Historic Beer Birthday: August Schell

august-schell
Today is the birthday of August Schell (February 16, 1828-September 20, 1891). He was born in Durbach, Germany, in the Black Forest, but when he was twenty booked passage to New Orleans. He then made his way to Cincinnati, where he married, and when he was 28, in 1856, he moved his family to New Ulm, Minnesota. In 1860, Schell formed a partnership with brewer Jacob Bernhardt, and they founded the August Schell Brewing Co. Schell’s Brewery is still in business today, and is still owned by the family who started it. “It is the second oldest family-owned brewery in America (after D. G. Yuengling & Son) and became the oldest and largest brewery in Minnesota when the company bought the Grain Belt rights in 2002.”

august-schell-portrait

Here’s a biography from Find-a-Grave, which they state was taken “from the Schells Brewery site,” but it must have been from a previous version of the company website:

August Schell was born in 1828 in Durbach, Germany, located in the heart of the famous German “Schwarzwald,” otherwise known as the Black Forest region. August received an early education as a machinist/engineer but after a short time, became intrigued by the opportunities overseas. In 1848, August bid farewell to his mother and father, leaving his homeland in search of success in the United States.

August arrived in New Orleans and continued up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Cincinnati where he worked as a machinist in a locomotive factory. It was here that he met the love of his life, Theresa Hermann. Theresa, also a German immigrant, and August wed in 1853.

In 1856, August, Theresa and their two baby daughters headed to Minnesota along with a group of fellow Germans known as the Cincinnati Turner Society. The Turner Society had heard from a group of German settlers in Southern Minnesota that their settlement was struggling to succeed. The two groups merged and formed the town of New Ulm.

Once in New Ulm, August found a job as a machinist in a flour mill. But as the years passed, August realized that good German beer was difficult to find in such a small, rural area. In the fall of 1860, August partnered up with Jacob Bernhardt, a former brewmaster at the Benzberg Brewery in St. Paul, MN (what today was known as the Minnesota Brewing Company). They erected a small brewery just two miles from town along the banks of the Cottonwood River. During their first year of operation they produced 200 barrels of beer, a very small amount based on today’s standards.

The location of the brewery was ideal. Aside from the beauty of its natural surroundings (August was especially fond of his hikes into the woods), the brewery was located next to an artesian spring, providing exceptionally pure water for brewing. Its proximity to the Cottonwood River gave the brewery a means of transporting beer and supplies, and the river also became essential to the refrigeration process. Each winter, large blocks of ice would be harvested and hauled up the hill where they would be stored in underground caves. The ice would keep the caves cool throughout the spring and early summer in order to allow proper aging and fermentation of the beer.

But along with the rewards also came the risks. New Ulm, as many settlers back then realized, was located in the heart of Dakota Indian country. In the early days of the brewery, many of the Dakota Sioux Tribe visited the brewery where Mrs. Schell often provided them with food. This goodwill proved to be a blessing for the brewery. In 1862, southern Minnesota was the focal point of the “Sioux Uprising,” otherwise known as the “Dakota Conflict.” While buildings were burned and ransacked in New Ulm and other towns in the region, the brewery remained untouched due to the kindness of the Schell family.

In 1866, Jacob Bernhardt became ill and decided to sell his share of the brewery. In order to command as high a price as possible August agreed to place the entire brewery up for sale to the highest bidder. August’s bid of $12,000 won out and he became the sole owner of the business.

The early years were good for the Schell family. August and Theresa raised six children: two sons; Adolph and Otto; and four daughters; Emma, Emelia, Anna and Augusta. The brewery flourished as additions were built to the existing brewery, many of which continue to grace the brewery grounds, a testament to the enduring legacy of Schell.

At the age of 50, August became stricken with severe arthritis which greatly affected his activities within the brewery. While still maintaining an executive role with the brewery, August handed over the management responsibilities to his eldest son Adolph and the brewing responsibilities to his youngest son Otto, who studied brewing in Germany. Soon after, Adolph moved his family to California leaving Otto and his brother-in-law George Marti to run the brewery.

In 1885, August and Theresa built the exquisite Schell Mansion on the brewery grounds, complete with formal gardens and deer park, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. As August’s arthritis worsened, he would enjoy spending his days in the solitude of the gardens watching the constant hum and activity at the brewery.

August died on September 20, 1891 at the age of 63, leaving the brewery to Theresa with Otto as manager. While the brewery mourned the loss of its founder, Otto became its driving force. In 1902 the brewery was incorporated and Otto was elected president, his mother Theresa was elected vice-president, and his brother-in-law George became secretary-treasurer.

schell-portrait

This is the history of the brewery that is currently on the company website:

The 1860’s

Once in New Ulm, August found a job as a machinist in a flour mill. But as the years passed, August realized that good German beer was difficult to find in such a small, rural area. In the fall of 1860, August partnered up with Jacob Bernhardt, a former brewmaster at the Benzberg Brewery in St. Paul, MN (what today was known as the Minnesota Brewing Company). They erected a small brewery just two miles from town along the banks of the Cottonwood River. During their first year of operation they produced 200 barrels of beer, a very small amount based on today’s standards.

The location of the brewery was ideal. Aside from the beauty of its natural surroundings (August was especially fond of his hikes into the woods), the brewery was located next to an artesian spring, providing exceptionally pure water for brewing. Its proximity to the Cottonwood River gave the brewery a means of transporting beer and supplies, and the river also became essential to the refrigeration process. Each winter, large blocks of ice would be harvested and hauled up the hill where they would be stored in underground caves. The ice would keep the caves cool throughout the spring and early summer in order to allow proper aging and fermentation of the beer.

But along with the rewards also came the risks. New Ulm, as many settlers back then realized, was located in the heart of Dakota Indian country. In the early days of the brewery, many of the Dakota Sioux Tribe visited the brewery where Mrs. Schell often provided them with food. This goodwill proved to be a blessing for the brewery. In 1862, southern Minnesota was the focal point of the “Sioux Uprising,” otherwise known as the “Dakota Conflict.” While buildings were burned and ransacked in New Ulm and other towns in the region, the brewery remained untouched due to the kindness of the Schell family.

Schell-brewery-1860s
The original Schell brewery.

The 1870’s

In 1866, Jacob Bernhardt became ill and decided to sell his share of the brewery. In order to command as high a price as possible August agreed to place the entire brewery up for sale to the highest bidder. August’s bid of $12,000 won out and he became the sole owner of the business.
The early years were good for the Schell family. August and Theresa raised six children: two sons; Adolph and Otto; and four daughters; Emma, Emelia, Anna and Augusta. The brewery flourished as additions were built to the existing brewery, many of which continue to grace the brewery grounds, a testament to the enduring legacy of Schell.

At the age of 50, August became stricken with severe arthritis which greatly affected his activities within the brewery. While still maintaining an executive role with the brewery, August handed over the management responsibilities to his eldest son Adolph and the brewing responsibilities to his youngest son Otto, who studied brewing in Germany. Soon after, Adolph moved his family to California leaving Otto and his brother-in-law George Marti to run the brewery.

Schell-employees-1866
Employees of the brewery around 1866.

The 1880’s

In 1885, August and Theresa built the exquisite Schell Mansion on the brewery grounds, complete with formal gardens and deer park, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. As August’s arthritis worsened, he would enjoy spending his days in the solitude of the gardens watching the constant hum and activity at the brewery.

August died on September 20, 1891 at the age of 63, leaving the brewery to Theresa with Otto as manager. While the brewery mourned the loss of its founder, Otto became its driving force. In 1902 the brewery was incorporated and Otto was elected president, his mother Theresa was elected vice-president, and his brother-in-law George became secretary-treasurer.

Schell-brewery-distance
The Schell brewery seen from a distance.

And here’s an even more thorough biography from Immigrant Entrepreneurship:

Introduction

The history of August Schell (born February 15, 1828, in Durbach, Grand Duchy of Baden; died September 20, 1891, in New Ulm, Minnesota) and the brewery that he founded in 1860 highlight several key aspects of German-American business and entrepreneurship in the nineteenth century. First, it highlights the role of the Turnverein and other non-religious societies as a means of networking and organizing co-ethnic immigrants (as well as a source of potential friction within the community). Secondly, August Schell’s experiences in New Ulm, Minnesota, highlight the development of German-American entrepreneurship in small town, rural, and frontier societies. Although many German-Americans founded businesses in urban settings, others found their avenues of opportunity in the more ethnically and linguistically homogeneous communities of rural America. The rural, frontier setting of New Ulm presented Schell with different challenges than he had faced in Cincinnati, including the Dakota Uprising of 1861, drought, and tornadoes. The tight-knit community provided for a stable family network, as well as a loyal and supportive customer base. In this context and through the work of his son, Otto Schell (1862-1911), and son-in-law, George Marti (1856-1834), the August Schell Brewing Company of New Ulm, Minnesota, was able to persist through hard times (like Prohibition) to become the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the United States (second to D.G. Yuengling and Son of Potsville, Pennsylvania).

August-and-Theresa-Schell
August and his wife, Theresa.

Family, Ethnic, and Turnverein Background

August Schell was born February 15, 1828, in the town of Durbach in the Grand Duchy of Baden. Situated in the rural, southwestern corner of Baden, the community was located in the foothills at the edge of the Rhine Valley and the Black Forest. Little is known about Schell’s family in the German lands outside of family stories and histories. Schell’s father, Carl Schell, who was born in 1769, was from Kippenheimweiler, Baden, a community near Durbach. According to family accounts, Schell’s family had an artistic bent having been involved in the stained-glass industry for years. But it was through a profitable marriage dowry that Carl Schell could afford to build a four-story brick house in the center of Durbach. Carl also held the position of Oberförster (head forester) in the region of the Black Forest near Durbach. As a result, Schell grew up in a world surrounded by trees and animals. The family coat-of-arms, carved into the archway of the Schell house’s caller in Durbach, depicts a jumping buck with “C Sch” inscribed above it. A love for the outdoor beauty of the Black Forest remained with August Schell and impacted how he designed his brewery, his house, and his property in order to recapture the land of his childhood. The family coat-of-arms eventually became the symbol of Schell Brewing Company.

