Charles Nelson was born July 4, 1835 in Hagenow, a small town in the Mecklenburg-Schwerin state of northern Germany. He was the eldest of six children whose father, John Philip Nelson, owned a soap and candle factory. When Charles was 15, his father decided he wanted to move his family to America for a better life. He sold his soap and candle factory, converted all of the family’s earthly possessions to gold and had special clothing made to hold all of that gold on his person during the journey. In late October of 1850, he gathered his family and boarded the Helena Sloman to set sail for America. As fate would have it, on November 19 of that year, intense storms and gale force winds sent many of the nearly 180 passengers overboard. John Philip Nelson was one of those unfortunate souls and weighed down by the family fortune, he sank directly to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Luckily, the rest of the family arrived safely in New York, but with only the clothes on their backs, and 15 year-old Charles found himself man of the house.
Legend has it the blend of coffee was brought to the Maxwell House Hotel in downtown Nashville, where patrons would later proclaim it as “good to the last drop”. The butcher stayed in business and the store soon grew into a successful Nashville-based food and grocery chain that is still in business today. As for Charles, he bought the distillery that was making his whiskey in Greenbrier, TN, and a patent for improved distillation, and expanded the production capacity in order to keep up with demand. With this expansion, Nelson was not only creating more jobs, he was making a name for Tennessee Whiskey.By 1885, there were hundreds of whiskey distilleries in Tennessee, but only a handful was producing significant volume. That year, Charles Nelson sold nearly 380,000 gallons of Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey in markets ranging from Jacksonville, FL to San Francisco, CA to Paris, France, while other well-known brands had a maximum production capacity of just 23,000 gallons. In addition to the volume he sold of his own whiskey, Nelson was one of the first to actually bottle and sell whiskey rather than selling it by the jug or the barrel. The distillery, which was commonly known as “Old Number Five” due to the fact that it was registered distillery number five and was located in the fifth tax district, became a favorite stop of federal regulators and tax inspectors due to the warmth and hospitality shown to them by Nelson and his employees. It is safe to say that by introducing the category of Tennessee Whiskey to the world and offering a superior product, Charles Nelson had indeed become a household name.