Beer Birthday: Jack Curtin

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.

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

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


An ad from 1899.

And a calendar from 1912.


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.


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.


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.”

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


            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



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:

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

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

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

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.

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

The Pearl Brewery of San Antonio, Texas


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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).


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.


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.”

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


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.”

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

Historic Beer Birthday: William Anderton

Today is the birthday of William H. Anderton (October 23, 1866-January 27, 1928). He was the son of James Anderton, who founded the Spring Water Brewery, later renaming it the Anderton Brewery. After his father died in 1905, William “took over management of the firm and it was merged in 1905 to become part of the Pittsburgh-based Independent Brewery Company (1905-1933). The local facility was closed in 1920 (like many other breweries) with the enactment of nationwide prohibition.”


Here’s a biography of Anderton, from “Biographical Sketches of Leading Citizens of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, published in 1899:

WILLIAM HENRY ANDERTON, secretary, treasurer and general business manager of the Anderton Brewing Company of Beaver Falls, Pa., whose portrait we present on the preceding page, received his primary education in the Beaver Falls schools,-taking a collegiate course at the Iron City Business College of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. In 1883, he entered the employ of the Hartman Steel Co., of Beaver Falls, in the capacity of clerk, remaining in their employ until 1889. He was a prime mover in, the organization of the Union Drawn Steel Co., and was secretary and treasurer of that company, until December, 1890. At that date, Mr. Anderton became secretary, treasurer and general business manager of the Anderton Brewing Co., which position he still holds. He assisted in organizing the People’s Water Company in 1897, and is its vice president. He is a believer in the principles of Democracy, and an active worker for that party. Socially, he is a member of the Ma-sonic fraternity, being included among the members of Beaver Valley Lodge, No. 478; he is also treasurer of the B. P. O. E. lodge, No. 348.

William Henry Anderton is one of a family of five children. He was born October 23, 1866, is a son of James and Betty (Green-wood) Anderton, and grandson of James and Sarah (Morris) Anderton. His grandparents came to America from England in 1856, accompanied by their son James, and settled at Fallston, Beaver county, Pa., where their two sons, John and Joseph, had located a few months previously. There father and sons worked in the mines for some years. John died at Fallston, in February, 1899, but Joseph now resides in Rochester, Pa. The be-loved father departed this life in May, 1879, at the age of seventy-nine years, and was preceded to the grave by his faithful wife and companion, who died in March, 1878, in her eighty-fifth year.

James Anderton, the father of William Henry, was born in Streetbridge, Royston, Lancastershire, England, June 26, 1830. He worked for eighteen years in the mines in his native place, beginning at the early age of eight years. In his youth he had no educational advantages whatever,-his only mental training being a night school organized by himself and his fellow miners, known as the “Youth’s Seminary.” There the boys taught each other, being too poor to afford an experienced teacher. The school organized by these lads has grown into a famous institution of learning, and is now known as the Literary Institute of Oldham, England.

James Anderton accompanied his parents to America when twenty-six years of age, worked in the mines at Fallston, until 1866, and then removed to New Brighton, Pennsylvania. He continued to follow this occupation at the latter place until March, 1868, when he removed to Beaver Falls, purchased his present residence, and engaged in the hotel business. The following year (1869), he went into the brewing business in a small frame building, situated quite near the elegant structure in which he at present officiates. The first brewing was made November 30, of the same year, and consisted of only nine barrels. In 1875, Mr. Anderton built the old part of the present structure, and with a much increased capacity, he continued to brew ale and porter until 1895, when he built a large brick addition, with all the modern improvements, and began brewing beer. The Anderton Brewery is now one of the most complete up-to-date breweries in Pennsylvania, and has a capacity of 30,000 barrels per year. There are many larger breweries in the Keystone State, but none more complete.

While, still in his native land, James Anderton was united in marriage with Betty Green-wood, a daughter of Joseph and Mary Greenwood. This event took place in 1852, and their union is blessed with five children, viz.: Jonathan ; Mary G.; William H. ; William H., second ; and Sarah A. Jonathan was born June 2,2, 1853; he is vice president of the Anderton Brewing Company. He wedded Margaret Hart, a daughter of Hilton and Ann Hart, and their home is made happy by the presence of four sons: James, Hilton, Jonathan, Jr., and William H. Mary G. was born February 1, 1858. She became the wife of C. W. Rohrkaste, who is now superintendent of the Anderton Brewery. They have three children: James A.; Mary A.; and Florence E. William H., the third child, died at the tender age of five years, and the same name was given to the next child. William H., the fourth child, is the subject of this brief sketch. Sarah A., the fifth child, was born October 14, 1869, and died in early childhood, aged three years.

James Anderton is a fine illustration of a self-made man, which in a great measure is due to his progressiveness, reliability and integrity. He ranks among the most esteemed citizens of Beaver Falls, and takes an active interest in fraternal organizations, being a member of Lone Rock Lodge, K. of P.; Valley Echo Lodge, I. O. O. F.; Mechanics Lodge, A. O. U. W.; and Beaver Valley Lodge, F. & A. M., of which he has been treasurer for the past nineteen years. He was one of the organizers and original stockholders of the Union Drawn Steel Co., and is one of the stockholders of the People’s Water Co., of Beaver Falls. In his religious convictions, the elder Mr. Anderton is an Episcopalian, of which denomination he and his family are members. Politically, he is a stanch Democrat, but could never be persuaded to seek or accept public office.

William Henry Anderton chose for his wife Emma J. Bailey, a daughter of James and Emma Bailey. In his business ventures he has met with success and, like his father, he is known to be an upright, honorable man. His home bears evidence of comfort in all its surroundings, and he always lends his aid and influence to the support of measures which he believes will be conducive to the general good.

The Anderton Brewing Co. was located in Beaver Falls, between 23rd and 24th streets near the railroad tracks. The local owners would sell their company in 1905, but the brewery remained in Beaver Falls producing beer until 1922.

And here’s Anderton’s obituary, from Western Brewer, an industry trade newsletter.



Historic Beer Birthday: William G. Ruske

Today is the birthday of William G. Ruske (October 21, 1842-May 2, 1915). Ruske was born in Germany and came to Western Pennsylvania, co-founding the Keystone Brewing Co. 1886, and was its president. In 1899, Keystone became part of a regional trust known as the Pittsburgh Brewing Company, which was formed by the merging together of thirteen Allegheny County breweries. Ruske was initially secretary of the trust, but became president when his predecessor died. The brewery survived prohibition and today is known as the Iron City Brewing Co.


This is his obituary, from the American Brewers’ Review the year he passed away:


Pittsburgh brewery around 1919.

And here’s part of another history of Iron City Brewing, from the merger through the end of prohibition, from PA’s Big House:

As the century came to a close, breweries in the Pittsburgh area merged to form the Pittsburgh Brewing Company (PBC). The twelve local breweries included: Wainwright; Phoenix; Keystone; Winter Brothers; Phillip Lauer; John H. Nusser; Eberhardt & Ober; Hippely & Sons; Ober; J. Seiferth Brothers; Straub; and Iron City. In addition to these initial twelve breweries, nine more were included in the merger. Now, Pittsburgh Brewing Company was Pennsylvania’s largest brewery and third largest in the nation with combined assets worth an estimated $11 million. For the next three decades, PBC boasted a brewing capacity of more than one million barrels per year.