Relatively little is known about Schell’s activities prior to immigrating to the United States. His father, Carl, died in 1839 and sometime after this he was apprenticed as a machinist prior to his decision to immigrate to the United States. Schell family remembrances indicate that he immigrated to New Orleans in 1849 but soon left for Cincinnati because the language barrier hindered his job search. With a large and growing German-speaking population in Cincinnati, Schell quickly found work as a machinist at the Cincinnati Locomotive Works. Four years after arriving in the United States, he married Theresa Hermann (born October 16, 1829; died May 21, 1911) who had emigrated from Rottweil in the Kingdom of Württemberg in 1849. After moving to New Ulm, they had five children, including the two boys who would play a role in the operation of the family brewery, Adolph (1858-1938) and Otto (1862-1911).

Although religious organizations tended to be among the strongest institutions around which German immigrants congregated, Schell did not follow this path. Schell, like many other German emigrants in the wake of the Revolutions of 1848, turned to the local Cincinnati Turnverein, founded in 1848 as the first Turner society in the United States. Although it is not known whether Schell participated in the Revolutions of 1848, he associated with the uprising’s sympathizers and refugees. More than any other network or ethnic association, Schell’s growing involvement and eventual leadership role with this German-American Turner network would have a large impact on his career and his business decisions in Cincinnati and in New Ulm, Minnesota.

The Turnverein was a liberal, gymnastic society founded amid the Napoleonic Wars. Turners believed that their countrymen needed to become stronger and more physically fit in order to unite and defend their homeland. Under Napoleon, French forces had overwhelmed the divided German states, which had been brought within the French political orbit. Despite being opposed to the French, the Turners embraced many of the liberal, Enlightenment-based notions at the root of the French Revolution. Turners were in the front ranks of the so-called Revolutions of 1848 that swept across Europe. These revolutions were fueled by the ideologies of liberalism (e.g. a constitutional monarchy or a republic with a written constitution and an elected legislature) and nationalism (combining the many Germanic kingdoms and principalities so that all Germans would live within a united nation-state). However, despite initial successes by the Turners and other revolutionaries, the conservative monarchs eventually reasserted control and turned against the liberals.

Most of these “Forty-Eighters,” as the political refugees to the United States came to be known, retained their radically liberal philosophy and put it into action when replanting the Turnverein movement in the United States. Reflecting their close connections to Freethinker societies, the Turners emphasized that moral instruction should not come from churches but from science and history. Turners were students of the Enlightenment and rationalism. Over the next several decades, the Turner societies maintained their emphasis on physical education but also began emphasizing the strengthening of the mind. They did not trust organized religion. The majority of these transplanted Turners were not latter-day Puritans who hoped to establish a “city on the hill” and eventually return to their homeland once their countrymen had seen the light. After the Forty-Eighters immigrated to the United States, the Turners became fiercely loyal to their adopted country and focused on its improvement. They strongly advocated integration into the American political and social spheres. The Turners soon thrived in the United States and, along with other exiled liberals, became leaders in many of the German communities across the United States.

Although there is no evidence that August Schell participated in the Revolutions of 1848, it is known that he closely followed the emigrant route of other political refugees and soon settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Whether or not he was a Turner in Germany, Schell became an early member of the Cincinnati Turnverein. The majority of the founders were Forty-Eighters, many of whom were from Württemberg (the same region that Schell’s wife had emigrated from). William Pfaender was the first speaker of the Cincinnati Turnverein and would become the key figure in the founding of New Ulm, Minnesota. Schell would follow his fellow Cincinnati Turner into the territory of Minnesota to establish a safe haven to develop German culture in a more protected American context.

Relocating to safer environs became increasingly desirable for German-Americans as nativism flourished in the early 1850s. In Cincinnati, for example, the increasing numbers of German-speaking immigrants threatened to challenge the political authority of native-born Americans and their culture. As early as 1838, German citizens unsuccessfully petitioned the Cincinnati school board to adopt a German language program in its schools. German-speaking taxpayers, proclaimed German-language newspaper editorials, were paying for a public school education that offered little benefit to their own children. Couched in terms of constitutional rights, German Americans proposed that taxes from German residents should be earmarked for the instruction of German in the public schools. The German Americans successfully elected their own representatives to advocate their causes. The eventual creation of a bilingual German-English public school system illustrates the Cincinnati Germans’ growing confidence and political awareness amid the growing nativism.

In 1855, Pfaender wrote an article for the Turnverein’s national newspaper entitled “Practical Turnerism” that called for Turners across the country to pool their resources to create a joint-stock company that would buy land on the frontier and found a city to allow Turner ideas to flourish without impediment. For ten dollars a share, each stockholder would have a lot in the new city with other land being sold to establish “…mills, factories, and other nonprofit enterprises, which would accrue to the advantage of the whole….” Gaining the support of the national Turnverein organization, the Cincinnati Turners took charge of making this dream a reality.

With funding of $100,000 (roughly $2.68 million in 2011 dollars), Pfaender bought land on the banks of the Minnesota River in south-central Minnesota Territory from the Chicago Land Verein (Chicago Land Association). The Verein had originally bought the land and had given the tiny settlement its name of New Ulm. Facing financial ruin, the Chicago Land Verein agreed to be bought out by the Cincinnati Turnverein for $6,000 (roughly $161,000 in 2011 dollars). The two groups consolidated into a new joint-stock company known as the German Land Association of Minnesota. The executive committee of this association was based in Cincinnati where the bulk of the funds were located. Even before Pfaender set out by steamboat from Cincinnati to St. Paul, Minnesota, with the main group of initial Cincinnati Turners settlers in September 1856, August Schell and a few others had already made their way to the new German-American settlement on the frontier.

By the fall of 1856, several log houses, a post office, and two shops had been built around the town square. The Turners soon formed their own Turnverein chapter with August Schell elected as inaugural vice president of the society while William Pfaender became the corresponding secretary. Within the next year, this group erected their own Turner Hall that served as a community center, theater, and a space for gymnastics. Schell also served as one of the inaugural members of the New Ulm public school board. During his term of service, the school board erected a public school where subjects were taught in English and German. Schell found himself among the core leadership group of Turners on the Minnesota frontier. In this position, he had access to people and information, and played an important decision-making role that would prove crucial to his entrepreneurial success in the first decades of his business career.

Schell-brewery-1860s

Business Development

August Schell spent his first four years in New Ulm involved in the milling industry. A viable milling industry was crucial for sustaining most any community, since flour and lumber were in universal demand. Schell’s years of service as a machinist made the industry a natural fit and an avenue of opportunity. Within a year of Schell’s arrival, the German Land Association had financed the construction of the Cincinnati Globe Mill Company. The building not only had the milling stones and other equipment necessary to process grain but was also equipped with saws, lathes, and a steam engine to run them. Though the company found it hard to recoup its costs, the mill helped make New Ulm a regional center by processing hundreds of bushels of wheat, corn, and buckwheat during its first year. However, as the Cincinnati Globe Mill looked forward to its second year of operation, the firm was struggling financially. On May 27, 1858, the Globe Mill Company increased its shares by 700 in order to raise money to cover a $4,000 (roughly $113,000 in 2011 dollars) deficit for construction costs as well as to provide money to continue operations. The mill also decided to cut its prices for lumber and the cost of cutting logs in order to increase revenues. In spite of this measure, the executive committee based in Cincinnati decided it could no longer pay the millers and machinists until the mill showed a profit. Frustration against the far removed executive committee led to protests including a mock funeral for a key member of the committee.

In August 1858, the mill was reorganized in order to continue operating and satisfy the stockholders back in Cincinnati. August Schell, along with group of fifteen other prominent settlers in New Ulm, signed articles of incorporation for a new Globe Mills Company, incorporated on August 6, 1858. According to the document, “The Business and object of the Company is to manufacture Lumber and flour. The Capital Stock of the Company is thirty seven thousand five hundred dollars, the number of shares is fifteen hundred. The Capital Stock actually paid in is two hundred and sixty dollars.” This reorganization transferred the office of operation to New Ulm with a board of directors located locally instead of in distant Cincinnati. Schell invested twenty dollars for two shares in order to be one of the stockholders signing for the new company. All but two of the stockholders noted in the document were from New Ulm with the remaining two located in Cincinnati.

Despite the new arrangement, the mill, like the German Land Company, still struggled to break even. By December 1858, the German Land Company had only $7,400 remaining (out of $100,000 that it began with) and its debts continued increasing. Realizing that the Turner’s planned community in south-central Minnesota was unsustainable, the German Land Company dissolved itself in May 1859 only two years after it was created. Before disbanding, the original stockholders ceded much of their land-holdings to the city for future schools, hospitals, and other public facilities in order to ensure that the city survived.

The Land Company formed a committee to sell the Globe Mill Company, Inc. on the open market to recoup its costs. The asking price was $6,000 (roughly $167,000 in 2011 dollars) with an estimated value at between $10,000 to $20,000 dollars. Throughout the summer of 1859, the committee tried to sell the mill but finally decided to lease it until a buyer could be found. August Schell saw an opportunity. While the mill was unprofitable to own since it was burdened by outstanding debts for materials and equipment, Schell must have believed that profits could be made if he was only required to cover rent on the facility. Schell partnered with John Bellm and leased the mill at a cost of $1,540 per year for two years. Although no records exist to gauge how much money Schell made during this period, he netted enough profit to build a new house in 1859 on the corner of Minnesota and Fifth Street, just south of town. It was a one-and-a-half-story frame house with a stone foundation and plastered walls. It had six rooms and a basement and was valued at $1,200 in 1860 (approximately $33,500 in 2011 dollars).

