Last week's piece on Kentucky reel history was well received, and at the request of Doug Carpenter, I'm publishing a second fascinating article detailing the history of the Kentucky reel. It's from History of Kentucky, Vol. 5 by William Elsey Connelley (AHS, 1922) and details the life of John W. Milam before going in to the history of the Meek and Milam firms.
John W. Milam, of Frankfort, is active head of the business originally established and developed by his father, the late Benjamin C. Milam. This firm, B. C. Milam & Son, are manufacturers of "The Milam," the original "Frankfort Kentucky" fishing reel, a perfected device probably known to every follower of the sport of fishing in America. These reels have been manufactured by the Milams for over eighty years. They have been awarded four international first prizes and medals: World's Fair, Chicago, Illinois, Fisheries Exposition, Bergen, Norway, World's Exposition, Paris, France, St. Louis Exposition, St. Louis, Missouri. They have been used by three presidents of the United States, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Joseph Jefferson was also a great admirer of this reel, having four. A number of years ago a competing firm began manufacturing what they called the Frankfort Kentucky reel, and finally the Milam Company asked the courts for protection for their rights. The case was argued before Chancellor Shackelford Miller, later Chief Justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, who on November 2, 1901, rendered an opinion asking for an injunction in favor of the Milam Company. The evidence brought out during the trial and the decision of Judge Miller constitute an interesting history of this famous reel and of the business of B. C. Milam & Son.
Before taking up the facts brought out in this trial something should be said of the Milam family in general. The Milams are of Welsh descent. Moses Milam, grandfather of Benjamin C. Milam, came from Wales to this country and married Pattie Boyd, and their son, John Milam, was born in Virginia in 1780, and at an early date settled in Franklin County, Kentucky, where he owned and operated a large farm of 4oo acres. He died in Franklin County in 1843. John Milam married a Miss Bradley, who died in Franklin County.
Benjamin C. Milam was born in Franklin County, near the City of Frankfort July 1, 1821. He was a nephew of Col. R. Milam, of Alamo fame, he having captured the fort and delivered it to Travis, Crockett and others. Mr. Milam was also connected by blood relation to Richard M. Johnson, once vice president of the United States. When about sixteen years of age Benjamin C. Milam went to Frankfort, and from the evidence adduced at the time of the trial mentioned he soon became an apprentice with Jonathan Meek, a Frankfort jeweler. In 1839 Jonathan and B. F. Meek formed a partnership known as J. F. & B. F. Meek, with B. C. Milam associated with them. It was a watchmaker, Theodore Noel, who had made a fishing reel at Frankfort about 183o, and the manufacture of reels was an incidental part of the business of the firm of J. F. & B. F. Meek. B. C. Milam, not liking watchwork, took up the reel business and developed the multiplying reel to its present state of perfection, and devoted practically his entire life to that business. In 1848 B. C. Milam was taken into the firm, which became J. F. Meek & Company, Mr. Milam doing all the work of making reels. These reels were stamped "J- F. & B. F. Meek." In 1852 the firm failed and Jonathan Meek removed to Louisville, while on January 1, 1853, B. F. Meek and B. C. Milam formed a new firm as Meek & Milam, continuing the business of jewelers and reel making at the old stand on Main Street. Mr. Milam had entire charge of and did all the reel work on the second floor above the watchmaking and jewelry establishment. Their partnership agreement was to the effect that upon dissolution the reel making outfit was to go to Milam. By mutual consent the partnership was dissolved in 1855 and Mr. Milam continued at the head of the independent business on the second floor of the old quarters. During the partnership the reels were stamped "Meek & Milam," and after the dissolution the reels had the same stamp until 188o, a period of twentyseven years, though Meek had no interest in the business. During that time the Meek & Milam reel became famous not only throughout the United States but was known to the anglers of Europe. In 1882 B. F. Meek removed to Louisville and began making a reel, and in 1898 sold his business there to others who formed a corporation to continue the manufacturing of reels. Meek then returned to Frankfort.
The following quotation from the opinion of Judge Miller reveals the important points in the legal controversy and something further concerning the history of the business itself: "The plaintiffs, B. C. Milam & Son, now complain that the defendant corporation B. F. Meek & Son, with the design and purpose to get plaintiff's trade and to deceive the public is now and has since its purchase from Ben F. Meek in 1898, been manufacturing reels in Louisville, which it puts on the market advertised as the original 'Frankfort, Kentucky Reel' by reason, whereof, it is claimed the public are deceived into buying defendant's reels as the reels of plaintiffs' make. No one of the Meeks are interested in or employed by the defendant corporation B. F. Meek & Sons.
