Peppermint Kings

A Presentation by Brian Capouch

Jasper County Fair

28 July 2021

Thank You

Part One

Origins of the U.S. Mint Industry

Some Recurring Ideas

  • Like America itself, mint migrated from east to west
  • The Peppermint Kings were interesting folks
  • There's a lot of misinformation out there

Where the Peppermint Kings Reigned

Peppermint King #1

When: 1810-1840+

Where: Ashfield Mass.

Who: Samuel Ranney (1772-1837) and family

What: First mint

Ashfield was incorporated 1765, peppermint was there before 1800

The Ranney family was huge, repeating names across generations

The Ranneys were originally from Middletown, Connecticut

Migration of extended families is a well-known American behavior

Peppermint was not a subsistence crop

Ashfield was hilly and not suited to growing subsistence crops (e.g. wheat)

There were no drugstores

Much "medicine" was done without doctors, and was herbal in nature

Peppermint oil was the linchpin for a vast network of peddlers whose stock was headquartered in Ashfield

Samuel Ranney and his family supplied the peddlers with many of their goods

To supply their network of peddlers, the Ranneys grew peppermint near Ashfield

From the beginning, both American and English essences were marketed

English, "genuine" peppermint, sold at a premium over the American "imitation"


Starting in the 1830s the Ranney clan moved again, this time to Phelps, NY

At that same time, they began purchasing land in Michigan, as well

By 1850, Ashfield's population had declined by about 25%, due to a single clan's migration

The Ranneys were staunch abolitionists

Ashfield was the site of a famous religious controversy

  • Massachusetts still had an official state church, Congregationalism
  • Residents were forced to pay a tax to support it
  • The Ashfield Baptists refused
  • Congregationalists seized Baptist property and sold it
  • The dispute eventually was settled by King George III

Samuel Ranney was involved in another religious dispute just before he moved to Phelps

Antidisestablishmentarianism reared its head in the Ashfield Congregationalists

(Ashfield's Dr. Charles Knowlton wrote the first birth-control guide in the U.S.)


Peppermint King #2

When: 1840-1890

Where: Phelps/Lyons New York

Who: Hiram (1810-1894) and Leman Hotchkiss

What: Hotchkiss, an American brand sold internationally

The Hotchkiss family was also large and wealthy, owning the largest general store in the USA, in Phelps

Hiram and his brother Leman Jr. operated stores and grist mills in Phelps and nearby Lyons

Hiram moved onto a farm estate near Lyons in 1833

The Erie Canal ran through Lyons, providing access to New York and world markets

Lots of peppermint was grown around Phelps, but mostly went to Ashfield

(*via the Ranneys)

The Hotchkiss brothers sent their flour to New York via the canal

Hiram had the idea to sell oil on the international market instead of domestically

The impetus was that the "gold standard" peppermint oil of the time was Mitcham, from England

It sold for multiples of the price of U.S. oil

He sent an unsolicited shipment of peppermint oil to Hamburg in 1839; they liked it, and ordered more

The rest, as they say, is history


In the 1840s he began shipping his oil in distinctive blue bottles from a local glass company

In 1851 Hotchkiss oil won an award at the London  Exhibition of the works of Industry of All Nations

Taking a cue from England's Cadbury chocolatier, Hotchkiss was one of America's first name brands

"Hotchkiss International Prize Medal Peppermint Oil"

Medal-chasing became an integral part of the peppermint industry

Leman Beecher Hotchkiss Advert


The Hotchkisses and Ranneys soon began to compete for "western oil," from Michigan

Unlike the other two "kings," the Hotchkisses owned land but weren't farmers

Hiram started his own bank; at the time, banks could issue currency


Hiram and Leman, along with their rich uncle Calvin, had a complex relationship

By the time of his death, Hiram had  financially ruined almost everything he touched

"He used the bonds of friendship and especially of family to cajole people to help and support him, even when it was clearly not in their best interests. He was
a bully who browbeat his opponents  into  submission  and  avoided  his  obligations  until  many  creditors  simply  gave  up  and  wrote  off  his  debts."

  • His brother eventually would have nothing to do with him
  • His uncle Calvin also gave up and refused to help him
  • His bank failed
  • Dun and Bradstreet for years panned his business
    • He basically ruined his brother's credit as well
  • He lived out his life in the fancy Astor House in New York
  • His wife and children were forced from their home
    • He didn't come home for the Sheriff's Sale

The Hotchkiss heirs operated the business until it was sold in 1982

I bought myself some Hotchkiss souvenirs

Peppermint King #3

When: 1868-1930+

Where: Nottawa and Kalamazoo, Mich

Who: Albert May Todd (1850-1931)

What: Farmer, chemist, inventor, esthete, politician, activist, businessman


At age 18, he and his brother began raising peppermint

This brother, Oliver, later was a pioneer peppermint producer in Oregon

By his mid-20s, Todd was involved in many farming, mint, and business ventures

The predecessor of his eventual business was the Steam Refined Essential Oil Works in Nottawa

He invented a double-distillation process, and, with his son,  the redistill


As business grew, he moved from Nottawa to Kalamazoo

Todd's trademark on his stationery


Todd's Headquarters in Kalamazoo, 1891

A.M Todd had a warehouse in North Judson

Todd was a remarkable example of the "self-made man" achieving the American Dream