Though he had been a machinist from his youth in Europe through his employment in the Cincinnati Locomotive Works and his later work at the Globe Mill in New Ulm, Schell saw brewing as a more profitable line of work than milling. This is not surprising considering that German-Americans were greatly overrepresented in the brewing industry during the late nineteenth century. Schell was not the first to build a brewery in the region, which was increasingly dominated by German immigrants. The first two breweries had been established in 1858. The Koke and Heyrich Brewery, established a mile-and-a-half west of New Ulm across the Minnesota River, only lasted slightly over a year. In the same year, the first brewery within New Ulm itself was established by Andrew Betz and August Frinton near German Park in the center of town. In addition, north of downtown, Henry A. Subilia, an Italian immigrant, was building the Waraju Steam Distillery, which cost approximately $10,000 to build. It opened for business on April 6, 1861. In a cash-poor economy, Subilia, like others in the region, bartered with customers and extended credit to expand business. The Waraju distillery traded whiskey for rye, barley, corn and wood. Nevertheless, Schell knew his local market and believed that the market could support another brewery.

Schell’s first order of business was to secure land for his brewery. He purchased a large lot one-and-a-half miles south of New Ulm in the Cottonwood Valley. It was located on the bluffs above the Cottonwood River in a heavily wooded area. The Cottonwood River connected to the Minnesota River, which, in turn, provided access to the Mississippi River. According to the purchase contract, “August Schell doth hereby agree to pay the said John Fried. Ring the sum of $208, the consideration for the said premises, in the manner following: $100 in lumber and sawing at the usual prices, $75 in goods (cash articles), $25 in cash; the whole at any time before the first day of September, in the year 1861, when requested by the said John Fr. Ring, and $8 on the first day of September, 1861, in plaster laths.” With little cash money in circulation on the frontier, Schell purchased the lot with a mixture of cash and the bartering of services and materials.

The New Ulm Pioneer, a local German-language newspaper, announced in its January 16, 1861, edition that August Schell had begun construction of the brewery and anticipated that it would be finished by the fall. Through October, Schell continued leasing the Globe Mill with Bellm to help finance his new brewery. Schell intended to live at the brewery and constructed a house next to it. By August 1861, Schell had moved his family out to the brewery site and was allowing relatives, including his sister-in-law, to stay at his house in town.

At the end of October 1861, the New Ulm Pioneer announced the opening of the new brewery owned by Schell and his partner, Jacob Bernhardt. Though he understood business and machinery, Schell had no expertise as a brewer. In order to compete with the other brewery in town, he partnered with Bernhardt, a master brewer who had been employed at a brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota. Construction not yet been entirely completed on the brewery structure, but it was ready enough to begin brewing beer. Schell had opted to create a sizable brewery with a cellar large enough for future needs. Over the next year, the Schell and Bernhardt Brewery expanded its customer base at least as far as Fort Ridgley, some 20 miles away.

Graced by a thriving farming economy in the surrounding countryside, as well as streams of chain migration by German-language immigrants, the city of New Ulm grew from 800 inhabitants in 1859 to 5,403 in 1890. New Ulm’s access to the most modern transportation systems available was instrumental to the city’s growth. Early in its history, New Ulm relied upon steamboats that plied up and down the Minnesota River. This river system connected New Ulm to the Twin Cities and, by way of the Mississippi River, to the rest of the nation. Prior to the coming of the railroads, the river was the key component in the rise of New Ulm and the spread of Schell’s product.

Business came to a halt in August 1861, however, as violence engulfed New Ulm. Native Americans on the nearby Dakota reservations struck back against encroaching white settlements after Union Army troops were shifted east to fight Confederate forces in the Civil War. Moving from north to south along the Minnesota River, waves of Dakota warriors advanced on white settlements with New Ulm being a primary target. Warned of the encroaching danger, New Ulm fortified the center of town. Schell was mustered into emergency service as a fifth sergeant in the Minnesota militia. After several sorties, the Dakota warriors moved on after failing to break the German-American defenses. The parts of town not fortified and held by the New Ulm defenders, however, were burned and destroyed. The Globe Mill, Betz & Frinton Brewery, Waraju Steam Distillery, and many of the other businesses in town were burned to the ground. Schell’s frame home where his sister-in-law and other relatives were living in town was also destroyed in the fighting. Fourteen days later, August Schell, Bernhardt, and nine or ten other men returned to the brewery to find, “…the door to the brewery broken open, the window knocked in, trunks and chests open and most empty and the best article of a pair of Sioux breech cloths outside the brewery.” Another witness noted that the Dakota had, “…killed and carried off a number of chickens [105 chickens] and burned and totally destroyed other articles of personal property,” belonging to Schell and Bernhardt. In addition to the barrels of beer that were taken from the brewery during the Sioux occupation, many other barrels were destroyed at Fort Ridgley, and in private homes and saloons within the city of New Ulm that had been burned down. In all, over 104 beer barrels had been burned. Despite the destruction, it could have been worse as the main structure of the brewery remained standing.

All settlers and businesses in the area soon applied to the federal government for reimbursement. Schell and Bernhardt, too, filed depredation claims for their losses. Money that normally would have been distributed to the Native-American residents of the Dakota reservations was instead diverted to the Minnesota settlers. This was the result of a clause typical to many of the treaties written with Native Americans who had agreed to go onto reservations in the event that they broke the agreement. As a result, Schell not only received cash compensation for his loses at the brewery but also for the loss of his home in town and family possessions including shoes, socks, quilts, and so forth. Interestingly, though valued at $1,200 in 1860, Schell claimed that the loss of the house in town two years later in 1862 would require reimbursement of $2,300 in cash (approximately $53,000 in 2011 dollars). In contrast to the owners of the distillery and the other brewery in the New Ulm area that had been completely destroyed, Schell restarted his business in relatively short order with an infusion of cash from the federal government that covered not only his losses at the brewery but also provided funds for expansion. With cash reserves on hand and a largely undamaged brewery building, Schell used this competitive advantage to increase the presence of Schell beer in the regional market while his competition had to rebuild from scratch.

In 1866, Jacob Bernhardt decided to leave the partnership due to failing health. As a result, the two men decided to put the brewery up for auction as a means to dissolve the partnership. On August 3, 1866, the New Ulm Pioneer announced the auction. In the advertisement, the brewery was described in detail. By 1866, the brick brewery building dominated the property and outbuildings for other aspects of beer production were also found there. The advert noted that the brewery had a pristine water source, a large cellar with stone vaults, a copper brewing vessel, and a twenty-horsepower mill for crushing grain. As Schell’s family had been living at the brewery since before the Dakota uprising, the sale also included the family house, horse stables, and garden. The brewery’s location near the Cottonwood River was also advantageous, as the proprietors could obtain ice from the river during the winter months for use in cooling beer in the brewery cellar during the summer months. August Schell won the auction with a bid of $12,000 ($175,000 in 2011 dollars). Although it is not known how much money Schell had to pay Bernhardt as a part of the settlement, legal notice was soon published that formally dissolved the partnership between Schell and Bernhardt and the newspaper was soon carrying advertisements for “August Schell’s Beer Brewery”.

Though now in control of his own company, Schell faced new and growing competition from fellow German immigrants as new breweries formed in the wake of the Civil War. Almost two years after Frinton and Betz’s brewery had burned down during the Dakota uprising, August Frinton rebuilt the facility under his sole ownership. He completed the reconstruction process and renamed it the City Brewery (1858-1917, closed at start of Prohibition). Jacob Bender founded a brewery bearing his name near the rebuilt Globe Mill (it would remain in operation until 1911). Also in 1866, the Carl Brewery opened but only lasted a short time from 1866 until 1871. Schell’s primary competition came from John Hauenstein Brewery which opened in 1864 in partnership with Andreas Betz (who had previously been a partner with Frinton). By the 1870s, Hauenstein owned the brewery outright and the company remained in operation over one hundred years until 1969.

As no business records remain for any of these breweries, the 1870 U.S. Census’ Industrial and Manufacturing Schedule offers a rough estimate to compare the breweries’ costs and sales. Schell and Hauenstein were able to sell their barrels of beer for an average of 9 dollars per barrel. Schell and Hauenstein’s larger production capabilities and greater capital investments gave them economies of scale that were crucial for competing against other breweries. Schell was able to produce a barrel of beer at a lower cost than any other brewery in New Ulm and thus achieve a wider profit margin that his competitors. Only Hauenstein came close. These numbers clarify why Hauenstein remained Schell’s major source of competition in New Ulm and why the other breweries had a harder time competing. Schell continued to invest in larger and more efficient production processes, thus making it more difficult for these smaller breweries to make money by competing on price.

Schell and his competitors faced concerns typical for businesses of the era, but life on the edge of the prairie presented its own unique problems in the late nineteenth century. Although Schell had emerged from the Dakota War of 1862 with a competitive advantage because the other breweries in the region had been destroyed, he faced frontier hardships as his company grew. Beginning in 1873 and lasting through 1878, massive swarms of grasshoppers plagued farmers throughout the Great Plains including south-central Minnesota where New Ulm is located. While this had some impact on grain supplies needed by brewers like Schell, the swarms devastated regional farms, which lowered purchasing power within the local agricultural economy. The Minnesota state legislature created its own grasshopper committee and provided various means of relief to the farmers of the state. There is little evidence, however, that beer consumption slowed enough to significantly harm Schell Brewing Company.

Severe weather, tornadoes in particular, threatened businesses on the frontier. In the middle of July 1881, a massive tornado tore apart much of New Ulm with over $250,000 in damage ($5,670,000 in 2011 dollars). Although Schell emerged with no damage, a relatively short distance away, Hauenstein Brewery, Schell’s main competition, took a direct hit from the tornado. The tornado tore apart the large brick structure leaving it, “…a shapeless mass of ruins, nothing remaining uninjured except the cellar vaults.” The brewery’s losses totaled over $40,000 ($908,000 in 2011 dollars) including nearly all equipment and over 2,000 bushels of malt. Fortunately for John Hauenstein, over four hundred barrels of beer remained untouched in the cellar allowing him to sell his product while rebuilding. Unlike the Dakota uprising where Schell and others were able to secure generous money from the government, Hauenstein had no insurance and could not recoup any of these losses. In fact, he began brewing new beer in covered shacks. Remarkably, Hauenstein was able to recover from this devastation. He built a new plant and incorporated his business in 1900 with a capitalization of $200,000 (5.53 million dollars in 2011 dollars). Nevertheless, the tornado hampered Hauenstein’s ability to compete with Schell.

