Thomas Bramwell Welch : biography
Thomas Bramwell Welch (December 31, 1825 – December 29, 1903) was the inventor of the pasteurization process to prevent the fermentation of grape juice.
Birth and emigration
Welch was born in Glastonbury, England. He came to the United States when his father emigrated in 1834. He attended public schools in Watertown, New York.
At age 17, Thomas Welch joined the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion, founded the same year (1843).
From its beginning, the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion strongly opposed (1) the "manufacturing, buying, selling, or using intoxicating liquors", and (2) "slaveholding, buying, or selling" of slaves.
With the first edition of their Discipline, the Wesleyan Methodists expressly required for the Lord's Supper that "unfermented wine only should be used at the sacrament." This requirement was about 25 years before Welch used pasteurization. So it is clearly evident that pasteurization was not the only method used to prepare it unfermented. There were traditional methods to prepare unfermented wine (juice) for use at any time during the year, e.g. to reconstitute concentrated grape juice, or to boil raisins, or to add preservatives that prevent juice from fermenting and souring.
Throughout his late teens, Welch was active in the Underground Railroad that transported escaped slaves from the south into Canada. In fact, he was not the only Wesleyan Methodist connected to the "Underground Railroad."
By age 19, he graduated from Gouverneur Wesleyan Seminary and became an ordained Wesleyan Methodist minister. He ministered first in Poundridge, in Westchester County, New York, then in Herkimer County, New York.
While in Herkimer County, he married Miss Lucy Hult. They would have seven children.
He continued in the work of ministry until his voice failed him, and he was obliged to direct his attention to other pursuits. He then attended New York Central Medical College (Syracuse campus), becoming a physician in Penn Yan, New York.
Welch then relocated to Winona, Minnesota in 1856. He changed his profession to dentistry.
In 1864, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church expressly recommended that "in all cases the pure juice of the grape be used in the celebration of the Lord's Supper." In 1865, Welch relocated to Vineland, New Jersey, where a sister already resided. Then in 1869, Welch invented a method of pasteurizing grape juice so that fermentation was stopped, and the drink was non-alcoholic. He persuaded local churches to adopt this non-alcoholic "wine" for communion services, calling it "Dr. Welch's Unfermented Wine."
He continued to practice dentistry in Vineland until 1880 and "enjoyed a very successful and lucrative practice through the entire time."
His son, Charles E. Welch, also a dentist, returned to Vineland, New Jersey in 1875 and later relocated his dental practice to Vineland. By this time his father was a successful Prohibition crusader, and had "all but abandoned" attention to his old experiments. He advised Charles, "Now don't think I'm trying to discourage your pushing the grape juice. It is right for you to do so, so far as you can, without interfering with your profession and your health." Charles and Thomas Welch founded the Welch's Dental Supply Company in Philadelphia and began a dentistry journal. Charles promoted the sale and consumption of grape juice. The Welches sold grape juice as a sideline. The industry had grown slowly until 1890. So from 1890, the Welches were able to spend more attention on the industry. Charles did not devote full attention to marketing grape juice until 1893, when Welch's Grape Juice Company was "officially launched". However, Thomas Welch himself "never received a penny in return for his investment."
Thomas Welch was a Methodist and staunch Prohibitionist, who actively worked to reduce or end the sale of alcoholic beverages in New Jersey and adjacent regions.
Second marriage and death
After the death of his first wife, Thomas Welch married Miss Victoria C. Sherbume in 1895.
On December 29, 1903, Thomas Welch died at Vineland and is buried in its Siloam Cemetery.
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