Today is the birthday of Frederick Lauer (October 14, 1810-September 12, 1883). He was a brewer in Reading, Pennsylvania, and the first president of the United States Brewers Association. Lauer “was born on October 14, 1810 in Gleisweiler, Bavaria. He emigrated to Baltimore in 1822 and the family moved to Reading, Pennsylvania.” His father founded the George Lauer Brewing Co. in 1826, first in Womelsdorf, and then Reading. In 1847, he took over for his father and renamed it the Frederick Lauer Brewery. “His two sons were Frank P. Lauer and George F. Lauer; he turned the business over to them in 1882, and it was again renamed the Lauer Brewing Co. He died on September 12, 1883.” His sons ran brewery until Prohibition, when it was closed for good in 1920.
This is from “Reading’s Philanthropic Brewer,” by Andrew T. Kuhn, from the Fall 1992 issue of the Historical Review of Berks County:
The first statue erected in Reading was that of Frederick Lauer, the pioneering Reading brewer. In 1885, the United States Brewers’ Association hired Henri Stephens to create the Lauer statue, and, with the consent of City Council, placed it in City Park. The physical structure is quite tall, and consists of two parts. Memorial sculptures are “generally portraiture,” and this one is as well. The top part of the monument is a life-size likeness of Lauer, cast in bronze. He is portrayed wearing a suit which is covered by a long overcoat. The statue stands on a four-sided cement pedestal, with each side contain- ing a plaque. These plaques serve as a guide to investigating Frederick Lauer as a brewer and a citizen, which in turn, reveals more about the nineteenth-century Reading community. Lauer successfully produced and sold alcohol throughout his entire life, even though a large portion of the country was calling for the abolition of it. He did his best to legitimize the use of alcohol, and he served the Reading community untiringly. Justifiably, Frederick Lauer was represented in the first monument erected in Reading because he embodied the ideals of a large part of his community.
The front plaque establishes who the statue commemorates, who erected it, and for what reason. It states: “To Frederick Lauer of Reading, Pa. The United States Brewers’ Association of which he was the first president has erected this monument in grateful remembrance of his unselfish labor for the welfare of the brewing trade in this country. Charles Elliot Norton, in 1865, wrote, “Peculiar difficulties will surround and hinder [the building of monuments], because nearly all these proposed memorials will be built, if at all, by associations; few by private persons.” and such was the case for Reading’s first monument. Just two years following Lauer’s death, the monument was constructed and stood on public grounds.
Lauer was a prominent leader in the beer industry. During the Civil War, the need for financial support to sustain the Union’s war effort resulted in the first federal tax on malt beverages. This tax prompted the eventual founding of the U.S. Brewers Association. It seems logical for the brewers to organize a protest against the tax, however, they did not pursue lauerthis course of action. Lauer and other established brewers believed that the tax was advantageous to the industry, as a whole, because it would discourage unsanitary practices and crooked manufacturers, which cut into the trade of reliable brewers. Lauer toured European breweries to study their manufacturing, and their tax situation. During his trips abroad, he wrote several letters to the Reading Gazette, which were published in German, as well as in English. He returned with recommendations to establish a permanent tax, but to keep it at the affordable price of $1 per barrel. The tax must be kept down to allow the brewers to continue to sell their product at a low price. Due to his experience and success, Lauer “quite naturally became the first president of the national association upon its organization in 1870.”
The plaque that faces west also addresses Lauer’s close association with the brewing industry. It reads, “Let his example tell the brewers of this country to maintain good fellowship to preserve their association, and to defend their rights.” Through the U.S. Brewers’ Association, he maintained his ties with other brewers around the country, but his relationship with the brewing industry began long before 1870. Lauer was born on Oct. 14, 1810 in Gleisweiler, Germany. At the age of 12, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in Womelsdorf, PA. Under his father’s tutelage he quickly learned the brewing process. Their small brewing practice grew, so they moved into a larger building in Reading, and by age 16, Fred was foreman and accountant of the brewery. He was a dedicated worker, arising daily at 2 a.m., so that deliveries could be made by breakfast. In 1835, at age 25, he became proprietor of the new plant on North Street, and remained there until his retirement in 1883.
