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Man Who Introduced Vodka To U.S. Dies

May 30, 1986

FARMINGTON, Conn. (AP) _ John G. Martin, the man who introduced vodka to the American public, has died at age 80.

Erik Pierce, a spokesman for Heublein Inc. which announced the death of Martin, its former chairman, said he died Thursday of natural causes at his home in Naples, Fla.

Martin was president of Hartford-based G.F. Heublein and Brothers in 1939 when the company acquired the rights to Smirnoff Vodka for $14,000. Some called the purchase ″Martin’s folly.″

″I made the first sale (of vodka) outside Hartford in South Carolina,″ Martin once recalled during an interview. ″One of the distributor salesmen had tasted the first batch and noticed it didn’t have a taste or a smell. So he came up with the ingenious idea to advertise this unknown stuff. He had some banners made up that read: ’Smirnoff Whiskey: No Taste, No Smell.″

Martin said the idea proved to be a success and launched the company on an effort to promote vodka as a mixer for cocktails, a use unknown in its Russian homeland.

The company developed such drinks as the Moscow Mule, the Bloody Mary, the Screwdriver and the Vodka Gimlet.

Heublein, now located in Farmington, was acquired by R.J. Reynolds Industries Inc. in 1982. Martin was a great-grandson of Heublein’s founder.

He was born Dec. 27, 1905, in Coventry, England, and graduated from Cambridge University in 1927. He served on the U.S. War Production Board in 1941 and later became a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army in World War II.

He served as Heublein chairman from 1961 until he retired in 1966.

Martin is survived by his wife, former actress Jane Weeks Martin.

The funeral will be held Saturday at the Hodges Funeral Chapel in Naples.

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