The onset of Prohibition in 1920 brought serious strain to breweries across the nation. Pittsburgh Brewing Company, however, was able to survive by using its facilities to produce ice cream, soft drinks, and non-alcoholic “near-beers.” When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, PBC was one of only 725 breweries in the U.S. still operating.

After Prohibition, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company regained market share and produced the same products it had made prior to the act. The president of the company at that time also created a new subsidiary and reinstated the original name: the Iron City Brewing Company (ICBC). ICBC’s products included Iron City Pilsner, Iron City Lager, Tech Beer, and Blue Label Beer. In 1947, the company again expanded and Iron City Brewing Company continued to grow in the market. By the mid-1950’s, ICBC became the best selling beer in Pittsburgh.


I really couldn’t find very much information on Ruske, or even his original Keystone Brewery. But one curiosity I came across was this undated tintype. But since tintypes were popular for around twenty years, from the 1860s through the 1870s, I think it’s safe to conclude that’s what this one was created. The two beer bottles on the posts are from the Keystone Brewery and the label apparently reads Cabinet Export Beer.


Historic Beer Birthday: Frederick Lauer

Today is the birthday of Frederick Lauer (October 14, 1810-September 12, 1883). He was a brewer in Reading, Pennsylvania, and the first president of the United States Brewers Association. Lauer “was born on October 14, 1810 in Gleisweiler, Bavaria. He emigrated to Baltimore in 1822 and the family moved to Reading, Pennsylvania.” His father founded the George Lauer Brewing Co. in 1826, first in Womelsdorf, and then Reading. In 1847, he took over for his father and renamed it the Frederick Lauer Brewery. “His two sons were Frank P. Lauer and George F. Lauer; he turned the business over to them in 1882, and it was again renamed the Lauer Brewing Co. He died on September 12, 1883.” His sons ran brewery until Prohibition, when it was closed for good in 1920.


This is from “Reading’s Philanthropic Brewer,” by Andrew T. Kuhn, from the Fall 1992 issue of the Historical Review of Berks County:

The first statue erected in Reading was that of Frederick Lauer, the pioneering Reading brewer. In 1885, the United States Brewers’ Association hired Henri Stephens to create the Lauer statue, and, with the consent of City Council, placed it in City Park. The physical structure is quite tall, and consists of two parts. Memorial sculptures are “generally portraiture,” and this one is as well. The top part of the monument is a life-size likeness of Lauer, cast in bronze. He is portrayed wearing a suit which is covered by a long overcoat. The statue stands on a four-sided cement pedestal, with each side contain- ing a plaque. These plaques serve as a guide to investigating Frederick Lauer as a brewer and a citizen, which in turn, reveals more about the nineteenth-century Reading community. Lauer successfully produced and sold alcohol throughout his entire life, even though a large portion of the country was calling for the abolition of it. He did his best to legitimize the use of alcohol, and he served the Reading community untiringly. Justifiably, Frederick Lauer was represented in the first monument erected in Reading because he embodied the ideals of a large part of his community.

The front plaque establishes who the statue commemorates, who erected it, and for what reason. It states: “To Frederick Lauer of Reading, Pa. The United States Brewers’ Association of which he was the first president has erected this monument in grateful remembrance of his unselfish labor for the welfare of the brewing trade in this country. Charles Elliot Norton, in 1865, wrote, “Peculiar difficulties will surround and hinder [the building of monuments], because nearly all these proposed memorials will be built, if at all, by associations; few by private persons.” and such was the case for Reading’s first monument. Just two years following Lauer’s death, the monument was constructed and stood on public grounds.


Lauer was a prominent leader in the beer industry. During the Civil War, the need for financial support to sustain the Union’s war effort resulted in the first federal tax on malt beverages. This tax prompted the eventual founding of the U.S. Brewers Association. It seems logical for the brewers to organize a protest against the tax, however, they did not pursue lauerthis course of action. Lauer and other established brewers believed that the tax was advantageous to the industry, as a whole, because it would discourage unsanitary practices and crooked manufacturers, which cut into the trade of reliable brewers. Lauer toured European breweries to study their manufacturing, and their tax situation. During his trips abroad, he wrote several letters to the Reading Gazette, which were published in German, as well as in English. He returned with recommendations to establish a permanent tax, but to keep it at the affordable price of $1 per barrel. The tax must be kept down to allow the brewers to continue to sell their product at a low price. Due to his experience and success, Lauer “quite naturally became the first president of the national association upon its organization in 1870.”

The plaque that faces west also addresses Lauer’s close association with the brewing industry. It reads, “Let his example tell the brewers of this country to maintain good fellowship to preserve their association, and to defend their rights.” Through the U.S. Brewers’ Association, he maintained his ties with other brewers around the country, but his relationship with the brewing industry began long before 1870. Lauer was born on Oct. 14, 1810 in Gleisweiler, Germany. At the age of 12, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in Womelsdorf, PA. Under his father’s tutelage he quickly learned the brewing process. Their small brewing practice grew, so they moved into a larger building in Reading, and by age 16, Fred was foreman and accountant of the brewery. He was a dedicated worker, arising daily at 2 a.m., so that deliveries could be made by breakfast. In 1835, at age 25, he became proprietor of the new plant on North Street, and remained there until his retirement in 1883.

Lauer felt a very close association with his German heritage and the Democratic party, the two groups who (often overlapping) comprised an overwhelming majority of his customers. The majority of Berks County citizens were German immigrants, and Lauer employed many of them (Hoch). Peter Barby, who by 1860 had established his own small Reading brewery, began as an employee of Lauer. John Roehrich, a proprietor of ice and cold storage, was first employed in Reading as Lauer’s errand boy. Lauer brought Lewis Bloom, who had learned the cooper’s trade in his native land, from Philadelphia to Reading to make barrels and casks for the brewery. John Bachover, proprietor of a hotel and cafe in Reading, worked for the brewery for 22 years, and John Stocker worked for him 17 years before opening his own small brewery in Schuylkill County. All these men were born in Germany, and came to America with great uncertainty. Lauer, a German immigrant himself, had compassion for these men; he employed them in his brewery, giving them an opportunity to advance in their new community. The “melting pot” image was nothing but a myth in nineteenth-century Reading. He maintained close contact with this old country and its language. He returned to Germany several times, and had his two sons receive their higher education in Germany. One son studied the scientific study of beer, porter, and ale, so that he might carry on the family’s German tradition.

Lauer was a stout Democrat, and he was quite active in the political arena. One of his sons was named Franklin Pierce Lauer because he was born on Nov. 8, 1852, the day that the Democrat Pierce was elected President of the United States. Frederick represented the Berks district at the National Convention of 1860 which met in Charleston, S.C., but he voted for Stephen Douglas to oppose Lincoln, and when secession broke out the next year, his popularity sagged. He quickly took other actions to prove his loyalty to the Union. One of these was “to invite Reading soldiers in every volunteer company and drafted group, and all troops passing through Reading, to a free lunch at his garden at 3rd and Chestnut streets.” Although Lauer showed special kindness towards Germans and Democrats, he was also a philanthropist for the community as a whole.

