Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Nearly everyone has heard of the beer that made Milwau­kee famous, but so few have heard of Philadel­phia’s Brewerytown. The names of Philadelphia companies – Arnholt and Schaefer, Baltz, Bergner and Engel, Burg and Pfaender, Eble and Herter, Keller, Muel­ler, Rothacker, and Weger Brothers – are now largely forgotten, supplanted by to­day’s familiar Blatz, Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz. For many years Philadelphia’s Brewery­town was a mighty, industrial neighborhood consisting of a dozen brewing firms in a com­pact seven square block area. Because Brewerytown did not survive Prohibition, Milwau­kee is commonly – and, per­haps, mistakenly – considered the city that made beer fa­mous, and Philadelphia is ignored.

Philadelphia was, in fact, one mammoth brewerytown. Home to one hundred plants by the turn of the century, it was large enough to make Milwaukee seem dry! While most of these firms manufac­tured less than ten thousand barrels of beer annually, the city was home to some of the nation’s largest breweries. Philadelphia became a brewing center of international acclaim long before Germans settled the Midwest and created their brewing empires in Wisconsin and Missouri. No one planned the creation of Brewerytown; its establishment was rooted in water, yeast, immigration, and growth, factors which com­bined to form an industrial neighborhood the likes of which the country had never before witnessed.

In 1840 German immigrant John Wagner arrived in Phila­delphia with lager beer yeast from his native Bavaria. He began brewing in an eight barrel kettle behind his home on St. John Street, and is cred­ited with introducing bottom fermenting lager beer yeast to the United States. The advent of the clipper ship made it possible for lager beer yeast to survive the trip to America, which pioneered a revolution in American brewing. In fact, the sparkling, pale golden beverage Americans know as beer has its roots in this German-style potable. Later, recipes changed and a new kind of beer evolved, one which used adjuncts such as corn and rice, and became known as “American lager beer.”

Until that time, beer in this country was predominantly British-style ale. However, Philadelphia porter was so good that to compare it to that made in London was an insult! George Washington even had porter from Philadelphia shipped to his home at Mt. Vernon. In 1857, it was re­ported that “the reputation of Philadelphia Ale has but strengthened with the lapse of years; and at the present time the Malt liquors made in Phila­delphia take precedence in every market in the Union. The qualities for which they are distinguished are purity, brilliancy of color, richness of flavor, and non-liability to deterioration in warm countries – qualities, the result in part of the peculiar charac­teristics of the Schuylkill water – in part the intelligence, care, and experience of our brewers, conjoined to the use of apparatus possessing all the best modern improvements made in England and in this country …. A fair experiment has shown, that even so far back as 1790, Philadelphia Porter bore the warm climate of Calcutta, and came back uninjured. In 1807, orders were given by the merchants of Calcutta, after tasting some of it taken out of stores, for sixty hogsheads. Within a few years Pale Ale of the first qual­ity was brewed, and justly esteemed – being light, sprightly, and free from that bitterness which distinguishes porter.”

Top fermented ales, ready to consume in one or two weeks, tended to be strong in both flavor and alcoholic con­tent. Ale breweries were much smaller than lager breweries, which required huge storage facilities for aging or “lager­ing” the beer. The days of the ale brewer in America were numbered, as the taste of a nation changed to the lighter, sparkling lager beer brought here by German brewers.

A reporter of the era re­counted that, “I wish to ascer­tain for my own satisfaction, without practical experiment whether lager beer will intoxi­cate …. One German testified, ‘that he had on one occasion drank fifteen pint glasses be­fore breakfast in order to give him an appetite.’ Another, Mr. Philip Kock, testified that ‘once, upon a bet, he drank a keg of Lager Beer, containing seven and a half gallons, or thirty quarts, within two hours, and felt no intoxicating effects afterward. He frequently drank sixty, seventy, eighty, and ninety pint glasses a day – did it as a usual thing when he was “flush.”‘ Others testified to drinking from twenty to fifty glasses in a day. One witness testified to seeing a man drink one hundred and sixty pint glasses in a sitting of three or four hours, and walked straight. Dr. James R. Chilton, a chemist, testified to analyzing Lager Beer and found it to contain three and three quarters to four per cent of alcohol, and did not think it would intoxicate unless drank in extraordinary quantities. He had analyzed cider and found it to contain nine per cent; brandy fifty per cent; Madeira wine, twenty per cent; and Sherry wine, eighteen per cent. … ”

