The Famous Smith Brothers (and their famous beards)

Imagine for a moment that your face is recognized by millions of people all over the country. These people trust the product that you have been producing for years. However, these same customers have been getting your name wrong for the same amount of time that they’ve been buying your product. ‘Trade’ and ‘Mark’ Smith, as they were wrongfully known, were actually brothers William and Andrew Smith. Their recognizable faces just happened to be sitting in the right (or wrong) spots, above the words ‘Trade’ and ‘Mark’ on their famous boxes of cough drops.

A Scottish immigrant by the name of James Smith began a sweet shop here in Poughkeepsie in 1847. His sons, James Jr. and Andrew, joined him in his endeavors and the store became known as James Smith and Sons. The shop was located in a building at # 7 Market Street, with the store being on the first floor and the family living on the second. In the mid 19th century, their business was well-known for their ice cream and confections, but that all changed in 1852. Around that time, it is said that James purchased a recipe from a man named Sly Hawkins for the famous cough drops that quickly became a necessity for cold and allergy seasons alike. Andrew and another son William took over the business when their father died in 1866. Their main factory at the time was located on Church Street, just behind the Armory, though they moved to a bigger location on North Hamilton Street in 1915.

In 1872, the brothers began marketing their now famous cough drops in little white boxes, with a newly issued government trademark and pictures of themselves on the cover. As mentioned earlier, their pictures sat right above the words ‘trade’ (William) and ‘mark’ (Andrew), hence the confusion for some of their loyal customers. Andrew, the younger of the two brothers, died in 1894, and William bought his share of the company from his heirs, continuing to use the name Smith Brothers. William died in 1913, and his son Arthur took over the reins until his death in 1936. Once again two Smith brothers would take control of the company, Arthur’s sons William and Robert (it was actually Robert Smith who purchased the grand blue and stone mansion on Academy Street in 1925, now referred to as Smith Brothers Castle).

In 1947, the company celebrated their 100th anniversary by holding costume parties and beard growing competitions (as seen in the Poughkeepsie Journal article on the right). The famous beards of Andrew and William were so well known that they were used in several cultural references throughout the 20th century. For example, the phrase “when the Smith Brothers shave…” was used when something that was never expected to happen. The cough drops are still in production today, but are made by a company called Lanes Brands. You can still find their famous bearded faces on the packaging.

Check out this 1960s era commercial for Smith Brothers Cough Drops

Poughkeepsie Eagle News – 5 May 1898, 18 Jun 1919
Poughkeepsie Journal – 20 Apr 1947

I5s – Portrait of William W. Smith – LH Collections
Andrewsmith-Vail – Portrait of Andrew Smith – LH Collections
348-1PC3 – Color-tinted postcard of the Smith Brothers factory on North Hamilton Street – LH Collections
360-1PC3 – Black & white postcard of the interior of the Smith Brothers store. – LH Collections
365-1PC3 – Color-tinted postcard of the interior of the Smith Brothers Restaurant in Poughkeepsie. – LH Collections
PJ-20Apr1947 – Article from the Poughkeepsie Journal showing pictures from the beard growing competition in 1947.
Trademark – the famous box of cough drops