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Demise of Post-Prohibition Philadelphia Breweries
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Demise of Post-Prohibition Philadelphia Breweries
The Demise of Post-Prohibition Philadelphia Breweries
1. Post-Prohibition Philadelphia Breweries
1.1. Years of Operation
2.1. Post-Prohibition Years
2.1.1. Recovery of Breweries
2.2. Background of Survivors
2.2.1. Means of Competition
2.3.1. Purchase and Take over
2.3.2. Impacts on Society
2.4. Breweries of Yesterday Today
2.5. Historians and Societies
Post-Prohibition Philadelphia Breweries
At the close of the prohibition there were over 80 breweries in the state of Pennsylvania.
Nearly 20% of those breweries, or 14 breweries, were brewing beer right here in the city of Philadelphia and an additional 30%, or 27 breweries were located in the greater Philadelphia region in places like Bethlehem, Reading, and Lancaster.
Despite the large number of Philadelphia breweries still in operation after the prohibition, the next few decades would prove fatal for the breweries and would force them all to close.
Why did this happen?
There were several events that caused the Philadelphia breweries to discontinue manufacturing and sale of alcoholic beverages.
One factor was the economic downturn caused by WWII and the Korean War. The second factor was the brewery shake out also known as the beer wars throughout the 60’s, which again resurged later in the 90’s and early 00’s.
Years of Operation
Upon the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933, the Philadelphia breweries that still existed were few and far between.
The remaining companies still brewing beer were: The Henry F. Ortlieb Brewing Company, founded in 1859 as Louis Schweizer, closed in 1981.
John F. Betz & Sons founded in 1775 closed six years after the end of the prohibition in 1939. Christian Schmidt Brewing Company, the last of the historic Philadelphia brewing companies was founded in 1859 and finally closed in 1987.
Class & Nachod Brewing Company opened in 1853 closed at the start of WWII in 1941. Cooper Brewing Company, a.k.a. Liebert & Obert, started manufacturing in 1873 and shut down in 1948.
Esslinger's, Inc. was founded in 1879 and closed in 1964.
Gruenewald Brewery founded in 1934 as the Peerless Brewing Company, run by Esslinger's Inc. between 1937 and 1947. Otto Erlanger Brewing Company started brewing in 1870 and ceased production in 1951. William Gretz Brewing Company another Philadelphia brewery that opened in 1861, closed up shop 1960. John Hohenadel Brewery a.k.a. Falls Brewery opened in 1875 and closed in 1935, Jacob Hornung Brewing Company, founded in 1885 as Jacob Hornung later became Tioga Brewery, closed in 1953.
Poth Brewing Company, founded in 1864 during the same time Jacob Bentz Brewery was found, closed in 1936.
Schiller Brewing Company, founded in 1859 as Marin Schurr, closed in 1943.
Weisbrod & Hess Brewing Company, founded in 1882 as the Oriental Brewery, closed in 1938(Brewing Directory).
As told by the dates mentioned earlier, most of Philadelphia breweries opened in last few decades of the late 1800’s.
Many of the breweries that opened at that time were family owned by Irish and German immigrants seeking to start new lives in a country full of opportunity.
Christian Schmidt, an immigrant from Wutemberg, Germany, for example, owned Christian Schmidt brewery.
Another German immigrant from Baden-Baden, Germany was Trupert Ortlieb.
Trupert named his brewery after his oldest son Henry. John F. Betz was another German immigrant that had settled in Philadelphia to start brewing in Philadelphia.
Many Philadelphia brewers, including those mentioned, traveled back to the Europe to be further educated on brewing practices to continue to build their businesses here in Philadelphia.
Below is a picture of the German immigrant and brewer John F. Betz. Sr.
John F. Betz Sr.- The North American
John F. Betz & Son's Brewery - The North American
F.A. Poth Brewing Company Building -The North American
The North American Post-Prohibition Years
Recovery of Breweries
Surviving breweries used the post prohibition period to establish themselves throughout Philadelphia and to grow in the brewing industry.
Many breweries following the repeal were using that time to increase capacity of there facilities some by 4 or 5 times original production capacity.
