Thursday, May 21, 2015

Brooklyn Waterfront Watch: Stacking coffee as high as an elephant's eye -- on the eve of Prohibition


"Coffee in Brooklyn," c1920 (click to enlarge). On the flip
side of the photo there's a link to Prohibition! Read on.

by Ken

Of course you know all about "Postcard Thursday" from the Inside the Apple team of Michelle and James Nevius, right? Well, they're not the only ones regularly sending out great archival pictures. The Brooklyn Historical Society dips into its overflowing archives for a "Photo of the Week," and for some reason I can't stop looking at this week's, titled "Coffee in Brooklyn." I don't know, maybe it's the coffee-hoisting getup of the gent on the right, from boots to hat, or maybe it's the totality of the fashion statement made by him and his partner in hoisting. Or maybe it's trying to figure out what exactly our power lifters are going to do with that coffee bag or whatever it is they've got in high-hoist mode.

The photo is presented by BHS digitization associate Tess Colwell:
Artisanal coffee roasters have been popping up everywhere in Brooklyn in recent years, but it might come as a surprise that Brooklyn has a long history of coffee roasting that spans long before it was considered hip. The photo of the week was taken around 1920 in a warehouse at Bush Terminal (now Industry City) and features two men lifting a large bag of coffee. To me, the most interesting part of this photograph is actually the verso (i.e. the text written on the back of the photograph). It speaks to the sentiment towards prohibition at the time and the opportunity for growth in the coffee industry. It reads,

“MORE COFFEE DRINKING WHEN NATIONAL PROHIBITION COMES — A STORY OF PRODUCTION. Stacking coffee in a big warehouse at the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn, N.Y. Coffee from Central America. Scientists say that every adult takes some kind of a stimulant, and coffee is the most widely used of all the stimulants. When all traffic in intoxicants is stopped, millions of people will drink more coffee. The consumption of coffee will increase greatly through the lunch room trade. Hundreds of thousands of people will go into lunch rooms and eat pastry and drink strong coffee instead of going to saloons for drinks, when prohibition puts an end to all saloons in this country.”

While it’s not entirely true that prohibition led to increased coffee consumption, it’s true that the popularity of coffee was on the rise. In the early 20th century, Brooklyn was roasting more coffee than any other place in America. John Arbuckle (1839-1912) is credited as pioneering the way we purchase coffee today—roasting and grinding beans onsite, packaging coffee in one pound bags, and marketing it to different consumers around the country. By 1909, Arbuckle was roasting about 25 million pounds of coffee a month. Arbuckle Brothers continued to roast and store coffee at the Brooklyn waterfront factory until 1930, when it was sold to General Foods.
BHS has teamed up with Brooklyn Bridge Park to produce a Brooklyn Waterfront History website, which promises "much more about the history of coffee in Brooklyn, as well as other interesting historical facts about the waterfront." You can begin exploring BHS's online photo gallery here. Finally, to receive BHS's "Photo of the Week" along with news about the society's rich assortment of public programs (the BHS building itself, on Pierrepont Street in Downtown Brooklyn, is a landmark and well worth a visit in its own right), you can sign up here.


Today's isn't. A postcard, I mean. It's a stamp.

On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. To honor that achievement, the U.S. Postal Service issued the above airmail (or "air mail") stamp on June 11, just three weeks after the historic landing. That was the same day Lindbergh received the Distinguished Flying Cross, but five days before he collected his $25,000 prize from Raymond Orteig for making the flight.

[More about the flight, and a pic of Lucky Lindy, onsite.]

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