Here’s a beer bottle for your Thanksgiving holiday weekend. And a mystery – who was Michael Staiger, and what and where was his Hopewell Bottling Company?
** See Update below – 11/29/20 **
This bottle, inherited from a Hopewell Borough relative, is marked as:
– M. ST. / Hopewell Bottling Company / New Jersey / Registered This Bottle Not To Be Sold
– the bottom is marked “H” (double impression)
– the top has a clamp stopper
and reportedly the “M. ST.” is for Michael Staiger, and the bottle was for beer, circa 1890.
So let’s do some research, looking in public records, and local references, and newspapers.
First, searching online for Michael Staiger and the Hopewell Bottling Company finds very few results. There are a couple references to Staiger bottles in Hopewell Borough, and one bottle that was sold on eBay that connects the Staiger name to Hopewell Bottling, marked as:
– Michael Staiger & Co / Hopewell N.J.
– the bottom is marked Karl Hutter / New York / 45-N
Then, searching public records for Michael Staiger finds only one person in this area, in Trenton. This Michael Staiger was born in 1826 in Württemberg, Germany, and died in 1899 in Trenton. The newspaper reports of his death at age 74 described him as a prominent citizen who lived in Trenton nearly all of his life, had a saloon on North Warren Street, and was a member of city council.
Staiger is listed in the 1870 and 1880 U. S. Census with the occupation “Lager Beer Saloon,” on Warren Street. Searching the Trenton papers finds numerous references: In 1867 he took over Jacob Hetzel’s Lager Beer Saloon at 82 Warren Street, and then paid license fees through the 1870s and 1880s (which were variously listed as for liquors, ale and beer, and tavern and bowling alley).
Newspapers and References
On to newspapers – but searching the Hopewell Herald for “Staiger” or “Bottling Company” finds nothing! And there are no hits in other Hopewell references.
However, the Trenton Evening Times adds one more interesting connection: Michael Staiger “of Hopewell”[?] applied for a license for a “new place” in Hopewell in 1896, and was then rejected in November 1897. The “new place” must have been some kind of hotel / tavern, since the paper notes that “This leaves two licensed hotels [in Hopewell], those conducted by Peter Van Fleet [now the Hopewell House at West Broad and Mercer] and Andrew Cray [now the Hopewell Bistro & Inn at East Broad and Seminary].”
Which brings us to the blockbuster find – a newspaper advertisement from the same year in The World (New York, N. Y.) on May 31, 1897, offering the Hopewell Bottling Co. for sale, and listing its property and supplies:
HOPEWELL BOTTLING CO.’s establishment for sale at Hopewell, N. J.: consists of house, barn, wagon house, ice house and pond and bottling house, 3 horses, 3 wagons, 2 set harness, 40 gross bottles, 100 boxes and different articles for bottling; established route; good-paying business. For terms address M. STAIGER, Hopewell Bottling Co., or John L. Rosso, Jr., Kingston N. J., or H. Prayer, 840 N. 7th st., Philadelphia, Pa.
So the Hopewell Bottling Co. sure looks like a significant business! So does anyone know where the Hopewell Bottling Company was located, and how Michael Staiger was involved?
However, our Hopewell bottle has just an “H” on the bottom of the bottle, so maybe this is for Hopewell, or for Hutter, or a misprint for his earlier mark of “KH”?
As a digression, note these is another name on the bottom of the eBay bottle, “Karl Hutter.” It turns out that Karl Hutter was an entrepreneur and inventor of bottle closures, best known for popularizing and enhancing the design of levered closures. He held the 1893 patent for the Hutter Stopper that used a porcelain stopper with a rubber washer to hold the seal. These were very popular from around 1877 to 1930, especially for beer bottles, and are still used today, especially for larger jars. (See Society for Historical Archaeology paper, 2016.)
Finally, to add to the confusion, there was a different Hopewell Bottling Company in 1916 in Hopewell, Virginia (south of Richmond), that also was looking for investment.
Thanks to Dick Sudlow for kindly sharing the mystery bottle.
Update – 11/29/20
Bob Warznak kindly forwarded feedback from bottle expert Jerry Pevahouse, who linked issues with getting liquor licenses with the growing interest in Prohibition (passed in 1920). And there’s more on bottler John L. Rosso in Kingston, who is listed as a contact in the sales ad for the Hopewell Bottling Co.
From Bob Warznak:
There is a lot of history on John L. Rosso who was a bottler in Hopewell (as mentioned in your post) but moved to Kingston. I reached out to Jerry Pevahouse, who will be giving a program in the spring about local bottlers for HVHS and the Hopewell Museum. I asked him about Staiger but he has found too much on him. Here’s the posts on the NJ Bottle Forum.
From Jerry Pevahouse:
Staiger ‘s name didn’t come up during my research of Trenton and local bottlers. Actually your friend has a lot of information on Staiger compared to most bottlers. It was very common for tavern and hotel keepers to do some bottling on the side as a compliment to their main business. I counted about 40 bars, taverns and saloons operating in Trenton at the turn of the century. Staiger had a lot of competition.
That would explain his interest in moving out to Hopewell. Also, there was a growing support for prohibition of alcohol which is probably why he was not granted a license in Hopewell. After the murder of John L. Rosso Jr. in 1903, his father John Rosso Sr. applied for a license to continue the business in Kingston but was refused. Surely a lot of liquor licenses were refused during the early 1900s.
Considering competition and the growing support for prohibition it’s easy to understand why Staiger’s bottling enterprise was short lived. Bottling equipment, supplies and labor made selling a bottle of beer for 5 cents or less not very profitable. There were a lot of negatives to going into the bottling business which made the majority of small companies last only a few years at best.