Friday, September 25, 2020




By Eric McGuire


Searching out information on the proprietor of a bottled product is not an unusual approach to bringing historical context to a physical item. It is done all the time and I have done it for many years. Which items to focus on is often serendipitous and the end results can be extremely varied. At times, no significant information can be found, and for others, what seems like too much is uncovered. For the subject who produced the product noted herewith, the information uncovered that was directly related to the bottle was succinct but rather brief. However, after looking at the additional exploits of the proprietor, the research became unusual and incredible beyond my expectations.

 Henry B. Slaven’s early life cannot be verified, especially in corroboration with the several published biographical versions. Henry Bartholomew Slaven was born near Picton. Onario, Canada, October 19, 1853. His biographical record includes having spent two years at the Ontario College of pharmacy in Canada, and then spent two years at a large Philadelphia drug firm in Philadelphia, and returning to Canada where he assumed management of a large wholesale drug house from 1873 to 1876. (Leslie's History of the Greater New York: Biographical: Volume DeLuxe by Daniel Van Pelt. Arkell Publishing Co., New York.1898)  None of these activities, prior to coming to San Francisco,  could be documented, however, his brother, John Wallace Slaven, did own a drug store in Orillia, Ontario, Canada, and it is entirely possible that much of Henry Slaven’s pharmacological experience was guided by his brother.

 How Slaven was able to set up his drug store in the prestigious Baldwin Hotel in San Francisco deserves some serious speculation. There is little doubt that he had some background in chemistry. How he got it and his proclaimed experience noted in his biographical record, is still an open discussion. I am thinking that his entrance to the Baldwin Hotel is directly connected with his brother, Moses Slaven, who was already in San Francisco. Being connected with the construction trade, and having a successful track record in working on some of San Francisco’s great structures, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that Moses Slaven came to know Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin during the process of construction of his hotel. In fact, it was Moses Slaven and his partner, Charles C. Terrill, who were the contractors in the construction of that edifice.(Daily Alta California, San Francisco, December 3, 1876)  It is entirely possible that Moses championed his brother as a worthy occupant for a first class apothecary shop in the lower level of the hotel.



Lucky Baldwin’s magnificent hotel, called The Baldwin, at the corner of Market, Powell and Eddy Streets in San Francisco. The corner entrance was also the entrance to H.B. Slaven’s Baldwin Pharmacy.


A close-up photograph of the corner entrance to the Baldwin Hotel, where above the awning may be seen the conspicuous name of H. B. SLAVEN, CHEMIST.

 Regardless of his introduction to Lucky Baldwin, it is a fact that Henry Slaven did occupy what was known as the Baldwin Pharmacy as its first tenant when the hotel opened its doors in November 1876. Just as the hotel was advertised as one of the most glamorous structures of its day, the pharmacy retained top billing for its opulence where Slaven worked and, coincidentally,  lived upstairs in the hotel.


A contemporary description of Henry B. Slaven's drug store in the Baldwin Hotel, known as The Baldwin Pharmacy.

His advertisements can be found in newspapers throughout the state, which almost always included mention of his Yosemite Cologne, a product for which he trademarked the name with the U.S. Patent Office on November 12, 1878.


An example of one of Slaven's early ads which includes the first product he advertised heavily - YOSEMITE COLOGNE. (Marysville Daily Appeal, Marysville, California, October 8, 1880)

 The next product for which he took credit, and the item that is featured here, is what he called California Fruit Salt Derivative Compound. Born from the mind of a chemist, it wasn’t an entirely new concept, as salts concentrated from a variety of sources were in common use throughout the civilized world. The most common examples were the compound salts derived from famous mineral springs found in the U.S. and Europe. Slaven’s fruit salt was likely derived from the concentrated and dehydrated extract of the sugary compounds of the fruits grown in California. Lemon was described as the dominant fruit in the product.


In his early ad for the Fruit Salt, Slaven attempts to clarify that his product is different from any other of the effervescent salts on the market, noting it was manufactured from fruit. (Russian River Flag, April 21, 1881)

 Slaven developed his marketing strategy for the salts by devising packaging and advertising, and trademarked the name with the State of California. His trademark, registered with the Secretary of State on October 14, 1881, as Trade Mark No. 747, including a copy of the label, which contained the essential words, FRUIT SALT, was apparently available for his unique proprietary use.


A copy of the label for Slaven's California Fruit Salt taken from his trade mark registration with the California Secretary of State in 1881.

 His labels were attached to the bottles that were designed for his fruit salt. The bottle design included a wide mouth to more easily remove the dry, or perhaps semi-dry salts. The bottles were probably produced on the East Coast since they have none of the subtle characteristics of glass produced in the San Francisco glass factory operating at that time.

 Slaven’s Fruit Salt was heavily advertised throughout the western United States as far east as Kansas City. All manner of publications were inserted with ads, but especially newspapers. As many as 34 different trade card items were circulated with the product name. Slaven obviously spent considerable funds on advertising.


The California Fruit Salt bottles are known in both blue and amber color.

 It would be remiss to note that Slaven was actually not the first to market such a product. John Crossley Eno, of Newcastle, England, was selling his fruit salt in England as early as 1874.  Eno didn’t receive trade mark protection in the United States until December 28, 1897. 