The plaque on the back of the monument, which faces north, states: “The city of Reading commemorates the public and private virtues of an honored citizen by the grant of this location. Erected 1885, the year of the Twenty-fifth convention of the United States Brewers’ Association.” Lauer was instrumental in changing Reading from the status of a borough to that of a city in 1847. He was a member of Select Council from 1865-7 1, serving as its president during the 1867-68 year. He assisted in organizing the Berks County Agricultural Society and the Board of Trade, serving presidential terms for both organizations. Lauer also helped finance the Reading and Columbia Railroad, and he was a member of several charity groups: the Reading Dispensary, the Reading Relief Society, and the Reading Benevolent Society. Lauer’s untiring civic involvement created great respect for him within the community.

Other community investments more directly benefited his workers, which in turn helped his business. He was one of the organizers of St. John’s German Lutheran Church in his early years in Reading. He wanted to establish a place of worship for his fellow Germans, as well as instill nobleness in his workers. Later, he had part of his seven acre lot landscaped into a park for community recreation. Following Lauer’s death, at the turn of the century, the park was converted into a baseball park where semi-professional teams played games. The Reading community that Lauer helped foster followed the national trend, providing communal parks in mid-century, and then catering to organized sports toward the turn of the century. The establishment of Lauer’s Park, like many other reform movements of the nineteenth century, tried to provide virtuous activities for the community, particularly for the workers of the brewery. However, although Lauer offered very much to his community, the nature of the brewing industry was held in discredit by many advocates of prohibition during this time, and it was always in danger of legal restrictions caused by the temperance movement.

The fourth and final plaque that is part of the Lauer monument is contradictory. It states: “His zeal sprang from his firm conviction that in striving to advance the brewing trade he was working for the cause of national temperance.” This statement is written about a man who at a Brewers’ Congress meeting, ascribed the defeat of the Turks due to the fact that “they are a nation of water drinkers, and hence have become a stagnant morass – an offence to civilization – so that the Russians, good, solid drinkers, naturally proved conquerors.” Although the temperance movement was not as powerful in the German-dominated Berks County region as it was in other parts of the country, the ominous temperance movement forced American brewers to be selective in their word choice, especially in the public sphere, so as to create a positive image for their trade.

The temperance movement posed a constant threat to Lauer and his brewery. In 1826, the American Temperance Society was formed in Boston, and a decade later, the organization redefined the word “temperance” to mean abstinence. This society headed a movement that lobbied for legal prohibition of alcohol. The movement was overwhelmingly led by American-born, Protestant, non-urban Republicans. In 1846, Maine became the first state to pass statewide Prohibition laws. In assessing the effectiveness of Maine’s laws, Lauer wrote, “It is a complete failure. It can be shown by statistics that almost every town in Maine has MORE DRUNKENNESS now than when before the prohibitory law was in place.” By 1865, thirteen states had similar Prohibition laws, but Pennsylvania never adopted state Prohibition laws because like most “urban, industrial northern states, with large immigrant populations, the majority were wet.” Still, the danger was ever-present.

Lauer fought against Prohibition with more vigor than any other endeavor he embraced. Despite all of his noble civic efforts and political involvement, in the height of his career, he wrote, “I am a brewer first and a politician afterwards, or in other words, I do not intend to sacrifice my brewery and the accumulations of a long life for any empty honor of political predilections.” Lauer used the newspaper as a public forum for his views; whenever a minister would preach in favor of Prohibition, “the following day would find Lauer with a challenging statement to the newspapers.” He argued that intemperance was a medical problem, and that it could never be contained through legal means. In 1881, in response to the growing number of Prohibitionists, an association called the Liquor Men was organized in Reading. At the first meeting, one member expressed the grievances of all alcohol producers when he professed, “We pay our taxes; we pay our license; we are friends to everybody; we are willing to let them alone and they must let us alone We cannot all be ministers, lawyers or doctors. It is my trade and I intend to follow it up as best I can, honestly and as becomes a good citizen.” Lauer, like other men in his profession, like those who erected his statue, tried to establish respectability in his profession during a time when it was unfashionable.

The Lauer monument was erected in 1885, and just 36 years later, in 1919, nationwide Prohibition became law as the Eighteenth Amendment was passed. In the face of such difficult times for brewers such as Lauer, why was the monument allowed to be erected on the public grounds of City Park? Primarily, because the U.S. Brewers’ Association absorbed all costs incurred by the monument, but more important- ly, because of the many contributions that Lauer made to the Reading community as a citizen, the honor bestowed on him, according to most people, was justified. When Lauer had a celebration commemorating his fiftieth anniversary in Reading, the mayor printed an apology to him in the local paper because he could not attend due to prior commitments. Late in his career, Lauer spread his capital thin, and when he tried to save his brother’s Pottsville brewery from bankruptcy, he came on hard times. However, even the president of the Law and Order League, I. C. Detweiler, upon hearing of Lauer’s financial woes, was compassionate. He stated, “as a man, I feel very sorry for Mr. Lauer; but for the business it was a God-send The failure was not more than could be expected, as all brewers and distillers would come to just such an end” (Reading Eagle). As a citizen, Lauer was well respected, but there was still objection to a statue of a brewer being raised on city ground. Ministers and churches lead the objection, but their protest was in vain. Advocates of the monument “said it was well that it stand at the head of Penn street where everyone could recall his unselfish public career and service. The opposition favored the site too . . . They said they favored the site because the Lauer monument would stand in front of the county jail and look over toward the almshouse in Shillington.” The Prohibitionists felt that it was proper that the brewer be in such lowly company. The proposal passed City Council, and in May of 1885, Reading’s first monument was erected, to a brewer no less.


This is the description of the illustration of the Lauer Brewing from the National Archives:

Image of an elevated landscape view of the Lauer Brewing Company brewery in Reading, Pennsylvania; a large industrial complex of factory buildings is pictured including the breweries, smokestacks, ice plant, boiler house, hop storage, office, malt house, band stand, hotel, garden, and several others including a bowling alley in Lauer’s Park; railroad cars labeled “Refrigerator Line. Ale Porter and Lager Beer” a Philadelphia & Reading Railroad passenger train, cable car, and horse-drawn vehicles are visible along the street in the foreground; small inset image at bottom right features an earlier view of the much-smaller brewery captioned “Lauer’s brewery in 1866″; a Greek sphinx is pictured in a circular ivy-bordered frame captioned by the words “Trade mark” at bottom center.

The brewery was also known as the Park Beer Brewery.

Here’s another biography, from Americantom:

