1935 The Trouble with Brothers

January 10

The Shop’s year starts fairly well with some confectionery kettles to make and a few distillery repairs on the books. The country is slowly rising out of the deep Depression that has covered the US for years. Eddie is still making and selling his illegal rye to supplement his income and to provide the cash for his father, to buy out his uncle, James. Joe sends a letter to James’ lawyer informing him that Joe has no interest in selling the company and splitting it between himself and James. He offers to buy James out, but makes it quite clear that he has no intention of closing the Shop or giving up the name, the Joseph Kavanagh Company.

February 20

Eddie leads a crew of four on a brew vat installation at National Brewery on a very chilly Wednesday. The vat was hauled and placed in the brewing room yesterday and today they return to connect the fittings and valves and attach the vat to the existing brewing system. This job adds a boost to February and helps to keep them busier than usual for this time of year. The remaining crew work on some cooking kettles, and bending and shaping an ornamental brass railing for a large residence outside of the City. Today is a good day to be holding a blowpipe or torch in your hand; you can even work up a sweat on a frigid winters day. The workers occasionally huddle around one another, wielding torches today as they hold and direct what little heat there is in the place.

March 13

Joe receives a legal notice that James will go to the courts to sue Joe over the Shop. Joe finishes reading and folds the papers back up and places them back in the envelope. He sits at his desk thinking for a moment when his anger gets the best of him and he calls his brother. James picks up the phone but Joe was the last person he expected to be calling.

“Joe? I got nothing to say to you. If you’ve got something to say, say it to my lawyer,” James fumes.

“Your lawyer? We’re brothers and you get a lawyer involved in this. What are you thinking? I told you before I will not dismantle this company. I’ve offered to buy your half. Why won’t you just take the money?” Joe pleads.

“I don’t want your money. I want a fresh start for both of us. The Shop has served us very well but it is time to move on. Each of us.” James answers.

“I won’t break up the Shop. It’s not going to happen. Uncle Joe wanted the Shop for all of us, for our families, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.” Joe is firm.

“Well, that’s the whole thing right there. You want it for YOUR family. Don’t you? You’ve put your sons in position to run the place, to take it all over, and where would that leave me and Guy? Nowhere. That’s where. I won’t work for your boys. It’s not right.” James angrily retorts.

“I don’t know where you’re getting this. You know Leo and Eddie are our most senior smiths and both are very talented. They’ve earned everything they have, and Guy did have a place here. I told him he had a job as long as he wanted it, but he quit because of…of…,” Joe pauses, “because of this. This crazy stuff you’re making up. We all worked together before and it was fine. You know this.”

James responds with a snort, “It was not fine and that’s not how it would be. You’ll be out of there in a few years, Joe. We both know that, and your boys will find some way to force me out. And Guy. We won’t work for them. I don’t want that and I don’t want it for my son either.”

“You’re crazy. The boys get along great. Leo, Eddie and Guy are tight with each other. Close almost as brothers. Hell, Guy is godfather to Eddie’s son Jack. My sons won’t turn on him in anyway.” Joe says, shaking his head and gazing at the receiver in disbelief.

James slips into a tirade, yelling at his older brother, “You’re wrong and I don’t care. I won’t work for my nephews, ever. I won’t do it and neither will Guy. I own half the Shop. We are partners and I say close it down, go open your own company and I’ll do the same. Then we’ll see what happens.”

“Nope, this is the Joseph Kavanagh Company and that’s the way it’s going to stay!” Joe shouts into the phone, his blood boiling with anger.

“You’re not Uncle Joe. You’re not even a coppersmith. You just want his name. You’re not him.” James replies with a bit of a sneer in his voice.

“I’m not Uncle Joe but I AM Joe Kavanagh and this place is going to stay the same as it has for 70 years, brother. It is not going to change,” answers Joe, his baritone voice filling the small Shop office.

“Then, I’ll see you in court!” James shouts and hangs up the telephone.

Joe seethes for a few minutes, then calls an attorney he knows who has helped in the past. He needs to be prepared for James’ lawsuit which he now knows is coming.

All Kavanaghs but one. Left to right: James Sr., Eddie, James Jr.(standing), Frank, Leo(standing), Joe, Guy(back to camera), Anna. Mr. Fairbanks(Shop employee) on the far right.
James Kavanagh Circa 1920.

