Joseph Wolf was born in Darmstadt, Germany, and immigrated to Chicago in his early teens. Arriving in steerage, he worked at odd jobs until he landed a job of liquidating a stock of whiskey on commission. He became a successful whiskey broker. He was a founder of the National Wholesale Liquor Dealers Association in 1895. Wolf began distributing Old Pepper when he purchased his first shipment by sight draft, payable in ninety days. When the barrels were delivered, he used the bill of lading to borrow an additional $5.00 per barrel from Chicago banks. He successfully sold this shipment. He paid the sight draft early and used the profits to purchase another shipment.[i] By 1899, he was the sole distributor of the whiskey in the United States.
In May 1907, he acquired the James E. Pepper & Company from Pepper’s estate for $400,000. Wolf reincorporated the distillery as the James E. Pepper Distillery Company. He created the slogan “Born With The Republic.” He operated the distillery until Prohibition (1920) and thereafter the warehouses were used as concentration houses for whiskey. In 1920, the company began bottling medicinal whiskey.
In December 1921, the Dearborn Independent newspaper attacked the “Jewish Control” of the distilled spirits industry. The article noted that James E. Pepper Whiskey was owned by James (Joseph) Wolf. The newspaper was owned by Henry Ford.
[i] Lexington Leader, May 17, 1907, page 1, column 4 – 5 and May 20, 1907, page 1, column 4.
[ii] Lexington Herald, April 7, 1929, page 12, column 5.
[iii] Townsend, William H., Hundred Proof, University of Kentucky, Lexington, 1964, page 98 – 101.