Historic Beer Birthday: Christian Hess

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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.

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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.

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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: Frederick Yuengling

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Today is the birthday of Frederick G. Yuengling (January 26, 1848-January 2, 1899). He was the son of David G. Yuengling, who founded the Eagle Brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, which became known as the D. G. Yuengling & Son brewery.

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Frederick Yuengling was born to David Yuengling and wife Elizabeth (née Betz) on January 26, 1848. He attended Pennsylvania State College and then the Manhattan Business School in Poughkeepsie, New York. In 1871, his father sent him to Europe to learn more about brewing, where he studied in Munich, Stuttgart and Vienna.

Yuengling married his wife, Minna Dohrman of Brooklynn, on April 3, 1873. Minna was from the “uppermost social class” in New York and enjoyed the mannered social scene in Pennsylvania. The newlyweds purchased a townhouse on Mahantongo Street, a street known for its “opulence” at the time. The house had six bedrooms, formal living rooms, formal dining rooms, a music room, tiled entryways, a Spanish crystal chandelier and German stained-glass windows.

On one occasion, Yuengling took a group of friends to Europe on a grand tour and then back to New York City without allowing them “to spend a cent”. On the top floor of the Yuengling brewery there was a famous room where Yuengling entertained his friends on a lavish scale.

Yuengling and his wife had two children. Frank D. Yuengling was born September 27, 1876. Daughter Edith Louise Yuengling followed on March 18, 1878. Louise died on October 6, 1883, at 5 years old. This left son Frank as the sole heir of his parents.

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In 1873, Yuengling joined his father at the brewery, where the business name was changed from D.G. Yuengling to D.G. Yuengling & Son. Yuengling was also vice president of the Schuylkill Electric Railway Company, which started 1889. “Yuengling also served as the president of the Pottsville Gas Company, a position that his father had held as well. He was also director of the Pottsville Water Company and of the safety deposit box, both positions that had previously belonged to his father.”

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Immigrant Entrepreneurship, under German-American Business Biographies, has a lengthy one of David Gottlob Yuengling, Frederick’s father, but also touches on his son’s time running the brewery:

Under Frederick Yuengling’s guidance, D.G. Yuengling and Son entered a new commercial environment for brewing in the United States. From the time of the brewery’s beginnings until the founder’s sons entered the family business, the United States underwent dramatic economic and demographic changes. Prior to 1845, immigration had been consistently fewer than 100,000 persons per year, except for one year. Subsequently, this number climbed to 350,000 and reached almost 430,000 immigrants per year by 1854, of which a significant portion was German. American cities and towns expanded. Nevertheless, the overall population continued to be predominantly rural with only sixteen percent of Americans living in cities by 1860. Industrialization in the North and Midwest during and after the Civil War combined with continued immigration led to rapid urbanization in the postwar era and cities like New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Chicago grew dramatically. It must have dawned on Yuengling’s sons that the future of the brewing business did not just lie in the remote anthracite coal towns of Eastern Pennsylvania but also in the metropolitan centers that attracted the new waves of immigrants.

Regardless of David Jr.’s trials and tribulations, the original D.G. Yuengling & Son enterprise in Pottsville under the leadership of Frederick Yuengling and later grandson Frank Yuengling continued to thrive. Yuengling largely maintained its regional focus and benefited from the continuing economic vitality of the anthracite region of Northeast Pennsylvania. The firm distributed beer via the railroad to communities throughout Schuylkill County. However, other breweries with national ambitions such as Anheuser-Busch and Pabst began making inroads in Pennsylvania, though at first primarily in larger cities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. While it only lay 90 miles from the later city, the anthracite region’s relative remoteness shielded its brewers from direct competition with these increasingly powerful firms. Brewery output reached 100,000 barrels per year in 1918, and the family diversified the firm by acquiring part-ownership in the Roseland Ballroom venues in Philadelphia and New York City, as well as numerous taverns and hotels in or near Pottsville, for all of which Yuengling & Son had the exclusive right to sell their beer.

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D.G. Yuengling (front and center) with his son Frederick to his left (our right, I think) and the brewery employees in 1873.

And here’s a biography of Frederick G. from the History of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, published in 1907.

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The oldest known photo of the brewery, from 1855.