March 23

Eddie Kavanagh spends a busy day delivering some whiskey throughout Baltimore. He works a half-day in the Shop, then visits his friends and associates that still buy his cheap homemade rye. He distills the whiskey in the evenings during the week and makes most of his deliveries on the weekends. Eddie is still racking up many hours but it’s not quite as bad as last year. He enjoys driving through the streets of the City, especially on a warm spring day. Today he makes a stop to see Thomas Cunningham on Chester Street and drop off a bottle. For a few years now Eddie has known Thomas, who works at the Continental Can Company, a customer of the Shop’s. Eddie and Thomas exchange some pleasantries, Thomas offering him a quick drink, but Eddie declines. He has to head home, refill his briefcase and make one more round of visits to customers. He carries no more than four bottles in his briefcase which is strapped to the old Indian. Eddie is cautious, and he prefers it this way. The money he makes can still be used to buy out James, depending on how the lawsuit works out, and it gives Eddie some cash in hand which he can always use.

April 30

Baseball season begins and Babe Ruth has signed with the Boston Braves where he will finish his career. Ruth returns to Boston where he started out in the big leagues over twenty years ago. He has a tough go of it and his age is clearly showing. He is slowed by the years and his batting skills are not what they used to be; he struggles to play the outfield. It becomes painfully clear that the Braves have signed him merely as an attraction to get people to come to the games. Eddie and his son, Jack, have a discussion during dinner about Ruth and the Braves. Jack is still certain that Ruth will get hot and finish the rest of the season strong. The Babe walked three times yesterday according to the newspaper, and that shows teams are still afraid of his power. Eddie nods but notes that Ruth is batting a meager .240 at the moment. Eddie is certain that the end is near for Babe Ruth.

May 15

The Shop’s work has stayed steady but has not increased in volume very much. They are maintaining their crew of ten and for the most part are able to keep everyone busy. A fountain is fabricated today, thin sheets of copper are annealed (heated) until orange in color, then rolled into round tubes. Holes are then drilled into the tubes at measured intervals; these will allow the water to pass through. After cooling, the newly made tube is carefully bent around wheels and curved blocks until it is a circle twelve feet in diameter. The circle is trimmed and the ends butted together and a seam is soldered to close out the ring. A valve is attached to allow the water to flow in and out of the tube and spray in and out of the holes. Fountains are an example of coppersmith work they have been doing for many years, all the way back to when Old Uncle Joe owned the place. It’s a good job and the type of thing they will always make some money on.

May 26

Eddie reads the newspaper with his son Jack, recounting a great day for Babe Ruth at the plate. Ruth hits three home runs, delivering six RBI’s against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Forbes Field. Jack is excited and hopes that maybe Ruth is getting his stroke back despite a very slow start at the plate. Eddie is more realistic and tells his son that the Babe’s best days are past and this may have been his last hurrah. In fact, these will be the Babe’s final home runs, a swan song to a distinguished career.

May 30

Babe Ruth retires. His abilities have deteriorated; his batting average is down to .181 and he can no longer compete in the game that he re-shaped and changed during his long years in baseball. Amazingly, he ends his baseball life with an incredible 714 home runs. The next on the career home run list is over 200 below him. Ruth also tallies a .342 batting average and 506 doubles in his illustrious career. His status in the history of the game is assured. In fact, his deeds quickly become the stuff of legend. At the time of his death, Ruth remains the face of the sport, despite not playing for 13 years. He changed the game; he was the first superstar and he grew the game by his mere presence. A giant figure in sports and American culture, Ruth’s persona would become iconic for generations to come. Eddie’s son Jack is disappointed that his hero has retired but his father tells him that Ruth’s accomplishments will live on in the history of the game. He emphatically tells his young son that “There will never be another like the Great Babe Ruth.”

June 14

Eddie returns to Baltimore on a Friday after a four day repair job in Richmond, Virginia. He returns to the Shop after a morning train ride back to the City with Mr. Funke, Leo Giannetti and a young fellow named Vincent. This is the first job outside of Maryland they’ve received in ten years and Joe is excited. These are expensive jobs, but if the customer pays, there is money to be made. Eddie was less than thrilled, but took the crew and went. He would have preferred if Joe would have sent another smith along with Funke and the boys, but his father is his father so off he went. The year continues to be good, but not great, for the Kavanagh’s and crew.

July 17

Joe receives a notice at the Shop from the Baltimore Circuit Court; James has filed his lawsuit against Joe. James contends that the business is defunct now that he is not involved, and that since he and Joe do not agree on what to do with the place, it must be sold and the profits divided between them. Joe shakes his head as he reads it all. The basic contention is that the business was a partnership, and if one of the partners decides that it should be ended, then it should be so. James believes the assets of the business are to be divided and that neither party should have ownership of the name. The Joseph Kavanagh Company should cease to exist and the brothers would split everything and move on. James is suing over the name and reputation (and goodwill, in Joe’s mind). Joe knew it was coming and is very upset with his brother for taking it this far, but he can see that James is determined, so Joe will do whatever it takes to maintain the Joseph Kavanagh Company, its name and reputation.