FREDERICK LAUER was born in the Province of Palatine, now Rhenish Bavaria, October 14th, 1810. He attended school (German) until he was twelve years of age, and during this period learned the French language. His father had been one of the largest property holders and taxpayers in the country, and was the man who raised the first liberty-pole on the French borders. On account of his liberal and patriotic sentiments he had to suffer, and for nine years was unable to gather any crops owing to the presence of the army. Finding himself getting more and more impoverished, he concluded to immigrate to America, and with his family landed in Baltimore in August 1823. He at once started for Reading, where his married daughter was then living. Here Frederick became, for the first four months of his residence, a butcher boy, assisting his brother-in-law. But he left this employment when his father commenced the brewing business at Womelsdorf, Berks County, where he assisted him until he removed to Reading, and continued his calling there. It was in the spring of 1826 that his father returned to Reading, where he established a small brewery in an old log house, which had been erected many years before by Read, the founder and owner of the town. Frederick, who was then not quite sixteen years old, was made foreman and clerk, and with one assistant did all the brewing. He built up his first kettle with a capacity of five barrels, which in two months time was increased to ten. He rose at 2 A. M., finished the brewing by daylight, and after breakfast would deliver the beer to customers in town. In 1835 he became the proprietor of the brewery, enlarged it, and by the aid of more assistants extended the business. During the first five years nothing was made but what was known as ” strong beer.” The brewing of ale and porter was begun in 1831, and of lager beer in 1844. The wonderful improvements, which have since sprung up by means of his industry and tact, and without capital, have resulted in a town of itself. In 1849, he commenced buying up vacant lots, and therein-quarried extensive vaults in the solid limestone rock for the storage of lager beer. In 1866, he erected a large brewery on this locality, containing all the latest improvements, and complete in every respect. In connection with this brewery is (1874) a fine park of seven acres, planted with shade trees, a park house with porticos, etc. During the war of the Rebellion he espoused the Union cause, and gave freely of his means to sustain it. He literally gave thousands upon thousands of dollars. Whole regiments were regaled by him at a time, and he had words of encouragement for all. He is neither politician nor office-seeker; he has been tendered, more than once, the Congressional nomination; but his business interests would not permit him to serve in the National Legislature. He always has taken a deep interest in the government and prosperity of Reading, and has been a member of the Town and City Councils for many years. He has always been an active member of the Berks County Agricultural Society, and at one time was its President. He was one of the incorporators and original stockholders of the Reading & Columbia Railroad. He has made the acquaintance of all the prominent members of Congress, of both houses, during the past thirty years, to which may be added all the Presidents of the Nation in the same period. His efforts in connection with the Internal Revenue tax on fermented liquors have invariably been crowned with success, and as President of the Brewers’ Congress he has been indefatigable in his services to the trade. Personally, he is of a frank, hearty, cordial disposition, with an abrupt good humor, which inspires friendship and confidence. He is quick and nervously active in his movements, and will go any length to serve a friend. Shrewd, far seeing and industrious, he has made his establishment one of the most successful in the United States.


This account is from Go Reading Berks:

George Lauer immigrated to America in 1823. Upon landing at Baltimore, Md., he was poor, having just had enough money to pay the passage across the ocean for him and family. The journey was made in a sailing vessel and required three months. He immediately proceeded to Reading, Berks County, where a married daughter, Mrs. Sprenger, resided; and shortly afterward he settled at Womelsdorf and started the business of manufacturing beer in limited quantities. He carried on the business for three years and then located at Reading, where he established a small brewery on Chestnut street near Third, on a rented lot (which he afterward purchased from Marks John Biddle, the attorney for the Penn’s, in 1833), similar to the brewery at Womelsdorf, which had a capacity of five barrels, and was soon increased to ten barrels on account of the increasing demand for his product. There were other breweries at Reading at this time, but the product was of a different character. In 1831 he added the manufacture of porter and ale; and he carried on the enlarged plant until 1835, when his two sons, George and Frederick, became his successors.

Frederick Lauer was the principal brewer at Reading for nearly fifty years from 1835 to 1882. He was born in the town of Gleisweiler, Rhenish Bavaria, Germany, Oct. 14, 1810, and while a boy accompanied his father to America in 1823. He was educated in pay schools at Womelsdorf and Reading, and while growing to manhood learned the business of brewing under the tutoring of his father. He assisted his father until 1835, when he and his brother George became the owners of the plant. The brothers continued as partners for several years, when his brother George retired and removed to Pottsville, where he carried on the same business. The younger brother, as the sole owner, enlarged the brewery and extended the business gradually until he came to send his beer, porter and ale throughout the county and into the adjoining counties. The brewery was situated on Chestnut Street below Third. He established a second plant on North Third Street, beyond Walnut, in 1866; also constructing a large vault in a solid bed of limestone, and sinking an artesian well to the depth of 2,200 feet, which for many years were considered great curiosities at Reading, and the well was then one of the few deep wells in the United States. He was engaged in the business until shortly before his death. He died in 1883, at the age of seventy-three years. He was married to Mary Reiff Guldin, daughter of Peter Guldin, in 1838, and they had two sons, George Frederick and Franklin Pierce. The mother died in October, 1891. After her death 1891, George Frederick Lauer, one of Mary’s sons and chairman of the Lauer Brewing Co., erected an elegant mansion which fronted on South Third, at Chestnut. Not long after the turn of the century, the mansion passed to George’s brother, Franklin Pierce Lauer (born the day President Franklin Pierce was elected).


Franklin Pierce Lauer was born in Reading Nov. 2, 1852. He received his preliminary education in the common schools, which he attended until 1866, when he and his brother were sent to Germany for their advanced education, and they remained three years, spending two years in the institutions at Ludwigsburg and Stuttgart, Germany, and one year at Lausanne, Switzerland. He directed his studies more especially toward the scientific manufacture of beer, porter and ale for the purpose of qualifying himself to take charge of his father’s breweries upon his return home. While at Lausanne he showed great proficiency in music, and though still a boy the vestry of the French Lutheran Church elected him as the organist, which position he filled.

Upon returning home his father placed him in charge of the two breweries as brew master and he displayed great skill in the production of malt liquors of a superior character. He discharged the duties of this responsible position with increasing success for twelve years, until 1882, when his father retired, and he organized the Lauer Brewing Company, of which he became the manager and principal owner. In August, 1891, he made an extended tour of three months through the principal countries of Europe. In 1874 Mr. Lauer married Amelia Dora Heberle (daughter of William Heberle), by whom he had six children: Florence, who married William Y. Landis, of Reading; Carl Franklin; and four who died in youth.

Franklin remained at the mansion until 1923 at which time his daughter, Florence (Mrs. William) Landis, moved in who remained there until around 1923 at which time Around 1929, Peter Lysczek bought the property. A year later, while the family was away, fire broke out in the tower. Severe damage resulted, much of it from water. At this time it was decided to convert the 28-room mansion to an apartment complex. Mr. Lysczek erected a structure at the rear of the home to accommodate his Reading Bottling Works. By 1960, Peter Lysczek’s bottling works had outgrown the facilities at 3rd and Chestnut, so the property was sold to an auto-renting agency and very soon thereafter, the mansion disappeared.


Franklin Pierce operated the brewery for many years. The brewery survived the the prohibition years but eventually succumbed to the wrecking ball. In October, 1942, the brewery at the Northwest corner of Third and Walnut Streets was demolished. TThe only structure remaining from the former Lauer complex at (and near) Third and Walnut is the old Lauer mansion at 235-237 Walnut St.


This is a more genealogical story from “Historical and biographical annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, embracing a concise history of the county and a genealogical and biographical record of representative families,” compiled by Morton Montgomery, and published in 1909:

Frederick Lauer, father of Franklin Pierce Lauer, was the principal brewer at Reading for nearly fifty years from 1835 to 1882. He was born in the town of Gleisweiler, Rhenish Bavaria, Germany, Oct. 14, 1810, and whilst a boy accompanied his father to America in 1823. He was educated in pay schools at Womelsdorf and Reading, and while growing to manhood learned the business of brewing under the tutelage of his father, who was an expert brewer; and he assisted his father until 1835, when he and his brother George became the owners of the plant. The brothers continued as partners for several years, when his brother George retired and removed to Pottsville, where he carried on the same business. The younger brother, as the sole owner, enlarged the brewery and extended the business gradually until he came to send his beer, porter and ale throughout the county and into the adjoining counties. The brewery was situated on Chestnut street below Third. He established a second plant on North Third street, beyond Walnut, in 1866; also constructing a large vault in a solid bed of limestone, and sinking an artesian well to the depth of 2,200 feet, which for many years were considered great curiosities at Reading, and the well was then one of the few deep wells in the United States. He was engaged in the business until shortly before his decease. He died in 1883, at the age of seventy-three years. He was married to Mary Reiff Guldin, daughter of Peter Guldin, in 1838, and they had two sons, George Frederick and Franklin Pierce. The mother died in October, 1891.