Although rivers had played a key role in the early success of New Ulm and the August Schell Brewery, in the decades after the Civil War it became apparent that railroads were going to be crucial for continued growth. By 1872, the Winona and St. Peter Railroad (later part of the Chicago and Northwestern system) established a branch line to New Ulm. This railroad tied New Ulm closer to the rest of Minnesota and the United States. The line, however, was not a direct route, by any means, to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In addition, without competition, the railroad charged very high rates for the branch lines. By 1897, New Ulm became part of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad which eliminated nearly 90 miles of extra rail travel from the trip to the Twin Cities and tied New Ulm industry to St. Louis and other southern markets as well. Although some business leaders were not persuaded that extra taxation to raise money for the railroad connection was worth the cost, Schell unequivocally favored the development. These railroads further cemented the importance of New Ulm as the regional market center for surrounding farms.

August Schell navigated the challenges of developing a rural business by strengthening family ties in the brewery’s operation. Like many small business founded by immigrants, family dynamics played a large role in the company as the children grew older. They would play a more crucial role in brewery operations as August Schell became increasingly unable to walk due to steadily worsening rheumatoid arthritis. He turned over day-to-day operations to his family in the late 1870s. The first family member to emerge within the company was Schell’s oldest son, Adolph. Adolph traveled to Chicago to learn brewing techniques and train at another brewery before coming back to New Ulm. By 1879, Adolph was directly involved in managing the company. Though August Schell initially appointed his younger son, Otto, as master brewer for the firm, by the mid-1880s he had decided that Otto was better suited than Adolph to take the reins of the company.

After attending public school in New Ulm, Otto attended business college in St. Paul and completed a business education degree at nearby Mankato Normal College. When he was nineteen years old, Otto lived for a year in his father’s German hometown while studying brewing. After returning to the U.S., he began working in the brewery’s business office. The exact reasons behind August Schell’s decision to groom his younger son as his successor are no longer known, but soon after Adolph’s brief period as brewmaster and Otto’s return to New Ulm, Adolph was shifted out of key leadership roles in the company and given a variety of other jobs. Adolph then established his own business distributing Schell beer in areas a few hours west of New Ulm, and later moved to California in 1889 to start a fruit and chicken ranch. Though newspaper reports highlighted Adolph’s desire for a better climate as the deciding factor in his move, family reports emphasized the growing enmity between the brothers. By the early 1880s, Otto Schell had taken control of the brewery’s operations. When August Schell died after becoming increasingly weakened by arthritis at the age of 63 in 1891, he had ensured that his company would continue to prosper while still remaining in family hands.

Such family politics along with the frontier challenges and his growing competition spurred August Schell and his son, Otto, to expand and innovate. By 1879, August Schell’s continuous expansion had created a massive brick brewery with several outbuildings on the bluffs of the Cottonwood River. The main brewery was 150 feet long and from 30 to 80 feet in depth. Two main copper brew kettles dominated the brewery – one with a 25-barrel capacity and the other with a 12-barrel capacity. Underneath the main floor of the brewery were seven separate stone cellars for lagering beer and malting barley. There were four ice houses capable of storing 700 tons of ice. The ice was harvested from the Cottonwood River which ran 100 feet below the brewery at the bottom of the cliff. Each block of ice would be attached to tongs and hauled by a team of horses to the cellars via a rope and pulley system.

Schell Brewing Company’s physical plant grew even more once Otto Schell took over daily operation of the company and initiated a major renovation of the brewery. In 1887, the company installed bottling equipment in order to reach broader regional markets and appeal to retailers and consumers who did not wish to purchase an entire barrel of beer at one time. The brewery kept expanding the market for its beer as railroads made transporting beer into new regions easier. For example, in 1890, the company built an ice house in St. James, Minnesota, (about 30 miles south of New Ulm) as a distribution point. In the fall of 1890, Schell erected a new two-story brick building to house beer and ice, as well as a barley storage house to take the place of an older framed building, at a cost of $7,000 for both ($179,000 in 2011 dollars). By 1891, Schell’s produced nearly 9,000 barrels of beer a year. Otto Schell proposed to more than double the brewery’s capacity so that it could produce over 20,000 barrels a year. The expansion would take the company to a production level that only a few other breweries in the state could match, even in the Twin Cities. With plenty of cash netted from doing a brisk business over the previous several years, Schell plowed the money back into the physical plant. He hired a Chicago architect to design the changes. Throughout much of the fall and winter of 1892-1893, the brewery shut down in order to complete the rebuilding effort. For approximately six weeks, new roads were built around the facility. Shell spent almost $20,000 ($510,000 in 2011 dollars) on constructing this modernized and expanded brewery. Most of the new expansion was completed just as the Panic of 1893 derailed the United States’ economic engine. Without having to rely upon loans or banks to stay solvent, however, the Schell Brewing Company weathered the Panic of 1893 remarkably well.

Otto Schell both expanded the brewery’s physical plant and invested heavily in new, expensive machinery to stay at the head of the crowded brewing industry in New Ulm. In 1895, the company again expanded by building a four-story malting house adjacent to the brewery with the intent of manufacturing malt on a commission basis. In the mid-1890s, the brewery upgraded its machinery including a new copper kettle able to produce 125 barrels of beer at a time, steel mash tubs and tanks, and other up-to-date equipment. In 1897, Otto Schell traveled to St. Louis, a city with a sizeable German-American community, to buy ice machines for better refrigeration of beer and improved ventilation. Otto Schell invented and patented a new machine and a new method for separating hops from beer in 1902. This innovation cut the costs associated with filtering the beer in half, which further increased revenue in the long term.

When Otto Schell incorporated the August Schell Brewing Company in October of 1902 at $300,000 ($8,090,000 in 2011 dollars), he established a tradition of appointing only family members to the board of directors. The original board of directors listed Otto Schell as president, Theresa Schell, his mother and the wife of founder August Schell, as vice-president, and George Marti as secretary and treasurer. When Otto Schell died at the age of 48 in 1911, George Marti, August Schell’s son-in-law, took over as president of the August Schell Brewing Company. Operation of the company has remained within the Marti family ever since.

Though August Schell Brewing Company remained a relatively small regional brewery (one among many prior to Prohibition) compared to giants such as Anheuser-Busch and Schlitz, the close ethnic ties cultivated by German immigrants and organizations in New Ulm helped the firm to maintain a distinct identity and regional appeal. Continued family connections also played a role in sustaining the August Schell Brewing Company during Prohibition when it produced root beer (1919 Root Beer) and candy to stay afloat. Considering how few breweries remained viable outside of the large corporate breweries in post-Prohibition and post-World War II America, the fact that New Ulm boasted two breweries into the 1960s is noteworthy but also reflects the regional support for local brewing operations. After over 100 years in business, Hauenstein Brewing Company, Schell’s closest and most direct competition in its marketplace, closed its doors permanently in 1969. Such persistence proved stronger in rural ethnic communities like New Ulm where linguistic ties held people closer to others like them compared to similar sized ethnic communities in larger cities.

Schell-brewery-1879

Social Status, Networks, and Public Life

Although the Turnverein organization aided August Schell’s initial rise in Cincinnati and later New Ulm society, Schell’s growing wealth and regional prominence soon made him a respected public figure beyond his status as a Turner. By the late 1870s, August Schell could indulge in developing his interests outside of business. He spent considerable wealth to design and create a new family mansion and elaborate gardens in the 1870s. Acting the part of a respected member of society, August Schell became a patron of the arts by hiring a young, and eventually notable, artist, Anton Gag, to help in the creation of his mansion. Like his father, Schell delighted in the outdoors and everything associated with it. He continually added to his deer park, the symbol of his brewery, which eventually grew to include sixteen deer by the time of his death in 1891. Every time an animal was added to his menagerie, the newspapers reported it. For example, while there were plenty of native deer in the area, Schell imported a tame fawn from Wisconsin to inhabit his backyard. Numerous wild animals from the Upper Midwest increasingly called the Schell deer park home, including wild geese, cranes, and pheasants. Schell’s tastes in animals ran to the exotic as he got older. In 1890, the newspaper reported that Schell’s pet monkey had escaped from its cage and was only captured five days later.

As August Schell rose in public prominence, he gradually separated himself from the local Turnverein. Schell remained a member of the Turners until his mid-fifties in 1884. Neither of his sons became members of the New Ulm Turnverein (though his son-in-law, George Marti, who eventually took over the family business in the early twentieth century became a member in 1879). Even prior to 1884, though Schell may have remained a member of the Turners, he became less prominently involved in the organization. Due to rising tensions between Turners and non-Turners in the region, Schell’s actions are not surprising. Small-town, frontier societies, in particular, breed familiarity and close ties but also sharp resentments among a population where everyone was a known quantity. The stark differences in worldviews of the Catholic German-Bohemians (who formed the bulk of the working class in New Ulm) and the liberal Turners like Schell who disdained organized religion bred underlying tensions within the community. Schell and his fellow Turners dominated the public life of New Ulm for decades. Even into the 1890s, the Turners still controlled the six-member school board that set the curriculum, hired teachers, managed the land owned by the school district, and planned construction of new schools. The total removal of religion from the schools, enforced by Turner school board members, angered many citizens of New Ulm. The Turners’ outright opposition to religion was anathema to religious parents at time when elsewhere in the United States the separation of church and state was much more loosely interpreted by school boards. This strong conviction flowed naturally out of their freethinking, liberal philosophy. Education, they believed, was the best means to combat the mysticism and superstitions bred by organized religion. Controlling the public school board, the Turners stamped their liberal philosophy upon the schools’ curriculum. For example, they used German-language textbooks published by the Turners. The public schools closed for Turner holidays as well. Furthermore, the school board held their meetings at Turner Hall. Though the Turners themselves continued using German as their primary language for years to come, they insisted that English receive primary consideration in the public schools. Their children would be raised as Americans who would be comfortable in an English-speaking world. This sentiment was not embraced by all within the borders of New Ulm. The 1892 annual New Ulm school meeting during which new school board member would be elected became a referendum on Turner influence in New Ulm in all areas of public life. One of the candidates that won a seat on the board in this election was a prominent businessman, Charles Silverson, owner of the Eagle Roller Mill in New Ulm and an immigrant from Baden as well. Silverson and his allies now openly charged the Turners with manipulating the public school system and the city’s politics.

