From the time it was incorporated in 1911, Vendome Copper & Brass was a standard in distillery equipment. Unfortunately, their success was seemingly short-lived when “wartime prohibition” effectively ended alcohol production in the United States in 1917. This was followed not long after by the passing of the 18th amendment on January 16, 1919, establishing prohibition. Only a year later, prohibition was officially enforced starting January 17, 1920.
Vendome tried to stay alive and had a trickle of orders to build equipment for industrial alcohol distilleries, but it was no longer listed in any directory between 1923 and 1932. But by the time that prohibition was repealed, Vendome Copper & Brass was already a successful, thriving business once more. How did owner Elmore Sherman not only stay afloat, but actually build a successful business based on a foundation of a product that was banned nationwide?
Elmore Sherman was truly a genius, forward thinking businessman who knew what was coming and how best to take advantage of it.
In order to stay in business, Sherman put his talents, knowledge and skill into partnering with Gus Kleinstuber, of Kleinsteuber Boiler Works. Sherman’s knowledge of copper and brass made him instrumental in establishing the latter’s boiler manufacturing and installation business. From 1923 to 1925, Sherman stayed with Kleinstuber. At that time he began to see the beginning of the end of prohibition and decided to put a unique strategy in place.
Although Vendome Copper & Brass is not mentioned from 1925 to 1926, Sherman was hired to dismantle a complete distillery from Henderson, KY and reassemble it in Vancouver, BC, in Canada. The following year he started another short-lived venture, Southern Gasoline Works, manufacturing copper gasoline pumps.
This may have been an attempt to establish himself back in the industry, and to give him leverage to buy the land that the Vendome factor would sit upon from 1932 to the 1980s. The fact that Sherman bought the land that same year shows that he knew exactly what was coming. Prohibition wasn’t going to last, and he intended to be ready.
And ready he was, for in 1932 Vendome Brass & Copper reemerged, even though prohibition wouldn’t be repealed by ratification until December 5, 1933. Vendome’s first job was to build the 24-hour Finch Distillery, one of a handful that was allowed to produce whisky for medicinal purposes.
Knowing that the 21st amendment repealing prohibition was soon to be ratified, Vendome built distilleries in over a dozen Kentucky factories in 1932 and 1933 in preparation. Building on the success of moving the distillery in 1926 and the initial Kentucky distilleries in 1932, Sherman was able to corner the market in copper and brass distillery equipment and installations as the market exploded after prohibition was lifted on December 5, 1933.
Sherman’s unique strategy allowed Vendome Copper & Brass to emerge with a massive foothold on the market for distillery equipment even before prohibition was truly lifted. Sherman’s long-term strategy of keeping his name relevant and his skills sharp was instrumental to this positioning, as was his dedication to maintaining financial stability so that he was in a position to take advantage of the opening in the market when it arrived. Today, Vendome is still a thriving business and the gold standard for distillery equipment in America and around the world.