Lauer felt a very close association with his German heritage and the Democratic party, the two groups who (often overlapping) comprised an overwhelming majority of his customers. The majority of Berks County citizens were German immigrants, and Lauer employed many of them (Hoch). Peter Barby, who by 1860 had established his own small Reading brewery, began as an employee of Lauer. John Roehrich, a proprietor of ice and cold storage, was first employed in Reading as Lauer’s errand boy. Lauer brought Lewis Bloom, who had learned the cooper’s trade in his native land, from Philadelphia to Reading to make barrels and casks for the brewery. John Bachover, proprietor of a hotel and cafe in Reading, worked for the brewery for 22 years, and John Stocker worked for him 17 years before opening his own small brewery in Schuylkill County. All these men were born in Germany, and came to America with great uncertainty. Lauer, a German immigrant himself, had compassion for these men; he employed them in his brewery, giving them an opportunity to advance in their new community. The “melting pot” image was nothing but a myth in nineteenth-century Reading. He maintained close contact with this old country and its language. He returned to Germany several times, and had his two sons receive their higher education in Germany. One son studied the scientific study of beer, porter, and ale, so that he might carry on the family’s German tradition.
Lauer was a stout Democrat, and he was quite active in the political arena. One of his sons was named Franklin Pierce Lauer because he was born on Nov. 8, 1852, the day that the Democrat Pierce was elected President of the United States. Frederick represented the Berks district at the National Convention of 1860 which met in Charleston, S.C., but he voted for Stephen Douglas to oppose Lincoln, and when secession broke out the next year, his popularity sagged. He quickly took other actions to prove his loyalty to the Union. One of these was “to invite Reading soldiers in every volunteer company and drafted group, and all troops passing through Reading, to a free lunch at his garden at 3rd and Chestnut streets.” Although Lauer showed special kindness towards Germans and Democrats, he was also a philanthropist for the community as a whole.
The plaque on the back of the monument, which faces north, states: “The city of Reading commemorates the public and private virtues of an honored citizen by the grant of this location. Erected 1885, the year of the Twenty-fifth convention of the United States Brewers’ Association.” Lauer was instrumental in changing Reading from the status of a borough to that of a city in 1847. He was a member of Select Council from 1865-7 1, serving as its president during the 1867-68 year. He assisted in organizing the Berks County Agricultural Society and the Board of Trade, serving presidential terms for both organizations. Lauer also helped finance the Reading and Columbia Railroad, and he was a member of several charity groups: the Reading Dispensary, the Reading Relief Society, and the Reading Benevolent Society. Lauer’s untiring civic involvement created great respect for him within the community.
Other community investments more directly benefited his workers, which in turn helped his business. He was one of the organizers of St. John’s German Lutheran Church in his early years in Reading. He wanted to establish a place of worship for his fellow Germans, as well as instill nobleness in his workers. Later, he had part of his seven acre lot landscaped into a park for community recreation. Following Lauer’s death, at the turn of the century, the park was converted into a baseball park where semi-professional teams played games. The Reading community that Lauer helped foster followed the national trend, providing communal parks in mid-century, and then catering to organized sports toward the turn of the century. The establishment of Lauer’s Park, like many other reform movements of the nineteenth century, tried to provide virtuous activities for the community, particularly for the workers of the brewery. However, although Lauer offered very much to his community, the nature of the brewing industry was held in discredit by many advocates of prohibition during this time, and it was always in danger of legal restrictions caused by the temperance movement.
The fourth and final plaque that is part of the Lauer monument is contradictory. It states: “His zeal sprang from his firm conviction that in striving to advance the brewing trade he was working for the cause of national temperance.” This statement is written about a man who at a Brewers’ Congress meeting, ascribed the defeat of the Turks due to the fact that “they are a nation of water drinkers, and hence have become a stagnant morass – an offence to civilization – so that the Russians, good, solid drinkers, naturally proved conquerors.” Although the temperance movement was not as powerful in the German-dominated Berks County region as it was in other parts of the country, the ominous temperance movement forced American brewers to be selective in their word choice, especially in the public sphere, so as to create a positive image for their trade.
