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Alcoholic Beverage Bottles Were Once Closed With Combination Locks

By Judy Deeter

TROY - Inside of the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center there is a small distillery museum where artifacts of the old Hayner Distilling Company are kept on permanent display. The room is filled with shelves of empty alcohol bottles from long ago. It is not just the glass bottles that are intriguing; it’s the way they were opened and closed.  


   Some bottles were opened and closed with a combination lock at the neck of the bottles—where a cork would be placed today. These locks are known as combination lock bottle stoppers. Just like the lock on a safe, the bottle owner had to turn the bottle lock’s number dial to one number and then another to open it. An instruction sheet displayed with the locks says that its purpose was to protect bottle owners from unwanted drinkers such as “servants, children and others.” Though many stories have been written about the Hayner Distilling Company and its owners, only a few articles have been written about the combination lock bottle stopper.

   Artifacts in the distillery museum are from Hayner Distilling Company historical collector and researcher John E. Lutz. A second collection of company historical items from collector Michael Grilliot are in a display case just outside the museum room. Both collections have various versions of the combination lock bottle stoppers. (The items from Mr. Grilliot’s collection were given in honor of his parents, Linus and Vivian Grilliot.)  

   The earliest combination lock bottle stopper in the museum was made in 1897. It is displayed in bottles of Hayner Rye from that time. A card, mailed to a Hayner customer on November 5, 1898, is in front a Rye bottle. It says, “This card when returned with an order for not less than four quarts of our goods entitles the holder to one (1) (combination lock bottle stopper).”  A drawing of the combination lock bottle stopper is printed on the card and a bottle stopper from that era sits next to the card.

   Some early alcohol beverage bottles with locks have a patent date of April 20, 1897 stamped into the bottle’s glass. One bottle has a description of its combination bottle lock stopper. It says the lock is “A one-cog combination lock with a celluloid insert lock top….”  According to a timeline displayed in the museum, months later in 1898 a knurled combination bottle lock was introduced. Knurled means it had a ridge or knot to pass over as it was being opened.

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   It should be remembered that in the mid-1890s an automatic glass bottle machine came on the market. Glass bottles replaced jugs that had previously been used as alcoholic beverage containers. Glass bottles with narrow necks made it possible for the combination lock bottle stoppers to be used. 

   As previously mentioned, the Distillery Museum has an historical timeline about both the Hayner Distilling Company and Hayner family history.  There is also a map on the wall that shows the former locations of Hayner Distilling Company buildings in Troy.  (Some of the Hayner buildings are still standing; others are gone.)

   Lewis Hayner, who was born in Warren County in 1821, founded the Hayner Distilling Company. He built his first distillery in Miami County near Farrington in 1856. He sold that distillery and started another in Troy a decade later in 1866. It has been reported that when Hayner started his Troy distillery he made patent medicines, particularly remedies for those suffering from colds and diseases of the nose and lung. According to the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center website, when Lewis Hayner began his business the company name was “Lewis Hayner, Distiller, Pure Copper Distilled Rye and Bourbon Whiskies.”  This was one of several names used by the distillery down through the years. The company had business sites in Troy, Dayton, Springfield and several cities around the United States.

   A biographical sketch published about Lewis Hayner in the book HISTORY OF MIAMI COUNTY (By W.H. Beers, 1880) says, “(he is a) manufacturer of fine whiskies, proprietary medicines, etc. Troy. Lewis Hayner is one of Troy’s most enterprising men, and has probably done more to advance its business interests than any man who ever lived in the city…”  In the 1870s and 1880s, when Beers’ HISTORY OF MIAMI COUNTY was written, he was considered one of Troy’s wealthiest men and was a member of the Troy City Council in the 1870s.


   Not everyone in the area liked the alcohol business. There was quite a movement against the sale of alcohol in Troy and Miami County. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, formed in Troy in February 1874, was one of the most prominent local organizations working to stop the sale of liquor.  At the time, Troy had a population of about 3,000 people and 18 saloons.  

   An article by Michael W. Williams in the March-April 1999 magazine Timeline (“Profits from Prohibition Walter Kidder and the Hayner Distillery”) says: "No prospect alarmed American distillers more in the 1890s than the temperance movement. Not only did it sully the personal reputation of distillers by suggesting that their business was immoral, it bore the potential to destroy. In 1890 national prohibition seemed a distant prospect. However, temperance advocates were gobbling territory at an alarming rate through state ‘local option’ laws that granted local governments the power to regulate or outlaw the liquor traffic.”  

