Walter Ruby at American Spirits


From the Blog

May 3, 2014 - 10:59

Other than having posted an artsy image of the Walter Ruby Jim Crax corkscrew, I see that I never gave a full account of how I came to acquire that precious bit of family memorabilia. So I'll recap the start of it and then resume posting with more recent related developments.

In July 2013 I was having a lot of success finding images and resale transaction records for Ruby patent corkscrews, but so far had not had a solid lead on how to possibly acquire one. Then Google revealed that one had sold on eBay just three months earlier in April. Looking at the transaction record on eBay I found that it did not identify the buyer but that I could contact the seller. I wrote to him with my story and asking if he would identify the buyer. He did, and soon I was in touch with Robert Leopardi, who turned out to be... more

November 14, 2013 - 17:12

I should have posted this in August when I received the Jim Crax corkscrew in a private sale. This is the Walter Ruby designed and manufactured pencil corkscrew. I also have hopes of acquiring a copy of the Knud Knudsen version of the device, but for now I am happy to have this family artifact. I am not a great photographer but here is my attempt to show it off in its environment.

July 24, 2013 - 11:23

Knud Knudsen came to America in 1906 as a laborer and hired hand and retired in 1958 as the president of a large industrial enterprise. But his heart and soul was in the metal shop as a tinkerer and inventor of consumer wares for enjoying spirits and tobacco. Even as Danbury Electric Manufacturing took off as a supplier of electrical components during the 1930s, he tinkered away with inventions for corkscrews, ashtrays, and bottle stoppers.

His 1940 census record identifies his occupation not as a corporate executive but as a novelty-maker in the metal goods industry. The image is the census record for Knudsen and his wife Christine (her Danish given name was Kirsten) for their address at 5 Osborne Rd. in Danbury, Conn. (highlighted) with an enlargement of the Knudsen information below. This... more

July 20, 2013 - 15:15

To learn more about Knud Knudsen, the inventor who bought the rights to my grandfather's corkscrew jimcrack, I started with the name of the company referenced in Knudsen's patent. In the filing, the patent is assigned to Danbury-Knudsen Inc., a corporation of Connecticut.

I quickly found out that the company was the successor to Danbury Electrical Manufacturing Co. and was a major supplier of automotive and industrial electrical components. Knud Knudsen was the founder and president until he sold the business to Amphenol Corp. in 1957.

That gave me pause because it seemed unlikely that same man who tinkered with corkscrews would also be a high-flying corporate executive. But as I worked it through, it was the same Knud Knudsen who headed an industrial enterprise who also tinkered around with... more

July 19, 2013 - 10:52

We don't have any information suggesting a connection between Walter Ruby's corkscrew patent and his subsequent death. On face value, the successful sale of his idea would seem to have been only good news for Walter and his business prospects. Nevertheless, the proximity of the dates is striking.

Knud Knudsen received his picnic corkscrew on June 27, 1939 and Walter died three weeks later on July 22. Of course the agreement they reached and payments made must have preceded the June date by several months, allowing for bureaucratic lag at the Patent Office.

July 19, 2013 - 10:18

New information discovered this week tends to confirm the story told by our father that his father Walter Ruby sold the rights to his corkscrew invention. Further searching on corkscrew collector sites revealed that an inventor named Knud Knudsen of Danbury, Conn., acquired the Ruby design in 1939 and used it to produce the two devices shown here.

It appears that Ruby and Knudsen independently devised the same S-shape cap lifter as a feature of their otherwise differing corkscrew inventions. Even though Knudsen may have filed for a patent first, Ruby was issued U.S. Design Patent 109,879 for a Combination Pencil, Corkscrew, and Bottle Opener on May 31, 1938.

It seems that this prior art then prevented Knudsen from gaining a patent for his Remover for Bottle Closures, the patent title for what... more

July 14, 2013 - 16:20

One thing I find especially interesting about the images we have of two Walter Ruby patented corkscrews (one is above) is that they are both inscribed with promotional information about Carioca Rum. That leads to the conclusion that even though he was no longer an employee of American Spirits at the time the corkscrews were manufactured he was still working on the company's behalf.

When I showed the new information to Walter the younger yesterday, he reminded me that he has reported family lore from Stanley that Walter received payments or royalties in the amount of $50,000 related to the corkscrew invention. I am wondering now if his major client remained American Spirits and that if it is the source of the funding. Maybe his departure from the company was not on the bad terms we supposed but in an... more

July 14, 2013 - 14:30

Yesterday I went back to polish up my Walter Ruby story on Treelines, which recounts information from this blog about his business history in the liquor industry in the 1930s. Included is a mention of a barman's tool invented by Walter Ruby, which he manufactured independently after leaving American Spirits in 1938. Previously we have only heard about this device, never seen photos or other evidence of the so-called invention.

So yesterday I was having trouble finding an image file for the story on my computer and so decided to run an image search on "Walter Ruby" in Google, since I knew I had found it online originally. Well, besides finding the image I was looking for, photographs and drawings of the fabled Walter Ruby invention showed up.

