Resetting the Carioca Rum narrative

Resetting the Carioca Rum narrative

One of the benefits of publicly sharing the results of my research the way I do on this blog is that occasionally interested parties will find the information and then get in touch with me. 

Such was the case a month ago, when I received an email from Dr. Michael M. Topp, a professor of history at the University of Texas El Paso. He had read my decade-old old blog reports about our grandfather's history at the American Spirits Co. and about the various characters involved in the related story about Carioca Rum. 

It turns out that Professor Topp's grandfather was another character in the story. I'll tell more about him in time, but the capsule summary is that Isidor Topp from Bayonne, N.J., was brought in by Sidney Kessler in 1936 to oversee the building of the Carioca Rum distillery facilities in Puerto Rico. He then stayed on for some years to manage the distillery operations until Kessler sold the company in 1947.

There are a number of things to learn here, but let's begin by picking up where we left off in 2010. Carioca Rum was a flagship liquor brand for The American Spirits Co. Walter Ruby the elder was the marketing man in New York who devised cocktail recipes and advertising slogans the company. In 1938, he resigned suddenly after the company was apparently sued by Coca Cola Co. for trademark infringement. 

American Spirits grew its brands and market share in the following years. The Carioca Zombie was a hit. Walter's brother-in-law Lee Klein still worked at the company. Sidney Kessler owned the rum company that was the company's major brand, and was part owner of the parent company. 

In 1943 a Congressional committee led by Missouri Democrat C. Jasper Bell investigated the wartime economic conditions in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, including allegations of graft and corruption in the island administration. Ten years ago, I had run across a small excerpt from the Congressional testimony that mentioned Carioca Rum and Sidney Kessler in connection with an apparent scheme to evade wartime shipping regulations.

There was not enough of the testimony then available online to understand what it was really about. What Michael Topp was bringing to my attention, among other things, was that the full text of the Bell Committee hearings is now available as a free Google ebook. I could now learn the full story about the allegations that had been lodged against Sidney Kessler and Carioca Rum. 

I'll come back in a day or two with more on that, and then get on to what else I learned from Michael Topp.