Whether intentional or not, Schell and his family were conspicuously absent among the business leaders who participated the fight over control of the public school system of New Ulm. For immigrant entrepreneurs like Schell, getting caught up in such social and political divisiveness could have had clear financial repercussions among a knowledgeable customer base with alternate choices. Although Schell held a strong market presence in south-central Minnesota, he still faced competition not just from other breweries in New Ulm but from even more distant breweries, especially with the advent of the railroad. Seeking to maintain the widest customer base, Schell likely knew he would lose market share if he, his family, or his company were perceived as part of the simmering social crisis in the region. The Schell Brewing Company, like nearly all small-town businesses, had to negotiate intensely personal tensions within the local community in order to thrive. Market share and financial success were often impacted not simply by their product alone but by public perceptions of the company and its leaders.

Although factions within New Ulm hardened their animosity towards each other, the Schell Brewing Company remained above the fray. These examples of opposition to the Turners provide a valuable window into the community during the crucial period in Schell’s company history when control was passing from August Schell to his son, Otto. Well before the conflict of the 1890s, the Schells’ had become regarded as major public figures in New Ulm and the surrounding region not because of their status as Turners but because of their beer. Without alienating their old Turner allies and connections, the Schell family withdrew from membership in the Turners just as the non-Turner population increased dramatically, which proved to be a wise business move for the firm (perhaps as forward-looking as any other decision in the company’s history). The conflict could have led to the family being branded as elitist Turners. Instead, the Schell family retained their long-developed status as widely respected businessmen.

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Conclusion

In many ways, August Schell followed a path that was typical of numerous first-generation German-Americans. As a young man, Schell immigrated to the United States amid a rush of other Germans in the aftermath of the failed Revolutions of 1848. Like many of his fellow immigrants, he initially established himself in an urban American setting (Cincinnati) among fellow German immigrants. Schell took advantage immigrant organizations to ease his transition into American society, as did many others. But whereas German-Americans often found such aid within church-related organizations (Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and others), August Schell was part of a sizeable and influential minority of German-Americans who eschewed churches and found an American home within the Turner Society. It was through his association with the Turner society and its networks that Schell became one of the respected founding fathers of the city of New Ulm, Minnesota. With such connections and advantages, Schell founded the August Schell Brewing Company just years after the city itself was founded and quickly grew it into a major business in the region. Like other brewers of his era, August Schell’s entrepreneurial activity was linked to German immigrants’ overrepresentation within the American brewing industry. He produced beer for a largely German-American consumer base, especially within the largely German-speaking New Ulm region. Through his Turner connections and his civic leadership in the region, Schell and his company overcame challenges due to war, plagues, and tornadoes that undermined many of his competitors. Whereas numerous firms founded by German-American that have survived into the twenty-first century had urban roots, August Schell’s business enterprises on the Minnesota frontier provide a valuable case study regarding the long-term impact of German-American entrepreneurship prevalent in rural, nineteenth-century America.

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Historic Beer Birthday: Philip Zang

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Today is the birthday of Philip Zang (February 15, 1826-February 18, 1899) who’s most remembered for his brewery in Denver, Colorado, although he also founded a brewery in Louisville, Kentucky, before moving west in 1869. He was born in Bavaria, Germany, but came to the U.S. in 1853.

Philip-Zang-portrait

Here’s a short biography from Find a Grave:

Brewing Magnate in Denver. Owner of first brewery in Denver, Rocky Mountain Brewery, which was also the largest west of the Mississippi from 1880 to the start of prohibition. Arrived in the USA in 1853; initially settled in Louisville, Kentucky where he owned Phoenix Brewery (later Zang Brewing Co.), the largest in Kentucky, for 16 years; relocated to Denver in September 1869; acquired Rocky Mountain Brewery in 1871 and changed its name to Philip Zang Brewing Co.; increased production over the years to achieve over 65,000 barrels per year while surviving a couple of destructive fires; sold Philip Zang Brewing Co. in 1888 to British investors; retired from brewing in 1889 and listed the same year as one of 33 millionaires living in Denver. Was involved in mining holding interests in a number of gold and silver mines in Silverton, Cripple Creek and Eagle County. A prominent Denver citizen, he was also elected as a democrat to a term as city alderman.

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And here’s a fuller biography, from the Zang Mansion website:

PHILIP ZANG, founder of the Ph. Zang Brewing Company, of Denver, was a native of Bavaria, Germany, immigrated to United States in by ship in 1853. Married Elizabeth Hurlebaus, who died in Chicago, leaving an only child, Adolph J. Zang.

  • Founded Phoenix brewery in Louisville (1859-1869) then moved to Denver
  • Bought Rocky Mountain Brewing Co. from John Good (1871)
  • Changed name to Philip Zang & Co. (7/1880)
  • Sold to UK syndicate-chg. name to PH. Zang Brewing Co. (1889)
  • Son; Adolf J. Zang took over management (General Manager)
  • Second Marriage (10/1870) to Mrs. Anna Barbara Buck, nee Kalberer, (b.1836)(d.4/1896)
  • Previously widowed from marriage to Jacob Buck (b.1832) m(1857-xxxx)
  • The family residence, built in 1887, was at 2342 Seventh street, Denver, CO

ROOTS

Philip Zang, founder of the PH. Zang Brewing Company, of Denver, was a native of Bavaria, Germany, and next to the oldest among the six sons and two daughters of John and Fredericka (Kaufman) Zang. His father, who was a member of an old Bavarian family, engaged in farming and the milling business, and took part in the Napoleonic wars, accompanying the illustrious general on his march to Moscow. He (John) died in 1849, at the age of sixty-two. Two of John and Fredericka’s sons, Alexander and Philip, immigrated to America. During the Civil War Alexander served in the Thirty-ninth New York Infantry; he died in Denver in 1892.

BOUND FOR AMERICA

Philip was a brewer’s apprentice for two and one-half years, after which he traveled around Germany, working at his trade. In 1853 he came to America, going from Rotterdam to Hull, then to Liverpool, and from there on the “City of Glasgow,” which landed him in Philadelphia after a voyage of eighteen days.

LEAPING FORWARD

Ignorant of the English language, his first endeavor was to gain sufficient knowledge to converse with the people here, and during the first six months in this country, while working as a railroad hand, he was storing in his mind a knowledge of our customs and language. In Philadelphia Mr. P. Zang married Miss Elizabeth Hurlebaus, who died in Chicago, leaving an only child, Adolph J. Zang. In January 1854, he went to Louisville, Ky., where he worked at his trade for one year. Later, desiring to learn engineering, he secured employment in a woolen mill, and remained there until January 1859, meantime becoming familiar with the engineer’s occupation.

THE BREWERY BUSINESS

Mr. P. Zang built a brewery in Louisville and this he conducted alone until 1865, when he erected a large brewery, which was carried on under the firm name of Zang & Co. Selling this in February 1869; he decided to locate in the growing town of Denver.

Here he was engaged as superintendent of the brewery owned by John Good until July 1871, when he bought out his employer and continued the business alone. Mr. Good had started the business in 1859 on the same spot, under the title of the Rocky Mountain Brewery, which continued to be its name for some years. In July 1871, Mr. Zang enlarged the brewery, which then had a capacity of one hundred and fifty thousand barrels per annum, and is the largest between St. Louis and San Francisco. There was also a malt house, with modern equipments; an ice plant, lager beer vaults, boiler house, brewery stables, and a switch from the railroad connecting with the main lines, in order to facilitate the work of shipment. In 1880 the name was changed to Philip Zang & Co., and in July 1889, the business was sold to an English syndicate, who changed the name to the Ph. Zang Brewing Company.

LOCAL AFFAIRS

In Denver, October 18, 1870, he was united in marriage with Mrs. Anna B. Buck, nee Kalberer, an estimable lady and one who has many friends in this city. The family residence, built in 1887, stood at 2342 Seventh street. For one term Mr. Zang served as an alderman of the sixth ward, to which position he was elected on the Democratic ticket, but he himself is independent in politics. While in Louisville he was made a Mason and an Odd Fellow, and he belonged to Schiller Lodge No. 41, A. F. & A. M., and Germania Lodge No. 14, I. O.O. F., of Denver, of both of which he was a charter member. He was also connected with the Turn Verein, Krieger Verein and Bavarian Verein, and took a prominent part in all local affairs.

Silver-State-Cabinet-Beer-Trade-Cards-Ph-Zang-Brewing-Company

And in this short account, it is suggested it was gold fever that enticed Zang west, and when that didn’t pan out, he returned to what he knew: brewing beer.

“Zang came to Denver in 1870 – a few years after the Civil War – having run the Phoenix Brewery in Louisville Kentucky for 16 years. Even though his brewery had thrived through the turmoil of the war, he caught gold fever, sold that brewery and headed west. His gold mining career in Leadville lasted about a month. Soon he found himself back in the more palatable environment of Denver, running the Rocky Mountain Brewery for a “Capitalist” (his official title) called John Good. Within a couple years, Zang bought the brewery from Good and soon increased its capacity ten-fold. From then until the complication of Prohibition in 1920, Zang Brewing Company was the largest beer producer west of the Missouri.”

PH-Zang

The wonderful book 100 Years of Brewing, published in 1901, also has a short account of Zang’s brewery:

philip-zang-brewery-100yrs

Zang

Historic Beer Birthday: John Weidenfeller

grand-rapids centennial olympia
Today is the birthday of John Weidenfeller (February 11, 1867-1929). He was born in Germany, but came to America with his family, who settled in Michigan and owned a farm. Weidenfeller though, defying his father’s wishes, became a brewer, working first with “Frey Bros. and Kusterer Brewing Companies. In 1892, these two breweries joined three others to form the Grand Rapids Brewing Co.” He later worked in Montana for the Centennial Brewery, before accepting a position as brewmaster of Olympia Brewing in Washington.

