Toledo Irish: Mohr Bros Bottling Company
by Maury Collins
John Mohr is a long-time member of the John P. Kelly AOH Division (Lucas County). I spoke to John about Mohr Bros. pop always being available at parish functions at old St. Ann’s Church, and at dances and summer picnics with the Irish Benevolent Club. John shared stories about the family business, which lasted ninety-three years.
Mohr Bros. Bottling Works was established in early spring of 1902. The first office and plant were at Mettler and Lagrange and later purchased land and an old house, at the corner of Lagrange and Palmer. The family investors were Henry (Henny), Edward S. Mohr and James Faurot, a brother in law.
William and Henry were twins. They had another brother, Johnny Mohr, who ran an ice cream and sweet shop at Lagrange and Hausman. The building is still there and has the name “Mohr’s Town Station” cemented into the top of the framework.
It was a stop on the inter- urban rail/streetcar, which went from there to Manhattan Blvd. and then on to Toledo Beach. Johnny Mohr’s (John’s namesake) Sweetshop also had card games. The numbers racket was run out of the back room.
That was quite common at that time and also quite illegal. Johnny Mohr was not involved in the soft drink business, but he would lend the brothers money when they started to buy bottles, extract and other supplies. Everything was paid C.O.D. since it was a new business.
Putting the Horse on the Train
As the business grew, the need for a larger plant became necessary. There was also a need for a stable for the horses and space for the horse drawn carts with special design sides. The horses and carts were put on a rail car, which would take them to Defiance, Napoleon, most of Wood County, and to Adrian, Morenci and Monroe, Michigan.
The driver would go with the train and stay in their area from Tuesday until Friday; local stables were contracted to house the horses. There were smaller carts for local areas: Toledo, Maumee, Point Place, Erie and Luna Pier.
In about 1915, a fleet of four or five trucks was purchased. They kept six horses for a couple of years for short runs and truck breakdowns.
On January 20, 1920, the company was incorporated and became the Mohr Bros. Bottling Company. Common stock was offered for sale and some stocks were given to long time employees with their bonuses. Changes were made in the board of directors. Henry and William retired, giving their stock to their children and Grandchildren.
The President was Edward S. Mohr, (John’s Grandfather); Vice President was James Faurot; the Secretary-Treasurer was John’ Father, Alton Mohr, who was just back from World War I; the 2nd Vice-President was William Maska (Son in Law of Henry Mohr); the Office Manager was William F. Corrigan (Son in Law of Edward Mohr). He was also just home from World War I.
The company began by supplying beverages to candy stores and social events, like ice cream socials and outdoor events. Later their market was mainly taverns and grocery stores, but they also sold cases of soda to church functions and other organizations.
Through the years, Mohr Bros. stuck to its line of old-fashioned flavors, like root beer, ginger ale, lime, orange, blood orange, cherry, grape, cream, strawberry, grapefruit, lemon-lime and cola. Mohr Bros became beer distributers from about 1923 until Prohibition, for Anheuser – Busch products. When prohibition was ended, they continued to sell Budweiser and Michelob.
At that time, Michelob was only available in kegs. They always had a regional beer, which was cheaper for back up. The “back-up” beers included Pheiffers, then later it was Altes Lager and then Weidemann. There was also a beer called Marsh from Michigan, and Erin Brew, a great Irish brewery, from Cleveland.
Ted Eash was President & CEO. His ruddy face was a picture of Ireland. Ted was always right there with his sales force; he would hop on a truck and run the route with the Mohr Bros. driver. Ted was always with his distributors in March (the Green season) and the beer flowed like water (Holy Water).
The glory days for beer distributors was coming to an end. Brewers wanted to go to bigger regional distributors. Budweiser wanted to take the beer from Mohr Bros and give it to Treu House of Munch, because they had the distributorship at Saginaw. Bay City area covering all of the Michigan Lower Peninsula above Detroit.
Brewers did not offer franchisers or contracts. It was order to order, so Mohr Bros had no recourse. However, Max Treu and Leo Munch said they would not take the distributorship from Mohr Bros. They paid $30,000 over three years for a couple of trucks and good will.
The Mohr Bros beer sales manager at that time was Barney Quilter. Barney was a good friend of the Budweiser sales manager for Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky, Stan Robinson. Stan refused to be the hatchet man for the brewery against Mohr Bros., resulting in him being transferred to Kansas, Nebraska and Montana.
Barney Quilter went on to become an Ohio State Representative (see the May issue of the OhioIANews). Barney, along with House Leader Vern King, wanted to make breweries give a 180-day notice before canceling a contract with a distributor. The final law required a 90-day notice.
Mohr Bros. hired high school students from the two nearby high schools (Central Catholic and Woodward High) every summer. John himself started working there at age fifteen and worked there for twenty-four years. He did everything from mixing soda flavors to driving a delivery truck, being a salesman and served on the board of directors. Even after he left the company, he continued to help out on a part-time basis, and served on the board of directors as Secretary Treasurer.
Mohr Bros. was sold in 1983 to John Kolb, who was formerly with Vernors, Inc. Richard Mohr, whose grandfather was one of the original founders, stayed on as company president.
The company was renamed the Kolb Beverage Company and sold a total of sixteen flavors at that time. Richard Mohr eventually bought the company back from Kolb. He had started working at Mohr Bros. in 1940, at the age of 14. Richard had a reputation for being very hands-on with the business; he could be seen on the factory floor in work clothes, mixing the soda flavors by hand, referring to the recipe book containing the company’s eighty-year-old formulas. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 75.
“They were locked into the old standards, and Richard Mohr just hung in there with that,” his brother said. “He kept a lot of customers, even when he was down to three people working there. It was pride, because he was the third generation of Mohrs in the business.”
*Maury Collins is a Charter Member and past president of the John P. Kelly Division AOH and a proud first-generation Irish American. Contact him at [email protected].