Civil War Talk Radio: October 3, 2008

Air Date: 100308
Subject: Lincolns Labels
Book: Lincoln’s Labels: America’s Best Known Brands and the Civil War
Guest: James M. Schmidt

Summary: Fellow blogger Jim Schmidt discusses his new book Lincoln’s Labels.

Brett’s Summary: Gerry notes there will be no show on October 10 at the top of this week’s episode.  In an interesting aside, Gerry mentions that those who want to end up on the show should send him their book or material so he can judge for himself if he wants you on.

Jim is a bio-analytical chemist in his day job.  He mentions his chemistry interest came prior to his Civil War interest, and that a business trip to Richmond over a decade ago led to his eventual immersion into the Civil War.  Due to his day job, Jim became interested in the medical and pharmaceutical sides of the war.  Jim was actually able to go back and let the NPS ranger who first led him on a tour of the Richmond battlefields know how his interest started with that tour.  Jim has written in North & South’s Knapsack section in the past, and these items found their way into Lincoln’s Labels.

Milton Bradley, the game maker, had initially been a print maker, but his failure involving the sale of prints of a beardless Lincoln pushed him into the game making business.  Bradley introduced the The Checkered Game of Life in 1860 and it sold well during the war.  This story did not make it into the book, but Jim has some interesting things to add.

The discussion turns to Proctor & Gamble and its influence on the war.  P&G were candle and soap makers and became one of the most popular companies in the North due to the advertising of their brand name.

Jim talks a little about how he did research on the individual companies which appear in Lincoln’s Labels to end the first 20-minute portion of the episode.  Some of the companies have their own archives, others have put out commemorative histories, and some even appear in the Official Records.

To open the second section, Gerry asks Jim about Confederate companies still in existence today.  Jim found some, but none that would really strike a chord with readers today.

Talk turns to the Borden “meat biscuit”.  Borden had created condensed milk, which was a popular success during the war.  The meat biscuit, however, was not.  Despite some early indications of promise, the product never became a commercial success due to its less than palatable taste.

Brooks Brothers is the next company on the docket.  They were accused of making shoddy uniforms during the war.  Gerry mentions that the “ready to wear” market for clothing did not take off until after the Civil War.  The Brooks Brothers, however, were making this type of mass produced clothing prior to the war.

Talk of the Brooks Brothers leads Gerry to talk about the intersection of business and history.  He asks Jim why this topic hasn’t garnered more attention.  The author believes it is due to the tendency to focus on battles, leaders, and politics.

Tiffany is the next company discussed.  By the Civil War, Jim says the well known jewelry company was “a high end store”.

Tiffany’s and Brooks Brothers were affected differently during the New York City Draft Riots.  Tiffany’s was protected, but one of the Brooks Brothers two stores in New York City was destroyed.  Proctor and Gamble came close to be affected by the war during the Confederate invasion of Kentucky.  P&G was located in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Confederates wanted to capture and/or destroy the DuPont Powder Works during the war, but their window of opportunity closed quickly.  I thought it was interesting that the works suffered an explosion on average every six months or so during the war.

At the start of the last third of the program, the making of officers’ swords by Tiffany’s is the topic of discussion.  Some of these beautiful, expensive swords were presented as gifts and made the jewelers famous.  Tiffany’s also made regimental flags for many units, and these were highly sought after items during the war.

Jim had a chapter on the magazine Scientific American, and Gerry talks about General Ripley, the Chief Ordnance Officer as a result.  Ripley refused to deal with many excellent inventions which could have helped win the war.  He gained a reputation of turning inventors down without really giving them a chance to demonstrate their inventions.  Jim sounded extremely excited about this topic during the interview, so I am especially looking forward to reading this portion of Lincoln’s Labels.  Gerry recalls that in the book Arming the Suckers, Ripley was applauded for doing the right thing because too many resources would have been wasted on potentially unusable weapons and other inventions.  Jim agrees with this thought.

To end the hour, Gerry asks Jim, as he has asked a lot of the recent guests, why he thinks non-professional historians are writing so many more interesting and accessible books than trained professional historians.  Gerry somewhat facetiously says he is “ready to throw in the towel” and asks Jim if he could get a job as a chemist.  Jim points out that he did consult quite a few professional historians on the book.  Gerry’s point is that he worries professional historians are not doing a good enough job to publish books which the public want to read.  Gerry compliments Jim on Lincoln’s Labels and says he greatly enjoyed it.

I honestly grew more excited about reading it myself after hearing about some of the interesting stories covered.  I think this particular book has some more mainstream appeal than your typical battle or campaign study.  I’ll be reviewing the book here on TOCWOC in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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2 responses to “Civil War Talk Radio: October 3, 2008”

  1. Jim Schmidt Avatar

    Brett – Thanks for the GREAT round-up of my appearance on Civil War Talk Radio last Friday. Gerry is a very gracious host and I had a great time. It’s very heartening to me that he saw merit in my work. I’m glad that my excitement over the *Scientific American* chapter came through to you…it’s my favorite chapter in the book.

    I’ll be sending you the review copy soon as well as an extra for a contest for your readers.

    Keep Up the Great Work!

    Jim Schmidt

  2. admin Avatar


    You are very welcome. It was an interesting hour. Like I said in the blog entry, I think your book is the type which can interest people who have never read about the Civil War before and aren’t into the detailed military history like myself and some others. This type of book has the potential to create new students of the conflict, which is always a good thing!


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