Updated: Jan 20
You’re probably wondering who this handsome devil is and what the hell he has to do with cocktails or barware, much less C&D Tools. Buckle up kiddos, this story involves WWI aerial dogfights with beer bottles and bricks, a NASA astronaut, and the possible theft of a 100-year-old German cocktail shaker.
So, the strapping lad here is Harry Thomas Pearce, born in 1897 with eyes that could cut a man down. As if the steely gaze and strong family name weren’t American enough, he was a bi-plane tail gunner in WWI. That’s right, this guy was about 19 years old puttering across the sky at just over 100 mph in a plane basically built out of papier mache while trying to gun down the Red Baron and his friends. If you’re wondering how Harry’s plane got off the ground in the first place considering those massive balls-of-steel, join the club.
While Harry evidently never talked much about his time in the war, he once shared a story where he ran out of rounds for his machine gun (which apparently happened frequently), so he threw down bricks and bottles on the enemy instead. (We're sure this story is completely true, but are mystified why he would have had bricks and bottles in the plane!)
Do you know how close you have to be to another plane IN THE AIR to throw a brick and actually hit it? I don’t, but I'm guessing pretty damn close. Also, the fact that this dude used bricks and bottles to engage enemy aircraft after running out of bullets speaks to my 19 year old Infantry Marine heart.
Don't worry, this story is far from over...
So Harry comes back from The Great War, goes to college, and gets a job in the aerospace industry, naturally. At some point, Harry’s nephew, an adorable little kid named Frank Borman, expressed interest planes - he would write letters to his Uncle Harry on airplane stationery.
Harry decided, as any good uncle would, to take Frank up for a ride in an old biplane, evidently inspiring Frank so much that he also committed to becoming a pilot, eventually graduating from West Point and joining NASA.
Not only that, Frank went on to join the Gemini and Apollo 8 missions as an astronaut, eventually orbiting the moon ten times in less than 21 hours. He then ended up as special NASA liaison for Nixon during the Apollo 11 mission and advised Nixon in the Oval Office during the mission’s takeoff and landing.
Okay, back to Uncle Harry “Steal Your Girl” Pearce….
In between top gunning across the European skies (likely while inverted), at some point he managed to pick up a vintage German cocktail travel set. Truth be told, it’s unclear whether he got it in theater, on his way home, or stole if off an enemy combatant. What we do know is this German feat of engineering stood the test of time. The pieces are still beautiful, incredibly solid, and now over 100 years old.
When we first got the crazy idea to start C&D in the middle of a pandemic, we reached out to a family friend in the steel industry (who probably has no idea how instrumental his words were in helping us start) who told us -- “so yeah, I have this old shaker from my grandfather [Harry]…and if I can find it, I’ll send it to you.”
So... you're a young tail gunner, exhausted from fighting the good fight for Uncle Sam and you have a weekend pass in France.....what else to do other than swagger up to a bar in Paris and order a French 75? Or maybe, our young Harry was far from a young French sweetheart, newly escaped from a foxhole somewhere trying to make this refreshing beverage to help improve the morale of his comrades.
Although the origin of the First World War-era cocktail is about as hard to pin down as the inventor of baklava (was it Turkey or Greece?) the inspiration for the French 75 is as clear as an artillery shell going off.
The drink was named after the Canon de 75 modèle 1897, or the French 75 mm field gun as the use of quick-firing artillery was crucial in the battles of Verdun and the Marne. The fact that the drink was named after a weapon that rained down destruction is misleading, though, because this smooth mixture - served in a flute glass of all things - hardly conjures up images of death and war.
Either way, we like to think that Harry might have enjoyed one or two before heading back to the front, and we were honored to have the opportunity to make this cocktail with the exact vintage shaker set he used 100 years ago.
The French 75
1 ounce London dry gin
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
4 ounces Brut Champagne
Shake all ingredients except champagne in a shaker tin (preferably a very old one) with ice. Pour into chilled flute. Top with champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.
So there you have it folks. This is the story of a WWI tail gunner who fought with beer bottles and bricks and whose progeny helped build the NASA program during its glory days. Harry also assisted in the genesis of what we believe to be the only company in the entire USA manufacturing steel barware in our country, using American steel to boot.
We share this circuitous story because:
1) Harry was obviously a badass and could have easily stolen your girlfriend
2) Vintage barware and WWI cocktail recipes are really cool
3) You haven’t seen the last of the “HT Pearce” travel set... Harry may have stolen the original set, but what better way to follow in this hero's footsteps than to steal a top-notch design from the Germans?
Harry would certainly approve.