German Immigrants in the United States Brewing Industry


Immigrant groups in the United States sometimes find an economic niche that allows them to become dominant in a particular business, or, at the very least, to become associated with that niche in the public mind. For the German-American community before nationwide Prohibition (1920–1933), domination of the American brewing industry was both a cliché and a reality.

Immigrant groups in the United States sometimes find an economic niche that allows them to become dominant in a particular business, or, at the very least, to become associated with that niche in the public mind. For the German-American community before nationwide Prohibition (1920–1933), domination of the American brewing industry was both a cliché and a reality.[1] Thousands of breweries operated in the United States before national Prohibition began in 1920, many of them founded and led by German immigrant entrepreneurs, and many more had brew masters and workers who were German-born or of German descent. The introduction of lager beer, which replaced ales as America’s favorite beer style in the mid-nineteenth century, is one of the most important legacies of the German immigrant brewers to their new homeland. Even in the twenty-first century, some of the nation’s largest breweries—including Anheuser-Busch, Miller-Coors, and Yuengling—carry their founders’ names from their homeland, and many of their beers, especially the lagers, continue to exist, even if the breweries themselves are now parts of larger multinational corporations.

German immigrants first came to what is now the United States in 1683, settling in Pennsylvania. By the late eighteenth century, they were among the four major non-native groups making up the population of the new United States. While many of the early Germans were farmers, there were tradesmen among them. Most of the breweries begun in Philadelphia in this period were founded by British immigrants, who, naturally, brewed the style of ales from their homeland. Initial German migration was heavily agricultural, but as the nineteenth century progressed, migration from Germany had a higher than average representation of those employed in manufacturing, especially in trade associated with brewing,

Lager Beer Comes to the New World

Lager beer was introduced into the United States about 1840.[2] Beforehand, ales of various strengths were produced in the United States, generally made in small batches and sold locally. Ales use a top fermenting yeast and are ready to drink after fermenting a very short time, often only a few days. They also sour very quickly. Lager beer is most commonly stored cold and made with bottom-fermenting yeast.[3] Modern lagers are usually stored starting at about 50° F (10° C) and lowered to about 35° F (2° C), but temperature ranges in the nineteenth century would have varied as the fermentation process was still only somewhat understood. Depending upon the type of beer and the brew-master’s preferences, lager beer usually takes from six weeks to six months to age. The name itself, lager, come from the German word lagern, “to store.” Most types familiar to American drinkers are made from bottom-fermenting yeast, although a few central European types are not, such as Kölsch, which is also fermented at a somewhat warmer temperature.

Why were lagers introduced so late to the United States? Imported porters and stouts from Britain were available, but lager beers ideally had to be shipped while cool and so were difficult to transport. Moreover, until 1840 lager beer could not be produced in the United States either, because of this same restriction of distance. Lager yeast was needed to brew lager beer, and it was not until the 1830s that travel time from Europe to North America was shortened enough that the special yeast would survive the journey. Other technological developments had their effect as well, as it was not until roughly the same time that brewing technology began to be sophisticated enough to allow brewers to better control the quality of their production. According to traditional accounts, such as the 1903 work 100 Years of Brewing, in the 1830s two young brewers, one from Munich and one from Vienna, visited British brewers and learned how to use the new saccharometer, which allowed them to better measure the sugar resulting from fermentation in wort. This allowed more reliable measurement of the fermentation process. The two young brewers began to make bottom-fermenting beers, although the Munich version was a bit darker than that of Vienna. The lager beers still were made only during certain months of the year: winter beers were made in October, November, March and April; summer beers in December through February.[4] The story about the two eager young German-speaking brewers may well be apocryphal, but the saccharometer did come into greater use at the time and the story reflects the developing scientific understanding of the brewing process. Refinement of this process would continue, changing how lagered beers were produced, eventually resulting in the lighter, drier lagers popular in the United States after Prohibition.

Other factors must be considered as well in the introduction of lager beer into the United States. As noted above, the fermentation process was little understood. The traditional “noble hops” were not yet known in the New World, although two-row barley (the form of barley best suited for use in fermentation) was grown in the northeastern United States well before 1840. The final major technological changes that influenced lager beer were pasteurization and the discovery of pure yeast. Louis Pasteur’s book on fermentation and beer Etudes sur la Bière (“Studies on Beer”) was published in 1876, and disclosed that by heating beer to a temperature just below its boiling point brewers killed harmful bacteria that could affect their beer. In addition, in 1878 Danish chemist E.C. Hansen discovered that certain strains of yeast hurt beer’s flavor, but that by cultivating a strain from a single good cell, brewers could avoid unintentionally making batches of beer spoiled by undesirable types of yeast mixed in with the good. Together these changes made storing and shipping beer over distances while maintaining its flavor more practical.[5] However, these changes came a full generation after lager beer was introduced to the United States. As a result, the earlier lagers likely had small resemblance to modern beers, and even skilled brewmasters would have struggled to make each batch taste just like the previous one.

Credit for brewing the first lager beer in America is usually given to John Wagner, an immigrant brewmaster from Bavaria, who brought yeast from Germany to Philadelphia and started producing lager beer in 1840.[6] From 1840 to 1842 Wagner had a small brewery with an eight gallon kettle, storing the beer in a small structure behind the brewery. This was not a business venture. He was apparently making the beer for friends and neighbors, a taste of home for other German immigrants. Wagner gave some of his yeast to a fellow local brewer, George Manger, who opened his own brewery, also in Philadelphia. The large German population in the area provided a ready market, and other breweries soon began making lager beer, presumably also with Wagner’s Bavarian yeast. One of the largest firms was Engel and Wolf. They could produce 3,500 barrels a year, but, according to the classic account given in 100 Years of Brewing, they often ran out and had to post signs advertising when the next batch of lager would be ready for sale.[7] Of course other brewers began bringing their own yeast from Germany to America after 1840. No doubt the yeast samples were different from each other, which meant these pioneer brewers were each making beers that may have had little in common with each other except they each used bottom-fermenting yeast.

In 1846 John Roessle’s Boston brewery began producing lager beer.[8] Joseph Doelger began lager-beer brewing in New York City that same year.[9] In 1847 John A. Huck and John Schneider began making this new, for America at least, style of beer in Chicago.[10] The Lemp Brewery opened in St. Louis about 1840 and was the first to begin making lager beer in that city.[11] In Milwaukee, which would become one of the points of the “German triangle” of settlement (along with St. Louis and Cincinnati), several brewers were making ales. One local brewer, also named Wagner, wrote to his brother, a brewmaster in Bavaria, and asked him to send lager yeast in 1850. While waiting for delivery, Wagner began to worry that the yeast would not survive the journey, which was almost another 900 miles inland from Philadelphia, and offered it to Philip Best, a fellow brewer. Best agreed to take the yeast and pay for its shipment. When it arrived, it was in a large wooden box full of sawdust. The yeast appeared to be in good shape so Best dried it out and tested it. They had a sixteen-barrel kettle and enough yeast for one batch. It was still good and they produced their lager beer, improving successive batches. Best’s brewery eventually became the Pabst Brewing Company, which was one of the largest breweries in the United States by the end of the century.[12]

Not every historian agrees that Wagner was the first to use lager yeast. According to Maureen Ogle, that honor belongs to two other immigrants, Alexander Stausz and John Klein, who had a small brewery in Alexandria, located in what was then the Virginia portion of the District of Columbia, in 1838. This may be the result of a misplaced date, however, as Stausz and Kline started their brewery in 1858, where they were the first to brew lager beer in Alexandria, then part of the state of Virginia.[13] Likewise, Timothy Holian notes that a local account in Cincinnati claims that Karl Ludwig Fleischmann “was credited with the introduction of lager beer in the city in 1834,” several years before Wagner in Philadelphia. However, this account was first recorded several decades later. Cincinnati city directories do not record a “Karl Fleischman” listing in the city at that time, but there were listings for a brewer named “Lewis C Flushman” at the spot where Fleishman owned his saloon and a “Flashman” is listed at a location where Karl Fleishman operated a brewery later in the decade. Moreover, Fleishman sold his brewery to Conrad Muentzenberger and Francis Fortmann whose Bavarian Brewery is normally credited with making the first lager beer in Cincinnati in 1846. However, if Fleischmann had introduced lager beer to Cincinnati in 1834, that would have been very early in its use even in Germany. For example, the first Pilsner Urquell wasn’t brewed until 1842. It seems likely that the Fleischmann story was the result of a mixing of memories and that Wagner still deserves the credit for introducing lager to America in 1840. However, as noted earlier, this lager beer likely bore little relationship to modern lagers as a scientific understanding of the brewing process was still a few decades in the future. The introduction of laagered beer should be understood as an important step in a much more complicated process rather than as a stand-alone sudden change.[14]

