Tales From the Operatory Part VII: Thomas & Charles Welch & the Unfermented Grape Juice
Thomas Welch was a Methodist Minister and heavily involved in the Underground Railroad moving slaves up from the south and into Canada. He was a teetotal and prohibitionist working to reduce or end the sale of alcoholic beverages. He, along with the Methodist church thought the consumption of alcohol as a bad thing and was opposed to using wine for communion but substituted unfermented grape juice instead.
Thomas Welch became a dentist settling in Vineland, NJ where he built a successful practice. He had seven children amongst them was Charles, his son who also became a dentist as well as his daughter Emma C Welch Slade, who also became a dentist.
Thomas Welch felt so strongly about unfermented grape juice along with the 19th Century Methodist church had come to largely embrace the cause of temperance. It had also embraced the notion that unfermented wine (grape juice) was the blood of Christ to be used in communion, rather than alcoholic wine. Given the food preservation technology of the time, however, many Methodist congregations had to produce their own grape juice locally, so that they could use it before it started to go bad.
Thomas Welch was fascinated by Louis Pasteur and in 1869, Welch invented a method of pasteurizing grape juice so that fermentation was stopped, and the drink was non-alcoholic. He persuaded local churches to adopt this non-alcoholic wine for communion services, calling it “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine.”
He continued to practice dentistry in Vineland until 1880 where he had a very successful and lucrative practice throughout the entire time. Welch was a staunch Prohibitionist, who actively worked to reduce or end the sale of alcoholic beverages in New Jersey and adjacent regions. Thomas Welch concentrated his efforts on prohibition and all but abandoned his side project of the unfermented wine.
His son Charles also settled in Vineland where he set up his practice. In 1869 Thomas and Charles Welch started the Welch Dental Supply Company along with a dental journal. The grape juice was a sideline project where the industry slowly grew until 1890 when Thomas and Charles Welch founded the Welches Grape Juice Company. Thomas retired and Charles devoted his efforts to the Welches Grape Juice company, leaving dentistry.
From dentists to Grape Juice moguls. It was quite a trip.
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