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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Beer Birthday: Marc Worona

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Today is also the 49th birthday of fellow Pennsylvania transplant Marc Worona. Marc used to be the brewer at Stoudt’s Brewing in Adamstown, Pennsylvania but a number of years ago moved to California and currently works with Brewers Supply Group, and is their VP of Sales and Marketing. Join me in wishing Marc a very happy birthday.

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Marc goofing around at the CBC beer and chocolate event at TCHO chocolate that he co-sponsored.

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Marc with Marin brewer Arne Johnson at the Anchor Christmas Party in 2007.

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Marc (center) with Brendan Moylan and Denise Jones getting the top prize in the Chocolate Beer competition sponsored by Brewers Supply Group and TCHO chocolate company during CBC in San Francisco a few years ago.

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Out in front of the Bistro at the Double IPA Festival in 2008. Rodger Davis’ wife Claudia (who nworks at 21st Amendment), brewster Melissa Myers (working on opening her own brewpub), Shane Aldridge (brewer at Marin & Moylan’s) and Marc.

Historic Beer Birthday: George Frey

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Today is the birthday of George Frey (December 17, 1826-1872). He was born in Ober-Saulheim, Germany, but moved to Buffalo, New York when he was fourteen, in 1840, and worked for a brewery there, before moving to Erie, Pennsylvania, to build his own there. Most brewery history, especially breweriana-focused sources, claim the George Frey Brewery was only called by that name in 1855, and the following year became known as the Eagle Brewery. But “One Hundred Years of Brewing” states that Frey built the brewery in 1842 but sold it to Henry J. Kavelage in 1854, who sold it to Jackson Koehler in 1883, and in 1899 it was bought by the Erie Brewing Co. And the breweriana brewery lists say it was known as the Eagle Brewery through all of its changes in ownership, at least through prohibition. Although it appears to have also been known by “Jackson Koehler’s Eagle Brewery” after Koehler bought it.

More evidence that he was brewing in Pennsylvania long before 1855 can be found in “The Brewing Industry and the Brewery Workers’ Movement in America,” by Hermann Schlüter, which was published in 1910. In a chapter on “Lager Beer,” it casually mentions Frey’s contribution. “George Frey, who brewed the first lager beer in Erie, Pa., in 1847, had helped in the first brewing of “lager” in Buffalo in 1843.

But I also found another listing in Erie for another George Frey Brewery that opened in 1861, but was renamed the Erie City Lager Brewery two years later, in 1863, then in 1870 dropped “Lager” to become known as the Erie City Brewery. It 1872, it was renamed the Joseph F. Seelinger Brewery, which would suggest it was sold to that person, which especially makes sense since that’s the apparent year Frey died.

It seems a shame after those accomplishments, that what happened to Frey after he sold his brewery is unknown, and I even had a hard time finding out when he passed away. This is also the first instance where I could find not one piece of breweriana or photograph online of George Frey or his brewery.

Beer Birthday: Don Russell

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Today is fellow beer writer Don Russell’s 61st birthday. Don wrote a beer column for the Philadelphia Daily News under the nom de plume Joe Sixpack. He also writes a blog online, Beer Radar. His most recent book, What the Hell Am I Drinking?, was published last year and can still be ordered directly from the author. Don also became the first executive director of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, the trade group for New Jersey breweries. More recently, he accepted a position as the editor-in-chief of Broad Street Media, which looks like a terrific opportunity. Don is also a fellow Pennsylvanian, a crack card player, and one of my very favorite people to share a beer and discuss the issues of the day with. Join me in wishing Don a very happy birthday.

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Don (center) with me and Lisa Morrison at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich during a press junket to Bavaria several years ago.

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Don, with fellow Pennsylvanians Lew Bryson and Jack Curtin at GABF.

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Me and Don at the kick-off for the first Philly Beer Week in 2008.

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Don with Pete Slosberg, signing books at GABF a couple of years ago.

Historic Beer Birthday: Peter Barbey

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Today is the birthday of Peter Barbey (November 9, 1825-February 15, 1897). He was born in Bavaria, though the actual town seems to be in some dispute, and learned brewing at his uncle’s brewery there from the age of fourteen. As an adult, he worked at breweries throughout Europe, then entered military service for a four-year tour of duty. After that, at age 25 he came to the United States and found work in Philadelphia. But he found a better job in nearby Reading working at the brewery of Frederick Lauer.

