Saturday, October 17, 2020





This investigation began with a simple desire to attempt to determine the manufacturing date of the soda bottle embossed, G. P. MORRILL. It is clearly understood to be the product of druggist, George P. Morrill, while conducting his business in Virginia City, Nevada. My research then expanded into attempting to follow the history of Morrill in California, and to understand his relationship with several of his brothers, who were also in the drug trade. A simple project suddenly got complicated. What a story the Morrill brothers weaved, but I dared not tackle the entire bunch for I would never finish with my intended goal.

 I did find it necessary to touch upon the lives of the other brothers because they were so intertwined with George Morrill. As always, one of my underlying goals is to document my findings as well as possible, so if anyone else is interested - or obsessed as I -  in looking into Morrill’s life, my data could be retraced. Another element of this story is the use of visual examples of some of the uncovered newspaper documents to actually take a leading role in telling the story. Reading the actual news articles then become items of discovery for the viewer. This method, laid out in timeline fashion, can be a little confusing; however, I believe it can be appreciated by many. The article ended up being much longer than expected, but anyone interested in the Morrill soda bottle should find the history of the man just as intriguing as well.

The heavy use of historical newspaper research is rather new to many historians. It does not replace traditional researching but adds to it tremendously. I often expound on the amazing ability to ‘word search’ many newspapers with just a click of the computer button – something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. The technology is actually in its infancy and has a long way to go, but is already something of a miracle. I have discovered information that could, otherwise, not be found in my lifetime.

The G.P. MORRILL soda bottle is a favorite collector’s item from the glory days of Virginia City, Nevada. The date of the bottle would mean that the bottle manufacturing order was placed with the Pacific Glass Works of San Francisco, or the newly re-opened San Francisco Glass Works.  From the following information it becomes clear that the G.P. Morrill soda bottles were blown about June 1871. If additional orders were placed they were most certainly made prior to September 1872.


This article focuses on the soda water bottle of G.P. Morrill, who spent most of his adult life as a druggist in California and Nevada. He came from a very interesting family of siblings that who also deserve a good story, but my objective here is to focus on George Peverly Morrill, and to pin down the date of his somewhat scarce soda water bottle. Born on July 6, 1828, in Chichester, New Hampshire, he arrived in California aboard the ship New Jersey, which sailed from Boston on May 1,1849. He first worked the gold fields in Coloma, the site of the first discovery of gold. (New York Daily Herald, May 11, 1849)  After investing the usual hard work in ‘digging’ for gold, he opened an apothecary shop in the early mining town of Diamond Springs in 1853. He also opened another store the same year with his brother, Augustus Morrill, in Volcano, California. Based on early advertisements the brothers seemed to have had a ‘back and forth arrangement’ between partnership and sole proprietorship of the two stores.


Advertisements for the Volcano store nearly always listed both partners as proprietors, even though George P. Morrill lived in Diamond Springs. This ad announces the opening of a new store which, incidentally, was brick construction, a more secure structure from the previous wood frame building. (Volcano weekly ledger. Volcano, Amador County, Cal., December 01, 1855)


 The Diamond Springs store was burned out in 1856 but George Morrill rebuilt and continued in the same location. Augustus Morrill operated the Volcano store until the later 1850’s when it was then advertised for sale. The partners sold the Volcano store in March 1857, and continued the Diamond Springs store for a few years.


One of the few advertisements noting a partnership interest of the two Morrill brothers in the Diamond Springs drug store. (The Granite Journal, Granite, California, March 2, 1856)


The Volcano drug store of George and Augustus Morrill was put up for sale in November 1856 and sold in March 1857 to Dr. Charles W. Shoeneman. (Volcano Weekly Ledger. Volcano, Amador County, California, November 15, 1856)


The business life of Diamond Springs had begun slowing down and there was no interest in his drug store, and the nearby town of Placerville had begun to outshine Diamond Springs.


George P. Morrill advertised his interest in selling his drug store in Diamond Springs in 1858. His brother, Augustus, had apparently dissolved his interest in the store and went to work for their brother, Charles Morrill, in Sacramento, probably managing his coal oil business which had grown considerably. Charles was harvesting oil on the beaches near Santa Barbara as well as oil fields in Colima, Mexico

 George P. Morrill left his store in Diamond Springs and set up shop in Placerville, early in 1860. His first advertisement noted in Placerville was April 1860. (Mountain Democrat, 28 April 1860).

