Dr. Charles E. Welch, Jr., a dentist, was the Prohibition candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York (l9l4) and for Governor (1916). His father had developed a method of preserving unfermented grape juice for use in the Communion Service; Welsh, Jr. took the business and made Welch’s Grape Juice highly successful as a beverage.
-- Gammon, 2007, p.87
Charles Welch was born in Watertown, New York in 1852. His parents were Thomas B. Welch and Lucy M. (Hult) Welch. He was one of 7 children. Charles’ father Thomas Welch was a dentist, Methodist minister, and prohibition activist.
Thomas was born in Glastonbury, England. In 1834, his family immigrated to the United States. He was educated at Gouverneur Wesleyan Seminary and New York Central Medical College. He lived in various parts of the country before settling in Vineland, New Jersey in 1865.
The 19th Century Methodist church had come to largely embrace the cause of temperance. It had also embraced the notion that unfermented wine (grape juice) was the blood of Christ to be used in communion, rather than alcoholic wine. Given the food preservation technology of the time, however, many Methodist congregations had to produce their own grape juice locally, so that they could use it before it started to go bad.
In 1869,Thomas Welch started experimenting with ways to try to preserve grape juice. He eventually figured out a way to utilize pasteurization to produce a long-lasting form of grape juice, and he began producing and selling grape juice to local churches, though it would be his son Charles who would turn the practice into a nationally prominent business.
Charles Welch had grown up in New York, Minnesota, and New Jersey. Like his father, Charles pursued a career in dentistry. He also took an interest in the pasteurized grape juice that his father had created, producing and selling grape juice as a side business.
Initial attempts to sell the grape juice had limited success, but he encouraged his father to keep trying. Charles worked to grow the business and to increase its customers through ambitious marketing and advertising efforts. The popularity of their grape juice grew and spread beyond their local area.
By the 1890’s, Charles had decided to focus on the grape juice business as his main endeavor and, in 1893, turned over his dental practice to his sister, Dr. Emme Welch Slade.
Charles was able to get his grape juice advertised in Methodist publications. In 1893, Welch’s Grape Juice was sold to thousands of people at the Chicago World’s fair; helping to spread awareness of it across the country.
With the growth of the business, Charles recognized the need to expand it from a family business to a large-scale corporation. The family surveyed several grape-producing areas in New York state and selected the village of Westfield, in Chautauqua County. The Welch’s Grape Juice Company was incorporated there in 1897.
The company sponsored five booths at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, in 1901. Welch’s Grape Juice was advertised in religious journals, temperance publications, health and medical journals, women’s periodicals, and national magazines. By 1910, the Company was selling a million dollars in grape juice a year; by 1913, it was selling twice as much.
Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan served Welch's Grape Juice instead of wine at a dinner for the British Ambassador. In the same year, the U.S. navy banned alcohol on its ships and began serving Welch’s grape juice to sailors instead. By the time that national prohibition has started, Welch’s Grape Juice was a well-known beverage across the nation.
After the establishment of the Welch’s Grape Juice Company in Westfield, Charles Welch took up residence in Chautauqua County. He and his family became significantly involved in the local community: engaging in philanthropy, supporting the local Methodist church, and serving on the boards of local organizations. Charles himself was on the boards of trustees of the Chautauqua Institution, Allegany College, and the Chautauqua Women’s College. He served 6 terms as mayor of Westfield, New York (It is not certain what the exact years of all these terms were, but it is known that he was mayor in 1911-1912 and 1916-1920).
Charles Welch was a strong supporter of the prohibition cause. In 1906, he ran as the Prohibition Party candidate for the State Assembly in Chautauqua County’s 2nd District. He received 188 votes (2.15%) and came in third place. In 1912, he ran for Congress in New York’s 43rd Congressional District. He received 2,082 votes (4.55%) and came in 5th place. In 1914, the Prohibition Party nominated Charles Welch as its candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York. Charles received 44,484 votes (3.25%) and came in 4th place.
In 1916, Charles Welch was nominated to be the Prohibition Party's candidate for Governor of New York. He ran on a state platform that included:
• Support for prohibition on the state and national levels
• Support for Women’s suffrage
• Criticism of the Democratic and Republican parties for inefficiently managing state government
• Support for reforms to combat corruption and bribery in the state government
• Support for completing a state barge canal, while remaining cost-efficient
• A plan for improving the state’s road construction projects to produce high-quality roads connecting all parts of the state to key population centers and trade networks, while remaining cost-efficient
• Support for reforming state prisons based on a program that was being implemented at the time in Sing Sing prison
• Establishing a system for supporting the families of National Guard members while guardsmen are deployed
• Support for removing mayors, sheriffs, and district attorneys who refuse to enforce laws restricting alcohol sales
He received 21,773 votes (1.35%) and came in 4th place.
Charles Welch died on January 6th, 1926, and was buried in Westfield Cemetery.
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-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley