The Jas. H. Forbes Tea and Coffee Co., which will just be called Forbes Coffee, began in 1853 in St. Louis, Missouri. Few histories of Forbes Coffee were ever written. However, in 1953, on the 100th anniversary, a two-page history called Among Ourselves was written by the President, James H. Forbes, and given to friends, customers, and employees. At the end of 1853 James H. Forbes purchased the Franklin Tea and Coffee House which had been opened that year but failed. However, it had introduced to the region a new way of selling coffee: ground and roasted and ready to brew. Previously, coffee was sold green in whole beans. The housewife took the beans home, roasted them and ground them, and then brewed the coffee. One of the reasons for the Franklin failure was the newness of the idea.
James Forbes had faith in the idea and made it work. In a few years the company was renamed James Forbes, Coffee Merchant. In 1893 it was necessary to seek larger quarters and it moved from the original location "near 4th St. a few doors west of Broadway" (as described in its first ad) to 112 Locust Street. In 1910 it moved to a 5-story building at 908 Clark Street. Nine years later more space was needed and a building of the same size was built adjacent to the 908 Clark building, doubling the size and changing the address to 922 Clark Street. It occupied that building until it was torn down in about 1963 to make way for a Busch Stadium ramp for the new expressway downtown. By that time the company was owned by the Woolson Spice Co. of Toledo and all St. Louis operations were moved to Toledo.
Two of James H. Forbes sons lived to adulthood and both came into the business. Alexander E. Forbes started working the in store while still in school, joined the business when he completed school, and was made a partner in 1870. In 1878 Robert M. Forbes joined the business and was soon also made a partner. The founder, James H. Forbes, died in 1890 and his two sons Alexander (Alec) and Robert ran the business. Forbes Coffee was incorporated in 1901 with Alec President and Robert Vice-President. By 1928 Alec was Chairman, Robert was President, and Robert's son James was Vice-President. Following World War II, Alec's grandson David Forbes Orwig joined the business. Alec was active in the business for 75 years until just before his death in 1937 at age 94. Robert Forbes continued in the business until his death at age 66 in 1928. When the business was sold in 1956, James (grandson of the founder) and David Orwig (great grandson of the founder) were President and Vice-President respectively.
In 1890 the companydiscontinued its retail business and sold tea and coffee only wholesale. In 1898 a spice department was added, run for more than 50 years from Frederick E. Stillman. David Orwig succeeded him in running that department which included extracts as well as spices. Forbes also sold mustard, roasted peanuts, and seasonally minced meat. For a time they sold a summer drink concentrate which the consumer diluted with water. It was sold in a variety of flavors, fruits, etc., but being non-carbonated did not survive in the market place. Peanuts were a small sideline, produced because they were easily roasted in the same roasters as the coffee. I believe that they were only sold in bulk, however, in at least one season they had a contract to supply them in small bags for Sportsman's Park, home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns. The bags read "Forbes Peanuts." [If anyone has such a bag, or a pictures of one, please contact me at Charles@forbescoffee.org.]