 No sooner did Slaven get his fruit salt to market, when an unexpected event occurred that literally changed the world. The roots of this event had likely been growing for some short time concurrently with his fruit salt venture, and became exposed to the world about this time, having a profound effect on his business at the Baldwin Hotel.

 Advertising for Fruit Salt came to a halt late in 1884, which presents an unanswered question in the documented timeline of Slaven’s activities. Because of his other interests Slaven was noticeably absent from his pharmacy starting in 1881, and in his own words, he permanently left San Francisco in 1882. In the face of his new venture the pharmacy became almost trivial to him and he likely virtually abandoned the profession. The store continued in the Baldwin Hotel, however, it must have been under new management, even though his name was still associated with the pharmacy for several more years.

 And the most likely individual to have transitioned into the management role of the Baldwin Pharmacy was a man named Beverly S. Taylor. Born in Canada about 1856, Taylor arrived in San Francisco in 1878, immediately working for Slaven. There is a strong possibility that Taylor was either a distant family member or previous friend of Slaven since Taylor continued a relationship with other Slaven family members in California during his remaining years. In fact, the 1884 San Francisco business directory notes his occupation was “manager, H.B. Slaven.”, implying he had taken control of the pharmacy. By 1885 Taylor left the Baldwin Pharmacy but apparently took the Slaven brands with him, including the fruit salt. He may even have continued their manufacture and sale for as long as about 1889, but after that date Taylor was deeply involved in his mining ventures.

 But, what happened to Henry B. Slaven, and why did he leave his business so abruptly?  The primary operative behind the construction of the Suez Canal was a Frenchman named Ferdinand de Lesseps. His close friend and associate was French civil engineer, Prosper Huerte who had moved to San Francisco to work on a variety of large projects in the quickly developing California. De Lesseps came to San Francisco to meet and discuss with Huerte about a new project that De Lesseps was about to undertake. He was to embark upon the construction of the Panama Canal and needed to preliminarily construct twenty base camps, or staging areas, along the route of the proposed canal to accommodate the thousands of laborers involved with the project. The construction contract was estimated to be funded in the amount of two million dollars. Huerte lined up several business partners in the venture which included Moses Slaven. Moses convinced his brother, Henry Slaven, to work with him and a partnership in the name of Huerne, Slaven & Co. was formed. San Francisco was populated with a number of overnight millionaires who committed initial funding, and the short story is that the project was completed on time and with a hefty profit as well.


 Newspaper articles throughout the country began covering the amazing story about Slaven and his part in the construction of the new canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Slaven was even able to note the importance of his California Fruit Salt in helping prevent illness in the army of workers constructing the canal. (Reno Gazette JournalRenoNevada, December 23, 1881)

 The intricate dealings and obvious underhanded deceit, whenever such large amounts of money is concerned,  is far too difficult to put into simple words, however, the biggest coup for the Slaven brothers was the winning of the second canal contract, which entailed the actual dredging of the first leg of the Panama Canal. Again, the mechanizations of the funding was extremely complicated, but the brothers hit upon the idea of constructing three massive dredges, a design of which they had witnessed in California for gold dredging. With the use of the dredges they completed their contractual obligation of about a seventeen mile segment of the canal, way under the assigned value of twenty million dollars. By 1883 the Slaven brothers were multi-millionaires.


Pomona Times Courier, Pomona, California, January 6, 1883 )

 Of course, the remainder of the story is one of great complexity involving many lawsuits, deceit, cheating and painful family issues that would make an unbelievable movie – but it would really not make for a happy ending.


Another of the many articles printed throughout the U.S. covering one of the most sensational human feats of the 1880's, which coincidentally included the proprietor of CALIFORNIA FRUIT SALT. ( The Weekly Economist, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, October 2, 1883 )

Moses and Henry Slaven had walked away with the vast majority of the profits from the canal venture which created all manor of problems for them. Moses Slaven died in 1886. Henry then married the widow of his brother, which in effect, gained him his brother’s large estate as well. Henry Slaven lived a sumptuous life of luxury until his death in Manhattan, New York, on December 2, 1904.

 Most are aware of the failure of the French to complete the canal in 1888 due to both cost over runs, and the huge loss of life caused by tropical diseases. The project was eventually given to the United States in 1904 and completed in 1913.

 One final note of interest about the life of Henry B. Slaven, is that he had one child with his wife – the former wife of his brother. She was Edith Egypta “Nila” Slaven, born March 1, 1890, in Egypt. Henry was living in Egypt for awhile exploring potential ventures which included the idea of flooding that portion of the Sahara Desert, known as the Qattara Depression, located below existing sea level, with the intention of creating an inland sea that would provide shipping access to the vast hinterland of Northern Africa. Obviously, the idea didn’t come to fruition. His daughter, Nila, eventually inherited a huge fortune with which she lived a life of luxury. Never married, she moved effortlessly among the highest of social circles, and traveled throughout the world. Edith Slaven died November 1977, at Blue Hill, Hancock, Maine.

 After researching the information behind California Fruit Salt, I must admit the bottles have taken on a whole new meaning for me. It’s amazing what a little research can do.

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