The 1840s ushered in a period of massive German immigration to the United States, during which more than one and a third million Germans arrived. Six hundred thousand more came to this country following the Civil War. This influx had a pro­found influence on Philadel­phia, both culturally and economically. Many of the newly-arrived brewers had been successful businessmen in their homeland, and the most prosperous frequently expanded into banking, real estate, and politics. Through these avenues many of them sought to ensure the progres­sive growth of their communi­ties.

As the population of Ger­man immigrants burgeoned, the market for lager beer boomed. Many immigrants established small breweries, and nearly a hundred were located between the Delaware River and Broad Street in Phil­adelphia. As the more success­ful brewers expanded their thriving trade, they had to relocate to a more undevel­oped section of the city where caves could be dug to store beer at low temperatures. Many brewers rented lager beer vaults which were located in what was to become Brewerytown.

Philadelphian Charles Wolf owned a sugar refinery, one of many near the Delaware River. The port of Philadelphia was one of the most active in the world: shipbuilding and re­lated industries were preva­lent, and the area was home to a huge immigrant population in an old, well established and developed section of the city. After the import of lager beer yeast, Wolf established a brewery at 352 Dillwyn Street. His operation was small, forcing him to rent beer vaults at the Mitchell Grindstone Works, at York and Wood streets, to meet the demand for his product. In 1849, Charles Wolf with part­ner Charles Engel established another brewery at Fountain Green on the Schuylkill River. Theirs was an ideal location for development because ample room allowed for ready expan­sion and the Wissahickon Schist, lining the banks of the river, provided an ideal place to dig caves for the storage or lagering of beer at ideal tem­peratures. In 1857, Edwin Freedley recorded that “Messrs. Engel & Wolf have seven vaults, in five of which 50,350 cubic feet were cut out of solid rock. The bottom of the vault is about forty-five feet below ground. This firm has an agency in New Or­leans, and sell to nearly all the south, including Texas.” Engel and Wolf became the nation’s first major lager beer producer and continued until 1868 when the city called for the removal of aU industries from the Schuylkill River above the Fairmount Water Works. The logical place to relocate was above the banks of the river, in the area which – incidentally – would come to be known as Brewerytown. Upon Wolf’s retirement, Charles Engel established a partnership with Gustavus Bergner, who had founded his brewery at Thirty­Second and Thompson streets in 1857.

The Bergner and Engel Company expanded rapidly until its plant encompassed more than ten acres. Brewers’ Hall, which had been con­structed by the Centennial Exhibition Committee for the nation’s 1876 celebration, was purchased by Bergner and Engel the following year and used for ice storage. Statistics for 1878 showed Bergner and Engel’s relative position: the company produced one hun­dred and twenty-five thousand barrels of beer; the entire city brewed 646,739 barrels; Penn­sylvania’s output totaled more than one million barrels; and national production amounted to more than two and a half million barrels. The same year the company ranked as the nation’s second largest brewer. Two years later, under the direction of Theodore Bergner, a new brew house was con­structed which doubled pro­duction, although during the summer of the construction the company had to contract with other Philadelphia brew­eries to produce Tannhaeuser Beer. A large banner was hung on the company’s new build­ing: “The opinions of those not connected with this estab­lishment, or the building thereof, are superfluous.” Ironically, although Bergner and Engel’s production climbed to a quarter-million barrels, it dropped to fifteenth largest brewer in the United States in 1881 due to the growth and consolidation of beer companies in other parts of the country.

Nevertheless, the growth of Bergner and Engel continued. The company purchased the brewery Df a deceased beer manufacturer located at Thirty­-Second and Jefferson streets in 1892, and operated it as Plant Number 2. They also acquired the small Eble and Herter Brewery, which served as Plant Number 3.