July 21

After Sunday Mass, Joe sits at his piano in the parlor on Thirty-third Street, absentmindedly tinkering on the keys . He has spent the last several days going over the situation with James in his mind. After speaking to his attorney, Joe is very confident that his claim will be upheld, but there is always the chance that the Court will decide that if one of the partners wants to dissolve the company, it is his right. Joe believes the opposite; both parties must agree, or one is given the opportunity to purchase the other’s percentage. It seems logical to Joe but he is concerned and he can’t stop thinking about it. He wanders into the kitchen and sees his wife, Johanna standing on a wooden step stool pulling a canister of flour from a shelf. She climbs down and meets his gaze then motions toward the table.

“Sit down, Joe.” He sits as she pours them each a cup of tea, sitting opposite him.

“It will be fine, Joe. Don’t worry so much about this. It’s really quite silly of James to take this to court. They won’t want anything to do with it, I expect. Just wait and see, but they have better things to do than decide things between two brothers, and if they do, it will be in your favor. Maybe, almost as much as you want the Joseph Kavanagh Company to stay open, the City might want the same. Even the court.” She takes a slow sip of her tea and looks at her husband.

Joe smiles at her and says, “I hadn’t thought of that. It’s possible and I do think they would prefer to stay out of it. I hope you’re right, Jo. Still, we will have to put out some money, and I suppose it will be worth it.”

“We have the money between the two of us. Don’t worry so much. I’m not worried. I’m sure you’ll pay me back.” She finishes, a smile covering her face as she bustles up from her chair and begins mixing ingredients for pie dough, a peach pie today, her specialty. “Now, get out of my kitchen. Go play something. A song this time, not that just playing about.” She points to the parlor as Joe grins his way out of the room. He sits at the piano and breaks into Cruiskeen Lawn, filling the room with his voice and music, not thinking about James.

Johanna Kavanagh’s step stool. Photo taken April 2019.

August 16

Joe reads the newspaper account of Will Rogers being killed in a plane crash. He was traveling with pilot, Wiley Post and they crashed just after takeoff from Barrow, Alaska. Joe is shocked and saddened. He was an admirer of Rogers but chalks it up to the fact that airplanes are still too dangerous for Joe’s taste. This is a tragic loss but people should be wary of such things as lifting up off the ground and flying through the air.

August 26

Joe is very happy today because the Shop has the sort of job he wants. Two large copper storage tanks have been ordered by Records and Goldsborough, one of Joe’s distillery customers. These will take several days to fabricate, then deliver and install, and will keep several workers busy throughout its construction. It all starts with Joe discussing the particulars with the customer and finding out exactly what they need and quoting a good price. Then Leo does the engineering and fluid mechanics involved in the tanks and makes the necessary drawings. Eddie leads the crew on bending the sheets of copper into the tanks and installing and attaching the necessary system. This is what Joe wants, he wants his sons working together using their specific talents. It’s very much like Uncle Joe with Joe and his brothers, and when Joe, James and Frank went out on their own, breaking away from eldest brother, Martin. James did the engineering and drawings, Frank was the best coppersmith and Joe made the deals. They each brought different skills to the Shop and they worked together. This system worked well for both the Shop and the Kavanagh’s and Joe wants the same for his boys. Leo the engineer and Eddie the smith and Joe still making the deals. The Records and Goldsborough tanks job is good for the Shop and Joe is getting more confident that the work he’s been waiting for is coming.

Joe Kavanagh’s Shop Book. August 26, 1936.

September 23

Joe again sends a letter to James’ lawyer emphasizing his position and again offering to purchase James’ share of the business. Joe’s lawyer encourages him to negotiate a settlement with his brother as he is concerned about any outcome in court. He tells Joe that James’ lawyer feels the same way, as this is an unusual situation and it could go either way. Neither attorney seems confident or comfortable putting this in the Court’s hands. Joe is all for a settlement and he encourages his lawyer to keep in touch with James’ representative.

