The story of Jack
In the last one hundred years, one of Tennessees most
famous trademarks has been Jack Daniels whiskey. The man,
who go on to become one of the nations most recognizable
distillers got his start as a young boy in the backwoods of
middle Tennessee. Although his name is universally known around
the world, the story of his life has been shrouded in mystery
and legend. The industry, which he helped to found in Tennessee,
is today one of the biggest such operations in the nation and
one of the most popular American name brands of all time.
Jasper Newton Daniel was born on a Moore County farm in September
1850 to Calaway and Lucinda (Cook) Daniel. He was one of 12
children fathered by Calaway. There were many hardships endured
by the family, including the loss of Jaspers mother when
he was seven years old. When the young man was around the age
of 10, his father decided it was time for his son to learn a
With only a scant, but well-grounded basic education, Jasper
was hired out to the local Lutheran Minister, who also ran a
dry goods store in Lynchburg, TN. In those days, the local store
was more than a market. It provided families with everything
they needed to run a farm, a business, or a home.
The store keeper had to often be an individual of many talents
and skills a person who had to know how to make many
things wanted by his clientele. Like blacksmithing or any other
trade, it had to be taught and learned through the age old apprenticeship
methods. The young man received a sound education in the store
keepers trade from Rev. Dan Call and soon proved himself
to be a quick learner with a shrewd head for business. One of
Rev. Calls best known products, however, stemmed from
a whiskey still he operated on the Louse River near his store.
Like most Tennesseans of his day, he employed the ancient Scots-Irish
traditions of whiskey-making, but Call had been developing a
system of distillation that was unique to his own brand.
In those days, most whiskey that was made and sold was clear
in color or flavored with caramel, which gave it the amber look
most associated with the drink. It was only aged a few days
at most before being sold, which made most whiskeys taste the
Reverend Call used the traditional "sour mash" method
of leaving a little of the mash from earlier brews in the storage
vat to speed up the fermentation of subsequent mixes. In addition,
he used a troublesome filtering system called the "Lincoln
County process" to age his whiskey. Rev. Dan Call took
hard sugar maple and burned it to charcoal, which the whiskey
was then filtered through into barrels. While most distilleries
in Tennessee used the process at the time, it cost them both
time and money and led to many eventually abandoning the practice
for quicker profits. Call, however, was a true believer in the
"Lincoln County Process" and it was most notable to
his customers, who preferred the Ministers whiskey to
the others available in the region.
He taught Jasper the system along with his other working theories
gained by experimenting and years of experience. Jasper, who
was becoming known by his nickname "Jack", soon proved
he was an able brewmaster and capable of rivaling his teacher.
When war became imminent in the state in 1861, the Minister
and his young associate kept the business going as best they
could. Jacks youth kept him out of service, his family
was like most Tennesseans of the time and involved in the conflict.
One of his relatives served with Confederate General N.B. Forrest
and rode with him throughout the war. Jack Daniel and Rev. Call
managed to scratch out a living from the store and Jack would
often transport whiskey as far south as Huntsville, Al. In 1863
during a "Camp Meeting", a lady evangelist delivered
a fiery sermon that inspired Calls wife and congregation
to demand the minister make some hard choices. They told him
to get rid of his distillery operation or to resign his ministry.
Rev. Call decided to sell the business to his young associate.
Jack, who was 13 at the time and mourning the recent death of
his father, began to concentrate his time on the business and
was a one-man show for a while. He eventually was able to hire
a couple of people to help him and, eventually went looking
for a better place to locate his business.
Jack Daniel found a tract of land in Lynchburg that included
a limestone cave and spring. The pure spring water from the
cave became the most important business tool Daniel ever purchased.
