a March 7, 1954 “Terre Haute (Ind.) Tribune” story.
Pluto Water under the ownership and direction of Maxwell R. Hott, is pointing for a bigger share of the laxative market with a test campaign in selected markets including Terre Haute. The revitalized company is testing a series of 80-100 line newspaper ads with frequent insertions to establish a national pattern.
Mr. Hott purchased the rights to Pluto Water which was formerly owned by the French Lick springs Hotel. One of their prime reasons of buying was the discovery of the fact that although the product has not been actively promoted for almost 20 years, there has been a continued steady demand for Pluto Water and evidence of a loyal market for the product nationwide. A pilot study revealed a tremendous sales potential, particularly among middle-aged persons many of whom were introduced to Pluto Water through visits to the mineral springs in French Lick, Ind.
Hott apparently liked the results of the test campaign and followed it up with a series of long winded newspaper advertisements. One, found in the February 27, 1955 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer opened with this clear reference to the hotel and its mineral springs.
The Pluto Corporation was sold again in 1963. The transaction was reported in an April 25, 1963 story in the “Indianapolis Star:”
Purchase of the Pluto Corporation of French Lick, Ind., for an undisclosed price was announced yesterday by a group of Cincinnati businessmen.
Arthur H. Friedman, head of the Cincinnati group, said the firm would continue to bottle and sell spring water from its six-story plant…
Over the next ten years the Pluto Corporation reinvented itself, ultimately discontinuing the production of Pluto Water in favor of cleaning products. What might serve as Pluto Water’s obituary can be found in the September 28, 1994 edition of Bedford, Indiana’s “Times-Mail.”
The once worldwide market for Pluto Water diminished over the years, and sales declined to the point that in 1973 production ceased…
Pluto Water may be a thing of the past, but the Pluto Corporation here is going strong in the production of household cleaning products.
On a final note, according to a book called “Sanitariums, Hospitals, and the Belladonna Cure,” by Kenneth Anderson, published in 2022:
The myth that Pluto Water was taken off the market because it contained lithium is nothing more than an urban legend; the trace amounts of lithium found in Pluto Water were too small to be meaningful. Moreover, Lithia Springs Water, which has a much higher quantity of lithium salts, is still sold today.
Over the years, I’ve found several Pluto Water bottles, all machine made with the same embossing on the base.
One is quart size with no additional embossing on its sides. It exhibits a finish that suggests it was sealed with a cork. The others all exhibit a crown finish and are embossed Pluto Water America’s Physic” on the side.
The cork closure was still being utilized for Pluto Water in August, 1916 when this description of the bottling and labeling process appeared in a publication called the “National Drug Clerk.”
Each individual bottle is sterilized under pressure of steam and thoroughly rinsed, placed on the filling table, which works automatically, moving forward until the bottles are directly under the filling tank, which then descends, filling twenty-four bottled with one operation…
In the workings conveyors are timed to move according to the capacity of the cooling machines, which is fifty bottles a minute. On account of the rapidity of motion and the strain, these operators are relieved every 30 minutes. In a storage room above, the corks are washed, trundled in revolving machines, and passed in front of powerful blowers to remove dust and particles from crevices of the corks. They then descend to the machines through an inverted U shaped arched chute.
After corking, and before the labels are attached, the bottles pass under a plate glass hood. Here they are subject to a needle spray bath of scalding water and steam, under pressure of one hundred and ten pounds, which cleanses the exterior and prepares the bottle for labeling. The neck and body labels are attached in one operation. The operator of these machines, like those of the corking machines, are relieved every thirty minutes.
The crown closure had certainly replaced the cork by 1923 when this description of Pluto’s apparently updated bottling process appeared in the January edition of a publication called the “Glass Container.” It specifically references a “crowner.”
…Rotary filling machines are capable of filling and delivering bottles to the crowner at the rate of 125 per minute with the half pint size, and 80 per minute with the quarts. Separate machines are utilized for each size. Before being labeled the bottles are conveyed beneath a needle spray bath of steam under pressure of 120 lb. which completely rinses the exterior. Only one operation is necessary in order to put two labels on each bottle, and from the labeling machine they are conveyed to the packing and shipping room.
This dates the transition from cork to crown sometime between the 1916 “National Drug Story” and the 1923 “Glass Container “story. An unscientific review of their newspaper advertising serves to narrow the range further. Using the “Kansas City Times” as an example, this March 25, 1918 ad exhibits the cork closure…
…while a little over a year later, the December 19, 1919 edition of the same newspaper ran an ad exhibiting a crown closure.
That likely puts the transition from cork closure to crown sometime in 1918 or 1919. The crown closure was still being used as late as 1940, as evidenced by this advertisement that appeared in the June 23, 1940 edition of the “Tampa Bay Times.”
At some point in the 1940’s Pluto Water transitioned to a screw top container as evidenced by this March 5,1947 advertisement in the “Buffalo Evening News.”
Another screw top version can be found in a January 29, 1956 “Pittsburgh Press” advertisement.