John-Weidenfeller

There’s less about brewmasters, as opposed to brewers who were also brewery founders or owners, when you go back this far, but there’s a pretty thorough biography of Weidenfeller by Gary Flynn at his wonderful Brewery Gems.

John-Weidenfeller-and-guys
Weidenfeller around 1901, with his workers in Montana.

Historic Beer Birthday: Joseph Bosch

bosch
Today is the birthday of Joseph Bosch (February 11, 1850-January 9, 1937). He was born in Achim, Lower Saxony, Germany, the son of a brewer, but came to America in 1854. They started in New York, but moved to Lake Linden, Michigan in 1862, and a few years later began training as a brewer. In 1874, he came back to Michigan, and started his own brewery, the Torch Lake Brewery, which eventually became known as the Bosch Brewing Co. It survived prohibition, but Bosch died in 1937. His two grandsons took over management of the company, and it stayed in business until 1973, when their labels were soon to the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.

Joseph_bosch

Here’s some biographical information from Wikipedia:

Joseph Bosch was born in Baden, Germany in 1850. He emigrated to New York with his family when he was four, then moved to Wisconsin at the age of twelve, where his father was a brewer. In 1867, the family moved to Lake Linden; there, Bosch worked as a miner of the Calumet & Hecla company. However, he harbored the desire to become a brewmaster, and travelled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to work at the Schlitz Brewery, then on to Cleveland, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky before returning to Lake Linden in 1874 to found the Torch Lake Brewery. Two years later he admitted business partners and changed the name to Joseph Bosch & Company. In 1894 he again changed the name, this time to Bosch Brewing Company, and in 1899 the brewery was the largest in the Upper Peninsula, with a capacity of 60,000 barrels annually.

Bosch was also the president of Lake Linden’s First National Bank, organized in 1888, and participated in various mercantile enterprises, including those carried on in the Joseph Bosch Building.

Bosch-brewing-co

And there was this at the Van Pelt and Opie Library at Michigan Tech:

Joseph Bosch, founder of the Bosch Brewing Company, had always yearned to enter the brewing industry. He had learned much from his father, a brewer in his native country of Germany, who had brought the family to Lake Linden, Michigan in 1867. A desire for more knowledge and experience led the young Bosch to Cleveland, Fort Wayne and finally Milwaukee, where he worked for the Schlitz brewery. He returned to Lake Linden in 1874, erected a small wooden building and began brewing operations as the Torch Lake Brewery, Joseph Bosch & Company. Bosch operated the brewery on his own for the first two years, but in 1876 admitted several men on a partnership basis. The company continued as a partnership until around 1894, when the reorganized firm issued stock under its new name, the Bosch Brewing Company. The company continued in operation for nearly a century, closing the last of its facilities in 1973.

In the early years of brewing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, little if any beer was sold in bottles. Bosch saw the potential of this packaging, however, and the company began bottling on a small scale before 1880. By 1883, the original wooden building in Lake Linden had been enlarged and the company was producing 4,000 barrels of beer annually, one quarter of which was bottled. The brewery was completely destroyed in a great fire that swept through Lake Linden in 1887, but the demand for its product fired quick construction of new facilities. By the turn of the century the Bosch Brewing Company had brewing facilities in Lake Linden and Houghton, as well as branches and storehouses in Calumet/Laurium, Hancock, Eagle Harbor and Ishpeming. Having survived the difficult years of prohibition, the company finally closed the Lake Linden facility in favor of the better-situated facilities in Houghton.

Stressing the relationship of its product and the community, the Bosch Brewing Company featured many local themes in its advertising. Promotional phrases such as the “Refreshing as the Sportman’s Paradise” kept the small brewery close to the hearts of Copper Country natives and visitors from farther afield. The company found itself increasingly unable to compete locally with the larger breweries of Milwaukee and St. Louis, however, and the last keg of beer was ceremoniously loaded onto a wagon for delivery to a local tavern on Friday, September 28, 1973.

Bosch-wagon

This is from the “History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” published in 1883:

JOSEPH BOSCH & CO., proprietors of Torch Lake Brewery. This business was organized in 1874, and is owned one-half by Joseph Bosch, the other by Joseph Wertin & Sons, of Hancock; 4,000 barrels of beer. are manufactured annually, 1,000 of which is bottled. Joseph Bosch was born in Baden, Germany, February 13, 1850, and came to America with his parents in 1854; he spent nine years in New York City, and then removed to Port Washington, Wis., where he learned the brewing business with his father. In 1867, in company with his father, he came to Torch Lake, and erected the first house in what is Lake Linden; he worked four years at the Hecla Stamp Mill. In 1874, he built the brewery; he was married at Hancock in January, 1875, to Miss Mary, daughter of Joseph Wertin. Mrs. Bosch was born in Austria. They have a daughter — Mary.

Ulmer-Style-Beer--Labels-Bosch-Brewing-Company

And finally, here’s a longer biography of Bosch from “Biographical Sketches of Leading Citizens of Houghton, Baraga and Marquette Counties, Michigan,” published in 1903:

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bosch-brewery-early
Bosch-bio-2
Bosch-bio-3
Bosch-bio-4

Bosch-pity-pilgrims

Bock-Edge-Labels-Bosch-Brewing-Company

Historic Beer Birthday: Lüder Rutenberg

becks-white
Today is the birthday of Lüder Rutenberg (February 8, 1816-June 14, 1890) who was born in Bremen, Germany. He was an architect, a builder and one of the co-founders of Beck’s Brewery, formally known as Brauerei Beck & Co. “The brewery was formed under the name Kaiserbrauerei Beck & May o.H.G. in 1873 by Lüder Rutenberg, Heinrich Beck and Thomas May. In 1875, Thomas May left the brewery which then became known as Kaiserbrauerei Beck & Co.”

Lüder_Rutenberg_1816–1890

Here’s a short biography of Lüder Rutenberg, translated from his German Wikipedia page:

Rutenberg — son of the builder Diedrich Christian Rutenberg — learned after visiting the Remberti and the grammar school with his father. He studied from 1836 to 1840 in Berlin physics, chemistry and technology. From 1841 he was an employee at his father.

In 1847 he became an independent architect. Its operation was one of the largest construction companies in Bremen. Lüder Rutenberg was especially during the expansion of the Bremen suburbs as a builder for the typical residential streets with one- or two-story terraced houses successfully. Men of his profession erected at that time for its own account and sold whole streets of houses or flats profitably. 1849 by the Bremen Senate a request Rod Berg refused to be allowed to build in Bremen similarly large tenement houses such as in Hamburg or Berlin. Had been such application is approved, this greatly affect the appearance of many neighborhoods Bremen would have had.

1853 rose Rutenberg in the brewery business and acquired with his sister and his brother-in as a partner, the Runge brewery, which he in St. Pauli Brewery renamed and goal for until 1870 the largest brewery in Bremen. Later he bought along with the master brewer Heinrich Beck several smaller breweries and participated in 1873 in the construction of a brewery in the New Town, the then Kaiser brewery was later large brewery Beck & Co.

kaiser-brauerei-becks

Historic Beer Birthday: Christian Hess

weisbrod-hess
Today is the birthday of Christian Hess (January 30, 1848-July 27, 1912). Hess was born in Germany, and that’s about all I could find out about the man who co-founded, along with George Weisbrod, the George Weisbrod & Christian Hess Brewery, usually shortened to just the Weisbrd & Hess Brewery, and also known as the Oriental Brewery.

christian-hess-cartoon

Both Weisbrod and Hess were German immigrants, and originally their intention was simply to make enough beer to supply their Philadelphia saloon on Germantown Avenue. Some sources say they began as early as 1880, but most put the founding at 1882. The brewery was going strong until closed by prohibition. They managed to reopen in 1933, but closed for good in 1938.

weisbrod-hess-1905
A brewery poster from 1905.

In 1994, Yards Brewing renovated the old Weisbrod & Hess Brewery, but after the partners split, it became the Philadelphia Brewing Co., while Yards under the direction of Tom Kehoe moved to another location.

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In the Philadelphia Brewing Co. tasting room upstairs, an old photo of the employees of the original brewery on the premises, Weisbrod & Hess Oriental Brewing Company.

Both Philadelphia Weekly and Hidden City Philadelphia have stories about the brewery and efforts to re-open it.

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The brewery two years closing, in 1940.

The brewery was designed by famed local architect Adam C. Wagner, and this is an illustration of his design for the brewery from 1892.

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An ad from 1899.

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And a calendar from 1912.

Historic Beer Birthday: Martin Stelzer

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Today is the birthday of Martin Stelzer (January 30, 1815-August 3, 1894). Stelzer was an architect, probably from Germany, who built a number of homes in Plzeň, Czech Republic, such as “the old (small) Synagogue in Pilsen, the Little Theatre (formerly on Goethe Street) and a stone Saxon bridge in the suburbs of Roudná which has one rare feature, a sweep middle.” He was also hired by the local Burghers (or citizens) to build the town brewery, which today is known as the Pilsner Urquell brewery. He is also believed to have hired their first brewmaster, Josef Groll.

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This biography is from the Pilsner Urquell website:

When it comes to the founding of Pilsner Urquell, Martin Stelzer remains one of the most important figures, though he is also one of the most misunderstood.

Often mischaracterized as a brewer, Martin Stelzer was the most famous builder in nineteenth-century Plzen — something like the unofficial town architect. Born in 1815, Stelzer had constructed more than two hundred buildings in Plzen by the time of his death in 1894, including such important sites as Old Synagogue of 1859 and the Small Theater of 1869.

When he was first hired to create the new town brewery in 1839, however, Stelzer was just 24 years old — and, most importantly, he had never built a brewery of any kind. (Later, he would be seen as something of an expert on the subject.) One special demand: the new brewery was supposed to be a cold-fermentation or lager brewery, something that did not exist in Plzen at the time. To familiarize himself with the requirements of the project, Stelzer traveled to Bavaria in December of 1839, visiting several breweries there.