Ortliebs, prior to the prohibition, was producing approximately 25,000 barrels of beers each year, but with the signing of the Twenty-first amendment, Ortliebs began producing 100,000 barrels of beer annually.
Ortliebs growth continued past the Second World War when they began handling capacities of 500,000 of barrels per year (Wagner).
Below is a picture of Ortliebs prior to demolition.
The Old Ortlieb's Brewery building. Flickr.com
Background of Survivors
Those breweries that survived the initial wave of closing went on to do quite well for themselves over the next few decades. Schmidt’s was well known for their company structure and how they operated as a closed union shop.
Below is an excerpt from a The North American a digitized online newspaper from 1892 describing how the company operated.
Means of Competition
Despite the loss of many Philadelphia breweries in the decades following the prohibition, competition amongst those surviving remained stiffer than ever.
There were a number of different ways that breweries attempted to increase their market share.
Breweries used advertisements to try and sell their brands with television and radio commercial.
Ortliebs was known for their involvement with charitable functions, which helped various causes while simultaneously helping them sell their various lagers brand names. Can collecting was also very popular throughout Philadelphia as well as New England and parts of the Midwest. Many breweries like Ortliebs started collector series cans to help increase revenue.
Other breweries started other advertising campaigns, including Schmidt’s “beer with meals,” where delicatessens would serve beer with different meal combinations to promote awareness.
Loss of Breweries
While breweries like Ortliebs were continuing to grow others did not fair so well.
Some breweries began to fail only a few years after the prohibition.
Breweries like John Hohenadel Brewery a.k.a. Falls Brewery, Poth Brewing Company, and the Weisbrod & Hess Brewery all went under within 5 years or less following the repeal.
Other breweries were tangled up in shakeout events and beer wars.
After World War II breweries had two options either shut down or sell out to larger companies.
At that time big brand brewers like Coors and Anheuser-Busch, or “big beer,” were saturating the market and buying out smaller firms.
This time period was coined the “shake out.”
One of the main causes of this was due to increases in national advertising.
These advertisements caused local Philadelphia breweries and smaller firms all over the United States to struggle because they were not able to handle market demand increases.
Purchase and Take over
As mentioned earlier, many Philadelphia breweries were purchased by other breweries both locally and nationally after the prohibition.
Joe Ortlieb sold his family brand to Schmidt’s brewery; however the Schmidt family would go on to sell brands to William Pflaume, but the brand remained strong and continued to purchase up a number of breweries throughout Pennsylvania as cited below.
“Schmidt family ownership ceased in 1976 with the sale of the brewery to William H. Pflaumer. By the late 1970s Schmidt's was the tenth-largest American brewery. It operated a plant in Cleveland, Ohio which facilitated mid-west regional sales. Valley Forge Brewing Company was acquired in the 1960s, Duquesne Brewing Company (Pittsburgh) in 1972, and label and brewing rights to Reading and Bergheim were purchased in 1976, Rheingold in 1977, Erie Brewing Company, with its Koehler brands in 1978.
In 1981, Ortlieb, the only other Philadelphia brewery, was purchased by Pflaumer.”
Schmidts would later sell rights and ownership to G. Heileman Brewing Company located in La Crosse, Wisconsin in April of 1987.
The demise of Schmidt's marked the end of the large brewery in Philadelphia”(Goodman/Orr).
Impacts on Society
Many Philadelphia brewers reluctantly closed up when faced with the increases in market demands.
Breweries all over Philadelphia were losing money and being bought by “big beer.”
When many brewers were shutting down or selling out some tried to maintain their brand name reputation.
Ortlieb’s tried to salvage their brand by running a radio ad out their customers.
It had Joe Ortlieb, Trupert Ortlieb’s grandson, saying
“[my old brewery] was terrific, but it was old, so now I'm using the Schmidt's brewery to brew my Ortlieb's." Rich Wagner, a well known Philadelphia brewing historian and researcher, stated that Joe Ortlieb was quoted later saying that when he signed away the Ortlieb brands it was a decision he regretted before the ink was dry (Wagner). Here you can see the regret that brewers had letting go of what their family had built for over three generations.
With the downfall of Philadelphia brewing many people lost their jobs.
