Postcards are an interesting look at distilling heritage. Most people think of postcards as a picture of an exotic place you send to friends while you are on vacation. Manufacturing plants are not what comes to mind when sending a postcard. Pictures of beaches, mountain scenery, National Monuments like Mt. Rushmore or natural wonders like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls are what most people think of as a classic postcard. However, there is a long tradition of distillery postcards that dates back to pre-Prohibition days. This alone proves that there has always been some interest in visiting the place where their favorite whiskey was being made. During the G.A.R. Encampment held in Louisville in 1895 I.W. Bernheim offered a special street car to veterans who wanted to visit his distillery and offered post cards as one of the gifts to remember the visit. E. H. Taylor and Sons had postcards of their distillery castle, sunken gardens and spring house to offer to visitors. Bourbon tourism was large enough that postcards were offered even in the pre-Prohibition days.
This postcard is from the late 1930s and shows the new construction at the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Ky. Schenley purchased the I. W. Harper brand and distillery in 1937. They immediately started expanding the campus by building a bottling house and additional warehouses. They were proud of the fact that they used all of the latest technology such as heated, brick warehouses and automated bottling lines to produce I. W. Harper. They chose an architect that would design the building to match that modern philosophy. The postcard proudly states above the bottling house that “I.W. Harper is bottled in one of Kentucky’s most modern plants”. The image between the warehouses shows the automated system for moving barrels between warehouses using a rail system.
This was actually the old Max Selliger Belmont and Astor Distilleries before Prohibition. With repeal, two Chicago investors purchased this distillery and the Bernheim Distillery on Bernheim Lane, south of the city of Louisville. They closed Bernheim because the distillery was the smaller of the two and needed more repair work to bring it back, but the Bernheim name was more well known and I.W. Harper was the bigger brand, so they renamed the Selliger site to “Bernheim Distillery” and started making Harper in downtown Louisville. They sold to Schenley in 1937 but remained as Vice Presidents in the Schenley organization.The warehouses are now part of the Heaven Hill Bernheim Distillery complex. I believe they use them for aging products other than their Bourbons. Heaven Hill prefers iron-clad warehouses for aging their Bourbons. The bottling house was sold decades ago and now houses another business, but is still standing in the shadow of the Bernheim warehouses.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller. Post card from the archives of Michael Veach.