Monday, December 8, 2014

The House of Lazier Part Three - The House of Lazier

Our story begins on April 25, 1903 when the J. F. Lazier Manufacturing Company is incorporated in the State of Missouri by John F. Lazier, an immigrant from Canada, whom the American Bottler Magazine refers to as “Happy Jack” Lazier. The company is featured in a blurb in the January 1905 American Bottler in which they are touted as one of the best known, and up to date, houses in the line of bottling equipment repair. The items specifically mentioned are Carbonating and filling machines, regulators, syrup gages, and other equipment used in a bottling operation. There were also suppliers of this equipment as well as other bottler consumables including extracts, and concentrate in various flavors.

The pre-depression period was the boom period for the independent soda bottler in this country and Lazier did quite well providing repair services and individual machines for beverage production to them. I found several instances in the American Bottler issues of the period where he provided the equipment for entire bottling operations. Of course these operations would come to him for their consumable supplies as well. There doesn’t seem to be much information about specific brand names for these earlier syrups and bottle concentrates that Lazier was selling during the teens. This would of course start changing beginning in the early 1920’s when the Lazier Company obviously realized that they needed to start creating brands rather than just nameless generic flavors.

The first specific brand that I have found being registered by J. F. Lazier is the “pure orange extract” that he named Cinderella Orange in 1921, and is referred to in a 1925 ad as “The Drink of Fairyland”. Cinderella Orange was a cloudy orange soda that proved quite popular for many years. The next two flavors to join the line up are Little Boy Blue Grape and Peter Pan Cherry in 1925. Of course the Lazier Company would provide the labels, bottle caps, and advertising for these flavors. Knight Klub Pale Dry Champagne type Ginger Ale joins the ranks in 1927, followed closely by another Ginger Ale, perhaps a golden ginger ale, named Ivanhoe in 1928, only Knight Klub seems to have lasted into the 1930’s. Also In 1928 a brand is created which Charles E. Lazier claimed was “the first soda to use orange pulp and the oil of orange peels”. That brand is Golden Girl, a name that would figure prominently in the future of the company as well.

It is interesting that the brand that Golden Girl would be most associated with most would be the next J. F. Lazier brand to be registered on April 15, 1930. Of course I’m referring to the most famous brand that this company produced, Sun Drop; however, it would be twenty two years before two reformulations would evolve this soda from an orange soda, to carbonated lemonade, to the citrus cola type drink that would propel it into soft drink history. It was also in 1930 that the Federal Trade Commission would darken the J. F. Lazier Company’s door for the first time charging that the company was selling artificially flavored extracts and concentrates to bottlers and deceiving the buying public that they were being made by the real fruits or juices through advertising. They weren’t the first to have this claim leveled at them the same charges had been leveled at Nu-Grape back in the 1920’s causing them to have to put “not real grape juice” on their bottles. I’m not sure what was demanded of the Lazier Company as a result of this, but they didn’t stop using those names for the brands mentioned.

In fact they were still using them later in the thirties, and have even added some new brand names to the House of Lazier lineup. These include Indian Queen Root Beer which was “mellow, full bodied and rich”, Red Riding Hood Strawberry, Li-Mo (a lime flavored soda), and Mother Goose Pure Orange Extract which was an orange soda that bottled clear as opposed to the cloudy Cinderella Orange. The nineteen thirties would also see a change in leadership at the J. F. Lazier Manufacturing Company with Charles E. Lazier taking over the role of President. The first flavor that was registered on April 19, 1935 under his leadership was another one of their better known brands. This was the lithinated lemon soft drink / mixer known as Natural Set Up, which was aimed squarely at the market held by the fledgling Seven Up brand. Seven-Up took exception to this and filed suit against the Lazier Company over infringement of trademark in 1942, only to withdraw the suit in 1946.

The year 1935 would also see the registration of the trademark for the second most successful Lazier brand Mil-K-Botl, another orange drink, better known as Mil-Kay. Mil-K-Botl was created to recover the orange business that has been previously lost to the dairies. It started out as a non-carbonated drink in a bottle similar to a milk bottle, from which it most likely the origin of the Mil-K-Botl name, and evolved into an Orange Phosphate which had a large impact on the industry for twenty years. Charles Lazier was at it again in 1936 when he registered what can be said is the longest running brand still in the Lazier family’s hands, this of course would be Dair-E which was an orangeade, and eventually a grape punch as well. Yes it is strange that so many orange sodas are coming from this company; however, you have to remember that there have been several different types of orange soda available to the bottling industry over the years, and I have a feeling that all these different brands are being applied to different types of orange drinks, and some could be replacing old brands such as Cinderella and Mother Goose Orange.

They created a sales corporation which would evolve into a succession of different names usually reflected the largest brand for the company at that given time. The first of course was the Dair-E Sales Company which lasted until the Natural Set Up Sales Corporation was incorporated on May 25, 1936. In 1937 Sun Drop would receive its first reformulation into the “first natural pure lemonade” for the bottling industry, by the 1940’s two more Sun Drop flavors, Orange and Punch, would join Sun Drop Lemonade. On November 28, 1938 the name of the sales corporation would be changed to the Mil-K-Botl Corporation of America. The House of Lazier claims to have created the thicker glass ten ounce bottle with two ounces of extra glass in 1939, which would eventually be adopted by the rest of the bottling industry. The first to make use of this bottle was Mil-K-Botl whose name was shortened to Mil-kay and trademarked on September 28, 1940.