Shcmidt’s brewery located in the Kensington section of Philadelphia laid of over 1000 employees in three years as described below.
“The building has been there (in Kensington) since 1920, and it use to house main offices, the brewery and the bottling plant for the Schmidt’s Beer Company. It employed thousands of people. However, when the label was sold for millions of dollars, it began to lay workers off. Over a period of three years more than 1400 workers lost their jobs at this plant, which moved to South Carolina, and the company closed down permanently.
The former owner of the property owes the city over $3.5 million in back taxes. Nothing has been done to collect those taxes or to make the owner take responsibility for demolishing this building. The building has fallen apart – becoming an eyesore and more importantly, a threat to the community. Children often go into the building to play. Homeless people live in this building.
It’s just a matter of time before someone is killed because of a collapsed ceiling or wall.
Downtown or in the suburbs, something would be done, but sitting here year after year, it’s just another reminder that people in Kensington don’t really matter (KWRU,
Schmidt’s Brewery:What’s Left
The old Schmidt’s brewery head sign - © 2007 workshopoftheworld.com
Many Philadelphians were not enthusiastic seeing some of their favorite beer no longer being brewed.
Occasionally customers would have to pick up new tastes provided by the larger beer manufacturers.
Fortunately some were able to see large volume breweries buy up their favorite recipes and obtain them easier than before due to the ease that mass production had on the ability for local markets and taverns to sell some of the more popular brands.
Breweries of Yesterday Today
Today we see a resurgence of Philadelphia brewing and restoration of historic brewing companies.
The Class & Nachod brewery, which F.A. Poth used for manufacturing for a number of years, has been restored and is currently being used as a dormitory for Temple students in North Philadelphia.
Despite Philadelphia’s historic beer fanatics best efforts, many breweries like Schmidt’s and Orlieb’s were demolished.
Prior to brewery demolition there were
between 20 and 30 brewery facilities still erected in the Philadelphia area. As of June 2001 the Schmidt’s site was the only brewery remaining in Philadelphia that had not been razed.
Photographs taken by Rich Wagner July 29th, 2002
Photographs taken by Rich Wagner, April 2001 to June 2002
Historians and Societies
Richard Wagner is a prominent brewery historian and researcher in Philadelphia today.
Mr. Wagner has been involved is a great resource for news and publications related to Post Prohibition era breweries within Philadelphia.
He has kept alive the story of those breweries that have fallen to larger corporations and the “shake out.”
Not only has Rich been in contact with family who previously owned these businesses he is also involved in the resurgence of Philadelphia microbrewing which is very prominent in Philadelphia today.
Places like Noddinghead Brewery, Triumph Brewery, Manayunk Brewery and Pub, Iron Hill Brewery, to name a few, play the role in second generation Philadelphia brewing.
Also involved in tours, Richard Wagner has shown Philadelphia where brewing has come from and where it is headed.
In addition to Richard Wagners involvement, Breweries are also getting involved with remembering Philadelphia breweries.
Philadelphia Brewing Co. has tours of their brewing facility.
PBCo. is also the original home to
Weisbrod & Hess Oriental Brewing Company
They give historical information about their brewery and Weisbrod & Hess during the tours and on their website at
Rawle, Francis. "Philadelphia and popular Philadelphians."
Philadelphia and popular Philadelphians
. 4 Jan. 1982. The North American. 11 Mar. 2009 <
Wagner, Rich. "Sad But True: Demolition of Old Ortlieb's Brewery."
Demolition of Old Ortlieb's Brewery
. 29 July 2002. 11 Mar. 2009 <
Goodman, Roy E., and David G. Orr. "Christian Schmidt and Sons, Inc."
. 1990. 11 Mar. 2009 <
Miller, Carol P. "Encyclopedia of Cleveland History BREWING AND DISTILLING INDUSTRY."
Encyclopedia of Clevelend History BREWING AND DISTILLING INDUSTRY
. 10 July 1997. 15 Mar. 2009 <
Schmidt’s Brewery – What’s Left. Taken from the website:
Wagner, Richard. "Ortlieb's, Brewers by Birth, Since 1869."
Ortlieb's, Brewers by Birth, Since 1869
. Winter 2005. 13 Mar. 2009 <
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