Forty years ago ( 1979 ) New York Times writer Justin B. Galford credited a Caldwell Township ( now Fairfield ) water bottling company with starting the bottled water ‘craze’. ‘Red Cross’ Mineral Water was a high volume seller and an international award winner. In 1937, it put our humble farm community back on the map. ( I say ‘back’ on the map because The Fairfield Dairy and The James Caldwell Naval Rifle Range had both previously put Caldwell Township ‘on’ the map between 1895 and 1919 ).
Selling bottled or serving B.Y.O.B. water during the Great Depression years sounds crazy enough, but this unique water apparently had curative powers. Yes, throw your crutches away, ‘fountain of youth’ kind of stuff. This was not ‘snake oil’ fraud, but real testimonials and documented healing of various medical conditions. The very high mineral content and elevated pH explained many of the cures. But, no doubt, the 'placebo effect' was also part of many healing equations.
The detailed story of the John Munkácsy’s discovery and the tremendous growth of his business and the surrounding Camp Lane / Two Bridges area follows in an excellent Popular Science article ( January 1938 ). Frankly, it’s so well written and illustrated with its 1938 context, I much prefer you read the original.
Average Cost of new house $4,100.00
Average wages per year $1,780.00
Minimum wage 25 cents / hour
Average Cost for house rent $26.00 per month
A loaf of Bread 9 cents
A pound of Hamburger Meat 12 cents
Average Price for new car $760.00
Amelia Earhart was planning her around the world flight.
Great Depression unemployment dropped from 21% (1936) to 14.3%.
The Hindenburg was still making round trips across the Atlantic Ocean.
The NJ-NY Midtown Hudson Tunnel was 75% completed.
NJ Route 6 was completed from the GW Bridge to Delaware, Pa. Grandview Amusement Park was completely dismantled.
Fairfields first new Municipal Building was nearing completion
Cost of a gallon of gasoline 10 cents
Cost of a local gallon of ‘Red Cross’ Mineral Water 10 cents ( empty gallon bottle 25 cents more)
Automobile Touring and Recreation was becoming a popular pastime for the more fortunate Depression Era New Jerseyans. This deluxe Buick Century ( named ‘Century’ because it could reach 100 mph ) had an inline 8 cylinder engine with aluminum alloy pistons ( to shave weight off its 3,560 pounds! ), dual side mounted spares, four coil springs, and chrome ‘beauty rings’ on its wheels. “Dressed for a party–Powered for a Thrill”. This model sold for about $1200.
Bottled spring or pure ‘driven well’ waters were nothing new in New Jersey in 1937. The list above is from 1915 when many public water supplies were yet to be considered ‘pure and wholesome’. Munkácsy’s Red Cross Health Water had a unique mineral content and pH that won it first place at the 1939 World's Fair. X.L.O. Water was bottled in Cedar Grove N.J. by the same owner of Kanouse in Oakland N.J., G.B. Warne.
Curiously enough, scientific studies in 2016 confirmed that alkaline water had several benefits, especially blood viscosity and oxygen levels. This improves blood ‘effectiveness’ especially after strenuous activity such as cycling, running, or kayaking.
“It’s not just about the pH number, but most importantly about the minerals that make up the high alkaline water and so raise the pH to a very high level.”
Justin B. Galford’s 1979 NY Times article follows below with some additional details about
Munkácsy’s alkaline artesian well story.
For whatever else, 1979 will be remembered, from gasoline shortages to a rainy summer, it will be known, too, as the year that the nation became awash with mineral waters.
Bottles of clear or sparkling waters now appear in abundance on restaurant menus, supermarket shelves and household tables. A growing interest in organic and health products, along with a heavy Madison Avenue sales pitch, has generated a bottled‐ water war and accelerated the consumption of mineral waters from France, Italy and Canada, as well as from springs in this country.
New Jerseyans with long memories might recall the great mineral‐ water craze that began here in 1937, when this northern Essex County community was known as Caldwell Township.
John Munkacsy, who made models to help inventors get patents and operated a picnic grove as a sideline, had ordered the drilling of a new well on his property here. He was delighted by the output of the artesian source, which produced 3,000 gallons an hour, but was disappointed by its qualities. A hard but pleasant‐ tasting water, it was almost unusable for cooking purposes.
Neighbors who tasted the water soon reported its curative powers. The aches and pains of constipation, rheumatism, arthritis and neuritis seemed to fall away as they drank.
Word of the elixir soon spread, and every weekend 5,000 customers thronged the picnic grove, buying as much as 9,000 gallons.
