Kirsch & Herfel was established by Hyman Kirsch and Henry Herfel in the first decade of the 1900’s. The company existed as Kirsch and Herfel up until 1920 after which both went their separate ways.
Kirsch went on to become a giant in the industry and in the 1950’s was the developer and initial manufacturer of sugar-free soda. A feature on his business in the June 23, 1971 issue of the Tampa (Florida) Tribune mentioned his early years:
Hyman Kirsch learned how to formulate soft drinks before the turn of the century when he worked for a Russian family in the Crimea. After five years in the Russian army, he immigrated to England then the United States.
His obituary in the May 13, 1976 edition of the N. Y. Times (he lived to be 99 years old) picked up the story from there.
Mr. Kirsch came to this country in 1903, and the next year he went into the soft drink business in a 14-by-30-foot store in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Distribution of ginger ale and other sodas was by horse and buggy, and the daily production was 25 cases, made by hand.
Census records from 1910 indicate that Herfel immigrated to the United States from France in 1882. Prior to meeting Kirsch he was sometimes listed as a grocer in the Brooklyn directories.
Later Kirsch advertisements include the phrase “Since 1905,” so it appears that the two formed their partnership around that time. The first listing I can find for Kirsch and Herfel is in the 1907 Trow Business Directory for Brooklyn and Queens. Their address, 67 Bartlett, was in Williamsburg so it’s quite possible that it’s the location referenced in Kirsch’s obituary. A year later, the 1908 Trow Business Directory listed their address as 244 Scholes Street where they remained for the next 12 years. According to the November, 1915 issue of a publication called the “New Confectioner,” the business incorporated around that time with capital of $10,000.
In this April 26, 1919 Brooklyn Daily Eagle advertisement the company called themselves manufacturers of soda water and another beverage called Golden Dwarf Celery Tonic.
They also served as one of three local Brooklyn bottlers for Ward’s Orange and Lemon Crush as evidenced by a series of Eagle advertisements in 1920
Around this time, with prohibition just enacted, the company was feeling optimistic and broke ground on a new plant. According to this January 24, 1920 story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle,
Soda Water Firm Building Big Plant
Ground has been broken for the new plant at 172-6 Cook St. of Kirsch & Herfel Co., Inc. of 244 Scholes St. The new establishment, which will be devoted to making soda water and celery tonic, will be ready to use about April 1.
The building will be 225 feet long, extending from Cook St. to Flushing Ave. The latest model machinery, purchased during the convention in Chicago in November will be installed.
No interim in the business due to moving will occur. The old plant will be kept in full operation until the new has completely taken over the load carried by its predecessor.
Due to prohibition and other causes, the company expects a bumper season this summer and is already keeping a full force at work, although it is the winter season. In some quarters the soda water companies are expecting to step in where the breweries stepped out and take over the enormous business of quenching the nation’s mid-summer thirst. Although Kirsch & Herfel do not go so far as to predict that soda water will build up great castles of industry, such as the modern brewery had grown to be, they are very sanguine of the outlook for the coming year.
Despite the optimistic outlook, five months after this story was published, an item in the June 22, 1920 edition of the New York Times announced that the Kirsch & Herfel corporation had been dissolved. Whether the dissolution had been planned all along or was the result of a recent development is not clear, but by August, the business had moved into the new plant and was continuing as H. Kirsch & Co.
The August 28, 1920 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle covered the story.
Kirsch & Herfel Now H. Kirsch & Co.
The old soda water firm of Kirsch & Herfel is now continuing the business under the name of H. Kirsch & Co., located at 923 Flushing Ave. and 172 Cook St.
It was this firm which made the old reliable Golden Dwarf celery tonic, popular even at the bar of that merry old John Barleycorn person.
The company’s business has grown since the institution of prohibition. It is now the largest soda and mineral water bottling plant in Brooklyn and maintains a large fleet of trucks to care for its boro business and out of town trade.
According to an official of the company, a great many people have been coming direct to the factory to fill their orders. The plant has been working to capacity.
Advertisements for the new business began appearing in the Eagle in early September, 1920.