Peppermint King

  • Largest mint oil dealer in the United States
  • His two farm estates, Mentha and Compania, were the largest mint farms in the USA
  • Researched varieties, growing practices and machinery
  • Expanded into the Western states
  • Had his own brand, Crystal White

Social Activist

  • His Mentha Plantation was a rural "model city"
    • Much evidence of his concern for workers' morale
  • He paid his workers well, and recruited women
    • In 1902, he advertised the same hourly wage I got at my first job 61 years later!!
  • Maintained connections to Jane Addams at Hull House
  • Helped found the Rand School, a "socialist college."
  • Co-founder of the Municipal Ownership League

The Mentha Plantation


Bibliophile and Art Collector

  • In 1912 he and his wife took a 14-month European sabbatical
    • He shipped back 30,000 pounds of books, artworks, etc.
  • Huge benefactor of Kalamazoo library and museum
  • Served on the boards of many non-profits and societies
  • The Academy of Political Science
  • The  American  Political  Science  Association
  • The  American  Social  Society
  • The American Economic Association
  • The American Association for  the  Advancement  of  Science
  • The  Stable  Money  League
  • The  Fabian Society
  • The  American  Academy  of  Social  and  Political  Science
  • The  Proportional   Representation   League
  • The   National   Municipal   League.
  • He also contributed regularly to Kalamazoo's Cooperative Society.


Todd's Professional Memberships


  • A successful businessman, he espoused socialist principles
  • Elected to U.S. House 55th Congress
    • Ran on "fusion" ticket; they were later outlawed
    • Extremely critical of the big monopolies of the time
    • Advocate for public ownership of essential utilities
  • Associated with labor leader Eugene Debs
  • Publicized and decried the Crédit Mobilier scandal
    • ​Indiana politician Schuyler Colfax got caught up in it


"Todd  did  not  despise  business;  he  objected  strenuously  to  monopoly  and
 the abuse of power enabled by concentrated wealth."

"The American people, Todd said, had been tricked into thinking that the nation's business interests were the interests of the money power."

Todd's family continued to run the business until it was sold in 2011

Part One and 1/2

Mint in the Mucklands

Virtually all production in the Midwest (which began in Michigan) was centered on organic "muck" soils

Where does Indiana fit in, and in particular Jasper County?

In the mid-1920s, a huge run-up in prices led to a massive expansion of production

In 1930 80% of the nation's mint was produced in Indiana

Indiana had 2700 of the nation's 3000 mint farms

Eight leading counties 

  • St. Joseph
  • Kosciusko
  • LaGrange
  • Marshall
  • Elkhart
  • Noble
  • Starke
  • LaPorte

In the 1930s, things went backwards

  • Overproduction
  • The Depression
  • Verticillium Wilt
  • Subsidence

By 1940, Indiana acreage was reduced by about 75%

Indiana Mint Acreage

  • 1929:  40600
  • 1939:    9264
  • 1968:    9480
  • 2015:  12200

Jasper County only began production in the 1930s, via Gehring and Gumz*

In 1968, Jasper County led Indiana in mint production

There are approximately 1350 acres left

For a while, Newton County had some acreage, too

Otto Born harvesting mint ca. 1960

Part Two

The science behind the scent

Two quotes were the inspiration for this part:

"Of course, since peppermint oil was rarely kept more than a few years, it is impossible to know how the Hotchkiss oil of the 1920s compared to the Hotchkiss oil of the 1850s" -Allosso

"To a trained person looking at a chromatogram of an essential oil, it's a lot like the way a musician can look at a piece of sheet music and 'hear' the tune; likewise a chemist can 'smell' the oil by looking at its profile."  -- Dr. Doug Walker, Essex Labs

Gas chromatography is the standard means of analyzing essential oils

How does gas chromatography work?

A "unit" of several components

  • Gas Chromatograph
  • Mass spectrometer
  • Flame Ionization Detector
  • Organic molecule libraries

"This is how I explain the process to my kids" -- Stacia Krause Ledbetter, Essex Labs 

The analogy is a long garden hose, through which the sample passes.  Different components take different lengths of time to pass through the hose

As each constituent "exits the hose" it passes through two machines that try to figure out what it is

Both machines very rapidly "blow up" the sample, analyzing its constituents by their weights and types of chemical bonds

The resulting values are "looked up" in a library of known "signatures" for the various constituents

A count is kept of the acquisition time (since the start) and how many samples of each constituent are seen

The result is the graph at the top of the printouts

The table below the graph shows the approximate percentages of each constituent, derived from the recorded counts

You can look up the constituents on Wikipedia; it's fun!!

Important notes

  • There are many more constituents than the ones shown
  • There are many many variables that impinge
  • GC is a tool that cannot be used in isolation
  • Ultimately, a human is the final arbiter

The final part of my investigation revolves around said human, known as a "flavorist."

About the cards

  • The backing sheet "holds in" the scent
  • The cards have a generic minty aroma
  • Scratching eventually depletes the scent
  • The strongest flavors are #2 and #4
    • Spearmint oil really sticks!
  • Best way is to cut them into strips

How the pros do it