Frederick Lauer was a public-spirited man and labored assiduously for the development and prosperity of Reading. He co-operated heartily in the advancement of the place from a borough into a city in 1847; and under the amended charter of 1864 he represented the Fifth ward in the select council from 1865 to 1871, serving as president of that body in 1867. He was a devoted adherent of the Democratic party, and active in behalf of its success for many years. He represented the Berks district as a delegate to the National Convention which met at Charleston, S. C., in 1860, and notwithstanding the platform and the defeat of the party nominee for President, when the Civil war broke out, in 1861, he espoused the cause of the Union in a most earnest and patriotic manner. He assisted materially in organizing the Berks County Agricultural Society in 1852, and officiated as president for a number of years; also in projecting the construction of the railroad from Reading to Lancaster and Columbia, serving as a director for twenty years until his decease; and by special appointment of the governor he served for several terms as trustee of the Keystone State Normal School. He gave liberal support to local charities by aiding the Dispensary and the Relief Society.


Lauer Monument — Mr. Lauer’s great experience and success in the brewing business brought him into national prominence before the brewers of the United States, and he quite naturally became the first president of the national association upon its organization in 1870, which evidences his great popularity and influence at that time; and in May, 1885, the association erected a fine bronze statue to his memory on Penn Common, near Perkiomen avenue, on a small plot of ground set apart and dedicated by the city councils, the first public honor of the kind in the community. The inscriptions on the four sides of the base are as follows:

(North Side)

“The city of Reading commemorates the public and private virtues of an honored citizen by the grant of this location. Erected 1885, the year of the Twenty-fifth convention of the United States Brewers’ Association.”

(South Side)

“To Frederick Lauer of Reading. The United States Brewers’ Association of which he was the first president has erected this monument in grateful remembrance of his unselfish labor for the welfare of the brewing trade in this country.”


(East Side)

“His zeal sprang from his firm conviction that in striving to advance the brewing trade he was working for the cause of national temperance.”

(West Side)

“Let his example tell the brewers of this country to maintain good fellowship, to preserve their association, and to defend their rights.”


I grew up just outside of Reading, and made frequent trips to the park in Reading where Lauer’s statue was located, and it was near the bandshell, which fascinated me as a kid. I confess I didn’t really know anything about who Frederick Lauer was as a child, and it wasn’t until I moved away that I began to understand who he was and why there was a statue of him in my hometown.

Last year, asshole vandals trashed the statue and “stole bronze plaques that were at the base of the statue.” Happily, the BA helped with the funds needed for its restoration and it was rededicated earlier this year while much of the brewing industry was in nearby Philadelphia for the Craft Brewers Conference. I wish I could have been there, but unfortunately I was judging the World Beer Cup, and couldn’t get away.


Historic Beer Birthday: Nicholas Bastendorff

Today is the birthday of Nicholas Bastendorff (October 8, 1842-December 22, 1915). Bastendorff was born in Luxembourg, though it was considered part of Prussia (today Germany), and may have been part of the area of Luxembourg partitioned to Prussia in 1815, and before they gained their independence in 1867. He came to Pennsylvania when he was 30, and settled in Lancaster. While I can’t find very much information about Bastendorff, he was apparently one of the early owners of the Lion Brewery, and later was involved in some fashion with the Rickers Brewery, although I can’t find anything out about that brewery, not even where it was located.


The only mention I found was his obituary in the American Brewers Review from 1915:


The brewery was also known for a time as the Lion-Gibbons brewery and they had a line of beers under the Gibbons name.


Though nowadays Lionshead Deluxe Pilsner Beer is their flagship beer.


The Lion Brewery’s early history, from their Wikipedia page:

Lion Brewery, Inc. started as the Luzerne County Brewing Company with the acquisition of land from Delaware and Hudson Company in 1905. The land was purchased for one dollar on the terms that the company would build a brewery capable of producing 100,000 barrels per year in just the first year and sell each barrel for no less than a dollar a piece. If the terms were not met, the land would return to the Delaware and Hudson Company. The Luzerne County Brewery survived the terms of sale and was able to remain strong through the Prohibition years, 1920-1933, by brewing cereal beer. Cereal beer is more commonly known as “near-beer,” as it has an alcohol content of about 0.5%, which is about a tenth of most beers. Ted Smulowitz purchased the Luzerne County Brewery after Prohibition in 1933 and renamed it The Lion Brewing Company.

Lion Brewing Co. poster

Historic Beer Birthday: Charles Stegmaier

Today is the birthday of Charles Stegmaier (October 6, 1821-August 11, 1906). Stegmaier was bornin in Germany and worked there as a brewer until the age of 27. He moved to Pennsylvania and worked at breweries in Philadelphia, before he founded the Baer & Stegmaier Brewery with his father-in-law, in Wilkes-Barre, in 1857. It eventually became known as the Stegmaier Brewing Co., and Charles ran it with his sons, Christian, Fred and George.


Here’s a short biography from Find-a-Grave:

Charles Stegmaier was born in Gmund, Wurtemberg, Germany, on October 7, 1821, where he learned the art of brewing. At the age of 27, having been brewmaster at several large local breweries, he sailed for America, arriving in New York in 1849. He quickly found employment with Engle & Wolf brewery in Philadelphia, and then with the Louis Bergdoll brewery. Charles formed a short-lived partnership with John Reichard of the Reichard & Weaver brewery, and came to Wilkes-Barre in 1851. This business association produced the first lager beer brewed in the Wyoming Valley.

A longer partnership was formed in 1851 when Charles met Catharine Baer, daughter of George C. Baer. Charles and Catharine were married on January 4, 1852. The couple had six children – Charles Jr., Christian, Anna, George, Louise, and Fred.

In 1857 he formed a partnership with his father-in-law to build a small brewery. The new Baer & Stegmaier Brewery was opened in 1863 and lasted until the Panic of 1873.

Charles entered the hotel business for two years before buying another brewery. Forming a partnership with his son, Christian, he successfully increased business and repurchased the Baer & Stegmaier Brewery in 1880. They built a new brewhouse and storage facility in 1894, increasing annual capacity to 300,000 barrels. By the standards of the time, this was an extremely large brewery, and they incorporated the firm in 1897 as the Stegmaier Brewing Co. Charles, who continued active management of Company affairs until 1902, operated the firm with his sons, Christian, Fred and George.

Like other philanthropically minded entrepreneurs, Charles invested in the Wilkes-Barre community. A public-spirited citizen, he contributed a significant portion of his income to the organized charities of the Wyoming Valley.

Charles died of general debility at his daughter’s home in Los Angeles, California, on August 11, 1906. He left an estate valued at $4 million.

The Stegmaier brewery in 1870.

