Today is the birthday of Henry Liebmann (December 6, 1836-March 27, 1915). He was born Heinrich Liebmann in Schmiedelfeld, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany. His father owned the Castle Schmiedelfeld, but when Henry was four, the family moved to Ludwigsburg and operated the Zum Stern Inn there, which also included a brewery. For political reasons, some of the family moved to America around 1850 to build a home, and the rest followed in 1854. Initially he ran the old Maasche Brewery, but later built a new brewery in Bushwick. Originally, it was called the Samuel Liebmann Brewery, but when his sons joined the brewery, it was called the S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewery. When Henry’s father died in 1872, Henry and his brothers took over the family brewery, and Henry became brewmaster. After prohibition ended, the brothers’ six sons re-opened the brewery as the simpler Liebmann Breweries, but in 1964 they changed the name again to Rheingold Breweries, after their most popular beer. The brewery closed in 1976.
Here’s his obituary from the Brewers Journal, in July of 1915:
This is from “The Originators of Rheingold Beer: From Ludwigsburg to Brooklyn – A Dynasty of German-Jewish Brewers,” by Rolf Hofmann, originally published in Aufbau, June 21, 2001:
New Yorkers over the age of fifty will remember the brand name Rheingold Beer and the company’s brilliant publicity stunt in which a bevy of attractive young women competed annually for the privilege of being elected that year’s Miss Rheingold and appearing in ads on billboards and in the subways throughout the New York area.
The beer’s evocative name with its allusion to Germany’s great river, was the culmination of a German-Jewish family enterprise that had its beginnings in 1840 in the town of Ludwigsburg, north of Stuttgart, in what was then the Kingdom of Württemberg. One Samuel Liebmann, a member of a prominent Jewish family in the region, settled there and bought the inn and brewery “Zum Stern.” A liberal and staunch supporter of Republican ideals, Liebmann encouraged other like-minded citizens, including some soldiers from the garrison, to meet in his hospitable surroundings. The ideas fomented there contributed to the local revolution of 1848. It brought the opprobrium of the King down upon Liebmann’s enterprise, and “Zum Stern” was declared off limits to the soldiers. Soon thereafter, in 1850, Samuel Liebmann emigrated to the U.S.
The family settled in Brooklyn and Samuel, together with his three sons, Joseph, Henry, and Charles, opened a brewery once again at the corner of Forest and Bremen Streets. With the responsibilities divided among the family – Henry became the brewing expert, Charles. the engineer and architect, Joseph, finance manager – the company was already flourishing by the time of Samuel’s death in 1872. Success also led to a concern for the company’s Brooklyn surroundings, and the Liebmanns became involved in local welfare – focusing on housing and drainage systems.
Each of the three brothers had two sons, and when the older Liebmanns retired in 1903, the six members of the third generation took over. Other members of the family also contributed to the gradual expansion of the company. In 1895 Sadie Liebmann (Joseph’s daughter), married Samuel Simon Steiner, a trader in high quality hop, an essential ingredient for good beer. Steiner’s father had begun merchandising hop in Laupheim in 1845 and still today, S.S. Steiner, with its headquarters in New York, is one of the leading hop merchants. Under these fortuitous family circumstances, beer production grew constantly. In the early years, the brewery had produced 1000 barrels per year, by 1914 its output stood at 700,000 barrels.
Henry Liebmann (center with white beard) and family.
Unfortunately, political developments in the U.S. between 1914 and 1933 were extremely disadvantageous for the Liebmann brewery. The resentment against Germany and anything German during World War I led to an informal boycott of German beers. Following close upon the lean wartime years, was the implementation of Prohibition in 1920 forbidding the manufacturing and trading of alcohol. The Liebmann enterprise managed to survive by producing lemonade and a product they called “Near Beer.”
With the reinstatement of legal alcohol production under President Roosevelt in 1933, opportunities for the brewery opened up, abetted by the anti-Semitic policies of Hitler’s Germany. The pressures on Jewish businessmen there, brought Dr. Hermann Schülein, general manager of the world-renowned LšwenbrŠu brewery, to America. Schulein’s father, Joseph, had acquired two of Munich’s leading breweries at the end of the nineteenth century–Union and Münchner Kindl–and his son had managed the 1920 merger with Löwenbrau. Arriving in New York with this experience behind him, Hermann Schülein became one of the top managers of the Liebmann brewery and was instrumental in its spectacular growth after World War II.
Working with Philip Liebmann (great-grandson of Samuel), Schülein developed a dry lager beer with a European character to be marketed under the brand name “Rheingold.” According to company legend, the name was created in 1883 at a brewery dinner following a performance at the Metropolitan Opera. When the conductor took up his glass, he was so taken with the shade of the beer, that he declared it to be the color of “Rheingold.” For New Yorkers, however, the name Rheingold did not bring to mind the Nibelungen fables, but the pretty young ladies who participated in Schülein’s most brilliant marketing strategy – the selection of each year’s Miss Rheingold by the beer-drinking public of greater New York
At the height of the campaign’s success in the 1950’s and 60’s, the Liebmann Brewery had an output of beer ten times that of Löwenbrau at the same time in Munich.
For thirty years, Rheingold Beer reigned supreme in the New York area, but by 1976, as a local brewery, it could no longer compete with nationwide companies such as Anheuser & Busch, Miller, and Schlitz, and its doors were closed. Only recently, using the same brewmaster, Rheingold is once again being sold in the tri-state area.
Here’s an “Origin of Liebmann Brewery” posted by a relative on Ancestry.com:
On May 12 1833 (Sulzbach-Laufen Archive) Samuel and his older brother Heinrich bought a castle/inn Schmiedelfeld, Sulzbach-Laufen, Schwaebisch Hall District that dated from 1739. They renovated the place and created a prosperous farm/estate and in 1837 began a brewery in the cellar. In 1840, he moved to Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart and purchased the gasthaus [guest house or inn] “Zum Stern” on Seestrasse 9 (later Zum Rebstock) which included a brewery. (source: Translation extract from Dr. Joacim Hahn’s book, History of the Jewish Community of Ludwigsburg)
After supporting a movement to oust King William I of Wurttemberg, and sensing the wavering tolerance of Jewish businessmen, Samuel sent his eldest son Joseph to the US in 1854 to scout out a location to establish a brewery.
Samuel retired in 1868 and turned the family business over to his sons Joseph, Charles, and Henry under the name S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewery.