“His pastor had been urging him to pursue it, but when he watched a friend sink back into a drunkard’s life after tasting wine in the communion service, Dr. Thomas B. Welch was finally motivated to develop a non-alcoholic wine.”2
Thomas Welch (1825–1903) was a 19th-century Methodist minister, physician, and dentist who thought it hypocritical that his church opposed consumption of alcohol, but served wine in its communion services. To rectify this problem, Welch used the process pioneered by Louis Pasteur — he filtered and bottled grape juice in his kitchen, and then boiled the bottles, which had the effect of killing any naturally-occurring yeast, thereby preserving the juice while preventing fermentation. In 1896 Welch began taking his “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine” to other churches, but few clergymen expressed an interest, and he was often told that the notion of serving “unfermented sacramental wine” was tantamount to heresy.
When Welch’s grape juice failed to prove popular, it soon faded into the background of Dr. Welch’s busy life — he was also running Welch’s Dental Supply Company, marketing Dr. Welch’s Neutralizing Syrup and Dr. Welch’s Dental Alloys, and publishing his long-running Items of Interest (later re-named Welch’s Monthly), a leading dental journal of the time. Welch was deeply involved in the temperance movement, and was sworn as a policeman in Philadelphia where he worked to apprehend illegal sellers of liquor. Until the Civil War was won he had been involved in the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves find their way to freedom in the North.
The early 1890s, when his son Charles became active in the juice company and started advertising Welch’s, demand grew rapidly, and Dr. Welch devoted himself full-tie to the juice business. After a splashy showcasing of the juice at the Chigaco World’s Fair of 1893, the business boomed and the Welch Grape Juice Company was incorporated in 1897. Welch died in 1903, but his name remains synonymous with grape juice. In 1930, as a Christmas present at the height of the Depression, Welches grandsons distributed 10 percent of the company’s common stock among its 300 employees [the four Welch brothers made the gift from their personal holdings in memory of their father, Dr. Charles Edgar Welch…]4
0In 1952, the company loaned $28M to the farmers that supplied it with grapes to finance the farmers’ purchase of the company. Since then Welch has been owned by the Nation Grape Cooperative Association, and agricultural group comprising more than a thousand American fruit farmers.1
Early Welch’s marketing focused largely on temperance themes rather than financial gains. Catchy slogans like, “Lips that don’t touch Welch’s grape juice won’t touch mine,” were common.
The founder of Welch’s grape juice was a known tithe payer2 and the company continues to be blessed today. The most current website boasts, the American family-farmer-owned business exists as an American icon and despite the economic downturn, Welch is – thriving. It’s Concord and Niagara grapes are still grown in U.S. Vineyards in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Washington. And you’ll find Welch’s products on store shelves across the U.S. and additionally in 50 countries around the world. According to their annual report, net income rose by $10 million (+56%) following a $21 million increase in 2009.3 The 100% Grape Juice slogan, a hallmark of its founder, still proudly rests on labels today as testament to its Christian founder.
# # #
1 Unknown. “Thomas B. Welch.” Thomas B. Welch Aka Thomas Bramwell Welch. Soylent Communications, 2011. Web. 15 June 2011.
2 ”Receive Your Financial Miracle, Pt.1.” Web. 17 June 2011.
3 Welch Staff. “Welch’s 2010 Annual Report.” National Grape Cooperative Association and Welch Foods, 2011. Web. 16 June 2011.
4 “Business & Finance: Grape Juice Bonus – TIME.” Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews – TIME.com. Web. 17 June 2011.