German Leadership in the Industry

It was not long before German immigrants began to dominate the American beer industry, and to become the industry’s leaders. In 1862 John N. Katzenmayer, began to form a new organization that would become the United States Brewers’ Association. A native of Baden, he was one of the 48ers, political refugees who fled to America after the failed Revolution of 1848 in Germany. He settled in New York and joined the A. Schmid & Co. brewery. Katzenmayer sent a letter to the brewers in New York and the surrounding area, urging them to attend a meeting to discuss forming an association that would act to protect their common interests. The association would start off dealing with local issues, such as dealing with debtor saloons that jumped from one brewery to another as supplier without paying their bills. Very quickly, however, the group started dealing with larger issues, especially increased federal taxation during the Civil War. In 1862 Washington imposed a $1.00 a barrel tax on beer. Eager to prove their patriotism, especially after the nativism of the 1850s, the USBA did not object to paying the tax, but they did lobby to make sure that it did not increase. Association members also successfully used their expertise in brewing to convince Washington that the tax should not be applied to those barrels of beer created before the tax went into effect which were sitting in aging cellars.[15]

Reflecting its origins, the USBA initially held all of their meetings in German. As the Association’s official history noted,

The entire body of convention delegates consisted of German-Americans, a majority of whom, although sufficiently familiar with the English language to fully understand it when spoken, were not capable of expressing themselves in that tongue with such fluency, correctness and accuracy as the occasion required; on the other hand, the order of business was submitted in German and it was in this language that the temporary chairman opened the convention. As there was not a single brewer present who could not understand and speak German, while only a few delegates spoke English fluently, the German was adopted as a matter of course and without any preliminary agreement to that effect, either expressed or implied.[16]

While the brewers in attendance did not object, the use of German reflected the organization’s focus on brewers who made lagers as opposed to ales. Some USBA members undoubtedly made ales in addition to lagers, but the association excluded those who made only ales, or mainly focused on ales. Indeed, the organization was initially named the Lager-Beer Brewers’ Association. The use of German, however, alienated many ale brewers. It’s likely that many of them were not German, especially as ales were more popular in Britain. At the second meeting of the Association in 1863, a small delegation of ale manufactures attended and were made honorary members of the Association. At the fourth meeting, held in Milwaukee in 1864, the organization was officially named the United States Brewers’ Association (USBA), abandoning the “Lager” in their name, as an effort to promote cooperation with their fellows making ale. They also began holding more sessions in English, rather than exclusively using German.[17] Katzenmayer’s organization flourished. From its local beginnings, it united numerous regional associations and finally formed a national organization.

The locations of the meetings also illustrate the German-American influence. The first eight meetings were held, respectively, in New York (1862), Philadelphia (1863), and in Cincinnati later that same year. In 1864 the Association met in Milwaukee, and in the four following years in Baltimore, St. Louis, Chicago, and Buffalo. These were all cities with a large German immigrant population, ranging from seven percent of the total population in Philadelphia to fifty percent in St. Louis. On average, almost a fifth of the population of each of these cities was German-born according to the 1860 federal census. While twenty percent may not seem like an overwhelming percentage, in six of the eight cities the German-American population was the largest single immigrant group. In the remaining two, New York and Philadelphia, they were second only to the Irish, and these two cities’ German-immigrant communities were long-established with a history of forming their own associations and social groups. Finally, because the census report did not count American citizens of German ancestry, generally the children of immigrants, the percentages in several of the cities, especially Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York are likely lower than the total proportion of residents with German ancestry. In short, the brewers met in the cities in which the German immigrant population was most heavily concentrated.[18]

The German immigrants who formed and dominated the early USBA certainly would have been familiar with the functions of the craft guilds. No doubt many, if not most of them, had learned their trade through the apprenticeship process back in Germany. While the traditional system for training new craftsmen was on the wane in Germany in the nineteenth century, it still was active for some skills, including brewing at the time when the first large cohort of German-born brewers was young. The idea of banding together with commercial rivals to guard against interference from outside forces would have been a familiar one. The European guild system never caught on in the United States as it came into conflict with the idea of competition in an open market. But the USBA fit comfortably with the American tendency to form associations. One contemporary publication noted that the commercial association “softens the asperities of competition, it reconciles apparently conflicting interests, and it demonstrates that the common welfare is the best basis for individual prosperity.”[19]

The number of trade associations such as the USBA dramatically increased in the nineteenth century, beginning in the 1850s and continuing well into the twentieth century. The USBA was just one among many such groups.[20] They were part of a larger trend dating back several decades for Americans to form voluntary associations, a trend foreign observers including Alexis de Tocqueville noted. Clubs, temperance groups, religious groups, fire-fighting squads, political groups, and countless others formed. They often played a quasi-governmental role in regulating members. Merchant associations developed codes of conduct, set business standards, and helped members guard against dishonest customers and suppliers. Indeed, one of the rationales for creating the USBA was to exchange information about dishonest liquor dealers. Associations also lobbied local, state, and the federal government to pass legislation beneficial to their trade, or lobbied against proposed laws that might hinder it. In some ways such associations mirrored the role the traditional craft guilds and journeymen associations played in Europe.[21]

The USBA fit the brewers’ social community as well. German immigrants often formed community groups, such as Sängerbunds and Turnverein. Gerald Gamm and Robert Putnam noted that Germans “supported an especially dense network of associations.”[22] They attended the same churches and their children married each other. Their breweries were family businesses, run by fathers, sons, uncles, and nephews, as well as the occasional daughter or widow.[23] These social and family ties built the social capital needed to create the trust necessary for the workings of a trade association. Because they are made up of business rivals such groups had to overcome mistrust of each other’s motives and willingness to abide by group decisions. However, the ties built outside of this business created the “trust, norms, and networks” the not only allowed the creation of trade associations, they created the foundations the new associations built upon.[24]

German-American brewers were quickly coming to dominate the industry. Walter Kamphoefner’s essay for this project on “The German Component to American Industrialization” notes that U.S. Census reports from the late nineteenth century indicate “German immigrants were most heavily concentrated, in both absolute and relative terms, in the manufacturing sector,” which included breweries. German immigrants and their (male) children comprised a bit under eleven percent of the total American labor force. However, over eighty percent of all brewers were immigrants from the German lands, as were over seventy-five percent of pork butchers and sausage makers, forty-four percent of saloon-keepers, and a third of all bartenders. Butchering, like brewing, was a trade often associated with inns in small German towns, and apprentices sometimes were taught both trades together. For example, Washington, D.C.’s largest brewer, Christian Heurich, was apprenticed to learn both trades in the late 1850s in Saxe-Meiningen.[25] Theodore Hamm of St. Paul never learned the brewing trade, but he was apprenticed as a butcher and began his business career by running a beer garden where he served homemade sausages before branching out into brewing. German-American dominance of the brewing trade was, as Kamphoefner observes, especially impressive as it was not a minor business in the United States. The industry employed over 15,000 workers according to the 1880 census. The predominance of German saloon-keepers is likewise notable, as there were approximately 21,000 employed in that trade, as well as another 8,500 listed as bartenders.[26] In comparison, there were fewer than 500 employed as pork butchers or sausage makers, making German-American dominance of those fields somewhat less remarkable.[27]

Concentrations of particular ethnic groups within a specific industry has long been a popular topic for those studying immigrant communities. Several factors have historically influenced the ability of particular immigrant groups to dominate specific economic niches, at least for a time. The creation of a new niche, especially as the result of a new technology emerging, is a commonly repeated theme. The success of Greek immigrants opening early movie theaters, and the influence of Eastern European Jewish immigrants on motion pictures in the early twentieth century, are notable examples of a recently arrived group moving into an area where there were no established powerful competitors who could exclude them.[28]

In addition, immigrant groups can take advantage of opportunities where the demand for labor is greater than the demand for capital. Immigrant restaurants, small shops, and pushcarts in New York all fit that model. Another factor may be that a particular group’s existing cultural values and traditional skills create favorable conditions for entry into a particular field. Changing tastes on the part of American society as a whole can create an economic opportunity. Examples of the adoption of the American public of various foods once considered “ethnic” are too numerous to list, but most certainly include lager beer.[29] Finally, immigrant groups have traditionally been able to find networking opportunities within their own group once they were in the United States.[30] These factors all contributed to German-American dominance of the domestic brewing industry over the course of the nineteenth century.