Henry Mueller had pur­chased the old Born Brewery at Thirty-First and Jefferson streets in 1868, and the follow­ing year constructed beer vaults. By 1873 he built a new brewery and christened it the Centennial Lager Beer Brew­ery, in honor of the nation’s approaching one hundredth anniversary. In 1874, the build­ing collapsed, but Mueller had it rebuilt. In 1891, with produc­tion at sixty thousand barrels, the brewery burned down. Mueller later died, and his sons commissioned Otto C. Wolf to build a splendid one hundred barrel brew house, complete with two kettles.

The Western Brewer, a trade publication of the day, pub­lished an illustrated piece about the Mueller brewery, describing it as “unsurpassed” and “substantial in appear­ance, chaste and subdued in architectural design, yet of sufficiently bold outline, gen­eral treatment and finish to render it a striking and note­worthy addition to the many costly and substantial build­ings devoted to the brewing interest in the northwestern section …. Both fronts of the new building are built of dark Philadelphia stretcher-brick with a granite base to the first story line; also granite lintels and sills, through courses and carved bosses to all the seg­ment arches of doors and windows. The gable, cornices, dormers and framing of the ventilator tower or lantern on the roof are of copper and galvanized iron, and are highly ornamental in their treatment. The roof is con­structed throughout of iron, with a covering of slate.”

Max Eble and Christian Herter operated their brewery on Thompson Street from 1873 until its purchase by Bergner and Engel. Their output in 1878 totaled twelve thousand two hundred and eighty bar­rels. Eble and Herter also operated Kollofrath’s Malt House, which turned out sixty thousand bushels of malted barley each year. The plant had three ice machines, and the boiler was rebuilt just prior to the time Bergner and Engel purchased it.

Otto C. Wolf, the architect who made many of the addi­tions and improvements to breweries in the city, built most of the breweries in Brewerytown and elsewhere in Philadelphia. At the time of his death in 1916, he had nearly five hundred projects to his credit. His work spread from New England to Calgary, and as far south as Havana, Cuba, but most of it was carried out in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

After acquiring Mueller’s estate and Eble and Herter, Bergner and Engel was the largest brewery in Pennsylva­nia, and distributed its product to bottling facilities along the East Coast and to depots in the District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, and Florida. Bergner and Engel even oper­ated its own locomotive on more than a mile of track on the plant’s premises, which connected with the Pennsylva­nia Railroad and the Philadel­phia and Reading Railroad. However, the company did not serve as wide an area as the Busch Brewery of St. Louis, which was developing a na­tional market and would even­tually be victorious in the beer wars of the twentieth century, with its popular brand Budweiser crowned the “King of Beers.”

Tannhaeuser, Bergner and Engel’s flagship brand, gar­nered for the company the Grand Prize at the Paris Expo­sition in 1878 and 1889, two gold medals and a diploma at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, the Di­ploma of Honor at the Belgian Exposition in Brussels in 1888, and Medals of Honor in Mel­bourne in 1888, Amsterdam in 1895, Antwerp in 1894, and Chicago in 1893. Other brands included Culmbacher, Export, X Ale, XX Ale, XXX Ale, India Pale Ale, Porter, and Brown Stout. The lager beer industry maintained Philadelphia’s standing as a brewing center of British-style ales.

Bergner and Engel used only the finest Canadian and western malts from Minnesota and Wisconsin in its brews. Some hops were obtained in New York and California, but half were imported from Saaz, Bohemia. Bergner and Engel’s beer was “clarified” or “beechwood aged” for three weeks, then stored not less than four months, at which time it would be filtered and “racked” into kegs or bottles. The brew­ery had a storage capacity for fifteen thousand barrels of beer, and an enclosed, refriger­ated loading shed accommo­dated wagons and rail cars to avoid loading beer in the summer heat.

In 1875, the Philadelphia Lager Beer Brewers Associa­tion, a first of its kind trade organization, was formed, with Gus Bergner as presi­dent. The association served the city’s brewers much the way that the United States Brewers Association serves the nation’s brewers today, as a lobby for the industry. In 1885, the city’s Board of Health ordered a so-called “brewery sewer” to be closed, alleging it was contaminating the Schuyl­kill River in the vicinity of the Spring Garden Water Works and the Philadelphia Lager Beer Brewers Association ener­getically protested the action. Decades later the indomitable Gus Bergner assured brewers that lager beer would not be considered an intoxicant under the dry amendment which was imminent in 1919. Brewers promoted lager beer as the beverage of moderation – in contrast to distilled spirits – but they could not escape the provisions of Prohibition.

