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MARCH 2009

Alvin M. Woolson of the Woolson Spice Company

Alvin M. Woolson

Alvin M. Woolson
1st Ohio Heavy Artillery, Company M

Woolson Spice Company, Toledo, Ohio

Woolson Spice Company, Toledo, Ohio

Born in 1841 in Huron Township, Erie County, Ohio, Alvin Mansfield Woolson served in Company M of the First Ohio Volunteer Heavy Artillery (formerly the 117th Ohio Volunteer Infantry) from 1862 to 1865. Following his Civil War service, Woolson became an accountant for the Union Pacific Railroad during the construction of track from Kansas City to Denver. He then worked in the mercantile business at Berlin Heights, Wauseon, and Toledo. Eventually, he formed the Woolson Spice Company with Toledo’s wholesale grocers as stockholders. Located at 58 Summit Street, the company became the second largest coffee concern in the United States. Advertising trade cards, like the one above, were packaged with purchases of Lion Coffee sold by the Woolson Spice Company.

In 1896, cutthroat businessman H. O. Havemeyer purchased the Woolson Spice Company for more than two million dollars. King of the sugar trust, Havemeyer hoped to use the thriving Woolson Spice Company to destroy his competitor, coffee titan John Arbuckle. For more than a decade, the “Great Coffee-Sugar War” raged between the two. But by 1905 Havemeyer had nearly destroyed the Woolson Spice Company and lost more than 15 million dollars in the process.

In retirement, Alvin Woolson remained active in the Toledo business community as one of the original organizers of the Lucas County Chamber of Commerce and a member of numerous veteran and patriotic organizations. He served as a director of Toledo’s Second National Bank, Union Savings Bank, and the Northern National Bank. Woolson purchased a farm in Huron Township not far from his birthplace. He created a 35-room mansion from the original home. After his wife Frances (Tillinghast) died, Woolson spent little time in Erie County. He lived the remainder of his life in Toledo, Ohio.