Looking at the last factors first, there were German immigrant neighborhoods in many American cities, especially in the mid-Atlantic seaboard and the industrial Midwest. New York’s Kleindeutschland dominated the Lower East Side for decades. The three cities delineating the “German triangle” had heavily German sections, such as Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, as did other cities within the region such as Chicago and Columbus. It was in these German immigrant neighborhoods that many German brewers had their start. There, German-American brewers began to dominate the local brewing industry immediately largely because they were among the very first brewers to begin production in cities that had large German immigrant populations. In older cities, such as New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, the local German-American community provided a ready market, allowing new brewers making lager beers to gain a foothold in the industry. Wagner’s giving samples of his yeast to his German-American friends, for example, illustrates the importance of networking. In addition, many brewers began by working in established companies before starting their own. Washington’s Christian Heurich, for example, first found work as a brewer in Baltimore as a member of the local immigrant community. He worked in German immigrant–run breweries in Illinois and finally found a business partner, fellow immigrant Paul Ritter, while working in Baltimore’s Jacob Seegar’s Lager Brewery. Heurich’s story was repeated over and again as young men came to America from Germany, worked in a brewery, and then left to start their own. Moreover, immigrants often found jobs through their own community, so once a particular group came to dominate a specific field, jobs there often continued to go to the same group through the simple mechanism of personal contacts.

Breweries were an established business in all but the newest cities, but the rapid growth of new cities, especially in the Midwest, West, and even in parts of the South, meant that there were new business areas opening that were not dominated by established companies. It’s no accident that some of the largest breweries on the late nineteenth century, such as Philip Best’s in Milwaukee and Christian Moerlein’s in Cincinnati, opened when their cities were still relatively new and growing. Thus a young immigrant hoping to establish a new brewery of his own could find a new town or city without a large established company already dominating the market and start selling his own product. For example, Heurich moved to Washington in 1872, as the city was expanding in size. Further south and west, Roanoke, Virginia grew rapidly in the 1880s and 1890s due to the railroad. In 1889, a German immigrant named L. A. Scholz, who had worked as the brew master at J.H. Von der Horst & Son in Baltimore, moved to Roanoke and began the Virginia Brewing Company, which sold its product throughout western and central Virginia. Like many other brewers he brought family members from Germany to help him run his brewery. Christian Heurich, for example, brought over his nephews.[31] While brewing was certainly not a new industry, population growth in the United States and, in particular, rapid urbanization meant that new markets were constantly being created. Meanwhile, the technological limits on selling and shipping beer over long distances meant that a new company could establish a foothold without effective competition from large, established rivals elsewhere.

The growth of the large national shipping breweries did not mean that they dominated the industry in the nineteenth century. Most breweries were small and sold their product locally, either for consumption on-site at attached saloons or beer gardens, or at local saloons. As a result, breweries proliferated. For example, in Manhattan there were well over fifty breweries operating in 1871, plus another two dozen in Brooklyn.[32] Baltimore, with its large German-American population, had over forty breweries, but, in contrast, nearby Washington, which had a very small German-American community, only had a handful of operating breweries. The capital city was probably underserved, as a number of new breweries rushed to fill the gap. Between 1873 and 1876 at least twelve breweries opened in the District. Not many were long-lived. Six closed in a year or two. Four of the remainder went out of business by 1885. One lasted into the twentieth century, but closed before the beginning of local prohibition in 1917.[33] This was not an unusual attrition rate. Not all new breweries prospered. The mean longevity of a brewery was 14.6 years, while the median length of time a brewery stayed in business was only eight years.[34] The failure of even small breweries, however, created openings for new ones.

A sudden increase in new breweries in a given city was not a phenomenon unique to Washington in the 1870s. Carroll and Swaminathan’s study of brewery openings and closings from 1633 to 1988 demonstrated that a “density dependence” operated with brewers as it did for other businesses. The theory of density dependence argues that as different examples of a particular type of business open, this creates a sense of “legitimacy” which attracts other businesspeople to open similar businesses. This sense of legitimacy does not necessarily include a moral sense, although with breweries that played a role as well. Instead, legitimacy refers to a business demonstrating that it is viable. This will attract competition.

In the case of breweries in the 1870s, a second, moral sense of the word also applies in the wake of the antebellum temperance movement. The temperance movement had reached a peak in the 1850s. In 1851 Maine passed a law banning alcoholic beverages. Twelve other states quickly followed with their own “Maine Laws,” but the movement stalled as it became clear that these laws were unpopular and unworkable. Maine, for example, suffered numerous anti-temperance riots. The Civil War further weakened the temperance cause as soldiers drank to fight cold and boredom and the U.S. government implemented taxes on whiskey and beer to finance the war. Beginning in August 1862 brewers had to pay $1.00 a barrel tax while distillers had to pay 20 cents per proof gallon. These taxes remained in place and became an important financial resource for the federal government even after the war ended. However, the temperance movement persisted and there was strong suspicion among some parts of American society that making and selling alcoholic beverages was not a legitimate business.[35]

The growth of a German-American brewing industry should not be taken to mean that German community in the United States drank exclusively lager beer or other malted beverages. Wine and whiskey were also popular drinks back home, and many German immigrants to the United States entered the whiskey-distilling business.[36] In the United States, however, wine was not as readily available, and often of very poor quality. Whiskey was available, but even before large numbers of German had migrated to the United States, it was increasingly associated with saloons, excessive drinking, and public drunkenness. The antebellum temperance movement attacks on higher-alcohol distilled liquor were successful in reducing whiskey consumption, although they were not able to successfully ban it completely. The early temperance movement spent less effort on attacking malt beverages as it did distilled products. Nonetheless, beer also acquired some of the same negative reputation as whiskey, rum, and gin.[37]

As large numbers of Germans began to migrate to the United States, they found that in their new homeland producing lager beer carried less cultural baggage than did liquor distilling. Nonetheless, lager beer did not suddenly appear as if by magic with the first German migrants, although this image is implied in modern popular culture. Rather, the German-American community and the popularity of lager beer grew together. While not exactly like the lagers of home, American lagers of whatever style were certainly closer to the familiar beers of Germany than the existing English-style ales. Moreover, as technical advances allowed brewers to make their product more consistently, and as knowledge, training, and people moved back and forth between Germany and America, new German immigrants would find increasingly familiar products to consume in the New World.

Saloon Culture

American saloon culture derived from colonial taverns, and German-American barkeeps adapted to it. This meant establishing saloons as a male space and maintaining this appeal by evoking a specific atmosphere. Dark woods and brass predominated. Pictures of favorite sporting figures were popular, including boxers and racehorses, as was risqué art. Women were admitted into saloons under particular constraints and with pre-specified roles. Prostitutes were permitted to frequent some saloons, although they were often harassed even when they were allowed to enter. Many establishments had a separate “ladies’ entrance.” A woman could use this door, often entering an anteroom physically separate from the rest of the establishment, and buy beer to carry away with her.

In contrast to the saloon, Germans had a different model for alcohol consumption, the beer garden. Intended for families, they were a direct contrast to the saloon’s male-only space. Carried over from central European traditions, beer gardens were usually set outside, where families could sit and enjoy pleasant weather while listening to popular music and both men and women could drink beer. Couples could dance, young people could flirt, and children could play—a far cry from the world of the all-male saloon, even if the two often existed physically side-by-side.