With the War Between the States over in Tennessee and it starting
to come to a close elsewhere, Jack Daniel rightly anticipated
the Federal government would levy a tax on distillery operations
and, at the age of 16, became the first to register his operation
with the United States government. The taxes levied on his companys
product were something he always despised, but because of his
quick business move and the growing popularity of a unique whiskey
that produced much needed revenue for the government, Jack Daniel
avoided the Reconstruction politics that claimed many businesses
In spite of it all, the young man began to prosper quickly as
a distiller and was able to increase his production as well
as his profits. He was a consummate promoter of his brew and
stayed on top of the industry and informed of the latest developments
in the art of making whiskey, including an aging process that
benefited the taste and character of the whiskey. When he finally
turned 21, Jack Daniel decided to go to the city on a shopping
spree. When he returned, the 52" distiller was sporting
a formal knee length black frock coat and a broad-brimmed planters
hat that would eventually become his trademark daily uniform.
Jack Daniel was always described as a colorful character who
gave the small town of Lynchburg a sense of spirit that couldnt
come from a bottle. He always maintained his home-spun appeal
to those who knew him and, as late as 1880, the U.S. Census
in Moore County listed his profession as "farmer".
Daniel was the first in Tennessee to use hot-air balloons as
a promotional tool and often fascinated the locals with his
advertising antics. Jack Daniel also started the practice of
issuing commemorative bottles to celebrate certain events. He
generally stayed with his trademark square bottle, which some
say he did as a symbol of his being a "square shooter",
which was a popular saying of his day.
Being a distiller, however, also had its downsides for Jack
Daniel. The political machines of the day often saw his industry
fall in and out of favor with the various attitudes that ran
state government. Jack generally stayed in the middle of the
road politically, but he supported those he felt guarded his
interests and often participated in political campaigns
the most notable being the celebrated "War of the Roses"
political campaign between Democrat Robert and Republican Alfred
Taylor. The two East Tennessee brothers had been selected by
their political parties to seek the Governors seat in
Tennessee. It got its name from the fact that Democrats wore
white roses and the Republicans red to show which brother they
supported and the ensuing campaign garnered national attention.
This was a point not lost on Jack Daniel, even though he supported
the losing Republican candidate. During the campaign, Jack Daniel
gathered some local musicians together to form a band for Alfred
Taylor. The band livened up the often boring political rallies
and became an integral part of the colorful campaign.
In 1892, Jack Daniel decided it was time the City of Lynchburg
formed an official town band. Before radio or television, there
wasnt much to occupy the townspeople in small cities and
the town band often provided the only means of entertainment.
In fact, it is estimated that as many as 15,000 small town bands
existed in the United States in those days and they were a source
of pride for every citizen. With $227 and a Sears & Roebuck
catalog, Jack Daniel purchased a full compliment of nickel plated
instruments with cases. When they arrived three weeks later,
Jack began helping to assemble the band. The Jack Daniels
Original Silver Cornet Band, as they were called, began playing
at every possible opportunity and were soon the most famous
band in the region.
The first Lynchburg Band was made up of 13 people, including
a number of Jack Daniels employees. Although the instruments
were less than perfect, the band made up for it with enthusiasm
most playing in the white gazebo that stood in the courthouse
In 1903, the word spreading across the South was about the excitement
expected at the 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair. While Jack
Daniel had many interests, he had never taken his interest away
from the distillery and his reputation was expanding beyond
the coasts of America. Like his former mentor Rev.Dan Call,
Jack, who never married or had children, brought many of his
family members into the company and was teaching his nephew
Lem Motlow the Jack Daniel method of making whiskey. The young
man shared his uncles enthusiastic interest in the family
business and also had a head for promotion. With the Worlds
Fair coming to America, he and others persuaded Jack to enter
his brew in an exhibition and tasting of fine whiskeys. The
Tennessean was up against some of the worlds best distilleries
in Europe and had never been put to that kind of test. In fact,
the company had more to lose than gain if it failed, but the
pride he and his employees had for their product wouldnt
Of the 20 such whiskeys entered in the competition from around
the world, Jack Daniels Whiskey was awarded the Worlds
Fairs Gold Medal and honored as the worlds best
whiskey. In those days, that meant something and soon Jack Daniels
whiskey began picking up a notable amount of business from Europe.