The demand was such that according to this March 19, 1921 story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, by the following summer they had doubled the capacity of their new plant in an effort to expand their product line.
Soda Water Plant Enlarges Capacity
In anticipation of a long spring and summer, H. Kirsch & Co. have doubled their capacity by extensive alterations and additions to their factory for soft drinks at 923-925 Flushing Avenue. These extensions are now complete and include a new washing machine capable of turning out several thousand clean and sterilized bottles per hour.
This company, taking prohibition by the forelock put on the market a drink called Golden Dwarf Orangeade, which quickly caught public fancy. Although the company specializes on soda water and celery tonics, sold throughout the Greater City, its new orange drink will occupy a large part of the old plant’s capacity.
The extension is devoted chiefly to bottle washing, this operation in the preparation of soft drinks for the market requiring considerable space, not for machinery so much as for stacking up clean “empties” waiting to be filled.
Sometime around 1930 the company expanded further, acquiring another soda manufacturer, also located in Williamsburg, called T.F. Ness & Son.
After prohibition they continued to be successful and sometime in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s they changed their name to Kirsch Beverages, Inc. By the late 1940’s they were manufacturing 16 different flavored drinks as evidenced by this 1949 Brooklyn Daily Eagle advertisement.
In 1952, the No-Cal Corporation was formed as an affiliate of Kirsch Beverages, Inc. to produce a new line of sugar free soft drinks. Hyman Kirsch’s 1976 New York Times obituary described how the “sugar free” concept got started.
Mr. Kirsch began the commercial production of sugar free soft drinks in 1952, when he started distributing them through dietetic outlets under the No-Cal brand.
The idea for the product was the byproduct of one of his many philanthropic activities. As vice president of the Jewish Sanitarium for Chronic Diseases, he and his son, Morris, had become concerned about the lack of a sugar-free, nonalcoholic beverage for diabetic patients of the sanitarium.
They got together in the laboratory at Kirsch Beverages with Dr. S. S. Epstein, their research director, and explored the field of synthetic sweeteners. Saccharine and others left a metallic aftertaste. Then, from a commercial laboratory, they obtained cyclamate calcium, which proved satisfactory in soft drinks produced for diabetic and cardiovascular patients in the sanitarium.
No-Cal Ginger Ale was first to hit the market in March, 1952 and by the end of the year four additional flavors were being sold. This early ginger ale advertisement appeared in several June, 1952 issues of the New York Daily News and Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
By December the advertisements included Cola, Cream Soda, Black Cherry and Root Beer as well.
Originally intended for dieters and those with medical issues like diabetes, it wasn’t long before the company focused their marketing efforts on the public at large. The reasoning behind this change was explained in an April 10, 1953 story in the Long Branch (New Jersey) Daily Record.
More than a year ago Kirsch Beverages, Inc. marketed their new sugar free NO-CAL ginger ale. Aimed primarily at the dietetic and diabetic markets, NO-CAL was an immediate sales sensation.
As sales doubled and re-doubled with each passing month, the pleasantly amazed Kirsch people enlarged their bottling capacity and developed four new NO-CAL flavors, cream, cola root beer, black cherry.
In an effort to determine the “why” behind the “buy,” Grey Agency, which handles Kirsch advertising, conducted an intensive survey in metropolitan area supermarkets. The survey revealed the amazing fact that only half of regular NO-CAL buyers are on a diet. This means that a market of literally millions of non-dieting, yet weight conscious, soft drink buyers is wide open for NO-CAL
In an all out effort to capture this huge market, Kirsch is initiating this program with a quarter-of-a-million dollar “saturation advertising campaign.
Their focus on the weight conscious market is exemplified by this 1954 advertisement that appeared in the New York newspapers. With the tag line “Time to Switch to NO-CAL,” the advertisement was designed to make you weight conscious even if you weren’t!
Another series of advertisements in the mid-1950’s highlighted the star of a current movie, always slim and female, promoting both the movie as well as NO-CAL. An advertisement from July/August, 1956, which was typical of the series, featured Kim Novak and the movie “The Eddie Duchin Story.” It reads in part:
You know Kim Novak as a NO-CAL girl! You see the slender modern look…sense the relaxed “enjoy life”air. You know Kim refreshes with NO-CAL.
