Gilbert F. Heublein (1849 – 1937)

Gilbert Heublein

Born in Germany in 1849, Gilbert F. Heublein was a prominent hotelier and restaurateur in Hartford, Connecticut. He was also a successful food and liquor distributor and is credited with bringing A-1 Steak Sauce and Smirnoff to the United States.

Andrew Heublein, Gilbert’s father, founded the family restaurant and hotel business in 1862. In 1890, the company was handed over to Gilbert and his brother and in 1895 the company began producing A1 Steak Sauce. In 1915, it was incorporated as G.F. Heublein and Bro. Inc.

In 1875, Gilbert Heublein proposed to Louise M. Gundlach who was the daughter of a prominent Hartford German‑American businessman. Their time spent together included hiking on Talcott Mountain and during one of these excursions Heublein promised his soon-to-be bride that he would one day build her a German-style mansion atop the mountain. The couple married the same year and purchased a home on Prospect Avenue where they had two children.  Heublein was a founder of the Hartford Club and became a car collector just as the making of automobiles was becoming en vogue. Heublein was so protective of his cars that he built a turntable in his Prospect Street home so that he would not have to back out of his driveway and risk getting hit by an oncoming car.

As promised to his wife, in 1914 Heublein built a six-story, German-style mansion atop Talcott Mountain on 350 acres of land. Known now as Heublein Tower, the home served as a summer retreat and entertainment venue for weekend guests. The Tower was state-of-the-art built to withstand winds gusts of more than 100 miles per hour and included a five‑passenger elevator considered to be the first home elevator in Connecticut.

Heublein Tower

For more than 20 years, Heublein and his family enjoyed their home atop Talcott Mountain, and Heublein continued to oversee the success of his company, which had expanded to include a hotel in downtown Hartford, the acquisition of Grey Poupon and a much larger liquor distribution. Gilbert Heublein died on March 31, 1937 at the age of 88 at which time the home went into disuse. In 1943, Heublein’s grandson John Martin sold the Tower and its property to The Hartford Times in order to pay backed taxes on the site.

Martin resurrected the Heublein company after it was greatly affected by prohibition and the Great Depression. In 1969, Heublein Inc. ventured into packaging alcoholic cocktails in 8 ounce cans and in 1971 acquired Kentucky Fried Chicken. In 1982, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company acquired Heublein Inc. for $1.4 billion dollars thus putting an end to the family-owned Hartford business.

It is speculated that among his successes Gilbert Heublein also invented the Allen key, a hexagonal shaped wrench.

References: History of Screws and Screwdrivers.  Accessed at on August 26, 2010.
Friends of Heublein Tower. History of Heublein Tower.  Accessed at on August 26, 2010.
Ryan, Bill. “Tower of Romance, Tower of History.” New York Times, January 13, 1999.
Wikipedia. Heublein. Accessed at on August 26, 2010.
Wikipedia. Heublein Tower. Accessed at on August 26, 2010.

Photo Credit: Gilbert Heublein, Public Domain; Heublein Tower, Photo by Ragesoss