Today is the birthday of Peter Barbey (November 9, 1825-February 15, 1897). He was born in Bavaria, though the actual town seems to be in some dispute, and learned brewing at his uncle’s brewery there from the age of fourteen. As an adult, he worked at breweries throughout Europe, then entered military service for a four-year tour of duty. After that, at age 25 he came to the United States and found work in Philadelphia. But he found a better job in nearby Reading working at the brewery of Frederick Lauer.
He apparently liked Reading (my hometown) because he founded his own brewery there in 1857, with Abraham Peltzer, which they called the Peter Barbey & Abraham Peltzer Brewery. Barbey must have bought him out, because in 1861 it was renamed the Peter Barbey Brewery. His son John joined him at the brewery in 1880, and they called it Peter Barbey & Son after that, until it closed in 1920 because of Prohibition. But it did return in 1933 as Barbey’s Inc. In 1951, they completely rebranded it as the Sunshine Brewing Co. before closing for good in 1970.
Peter and possibly his son tapping a keg of his beer.
This is from “Biographies from Historical and Biographical Annals,” by Morton Montgomery, published in 1909:
Peter Barbey, the founder of Barbey’s Brewery at Reading, Pa., was born Nov. 9, 1825, in Dierbach, Canton of Bergzabern, Rhinepfalz, Bavaria, son of Christopher Barbey. He attended the schools of his native place until he was fourteen years of age, when he entered the brewing establishment of his uncle, Peter Barbey, for the purpose of learning the business. After remaining there three years, he found employment in France and Switzerland in different brewing establishments during the next four years, in observance of a German custom to increase his knowledge of the business in this way by practical experience. He then returned home, and being twenty-one years of age, entered the army in a cavalry regiment where be served as a soldier for four years. At the expiration of his term of service, be emigrated to America, proceeding immediately to Philadelphia, and for several years he was engaged there in different breweries; he then located at Reading, and entered the employ of Frederick Lauer, also a German, who had by this time established himself in the brewing business at Third and Chestnut streets. In 1860 Mr. Barbey embarked in business for himself as a brewer, and carried his affairs on with increasing success until his decease in 1897.
Mr. Barbey was a Democrat in politics, but never inclined to fill any public offices. He assisted in organizing the Keystone National Bank in 1883 and served as a director until his decease in 1897. He was prominently identified with Teutonia Lodge, No. 368, F. & A. M., in which he was a past master, and with Germania Lodge, I. O. O. F.
Mr. Barbey married Rosina Kuntz, daughter of Philip Kuntz, of Rhenish Bavaria, and they had two children: Katrina, who died in infancy; and John, who, after arriving of age, engaged with his father in the brewing business under the name of P. Barbey & Son. Notwithstanding the decease of his father in 1897, the firm name has been continued until the present time.
The brewery building in the 1950s.
And here’s an obituary, from the “Allentown Morning Call,” from February 16, 1897:
Peter Barbey, the well-known Reading brewer, died yesterday morning at his home, aged 71 years. Mr. Barbey was a native of Dierbach, Canton of Borgzaben, Rhinepfaltz, Bavaria. He attended the schools of his native country until the age of 14, when he entered the brewery establishment of his uncle, Peter Barbey, for the purpose of learning the business. When about 23 years of age, he came to America. He entered the employ of Frederick Lauer, in Reading. Later he conducted several saloons and then started in the brewery business. Deceased was married to Rosina, daughter of Philip Kuntz, of Rhenish Bavaria. They had two children, Katrina, a daughter, deceased; and John Barbey. In politics he was a Democrat, but never was an aspirant for any office. He was a director of the Keystone National Bank, a member of Teutonia Lodge, No. 568, F. and A. M., and of Germania Lodge, I.O.O.F.
This is from an article in the January 1942 issue of the Historical Review of Berks County:
Reading naturally felt the effects of this movement as can be witnessed in the Peter Barbey Brewery establishment. Peter Barbey, the originator of this brewery, was born November 9, 1825, in Dierback, Canton of Bergzabern, Rhinepfalz, Bavaria, the son of Christopher and Katrina Barbey. Until the age of 14 Peter attended the schools there, after which he entered the brewing establishment of his uncle, where he remained three years learning the business of a brewer. At the age of thirty-two (in the year 1857), Barbey emigrated to the United States, and proceeding at once to Philadelphia engaged for two and one-half years in the pursuit of his trade. In 1859 he settled at Reading, where he entered the employ of Frederick Lauer for one year, and soon after opened a saloon. Peter Barbey began his prosperous career as a brewer here in 1869, when he established a brewing plant at River and Hockly Streets. Montgomery wrote of the Barbey Brewery: “the buildings are a three-story brewery, a six-story brick malthouse, two refrigerators and two ice houses-they cover a tract of three acres. In the malt house are five germinating floors, one storage floor, and two large drying kilns. Two engines, producing 60 horse-power, and two large duplex boilers, of 75 horse-power, are used. Thirty hands are employed.” Barbey’s son, John, became a partner in 1880, the firm henceforth trading as P. Barbey and Son. During the year 1885 twenty thousand barrels of beer and porter were manufactured and sold, although the full capacity was thirty-five thousand barrels, and the full malting capacity seventy-five thousand bushels of barley malt.
Thus by 1880 the foundation had been laid for one of Reading’s important industries. Developed as a normal, if not necessary, adjunct to the life of the German population, it brought to this community the industry and craft of the old country. As Reading grew, so did her brewing industry, and its importance was more than local. Frederick Lauer was one of the organizers, and president, of the United States Brewers’ Association, and he was also a leading citizen of Reading. As a public servant and philanthropist he was honored by his fellow citizens, and his statue now stands in our city park. There it symbolizes the social as well as the economic significance of the early industry.