George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon has been considered the first industrialized distillery in the America. Despite Washington’s limited knowledge of whiskey, the distillery proved to be a smashing success.
In 1797, Scotsman James Anderson approached Washington with a proposal to build a distillery at Mount Vernon. “Distillery is a business I am entirely unacquainted with,” replied Washington, “but from your knowledge of it and from the confidence you have in the profit to be derived from the establishment, I am disposed to enter upon one.”
Washington was cautious, but allowed Anderson to set up two stills to begin the process. After producing 600 gallons of whiskey that sold for a hefty profit, construction of a large stone still house began soon after. The house was built approximately two miles from the Mount Vernon mansion, and was equipped with five copper stills, a boiler, and other equipment required for large-scale whiskey production. Washington decided to build the distillery close to the nearby Douge Creek because he saw the creek as an economic center due to the merchant mill and livestock pens that were nearby, as well as the access it provided to Alexandria. Troughs were constructed that connected the building to the creek that provided water to cool the vapor of the heated mash.
The Mount Vernon distillery soon became Washington’s most profitable business venture. Merchants and farmers from all around the immediate area purchased whiskey from Mount Vernon, making it the largest and highest producing distillery in the area. Whiskey was even exchanged for physician services and produces like corn and rye (which were then used to make more whiskey). Washington soon found that the leftover cooked mash worked well for feeding livestock such as pigs and cattle, which further assisted the Mount Vernon community.
At the time of Washington’s death in 1799, a total of nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey had been sold that year. A smashing success, Washington had considered the distillery to be a thriving money maker, and understood that it could be profitable for more than just the Mount Vernon community.
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