The temperance movement posed a constant threat to Lauer and his brewery. In 1826, the American Temperance Society was formed in Boston, and a decade later, the organization redefined the word “temperance” to mean abstinence. This society headed a movement that lobbied for legal prohibition of alcohol. The movement was overwhelmingly led by American-born, Protestant, non-urban Republicans. In 1846, Maine became the first state to pass statewide Prohibition laws. In assessing the effectiveness of Maine’s laws, Lauer wrote, “It is a complete failure. It can be shown by statistics that almost every town in Maine has MORE DRUNKENNESS now than when before the prohibitory law was in place.” By 1865, thirteen states had similar Prohibition laws, but Pennsylvania never adopted state Prohibition laws because like most “urban, industrial northern states, with large immigrant populations, the majority were wet.” Still, the danger was ever-present.
Lauer fought against Prohibition with more vigor than any other endeavor he embraced. Despite all of his noble civic efforts and political involvement, in the height of his career, he wrote, “I am a brewer first and a politician afterwards, or in other words, I do not intend to sacrifice my brewery and the accumulations of a long life for any empty honor of political predilections.” Lauer used the newspaper as a public forum for his views; whenever a minister would preach in favor of Prohibition, “the following day would find Lauer with a challenging statement to the newspapers.” He argued that intemperance was a medical problem, and that it could never be contained through legal means. In 1881, in response to the growing number of Prohibitionists, an association called the Liquor Men was organized in Reading. At the first meeting, one member expressed the grievances of all alcohol producers when he professed, “We pay our taxes; we pay our license; we are friends to everybody; we are willing to let them alone and they must let us alone We cannot all be ministers, lawyers or doctors. It is my trade and I intend to follow it up as best I can, honestly and as becomes a good citizen.” Lauer, like other men in his profession, like those who erected his statue, tried to establish respectability in his profession during a time when it was unfashionable.
The Lauer monument was erected in 1885, and just 36 years later, in 1919, nationwide Prohibition became law as the Eighteenth Amendment was passed. In the face of such difficult times for brewers such as Lauer, why was the monument allowed to be erected on the public grounds of City Park? Primarily, because the U.S. Brewers’ Association absorbed all costs incurred by the monument, but more important- ly, because of the many contributions that Lauer made to the Reading community as a citizen, the honor bestowed on him, according to most people, was justified. When Lauer had a celebration commemorating his fiftieth anniversary in Reading, the mayor printed an apology to him in the local paper because he could not attend due to prior commitments. Late in his career, Lauer spread his capital thin, and when he tried to save his brother’s Pottsville brewery from bankruptcy, he came on hard times. However, even the president of the Law and Order League, I. C. Detweiler, upon hearing of Lauer’s financial woes, was compassionate. He stated, “as a man, I feel very sorry for Mr. Lauer; but for the business it was a God-send The failure was not more than could be expected, as all brewers and distillers would come to just such an end” (Reading Eagle). As a citizen, Lauer was well respected, but there was still objection to a statue of a brewer being raised on city ground. Ministers and churches lead the objection, but their protest was in vain. Advocates of the monument “said it was well that it stand at the head of Penn street where everyone could recall his unselfish public career and service. The opposition favored the site too . . . They said they favored the site because the Lauer monument would stand in front of the county jail and look over toward the almshouse in Shillington.” The Prohibitionists felt that it was proper that the brewer be in such lowly company. The proposal passed City Council, and in May of 1885, Reading’s first monument was erected, to a brewer no less.
This is the description of the illustration of the Lauer Brewing from the National Archives:
Image of an elevated landscape view of the Lauer Brewing Company brewery in Reading, Pennsylvania; a large industrial complex of factory buildings is pictured including the breweries, smokestacks, ice plant, boiler house, hop storage, office, malt house, band stand, hotel, garden, and several others including a bowling alley in Lauer’s Park; railroad cars labeled “Refrigerator Line. Ale Porter and Lager Beer” a Philadelphia & Reading Railroad passenger train, cable car, and horse-drawn vehicles are visible along the street in the foreground; small inset image at bottom right features an earlier view of the much-smaller brewery captioned “Lauer’s brewery in 1866”; a Greek sphinx is pictured in a circular ivy-bordered frame captioned by the words “Trade mark” at bottom center.