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He apparently liked Reading (my hometown) because he founded his own brewery there in 1857, with Abraham Peltzer, which they called the Peter Barbey & Abraham Peltzer Brewery. Barbey must have bought him out, because in 1861 it was renamed the Peter Barbey Brewery. His son John joined him at the brewery in 1880, and they called it Peter Barbey & Son after that, until it closed in 1920 because of Prohibition. But it did return in 1933 as Barbey’s Inc. In 1951, they completely rebranded it as the Sunshine Brewing Co. before closing for good in 1970.

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Peter and possibly his son tapping a keg of his beer.

This is from “Biographies from Historical and Biographical Annals,” by Morton Montgomery, published in 1909:

Peter Barbey, the founder of Barbey’s Brewery at Reading, Pa., was born Nov. 9, 1825, in Dierbach, Canton of Bergzabern, Rhinepfalz, Bavaria, son of Christopher Barbey. He attended the schools of his native place until he was fourteen years of age, when he entered the brewing establishment of his uncle, Peter Barbey, for the purpose of learning the business. After remaining there three years, he found employment in France and Switzerland in different brewing establishments during the next four years, in observance of a German custom to increase his knowledge of the business in this way by practical experience. He then returned home, and being twenty-one years of age, entered the army in a cavalry regiment where be served as a soldier for four years. At the expiration of his term of service, be emigrated to America, proceeding immediately to Philadelphia, and for several years he was engaged there in different breweries; he then located at Reading, and entered the employ of Frederick Lauer, also a German, who had by this time established himself in the brewing business at Third and Chestnut streets. In 1860 Mr. Barbey embarked in business for himself as a brewer, and carried his affairs on with increasing success until his decease in 1897.

Mr. Barbey was a Democrat in politics, but never inclined to fill any public offices. He assisted in organizing the Keystone National Bank in 1883 and served as a director until his decease in 1897. He was prominently identified with Teutonia Lodge, No. 368, F. & A. M., in which he was a past master, and with Germania Lodge, I. O. O. F.

Mr. Barbey married Rosina Kuntz, daughter of Philip Kuntz, of Rhenish Bavaria, and they had two children: Katrina, who died in infancy; and John, who, after arriving of age, engaged with his father in the brewing business under the name of P. Barbey & Son. Notwithstanding the decease of his father in 1897, the firm name has been continued until the present time.

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The brewery building in the 1950s.

And here’s an obituary, from the “Allentown Morning Call,” from February 16, 1897:

Peter Barbey, the well-known Reading brewer, died yesterday morning at his home, aged 71 years. Mr. Barbey was a native of Dierbach, Canton of Borgzaben, Rhinepfaltz, Bavaria. He attended the schools of his native country until the age of 14, when he entered the brewery establishment of his uncle, Peter Barbey, for the purpose of learning the business. When about 23 years of age, he came to America. He entered the employ of Frederick Lauer, in Reading. Later he conducted several saloons and then started in the brewery business. Deceased was married to Rosina, daughter of Philip Kuntz, of Rhenish Bavaria. They had two children, Katrina, a daughter, deceased; and John Barbey. In politics he was a Democrat, but never was an aspirant for any office. He was a director of the Keystone National Bank, a member of Teutonia Lodge, No. 568, F. and A. M., and of Germania Lodge, I.O.O.F.

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This is from an article in the January 1942 issue of the Historical Review of Berks County:

Reading naturally felt the effects of this movement as can be witnessed in the Peter Barbey Brewery establishment. Peter Barbey, the originator of this brewery, was born November 9, 1825, in Dierback, Canton of Bergzabern, Rhinepfalz, Bavaria, the son of Christopher and Katrina Barbey. Until the age of 14 Peter attended the schools there, after which he entered the brewing establishment of his uncle, where he remained three years learning the business of a brewer. At the age of thirty-two (in the year 1857), Barbey emigrated to the United States, and proceeding at once to Philadelphia engaged for two and one-half years in the pursuit of his trade. In 1859 he settled at Reading, where he entered the employ of Frederick Lauer for one year, and soon after opened a saloon. Peter Barbey began his prosperous career as a brewer here in 1869, when he established a brewing plant at River and Hockly Streets. Montgomery wrote of the Barbey Brewery: “the buildings are a three-story brewery, a six-story brick malthouse, two refrigerators and two ice houses-they cover a tract of three acres. In the malt house are five germinating floors, one storage floor, and two large drying kilns. Two engines, producing 60 horse-power, and two large duplex boilers, of 75 horse-power, are used. Thirty hands are employed.” Barbey’s son, John, became a partner in 1880, the firm henceforth trading as P. Barbey and Son. During the year 1885 twenty thousand barrels of beer and porter were manufactured and sold, although the full capacity was thirty-five thousand barrels, and the full malting capacity seventy-five thousand bushels of barley malt.