October 7

The Detroit Tigers beat the Chicago Cubs to win their first World Series title in their fifth try. They were defeated last year by the Cardinals but take the championship this year in six games. The Tigers win despite losing their star first baseman, Hank Greenberg, in game two after he broke his wrist in a collision with Cubs catcher, Gabby Hartnett. The Cubs had overtaken the defending National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals in the standings by winning an astounding twenty-one games in a row. They fall short in the Fall Classic and Detroit has its first World Series Championship. The Kavanagh’s follow along, reading the news accounts and listening on the radio when they can.

November 20

Joe receives another letter from James’ attorney and the court date is delayed. Joe is pleased with that and hopes that it never comes to trial. Joe’s lawyer has advised him that the Court would prefer if a settlement is reached in this matter. He has been in contact with James’ representative and it appears there may be a softening in James’ position. Joe believes that perhaps James is running out of money and he needs an influx of cash, especially if he means to open his own coppersmith shop. Joe thinks back to when he started working for his Uncle Joe. He was 29 years old and the fourth nephew hired. He was hired to do what he does now, to find work and deal with customers. A General Manager, Uncle Joe called him and Joe did well from the start. The Shop had customers up and down the East Coast then and the business boomed through the 1890s. Then the Fire happened, Uncle Joe died and they went through several years of Martin Kavanagh’s chicanery. Joe remembers when he, James and youngest brother Frank broke away from Martin and formed what is the Joseph Kavanagh Company today. They struggled, but found a home at Pratt and Central, then made it through Prohibition, and they are poised to bounce back. Joe is sure of this, the work is coming back. He knows they will get through this trouble and he decides to have a letter sent on his behalf by his attorney. Joe’s letter gives James an offer for one half of the Shop and the letter informs him that henceforth James should pursue any further negotiations with Joe’s attorney. Joe will wait and see.

December 24

The Shop’s Christmas Party is held on this Tuesday. The crew quickly cleans and decorates the place around Noon, and customers and friends begin arriving soon after. There is food, drink and a great deal of song to add to the celebration of the holiday. A good time is had by all, though the Kavanagh’s, particularly Joe, do worry about the situation with James. It hangs over them like a cloud; an unfavorable decision could change their lives. They are growing more confident that the Shop will remain open and still be the Joseph Kavanagh Company. It would be very different without that name. Their reputation precedes them with most customers. It stands out when they find that the Shop has been in business for nearly 70 years. It provides a level of trust that customers seek, and this experience that the Kavanagh’s have has calmed the nerves of many a concerned customer. They try not to focus on the lawsuit or a settlement, for they know it will be resolved one way or another early next year. Otherwise, this year has been successful, but not great. The Depression is still on and jobs and work are both still down, but the alcohol industry’s return to operation has very much helped the family. They can at last open the doors of Pratt and Central most days and the Shop is filled with men heating and hammering and shaping copper. They are doing better than they were but not as well as they would like. That probably goes for most Americans at this time, as well. Joe and his family hope for a better year next year as they always do but this time, they hope for a resolution on the James issue, one that leaves the business intact and completely in the hands of Joe and his boys. If they can do that, the Shop will continue on and pass down to Joe’s descendants.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the President of the United States. The parking meter is invented in Oklahoma City. Alcoholics Anonymous is founded. Richard “Bruno” Hauptmann is tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Charles Lindbergh’s baby. Airplanes are banned from flying over the White House. Porky Pig debuts. The first nighttime Major League Baseball game is played between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. The Hoover Dam is dedicated. Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis, Jerry Orbach, Mary Oliver, and Frank Robinson are born.

There remain 48 states in the Union.

Lawsuit filed by James Kavanagh against Joseph Kavanagh. 1935.

To read prior years, click on the Table of Contents link below:

Table of Contents

One thought on “1935 The Trouble with Brothers

  1. Joe did Continental can later become National Can? My neighbors did worked for National while we were kids.

    I cant believe that Baseball season didnt open till April 30th!

    It’s amazing to me how Joe’s wife Johanna was so very patient and confident through every circumstance. She seemed like such a reassuring person and was a great wife for Joe.  Also I love the picture of the stool. That is very cool!

    I really like the baseball history about the Tigers winning the World Series in 1935! It’s amazing how early the season was over, in the beginning of October. Baseball is so different nowadays and things have changed so drastically. I still love the sport and I truly enjoy reading the baseball history that you are sharing in your article.

    So many historical things to place in that year. Especially with Babe Ruth retiring from baseball. It’s interesting also that the first parking meter was invented. Also that Porky Pig made his debut. I also like the fact that you mentioned that Frank Robinson was born that year.
    Again, I always enjoy reading this great historical account of your family business. I’m looking forward to reading more.


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