Breweries in the nineteenth century often had a beer garden attached. This allowed them to promote their product, but also provided a model of temperate consumption of their beers in a family-friendly setting. The beer gardens were often lavishly decorated, and those run by the largest brewers could themselves be spacious and ornate. For example, Schlitz Brewing in Milwaukee purchased an existing beer garden and turned it into Schlitz Park. According to historian Carl Miller:

The large garden was a virtual entertainment mecca, featuring a concert pavilion, a dance hall, a bowling alley, refreshment parlors, and live performers such as tightrope walkers and other circus-style entertainers. In the center of the park was a hill topped by a three-story pagoda-like structure which offered a panoramic view of the city. At night, the garden was dramatically illuminated by the 250 gas globes which lined the terrace of the central hill. The park was a popular spot for political gatherings. Among those who made speeches at Schlitz Park over the years were Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Jennings Bryan.[38]

Many beer gardens were set on the edges of the cities, close enough to be accessible but with room to expand. As historian Luke Ritter has noted, they offered a “figurative and literal escape” from “assimilation” as well as from the city.[39] Some beer gardens were outside city limits, allowing them to evade local “blue laws” prohibiting most forms of recreation on Sundays. Built on suburban property, often itself owned by German-Americans, such gardens attracted large numbers of German immigrants and their families to travel, often after church, for Sunday afternoon recreation. In areas where the city limits were too large to make suburban locations an easy trip, beer gardens were set just outside the heaviest areas of development. In the District of Columbia, for example, one of the two local Schützenverein set up its park, which doubled as a beer garden, in the 1880s on what was then Seventh Avenue on the edge of the settled part of the city of Washington.[40] The beer gardens, however, regardless of where they were located, clashed with the predominant Anglo-Protestant Sabbatarian idea that Sundays were for church and family, not public recreation. This was a point of conflict between the American German communities and their Anglo neighbors for much of the nineteenth century. For example, July 4, 1852 fell on a Sunday, so public celebrations in St. Louis were scheduled for the fifth. The sizable local German immigrant community held a parade on the fourth anyway, although they waited until they were outside the city limits before their bands began to play and the celebrations began. So worried were they about retaliation that many of the men were armed. While no violence broke out, there were cries for the Germans to be prosecuted for violating the Sabbath. One English-language newspaper sniffed that it wasn’t patriotism that motivated the celebration, but the general German desire to “have a frolic on a leisure day.”[41]

There was a large overlap between nativist groups, such as the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s, and pro-temperance groups. They found a common enemy in the large numbers of Irish-American and German-American voters. Images of “whiskey-soaked Irishmen” and “the lager-loving German” combined fears of aliens and fear of what they consumed. For example, in Chicago the Know-Nothings elected Levi Boone as mayor in 1855. Boone’s supporters claimed that “the grog shops are crowded” with Irishmen lured to the city by his opponent, incumbent Democrat Isaac Milliken, to pad the voter rolls. After Boone’s victory, he promptly began enforcing twenty-year-old laws that closed saloons on Sundays. He also backed new legislation raising the license fee for saloons from fifty dollars a year to three hundred (or from roughly $1,300 to $7,800 in 2010 dollars). Boone also increased the size of the police force, making sure the new members were native-born Americans. Immigrant saloonkeepers began to complain that the police’s saloon law enforcement concentrated on immigrant-owned businesses while allowing their American-owned competitors to remain open. Boone’s supporters in the press were pleased. The Chicago Tribune noted “lager beer saloons in the city were kept closed” and “there was consequently a great scarcity of drunken men, and the noise and confusion were most gratefully diminished.” However, other papers reported that many immigrant saloons remained open and called for citizens to report saloons that violated the laws, especially those in the immigrant sections of the city.[42]

In April 1855, less than two months after the crackdown had begun, eight German saloonkeepers came up for trial for violating the Sunday law. On the heavily German north side of Chicago, speakers harangued public crowds to go to the courthouse to support their compatriots. Mayor Boone called for his nativist-dominated police to keep the peace, and deputized another 150 men to supplement their number. He also “sent spies to the German sections” to gauge their intentions. Their reports were alarming: “five thousand North Side Germans were armed and prepared to burn city hall and hang the mayor.” The actual protest was considerably smaller than 5,000, perhaps 600 total, and included not only Germans but armed and angry Irishmen armed with “guns, swords, knives, and clubs.” As the mob swarmed across the Clark Street bridge towards the courthouse, some of them began to fire on the police. Police fired on the crowd, killing one man, a German cigar maker. Some militia units were called out, several dozen rioters were arrested, and two Irish men were charged with starting the riot.[43] The nativist Tribune blamed “ignorant Catholic and lager beer selling Germans, many of whom do not understand a single sentence of the English language.” They also blamed the Democratic newspapers and the German-language Staaz Zeitung for “disseminating the beliefs of the politicians among the lower grade of citizens.”[44] Leaving aside the notion that the press should not tell the people what their politicians were saying, the Tribune also joined the immigrants with the “lower class” of citizens. The next election, held in late 1855, saw Mayor Boone ousted and replaced by a new mayor who promised to treat all the communities equally. There were still efforts to enforce the Sunday closing laws, but they were not as vigorous, nor did they single out a single community. The two Irish scapegoats were convicted of rioting, but then were granted new trials which were never held.[45]

Chicago did not have the only anti-German riot that year. On July 4, 1855 in Columbus, Ohio, nativists attacked a parade of Turners returning from a picnic at a local park near the center of the German-American community, undoubtedly one where lager beer was enjoyed.[46] On August 5, 1855, in Louisville, Kentucky, Know-Nothings began attacking Irish and German immigrant neighborhoods. The violence stemmed from that day’s election as gangs of nativists staked out polling places to stop Democrats from voting in order to throw the election to the Know-Nothings. Rioters attacked German- and Irish-owned businesses, including two breweries owned by German immigrants. William Armbruster’s brewery was burned down (it later reopened) but attempts to set fire to Adolph Peter’s brewery next door failed. Numerous families left Louisville after the riot, including about 100 German families that moved north, many to German-friendly Milwaukee.[47]

Cincinnati also had its own anti-German riot, in early April 1855. After the nativist candidate for mayor lost, mobs began to move towards immigrant neighborhoods, especially Over-the-Rhine. As in Louisville, they attacked brewery workers and breweries. None of the latter were seriously damaged, but some brewery workers were badly injured, and Georg Röder, a brewery foreman, was mortally wounded. Cincinnati’s nativists blamed the failure of campaigns to enact so-called “Maine Laws” banning alcoholic beverages on the German and Irish communities. The local Turnvereine, they complained, were filled with city residents who “find liquor indispensable” and gathered to “listen to the profane babblings of infidels.” For their part, German-American efforts to reassure their neighbors that lager beer was not intoxicating may well have backfired. They used such examples as “Joseph Siser—who weighs two hundred and twenty-five pounds—drank an average of about fifty glasses a day. It never hurt him any.” “Philip Koch testified to drinking a keg of lager on a bet, within a space of two hours…He felt comfortable afterward, and was not intoxicated.” Such testimonials did little to reassure temperance advocates, but rather convinced them that lager beer drinkers drank to excess.[48]

The Spread of Lager’s Popularity

The Civil War, however, stalled the growing temperance movement. It also helped spread the popularity of lager beer outside the German community. German-Americans were wide-spread in the Union Army. They made up the largest single ethnic group in the North’s army as over 200,000 German natives served. Recruiting advertisements appeared in German language newspapers in the North in German-heavy cities, including St. Louis, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. There were numerous German-speaking regiments, led by the 9th Ohio, made up of men from the Cincinnati area.[49]

The mixing of city and country boys in the ranks also helped spread lager’s popularity. The United States was still very much a rural country in 1861. According to the 1860 census only about 20% of Americans lived in towns or cities of 2,500 or more population.[50] A majority of German immigrants, however, settled in urban areas. Certainly that’s where the larger breweries were found. They brought their taste for lager beer with them, and as the war mixed units of rural young men with urban, they also mixed experiences. Sutlers, private merchants who sold supplies to soldiers, were a common source of alcohol, including lager beer, which was enjoyed by German and non-German soldiers alike. An additional source of exposure to lager beer came as soldiers passed through or were stationed near cities where there were lager beer breweries. For example, Washington was surrounded and protected by over sixty Union forts, and the city was full of hospitals for wounded troops during the war. It was also home to several lager beer breweries, all operated by German immigrants. No doubt many thousands of young men from the countryside first tasted lager beer made by Ernst Loeffler, George Juenemann, or John Kozel between 1861 and 1865.[51]

Lager beer’s popularity was spreading beyond the German community. It was less bitter than ales or porters, and its clear body contrasted nicely with its rivals’ cloudy aspect. It also appealed to some temperance groups as preferable to higher alcohol distilled beverages, although this was not true of all anti-alcohol groups. The amount of beer consumed per person in the United States rose steadily. It was slightly over one gallon of beer, per person, in 1840. By 1860 that figure had risen to 3.8 gallons. By 1875 Americans were consuming a bit over six gallons of beer per year.[52] New technologies allowed beer to be produced and marketed more effectively. Artificial refrigeration, absolutely critical for lager production to increase, became available in the 1870s, and was in wide use by breweries in the 1880s. Refrigerated railcars allowed the big national shipping brewers to market their product throughout the country. Moreover, increased understanding of the scientific processes involved in brewing meant that brewers could make a more consistent product. This would help cement consumers’ taste for lager beer. It also helped win customer loyalty to specific brands, which also developed at this time.