Here’s a history of the brewery by Ruddy Hechler, published in the Fall 1987 NABA Breweriana Collector:

Charles Stegmaier, born October 7, 1821, learned his trade in his home area of Wurtenberg, Germany. At the age of 27, having been brewmaster at several large local breweries, he set sail for America. He quickly found employment at the small Corporation Brewery in Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, he gained employment with the Louis Bergdoll brewery, where he met John Reichard of the Reichard & Weaver brewery in Wilkes-Barre. This friendship of 1851 sent Charles packing on a 120-mile trip upstate, where he and John formed a short-lived partnership. This business association produced the first lager beer in their section of Pennsylvania. A longer partnership was also formed in 1851 when Charles married Catharine Baer, daughter of George C. Baer.

Several years later, Charles accepted a position in Pottsville with the George Laurer brewery, but he returned to Wilkes-Barre in 1857 to establish a bottling business. He quickly formed a partnership with his father-in-law, George Baer, to build a small brewery on South Canal Street. They brewed with a wooden kettle and stored their beer in an abandoned coal mine tunnel while a new brewery with underground vaults was built on East Market Street. The new Baer & Stegmaier Brewery was opened in 1863 and lasted until the Panic of 1873.

Out of a job, Charles entered the hotel business for two years before buying the Joel Bowkley Brewery on North River Street at the Canal. Forming a partnership with his son, Christian E. Stegmaier, he successfully increased business to the extent that they could repurchase the Bear & Stegmaier Brewery in 1880. Output continued to grow under the name of C. Stegmaier & Son; a new brewhouse and storage facility were built in 1894, increasing annual capacity to 300,000 barrels. By the standards of the time, this was an extremely large brewery. Charles and Christian incorporated the firm in 1897 as the Stegmaier Brewing Co. Charles, who continued active management of Company affairs until 1902, operated the firm with Christian and his other sons, Fred and George. The Stegmaier family were highly esteemed as citizens of the city; they were extremely charitable and contributed greatly toward the growth and development of Wilkes-Barre. Success this time was not short-lived; the company enjoyed many productive years before closing during long years of slow decline of the local brewers in October, 1974.

Between 1910 and 1913 Stegmaier won eight gold medals at expositions in Paris, Brussels and Rome. After prohibition it became one of the largest independent breweries in North America, reaching an output of a half million barrels in 1940. Using a 60-truck fleet and rail services, the distribution areas eventually covered the East Coast from Maine to Florida – a considerable evolution from the days of 1857 when Charles Stegmaier personally delivered each barrel of beer with an express wagon drawn by a husky goat.

The sudden announcement in 1974 by Edward R. Maier, great grandson of Charles Stegmaier, that the Stegmaier label was sold to Lion, Inc. of Wilkes-Barre sent shock waves through the brewery’s work force. The Company’s financial situation was known to be deteriorating, but the notice of sale still came as a surprise to most.

The Company was a family-run business covering four generations, always respected as a “class act” by its loyal employees, many of whom were from families whose parents and grandparents had worked with Charles Stegmaier. About 50 employees, along with Maier as Executive Vice President, were employed by Lion, Inc., but some 150 workers lost their jobs. The vacated Stegmaier brewery, purchased for back taxes in 1978, is currently owned by the City of Wilkes-Barre. The City has hopes of selling it to a developer who will pursue historic restoration of the buildings.

Stegmaier’s many years of brewing brought us not only award winning beer, but a myriad of advertising memorabilia. A room of considerable size could be filled with historic breweriana with the “Stegmaier Brewing Co.” name appearing.

Stegmaier beer is still produced by Lion, Inc., of Wilkes-Barre, and remains one of the firms best selling products. Enjoy a cold, frosty “Steg” and appreciate the history that the Stegmaier Brewing Co. has left behind.

Stegmaier Brewery workers c. 1894.

From Pennsylvania Heritage; Stegmaier Brewed Beer and a Regional History, by William C. Kashatus:

“Ring-A-Ding-Ding! Do the Stegmaier Thing, In the Summertime. It’s Cold and It’s Gold like a Pocono Spring, In the Summertime. So, Ring-A-Ding-Ding, Do the Stegmaier Thing, Any Time At All!”

Pennsylvanians may recall the infectious jingle advertising Stegmaier beer on WFIL radio and television in Philadelphia and shouted across billboards in the Pocono Mountains and the northeastern counties of the Keystone State in the 1960s. It was part of an aggressive advertising campaign launched by the Wilkes-Barre-based brewing company to retain its dominant position in the regional beer-making industry over emerging consolidated national brewers.

Stegmaier’s not only prevailed in the competition, but strengthened its relationship with its fiercely loyal consumer base struggling to survive the economic dislocation created by the demise of the region’s anthracite industry. The Stegmaier Brewing Company was an inextricable part of northeastern Pennsylvania’s cultural identity for more than a century. Founded in 1857 by German immigrant Charles E. Stegmaier (1821-1906), the business began as a modest brewery and bottling operation but, by the turn of the century, was producing 800,000 barrels of beer annually, making it one of the largest breweries in the United States. Stegmaier is the story of a German immigrant’s quest for the American Dream.

Pennsylvania’s beer-making industry dates to the earliest communities established by English and Dutch settlers in the early to mid-seventeenth century. The colonists quickly recognized that the climate and soil of the Mid-Atlantic region were particularly well suited to brewing beer and growing malt and hops, two of beer’s essential ingredients. William Penn, the Quaker founder of the colony, brewed beer at his Bucks County estate, Pennsbury Manor. His capital city of Philadelphia boasted at least four brew houses as the city’s earliest settlers were hearty drinkers. Beer was an essential staple in the seventeenth-century diet of Pennsylvanians and continued to be the drink of choice throughout the eighteenth century when brewing expanded to other communities such as Reading, Allentown, and Pittsburgh. For many years the production of beer remained a local enterprise. Bottling was expensive and beer did not stay fresh for long periods of time. Nearly all beer was stored in, and served from, wooden kegs. While there were many small breweries it was not uncommon for households to brew their own beer, particularly ales, porters, and stouts, in the English tradition.


During the nineteenth century Pennsylvania witnessed the emergence of brewing as a significant industry. Industrial growth attracted considerable immigration from strong beer-drinking countries such as England, Ireland, and Germany. German immigrants, in particular, were skilled craftsmen who found work in the building and beer-making trades. Breweries were established in every major city and many towns associated with the steel and coal industries. One of these immigrants was Charles E. Stegmaier.

Born on October 7, 1821, in Gmund, Wüttemberg, Germany, Stegmaier at the age of fifteen became an apprentice to a local brewer. He spent thirteen years learning the art of brewing. Intent on parlaying his knowledge into a lucrative business the twenty-seven-year-old German set sail for the United States in 1849. He settled in Philadelphia where he found employment at the small Corporation Brewery, also known as the Philadelphia Joint Stock Brewery, at 209 North Third St. In 1851 Stegmaier joined the Louis Bergdoll and Sons Brewing Company, also in Philadelphia, where he met Wilkes-Barre brewer John Reichard who had been producing British-style ales. Reichard brewed his beer with top fermenting yeasts which ranged from light pale ales to hearty chocolate-colored stouts and porters. The American market at the time was yielding to an increasing demand for German-style lager beers. Lager beers require a great deal of care and attention; not only do they need a longer maturation period than ales, but they use a bottom fermenting yeast and are much more sensitive to temperatures. Capitalizing on the shifting market Stegmaier and Reichard formed a partnership at Wilkes-Barre to produce the first lager beer in northeastern Pennsylvania.