Thus by 1880 the foundation had been laid for one of Reading’s important industries. Developed as a normal, if not necessary, adjunct to the life of the German population, it brought to this community the industry and craft of the old country. As Reading grew, so did her brewing industry, and its importance was more than local. Frederick Lauer was one of the organizers, and president, of the United States Brewers’ Association, and he was also a leading citizen of Reading. As a public servant and philanthropist he was honored by his fellow citizens, and his statue now stands in our city park. There it symbolizes the social as well as the economic significance of the early industry.

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Beer Birthday: Jack Curtin

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Today is fellow Pennsylvania beer writer Jack Curtin’s birthday. You can read his writings and rantings on a variety of subjects at his Liquid Diet Online, Curtin’s Corner, I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing and The Great Disconnect. If you think I don’t know when to stop, check out Jack’s voluminous output. Plus Jack is one of my favorite people to kvetch about politics with, over a pint, of course. Join me wishing Jack a very happy birthday.

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Jack, at right, with fellow Pennsylvanians Don Russell (a.k.a. Joe Sixpack) and Lew Bryson. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, too. What is it about the Commonwealth and beer writers?

Upstairs at Nodding Head with Jack Curtin
Jack and me at Nodding Head during Philly Beer Week a few years back.

Tomme Arthur & Jack Curtin
Tomme Arthur and Jack.

Jack Curtin, Sam Calagione, Ed Friedland and Curt's assistant brewer
Jack with Sam Calagione, Ed Friedland and Nodding Head’s assistant brewer.

Historic Beer Birthday: George Weisbrod

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Today is the birthday of George Weisbrod (October 31, 1851-January 1, 1912). Weisbrod was born in Germany, and that’s about all I could find out about the man who co-founded, along with Christian Hess, the George Weisbrod & Christian Hess Brewery, usually shortened to just the Weisbrd & Hess Brewery, and also known as the Oriental Brewery.

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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.

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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.

Schnitzelbank

schnitzelbank
Several weeks ago, while researching the birthday of Pennsylvania brewer Henry Fink, I happened upon the advertising poster below. Intrigued, because I’m fascinated with symbols, I couldn’t make out what they were because the largest image I could find is this one. All I could figure out at the time was that it had something to do with a song.

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Eventually I gave up, and moved on, because if I’m not careful I’ll keep going off on tangents and down rabbit holes until I’ve gotten myself well and truly lost, not to mention wasted hours of unproductive time. But I kept coming back to it, and eventually, I had to figure out what exactly it was or go crazy. So I started taking a closer look into the poster and figured out that they’re all over the place and it’s a famous German song called the “Schnitzelbank.” And the Fink’s ad poster, or versions of it, is everywhere and has been used by breweries, restaurants and others for years. Which makes sense because, although it’s a “German-language ditty for children and popular among German Americans with an interest in learning or teaching German to their offspring,” it’s also commonly sung by adults for entertainment and nostalgia, and usually while they’re drinking beer.

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In German, Schnitzelbank apparently “literally means ‘scrap bench’ or ‘chip bench’ (from Schnitzel ‘scraps / clips / cuttings (from carving)’ or the colloquial verb schnitzeln “to make scraps” or “to carve” and Bank “bench”); like the Bank, it is feminine and takes the article “die”. It is a woodworking tool used in Germany prior to the industrial revolution. It was in regular use in colonial New England, and in the Appalachian region until early in the 20th century; it is still in use by specialist artisans today. In America it is known as a shaving horse. It uses the mechanical advantage of a foot-operated lever to securely clamp the object to be carved. The shaving horse is used in combination with the drawknife or spokeshave to cut down green or seasoned wood, to accomplish jobs such as handling an ax; creating wooden rakes, hay forks, walking sticks, etc. The shaving horse was used by various trades, from farmer to basketmaker and wheelwright.”