The dominance of German-Americans in the brewing industry by the 1880s is illustrated by the fact that all of the large shipping brewers largely German, and they were produced in cities with large German immigrant populations. Milwaukee could boast of the lagers produced by Valentine Blatz, the Uihlein brothers’ Schlitz Brewery, and Frederick Pabst’s Pabst Brewery. Cincinnati beer made by Christian Moerlein was sold around the US, and St. Louis’s Adolphus Busch sold his beer across the country, as did his neighbor William J. Lemp. George Ehret's Hell Gate Brewery in New York was the largest brewery in the United States. However, as Americans began to move across the continent, establishing new communities and new cities, there were often new breweries established for the local community, commonly with German names and German brewers.

Even after the Civil War, once lager beer’s popularity had spread beyond the German community, the mixture of beer and the German “Continental Sunday” could spark conflict. Consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially on Sunday, was even a divisive issue in the newly-established National Baseball league in the 1870s. Baseball was a popular sport, but the stadiums became known for tolerating gamblers, prostitutes, and other unsavory types as much as for the game. In an attempt to clean up the game’s image, and appeal to a more respectable upper middle class audience, the league banned alcohol sales, Sunday games, and raised the ticket price to fifty cents each, making it too expensive for lower and working class fans. The League was unstable financially, as clubs folded and were replaced by new ones. In 1880 a new team began in Worcester, Massachusetts, and a local newspaper began complaining about the sale of beer and use of baseball parks in the home cities of other teams. Apparently Cincinnati was an especially notable violator. After the season the League president announced that such violations of Sunday rules had to stop. When the Cincinnati team’s president refused, the team was expelled from the National League. The Cincinnati Enquirer tried to explain the team’s insistence to the League, “We drink beer in Cincinnati as freely as you used to drink milk, and it is not a mark of disgrace either.”[53]

It was no accident that it was a German dominated city that broke these particular rules. In response, several new owners, four German-American brewers, met in Cincinnati in 1881 to form a new professional league; the American Association. Known derogatively as “The Beer and Whiskey League” the American Association began with teams in six cities, four of which were among those cities with large German immigrant populations, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. One of the most important leaders of this new league was German immigrant Christian von der Ahe. A St. Louis saloon and brewery investor, he managed the St. Louis team to four pennants in the 1880s, and later put a beer garden in his ballpark. The Reds’ owner was Justus Thorner, who had wanted to sell beer at games from the J.G. Sohn & Company.[54] The Association thrived during the 1880s, and at the end of the decade, its most successful teams, including those in St. Louis and Cincinnati, rejoined the National League. One of the short-lived replacement teams that joined the Association when Cincinnati left was the Milwaukee Brewers.

The conflict between Anglo-Protestant Worcester, Massachusetts and Germanic Cincinnati was emblematic of a much larger conflict. Consumption of alcoholic beverages was one of the markers used by nativists to mark someone as foreign, perhaps too foreign to assimilate. While accusations that the Irish were drunken whiskey drinkers were common, references to the Germans as lager drinkers were almost as frequent. This association of alcohol consumption with specific immigrant groups “widened the cultural gap between native and immigrant by placing each as an opponent to the other’s way of life.” In response, nativists viewed immigrants as either a group to lift up, to train to live in a more civilized, that is assimilated, way. The other was to view the immigrant as a threat, as “immoral creatures that threaten our safety and institutions.”[55] For the German-American population, either treatment was unacceptable. Most did not care to give up their Sunday recreation and could not accept the Temperance campaign’s rejection of beer. Not only did it strike at their freedom to enjoy themselves, it threatened the growing success of German brewers who were beginning to sell more lager beer, not only to Germans, but to other ethnicities as well.

Technological Development

The skill of brewing advanced on both sides of the Atlantic, with ideas and technology moving back and forth from Europe to America and back. One of the most important developments was in refrigeration. Germany was the leader in new brewing technology in the nineteenth century, and the German brewers in the United States followed advances closely. One of the most important developments was artificial refrigeration. Lager beer required storage at temperatures just above freezing. This required the use of ice to keep the beer cool, and even then, it was only practical in the northern United States. Use of ice from rivers and ponds had its own sanitation issues, especially as it was usually cut by men using horses walking across the ice pulling special saws. The horses would do what horses do, and although the ice was cleansed before being sold, it was still not especially sanitary. Moreover, natural ice was available only during winter months, had to be stored the rest of the year, and it often required shipping, which was expensive. Making artificial ice would ensure that it was sanitary and available year round. It was natural then, that as artificial refrigeration became available, brewers making lager beer were among the very first to use this new technology. Brooklyn brewer Samuel Liebmann, a 48er from Württemberg, was among the very first to use artificial cooling in 1870.[56] Brewers had a variety of systems to choose from. One popular system was the creation of Franz Windhausen of Braunschweig, in Lower Saxony. His air-cooling machine was installed in Hildebrand’s brewery in Pfungstadt in 1872, and in Cincinnati’s Christian Moerlein’s brewery between 1873 and 1875. He continued to create new and better systems, including an ice machine in 1881 that could produce fifteen tons of ice a day. Windhausen’s machines, and those built by others, were soon adopted by breweries throughout the United States and Germany alike.[57]

Trade journals enabled brewers to follow these types of developments in brewing technology. Not only new machinery, but new discoveries in biology and chemistry were published as were new ways to package and to promote the brewers’ products. The first such journal in Germany began in the 1850s and the second, Allgemeine Brauer und Hopfen-zeitung was published in Nürnberg starting in 1861. The first brewery journal in the United States was founded in 1868 by A. Schwarz. Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer was published in New York, followed by the American Brewers Gazette. The importance of Germans in the United States industry is evidenced in the popularity of these journals that were published in German. Der Brauer und Mälzer and Der Braumesiter aided the brewer, along with the German and American Brewers Journal and The Western Brewer. But even the English language titles published some of their sections in German until early in the twentieth century. In contrast, although German brewers were also working in Britain, the trade journals in the UK had English titles, the French journals had French titles, etc. Only in the United States were the brewery journals published in an immigrant language.[58]

Brewing laboratories and schools also spread to the United States. Perhaps the first in Europe was run by Dr. Carl Reischauer in Munich. By 1877 it was “the property of an association of brewers” and published The Chemistry of Beer. Germans were not alone in using science to improve brewing: the Carlsberg laboratory was created in 1875 by Jacob Christian Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg Brewery in Denmark. The United States was also an early adaptor of such research, led by Dr. John Ewald Siebel, a native of Dusseldorf and a graduate of the University of Berlin. Upon immigrating to America, he moved to Chicago where he founded the Zymotechnic Institute in 1868. A prolific researcher and author of numerous scientific papers, he also edited The Western Brewer. Similar schools followed. In 1886 German native Dr. Robert Wahl and Danish-born Dr. Max Henius founded the Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology in Chicago. These were not true brewing schools at first, but research facilities. Brewing schools began to replace the traditional apprenticeship method of training new brewers in Germany in the 1860s. In the United States, in 1880 Bohemian Anton Schwarz founded his own research laboratory in New York and it became the first American brewing academy. The school, and Schwarz’s laboratory research, helped spread the popularity of Bohemian lager in the United States. Siebel and Wahl-Henius soon followed with combined research facilities and training schools. Additional facilities followed in Milwaukee and in New York.[59]

This cross-current of research and technological advances was no doubt aided by the transnational nature of the brewing industry. German expertise was valued not just in the United States, but in Britain and its colonial dominions, in Mexico, and even in Japan, where German brew masters were hired by local start-up breweries. German brewing expertise also followed the German flag after 1871, as Germany joined the other imperialist powers in establishing colonies and spheres of influence in Africa and Asia. Other nations sometimes sent their own brewing students to Germany as well. German equipment was shipped overseas to equip breweries around the world. In an age of nationalism, where the world powers competed for influence, German brewers were proud of their influence and leadership in their chosen field.[60]

