1938 Incorporation

January 10

It is a busy start to the year at the Shop. They begin 1938 with several weeks worth of work already on the books and more has come in. Several distillery repairs are lined up and a few cooking jacket kettles are produced as well. The Kavanagh’s are entering a transition year as plans are being made to transfer control and ownership of the Shop to Joe’s boys, Leo (42) and Eddie (41). Joe has worked here for more than forty-two years and he is over seventy years old. It’s time for him to move aside and yes, enjoy the fruits of his labor a bit. This transfer of power might take some time to sort out, but it’s clear Joe will be gone soon enough.

February 7

Eddie receives a call from Gunther’s Brewery and they order three beer vats to be fabricated and installed. Eddie will lead the install but do as little of the physical work as possible to give his workers more experience. He needs to be sure his crew can handle these installations without his presence. Eddie is confident in his workers but he needs to be sure. He has developed a good relationship with Gunther’s after so much work in their facility. He has become friends with a few fellows there and this makes Joe happy. Joe is seeing great progress from his boys on the business side of the job. Eddie is a little more gregarious and is quite suited for dealing with customers while Leo is a bit quieter. Leo is fine with customers but not quite like Eddie. Still, Leo seems to excel at handling the accounts, both customers and vendors. They still have a bookkeeper who comes in once a week but Leo makes it easy for him, keeping meticulous records in the same fashion that his sketches and drawings are done to exacting detail. Every day, Joe is more convinced that his sons will make a great team. The crew of twelve men is busy on this bitter cold day with a copper storage tank to build and several small orders, a railing and some drip pans to make. The Kavanagh’s and crew are able to fight off the cold of February by heat and hard work. The winter’s cold can make a smith’s job that much harder but if you’re busy, you’ll feel a little warmer. Also, the day goes by faster.

List of “Kavanagh” Brewing Fittings that the Shop made, sold and used in the 1930s.

March 13

After Sunday Mass, Joe sits reading the newspaper in his home on Thirty-third Street. The big international story of the day is Adolf Hitler’s Germany has annexed the nation of Austria. Hitler’s stated goal is to unite all German-speaking people under one country, thus the absorption of Austria. In addition, Hitler calls for Czechoslovakia to surrender a section of their land, the Sudetenland, to Germany, claiming the majority Germanic residents want to join his nation. Joe shakes his head as he finishes the story. This is eerily similar to what happened not so long ago, which led to World War I, the War to End all Wars. Joe hopes that moniker sticks but if things keep going they way they are in Europe, that could all change.

April 19

The Shop stays very busy through the spring with Eddie and Leo taking on more of a leadership role to Joe’s delight. The crew are toiling away with heat and hammers, shaping copper. The focus this week is an updated distilling system for Hannis Distilling, the makers of Joe’s favorite, Mount Vernon Rye. It has been designed by, and will be installed by the Joseph Kavanagh Company. Leo has handled the proper engineering and made full sketches and now Eddie leads half of the crew on the fabrication end. A Continuous Still for rye is built in the Shop, then it must be disassembled and installed next week. It’s a good job and truly their forte. The rest of the crew handle some smaller orders of fittings, parts and several commercial cookers.

May 14

Joe finalizes his plans for the future of the Shop and how he will pass it on to his sons. He has discussed it a great deal with his wife Johanna. She wants the boys to be protected but also wants Joe and herself to be well taken care of in their retirement years. Joe has decided to form a corporation with his sons, Leo as President and Eddie as Vice-President. Joe and Jo would still own the property and be payed $ 75.00 per week for the remainder of their lives. This way they will maintain some income, but will not be sole owners of the Shop. The three principles will own stock but Leo and Eddie will manage the day-to-day and Joe will be available as a consultant if needed. Joe likes this solution because it does give him the option of remaining a little involved if the boys need assistance and it guarantees he will have some money to enjoy his retirement. Upon Joe’s death, his stock would go to Johanna and then to the boys. He will mull it over for several weeks before presenting his plan to his sons.

June 6

Ed Jr has graduated from high school and is back to work at the Shop but will be attending the College of Commerce of Baltimore in the fall. After conferring with his father and brother, Eddie thinks it’s wise to have someone with a solid business education background working at the Shop. This will give Ed some experience and training on the management side of the Joseph Kavanagh Company. Young Ed will still finish his apprenticeship as a coppersmith but will also learn a bit about business and commerce. He will give the school a try in September and wait at least one year before he works full time.

