10 Nov 2021, last revised 19 May 2024

When Old Copper Country Bottles was published in 1978, the bottle from T. Smith was considered to be the oldest embossed Copper Country bottle. Newspaper ads and articles now support this conclusion, although the S. & S. bottle is a close second. One of the fascinating discoveries is that T. Smith and S. & S. were druggists. Drug stores sold more than just drugs and they routinely had a soda fountain. But these early Copper Country druggists not only dispensed soda, they also bottled.

Thomas Smith was born in England in about 1830 (1). In 1851, at the age of 20, he was a medical's assistant in Stilton, England (2). In 1860, he was a druggist in Detroit (1) and married Isabella Cook in Ontario, Canada (4). It is unknown when he moved to the Copper Country or started his drug store, but he advertised as a druggist in The Mining Gazette from Jul 1862, the earliest issues we have access to. The 1863 Michigan State directory then listed Thomas Smith as a druggist in Houghton (3).

Smith renovated and enlarged his store by Jun 1863. In addition to drugs and chemicals, he had a soda fountain, and carried a stock of school books, stationery, and popular works of fiction (12). The 1867 directory specified that he sold drugs, medicines, and groceries (5). Smith installed a new soda fountain in Jul 1865 (14), and within two weeks, he had commenced manufacturing and bottling soda (15). He ran a second ad for his soda water factory that claimed he had a capacity of 150 dozen bottles per day. Both ads placed his store on Shelden St., Houghton. In contrast, S. & S. did not start manufacturing soda until Jul 1866 (16).

Newspaper ad - <i>The Mining Gazette</i>, 30 Aug 1862
Newspaper ad - Aug 1862
Newspaper ad - <i>The Portage Lake Mining Gazette</i>, 02 Aug 1866
Newspaper ad - Aug 1866

T. Smith had the pioneer drug store in the Copper Country. Ransom Shelden, who arrived in fall of 1845 from L'Anse, was the first person to settle in what later became the village of Houghton (18). In 1852, Shelden and C. C. Douglass erected a store building, the first building in what is now Houghton (18). The settlement grew rapidly and the village was platted in 1854 (18). Houghton was incorporated as a village on 04 Nov 1861 with a population of 854, and the first election was held in Dec (18).

In Jun 1867, the pop factories of T. Smith and Shelden & Sheffer were consolidated under the name, City Bottling Works with Geo. C. Shelden as proprietor (17). This marked the end of Smith's bottling operation, but the bottling works itself continued under Shelden (see S. & S.). At this time, the amount of pop consumed on Portage Lake on a moderately warm day amounted to over one hundred dozen bottles (17). Since pop started to be manufactured locally, drunkenness decreased by nearly 50%, a support of the temperance movement (17).

Tragically, fire struck on 17 Dec 1869 (6). It started at the Northwestern Restaurant on the north side of Shelden Ave. People fearing that the main portion of town was doomed, bundled their effects onto the street and the Gazette scattered their type and paper onto the ice. Surprising to everyone, the fire engine sprang into action and within a few minutes had two streams, and then three streams, on the fire. Smith's drug store caught on fire, first in the upper story, which housed his residence. The firemen were able to extinguished the fire and save the adjacent buildings only 3-4 ft away. Unfortunately, two building were destroyed, both owned by Smith, a loss of about $4,000. The loss of his stock was $5,000 to $7,000, and he had no insurance.

Newspaper ad - <i>The Portage Lake Mining Gazette</i>, 24 Feb 1870
Newspaper ad - Feb 1870

Smith persevered. He promptly put his Houghton lots up for sale (13) and stated that he would carry on the drug business in Hancock (13). It is unknown if he actually opened a store in Hancock, because two months later, he ran an ad stating that he had opened a store in Red Jacket. The ad ran for only a few times in Feb and Mar of 1870. Curiously, the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, surveyed in June, still placed him and his family in Portage Township (7). His time in Red Jacket was brief, given that he moved to Nebraska in about 1870 (11). The 1875 Nebraska State Census placed him, his wife, and his step-son (or son) in Yankee Hill, Nebraska where he was a farmer (8). Coincidentally, his brother-in-law moved his family to Waverly, Nebraska in 1872 (10). Smith then died on 01 Apr 1875 at the age of 45 (9). We have yet to discover the cause of his death at such a young age.

Based on the records we have uncovered from the pioneer years of Copper Country, Smith's drug store in Houghton started sometime between 1860 and 1862, and ended in 1869. His pop factory, however, lasted from 1865 to 1867. Given the rarity of his embossed bottle, he probably used mostly unembossed bottles. One peculiarity about his bottle, is the embossed, HOUGHTON WORKS. Why was "Works" added to the town name of Houghton? Perhaps he was abbreviating Houghton Bottling Works, or at least making reference to a bottling works. Since Smith was a druggist, we first suspected that he bottled mineral water for medicinal purposes, but the ads and articles confirm that he bottled soda.

Given its esteem as the first embossed Copper Country bottle, T. Smith continues to be highly desired by bottle collectors. Only a very few are fortunate enough to have one in their collection.


  1. U.S. Census Bureau. 1860 United States Federal Census. accessed on ancestry.com.
  2. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1851. (accessed on ancestry.com)
  3. C. F. Clark. 1863. Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1863-4. Charles F. Clark. Detroit, MI.
  4. Ontario Archives Marriage Register. County Marriage Register, Huron Co., 1858-1869, MS 248, Reel 8, Ref 1:54 (accessed on ancestry.com)
  5. Chapin & Brother. 1867. Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1867-8. The Detroit Post Company, Printers. Detroit, MI.
  6. anonymous. (1869, Dec 23). The Fire Fiend!. Portage Lake Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI). p. 3.
  7. U.S. Census Bureau. 1870 United States Federal Census. accessed on ancestry.com.
  8. Nebraska, State Census Collection, 1860-1885. Year: 1875; Series/Record Group: RG207; County: Lancaster; Township: Yankeen Hill. p. 2 (accessed on ancestry.com)
  9. Find a Grave. accessed Nov 2021. Thomas Smith. findagrave.com/memorial/74739405/thomas-smith
  10. U.S. Census Bureau. 1900 United States Federal Census. accessed on ancestry.com.
  11. anonymous. (1875, Apr 09). Notice to Subscribers. The Nebraska State Journal. p. 3.
  12. anonymous. (1863, Jun 20). Soda Fountain. The Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI). p. 5.
  13. anonymous. (1869, Dec 30). Local Notices. Portage Lake Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI). p. 3.
  14. anonymous. (1865, Jul 15). New Soda Fountain. Portage Lake Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI). p. 3.
  15. anonymous. (1865, Jul 29). A New Manufacture. Portage Lake Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI). p. 3.
  16. anonymous. (1866, Jul 05). Soda Manufacture. Portage Lake Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI). p. 3.
  17. anonymous. (1867, Jun 27). City Bottling Works. Portage Lake Mining Gazette (Houghton, MI). p. 3.
  18. anonymous. (1908, Mar 16). Village Nearly 50 Years Old. The Calumet News (Calumet, MI). p. 2.

T. Smith bottle
capacity: half-pint
color: aqua
top: blob top - applied
base: cup-bottom
maker's mark: (none)
other marks: (none)
date: 1865-1867
rarity: extremely rare
  • probably the first Copper Country bottle