Author of: Whiskey, An American Pictorial History
Oscar Getz was born in November of 1897 in Chicago, Illinois. He married Emma Abelson Getz in 1920 also in Chicago. Oscar was a businessman before prohibition in the whiskey brokering business. It was said that Oscar had a colorful personality and was the consummate salesman. After prohibition ended Getz and his brother-in-law Lester Abelson decided to get back into the whiskey business and started their own business. Within a few years his company was busting at the seems and Oscar was named President of that same company that employed more than 100 employees and the became largest distributor of whiskey and bourbon obtained from the old Tom Moore Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky.
The brand they sold was bottled by the Tom Moore Distillery but they put their own label on it calling it “Old Barton.” By 1940 Getz was a big player in the industry and became the largest whiskey wholesaler in a seven state area mostly in the mid-west. Oscar also had a fascination with the distillation process of whiskey and the industry as a whole. As a hobby he started collecting memorabilia including artifacts, nice advertisements, small displays, bourbon and whiskey bottles.
In 1944, Oscar bought the old Tom Moore Distillery from Tom’s son, Con Moore. Getz changed the name of the plant to the name of the brand of bourbon that he was selling through out the mid-west that he had named years earlier. The new name of the factory was the Barton Distillery, originally a name he made up and "picked from a hat" of several choices. At the time of the distillery purchase the three brands of the plant were all Kentucky Straight Bourbons; 1.) Old Barton, 2.) Tom Moore and 3.) Kentucky Gentleman.
Under Getz's leadership, the Barton Distillery company went on to become Barton Brands Limited. They heavily promoted their flagship bourbon now called ”Very Old Barton." They added the “Very Old” because they aged their two variations of this label four and an unheard of six years. There were no super premium or older aged bourbons in those days and standards in the industry only required bourbon to be aged two years. So six years was quite an anomaly.
Barton Brands then purchased the Glenmore Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky. Because the name Barton was a bigger name in the industry, the merged company used the Barton and discarded Glenmore. The Glenmore Distillery was known for making several well known regional brands of their own including; 1.) Kentucky Tavern Bourbon, 2.) Ten High Bourbon, 3.) Walker’s Reserve, 4.) Old Thompson Whiskey, 5.) Imperial Blended Whiskey, 6.) Fleischmann’s Rye, a number of blended whiskies and the Mr. Boston line of diversified spirits. Eventually the Glenmore Distillery plant would be closed down from making spirits and the newly acquired brands were moved to being distilled Bardstown.
Getz had established a great reputation for both he and his distilleries, he became a well known historian and lecturer for the industry. Oscar made quite a name for himself in the distilling business as he was named the liquor industry's “Man of the Year.” in 1942 during World War II and again in 1957. During this time he continued to amass a large collection of all things whiskey, many even called it an obcession. "Eventually his wife Emma said, “I don't want all this old stuff in my house any more," so Oscar turned the Barton offices into a visitors center at the distillery. Barton was the very first company to ever offer distillery tours before it was a fad and his museum collection was the beginning and the end of what was a very rudimentary tour of the production facility. Beginning in 1957 all the way into the early 1980s, people actually thought the museum was the distillery tour. There had never been a public institution that was dedicated to capturing history and importance in the bourbon and whiskey industry. In fact, Getz was so enamored with bourbon making he wrote a book called, "Whiskey: An American pictorial history," which came out in 1978 and quickly became the definitive reference guide to everything in the Bourbon and American whiskey business for the next two decades.
His collection continued to snowball and became so large it outgrew the Barton Visitor’s Center. Oscar in a quest for a proper home for his collection paid the City of Bardstown to fix up an abandoned, 200-year-old Catholic seminary to house his museum. Unfortunately Getz passed away before he could ever see his vision become reality in 1983; the museum opened a year later in 1984. The Getz family wanted everyone to see what Oscar had collected, so the Museum of Whiskey History has always been free.
Now the old Georgian building, stately and Southern is rich with carpets and elegant molding and is perfect for the presentation of whiskey’s history. A bronze bust of Oscar Getz’s head and shoulders sits on a marble pedestal at the end of one wing, forever keeping an eye on his collection.
Items on display include George Washington's still, the ancient pot still was seized by revenuers in 1939 from descendants of Washington's slaves, apparently the still was still in use. The sign notates that while he was President, Washington made the equivalent of $125,000 a year by selling whiskey that he cooked at Mount Vernon. After his retirement as Chief Executive, George went on to become this country’s largest distiller making over 9,000 proof gallons annually.