Meet the WWI veteran who started ‘Trench Warfare Coffee Company’

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the September 1918 Duffel Blog. The author die weeks later of the 1918 influenza pandemic.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Army Sergeant James Thomas has always been a step ahead of his peers, and now after returning home from the “Great War,” he has his sights set on a new venture never before tried in the veteran community - starting a coffee bean company.

That's right, Doughboys! After serving as an infantryman in the 106th Infantry Regiment, this Yankee Doodle is starting the "Trench Warfare Coffee Company" following six month in France and two doses of Hun mustard gas!

"Right after we broke through Hindenburg Line and took it to Krauts, I thought: Could really use cup of joe. STOP" Thomas said in a telegram interview. "Came up with this crazy idea. STOP. Start veteran-owned coffee biz! STOP"

The Albany native credits his military service and many nights spent eating, sleeping, and fighting in the war-torn trenches of Europe as a way to market his imported coffee beans.

"Nation loves two things. STOP. War & freshly brewed morning java." Thomas said. "Was honestly surprised nobody came up with idea before. STOP"

A street flyer for Trench Warfare Coffee Company outlined the available coffee ground flavors:

  • "Trench Foot" — Our signature roast that will make you think your foot turned purple!

  • "Typhus" — For that gritty, dirty coffee lover.

  • "Shell Shock" — Coffee so good it'll keep you up at night screaming for more!

Thomas also revealed that his company will also be offering a "gift box" that comes with a fresh bag of coffee grounds, a sack of loose tobacco, matches "for that post-coffee tobacco pipe," and a tattered American flag t-shirt, featuring all 48 states.

Despite all the excitement of starting a new, never-before-seen kind of business, Thomas’ venture isn’t without criticism, most notably from his company commander, Capt. David Worthington.

“Listen, chum, it's hard enough starting a business as a commissioned officer who graduated from the Ivy League and married the daughter of a notable coal magnate, without having to contend with a bunch of enlisted chaps,” Worthington said, from his executive suite at Worthington Steel in Pittsburgh. “By George, who does that sluffer think he is!? Coffee? Balderdash, real men drink powdered milk and gin."

Thomas is also having issues with filling a full-time staff of employees.

"Told pals over there they could come work for me when they got back from front," Thomas said. "Still waiting on most. STOP”

As far as the future growth of veteran-owned coffee businesses, the now-retired noncommissioned officer is skeptical.

Thomas says he can't imagine too many veterans will have the opportunity to do this. "We are winning 'war to end wars,'" Thomas telegraphed. "So knowing that, hard to see coffee market getting saturated by veterans looking to start own brands.”