Mr. Munkacsy, who originally sold the water for 2 cents a glass, soon began to provide glass jugs ( 25 cents each ). In one day, he sold 1,000 gallon jugs.
Real‐ estate prices in the area skyrocketed as prospective buyers sought to get in on the bonanza. A miniature “mineral‐ water war” began, complete with advertising signs and banners.
A contemporary photograph depicts a billboard for “The One!! The Only!! The Original!! Munkacsy Red Cross Health Water.” (Mr. Munkacsy later dropped the “Red Cross” when the organization by that name objected to its commercial use.) In the same photograph, a sign farther down the road indicates the entrance to “Water of Youth Inc.”
The increasing demand was more than Mr. Munkacsy could handle. He accepted an offer from a syndicate of Newark businessmen, who leased the rights to the water and undertook an extensive marketing program. The syndicate prospered, building large bottling plant at the well and operating around the clock to keep up with orders.
Testimonials poured in from those who felt that they had been helped by the Munkacsy waters. Many of these tributes are part of the family collection and were shown with pride by John Munkacsy, the son, on a recent visit. They reflect the belief that the elder Mr. Munkacsy, by finding a “fountain of youth,” had succeeded where Ponce de Leon had failed.
Physicians regularly recommended the water to their patients, and drugstores vied to become the first in the neighborhood to sell it. The claim that the water contained such a high mineral content was upheld by scientific tests at the New York World's Fair in 1939, where it received first prize in a competition among the mineral waters of the world.
The syndicate, however, soon became the victim of its own success. John Munkacsy, who supervised the bottling plant under his father's lease agreement before going into wartime Naval service, said he felt that the corporate group was unable to provide the effective management required for the vast operational and delivery network that had developed. Internal disagreement and legal squabbles drove the syndicate toward financial failure.
By the time World War II ended, demand for the water had dwindled, although it was still readily available.
In 1954, the bottling plant was badly damaged in a fire. According to John Munkacsy, his father was considering revitalizing the business but abandoned the idea after breaking a hand in a fall.
In 1961, the elder Mr. Munkacsy decided to sell the land containing the well. The remainder of the property continues to be occupied by his sons, John and Eugene, who inherited it when their father died.
A recent visitor to the Munkacsy property found an attractive riverbank house in an area of well‐ kept cottages. The area once used as a parking lot for water customers is now a carefully tended lawn and putting green.
In reflecting on the heyday of Munkacsy mineral water, John Munkacsy was reminded of a coincidence: His father, an engineer, had come to the United States before World War I, having been sent here by the Government of his native Hungary to study, of all things, the water‐ supply system of New York City.
Stranded by the war, the elder Mr. Munkacsy decided to remain in this country. His decision to purchase the property here was influenced by his wife, who was attracted by its beauty and serenity.
The younger John Munkacsy, who owned a car dealership prior to his retirement, is philosophical about the family's not having profited to the extent it might have.
“My father was not really experienced enough for a large operation,” he explained, “and he tended to place his trust in some people who didn't deserve it.”
The eventual purchasers of the well, John Calandria and his wife, Dr. Faire Lacs, were interested in making its water available to the public once again. Dr. Lacs, a physician, had specialized in nutrition and focused on the value of unadulterated natural waters with curative minerals. For many years she had operated a sanitarium emphasizing their medicinal aspects.
The Calandrias reconstructed the building that contained the bottling works, looking forward to the day when the Munkacsy mineral water would flow once more from its underground glacial lake to those who believed it could improve their health. Tests indicated the water to be as richly endowed with minerals as ever, and the supply is felt to be almost limitless.
Their plans were set back a few years ago when Mr. Calandria was injured in a fall from a tree. In addition, a number of legal problems remain to be worked out. The Calandrias, however, are still hopeful.
In Caldwell Twp. in the 1930's, Munkacsy water could cure almost anything, including aging and low real‐ estate values.
A great book was published in 1962 entitled “THEY TOOK TO THE WATERS : The Forgotten Mineral Spring Resorts of New Jersey and Nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware” by Harry B. Weiss and Howard R. Kemble. Both Caldwell ( NJR 613.12 WEI ) and Wayne ( 553.7 WEI ) hide it in their Local History Collections.
The Fairfield water that made Munkácsy famous is likely the same today. With TV Marketing experts TELEBrands within a stones throw of the old site : WELL, you never know :- )
Dedicated to the Munkácsy Family who made many contributions to the Fairfield Fire Department and Community.
Paul Pollio December 2, 2019