Here’s another biography, from Americantom:
FREDERICK LAUER was born in the Province of Palatine, now Rhenish Bavaria, October 14th, 1810. He attended school (German) until he was twelve years of age, and during this period learned the French language. His father had been one of the largest property holders and taxpayers in the country, and was the man who raised the first liberty-pole on the French borders. On account of his liberal and patriotic sentiments he had to suffer, and for nine years was unable to gather any crops owing to the presence of the army. Finding himself getting more and more impoverished, he concluded to immigrate to America, and with his family landed in Baltimore in August 1823. He at once started for Reading, where his married daughter was then living. Here Frederick became, for the first four months of his residence, a butcher boy, assisting his brother-in-law. But he left this employment when his father commenced the brewing business at Womelsdorf, Berks County, where he assisted him until he removed to Reading, and continued his calling there. It was in the spring of 1826 that his father returned to Reading, where he established a small brewery in an old log house, which had been erected many years before by Read, the founder and owner of the town. Frederick, who was then not quite sixteen years old, was made foreman and clerk, and with one assistant did all the brewing. He built up his first kettle with a capacity of five barrels, which in two months time was increased to ten. He rose at 2 A. M., finished the brewing by daylight, and after breakfast would deliver the beer to customers in town. In 1835 he became the proprietor of the brewery, enlarged it, and by the aid of more assistants extended the business. During the first five years nothing was made but what was known as ” strong beer.” The brewing of ale and porter was begun in 1831, and of lager beer in 1844. The wonderful improvements, which have since sprung up by means of his industry and tact, and without capital, have resulted in a town of itself. In 1849, he commenced buying up vacant lots, and therein-quarried extensive vaults in the solid limestone rock for the storage of lager beer. In 1866, he erected a large brewery on this locality, containing all the latest improvements, and complete in every respect. In connection with this brewery is (1874) a fine park of seven acres, planted with shade trees, a park house with porticos, etc. During the war of the Rebellion he espoused the Union cause, and gave freely of his means to sustain it. He literally gave thousands upon thousands of dollars. Whole regiments were regaled by him at a time, and he had words of encouragement for all. He is neither politician nor office-seeker; he has been tendered, more than once, the Congressional nomination; but his business interests would not permit him to serve in the National Legislature. He always has taken a deep interest in the government and prosperity of Reading, and has been a member of the Town and City Councils for many years. He has always been an active member of the Berks County Agricultural Society, and at one time was its President. He was one of the incorporators and original stockholders of the Reading & Columbia Railroad. He has made the acquaintance of all the prominent members of Congress, of both houses, during the past thirty years, to which may be added all the Presidents of the Nation in the same period. His efforts in connection with the Internal Revenue tax on fermented liquors have invariably been crowned with success, and as President of the Brewers’ Congress he has been indefatigable in his services to the trade. Personally, he is of a frank, hearty, cordial disposition, with an abrupt good humor, which inspires friendship and confidence. He is quick and nervously active in his movements, and will go any length to serve a friend. Shrewd, far seeing and industrious, he has made his establishment one of the most successful in the United States.
This account is from Go Reading Berks:
George Lauer immigrated to America in 1823. Upon landing at Baltimore, Md., he was poor, having just had enough money to pay the passage across the ocean for him and family. The journey was made in a sailing vessel and required three months. He immediately proceeded to Reading, Berks County, where a married daughter, Mrs. Sprenger, resided; and shortly afterward he settled at Womelsdorf and started the business of manufacturing beer in limited quantities. He carried on the business for three years and then located at Reading, where he established a small brewery on Chestnut street near Third, on a rented lot (which he afterward purchased from Marks John Biddle, the attorney for the Penn’s, in 1833), similar to the brewery at Womelsdorf, which had a capacity of five barrels, and was soon increased to ten barrels on account of the increasing demand for his product. There were other breweries at Reading at this time, but the product was of a different character. In 1831 he added the manufacture of porter and ale; and he carried on the enlarged plant until 1835, when his two sons, George and Frederick, became his successors.
