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Thomas B. Welch

AKA Thomas Bramwell Welch

Born: 31-Dec-1825
Birthplace: Glastonbury, England
Died: 29-Dec-1903
Location of death: Vineland, NJ
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Siloam Cemetery, Vineland, NJ

Gender: Male
Religion: Methodist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Business, Doctor, Religion

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Grape juice magnate

Thomas Welch was a 19th-century Methodist minister, physician, and dentist who thought it hypocritical that his church opposed consumption of alcohol, but served wine in its communion services. To rectify this problem, Welch used the process pioneered by Louis Pasteur -- he filtered and bottled grape juice in his kitchen, and then boiled the bottles, which had the effect of killing any naturally-occurring yeast, thereby preserving the juice while preventing fermentation. In 1869 Welch began taking his "Dr. Welch's Unfermented Wine" to other churches, but few clergymen expressed any interest, and he was often told that the notion of serving "unfermented sacramental wine" was tantamount to heresy.

When Welch's grape juice failed to prove popular, it soon faded into the background of Dr Welch's busy life -- he was also running Welch's Dental Supply Company, marketing Dr Welch's Neutralizing Syrup and Dr Welch's Dental Alloys, and publishing his long-running Items of Interest (later re-named Welch's Monthly), a leading dental journal of the time. Welch was deeply involved in the temperance movement, and was sworn as a policeman in Philadelphia, where he worked to apprehend illegal sellers of liquor. Until the Civil War was won he had been involved in the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves find their way to freedom in the North.

In the early 1890s, when his son Charles became active in the juice company and started advertising Welch's, demand grew rapidly, and Dr Welch devoted himself full-time to the juice business. After a splashy showcasing of the juice at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, the business boomed, and the Welch Grape Juice Company was incorporated in 1897. Welch died in 1903, but his name remains synonymous with grape juice.

In 1930, as a Christmas present at the height of the Depression, Welch's grandsons distributed 10% of the company's common stock among its 300 employees. In 1952, the company loaned $28M to the farmers that supplied it with grapes, to finance the farmers' purchase of the company. Since then Welch's has been owned by the National Grape Cooperative Association, an agricultural group comprising more than a thousand American fruit farmers.

Father: Abraham Welch (grocer)
Mother: Mary Fussell Welch (worked in hat shop. m. 19-Mar-1818)
Sister: Susan Welch Peak
Wife: Lucy Hutt Welch (m. 1847, d. Apr-1894, seven children)
Son: Charles Edgar Welch (physician and Welch executive, b. 2-Mar-1852, d. 1926)
Wife: Victoria Sherbume Welch (m. 23-Oct-1895)

    Theological: Gouverneur Wesleyan Seminary (1844)
    Medical School: MD, State University of New York at Syracuse (1852)

    Welch Grape Juice Company Founder & President (1897-1903)
    Naturalized US Citizen
    Underground Railroad
    English Ancestry

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