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A traditional shaving horse around 200 years old.

And that’s also why the posters always include a Schnitzelbank, because in addition to it being the title, it’s also how the song begins.

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Here’s one description of the Schnitzelbank song:

A Schnitzelbank is also a short rhyming verse or song with humorous content, often but not always sung with instrumental accompaniment. Each verse in a Schnitzelbank introduces a topic and ends with a comedic twist. This meaning of the word is mainly used in Switzerland and southwestern Germany; it is masculine and takes the article “der”. It is a main element of the Fasnacht celebrations in the city of Basel, where it is also written Schnitzelbangg. Schnitzelbänke (pl.) are also sung at weddings and other festivities by the Schitzelbänkler, a single person or small group. Often the Schnitzelbänkler will display posters called Helgen [which is “hello” in German] during some verses that depict the topic but do not give away the joke.

Often the songleader uses the poster to lead people in the song, pointing to the symbols as they come up in the lyrics, as this photo from the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn Lodge illustrates.

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The song uses call and response, with the leader singing one lyric, and the chorus repeating it back as it goes along. So here’s what the traditional version of the song sounds like:

Some Sauerkraut with Your Schnitzelbank? has an interesting reminiscence of a visit to a Fasching Sonntag in the St. Louis area around 1982, and includes his experience taking part in the singing of the Schnitzelbank song.

In the evening, everyone moved upstairs to the parish hall, which was the typical multipurpose gymnasium with a stage at one end. Set up with long tables in parallel rows on both sides, the band in place on the stage, and the large crowd ready for the music to begin, the hall had lost its bland, bare, everyday atmosphere. On the stage, off to one side, was a large easel with a poster on it. I didn’t pay much attention to it, thinking it was for announcements later in the evening. The band started, and the dancing began in the clear space down the middle of the hall, mostly polkas and waltzes, with a few variety numbers like the dreaded Duck Dance, which explained the need for pitchers of beer. Finally, when the crowd was well exercised and well lubricated, someone approached the easel with a pointer in his hand. People started shouting “Schnitzelbank! Schnitzelbank!” The music began, and the person with the pointer called “Ist das nicht ein Schnitzelbank?” and the crowd heartily responded “Ja, das ist ein Schnitzelbank!” Then came a chorus of music, to which everyone sang, “O Die Schoenheit un der Vand, da das ist ein Schnitzelbank.” And so it continued for several verses, the person on stage pointing to another object on the poster with “Ist das nicht ein.…?” and the crowd responding at the top of their voices. I was puzzled at first, but eventually joined in and didn’t think much more about it. I’m pretty sure that only a few people knew all the German words, and that some had memorized it over the years, while the ones in front were close enough to the poster to read the words under the pictures—everyone else just shouted a cheerful approximation of what they thought their neighbor was saying.

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The Schnitzelbank, or Schnitzel Bank, is a song with short verses, meant to be sung the way it was at the Fasching Sonntag, with a leader and group response. It is sung in some areas of Germany for Fasching, Fastnacht, or Karnival, and also during Oktoberfest, and other occasions where there is a happy, celebratory crowd. In America, the posters are displayed at a few German restaurants and some tourist attractions with a German American heritage, such as the Amana Colonies in Iowa and some Pennsylvania Dutch locations. Singing the Schnitzelbank in America dates at least to the turn of the 20th century, which is when the John Bardenheier Wine and Liquor Company printed its version on an advertising poster.

According to “The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk,” first published in 1966, the melody first appeared in 1761 by a French composer and lyrics were written a few years later, n 1765, and it was known as “Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman,” but it became far more well-known as “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in subsequent years. Apparently it first appeared as “Schnitzelbank” in 1830.

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This is the most common version of the poster, and as far as I can tell the symbols have become more or less fixed sometime in the mid-20th century. Perhaps it’s because one company is licensing the imagery to various purposes, or the song has simply evolved to its modern form, made easier by recordings and a growing number of shared experiences.

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So let’s break down the most common version of the song:

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            Symbol Translation
schnitzelbank1 Is this not a Schnitzelbank?