In 1860 Augustus Morrill left California to manage the coal oil factory of his brother, Charles Morrill, in Colima, Mexico, arriving there on December 19, 1860. Charles Morrill was likely the most active of all the brothers, and almost always was involved in some sort of law suit. Perhaps the most unusual located was a suit he brought against Samuel Brannan and two others, claiming a violent assault and battery upon him while on board the steamer Sonora on September 10, 1858. (Sacramento Bee, December 30, 1858). Charles operated two drug stores, one in San Francisco and one in Sacramento, as well as his coal oil business in Colima. Based upon newspaper records, it does appear that Charles Morrill was either highly unlucky in his personal and business life, or he was extremely litigious.

 Oscar F. Morrill is the most mysterious of the three ‘brothers’. In fact, there is no documented record of him actually being a sibling of the other two brothers. He styled himself as an inventor, and resided near Boston, Massachusetts. Oscar died in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on January 9, 1875. He actually did hold several U.S. Patents, primarily for improvements in oil burners.

 When Charles Morrill retired in 1862, three brothers, Oscar F. Morrill, Augustus Morrill, and George P. Morrill, formed a partnership in purchasing the business interests of their brother, Charles Morrill. George P. Morrill also integrated his own assets of the Placerville store into the partnership. By the end of 1863 the partnership began to unravel, as the newspapers documented a number of lawsuits between the brothers.  Shortly thereafter George Morrill moved to Virginia City where he set up his drug store in his own name. Augustus Morrill remained in Mexico and continued with the coal oil business, eventually becoming an American Consular to Mexico. In a kidnapping plot gone awry, Augustus was killed by an outlaw gang on February 23, 1920.


An advertisement documenting a merger of three Morrill brothers, which included absorbing the businesses of their brother, Charles Morrill. (Sacramento Daily Union, February 12, 1862)


George P. Morrill’s drug store in Placerville also fell under the umbrella of the Morrill brother’s holdings, as this advertisement attests. ( Mountain Democrat, July 4, 1862)




The first of the Morrill brother’s store to be liquidated was in San Francisco. (Daily Alta California, November 11, 1862)


Exactly where George Morrill went after he left Placerville is somewhat conjectural. It is likely that he may have tried mining for awhile prior to returning to the druggist trade in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1864. His son, John Morrill, was born December 13, 1863, at a location described as near Verdi, Nevada, but in California. It is very likely he was born near the ghost town of Crystal Peak, or in that vicinity. Of course, Verdi, Nevada, didn’t exist until about 1868, which was established as a railroad stop on the transcontinental line. There is some evidence that Morrill homesteaded property in this area, or at least within the Truckee Meadow area, which was confirmed just prior to his death in 1891, (MDM, Twp 19N, Range 17E, N1/2, SE ¼, Section 12)

 Morrill’s attention also focused on the successful mining interests of the Virginia City area, investing in stock of the Palmyra Consolidated Gold & Silver Mining Company. He had opened his drug store at 16 South C Street in Virginia City by 1864. In October 1865 he suffered his first fire which destroyed most of his stock. The loss was covered by insurance.

 By July 1866 Morrill installed a soda fountain in his drug store. Given the parched Nevada climate this must have been a big supplement to his income. The same year he became involved in local politics and ran for County Commissioner of Storey County, Nevada, and won.


Morrill’s first advertisement where he presented the public with the sale of soda water. (Gold Hill Daily News, July 14, 1866)



Two days after his previous advertisement another informational type ad was printed in the same paper describing the availability of his “splendid soda fountain”. (Gold Hill Daily News, July 16, 1866)

In 1869 Morrill purchased one of William Gee’s soda generators for his drug store and ordered the necessary components for serving soda water in his shop. By September 1869, all the equipment was in place and he began advertising soda water by a much more efficient method than previously.



Morrill also intimated that he was prepared to bottle soda water for family use, but it was not yet for sale. By October 1869, Morrill advertised his bottled soda water, however, it was sold in “a peculiar style of stout glass bottle, holding about a quart”. This is an obvious description of a siphon bottle.