This is a good point to introduce Charles E. Lazier the second President of the J. F. Lazier Manufacturing Company. There are some legends surrounding the man, but the most prevalent seems to be the idea that he was a strongman in a circus or an ex-wrestler. I don’t know if either is true; however, one thing that you notice while looking through the advertising that he decided to use to promote his brands is that he does have a flair for the dramatic and bombastic, sometimes coming off like a side show barker. This might indeed reveal some experience in a circus, but I’ve found no substantial evidence that he was involved in either. He was a rotund gentleman, sometimes described as wider than he was tall, and this is where some of this strong man/wrestler legend tends to hang. Either way his approach to promoting his product reminds me a lot of one of his friends Charlie Gordon who approached Dr. Enuf like a snake oil salesman selling elixir in the old west, including testimonials from some of his customers. Who else but Charles E. Lazier, would devise ads where Golden Girl is riding a Sun Drop bottle into space, or running down imitator hillbillies with a chariot, and Kangaroos in boxing gloves that are “hopping mad”? I appreciate interesting promotional material for products and he knew very well how to capture your attention.

As we move into the 1940’s Mil-Kay is the more prominent of the House of Lazier brands, and would remain so for several more years. The Mil-K-Botl Corporation of America would be renamed the Mil-Kay Orange Corporation of America sometime around 1946. There doesn’t appear to have been many more brands added to the House of Lazier lineup during this decade, but that would soon change as decade wound down. The Federal Trade Commission would once again darken the Lazier’s door in the early 1950’s when they were hit with a cease and desist ruling against the use of the term orange for Mil-Kay and claiming that it was made with real oranges in their advertising. The company complied and removed any reference both implied or obvious in their advertising, and on their bottles, including changing the name of the sales corporation again by dropping the orange thus shortening it to just the Mil-Kay Corporation of America.

It was in 1952 when Charles Lazier decided to take his Sun Drop Lemonade, and reformulate it into what he dubbed a citrus cola known as Sun Drop and/or Golden Girl Cola. This new flavor was the first of its kind and was soon racking up quite a few franchises for the company. This success inspired Charles Lazier to start experimenting on the rest of his brands. The next to receive the reformulation treatment was Mil-Kay which was turned into an Orange Cola, and released in 1955 with a similar design to the Sun Drop bottle label. The Mother Goose brand was resurrected to become a flavor line of Punch Colas. This included a specifically designed ACL (applied color label) bottle with Mother Good Punch Cola on the main label, and the now reformulated flavors depicted around the shoulder. These included Peter Pan Strawberry, Little Boy Blue Grape, Little Red Riding Hood Cherry, and Mother Goose Orange. The earliest bottle I’ve seen is from 1958 which fits in with this period of reformulation, and is most likely the year it was released. The company changes the name of the sales corporation once again to the Sun Drop Sales Corporation in 1956. As we enter the 1960’s Charles Lazier comes up with another cola idea and this time it is one that he claims had never been bottled before. This was a brand called Ma Cherie Cola which was of course a cherry cola; however, by 1962 included an Orange and Grape Cola as well. They change their sales corporation name again to the Ma Cherie Sales Corporation during this period.

In 1964 an imitator of the citrus cola flavor model is sold to Pepsi-Cola by the Tip Corporation of America based in the small Appalachian town of Marion, VA. I’m referring to Mountain Dew, which starts taking the nation by storm in 1965 thus gaining imitators of its own very soon after it hits the market. This would hit the House of Lazier quite hard, as the very same rule that Pepsi had which necessitated the creation of the “new” Mountain Dew in the first place, is still very much in effect. That rule is that no Pepsi bottler could bottle any independent brand that had a flavor similar to an existing Pepsi product. Teem, a lithinated lemon soda, had caused Bill Jones, President of the Tip Corporation, to reformulate Mountain Dew in order to avoid this rule. Now with the introduction of Mountain Dew as a Pepsi product, many of the Pepsi bottlers who also carried Sun Drop had to stop bottling the brand, thus the House of Lazier was losing franchises. This speculation is backed up by a 1965 ad for Sun Drop where they threaten to go to the Federal Authorities to answer these “Unfair Trade Practices” that a certain “Carbonated Beverage Parent Company” (can you guess who?) were engaging in.

In order to capitalize upon the hillbilly theme that was making Mountain Dew so popular, Charles Lazier released Hill Billy Cola which was quickly renamed Hill Billy Brew/Little Brown Jug which “Tastes Better ‘cause it’s stilled better”. Unfortunately for the House of Lazier things were changing in the bottling industry during the 1960’s many independent bottlers were being either driven out of business or purchased by the bigger brands like Pepsi and Coke. The old model of flavor lines was falling out of favor as the larger corporations started releasing their own brands that competed directly with smaller ones, and of course putting in place rules forbidding their bottlers to bottle competing products.

The House of Lazier decided to pull out of the carbonated beverage business to focus on providing juice flavor concentrates for the dairy industry for which Charles E. Lazier, Jr. had started a branch corporation in 1953. They sold Sun Drop to Crush International, the makers of Orange Crush, in 1970. Mil-Kay would become an Orange Juice concentrate, which brought it full circle back to its original niche, and it is now known as Apache orange. Dair-e is the only original brand name that is still being used by Rocket Products today, and is now a lemonade concentrate. The House of Lazier is still around and now known as Rocket Products, thus the legacy of the House of Lazier continues.

1925 ad from the J. F. Lazier Company
1931 ad for Cinderella Orange

1931 House of Lazier ad

Little Boy Blue Grape cap

1931 ad for Peter Pan Cherry

1931 ad for Sun Drop Orange

1931 Folk Lore brand drinks ad

Dair-E Orange cap

28oz Natural Set Up bottle

12oz Dair-E Punch paper label bottle

Dair-E Punch Cap

Charles Lazier

10oz Dair-E bottle

9oz Mother Goose Punch Cola bottle 1958
9oz Ma Cherie Cola bottle 1960

9oz Ma Cherie Cola bottle 1962

9oz Ma Cherie Cola bottle 1967