In 1905, Jack Daniels Whiskey won another Gold Medal in
a similar competition in Liege, Belgium adding to the
beverages international appeal.
Sometime around 1906, Jack Daniel arrived at the office one
morning and tried to open the safe in his office. He either
couldnt remember the combination or wasnt getting
it right on the dial. In a fit of anger, he kicked the safe
and broke his toe. Daniel never had it attended to by a doctor
and an infection soon set up in the toe. The gangrene eventually
spread throughout his system and resulted in Daniel losing his
leg to the disease. With the illness starting to wear on him,
he began turning more and more of the companys operations
over to his nephew Lem and eventually deeded the business over
Jack Daniel survived until Oct. 9, 1911 when he died of complications
due to the gangrene infection. The Tennessee legend was laid
to rest amid ceremony in the Lynchburg Cemetery. By his grave
stone was placed two wrought iron chairs. While he was known
to have no great love of his life, the chairs were often reportedly
occupied by the ladies he had dated in his life.
Lem Motlow took on a job that he excelled at and, like his uncle,
kept the business going through state and federal prohibitions.
Following his uncles death, he issued the first black
label whiskey in 1912 to go with the traditional green label
Jack Daniel had used. The difference being the black label was
aged longer than the green.
Motlow was once forced to move the operations to St. Louis,
but soon returned to Tennessee as Prohibition swept across the
nation. Motlow was forced to close down the distillery and started
trading mules. Motlows head for business soon developed
the mule trading into one of the regions most lucrative
enterprises. In fact, the company grew to be the biggest such
operation in the southeast. Even though it seemed like the end
for Jack Daniels Whiskey, the Tennessean took every opportunity
to try and end Prohibition. The family never shirked their traditional
responsibility to their community and were among Lynchburgs
most respected families. His son John Reagor Motlow, who was
a veteran in World War I, served a term in the state senate
where he became a staunch supporter of public education.
When Prohibition finally ended, Motlow reopened the distillery
and went back to making and improving upon the whiskey. Like
his uncle before him, Motlow continued the tradition of being
a good corporate citizen to his city and state. The Jack Daniels
name soon again became a household word. Although the unique
taste of Jack Daniels had long been characterized as a
Tennessee Whiskey, it had throughout its life been officially
listed by the U.S. Treasury Department as a bourbon, which classed
it with Kentuckys noted whiskey. In 1944, Lem Motlow finally
achieved the recognition sought for many years in Lynchburg.
The United States Government issued a report to the company
"Your charcoal mellowing process produces characteristics
unknown to bourbons, ryes, and other whiskeys and thus Jack
Daniels is officially designated as a Tennessee Whiskey."
For the promotionally minded Motlow, it was one of the best
official documents that had ever graced the Distillerys
doors. His second generation effort to save and perpetuate the
company his uncle founded had become a resounding success. He
had pulled it through a time when the nations best distillers
had gone under and left behind a tradition that still continues
to this day. Although it never bore his name, except in fine
print, Lem Motlow had kept alive the company the City of Lynchburg
so relied on for not only economic survival, but a source of
character unequaled anywhere.
Motlow remained a vital part of the company until his death
on Sept. 1, 1947. Like his uncle before him, he was laid to
rest in the Lynchburg Cemetery.
The 1904 Worlds Fair in St. Louis marked the first time
Jack Daniels Whiskey gained official world recognition.
The fair had a lasting impact on America. A brewer named Pabst
earned a blue ribbon for his beer, a waffle business that was
losing money to the summer heat merged with an ice cream stand
that introduced America to the ice cream cone, and Scotland
Yard introduced the science of finger printing to American law
enforcement in an effort to protect the crown jewels of England,
which were on display at the fair.
