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I was named after both of my Great Grandfathers on my Fathers side. “James” comes from the middle name of John J. Magoon, a man who died about a year and a half before I was born. “Charles” comes from the middle name of Bert C. Zahn, who I was fortunate to meet and spend some time with as a small child. I knew that Great-Grandpa Bert had been a pioneer of sorts in the world of screen printing, penning the book SILK SCREEN METHODS OF REPRODUCTION, a copy of which I bought on eBay some time ago. Great-Grandpa John was a little more of a mystery, as I’d been told as a child that he was “a coffee taster,” but never really explored much beyond that. Despite all the talk of ancestry and genealogy that’s been growing in popularity over the years, I hadn’t paid much mind to my own… until a trip to Ohio last Fall opened an unexpected door to my family history.

It was during my visit to The J.M. Smucker Company’s corporate headquarters in Orrville, Ohio that found me indulging my coffee habit with a little bit of time in the coffee lab. While you might think of them for their jellies and jams, the folks at Smucker’s make quite a bit of coffee, ranging from the Dunkin’ Donuts packaged coffee that you find in grocery stores (featured regularly here on THE ROCK FATHER) to Folgers, Cafe Pilon, Medaglia D’oro, Millstone, Cafe Bustelo and Life is Good. While I had a chance to sample brews from several of those, the time spent in the lab focused on the testing of the coffee and how Smucker’s maintains quality and consistency across their brands. We were treated to some insight from the “cuppers,” who are tasked with tasting each batch of beans… and in the end, they sought someone to give it a try by sampling some different beans from Folgers. I stepped up.

James Zahn in the Folgers coffee lab...

After posting that picture, my Dad appeared on Facebook… posting a picture of my Great-Grandfather, John James Magoon… at work, sometime in the 1930s:

My Great Grandfather...

The trays… the cups… the beans… and even the pose – all uncanny. Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandson, linked by coffee nearly 80 years apart.

I showed the picture to a few folks on the trip, and soon, even Tim and Richard Smucker wanted to have a peek, the latter of which inquired as to where my Great-Grandfather worked. The answer: The Continental Coffee Company of Chicago.


goodcoffeemagGreat-Grandpa Magoon was the Chief Tester for the Continental Coffee Company, as profiled in a 1931 issue of their self-published magazine, GOOD COFFEE. The company, which was founded in 1915, continued for much of the 20th century before becoming CFS Continental (a food service company) and eventually becoming absorbed by Sysco. It was my Great-Grandfather’s job to ensure the quality of the “Continental Blend” (and later, his own “Magoon’s Blend”) that made it’s way to restaurants around the country. In fact, the old edition of GOOD COFFEE that I now have a copy of, explains the “cupping” process in much the same way it was presented to my blogging group in Ohio.

My curiosity was piqued.

On an old ad for Continental Coffee, a picture of their building caught my eye. “371-75 W. Ontario St” read the address. I had to look it up. While that entire block has not survived for these past eight decades, the most recognizable piece of the building still stands. In fact, I’ve driven by the office hundreds of times and didn’t even know it… specifically, the back of the building while getting onto the highway from the Ontario Street on-ramp.

While visiting the recent Chicago Auto Show, I made a brief detour to see the building for myself:


To think that I’ve driven by Great-Grandpa Magoon’s office all this time and had no idea makes me want to delve deeper into personal history, but also has me thinking about my daughters and what knowledge they may one day seek. This building has been hidden in plain sight… so what else could one day be revealed?

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