Frederick Lauer was the principal brewer at Reading for nearly fifty years from 1835 to 1882. He was born in the town of Gleisweiler, Rhenish Bavaria, Germany, Oct. 14, 1810, and while a boy accompanied his father to America in 1823. He was educated in pay schools at Womelsdorf and Reading, and while growing to manhood learned the business of brewing under the tutoring of his father. He assisted his father until 1835, when he and his brother George became the owners of the plant. The brothers continued as partners for several years, when his brother George retired and removed to Pottsville, where he carried on the same business. The younger brother, as the sole owner, enlarged the brewery and extended the business gradually until he came to send his beer, porter and ale throughout the county and into the adjoining counties. The brewery was situated on Chestnut Street below Third. He established a second plant on North Third Street, beyond Walnut, in 1866; also constructing a large vault in a solid bed of limestone, and sinking an artesian well to the depth of 2,200 feet, which for many years were considered great curiosities at Reading, and the well was then one of the few deep wells in the United States. He was engaged in the business until shortly before his death. He died in 1883, at the age of seventy-three years. He was married to Mary Reiff Guldin, daughter of Peter Guldin, in 1838, and they had two sons, George Frederick and Franklin Pierce. The mother died in October, 1891. After her death 1891, George Frederick Lauer, one of Mary’s sons and chairman of the Lauer Brewing Co., erected an elegant mansion which fronted on South Third, at Chestnut. Not long after the turn of the century, the mansion passed to George’s brother, Franklin Pierce Lauer (born the day President Franklin Pierce was elected).
Franklin Pierce Lauer was born in Reading Nov. 2, 1852. He received his preliminary education in the common schools, which he attended until 1866, when he and his brother were sent to Germany for their advanced education, and they remained three years, spending two years in the institutions at Ludwigsburg and Stuttgart, Germany, and one year at Lausanne, Switzerland. He directed his studies more especially toward the scientific manufacture of beer, porter and ale for the purpose of qualifying himself to take charge of his father’s breweries upon his return home. While at Lausanne he showed great proficiency in music, and though still a boy the vestry of the French Lutheran Church elected him as the organist, which position he filled.
Upon returning home his father placed him in charge of the two breweries as brew master and he displayed great skill in the production of malt liquors of a superior character. He discharged the duties of this responsible position with increasing success for twelve years, until 1882, when his father retired, and he organized the Lauer Brewing Company, of which he became the manager and principal owner. In August, 1891, he made an extended tour of three months through the principal countries of Europe. In 1874 Mr. Lauer married Amelia Dora Heberle (daughter of William Heberle), by whom he had six children: Florence, who married William Y. Landis, of Reading; Carl Franklin; and four who died in youth.
Franklin remained at the mansion until 1923 at which time his daughter, Florence (Mrs. William) Landis, moved in who remained there until around 1923 at which time Around 1929, Peter Lysczek bought the property. A year later, while the family was away, fire broke out in the tower. Severe damage resulted, much of it from water. At this time it was decided to convert the 28-room mansion to an apartment complex. Mr. Lysczek erected a structure at the rear of the home to accommodate his Reading Bottling Works. By 1960, Peter Lysczek’s bottling works had outgrown the facilities at 3rd and Chestnut, so the property was sold to an auto-renting agency and very soon thereafter, the mansion disappeared.
Franklin Pierce operated the brewery for many years. The brewery survived the the prohibition years but eventually succumbed to the wrecking ball. In October, 1942, the brewery at the Northwest corner of Third and Walnut Streets was demolished. TThe only structure remaining from the former Lauer complex at (and near) Third and Walnut is the old Lauer mansion at 235-237 Walnut St.