On January 4, 1852, Stegmaier married Katherine Baer (1820-1885) and they became the parents of six children, five of whom survived into adulthood: Charles Jr., Christian E., George J., Frederick J., and Louise, who married Philip Forve. Newly married and with a child on the way, Stegmaier had greater ambitions. He accepted a position as a brewer with George Lauer of Pottsville, Schuylkill County, operator of the Orchard Brewery from 1845 to 1860 and one of the most prominent brewers in Pennsylvania. During the next five years, Stegmaier learned the intricacies of managing a brewery and lived frugally, intending to find a suitable place to establish a brewery of his own.

Confident that Wilkes-Barre, with its growing anthracite mining industry and its rapidly increasing population, would eventually provide a lucrative market for his products, Stegmaier returned to the Wyoming Valley in 1857 and entered into a partnership with his father-in-law, George C. Baer. They established their business on Hunt Street. It was a provincial operation in which beer was brewed in a wooden kettle and stored in an abandoned mine tunnel to keep it cool. Stegmaier delivered the beer to local bars and taverns in a goat-drawn cart. He devoted himself to every detail of the business, made friends, and extended his trade. Within a few years, they erected a small brewery on South Canal Street, formally adopted the name of Baer and Stegmaier Brewing Company, and hired five employees.


Baer and Stegmaier prospered, enabling the partners to build a new brewery with underground vaults on East Market Street. The new operation, opened in 1863, enabled the firm to enlarge its brewing and storing capacity and to steadily increase its trade. It was one of 1,269 breweries in the United States. Collectively, the breweries produced more than one million barrels of beer yearly for the nation’s population of thirty-one million. New York and Pennsylvania accounted for 85 percent of the production. But the boom and bust economy of the late nineteenth century ended success for many breweries.

During the Panic of 1873, which triggered a severe economic depression that lasted until 1879, values depreciated to such an extent that many breweries failed. Forced to sell his brewery, Stegmaier briefly entered the hotel business before declaring bankruptcy. Despite the financial setback he managed to regroup by 1875. He formed a partnership with son Christian and leased the old Joel Bowkley Brewery on North River Street. Within two years C. Stegmaier and Son increased production to 4,362 barrels of beer. With the profits Charles was able to repurchase the Baer and Stegmaier Brewery in 1880. Output continued to grow and the brewery expanded to a sprawling 4.6-acre complex.

In 1890 Stegmaier commissioned Adam C. Wagner (1858-1935), a Philadelphia architect who designed fifty brewing plants during his career, to draw plans for a new cupola-topped brew house, administration building, and storage facility. Construction of the handsome complex was completed in 1894. The elaborately crafted, wood-paneled office building was centered among the brew, wash, bottle, and barrel houses, where more than three hundred employees worked. Workers kept the brewery in immaculate shape and it awed visitors with its gleaming brass railings, brightly shining kettles, and enormous vats.

The new facilities also allowed the company to increase annual capacity to 400,000 barrels, making C. Stegmaier and Son an extremely large brewery by the standards of the time. The company specialized in Lietbotschaner lager, marketed as “the people’s popular beverage,” and porter. It employed forty-seven men at the brewery, as well as drivers for thirty-six delivery horses. The enterprise was so prosperous that Stegmaier returned to the hotel business, operating the Brewery Hotel at the corner of East Market and Baltimore Streets, where the company’s offices were also located. It was also during this decade that Stegmaier’s other sons, Charles Jr., George, and Frederick, began working for the company.

Charles Stegmaier was literally in the right place at the right time. Beer was a mass-produced, mass-consumed beverage at the close of the nineteenth century. At a time when America was becoming an industrialized society most workers in the manufacturing and mining trades drank beer during and after working hours. The beverage also benefited from a growing temperance movement that advocated beer instead of spirits such as rum or whiskey with considerably higher alcoholic content. Stegmaier capitalized on these trends. He launched an ambitious billboard campaign advertising his company’s brews as “Recommended by Prominent Physicians for Purity, Strength, and Flavor.” Other advertisements emphasized his hotel’s proximity to the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad Company’s train depot, noting that the “bar is always open and stocked with the choicest of wines, ales, liquors, and cigars.” The brewery enjoyed an enormous regional market supported by thousands of coal miners, as well as a growing national market. Stegmaier was one of several companies that increased its scale of production and scope of distribution by utilizing the growing railroad system to distribute beer in more distant markets. Situated across from the New Jersey Central Railroad line, the Stegmaier Brewery was easily able to transport its beer to consumers along the East Coast.

Although not considered a powerful national-oriented brewery such as Pabst in Milwaukee and Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Stegmaier was able to compete with these larger firms in the eastern United States. Its regional success was due to such innovations as pasteurizing, bottling, and transporting beer, compared to the locally-oriented breweries that mainly supplied draught beer in wooden kegs to their immediate markets.

In 1897 the Stegmaiers incorporated their enterprise as the Stegmaier Brewing Company, an acknowledgement that the firm was a family business operated by father and his four sons. The company’s value was estimated at $600,000. Charles, who served as president, received 5,400 shares, and his sons 150 shares each. With a labor force of several hundred and cold storage plants and depots throughout northeastern Pennsylvania, Stegmaier was producing 110,000 barrels per year by 1903, doubling the output of any other brewery in Luzerne County and making it the largest brewery business outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Charles Stegmaier enjoyed the wealth he had worked so hard to achieve. He lived in luxury at the new Hotel Sterling. His suite on the top floor overlooked the Susquehanna River, Public Square, and the River Common. He was also an exceptional individual. Stegmaier was shrewd in business but scrupulously honest; frugal in his personal lifestyle but lavish in his hospitality. A modest man, he disliked praise or notoriety but was always willing to help a deserving cause. Like other philanthropically-minded entrepreneurs Stegmaier invested liberally in the Wilkes-Barre community and contributed significantly to the organized charities of the Wyoming Valley. He served on the boards of the city’s largest commercial enterprises and financial institutions. He made every effort to employ the “deserving” and “industrious” poor rather than those who were “idle” and simply looking for a handout. As a result, employees and their families were extremely loyal, as sons and grandsons eventually went to work for the brewery. When he died on August 11, 1906, Charles Stegmaier left an estate valued at $4 million, the equivalent of nearly one hundred million dollars in today’s currency. His sons continued the brewery with mixed success.

Stegmaier’s boiler room, c. 1930.

By 1910 brewing had become one of the leading manufacturing industries in the United States with 1,568 active breweries. Stegmaier reaped the rewards of that success winning eight gold medals at expositions in Paris, Brussels, and Rome between 1910 and 1913. In 1916 Stegmaier was producing more than 200,000 barrels annually, cementing its status as the largest brewery in northeastern Pennsylvania. As the brewery continued to grow, however, so too did the body of temperance reformers who sought to entirely eliminate alcoholic beverages from American life. The “dry forces” prevailed with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment on January 29, 1919, and once again the Stegmaier Brewing Company would struggle to survive. Prohibition made the production and distribution of beverages with more than one-half of 1 percent alcohol illegal and resulted in the closing of many small breweries that had been profitable.

The larger shipping breweries with much greater investments were not as inclined to walk away from brewing. Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, and Anheuser-Busch, the leading pre-Prohibition shippers, began producing “near beer,” a malt beverage containing less than one-half of 1 percent alcohol. While it was not a commercial success, its production allowed the firms to keep current their beer-making skills and generate modest revenues. Anheuser-Busch called its near beer Budweiser which was simply the old Budweiser lager beer brewed according to the traditional method and then de-alcoholized.

