Abraham Overholt (1784-1870), the man who is responsible for the first bottle of Old Overholt rye whiskey ever made, is one of the most legendary figures among whiskey connoisseurs.
His face is impossible to miss, as you can see it on every bottle of Old Overholt all across America.
Abraham’s history is an extremely interesting one.
If you’re a whiskey aficionado and you’d like to learn more about the background of the whiskey you drink, you’re going to enjoy today’s article.
We’ll delve deeper into the life and history of Abraham Overholt, looking at what influenced him to make this all around American favorite rye whiskey.
Abraham Overholt: The History of the Father of American Distilling
Family Background and Early Years
Abraham Overholt was born in 1784 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
When he was only 16, his father, Henry Overholt, decided to move with his family to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, more precisely the Jacobs Creek area. Henry and his family were all Mennonites. The Mennonites are a religious sect that suffered persecution in Europe due to some of their beliefs.
One of them would be that making alcohol for imbibing was a noble and honorable profession.
Abraham’s father was already used to creating alcoholic spirits. So, it should come as no surprise that the moment they moved to Westmoreland County, the family (which consisted of Henry, his wife, and 12 children) started to become more interested in distilling.
In West Overton Village in Westmoreland County, Henry also found other Mennonites.
In that area, he would settle and buy a farm. He also inherited a distillery, even though it was a small one made of logs. This limited his production to just a few gallons per week, but at least he started distilling.
Beginning of Abraham’s Career in the Family’s Business
Even if Abraham was only 16 when his family moved to Westmoreland County, he showed an interest in the family business from the start.
He also proved to be talented.
Even if he was also a talented weaver, his main passion remained whiskey making.
As a result, at the age of 26, young Abraham took over the distilling business. This was in 1810 when Abraham wanted to create a larger distillery that could produce more whiskey.
That’s exactly what he did. He started by producing 8 gallons of whiskey a day. Soon, that number grew exponentially. He soon produced roughly 200 gallons each day.
This growth basically turned the family business into a commercial distillery.
The Expansion of the Business
Not only did Abraham Overholt developed the distillery, but he also built a grist mill next to it. Abraham married Maria Stauffer, who was also a Mennonite, daughter of a prominent member of the community.
Together, they had 8 children.
The wealth from their distillery allowed Abraham to build a gorgeous Georgian home next to the distillery in West Overton.
This was the moment when the whiskey he was making also got one of its earlier names, Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey.
Since this was always a family business, Abraham wanted to preserve its tradition. That’s why he also brought one of his sons, Henry Overholt, into the management of the distillery. As a result, he also chose an appropriate name for the business, namely the A. & H. S. Overholt Company.
The Development of the Overholt Company
Since the newly established company needed a lot of workers, Abraham Overholt and his son built workers’ houses next to the distillery.
The people living in them would help with many things around the distillery.
The family also built two more houses, one in 1846, which was designed for Henry, and one in 1854, designed for another one of Abraham’s sons, Christian. The latter also served as a store for the company.
The business started expanding even more when Jacob Overholt (another son of Abraham) and a family cousin (Henry Overholt) built another distillery close to the first one in Broad Ford.
Abraham helped finance distillery as well.
This is the facility in which the first rye whiskey bottle to be named “Overholt” was made. At the beginning, the whiskey was simply called “Overholt”, the “Old” being added later on.
Abraham’s Last Years Running the Business
One of the most impressive things about Abraham Overholt’s life is that he remained involved in the business his father set up until the very end of his life.
Even though he may not have been as active as before, he was still an integral part of management, deciding what happens to his beloved business.
After his death and the death of his son Henry (both died in 1870), Jacob Overholt and other members of the family became the people in charge of the business. In order to pay an homage to Abraham, they placed his picture on the bottles of Old Overholt rye whiskey.
The Future of the Overholt Business
The Overholt business kept developing, even after the death of Abraham Overholt.
For instance, in 1906, the people in charge of it built a brick warehouse that now serves as a museum.
They also built an office building, a dry house, and a boiler house. In 1907, the Overholt company split into two entities. The A.C. Overholt Company was the one that had control over the family enterprises and physical structures. The West Overton Distillery was the one that actually produced the whiskey.
The last Overholt to own the business was Henry Clay Frick, son of Elizabeth Overholt (Abraham’s daughter) and John W. Frick (a mill worker from Sweden).
During his time at West Overton, his grandfather Abraham taught him about how important it is to have a strong work ethic, as well as how a business works.
We hope this comprehensive history of the life of Overholt has managed to provide you with some insight into how this one man managed to create a business that is still very much profitable today.
His hard work and dedication are definitely what helped the Overholt business thrive. The next time you enjoy a glass of Overholt, consider this rich history behind the founder and his family.