A common rumor holds that Stelzer befriended Josef Groll, the first brewmaster of Pilsner Urquell, during this trip, or even that Stelzer brought Groll back to Plzen with him. However, no confirmation of this appears to have been published during Stelzer’s lifetime. It certainly seems possible that the two were friends, however, given the closeness of their age: the original brewmaster was less than a year and a half older than the architect.

In addition to directing the expansion of the Burghers’ Brewery in 1849 and 1852, as well as the construction of a new fermentation room in 1856, Stelzer designed and built the brewery’s enlarged cooperage in 1870. Stelzer’s other projects included the next-door Gambrinus brewery in 1869 and the Dobřany town brewery in 1873. He remains part of everyday lore in Plzen today, having given his first name to the street Martinská in central Plzen as early as 1857.

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Roger Protz wrote the entry for Pilsner Urquell in the Oxford Companion to Beer, and he mentions Stelzer in these two paragraphs.

Local businessmen and tavern owners in Pilsen committed to raise funds and build a new brewery, to be called Burghers’ (Citizens’) Brewery. A leading architect, Martin Stelzer, was hired to design the brewery and he toured Europe and Britain to study modern breweries that used the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution—pure yeast strains, steam power, and artificial refrigeration—to make beer.

He returned to Pilsen to design a brewery on a site in the Bubenc district with a plentiful supply of soft water and sandstone foundations where deep cellars could be dug to store or “lager” beer. He also brought with him from Bavaria a brewer called Josef Groll who had the skills to make the new cold-fermented style of beer. See groll, josef. The brewery was built rapidly and its first batch of beer was unveiled at the Martinmas Fair on November 11, 1842. The beer astonished and delighted the people of Pilsen. It was a golden beer, the first truly pale beer ever seen in central Europe, for the lager beers brewed in Bavaria were a deep russet/brown in color as a result of barley malt being kilned or gently roasted over wood fires. A legend in Pilsen says the wrong type of malt was delivered to the brewery by mistake but this seems fanciful. It’s more likely that Martin Stelzer brought back from England a malt kiln indirectly fired by coke rather than directly fired by wood. This type of kiln that was used to make pale malt, the basis of the new style of beer brewed in England called pale ale. A model of a kiln in the Pilsen museum of brewing supports this theory.

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And here’s an account from Food Reference:

At the start of the nineteenth century, the quality of beer everywhere was often poor and standards varied wildly. This prompted some of the Plzen’s conscientious and passionate brewers to band together to find a way of producing a beer of a superior and more consistent quality.

Their first decision was one of their finest, to appoint a young architect called Martin Stelzer. Traveling far and wide to study the best of brewery design he returned to Plzen with plans for the most modern brewery of the age.

He chose a site on the banks of the city‘s Radbuza River, which offered a number of natural advantages – sandstone rock for the easy carving of large tunnels for cold storage, and aquifers supplying the soft water which would one day help make Plzen’s finest beer so distinctive.

But, most importantly, Martin Stelzer also discovered a brewmaster who would change the way that beer was brewed forever: a young Bavarian called Josef Groll.

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The original gate, which still stands at the brewery.

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The brewery today.

Historic Beer Birthday: Philip Bissinger

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Today is the birthday of Philip Bissinger (January 24, 1842-November 11, 1926), though confusingly many sources list the spelling of his name as “Bessinger,” which has made researching him unusually difficult. He was born in Duerkheim, Bavaria, and came the U.S. at age thirteen with his parents, who settled in Baltimore, Maryland. When the Civil War began, he enlisted in the Army, and was a captain when the war ended. “Captain” became his nickname, and that’s what people apparently called him for the rest of his life. He settled in Reading, Pennsylvania (which is where I grew up) and ran a cafe. He also founded the Reading Brewing Co. in 1886.

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Here’s a biography of Bissinger from Find-a-Grave:

Undoubtedly one of the most influential, respected and powerful men in Reading during that period. He arrived from Germany with his parents at the age of 13. His father was George Bissinger who settled in Baltimore. Phillip arrived in Berks county in 1845. When the Civil War began he became a sergeant major in the 79th Pa. Vol. Infantry. He was later promoted to 1st Lieutenant and finally became captain of company F of the same infantry. He resigned his commission Sep 12 1864. After the war he returned to Reading and later opened the Café Bissinger which became a very prominent and prestigious establishment not only locally but throughout the region as a member of the Shriners he was instrumental in the organization and construction of the Rajah Temple in 1892. He was a talented musician, a composer and director of music. He organized the Philharmonic Society where he directed concerts.

There was horrible tragedy in his life however, apparently upset, suspecting her husband of infidelity,
Louisa Bissinger, nee Eban, age 39, pregnant with child, walked calmly down the Union Canal towpath one day, filling a basket with rocks as her three dutiful children followed along. They strolled casually for about two miles. As she passed the canal office she commented to the office manager “It is warm.” He replied “yes indeed.” She then said “We have to carry a basket and take the children with us.” The mother and children were very nicely dressed. It was thought she had the children help in filling the basket with rocks. As she neared the canal lock she tied the basket to her waist with a rope she brought along, intended to keep her and the children submerged. She then gathered the children in her arms and threw herself and the children into the canal. It was premeditated and calculated. A witness saw the event and viewed Phillip Jr. come to the surface struggling but was unable to save him as he could not swim. He ran for help. The bodies were recovered later that day. The children were Lillie age 9, Mollie age 6, and Phillip Jr. age 3, and the mother’s unborn fetus. They were often seen at their father’s dining establishment and were adored by all. The mother too was well liked and respected and no one suspected she had any emotional problems nor is there any documented reason for her actions. On her person when she was recovered was a note simply giving Capt. Bissingers name and address. There were no other messages from her.

Capt. Bissinger remarried Ida Sebald Rosenthal but had no other children. He was still tending bar in 1880.

The Brewers’ Journal and Barley, Malt and Hop Trades’ Reporter mentioned in their July 1917 issue that Bissinger retired, due to “owing to illness and advanced age,” and Ferdinand Winter replaced him as president of the brewery.

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Here’s a fuller biography from the Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County Pennsylvania, by Morton Montgomery, published in 1909:

Philip Bissinger, president and manager of the Reading Brewing Company and founder of the Bissinger Caf, was born Jan. 24, 1842, in Duerkheim, Germany, and received his preliminary education at that place, where he lived until he was thirteen years of age. He then accompanied his parents in their emigration to America, landing at the port of New York. He attended private schools at Lancaster, Pa., for several years, and then secured a position as clerk which he filled until he enlisted for service in the Civil war, on Sept. 19, 1861, for the term of three years. He became sergeant-major of the 79th Regiment, P. V. I.; was promoted to first lieutenant of Company F in January, 1863, and to captain in December, 1863, having command of the company until Sept. 12, 1864, when he resigned.

Shortly after returning home Captain Bissinger removed to Reading, and on Jan. 1, 1866, established a saloon and restaurant at No. 611 Penn street, which he soon developed into the most popular resort at Reading. His success was extraordinary from the start, and in 1882 he purchased the property, making extensive improvements to accommodate the increasing demands of his patronage; and in 1890 he erected a large four-story brick building for offices and halls and storage purposes on the rear of the lot at Court street. By this time the “Bissinger Caf” had a reputation for superiority and first-class catering which extended throughout the State and nation. Numerous banquets came to be held there in celebration of events in the history of societies of all kinds, more particularly of a fraternal, political and musical nature, and in honor of popular and prominent individuals; and visiting strangers and travelers from all parts of the world found satisfactory entertainment. After having operated the caf for thirty years, until 1895, he sold the business to a faithful employe and manger for many years, Wellington B. Krick, and then retired to enable him and his wife to take a long-anticipated trip to Europe, and for nearly a year they visited the prominent centers there.

In 1886 Captain Bissinger encouraged the establishment of another brewery at Reading, and with the aid of local capitalists succeeded in organizing the Reading Brewing Company. He became the first manger of the plant and filled the position for three years, having in this time secured a large patronage from the community and made the new enterprise a success. In 1897, upon his return from Europe, he resumed his active interest in this company as a director, and in 1898 became its president and general manager; and he has served the company in these responsible positions until the present time, having in the past ten years developed its annual production from 17,000 barrels to 75,000, remodeled the plant entirely, and made it one of the finest brewing establishments in the country in point of equipment and sanitation.

For over forty years Captain Bissinger was prominently identified with the Masonic fraternity. He was chiefly instrumental in establishing Rajah Temple at Reading in 1892, and the plans for its unique and attractive hall, erected in 1904, were designed by him. He has also been prominently connected with the Grand Army of the Republic (Keim Post, No. 76), Loyal Legion, Veteran Legion, and Army of the Cumberland. In 1891 the city councils selected him as the park commissioner for the northeast division of the city and he officiated in this position until 1897, when he removed his residence to the southeast division, where he had erected a fine home on Mineral Spring road.

But it was in the musical culture of Reading that Captain Bissinger was especially influential and successful for a period of twenty years, from 1864-1883. Immediately after locating at Reading, he became a member of the Reading Maennerchor, and the society, appreciating his great talent and enthusiasm, selected him to be its assistant musical director. He filled this position with remarkable success for some years,and then the society united with the Harmonic Gesangverein, another and older musical organization at Reading. In the reorganization of the two societies, the name Harmononie Maennerchor was adopted and Captain Bissinger was selected as the musical director of the new society. His recognized ability as a leader, together with his popularity and sociability, soon won increasing support and encouragement, and the society’s concerts at Reading and other cities were highly appreciated and largely patronized. He continued to serve as the director until 1879, when he declined a re-election. During this time he was also interested in the Germania Orchestra and aided materially in its successful reorganization. In 1876, by special invitation, the Harmonie Maennerchor and the Germania Orchestra attended the United States Centennial at Philadelphia and rendered a program of classical selections in a superb manner, for which they were given high praise by leading musicians of this country and also foreign countries. In October, 1878, the society held a bazaar for a week in its commodious hall and evidenced the superior ability of its members and the efficiency and popularity of its members and the efficiency and popularity of its director. The numerous musical numbers were specially prepared by Captain Bissinger for the occasion, which involved extraordinary labors, patience and perseverance. In 1879, he organized the Philharmonic Society and directed its admirable concerts until 1883, when he was obliged to devote his entire attention to his own business affairs.