Other advertisements featured Mamie Van Doren in “Running Wild,” Julie Adams in “All Away Boats,” and Jan Sterling in “The Troubleshooter.”
By the 1960’s their slogan had become:
In 1969, when the United States banned the use of cyclamates in food and drink products, it could have spelled the end of the company, but according to a June 23, 1971 feature on Kirsch in the Tampa Bay (Florida) Tribune:
Our first decision the morning after the ban was announced was that we wouldn’t go out of business. That gave us just eight weeks to develop a new formula and market it.
This October 22, 1969 New York Times News service story found in the Franklin (Pennsylvania) News Herald demonstrated that they had been up to the task.
The nation’s diet food and soft drink manufacturers rushed out new-product announcements yesterday, indicating they had been prepared for the Government’s ban on the use of the artificial sweetener cyclamate in general-purpose food products.
The Government’s action was announced on Saturday. By nightfall yesterday, a number of leading soft drink manufacturers and others involved in the $1 billion low-calorie market had reported they were ready to market new, cyclamate-free beverages and other products within a matter of days or a few weeks at most…
No-Cal Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kirsch Beverages, Inc. will have a new line of No-Cal drinks on the market in about two weeks. A company spokesman said they will contain sacharrin and a small amount of sugar, adding about 10 to 14 calories to the drinks.
Both Kirsch Beverages, Inc. and No-Cal Corporation remained under control of the Hirsch family until 1980. Morris Kirsch, Hyman’s son, had joined the company in 1926 and assumed the presidency of Kirsch Beverages sometime in the early 1940’s. By 1971, according to the Tampa Tribune feature on the business, Morris’s sons, David and Lee, were presidents of No-Cal Corporation and Kirsch Beverages respectively, and both Hyman, at the age of 94, and Morris were still active on the board of directors. Around this time the business moved to a new location in College Point Queens at 112-02 15th Avenue.
Hyman died in 1976 at the age of 99 and his son Morris retired in 1980. At that time the Kirsch companies were acquired by a Philadelphia bottler named Harold Honickman. According to January 21, and March 19, 1980 articles in the Daily News, shortly after acquiring Kirsch, Canada Dry awarded him a bottling and distribution franchise and their products were added to his College Point production line of Kirsch and No-Cal sodas.
That was the beginning of the end for the Kirsch companies that ultimately fell victim to consolidation in the soda industry. The end of the line came sometime in the mid-1980’s. It was summed up like this in a July 26, 1987 story in the New York Daily News:
After years of mergers, the man who would be king today is Harold Honickman, head of Pennsauken, N. J. based Honickman Enterprises.
The leading independent bottler of Canada Dry products gradually acquired such city favorites as Dr. Brown, Kirsch, Hammer, Hoffman, Kirsch’s No-Cal brand and Meyers 1890. Though distribution is somewhat limited, all brands but Kirsch and Meyers are still alive.
The 244 Scholes Street address no longer exists and is now within the limits of Ten Eyck playground which is under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks and Recreation.The building currently located at the 172 Cook Street address is likely the building built by Kirsch & Herfel in 1920.
The College Point plant is now owned by Pepsi.
So, you ask, “What became of Henry Herfel?” Well he certainly didn’t achieve the same notoriety as Hyman Kirsch. A year after their partnership was dissolved, he established another Brooklyn soda water company named Herfel & Co. The company was listed as a new corporation, with capital of $20,000, in the April 15, 1921 edition of the New York Times. The incorporation notice named Herfel, along with J. Grodinsky and E. Heyman as directors. The initial company address was 215 Montague Street.
By the mid 1920’s, the directories listed the company address as 257 Ellory Street with Morris and Sam Shapiro named as proprietors. Herfel was no longer mentioned. A notice in the June 8, 1934 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced that the corporation had dissolved.
The bottle I found is machine made and 27 oz. It’s embossed with the name “Kirsch & Herfel Co., Inc.,” which dates it between 1915, when the original business incorporated, and 1920, when it dissolved.