Milton Stanley Kronheim died in 1986, at the age of 97, but stories about him still abound.
He is remembered through 600 photographs and letters on exhibit in "Power Lunches: Milton S. Kronheim Sr.'s Washington, 1888-1986," at the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum through Dec. 31.
His "power lunches" for famous people and those likely to become famous began in 1928. Sam Milwit, who worked for Kronheim for 35 years, 23 of them as an executive at his wholesale liquor distributorship, attended many of the lunches. "They talked about their personal views on this problem or that, but they never told how they would vote on this or that law," he told the Chronicler at the exhibit preview.
Milwit remembered a story told by Kronheim's attorney, Arnold Shaw, on Kronheim's 90th birthday. Just before the 1960 Democratic National Convention, Milwit recounts, Emily Taft Douglas, wife of Illinois Sen. Paul Douglas, asked Kronheim, "Who would you favor as presidential candidate?" Without hesitating, he named Jack Kennedy, Stuart Symington, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Ed Muskie and Estes Kefauver.
"Why?" asked Mrs. Douglas. Kronheim answered: "They all call me by my first name."
Kronheim knew well most of the presidents of his time. He said of Harry Truman, who is in one of the pictures on display, "He was a simple man and so am I. So we got to be fairly good friends."
Great-grandson Richard Kronheim said: "I was often fortunate enough to be a lunch guest. He'd call me up and ask me to pick up a Supreme Court justice, the head of a government department or some famous performer from out of town."
Photographs that once hung on the walls of Kronheim's Northeast Washington warehouse show him with most of the dignitaries of his time. One picture was taken at the birthday party he hosted for Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. The guests included three other justices, including Thurgood Marshall, and former Maryland governor Theodore R. McKeldin.
Milwit remembers showing the warehouse's photo gallery to Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court and one of the few women invited to the lunches, held in the warehouse dining room. Sheldon S. Cohen, Internal Revenue Service commissioner during the Johnson administration, saw J. Edgar Hoover at one of the lunches.
After Milwit's first "power lunch," Kronheim told him, "These are the most powerful people of our time. They not only affect our lives but the whole world."
"The number of guests varied from two to as many as 30--usually invited on short notice," Milwit said. Lunch began with soup, and often went on to fried chicken and desserts, prepared by company chef Annie Ross.
His lunches may have been inspired by his father J. Kronheim's popular tavern, appropriately named the Capitol Saloon, where lawmakers talked over current controversies and perhaps the bubbles in the beer.
Kronheim was born in 1888 in Southwest Washington and spent his life in the capital area. Young Milton struck out on his own at 14 or 15, when he dropped out of school and ran the Maryland Wine and Liquor Co. in Georgetown. His father's customers and later a few of his own might have inspired him to be a lifelong teetotaler. He preferred ice cream sodas.
Milwit said that when he was in school, "I drank like a regular student. Mr. Kronheim said, 'You don't have to drink, or smoke.' He drank six glasses a day--of water--and never turned down a good dessert, like ice cream and apple pie."
In 1920, when Prohibition corked liquor bottles all over the nation, Kronheim was not daunted. He became a bail bondsman. A caption in the exhibit says he posted bail for many offenders, befriending the city's future power brokers.
On Dec. 5, 1933, the dry days ended with the ratification of the 21st Amendment. Kronheim became the area's leading liquor wholesaler.
In the first half of the century, racial and religious segregation was rampant. Kronheim opposed both, asserting his belief in equal treatment and acceptance and backing up his conscience with his pocketbook.
The devout Jew was the Washington Hebrew Congregation's 1955 Man of the Year, a supporter of the Anti-Defamation League and a fund-raiser for the Jewish National Fund. As the latter, he was so successful that a forested area in Israel, Nachalat Kronheim, was named for him.
He also supported Catholic charities, including the Little Sisters of the Poor. In return, the Washington Knights of Columbus honored him with its distinguished service award.
He was also an avid ballplayer. Cohen, a Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington board member, played handball with Kronheim.
"Milton was an expert athlete, and he had great pride and always wanted to win, fair or foul," Cohen said. Kronheim played until he was 86.
"Power Lunches" is supervised by Laura Cohen Apelbaum, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, 701 Third St. NW, near the Judiciary Square Metro station. Call 202-789-0900 for times.
CAPTION: Four Supreme Court justices dined with Milton Kronheim (front row, third from left) when this undated photo was taken: Seated are William O. Douglas (far left), Earl Warren (fourth from left) and Thurgood Marshall (far right), and, standing at far right, William E. Brennan Jr.