In 1880, Captain Bissinger married Ida Sebald Rosenthal (daughter of William Rosenthal, proprietor an publisher of German newspapers at Reading for forty years), who was graduated from the Reading Girls High School in 1865, and in 1871 taught the French and German languages there.

George Bissinger, his father, was a native of Germany, and after his emigration located at Baltimore, Md., about 1855, and there followed the teaching of music until his decease, in 1866.

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Apparently the brewery name, at least, had been incorporated a few decades earlier, in 1868, by a group of businessmen, including Frederick Lauer, but it never came to fruition, and Bissinger seems to have snapped up the name twenty years later. Here’s the brewery entry from Wikipedia:

Reading produced a Pennsylvania Dutch Lager at a volume of 1,200 barrels a year. The brewery raised its production to approximately 50,000 barrels a year by 1891. Reading suffered from difficulties after Prohibition began in 1920. From 1928 to 1933, the brewery was closed down. The facility itself was almost dismantled, but U.S. Marshals had trouble breaking the padlock on the front door and eventually left the plant intact. After considerable litigation, Reading brewery reopened in 1934. From 1934 to 1951 Reading ran a ‘retro’ advertising campaign which played on the nostalgia for simpler times.

In 1958, due to flagging sales, Reading re-branded as “The Friendly Beer for Modern People.” The change proved successful in reversing the slump and Reading made strong sales that lasted into the 1970s.

In 1976, Reading ceased operations due to increasing pressure from larger macro brewers. The label was purchased shortly afterwards by C. Schmidt & Sons.

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In 2006, the Label was revived by Legacy Brewing, which produced original Reading recipes. In 2009, the Reading label and its recipes were purchased by Ruckus Brewing, and they set up a new website for Reading Premium, though it’s hard to tell if it’s still being sold, since the website hasn’t been updated in a few years. But they did produce a short video of the history of Reading Brewing Co.

One final detail about his life that’s fairly odd. Well, it’s more about his wife and children, and how they died, a tale which you can find frequently on websites about ghost stories. Here’s one such re-telling of the stories, which they call “The Haunting of Lock 49 East.”

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, August 17, 1875, following a trolley ride to near the Harrisburg (Penn Street) Bridge, Louisa Bissinger of Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania, walked with her three children, Lillie (age 9), Mollie (age 6), and Philip (age 3), across the bridge and then two miles down the Union Canal towpath to lock number 49 East (having told them they were going on a picnic). At the lock, she loaded the basket with rocks, some of which she had got the children to gather along the way. Then she tied the basket to her waist, held her unsuspecting children tightly to her, and plunged with them into the murky waters of the canal. Though Louisa, weighed down by the basket of stones, sank immediately, the children struggled to stay afloat.

A witness to the event, who could not swim, ran for a boat at nearby Gring’s Mill, across, on the west side of, Tulpehocken Creek, but ultimately he reached them too late. Louisa and her children were drowned.

Louisa’s commission of this her final desperate act came about as the culmination to her husband’s longtime “undo respect” toward her and his open courtship of another woman whom he eventually brought into their home. A newspaper story, date-lined “Reading, Pa., August 21,” explained that an argument had led to Louisa being ordered from the house and told to take the two girls, but to leave their brother, who was the youngest. Expecting her fourth child, a fact not known to most others until after the tragedy, and determined that she would not let another woman raise her children, Louisa decided to kill herself as well as her offspring.

Captain Philip Bissinger, the husband, long a respected, prominent, and prosperous member of the community nonetheless had to be placed under police protection soon after the drownings and was nearly killed by members of the procession of about a thousand persons who had attended the funeral. “When the bodies were lowered into the graves,” the newspaper reported, “the people hooted Bissinger, and made a rush for him.” Only the quick action by policemen assigned for the occasion saved his life. He was hurriedly placed into a carriage and taken away. A shot had been fired before then and yet another was fired as the vehicle reached the cemetery gate. Later, in an attempt to defend himself from public calumny, Bissinger wrote the newspaper that it was his wife who was to blame for listening to what he said were baseless rumors concerning extramarital affairs. Fred Eben, Captain Bissinger’s former brother-in-law, answered Bissinger’s remarks to the press, calling him “the murderer of my sister and your four children.”

Louisa and the three children she drowned that sad summer day are buried in Reading in the Charles Evans Cemetery, next to the graves of two of her three other children who died before the tragic murder-suicide. Philip Bissinger remarried, and he and his second wife are buried in the row of graves adjacent to the graves of his first wife and children.

It is said that the ghosts of Louisa and her children haunt the towpath near the lock. The legend states that since the time of the tragedy, people walking the towpath have sometimes seen Louisa and her children gathering stones. The spirits vanish as the viewer watches them. Others have reported hearing children’s voices in the vicinity of the lock, as well as cries for help which cease when they approach near the site of the drownings. Charles J. Adams III, an Exeter Township author who has written much about ghosts in Berks County and environs, writing in Ghost Stories of Berks County (1982), related his attempt to try to investigate the presence of ghosts at the lock. Disappointed by the lack of spectral evidence, he and several reporters who had accompanied him were leaving the area when suddenly one reporter clutched his chest and was unable to breathe or speak. Adams conjectured that the event could have been the result of a spirit attempting to enter the reporter’s body.

Today the Union Canal is dry; however, the Berks County Parks Department maintains the towpath as part of its facilities for jogging and cycling. The park would be an interesting and enjoyable place to visit. Who knows, it may also be a place where you can see a ghost!

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And also the “Steuebenville Daily Herald And News” on August 21, 1875, covered the story in “The Bissinger Tragedy – Funeral of the Victims – Attempt to Mob The Husband.”

Reading, Pa., August 21 – There was great excitement here at the funeral of Mrs. Bissinger and her children, drowned Tuesday last. It seems from stories of the people that the woman had lived unhappily with her husband, owing to the introduction by him of another woman in to the house, and that unhappiness resulted in a quarrel Monday, when the husband ordered his wife to leave the house and take the the two girls with her, while he would retain the boy. The next day she went to the canal with the children and after filling a basket with stones, in which operation the children assisted, she bound the basket securely to her body, and taking the children in her arms, leaped in to the canal, and all were drowned. As soon as the bodies were recovered and taken to their former home, the police had to guard the house to save the husband from assault, and at the funeral procession to-day, which included about one thousand persons on foot, surrounded his carriage. When the bodies were lowered into the graves, the people hooted Bissinger, and made a rush for him. In the confusion one shot was fired, when the police hurriedly placed him in a carriage and drove off, on passing the cemetery gates, another, which , it is thought, wounded him, as he was carried into the house. The police are still on guard, and the people, including many women, continue their threats.”

One last bit of trivia. I once visited the Reading Brewery when I was a kid. One of the employees there apparently owed by stepfather some money (probably for car repairs, he owned a garage near downtown Reading) and we went to visit this man, with me in tow. I wish I’d paid more attention, but I was only around fourteen at the time, which would have made it 1973, just three years before they closed. Probably because they’re local to me, I love their breweriana, and especially the new brewery slogan they started using in the late 1950s, to try to boost sales and not make themselves seem so old-fashioned. It’s hands down my favorite brewery slogan by any brewery. “The Friendly Beer For Modern People.”

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Historic Beer Birthday: Henry Shlaudeman

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Today is the birthday of Henry Shlaudeman (January 13, 1834-February 24, 1923), who founded what would become the Decatur Brewing Co., in Decatur, Illinois. Shlaudeman was born in Wildeshausen, Grossherzogtum Oldenburg, in what today is part of Germany. He emigrated to America in 1846. After a short stint in the cigar trade, he joined the Edward Harpstrite Brewery (which was originally the John Koehler & Adam Keck Brewery when it opened in 1855). Within a few years, he’d made enough of an impact that it became the Harpstrite & Shlaudeman Brewery, and two years after that, in 1884, he bought out his partner and it became the Henry Shlaudeman Brewery. In 1888, it was again renamed, this time the Decatur Brewing Co. It reopened after prohibition in 1934 under the name Macon County Beverage Co., but closed for good the same year.

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Surprising, I was unable to turn up even one photograph of him, and very little even of the brewery he owned. The City of Decatur and Macon County, subtitled “A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement,” includes a biography of Henry Shlaudeman:

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And while there’s not much about him, his house has an entire webpage, all about the Henry Shlaudeman House

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He also held two patents related to brewing. One was for an Improvement in safety-valves for fermented-liquor casks from 1878 and the other for a Refrigerator-building for fermenting and storing beer.

Historic Beer Birthday: John G. Schemm

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Today is the birthday of John G. Schemm (January 7, 1834-March 1899). He was born in Germany, but when he was 22, in 1852, he and his father moved to the U.S., settling on a farm near Detroit. Unfortunately, after a short time, John’s Dad passed away, and he moved to Saginaw, Michigan in 1864. With business partner Christian Grueler, he started a brewery, the Schemm & Gruhler Brewery, in 1866. Three years later, Gruhler passed away and he brought on another partner, renaming the brewery the Schemm & Schoenheit Brewery in 1874. But by 1881, he bought him out, and it became the John G. Schemm Brewery. When he passed away, his son George C. Schemm took over, and incorporated it in 1899 as the J. G. Schemm Brewing Co. Inc. It closed in 1919 due to prohibition, and was sold to another business who tried reopening it as the Schemm Brewing Co. Inc., but it closed for good in 1938. While I found some information on the brewery, there was very little about Schemm himself, not even a picture of him.

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This account of the brewery is from the “Industries of the Saginaws: Historical, Descriptive and Statistical,” by John W. Leonard, published in 1887.

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This short account is from “100 Years of Brewing,” published in 1903.

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