The Life and Times of Jack Daniel

His whiskey has been a big part of your social life, having been the toast of many celebrations you have had in the past. But do you have any idea who in the world is Jack Daniel, and how he was able to concoct this well-loved whiskey?


There is a lot of confusion on when the man who founded Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey distillery was born. There are records showing that he was born on September 5, 1846. But his tombstone indicates that he was born in 1850. The latter is also uncertain, because his mother died sometime in 1847.

What’s clear, however, is that he was born the youngest in a brood of 10. He is of Welsh and Scottish descent, with his grandfather born in Wales and grandmother born in Scotland. His partner grandparents would eventually migrate to America before the turn of the 18th century.

Jack was said to have started early in selling whiskey, which explains why he was often referred to as the boy distiller. He left home early at a young age, armed with nothing but a handful of items worth $9. He would end up serving preacher named Dan Call, who happened to serve at the nearby Lutheran Church. Reverend Call also distilled and sold whiskey.

Eventually, Jack learned the craft. There are stories claiming he learned the business full-time at the age of 16 years old. Legend also has it that he would distill and sell his own whiskey just three years after. A curious look at those famous black labels would reveal that his products were established and registered in 1866. Curiously, it was only in 1875 when the business was registered with the federal government.

Marketing Genius

Historians agree that Jack Daniel was a marketing genius. At a young age, Jack knew that people would remember his whiskey if people remembered him. So he tried to stand out from the crowd, so to speak. He would always wear formal knee-length coat, a tie, vest, and a planter’s hat.

He also established the Jack Daniel’s Silver Cornet Band, a 10 member group that was tasked to promote his whiskey across the countryside. The members had their own uniforms, instruments, and a specially designed wagon for traveling. Daniel made sure that the band would play on special occasions like political rallies, Fourth of July celebrations, and saloon openings.

There’s no arguing that Jack’s marketing savvy is best exemplified by the way he presented his whiskey. The square look that Jack Daniels bottles had reinforced the notion that he was a trustworthy dealer who valued honesty and quality. He was also one of the first sellers to stencil the name of his distillery on his jugs.

Of course, the success of the liquor was not only about marketing. The distiller had always been proud of the quality of his whiskey. In 1904, his whiskey entered and won in the taste competition during the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Old No. 7

You can also say that Jack’s greatest marketing idea was giving his product the mysterious Old No.7 name. In fact, the historian at the Jack Daniel Distillery admits this is the question that most visitors throw at him during factory tours. There have been several theories behind the name.

One theory is that Jack, who never married, had seven girlfriends. Others say that Jack believed the number was lucky. Another explanation was that it was a tribute to a merchant friend who managed seven stores that sold Jack’s liquor.

Jack Daniel’s biographer Peter Krass, however, has a less-than-sexy story. He says that the distiller was originally given a district assessment number of 7. But the IRS arbitrarily gave him a new number (16) when the agency consolidated districts within Tennessee. He didn’t want to confuse his customers, but also didn’t want to defy the government so he started to label his bottles “Old No.7”

Love Life

As mentioned earlier, Jack didn’t have a spouse. Some say he was too much of a workaholic who didn’t have enough time for his personal life, but others believe he just had high standards.

Jack Daniel was in fact a ladies’ man. He was great in dancing, generous, and an excellent conversationalist. But he was also attracted to girls young enough to be his children.


Daniel’s health would suffer after series of unusual circumstances. The hardworking distiller arrived at his office one morning, ahead of everyone else. He tried to open the company safe but could not remember the code. A frustrated Daniel then kicked the safe, bruising his left foot in the process.

He started to walk with a limp, which only grew worse with time. It was then discovered that he had an injury that led to blood poisoning. He would lose his leg years later before he died in 1911.

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