One field where their expertise could be displayed, and measured against international competition, were world fairs. Generally credited to having started with the 1851 London “Great Exposition,” world fairs allowed nations to show off their industry, agricultural products, and to promote their goods for sales around the world. The first of the great American fairs was the Centennial Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. Beers from around the United States and Europe competed for awards. The Blatz and Schlitz breweries entered their newly bottled beers, which competed against imported bottles of German lagers—German immigrants pitting their best against the products of their homeland. Of even greater importance, the fair helped spread the taste for lager beer among the non-German-American population. Ironically, this was made possible in part by anti-alcohol advocates. Temperance campaigners had succeeded in banning hard liquor from the fairgrounds, but not beer and wine, and lager beer proved to be exceptionally popular in the hot, humid Philadelphia summer. Philip J. Lauber opened a German restaurant and beer garden at the fair that could seat 1,000 customers at a time. It served wine and other types of beer as well, but a German immigrant named Bernhard Stroh, who founded Detroit’s Stroh Brewery, made a Bohemian-style lager, Erlanger Beer, for Lauber to serve his customers. Over ten million people visited the fair, and, as Andrew Smith notes, by the fair’s end “many of them had sampled lager beer for the first time” and brought their new-found appreciation for it back home.[61]

By 1880 there was at least one lager beer brewery, sometimes many more than one, in seventeen of the twenty largest cities in the United States, as well as in innumerable smaller ones. In the remaining cities, lager beer from nearby areas was available.[62] Ale was still more popular than lager in New England, which was, not coincidentally, the region with the lowest percentage of German immigrants, but throughout the rest of the country lagers were now the most popular malted beverage. These included not just the Bohemian Pilser and Helles, but also Bock beers in the spring, Märzenbier, Vienna lagers, and a variety of other specialty types.[63]

Labor Issues and the German-American Community

Breweries were an important part of the labor movement of the nineteenth century. Early breweries were small, often just the master brewer and a few workers, reflecting the traditional master-journeymen-apprentice division of labor, even if the apprenticeship system for brewing did not catch on in the United States. As the breweries grew, of course the workforces they hired did as well. Days were long; fourteen to eighteen hours a day, six days a week, plus six to eight hours on Sundays, were common. As one union publication noted:

…it might be said that they were always working except when they were asleep. [In 1863,] a foreman malter from Buffalo report[ed]… “Work began at five o'clock in the morning, and, with the exception of an hour for breakfast and for dinner, it lasted until six in the evening. At eight the men went to work again, in order to finish their floor and kiln work, which lasted until half-past nine or ten o'clock.”[64]

In the 1870s and 1880s the day often began at four in the morning, and sometimes as early as two a.m., with the workday continuing until dark the following evening. It’s telling that in 1889, when St. Louis brewery workers got a new contract, their union succeeded in reducing their work week to twelve hours a day, six days a week. Wages for these long hours were not generous. In the 1860s they averaged about twenty to twenty-five dollars a month (in annual terms, between $5,100 and $5,670 in 2010 dollars), increasing to about fourteen dollars a week by the 1880s (in annual terms, about $17,400 in 2010 dollars).[65] One benefit was the sternewirth, the traditional German brewery beverage privilege, providing the worker all the free beer he could consume. This, supposedly, made up for the long hours, but it could also lead to alcoholism. Some breweries provided room and board, which in a small brewery might simply mean that the workers lived with the brewery owner’s family. Larger breweries could contract with local boarding houses, which also sold the brewery’s beer, copying a practice common in the German system where boarding houses were established specifically for journeymen to live. Some brewers charged for room and board, often about five dollars a week, which could significantly decrease a worker’s salary. Sometimes the “room” in “room and board” was simply allowing the exhausted worker to sleep on a hops sack in the brewery. Finally, violence in the workplace was not uncommon, as managers could strike workers as a disciplinary measure.[66]

Most breweries were still very small, five or six workers were the norm, including the owner/brewer. The number of employees on average in American breweries doubled from 1870 to 1880 and then doubled again from 1880 to 1890 when the average had increased to twenty-six workers per brewery, and the majority were still from the German-American community. These larger numbers included foremen, but not necessarily the owner except in the smallest firms. Working conditions varied, although the work was always hard, and the conditions often unpleasant. The brew kettles had to be kept hot, which could lead to stifling conditions. In 1888 ten brewery workers died of heatstroke in St. Louis alone during the hot summer. On the other extreme, working in the cold lagering vaults and ice houses could lead to rheumatism. Workers who were too old to work elsewhere might find themselves in the bottle shop, at least after 1880 when bottling became more common. This could also be dangerous as over-pressurized bottles could explode into the worker’s eyes. It says something about this period of industrialization, however, that conditions in other industries were often worse, and breweries rarely, if ever, lacked for workers. One benefit, at least, was that brewery workers were able to control the pace of their labor, notwithstanding the spread of mechanization, a condition that gradually disappeared in most other industrialized workplaces over the final decades of the nineteenth century.[67]

Brewery unions’ strength waxed and waned through the labor battles in the decades after the Civil War. Even before 1860 there were brewers’ aid associations organized by and for brewery workers. For example in Cincinnati in 1850, the German workers in the city held a mass meeting to discuss forming “associations” influenced by the ideas of Christian communist Wilhelm Christian Weitling. The association created committees for each industry, including brewery workers, but the organization apparently did not last long. In 1860 New York German brewers formed “The Original Brewers’ and Coopers’ Guard” which included workers and the brewery owners alike. They organized a mutual aid society in 1867 which lasted into the twentieth century. Its original president was John Christian Glaser Hüpfel, a first-generation German-American, who owned the Hüpfel Brewing Company.[68]

The brewery workers’ union effort was especially notable in New York City, led by German workers. In 1872 a general strike of construction workers demanding an eight-hour day inspired the brewery workers to demand shorter working hours and better pay. Lacking an effective organization the nascent strike failed, broken up by police. Their pay did increase somewhat, from $40 a month on average to $52 a decade later (i.e., from approximately $737 per month to $1,140 per month, in 2010 dollars).[69] German brewery workers in Cincinnati hoped to follow suit, but efforts to organize in 1877 and 1878 failed. In late 1879, however, they formed the Brauer Gesellen Union, which joined the local Central Trades Assembly, thus allying with other workers’ organizations. In 1881 the Brauer Gesellen Union decided that no brewery would be considered “union” unless a majority of workers employed there were members. Furthermore, they presented the city’s breweries with a series of demands: replacing the thirteen-hour day with a ten-and-one-half-hour work day, six days a week, and the eight-hour Sunday work shift with a four-hour day; a minimum wage of $60 a month (or $1,320 in 2010 dollars); and permission for workers to arrange room and board wherever they pleased, freeing them from having to rent from their employers. Only four of the two dozen breweries in Cincinnati agreed and workers at the others went on strike. Unfortunately for the workers, while the smaller breweries sometimes gave in to their demands, the largest companies held firm and the strike eventually failed. The union lost many members, but they did win some of their demands, including a reduced work day. So the strike was not a total failure, especially as a similar strike in St. Louis at the same time failed to win the workers any concessions.[70]

That same spring 1881, the Brewery Workers’ Union attempted a strike against the entire New York City brewing industry. It began with an accident at the Peter Doelger Brewery, one of the largest in New York, originally founded by Bavarian emigrants Joseph and Peter Doelger. Four workers were killed in a fire that started after an industrial accident at the brewery. The coroner’s report blamed the foreman and lax safety procedures. The press emphasized not the unsafe conditions but blamed workers drinking on the job for the accident. The notable exception was the German workers’ paper, the New Yorker Volkszeitung, which attributed the tragedy to the poor working conditions. Brewery workers formed a new union, led by German workers and urged on by the Volkszeitung. When some of the breweries began firing workers that joined, the Volkszeitung rallied support from the Piano Makers’ Union, dominated by German migrants, and the German Cigar Makers’ Union as well as the local carpenters’ and joiners’ unions which were also heavily German. With German workers from a variety of different trades boycotting beer from the anti-union companies, the brewery management backed down and recognized the new organization.

