The man who served Vernors served Lincoln

Vernor's Ginger Ale: A long-time favorite!

I still recall that whenever I was sick as a kid, Vernor’s Ginger Ale was specifically a drink of choice for whatever ailed me. Even today at my “ripe old age” I think of that practice whenever I see the Vernor’s logo. Needless to say, I have enjoyed the beverage at nonsick times, as well. Of course, Vernor’s Ginger Ale has long been a Detroit associated product. There’s a good reason for that-it started it Detroit. Mr. James Vernor, Sr. invented the drink and marketed it in 1866. He had a drug store on Woodward Avenue. The rest became history. Eventually, he left the drug store business to devote time entirely to his Ginger Ale. But this man has another distinction of particular interest to this blog site-he served Abraham Lincoln. In fact, one might say that his military service was the reason why there came to be a Vernor’s Ginger Ale.

James Vernor, Sr. had been working on different “concoctions” in the pharmacy for a nonalcoholic drink (at least according to one story). He came up with one that he placed in a wooden barrel in the basement. Then the Civil War erupted. He would have to deal with the mixture in the keg later on. Vernor enlisted in the Fourth Michigan Cavalry in 1862. He served honorably for four years attaining the rank of Second Lieutenant. He lost his right eye during his service. Interestingly, the Fourth Michigan Cavalry aided in the capture of Jefferson Davis in 1865. When Vernor returned home to Detroit at war’s end, he found that his four year old barrel-aged drink was quite good to the taste! Thus, Vernor’s Ginger Ale was born! He remained as head of the Vernor Company the remainder of his life. The drink, however, may have never been created had it not been for the patriotism of Mr.Vernor to volunteer for Union Army service which took him away for four years-allowing his ale to age. He died at age 84 in Grosse Ile but is buried in Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery (some of the above information was gleaned from Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery by Gail D. Hershenzon).

On a chilly day in December I visited Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit. Mr. Vernor’s grave was one of my stops.

B. Nash at the grave of James Vernor

There is a G.A.R. section in the cemetery for military dead. A Union Civl War statue is centered in the area.

G.A.R. Section with Civil War Statue at Detroit's Woodmere Cemetery


The cemetery has many other notable persons (and persons of interest to me) buried there.  Among them are: George Burroughs (Civil War soldier of the U.S. Colored Cavalry), Henry Leland (founder of Lincoln Motor Company), Louis Strasburger (Civil War soldier, C.S.A.), and David Vartanian (Titanic survivor).  I recommend anyone interested in history-especially in Detroit history to pay a visit.

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