The success of Jack Daniels Whiskey continued through
the years. In addition to those mentioned in the story, the
company went on to receive four more international Gold Medals
through the years the latest being awarded in 1981 in
During the years prior to Prohibition in St. Louis, Motlow had
sold an entire warehouse of whiskey to a businessman. When the
buyer arrived, he found the barrels, but no whiskey. It turned
out that a group of mobsters under the command of noted gangster
Al Capone had drained the barrels from the bottom. Motlow managed
to correct the deal, but Tennessee whiskey became one of the
most sought after during the Prohibition years. So much so that
Capone kept a home in Knoxville where many deals could be made
with the numerous bootleggers that pervaded the region.
When World War II began, the Jack Daniels Distillery went
into war-time operations as did most companies in the state.
The alcohol produced by the company was used as fuel in torpedoes
In 1956, the Jack Daniels Distillery was sold to Brown
Forman Beverage Worldwide, Inc. The company realized that the
special formula of Jack Daniels included the people of
Lynchburg as well as the product. The old adage "if it
aint broke, dont fix it" resembled the working
philosophy of Jack Daniel himself and the company has prospered.
They also own the Bluegrass Cooperage Company, which provides
the oak barrels used to age the whiskey. In addition, they still
buy their hard sugar maple used in the charcoal mellowing process
from local suppliers in Tennessee.
The same year the company was purchased, they started a black
and white advertising campaign featuring the people and town
that have made Jack Daniels Whiskey a household word.
The homespun images of Lynchburg began showing up in some of
the nations classiest publications and was a remarkable
success. It literally put the City of Lynchburg on the map of
the world and continues today as the longest running advertising
campaign in American history.
In November 1967 on a 187-acre-tract in Moore County, the State
of Tennessee broke ground on Motlow State Community College
named in honor of Sen. John Reagor Motlow. The land along
with a sizable donation from the Motlows helped seed the school
into becoming one of the regions most respected community
colleges. Through the years, Jack Daniels Distillery and
Brown Forman Beverage Worldwide, Inc. have helped to support
the college. It continues to grow and be a vibrant part of the
region. The company also contributes to the states quality
of life with numerous contributions to various charities and
was one of the first companies in Tennessee to help get the
National Medal of Honor Museum off the ground in Chattanooga.
In addition, the Jack Daniels Distillery not only reigns
in its own industry, but is also one of the most visited places
in Tennessee. The Distillery offers tours every fifteen minutes
and attracts over 250,000 a year to Lynchburg, Tenn. from around
the world. Their travel brochure is now printed in seven languages
and the company is always looking for employees with good foreign
language skills. For more information on tours of the distillery,
you can contact the office in Lynchburg.
Special thanks for this story has to go to Roger Brashears,
who currently heads up the Distillery. The Roane County native
started at the company in 1963 and continues the home-spun company
tradition Jack Daniel started. The company remains a vital part
of the industry today and continues to offer special blends
and varieties of Jack Daniels Whiskey to stay competitive
in the industry, but the original is still the most popular.
An interesting note is that the companys used barrels
have sort of become a cottage industry on their own. They are
still popular with plant nurseries and home gardeners as planters.
In Europe, however, they are often sought by Scotch Whiskey
Distillers, who use them to help age and flavor their own blends.
The Jack Daniels Original Silver Cornet Band mentioned
in the story reformed in 1970s as a group. In 1978, they ordered
exact replicas of the original instruments. Some were made in
France, others special ordered, and some instruments acquired
through collectors. The band still performs the "town band"
numbers from 1905 and have performed as a professional group
over the last few years. The company also still pays homage
to their founder by supporting hot air balloon festivals and
often enters their own balloon in the programs.
The Distillery location is the only place in Lynchburg where
you can purchase Jack Daniels Whiskey, but only the commemorative
bottles the company has issued. After 136 years of being home
to the worlds most recognized distillery, the City of
Lynchburg is still officially " dry". The hardest
drink available at the lavish bar at the end of the tour is