This emboldened the new union and they attempted a wider strike, despite the warnings of the other German labor groups that they were not yet strong enough. They should have heeded the warnings. The strike failed and the union collapsed. However, by 1884 brewery workers in New York City were forming a new organization as part of the Knights of Labor. In the spring of 1885, the Doelger brewery fired several workers for union activity. The union called for a boycott of the brewery’s products, and the brewery was forced to back down. Peter Doelger agreed to the union’s demands and even paid $1,000 (or $23,400 in 2010 dollars) to reimburse the union for some of the boycott’s cost. The 1885 success against Doelger was unique. The major breweries in New York City after the strike actually encouraged workers to join and went so far as to threaten workers who did not. By 1886, 90% of the city’s brewery workers were members, which, ironically, gave the brewery owners greater control of their workforce because the union now existed because the owners allowed it to do so.[71]

There were limitations to boycotts. They were difficult to organize against multiple businesses in the same city. This was an issue in New York, as the brewery workers struggled to convince workers not to buy from the companies being boycotted which provided most of the beer for the entire city. That meant getting support from not only those workers immediately affected, but by different groups of consumers in general, workers, and middle class alike. In extreme cases this meant importing union-made beer so consumers had an alternative. Boycotting a single company, or a small group of companies, was more practical, and statistics from New York between 1885 to 1892 show that boycotts were most frequently employed against smaller-scale producers where there was sufficient competition to allow consumers to take their business elsewhere. Finally, for a boycott to succeed, it sometimes had to gain support from other businesses. For brewery boycotts this meant winning support from saloon-keepers, bar-tenders and liquor dealers. Because a significant number of these retailers were also German, such labor battles would be fought out within a city’s German community.[72]


During the nineteenth century the American brewing industry underwent a technological revolution on par with that of other industries. Beer and ale brewing shifted from a relatively small scale of production, for local consumption, to an industry dominated by enormous business concerns which sold their product around the country and even exported it to other nations. The German-American community played a crucial role in this expansion and evolution of the industry. They introduced and popularized lager beer, which quickly became the most popular style in the United States and remains so today. The spread of lager’s popularity was not without conflict, as nativist groups attacked immigrants, especially Irish and Germans, for their supposedly intemperate ways. Nonetheless the Civil War and westward expansion helped spread lager beer throughout the United States as both immigrants and native-born German-Americans opened new breweries. German technological advances also spread through the United States, helped by professional trade journals and the influence of the German-dominated brewing associations. By the end of the nineteenth century, German-American brewers would be competing against the rest of the world in international competition at the World’s Fairs.

German laborers were a crucial part of the labor struggles of the late nineteenth century as well. As many other immigrant groups had done before them, and would do after them, German workers found an economic niche to dominate. The brewers took advantage of an ethnic market for their product, and manual laborers were able to utilize community ties to find positions in the industry dominated by their own group. This did not prevent workers and owners from coming into conflict over labor issues, but the struggle for workers’ rights and unionization in the brewing industry was far less bloody than the same battles in such industries as railroads, coal, and steel that were underway in the same era.

As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, German-Americans would continue to dominate the brewing industry, but during the 1910s this became a liability. Fears of disloyal Germans plotting to undermine the United States during World War One became a convenient, and effective, way to attack the brewing industry as a whole. By the time the war, and its matching anti-German hysteria, were over, the Eighteenth Amendment had passed and the brewing industry prepared for extinction. Most of the breweries opened by German immigrants and their descendants are long gone, but many of their names remain popular, just as German styles of beer remain favorites. Lagers still dominate the American market, bock beers are still popular every spring, and names like Pabst, Miller, and Yuengling still tempt the thirsty.


[1] “German” here is used as a linguistic term since there was no unified Germany until 1871, and even then did not include all German speakers. For our purposes, “German” refers to those from central Europe whose primary language was German, so it would include those from the present states of Germany, Austria, and the borderlands of their neighboring states, particularly Bohemia in the modern Czech Republic. There was little Swiss migration and Swiss-Americans had little influence on the American brewing industry.

[2] “America’s First Lager” Master Brewers Association of the Americas (accessed March 5, 2016); Philadelphia brewery historian Rich Wagner argues for John Wagner (no relation) as the first lager brewer noting that the credit was given to John Wagner as early as 1859 in Philadelphia and its Manufacturers as well as in a speech by brewer Frederick Lauer to the United States Brewers Association in 1877. (accessed March 5, 2016); Edwin Freedley, Philadelphia and Its Manufactures: A Hand-Book Exhibiting the Development, Variety, and Statistics of the Manufacturing Industry of Philadelphia in 1857 (Philadelphia: Edward Young, 1859), 196.

[3] There are beers made with top-fermenting yeast that are stored cold and so may be considered lagers. For the purposes of this essay we will use the term to mean those beers made with bottom-fermenting yeast and stored cold. This still includes a large variety of styles and types of beers.

[4] Western Brewer, One Hundred Years of Brewing, A Supplement to “The Western Brewer” (Chicago: H.S. Rich & Co., 1903), 99–100. A recent study of yeast DNA suggests that lager beer was discovered in fifteenth-century Bavaria, so the much later nineteenth-century date may simply account for larger scale, regular brewing of lager beer. Raif Kererat, “Lager beer was first created in Bavaria in the 15th century: new DNA-sequencing of yeast,” American Bazaar, (accessed October 14, 2015).

[5] C. Wayne Smith, Crop Production: Evolution, History, and Technology (New York: Wiley, 1995), 183; Thomas C. Cochran, The Pabst Brewing Company: History of an American Business (New York: New York University Press, 1948), 111–112.

[6] For example, see Dale P. Van Wieren, American Breweries II (West Point, Pa.: East Coast Breweriana Association, 1995), 343; Amy Mittelman, Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer (Algora Publishing, 2007), 20; Rich Wagner, Philadelphia Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Cradle of Liberty (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2014), 36. Wagner (no relation to the brewer) is a longtime amateur brewing historian in Philadelphia.

[7]One Hundred Years of Brewing, 207.

[8]One Hundred Years of Brewing, 229.

[9]One Hundred Years of Brewing, 232.

[10] Bob Skilnik, The History of Beer and Brewing in Chicago, 1833–1978 (St. Paul, Minnesota, Pogo Press, 1999), 6–7.

[11] Henry Herbst, Don Roussin, and Kevin Kious, St. Louis Brews: 200 Years of Brewing in St. Louis, 1809–2009 (St. Louis: Reedy Press, 2009), 6.

[12]One Hundred Years of Brewing, 224; Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer (New York: Harcourt, 2006), 41.

[13] Ogle, Ambitious Brew, 14; Garrett Peck, Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C. (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2014), 35.

[14] Michael D. Morgan, Over the Rhine: When Beer Was King (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2010), 59–61; Timothy J. Holian,Over the Barrel: The Brewing History and Beer Culture of Cincinnati, 1800 to the Present (St. Joseph, Mo.: Sudhaus Press, 2000); German Beer Institute, “Three Millennia of German Brewing,” (accessed October 3, 2015).

[15] Stanley Baron, Brewed in America: A History of Beer and Ale in the United States (New York: Little, Brown, & Co. 1962), 213–216.

[16]Documentary History of the United States Brewers’ Association (New York: The Association, 1896), 118.

[17]Documentary History of the United States Brewers’ Association, 116, 118, 120, 128, 139.

[18] 1860 United States Census, xx, xxxii. They were also from the states that, according to the census report of 1860, had the greatest number of Germans, specifically New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri.

[19] Andrews Hill Hamilton, Commercial Associations: Their Uses and Opportunities, (Boston, 1869), 6, quoted in Davis, “The Political Economy of Commercial Associations,” 767.

[20] Gerald Gamm and Robert D. Putnam, “The Growth of Voluntary Associations in America, 1840–1940,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 29.4 (Spring 1999): 511–557, 526.

[21] Cory Davis, “The Political Economy of Commercial Associations: Building the National Board of Trade, 1840–1868,” Business History Review 88 (Winter 2014): 761–783, 763–768.

[22] Gamm and Putnam, “The Growth of Voluntary Associations,” 522.

[23] For a case study see Uwe Spiekermann, “Family Ties in Beer Business: August Krug, Joseph Schlitz, and the Uihleins,” Yearbook of German-American Studies 48 (2013), 59–112.