"Prior to 1882 the Meek & Milam Reel made in Frankfort by B. C. Milam, had become generally known in Kentucky as the Frankfort Reel and outside of the state as the Kentucky Reel or the Frankfort, Kentucky Reel, and was so advertised by Milam in 1882 and was so stamped by him in 1896. The descriptive term or phrase Frankfort, Kentucky Reel was first used by Milam. Furthermore B. F. Meek was never engaged in the manufacture of these reels at Frankfort after 1855, while Milam had been continuously in that business at the old stand, 318 Main Street,
from 1848 to the present time, a period of more than fifty years.
"The plaintiffs' reels have become famous during a period of nearly fifty years of exclusive manufacture at Frankfort, Kentucky—in fact they became so popular as to be generally known and subsequently advertised as the 'Frankfort, Kentucky Reel.' To allow the defendant corporation to reap the benefit of the plaintiffs' long and honorable course in business by indirectly naming or calling its reel made in Louisville and as the Frankfort Reel or the Frankfort, Kentucky Reel—something that Ben F. Meek, its assignor, never attempted or claimed—would be in violation of the broad and equitable rule of fair trade laid down in the many authorities above cited."
Benjamin C. Milam died at Frankfort in 19o4, several years after his controversy was decided. Besides his place as a manufacturer he was also a well known banker, having helped establish and for many years was president of the Deposit Bank of Frankfort. He was a veteran of the Mexican war, having served as captain of cavalry under Colonel Humphrey Marshall. He was a republican, was two terms a member of the city council, president of the council and mayor pro tem, and was affiliated with Hiram Lodge No. 4, A. F. and A. M., Frankfort Chapter No. 3, R. A. M., and Frankfort Commandery, K. T.
Benjamin C. Milam married Martha Shockley. She was born in Frankfort in 1826 and died in 1885. Her father, Thomas Shockley was born in Franklin County in 1783, spent his life as a farmer and died in Franklin County January 21, 185o. His parents were Benjamin and Sarah Shockley, early pioneers of Kentucky. Thomas Shockley married Ann Stephens, born! in December, 179o, and died November 23, 1876. She was a daughter of John and Martha (Faulkner) Stephens. John Stephens was one of the real pioneers of Kentucky. Born January 3o, 1763, he came to Kentucky from Orange County, Virginia, and settled in the County of Franklin. He served as a soldier in the Revolutionary war, took part in a number of Indian campaigns, and his was the first house burned by the savages in Kentucky during the period of early settlement. He was one of the garrison that defended Bryant's Station near Lexington when that place was besieged by Indians.
Benjamin C. Milam had two children, Annie and John W. The daughter, who died in October, 19oo, was the wife of Uberto Keenon, who died at Frankfort October 16, 192o. Mr. Keenon was for a number of years an official in the Deposit Bank of Frankfort.
John W. Milam, who continues the industry founded by his father, was born at Franklin July 12, 1859. He was educated in public schools and was prepared for college in the private school of J. W. Dodd, but at the age of seventeen left school to enter his father's manufacturing establishment, subsequently became a member of the firm B. C. Milam & Son, and for the past sixteen years has continued the business as his father's successor. The home of the firm now is at 222 West Main Street. Mr. Milam is also a director in the National Branch Bank of Kentucky at Frankfort and is president of the Frankfort Cemetery Company. He was a captain of several teams to prosecute war work and one of the generous Frankfort business men who responded to all calls upon purse and time for patriotic need. Mr. Milam is owner of much valuable city property, including five residences, is interested in a five acre tract within the city limits, and his own home is a modern place at 325 Shelby Street. Mr. Milam is a republican, was for two terms a member of the city council and one term city treasurer. He is treasurer of the First Presbyterian Church at Frankfort, is a past exalted ruler of Frankfort Lodge No. 53o of the Elks, and a member of the Knights of Pythias.
On September 12, 1888, at Hamilton, Ohio, Mr. Milam married Miss Mary Vander Veer, daughter of Henry and Sallie (Millikin) Vander Veer, now deceased, and a granddaughter of Thomas Millikin, one of the most noted lawyers in the State of Ohio. Her father was in the real estate business at Hamilton. Mr. Milam was seven years in military service, first as a private lieutenant, and was commissioned captain in 1883 of the State Militia.
-- Dr. Todd