The first, above, is from a corkscrew collector's... more

June 14, 2013 - 13:22

I'm trying out a product called Treelines for presenting family narratives. Here is my first effort, entered in the company's contest for stories about getting started in genealogy.

September 23, 2010 - 19:38


Brilliant work! I'm pretty sure thats what got him fired. That's two times Coca Cola comes into Ruby family lore and things turn out badly; let's not forget that our great-grandfather Abraham Bloch (Walter's eventual father in law, who was in the seltzer business in Albany around 1910) was offered the franchise for upstate new York by a small upstart company from Atlanta that offered a syrupy new carbonated drink and he said, "Naw, I've got more than enough business already." For the rest of his life, whenever he had an idea or made a suggestion, people would say, "Yeah, yeah, and you're the guy who said no to Coca Cola." I drank a Diet Coke today (eveybody in Georgia still seems to drink Coke in support of the home team) and it tasted kind of weird to think of all the pain and grief those... more

September 23, 2010 - 14:36

Walter just called from Savannah GA, where he is on a mixed work-pleasure trip with Tanya, to discuss the latest Walter Ruby developments. I read to him the following expanded version of the snippet published in the previous post, which I had since managed to piece together from multiple searches in Google Books.

You will note an interesting article in connection with the first Fall meeting of the IBA, which meeting was addressed by a well-known wine and liquor authority, Mr. G. Selmer Fougner. This article leaves no doubt that the Carioca Rum Company is very closely associated with the Coca Cola Company in the promotion of a drink known as the Carioca Cooler. The presence of Mr. Homer Thompson of the New York Coca-Cola Bottling Company, at this meeting, is further indicative of the... more

July 29, 2009 - 11:16

Harriet Berkowitz followed through on her promise and yesterday I received her package containing about 20 photocopies of her family photographs. In many cases, these are the first photos we have seen of Rabinowitz family members. There are also new photos of our father and his parents that are new to us, plus the promised invitation to Stanley Ruby's bar mitzvah. Together they begin to paint a fuller picture of the Rabinowitz family.

It is going to take me a few days to get the images all scanned and processed. Here is a start. Click on the images to enlarge.

... more

August 8, 2007 - 12:03

I keep meaning to spend time researching microfilm of New York newspapers from the 1920s for more details on Walter Ruby's exploits during prohibition. As you may recall, we have NY Times articles about his 1922 indictment and the later dismissal of those charges, as well as an intriguing mention of him as a boxing manager.

I've been to New York twice now in recent months and both times was frustrated in my efforts. In April, the library was closed for a Jewish holiday the day I was there. Last week, I was very busy during my two days in the city and managed to get to the library just 45 minutes before closing. Most of that time was consumed learning how to retrieve microfilm and how to operate the machine.

So I had precious little time to get to the actual work. I did manage to find one... more

July 29, 2006 - 17:56

Good news, I've found a plausible Walter Ruby in New Jersey for the 1920 census, a good bet to be the young man who will be in a car accident in Jersey City 15 years later. He is Walter Ruby, 25, one of three Ruby-surnamed stepsons of Thomas Fahey of Jersey City Ward 10. This Walter Ruby was born in New Jersey of parents born in New York, like the one from the 1930 census. He is listed as being a clerk with a steel company.

Anyway, it puts to rest the whole double life scenario. Wild goose chase indeed. By the way, it is amazing just how many Walter Rubys there were with birth dates in the 1890s. There are WRs in Nebraska, Kentucky, Alabama, and several other places, in addition to the one in Manhattan and the one in Jersey City.

July 29, 2006 - 15:36

Remember that among the New York Times clippings about Walter Ruby that I discovered last year there was one that reported an auto accident taking place in Jersey City on June 14, 1936. A car driven by a Walter Ruby, age 41, of 110 Cottage Street in Jersey City, collided with another car, resulting in six injured people. One of the injured was Evelyn Ladd, 52, of the same address listed for Walter Ruby.

This article has been a continuing mystery. Perhaps it is a different Walter Ruby, though the age is about right. If it is our Walter, why does he have an address in Jersey City? I had came to the conclusion at that time that the reporter had made an error and gave the Cottage Street address for Ruby, particularly since I had interpreted the article as suggesting that Mrs. Ladd had been a passenger in... more

July 29, 2006 - 14:44

I mentioned yesterday that I signed up for a 14-day trial period with It has proven very useful so far, turning up various census and death records. If it continues to be useful, I will have to consider paying the very expensive membership fee--more than $300 a year or about $40 a month for access to their worldwide databases. I'm going to try to get as much use of it as I can in the trial period.

Two things of note I discovered today. I was doing searches on some of the Ratner children and was able to follow George and wife Emma to Englewood Cliffs, NJ, in 1920, where he was listed as a grocery proprietor. Household members were wife Emma, daughter Marjorie (age 2) and Emma's mother Louise Paeglow. From there I can follow Marjorie into her marriage with Robert K. Decker, evidently known... more