[24] Francesca Carnevali, “Social Capital and Trade Associations in America, c. 1860–1914: A Microhistory Approach,” Economic History Review, 64 (2011); Robert Putnam et al., Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 167, quoted in Jason Kaufman, “Three Views of Associationalism in 19th-Century America: An Empirical Examination,” American Journal of Sociology 104 (March 1999): 1296–1345, 1304.

[25] Walter Kamphoefner, “The German Component to American Industrialization.” In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified July 30, 2015.; Mark Benbow, “Christian Heurich,” in Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 3, edited by Giles R. Hoyt. German Historical Institute. Last modified September 25, 2014.

[26] These numbers are based on the percentage of Germans and the total number of people listed practicing that trade.

[27] Kamphoefner, “The German Component to American Industrialization”; Roger Waldinger. “The Making of an Immigrant Niche,” International Migration Review 28/1 (Spring 1994): 3–30.

[28] Roger Waldinger and Claudia Der-Martirosian, “The Immigrant Niche: Pervasive, Persistent, Diverse,” in Strangers at the Gates: New Immigrants in Urban America, ed. Roger Waldinger (Sacramento: University of California Press, 2001), 235–236; Roger Daniels, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, 2nd ed. (New York: Perennial, 1991), 204; Neil Gabler, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (New York: Random House, 2010).

[29] Donna R. Gabaccia, We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), 97.

[30] Waldinger and Der-Martirosian, “The Immigrant Niche,” 236.

[31] See “Dixie Beer: Can of the Month,” Rusty Cans, (accessed October 5, 2015).

[32] Van Wieren, American Breweries, 220–225, 236–247. The numbers are inexact because the historic record is often unclear on when breweries before 1900 opened and closed. Brooklyn was separate from New York City until 1898.

[33] Van Wieren, American Breweries, 59–60. Operational dates taken from ibid., 59–60, 375–376. Van Wieren’s data only lists years, so a brewery listed as in operation from 1874–1875 might have been open two years, or slightly more than one.

[34] Glenn R. Carroll and Anand Swaminathan, “Density Dependent Organizational Evolution in the American Brewing Industry from 1633–1988,” Acta Sociologica 34 (1991): 155–175, 161.

[35] Joe Coker, Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007). 18-19.; Carroll and Swaminathan. “Density Dependent Organizational Evolution,” 155–175. William L. Downard. Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980), Appendix VI and VII.

[36] For example, see Joseph J. Mersman, The Whiskey Merchant’s Diary: An Urban Life in the Emerging Midwest, ed. Linda A. Fisher (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007). Mersman was a German immigrant who moved between Cincinnati and St. Louis and recorded his growing business selling “rectified” whiskey. See also Marni Davis, Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition (New York: New York University Press, 2012), esp. chap. 1. The author thanks Uwe Spiekermann (personal communication, December 17, 2015) for his observations on alcohol consumption in nineteenth-century Germany in his comments on an initial draft of this essay. Spiekermann notes that 1887 changes in the German tax code helped make beer more popular than wine or whiskey in Germany.

[37] Downard, Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries, xvii.

[38] Carl H. Miller, “The Rise of the Beer Barons,”

[39] Luke Ritter, “Sunday Regulation and the Formation of German-American Identity in St. Louis, 1840–1860,” Missouri Historical Review 107 (Oct. 2012): 23–40, 29.

[40] John Clagett Proctor, “The Schuetzen Park and the Home of Asa Whitney,” Proctor’s Washington and Environs (Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1949).

[41] Ritter, “Sunday Regulation,” 23–24.

[42] Adam Criblez, “A ‘Motley Array’: Changing Perceptions of Chicago Taverns, 1833–1871,”Journal of Illinois History 8/4 (2005), 271–273; Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1855, 3, quoted in Criblez, 273.

[43] Criblez, “A ‘Motley Array,’” 274; Bob Skilnik, The History of Beer and Brewing in Chicago, 16.

[44]Chicago Tribune, April 26, 1855, 2. Quoted in Criblez, “A ‘Motley Array,’” 274.

[45] Criblez, “A ‘Motley Array,’” 275; Skilnik, The History of Beer and Brewing in Chicago, 16–17.

[46] Dann Woellert, Cincinnati Turner Societies: The Cradle of an American Movement (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2012), 30. The park is now named Schiller Park and is in the German Village section of Columbus.,_Columbus,_Ohio (accessed October 11, 2015).

[47] Peter R. Guetig and Conrad D. Selle, Louisville Breweries (n.p.: Mark Skaggs Press, 1995), 16.

[48] Holian, Over the Barrel, 69–73.

[49] Wikipedia contributors, “German Americans in the American Civil War,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 5, 2015); Wikipedia contributors, “9th Ohio Infantry,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 5, 2015).

[50] U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census of Population and Housing, table 7, “Population by Urban and Rural and Size of Place… 1790–1950,” 15, available at

[51] Peck, Capital Beer, 37–41; Andrew F. Smith, Drinking History: Fifteen Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 101.

[52] Smith, Drinking History, 101–102.

[53] Lee Allen, The Cincinnati Reds (New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1948), 21–22; Edward Achorn, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), 24. The Reds were later purchased by German-American entrepreneur August “Garry” Herrmann; see William A. Cook, “August ‘Garry’ Herrmann,” Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present,

[54] Allen, The Cincinnati Reds, 22–24; Achorn, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey, 25–26; Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills, Baseball: The Early Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 137.

[55] Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1963), 55–57.

[56] Salvatore Basile, Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), 41.

[57]One Hundred Years of Brewing, 125. One Hundred Years claims the Moerlein system was installed in 1875, as did a trade publication (Industrial Refrigeration, August 1901, 52.) Another trade publication set the date at 1873 (see Ice and Refrigeration, Nov. 1916, 168).

[58]One Hundred Years of Brewing, 149–150.

[59]One Hundred Years of Brewing, 151–152; Ogle, Ambitious Brew, 74–75.

[60]One Hundred Years of Brewing, 263–264, 324–325.

[61] Smith, Drinking History, 102–103.

[62] It is somewhat difficult to gauge for many cities which brewery first made lager and when. Of the U.S.’s twenty largest cities in 1880, it appears that lager beer was not available in San Francisco until 1882, and it was brewed in San Jose rather than San Francisco. Steam Beer was the popular choice there, not traditional lager. Providence, Rhode Island, may not have had its own brewery making lager until 1890 when the Narragansett Brewing Company was founded by six German immigrants, but saloons there sold lager made elsewhere. Finally it’s difficult to say which brewery in Jersey City first made lager, but there was no doubt plenty available from New York City, Brooklyn, Newark and elsewhere. 100 Years of Brewing is a good source for finding the first brewery in specific areas first made lager, but it is not complete and sometimes more recent local histories have differing accounts.

[63] Lager did not outsell ale in New England until after the Second World War. This may also have been the result of soldiers trying new beers as most of the beer supplied to the military during the war was 3.2% lager, not the higher alcohol ales.

[64] Hermann Schlüter. The Brewing Industry and the Brewery Workers’ Movement in America. (Cincinnati: International Union of the United Brewery Workmen of America, 1910), 90–93.

[65] The exact years compared are 1866 and 1886.

[66] Peter Hernon and Terry Ganey, Under the Influence: The Unauthorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch Dynasty (New York: Avon, 1991), 43.

[67] Hernon and Ganey, Under the Influence, 43; K. Austin Kerr, “The American Brewing Industry: 1865–1920,” in The Dynamics of the International Brewing Industry Since 1800, ed. R.G. Wilson and T.R. Gourvish (London: Routledge, 1998), 181; Schlüter, The Brewing Industry, 90–93.

[68] Schlüter, The Brewing Industry, 96–97; Georg von Skal, History of German Immigration in the United States and Successful German Americans and Their Descendants (New York: F.T. & J.C. Smiley, 1908), 115.

[69] This calculation uses 1872 dollars and 1882 dollars as the points of comparison.

[70] Schlüter, The Brewing Industry, 98–101.

[71] Schlüter, The Brewing Industry, 101–105, 114–116; Dorothee Schneider, Trade Unions and Community: The German Working Class in New York City, 1870–1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 156–158.

[72] Daniel R. Ernst, “Free Labor, the Consumer Interest, and the Law of Industrial Disputes, 1885–1900,” American Journal of Legal History 36.1 (Jan. 1992): 19–37, 21–23; Schlüter, The Brewing Industry, 238–240.

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  • Article Title German Immigrants in the United States Brewing Industry
  • Coverage 1840-1895
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date July 13, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018