 In a first step toward bottling his soda water, Morrill described the use of Wm. Gee’s special attachment to his soda water machine that allows for the filling, and refilling, of siphon bottles. (Gold Hill Daily News, October 9,1869)



Along with Gee’s soda fountain, for an additional $30 Morrill purchased this new attachment for filling siphon bottles, patented in January 1868. The siphon bottles cost Morrill $15 per dozen.  He was still not prepared to sell his soda water in the typical half pint bottles.


An 1871 ad notes that he was nearly ready to sell bottled soda water, but it appears that it was still not for sale.


Finally, Morrill’s bottled soda water was very close to being sold to the public. The only caveat was his statement that some of the facilities for making it were "on hand and arriving". It is possible that everything was in place except for the bottles.


Another notice in the same newspaper appears to secure the reality that regular bottling for the general public would be occurring within days. It is fairly safe to assume that the bottles had been blown and were on their way via railroad from San Francisco.  Therefore, the earliest noted reference to Morrill actually bottling soda water occurred in July 1871, when he practiced a popular custom of delivering some gratis soda water to local newspaper staff – always a sure way to get some free advertising.  (Gold Hill Daily News, 6 July 1871)


Morrill’s business seemed to be on track at a time when Virginia City was at its peak. As fate would have it, he suffered a crippling fire a few months later in 1871. While it is not known if he was insured, he was at least able to recover.


Following the accounts of anyone, via newspaper, is normally a sketchy affair. The entire story is often hidden, which may be the case with Morrill. Financial stability is an important element in the life of any entrepreneur, but if he was overextended it had not become obvious in the newspaper record.


From this day forward, it is safe to say that Morrill was in the business of selling soda water in bottles. The following advertisement, regularly occurring in local newspapers, attests to that, with one caveat.


Morrill’s advertisement plainly notes he was manufacturing soda and sarsaparilla, however, what does he mean where the ad states, “cleanly put up in bottles for Bars and Saloons”? Was he not selling his bottles to the public?  Perhaps he was referring to his seltzer bottles, or maybe the half-pint bottles were sold only through saloons. If this was the case, then Morrill would not have to deal with the labor intensive process of retrieving his bottles - leaving that task to the saloon owners. This statement remains unclear. (Gold Hill Daily News, July 6, 1872)


Soda water and ice seems to be a natural complement, and Morrill’s industrious nature motivated him to develop a side business he called The Gold Hill Ice Company. It is clear that Morrill had some sort of property interest in the region of Truckee, where ice could be easily harvested and perhaps stored on the property. When needed it could be loaded on the train at Truckee, or by wagon, and delivered to Virginia City in quantities that would be easy to handle.


Morrill’s ice business began very shortly prior to this advertisement. (Gold Hill Daily News, September 14, 1872)


The ongoing question of whether George P. Morrill was selling his soda water bottles via the general public or whether he was selling them to bars and saloons, who then had the responsibility of collecting the returns, is an interesting one that may never be answered, for all his newspaper articles, and advertising, came to a halt in September of 1872.

Not long afterward an ominous notification was inserted in the newspaper that clarified the reason and also spelled the end of his business in Virginia City.



George P. Morrill’s drug, soda water and ice business came to an end in September 1872. (Gold Hill Daily News, December 31, 1872) He virtually disappeared in the newspaper record until his death in 1891. It is clear that he left town and most likely retreated to his property near what is now Verdi, Nevada.


After leaving Virginia City, Morrill’s residence appears to be rather vague but still within the area of extreme eastern California from Loyalton in the north to Truckee in the south. In 1875 he was scheduled as a laborer at Crystal Peak, in 1880 as a druggist in Truckee, and in 1884 the village of Oneida with no occupation. Most of his children had settled in Truckee. Perhaps of most significance, at least for this article, is that he never again engaged in the bottling and sale of soda water. If he did work in Truckee as a druggist, Morrill probably worked in a store for someone else. There is no mention of him in the Truckee newspapers.


(Sacramento Daily Union, July 20, 1891)



George P. Morrill’s final resting place is in the Morrill plot of the Truckee Cemetery, along with a number of his family members.