This is a more genealogical story from “Historical and biographical annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, embracing a concise history of the county and a genealogical and biographical record of representative families,” compiled by Morton Montgomery, and published in 1909:
Frederick Lauer, father of Franklin Pierce Lauer, was the principal brewer at Reading for nearly fifty years from 1835 to 1882. He was born in the town of Gleisweiler, Rhenish Bavaria, Germany, Oct. 14, 1810, and whilst a boy accompanied his father to America in 1823. He was educated in pay schools at Womelsdorf and Reading, and while growing to manhood learned the business of brewing under the tutelage of his father, who was an expert brewer; and he assisted his father until 1835, when he and his brother George became the owners of the plant. The brothers continued as partners for several years, when his brother George retired and removed to Pottsville, where he carried on the same business. The younger brother, as the sole owner, enlarged the brewery and extended the business gradually until he came to send his beer, porter and ale throughout the county and into the adjoining counties. The brewery was situated on Chestnut street below Third. He established a second plant on North Third street, beyond Walnut, in 1866; also constructing a large vault in a solid bed of limestone, and sinking an artesian well to the depth of 2,200 feet, which for many years were considered great curiosities at Reading, and the well was then one of the few deep wells in the United States. He was engaged in the business until shortly before his decease. He died in 1883, at the age of seventy-three years. He was married to Mary Reiff Guldin, daughter of Peter Guldin, in 1838, and they had two sons, George Frederick and Franklin Pierce. The mother died in October, 1891.
Frederick Lauer was a public-spirited man and labored assiduously for the development and prosperity of Reading. He co-operated heartily in the advancement of the place from a borough into a city in 1847; and under the amended charter of 1864 he represented the Fifth ward in the select council from 1865 to 1871, serving as president of that body in 1867. He was a devoted adherent of the Democratic party, and active in behalf of its success for many years. He represented the Berks district as a delegate to the National Convention which met at Charleston, S. C., in 1860, and notwithstanding the platform and the defeat of the party nominee for President, when the Civil war broke out, in 1861, he espoused the cause of the Union in a most earnest and patriotic manner. He assisted materially in organizing the Berks County Agricultural Society in 1852, and officiated as president for a number of years; also in projecting the construction of the railroad from Reading to Lancaster and Columbia, serving as a director for twenty years until his decease; and by special appointment of the governor he served for several terms as trustee of the Keystone State Normal School. He gave liberal support to local charities by aiding the Dispensary and the Relief Society.
Lauer Monument — Mr. Lauer’s great experience and success in the brewing business brought him into national prominence before the brewers of the United States, and he quite naturally became the first president of the national association upon its organization in 1870, which evidences his great popularity and influence at that time; and in May, 1885, the association erected a fine bronze statue to his memory on Penn Common, near Perkiomen avenue, on a small plot of ground set apart and dedicated by the city councils, the first public honor of the kind in the community. The inscriptions on the four sides of the base are as follows:
“The city of Reading commemorates the public and private virtues of an honored citizen by the grant of this location. Erected 1885, the year of the Twenty-fifth convention of the United States Brewers’ Association.”
“To Frederick Lauer of Reading. The United States Brewers’ Association of which he was the first president has erected this monument in grateful remembrance of his unselfish labor for the welfare of the brewing trade in this country.”
“His zeal sprang from his firm conviction that in striving to advance the brewing trade he was working for the cause of national temperance.”
“Let his example tell the brewers of this country to maintain good fellowship, to preserve their association, and to defend their rights.”
I grew up just outside of Reading, and made frequent trips to the park in Reading where Lauer’s statue was located, and it was near the bandshell, which fascinated me as a kid. I confess I didn’t really know anything about who Frederick Lauer was as a child, and it wasn’t until I moved away that I began to understand who he was and why there was a statue of him in my hometown.
Last year, asshole vandals trashed the statue and “stole bronze plaques that were at the base of the statue.” Happily, the BA helped with the funds needed for its restoration and it was rededicated earlier this year while much of the brewing industry was in nearby Philadelphia for the Craft Brewers Conference. I wish I could have been there, but unfortunately I was judging the World Beer Cup, and couldn’t get away.