June 19

Eddie and his younger son Jack visit Bugle Field for baseball on this Sunday afternoon. The Baltimore E-Lite Giants, a new club in the Negro National League has begun playing at this park. They play a short schedule of 20 – 30 games but Jack is very excited to see some baseball live. Two games will be played at Bugle Field today. Firstly the E-Lite Giants defeat the Washington Black Senators. The Senators will be in the bottom of the standings this year as they manage only one win in twenty-one games played. A young catcher who plays for Baltimore stands out. He’s only 16 but Roy Campanella looks to be a real good ball player. Eddie and Jack both are fans of catchers, the one player besides the pitcher who is in on every pitch. Jack is amazed that a boy only two years older than he, is playing professional baseball. The second game is another pair of Negro teams who barnstorm, playing in different cities as they travel around the country. A second game only adds to the fun for Eddie and Jack. They talk baseball on the entire ride home and Eddie tells his son, “We’ll do this again. Maybe we can do it every Sunday during the season.”

Jack Kavanagh. Altar boy at St. Elizabeth’s Church. Patterson Park. 1930s.

July 17

The Kavanagh’s gather for dinner at Thirty-third Street on a warm breezy Sunday. Eddie and Jack have spent the day at Bugle Field. Eddie, true to his word, has taken Jack to games there each Sunday. There are always at least two games and on this day, there were three. The very rare triple header is a great thrill for Jack. The third game is comprised of local semi-pro and club teams. The talent and quality of play isn’t the same, but it’s still baseball. If two games are good, three are only better, according to Eddie. The E-Lite Giants are defeated in their game against the Homestead Grays. The Grays will win the pennant this year, led by Josh Gibson and Buck Leonhard; they are a powerhouse and win the title easily. Jack fills his grandfather in on the highlights of the games today. Joe loves that his grandson has this same passion for the sport that he has. After Jack has spoken at length about today’s ballgames, Johanna calls them all into the dining room for a lamb dinner. They eat, talk, and gather around the piano, taking turns playing and singing. Jack has been taking lessons for six years now and he clearly has some talent for music. Joe is pleased at his grandson’s progress and a fun time is had by all. Before Leo and Eddie leave with their wives and kids, Joe takes them aside and fills them in on his plans for the Shop. He doesn’t ask them what they think but simply tells them that they will form a corporation among the three of them. He tells them that Leo will be President and Eddie, Vice-President, and the building will still be owned by Joe and Jo. The boys are happy and shake their father’s hand; no disappointment from Eddie about being V.P. He knew that’s how it would shake out. Both brothers are confident they’ll be successful and look to the future for their children. Finally, Joe passes along that sometime next year, he will retire, but will always be available as a consultant.

August 12

The legal paperwork is finished and the Joseph Kavanagh Company becomes a corporation. It has little effect on the daily activity at the Shop, and like any other August day, they sweat and fight through these dog days of summer. The job is hot already but August is the cruelest month for a smith. The work is still plentiful and today is occupied with some boiler parts to be made and a long curved decorative brass railing.

September 5

Ed Jr. passes the pitcher test, the final “exam” of coppersmithing at the Shop. He heats and hammers a flat copper sheet, then shapes it into a drinking pitcher. Small careful taps with a finishing hammer smooth the surface and finally a handle is curved and soldered to the pitcher. This is the last test to prove your skills as a smith. His apprenticeship finished, Ed begins attending the College of Commerce in Baltimore to get a business background. Ed is excited to see what he can learn and is also happy to have several breaks from the Shop during the week. He has classes three days a week and will work three days a week at the Shop. Leo and Eddie both look on Ed’s education and the newly incorporated Shop as steps toward success in this ever more modern world.

“Business Letters” Ed Kavanagh Junior’s school book from College of Commerce.

September 30

The Treaty of Munich is signed by Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Despite the Czechs being the focus of this meeting, they aren’t present or even properly represented. This accord surrenders the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Germany. This is done primarily to pacify Hitler and he promises that this is the extent of his expansion. He assures all parties involved that he will take no further action against the Czechs. The Kavanagh’s, like many Americans, are following the news closely, and some condemn this treaty as a capitulation to Hitler. There are rumblings and calls for the U. S. to prepare for a conflict in Europe and just as strongly, there are calls for the U. S. to stay away from any military intervention at all costs.

October 9

The New York Yankees sweep the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series. The Cubs keep it close in each game but lose them all. The Yankees are led by Joe DiMaggio, who hits .326 with 32 home runs for the year while the Cubs team is anchored by veteran pitcher Dizzy Dean. Dean’s arm carried them to the pennant this year but it’s not enough to overcome the Yankees offense. The Kavanagh’s read all about it in the papers and listen on the radio when they can, including the final game in its entirety today. The World Series is and always will be a big deal at the Shop and to the Kavanagh’s. They talk about each game and analyze the box scores closely; thrilled at each and every minor detail.

