- Historic Sites
The Beards That Made Rough-keepsie Famous
December 1972 | Volume 24, Issue 1
Other trademark portraits followed in various lines of consumer goods, but no indicia of ownership produced more millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity than the chin whiskers of Trade and Mark, subjects of countless editorials, favorite topics of newspaper columnists, standard fare for funny fellows from the days of vaudeville to the coming of the standup radio comic. At one time the company kept sets of whiskers and wigs to outfit cutups who wished to attend costume parties as Trade Smith or Mark Smith. Knowing they had a good thing going, the brothers never shaved.
Soon afterward, the boys, by then both graduates of Williams College and aged thirty-six and thirty, took over the business. They bought an old barn on the edge of town and remodelled it into a twenty-six-kettle cough-drop factory. With production rising toward four tons a day, the brothers devised an economical system for packaging the cough drops. Each day’s output was collected at the end of the day in five- gallon milk cans and distributed by horse and wagon to the poor, along with a supply of Smith Brothers boxes. Some thirty families, living on what came to be known as Cough Drop Street, filled the little cartons during the evening and had them ready for the morning pickup. But not all the drops returned to the Smiths. Some of the workers adopted a system of their own that may be characterized as “one drop for the company and one for me.” A lively black market in the tablets developed until Trade and Mark turned to more conventional methods for packing their boxes.
Trade was the dominant figure, ambitious, quirky, public-spirited, a militant prohibitionist, and the ancestor of succeeding generations of Smiths. Mark was an amiable bachelor, not the least pushy, with no objection to taking a nip and so susceptible to a touch that he became known as Easy Mark. Trade enjoyed referring to him as Boss Andrew. Mark died in 1895, but his unsinkable brother lived on until 1913.
Many anecdotes preserve the memory of Trade’s impressive eccentricities. Early Smith Brothers records are scanty because Trade kept them on the backs of used envelopes. Cash for both cough-drop and restaurant sales mingled and accumulated in an old safe and was moved to the bank when the safe filled up. Trade tried his hand at politics, on the Prohibition ticket, of course, and ran at various times for mayor, state senator, and governor of New York, with the result that usually befalls a singleissue candidate. An applicant for a job as waitress at the Smith Brothers restaurant had to present a letter of recommendation from her minister and, if hired, live upstairs over the restaurant under the eye of a stern duenna. Ginger ale was not served because of the connotation of the word “ale.”
A staunch Presbyterian, Trade paid his workers low wages because he believed the money belonged to God. Yet his generous benefactions connect him clearly with the mainstream of nineteenth-century philanthropy. There is a park in Poughkeepsie, a gift from Trade to the city, that is still known to older residents as Cough Drop Park; but none of his gifts celebrated the name of Smith. Trade was careful to assess Mark for half the cost of all charitable enterprises and scoffed at Matthew Vassar, the local brewer, whose name was—and is—attached to a college and a hospital.
When Trade called an employee upon the carpet the interview began with a standard ritual.
“A lovely day, Mr. Jones!”
“I’m sure we should all be very thankful to be alive, Mr. Jones.”
Then came the chewing out.
In his later years Trade became a subject of wide interest as guardian of the secret formula for the aromatic lozenges and as indefatigable booster of the family medication. He liked to pass out sample packages to railroad conductors, bellboys, and strangers generally, and observe carefully if they associated the picture on the box with his own face. Once when the delegates to a Y.M.C.A. convention in Washington were received by President Taft, Trade maneuvered to be last to pass down the receiving line so that he could press a box of his cough drops into the President’s hand.