There were differences in alcohol laws within states. Counties and towns where alcohol could be sold and served were known as “wet” places; areas where it was not allowed were “dry” places. 

NOTE:  On January 16, 1919, the 18th amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. The 18th amendment established the prohibition of “intoxicating liquors in the United States.” It was repealed in 1933 by the 21st amendment. The amendment forever changed how the Hayner Distilling Company operated its business. The time the 18th amendment was American law was known as the prohibition era.

   Lewis Hayner died in 1892. In March 1894, his nephew Charles Hayner purchased the distillery. Prior to the distillery purchase, Charles Hayner had operated Hayner’s Liquor Store in Piqua. Some stories say that Charles’ half-brother William Hayner was also a buyer of the distillery. Other stories mention only Charles. Their sister Georgianna’s husband, Walter S. Kidder, became the sales manager and was a part of the company’s management team.

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    Thomas Bemis Wheeler wrote in his book TROY THE NINETEENTH CENTURY:  "Shortly after Hayner’s death two of his nephews, William and Charles Hayner, purchased the distillery. In 1895 they doubled its capacity and were hard put to keep up with the demands. The brothers sold whisky locally to saloons, but more and more the largest part of their business became selling whisky direct to the customer….When possible, the company shipped the whisky without any marks on the package to show its contents….The company also shipped some brands with a combination lock at the top so that no one except the consignee could imbibe the contents.  

   Joanne Duke Gamblee wrote in her book MARY JANE HAYNER THE WOMAN, THE FORTUNES THE LEGACY, “In 1911 and estimated twenty million gallons of liquor a year were being sold by mail order (by the Hayner Distilling Company).”

   Boxes of the combination lock bottle stoppers have the word “patent” printed on the box, which indicated that the company had patented their lock(s). It is not clear how many patents were held by the Hayner Distilling Company, but it is known that Edmund S. Church and Alford C. Appleton both filed patent applications on April 27, 1909 with the Hayner Distilling Company as the assignee. Those patents were approved on October 11, 1910. Church’s patent number 972508 and Appleton’s were 972492 and 972493. (It is believed that Church later had patents related to the National Cash Register company adding machine.)

   Michael W. Williams said in his Timeline article “In 1910, Kidder established the Al-Ed Manufacturing Company to turn out ‘high-grade specialties and advertising novelties.’  Alfred (Alford) C. Appleton, the general manager of the Dayton firm, used several earlier patents to come up with a unique combination-lock stopper for Hayner’s customers….”

   Walter Kidder designed what was known as the Starburst decanter bottle. It came with a combination lock stopper. Starting in 1909, both the bottle and lock were offered free with Hayner’s WSK Whiskey (named in honor of Walter S. Kidder). A sign in the Distillery Museum says of the decanter lock that it was probably the last lock Hayner used.

   Eventually, Charles Hayner left the company and later became President of the Troy Milk and Butter Company.   William Hayner managed the operation in Troy assisted by his bodyguard and a former slave named Tom Green. Walter Kidder lived in Dayton and operated the business there.

   On April 2, 1891, William Hayner married Mary Jane Harter Coleman. Mary Jane had previously been married and was divorced from a man named Horace Coleman. She was the daughter of Samuel and Olivia (Meridith) Harter. Samuel Harter was the owner of a Troy hardware store, a real estate investor, and an owner in the Dr. Harter Medicine Company in St. Louis. He took over the company after the deaths of his two doctor brothers who founded and owned the business. 

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   William Hayner died in 1912. In 1914, his widow, Mary Jane Hayner, built a beautiful mansion home on West Main Street in Troy. Her home is now the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center. Mrs. Hayner is remembered as not liking alcohol and for much of her life did not serve it in her home. Ironically, the Distillery Museum is in what was her dining room (above right).

   Some types of combination lock bottle stoppers are still available today. Information can be found about them at various sites online.  

   The combination bottle stoppers can be viewed at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center. For information about the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center Distillery Museum call (937) 339-0457 or see their website at Click on “Exhibits” to read about the museum.

   Books and manuscripts about the Hayner Distilling Company and Hayner family can be researched at the Troy-Miami County Public Library, 100 West Main Street in Troy.

   For further historical information about this story, contact The Troy Historical Society at (937) 339-5900 or by email at

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