(“Yes this is a Schnitzelbank”)

schnitzelbank17 Short and Long
schnitzelbank2 Him and Her
schnitzelbank3 Criss and Cross
schnitzelbank6 Shooting Gun
schnitzelbank18 Wagon Wheel
schnitzelbank4 Crooked and Straight
schnitzelbank5 Big Glass
schnitzelbank7 Oxen Bladder
schnitzelbank19 Heap of Manure
schnitzelbank9 Cantankerous Boy
schnitzelbank10 Heavy Woman
schnitzelbank8 Fat Sow
schnitzelbank11 Tall Man
schnitzelbank12 Fir Tree
schnitzelbank14 Wedding Ring
schnitzelbank15 Dangerous Thing

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schnitzelbank-frankenmuth-clockFrom Mader’s Famous Restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Here’s another band performing the song. This is the Gootman Sauerkraut Band at the Bravarian Pretzel Factory 2014.

As I mentioned, this all started because a brewery used the Schnitzelbank poster as an advertisement. Apparently that was not unique, and I’ve find a number of others who did likewise. Here’s a few of them:

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The Eastside Brewery of Los Angeles, California, from the 1930s.

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Drewery’s, the Canadian brewery, from the 1940s.

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The Huebner Brewery of Toldeo, Ohio, from sometime prior to prohibition.

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This one, though not for a specific brewery, was for Sitter’s Beverages, a distributor of beer, wine, liquor and cordials in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It’s undated, but given that the telephone number is “1917” (yes, just those four numbers) I suspect it’s pre-prohibition. One source puts the date between 1912 and 1919.

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A promotional towel, from Koerber’s Brewery, also from Toledo, Ohio.

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The Pearl Brewery of San Antonio, Texas

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Jacob Ruppert’s Brewery of New York City, 1907. Though notice that the almost uniform symbols were changed for Ruppert’s ad, substituting his own beer and brewery, along with other more beer-friendly items into the song list.

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Although it’s possible that the symbols weren’t quite as settled in the early 20th century, as this postcard, also from 1907, has several that deviate from the standard symbols, including some also in the Ruppert’s poster, but also some that are not in that one.

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Yuengling Brewery also apparently had their own Schnitzelbank poster, based on the Ruppert’s design. This one is a linen towel being used as a window shade, though it’s too small for me to read the date.

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Though the Ruppert’s design appears to be copyrighted again in 1934, based on this generic one found by someone in an antique store.

Schnitzelbank-1953-Falstaff

Likewise, this one for Falstaff Beer uses the traditional symbols, but adds two more, one for “Gutes Bier” (good beer) and “Falstaff Here.”

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This one’s also not from a brewery, but the Alpine Village Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada. This one’s newer, as it opened in 1950, became somewhat famous, but then closed in 1970.

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This one is labeled as being a “Pennsylvania Dutch Schnitzelbank” and has 20 symbols rather than the standard sixteen. And only eight of those are the usual ones. I don’t know how I missed it growing up (I grew up near Pennsylvania Dutch country in Pennsylvania, and in fact my grandparents grew up on Mennonite farms, but were the first generation to leave them).

amana-schnitzelbank

Apparently it’s also a big deal in Amana, Iowa, where there’s a gift and toy store called the “Schnitzelbank” and where, in 1973, the Amana Society created this Schnitzelbank poster.

German-Schnitzelbank-Poster

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The Schnitzelbank Restaurant in Jasper, Indiana, uses the poster as their placemats.

This random German poster, which translates as “Oh you beautiful Schnitzelbank” has only about half of the standard symbols on it. I’m not sure when this one was created but it’s available on Polka Time as an “Oktoberfest Poster.”

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Also more modern, the New Paltz Band has their own version of the song using non-standard symbols.

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And speaking of music, Marv Herzog used the poster on an album cover. The album, of course, included the Schnitzelbank song.

And lastly, the Animanics did their own version of the Schnitzelbank song in episode 56 entitled “Schnitzelbank,” which aired in 1994. It’s described as “a traditional German song that the Warners learn in German from Prof. Otto von Schnitzelpusskrankengescheitmeyer. The lyrics were adapted by Randy Rogel.”

schnitzelbank-conductor
From Henry Sticht’s “Schnitzelbank Two-Step,” 1907.