October 16

Joe switches on his radio this Sunday to hear a message from Winston Churchill broadcasting to the U.S. Churchill is the most adamant critic of the Munich Agreement. He labels it a defeat for Western Europe and a victory for Germany. He encourages Americans and Western Europeans to prepare for war to resist further aggression by Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Joe takes Churchill’s warning seriously and though he’s concerned for the nation, he’s very worried for his grandsons. He doesn’t want them fighting a war in Europe. He thinks to himself, didn’t we do this twenty years ago? He hopes and prays for the best.

October 30

Eddie and his family are gathered around the radio at 8 pm on a Sunday night. They switch to WFBR to listen to Edgar Bergen’s ventriloquist act with dummy Charlie McCarthy. Always good for a laugh or two, listening to this short broadcast is a Sunday night habit. After the act finishes at approximately 8:13 PM, Eddie tells his boy Jack to switch to WCAO’s Mercury Theater Production. This show is usually entertaining as the cast is lead by Orson Welles of “The Shadow” fame. Instead of the Mercury Theater, they find themselves listening to a live news report. It seems impossible but the report is that an invasion of Martians has occurred in New Jersey. Everyone silently focuses on the radio as the station switches transmission to a report directly from the scene of the alien landing. Eddie grins and his sons do as well, this must be a story they have joined in progress but it seems interesting. Suddenly, the phone rings and Eddie grabs the receiver and says hello.

“Do you have the radio on? Do you hear what they’re saying is happening?” asks the caller, whom Eddie recognizes as his father, Joe.

“Yes, I have it on. I think it’s a joke or a story. We just started listening. It can’t be real.” Eddie replies.

“I don’t know.” says Joe, “this is the news. It’s a news reporter. They say they’re fighting a battle up in Jersey.” Eddie hears his father place the phone to his shoulder and say to his mother Johanna, “Jo, lock up the good rye, at least the Mount Vernon.”

Eddie hears a distant but firm reply, “I will do no such thing,” from his mother. Eddie then calls his father back to the phone, “Joe! Joe! Joe, this isn’t real and Martians probably don’t drink rye anyway.”

“No rye? The heathens! All the more reason to be worried.” Joe answered.

At this point, young Jack gets his father’s attention and points at the radio as the speaker announces that this is a dramatization of H. G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” Eddie nods and says to his father, “See. it’s fake. Just a show. They just said so on the air.”

“Oh, I heard it. Okay. Never mind.” The line clicks and Eddie stares at the phone with a wry grin spreading over his lips, shaking his head in amusement.

The next day the news of the hoax and the panic it caused is the talk of the nation. The panic is largely over-stated as most listeners knew it was entertainment. CBS did cut in several times to announce it was a drama but there certainly were individuals who were alarmed and frightened. Locally, one Baltimore jeweler, Samuel Shapiro, is reported to have had a heart attack during the program and he died two weeks later. The interest and press coverage is great for CBS and the Mercury Theater but there is an outcry from a few skeptics for no more faux news reports, but nothing comes of it.

Orson Welles. 1930s. Courtesy of Library of Congress. Carl Van Vechten – Photographer.

November 1

A big showdown is scheduled in the horse racing industry. Sea Biscuit defeats War Admiral in a match race at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The Kavanagh’s are not horse racing fans but they certainly take note of it as the City is excited to hold this race. The Pimlico Race Course hosts the Preakness every year and it is celebrated throughout Baltimore and Maryland. This was a bonus once-in-a-lifetime match up.

December 3

At a Saturday meeting of Coppersmiths Local #80, Eddie learns that the J. D. Kavanagh Coppersmith Company has been awarded a contract by Baltimore Pure Rye Distilling. They are opening a new distillery and the Shop did quote them a price but the job goes to James’ firm. Eddie calls his father about it when he gets home and Joe is surprised but not upset. The Shop has had a good year and they will start 1939 with more work scheduled. Joe thanks Eddie for letting him know but says let’s see how it goes for James. Getting the job is one thing but doing the job is another. Joe tells Eddie that he wishes James luck and, as always, to pass along anything he hears from the union.