The federal government granted special licenses to leading breweries which allowed them to brew beverages with an alcohol content greater than one-half of 1 percent for medicinal purposes. The licenses gave them a competitive advantage since they were able to keep their brewing staff working. Stegmaier’s was caught in the middle. While it was larger than the other local breweries, it did not command the market of the bigger ones, which enjoyed a much greater national distribution. Stegmaier weathered the storm of Prohibition by producing near beer and malt syrup. While the company advertised malt syrup as an ingredient for baking cookies it was really intended for homemade beer.

In April 1933 Congress amended the Volstead Act to allow for 3.2 percent beer. Eight months later, in December, after more than thirteen dry years, Congress and the states ratified the Twenty-First Amendment, officially repealing Prohibition. After Prohibition ended Stegmaier’s became one of the largest independent breweries in North America, reaching an output of a half million barrels in 1940. During World War II the brewing industry boomed as consumers, both soldiers and civilians, used some of their wages for beer. Per capita consumption grew by 50 percent between 1940 and 1945. Stegmaier seized the opportunity to expand its market. Using a fleet of sixty trucks and rail services, the brewery’s distribution areas eventually covered the entire East Coast from Maine to Florida.

The company, proud of its magnificent complex completed in 1894, used images of it on stationery, including billheads which also advertised export and select beer, stock lager, porter, malt extract, and ales.

While total production of beer continued to grow in the decades after the war, per capita consumption fell in the 1960s before rebounding to levels of more than twenty-one gallons per capita in the 1970s, the highest rates in the nation’s history. It also became evident that Stegmaier could no longer compete with the nation’s leading breweries Anheuser-Busch, Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz. With the company’s financial situation deteriorating, Edward R. Maier, the great-grandson of Charles Stegmaier, announced in October 1974 that the Stegmaier label had been sold to The Lion Inc. of Wilkes-Barre. The announcement sent shock waves through the brewery’s work force. Maier, as executive vice president, along with fifty employees were added to The Lion’s operation. Another 150 workers lost their jobs. “It was very sad to sell the business,” admitted Maier in a 1992 interview. “Ours was a gorgeous complex, like a dollhouse. It was shining, all brass and copper. Curved moldings, brass railings. But it was an impossible business. We closed for the same reason Rheingold, Schaefer, and Ballantine closed – a tough competitive environment. The brewery business is like the auto-making business. Either you’re very, very big or you get eaten up.”

Stegmaier beer is still produced by The Lion Inc. at its North End brewery and remains one of the firm’s best-selling products. The Stegmaier brewery complex, purchased by the City of Wilkes-Barre for back taxes in 1978, was restored by the awardwinning architectural firm of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and now serves as a federal office building. The Victorian era red brick brew house remains from the brewery’s glory days, an impressive reminder of the days when beer was the workingman’s champagne, and the robust aroma of hops, barley, and malt filled the air of downtown Wilkes-Barre.



Historic Beer Birthday: Lord Chesterfield

Today is the birthday of Lord Chesterfield, whose full name was Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (September 22, 1694-March 24, 1773). He “was a British statesman, and a man of letters, and wit. He was born in London to Philip Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Chesterfield, and Lady Elizabeth Savile, and known as Lord Stanhope until the death of his father, in 1726. Educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he subsequently embarked on the Grand Tour of the Continent, to complete his education as a nobleman, by exposure to the cultural legacies of Classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to become acquainted with his aristocratic counterparts and the polite society of Continental Europe.

In the course of his post-graduate tour of Europe, the death of Queen Anne (r. 1702–1714) and the accession of King George I (r. 1714–1727) opened a political career for Stanhope, and he returned to England. In the British political spectrum he was a Whig and entered government service, as a courtier to the King, through the mentorship of his relative, James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope, the King’s favourite minister, who procured his appointment as Lord of the Bedchamber to the Prince of Wales.


Today he’s arguably best known for two things. The first is the numerous letters written to his illegitimate son Phillip Stanhope. They consisted of 400 private correspondences written over thirty years, first published a year after Lord Chesterfield’s death as “Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman.” From that correspondence, many quotations have become well-known, such as “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well,” “Never seem more learned than the people you are with. Wear your learning like a pocket watch and keep it hidden. Do not pull it out to count the hours, but give the time when you are asked,” “Take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves,” and “Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no delay, no procrastination; never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” Then there’s “Young men are apt to think themselves wise enough, as drunken men are apt to think themselves sober enough” and “Choose your pleasures for yourself, and do not let them be imposed upon you. Follow nature and not fashion: weigh the present enjoyment of your pleasures against the necessary consequences of them, and then let your own common sense determine your choice.”

Portrait by Jonathan Richardson from 1728.

Here’s the description from the Oxford edition of Chesterfield’s collected letters:

Not originally intended for publication, the celebrated and controversial correspondences between Lord Chesterfield and his son Philip, dating from 1737, were praised in their day as a complete manual of education, and despised by Samuel Johnson for teaching “the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing-master.” Reflecting the political craft of a leading statesman and the urbane wit of a man who associated with Pope, Addison, and Swift, Lord Chesterfield’s Letters reveal the author’s political cynicism, his views on good breeding, and instruction to his son in etiquette and the worldly arts. The only annotated selection of this breadth available in paperback, these entertaining letters illuminate the fascinating aspects of eighteenth-century life and manners.


The second thing he’s known for today is Yuengling Brewery’s Lord Chesterfield Ale, which the brewery first brewed in 1829, the year they were founded as the Eagle Brewery.

The Lord Chesterfield Ale label in 1934.


Historic Beer Birthday: Henry Fink

Today is the birthday of Henry Fink (September 7, 1835-January 10, 1898). He was born in Hesse-Cassel, Germany, but settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1862, along with a business partner, Christian Boyer, he bought the Barnitz Brewery (which had been founded around 1854), changing the name to Fink & Boyer, although it was also known as the Keystone Brewery. Later on, it was called the Henry Fink Brewery, then Henry Fink’s Sons and finally Fink Brewing Co., before prohibition shut it down. It reopened briefly in 1933, but closed for good the following year.


According to Otto’s Pub & Brewery:

The Barnitz brewery was started on Forster Street in Harrisburg in 1854, becoming the Fink & Boyer brewery eight years later. The brewery was producing about 4,000 barrels of ale and porter per year. In 1875 Henry Fink became sole proprietor, and in 1881 he built a large modern plant with a capacity of 20,000 barrels of lager beer, ale, and porter annually which he called Fink’s Keystone Brewery. The brewery survived Prohibition and introduced Purple Ribbon Pilsner, Wurzburger Lager, and Derby Ale, but went out of business the following year. Ironically, the building was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and today the building which was subsequently built on the site houses the PLCB.


Harrisburg’s Fink brewery was one of many brewers that capitalized on Pennsylvania’s German or “Pennsylvania Dutch” heritage with this “ Schnitzelbank Song” that surely inspired many tavern-goers to break into song. Made like a sampler to teach youngsters the alphabet, it presented Pennsylvania German culture in a novel way. Many Pennsylvania brewers issued similar posters.


In “Notes and Queries: Historical, Biographical and Genealogical Relating Chiefly to Interior Pennsylvania,” edited by William Henry Engle, published in 1898, has the obituary of Henry Fink: