The Self-Made Man: Jack Daniels

TSB has never done a formal poll on the subject, but it’s probably a reasonable assumption that some of our readership likes to drink Jack Daniels whiskey. Quite a few of our Awesome Men Throughout History have been fans of it, most famously Lemmy from Motorhead.

But what of its entrepreneurial roots? Was the original Jack Daniels enough of a motivated self-starter (and beard grower) to qualify as one of TSB’s Self Made Men?

As it turns out, yes. Yes he was. Especially the beard.

Jack was born Jasper Newton Daniel in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and his family situation was in such flux that at 14, he was living with a Lutheran minister and working in his dry goods store, where the minister sold whiskey from his own still. Jack fell in love with the distilling process, and when most people were out fighting the Civil War, he was learning the finer points of the Lincoln County Process.

Jack eventually bought the minister’s distillery?when he was still a teenager, no less?and started his own business with it, although he registered it in 1875, not 1866 as the company often claims today.

Whatever his age was, Jack was a natural salesman who understood branding before that meant anything besides marking cattle. He put together a uniform consisting of a formal knee-length coat, a vest, a tie, and a wide-brim planter’s hat, which he always wore in public, thinking that the more he made an impression on people, the easier it would be for them to remember Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

Jack’s wardrobe wasn’t his only outlet for outlandish gimmickry. He put together a 10-person band called the Jack Daniel’s Silver Cornet Band, who rode around in a specialized traveling wagon and promoted the brand at every saloon opening, Fourth of July celebration, and political rally within reasonable driving distance. He used balloon launches and uniquely-shaped bottles to attract attention. He sent a keg of whiskey to Queen Victoria.

He also stenciled his distillery name on his whiskey jugs and bottles, which no one had ever done before him for some reason.

Jack Daniel was a hard worker for sure, and dedicated his entire life to making his whiskey brand the best and most well-known, bringing himself up from poverty in the process (he had $9 when he left his parents’ home as a child). He was also willing to think outside the box and, most importantly, have fun with his career. With the kind of financial and lifestyle risks he was taking, fun was essential.

Jack Daniel died in 1911 from blood poisoning, of all things, but the work he put in has paid off handsomely for his brand, to say the least. If only he’d lived long enough to hear David Allan Coe’s song about it.


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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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