December 23

The Shop’s Christmas party is thrown on this Friday. They have been working most Saturdays this year but will be closed tomorrow. The family will attend mass as a group tomorrow with Sr. Mary Agnes at the Visitation Convent on Roland Avenue. Today the Shop is full of merriment and mirth as customers and friends gather with the Kavanagh’s and crew. After a morning of work, an hour or so of cleanup and decorating, the party is quickly in full swing. They celebrate another year in business and as a family. The Joseph Kavanagh Company has had a fine year and Joe feels even more confident about retiring. He is 72 years old now and it is clearly time. He will be the first Kavanagh to make it to retirement from the Shop in its history. With this new corporation formed, he believes he has set his sons up for success. They work well together and have a very talented hard-working crew. At one point during the party, Joe takes his usual stroll out to the corner of Pratt and Central. He gazes up Pratt Street toward downtown Baltimore but doesn’t really see what is there. In his mind, he is back 28 years ago when this building was first erected. He recalls how he and his brothers, James and Frank, moved into a small place on Central Avenue, then within a few years, into this new and bigger Shop. They couldn’t have done it without Johanna, of course. She loaned them money to get started, then pooled her money with theirs to build Pratt and Central. It’s hard for him to believe it has been this long but the time has blown by. They’ve seen more than their share of ups and downs between Prohibition, bootlegging and issues between the brothers but they’re still here. They are still open and working. Joe is very proud of what they’ve done and what they will do in the future. In a flash, he’s back in 1938 and rejoins the party. There is more song and celebration into the evening then home for them all. For a second, Joe thinks this might be his last Christmas Eve party at the Shop. He’ll retire early next year; he’s not sure of the date yet. Then again, he can always come in to visit and enjoy the party like the rest of them. It might not be the same without his singing voice so he’ll be at next year’s party. After all, it’s the Joseph Kavanagh Company, he can come in whenever he likes.



Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the President of the United States and this year he founds the March of Dimes. Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” is performed for the first time. Action Comics premieres featuring a character in a secondary story named Superman. Bugs Bunny makes his first appearance in a film called Porky’s Hare Hunt. Slacks are marketed by the Haggar company for the first time. The minimum wage is established. Bill Withers, Judy Blume, Etta James, Wolfman Jack and Evel Knievel are born. Clarence Darrow and Robert Johnson die.

There are still 48 states in the Union.

Pratt and Central building. 1990.

To read earlier posts, click the Table of Contents link below.

Table of Contents

2 thoughts on “1938 Incorporation

  1. Joe, it must have been hard 4 your great-grand dad to allow the company to go to his sons after working there for so many years. But now that he’s at this time of life it’s good that he finally was able to let it go.I really enjoyed looking at the notes that were made about Gunther’s Brewery. They look amazing to me even though I don’t know how to understand them completely. However, you learn something new everyday!   Of course it’s a true shame how Hitler arose to power. Not a good thing at all for the world and the US. I think it’s interesting how they built a continuous still in the company. I’m interested in seeing what happens with that as time goes by. I have a good friend and his father started a business back in the 1930s. It has been very successful over the years and is still in business today. The brothers are not in agreement about the future of the company but I’m sure they will work it out to their benefit. It’s great to see that a peaceful transition took place between the brothers, Joseph and Johanna. I’m always interested in hearing about Johanna and what a great help she was to her husband Joe and the rest of the family. What a blessing. The scripture says, whoever finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord! Joe, where was Bugle Field located, was it in Baltimore somewhere? That’s a new history lesson for me because I’ve never heard of it. Wow Joe, I can’t believe that Roy Campanella played for Baltimore! That is pretty interesting because I did not know that. I’m glad that Leo and Eddie were both happy about their new positions and could shake hands on it. I think it’s amazing how tightly knit together your past family members were together. I really like that nature about families. I did not have that growing up, but thanks be to God I have it now. Joe, do you happen to have any of those pitchers at your present shop or in your possession? I would love to see one someday? I knew that the Yanks won the WS in ’38! But o still hate ’em to this present day! Those damn stinking Yankees! LOL
    Wow, WFBR has been around for so many years in Baltimore! I remember hearing about the puppet, Charlie McCarthy. So cool that you mentioned him! OMG I love the conversation about the War of the Worlds! I can’t believe the conversation of Joe senior with his sons on the phone! Telling his wife to lock up the rye whiskey! I could not stop laughing. I literally laughed my guts out! And then Johanna saying that she will do no such thing! I love Joe’s comments.  Too funny! Thank you so much for sharing that part. It is very interesting that you spoke about the Preakness and how that is been a Maryland favorite throughout the years. It’s interesting to think about the past races and all the great horses that have race there, especially the Triple Crown winners. I always enjoy hearing about the Christmas party each year at the shop. People really took Christmas seriously back in those days, people just don’t seem to do that anymore. It’s mostly a real big money making scheme and it’s sad that kids don’t appreciate the true and eternal meaning of Christmas! 1938 was a great year for the Joseph Kavanagh company.
    Again Joe, thanks for taking the time to put this all together. It is truly a fine work of art and I am grateful to be a partaker of your family history. God bless you Joe as you continue to move forward!


    1. Joe, I’m sorry that I’m behind in your timeline. I’ve been incredibly busy and busier than usual. I’ll try to catch up asap. Thanks my friend. Robb

      On Wed, May 15, 2019, 6:47 PM The Shop – A History of the Joseph Kavanagh


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