Commanders-in-Chief Biographies

Mr. James Vernor Jr.
Commander-in-Chief 1941 - 1947

by Dr. Robert Girard Carroon, Past Commander-in-Chief
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

James Vernor Jr. also referred to as James Vernor II, served as Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States during World War II. His term of service was 1941 to 1947. He is the only Companion of the Michigan Commandery to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

James Vernor, Sr. He was born in Albany, New York in 1843, and moved as a small child with his parents to Detroit, Michigan. As a young man, in 1858, he got a job at the Higby and Stern's drug store, where, as an apprentice, he learned the business and became a pharmacist. When the War of the Rebellion began he enlisted as a Hospital Steward in the 4th Michigan Cavalry. He proved so adept at military science that he was promoted to Second Lieutenant and served to the end of the war. His unit, the 4th Michigan Cavalry was in a number of engagements during the war and is credited with capturing Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he attempted to escape. Lt. Vernor was discharged in 1865 and returned to Detroit, where he resumed his occupation of pharmacist.

Prior to his leaving for service in 1862, James had experimented with various flavored waters and drinks to serve at the soda fountain in his drugstore on Woodward Avenue. The legend is that he left a wooden keg filled with his latest fizz water formula in the basement of the pharmacy. When he returned and opened the keg found it had turned into what is now called ginger ale. Most historians credit James Vernor as the inventor of soda pop or ginger ale. His trade expanded at such a rate that he soon abandoned his drug store and went into the manufacturing of ginger ale on a full time basis although he was very proud of holding Michigan Pharmacy License #1 as long as he lived.

James Vernor, Sr., joined the Michigan Commandery (Insignia No. 4714) of MOLLUS. James Vernor, Sr. was a legend in Detroit serving for years on the city council and on dozens of civic and philanthropic organizations. He served as president of the Vernor Company until his death on October 29, 1927 when his son succeeded him as president of the firm.

His son, James, Jr., who was born in 1877 to James Vernor, Sr. and Emily Walker Smith, joined his father in the operation of the Vernor Company, and also in MOLLUS (Insignia No. 16905). Vernor's Ginger Ale was tremendously popular throughout Michigan and much of the Midwest and James Vernor, Jr. was a marketing genius who made a great deal of money on Vernor's Ginger Ale, especially during prohibition. Even during the depression when other soft drink companies went bankrupt Vernor's, as it was now called, made a profit of millions of dollars. He saw the firm through World War II and served as president until his death on April 11, 1954.

He was very active in the Michigan Commandery of MOLLUS (he joined on December 11, 1913) and, because of his prominence in the business world and the need of the Commandery-in-Chief to have an experienced and capable person in command particularly during war time, James Vernor Jr. was elected Commander-in-Chief in 1941.

James Vernor III, was also a member of the Loyal Legion. He attended Cranbrook School and Culver Military Academy. After graduating 2nd in his class from Culver he enrolled at Michigan State University. When World War II broke out he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves and assigned to the Coast Artillery. He served in the Aleutians until September 1945 and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He joined Vernor's as Vice President but did not long survive his father and died on April 9, 1957. James Vernor Davis, James Jr.'s nephew became president of Vernor's.

James Vernor IV is a stockbroker in Birmingham, Michigan, and James Vernor V and IV live in Minnesota. For many years the records of the Michigan Commandery were stored in Vernor's warehouse but are now distributed between the University of Michigan Library, Historic Fort Wayne, and the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library.

The author wishes to thank the Registrar-in-Chief Adam P. Flint, Chancellor-in-Chief Keith G. Harrison Companion Herb Kaufman, Mrs. Mary Ann Remenih of the Alumni Office, and Mr. Robert Hartman, Archivist of Culver Military Academy, Culver, Indiana, for their assistance and most especially Lawrence N. Rouch who, providentially, had his book, The Vernor's Story: From Gnomes, just published (2003) by the University of Michigan Press. Chancellor-in-Chief Harrison has promised that at least two cases of Vernor's will be sent to the 2004 Annual Congress in San Antonio, Texas so that Companions may toast all three of the James Vernors who were Companions in the only beverage that bears the name of a Commander-in-Chief of MOLLUS. Vernor's is a trade mark ginger ale of Pepsi/7UP a subsidiary of Cadbury Schweppes, Ltd.

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