The following is a draft of the opening of the book. Comments appreciated:
In 1728, near the mountainous Teunus region north east of Frankfurt, Johann Adam Bullmann became mayor of Niederselters. It is impossible to know what this little German town of barely one hundred families expected from their new leader, at the young age of only 24. But neither they nor their new mayor could have predicted the challenges to be faced in his first year of office nor that, in overcoming them together, they would make their mark on history, its ripples still affecting us nearly three centuries later.
The water beneath Neiderselters was famous throughout Europe, its importance as clear as the town’s name, a derivation of “seltrisa,” meaning salty water. Perfectly clear when fresh and well preserved, it was said to sparkle when poured in a glass. To the tongue it offered “a gently saline and decidely alkaline taste” which was “sweet” and “somewhat punget” and conferred “exhilarating effects… on the spirits.”
The entire town found employment through the springs. The “mineralwasserversand,” or spring water packaging, was an orderly yet time-consuming process. The goal was to bottle the water to survive transportation and, through tight sealing, maintain carbonation, no small feat in a time before scientific designs, tools of mass production, or even glass bottles.
The earthenware kruges, or jugs, were handcrafted by local potters, each designed to hold about three pints. Teams of women, in full length dresses and head wraps, cleaned each krug in a vat of water. Men with sleeves rolled at the elbows worked at filling machines, empty jugs resting at the end of spokes splayed out from a small center wheel. The men would inject the waters into the jugs then cork them tight to hold back the carbonation bursting to escape. The seals were made airtight by other men through the application of tar then packaged in crates. Presuming they could avoid the bands of roaming robbers, the crates eventually arrived via horse-coach at ports on the Lahn or Rhine river.
Others were engaged in servicing those fortunate enough to have the means to travel to the source for a “water cure,” catering to the coachmen and their clients in the pubs, restaurants and small hotels.
Niederselters wore its pride on its sleeve, its crest a shield in red framing an angled, yellow water jug, its contents pouring out with generosity.
The mayorality of such a town was a plumb position indeed, bringing Bullmann into positions of power within the Court of Triers, which lay claim to this territory and its resources, led by Kurfürst Franz Ludwig. The position of Kurfürst, or prince-elector, was second only to the Emperor, of whom Ludwig helped select. And as the Kurfürst of Triers, Ludwig also selected a position far beneath that of Emperor, but above mayor as well: leaseholder of the highly coveted springs. Not long after stepping into his role as mayor, due to an unexpected turn of events, Bullman would claim that prize as well.
At the start of 1928, the spring’s lease had been managed, or mismanaged as it would turn out, by Bullmann’s uncle and godfather, Johann Adam Rauch. Rauch was found guilty of an assortment of indiscretions, including an unauthorized fee charged for jugging and transporting the water. Perhaps more significantly, he had monopolized the jug trade without royal consent. Rauch was out and, with his pull in the Court of Trier, Bullman was in. But little could Bullman have realized the depth of old animosities his uncle had flamed to greet him as he stepped into his new role.
When Rauch’s claimed sole rights by Niederselters to access the local mineral springs, he upset the delicate balance that had been established over the years to manage the competing interests for the water. For example, just a few years earlier, Ludwig had instituted the first set of regulations concerning the use of the springs, fixing the water price and confirming the old rights held by the inhabitants of the neighboring villages to collect water. Once upset, the balance was easily regained by Ludwig’s replacement of Rauch with Bullmann. Yet the incident reminded others of the contested nature of claims to the springs. During the challenge which was to follow as a result, mere diplomacy would far from suffice.
At first Bullmann must have been thrilled to learn that Prince Wilhelm of Nassau-Orange, the neighboring principality, and his wife Anna, the daughter of King George II of England, were in route to Neiderselters to take in the waters. Perhaps they would enjoy strolling the newly planted parks, the covered passageways, and the new pavilion built close to the springs. Most certainly they would enjoy the mineral spring itself, having recently been repaired, renovated and expanded. In which Inn would they choose to lodge, the new Römischer Kaiser (The Roman Emperor) or the Doppelter Adler (The Two-Headed Eagle)? Should he consider suspending the hours he closed the springs for bottle filling, as lucrative as that practice may be, reserving the attentions of the mineral springs attendant for the visiting royalty? With over 600,000 jugs sold annually, why not lavish attention on his royal guests whose visit guaranteed to elevate even further the cache enjoyed by the waters from his small town.
While the visit’s impact on the town’s reputation is difficult to ascertain, its affect on the Prince was clear, and immediate: upon returning home Nassau-Orange reasserted ownership rights to the springs. Nearly fifty year earlier, after a border conflict between Nassau-Orange and Trier, the later became owner of the source of the water. Still, apparent interest remained, leading initially to the employment of a mineral-spring guard and, now, an outright territorial claim from Prince Wilhelm.
Franz Ludwig acted as he had earlier in the year, decisively to protect the water and its free flow. But this time it was not initially to Bullman’s advantage. Before long a military detachment marched into town, consisting of a lieutenant, two corporals, a drummer and thirty common soldiers, all to be stationed in Niederselters.
As was common for the time, soldiers posed a potential burden on those they ostensibly were positioned to protect. Rather than build a military base to supply their own resources, like food and lodging, a military detachment relied on the generosity of those around them, forced or otherwise. The situation in Niederselters was little different as the new visitors moved in at the high cost to the villagers.
We will never know if Bullman was acting as mayor protecting his charges or as spring leaser protecting his business, but before long he and the town inhabitants were protesting this incursion. They demanded that the town be compensated for the costs borne by the presence of their protectors. Indeed, they had a good point: if the soldiers were stationed to protect spring water profits, what good did it serve if their very presence lessened the funds generated from the springs.
Bullman’s ploy worked. Ludwig back down. It was agreed that while the soldiers remained at their station the town would not be burdened by their costs.
By year’s end, few could refute that Bullman’s first year had been a tremendous success. First he increased the prestige of their waters with the royal visit. Second, he led the tiny town in opposition against threats to their territorial rights. Finally, he successfully fought back an unwelcome financial burden initiated by his very Prince-Elector.
And in fact, with the presence of the sponsored military, the town was now safer, from both bands of robbers and jealous neighbors, allowing him, over the next eighteen years of stewardship, to amass a great fortune through the safe and steady jugging and exporting of the town’s waters, shipped initially to the small states of Germany but later, through the frequent reports of its curative powers, to locations around Europe and around the globe.
As it traveled, the waters occasionally took on modified names, such as “Eau de Seltz” in France and “Aqua di Seltz” in Itay.
Within the newly formed United States of America, it was simply known as “Seltzer”.