Bergner and Engel was the largest, but eleven other brew­eries made up Brewerytown. The brewery neighborhood inevitably gave rise to a much larger area dominated by sup­porting industries and by neighborhoods in which the prevalent cultural influence was German. Brewerytown eventually came to define a section of the city larger than just the seven blocks of brew­eries. The related businesses provided raw materials, ma­chines, harnesses and wagons, coopers, printers, bottlers, and a host of other products and services. For example, it was common to see the familiar Bergner and Engel label “bot­tled by” any number of plants. Many nearby firms also spe­cialized in all types of brewing accouterments, such as refrig­eration equipment, cedar vats, and steel tanks. Some com­panies even specialized in tax stamp paste.

A columnist recreated the sights, sounds, and smells of Brewerytown in 1948 and 1949 with a rich description that could not escape the notice of even the most casual of beer drinkers: ” … the very air was as nourishing as vaporized bread. It seeped everywhere, reaching as far north as the old Athletics ball park on Colum­bia Avenue and inspiring such gentlemen as Rube Wadell and Socks Seybold to heroic feats …. The region was popu­lated by brewmasters as ample in girth as the barrels among which they pursued their craft; by titanic drivers in leather aprons; by giant draft horses with backs broad enough to play pinochle on; by agile gymnasts; by musical maen­nerchor and flaxen-haired backfische …. It was a place for family bakeries and rich delica­tessens, a neighborhood scrubbed within an inch of its placid life and resounding to the guttural language of Goethe and Schiller …. A tramp of ten minutes through the meadows brings us to Camacs Woods, and this intro­duces another class of Sunday resorts, viz. the Beer Gardens …. There was some mys­tery about the German beer gardens. They were supposed to shut down on Sunday. But, according to our yellow clip­ping, the ‘masses prefer the beer to the law, and the voice of the people is all powerful. It is a singular fact that most of the old mansions in the vicin­ity of the Schuylkill are being turned into beer houses. At Egglesfield, Schuylkill Heights, at the Falls, along the line of the Reading Railroad, and in sundry other spots, we find this change …. The parlors which were once solemn with gentility are now gleeful with song, and under the paternal oaks the Teuton sits down to sport.'”

Within a mile radius of Brewerytown still more brew­eries existed, including Jacob Conrad’s Keystone Brewery, Schemm’s Brewery, Bergdoll, and Robert Smith’s India Pale Ale Brewery, located directly across the river on Girard Avenue at Thirty-Eighth Street.

Unfortunately for Brewery­town, the passage of the Eight­eenth Amendment – Prohibition – in 1920, was its undoing. For a neighborhood built primarily on the manu­facture of beer the legislation proved devastating. Some firms tried to produce “near­-beer,” a brew containing less than one-half of one percent alcohol. Arnholt and Schaefer went into the soda business, and Mueller began selling yeast. Some breweries were fined for making real beer, quite a sticky legal problem since it was necessary to make real beer before “near-beer” could be concocted. Many people looked for other kinds of work, and Brewerytown suffered a mass exodus.

An article entitled “Half of One Per Cent Left of Brewery­town” appeared in The Evening Ledger on November 15, 1926, sadly reported the neighbor­hood’s demise. “Not so many years ago, trades people, and the blond little boys and girls, learning their A B C’s along with their German, had waltzed to the strains of the Blue Danube instead of Charlestoning madly before a jazz orchestra …. Gradually and for various reasons, the old families have dispersed or moved away. Instead of a solid German colony, there is now a mixed neighborhood of Euro­peans and Americans …. Some of the breweries are closed, and stand like great empty shells beside railroad tracks. Some have taken over the manufacturing of commodities other than beer; yeast, malt extract, soda and ice. And the stables on 31st St. that used to house the ‘brewers big horses’ have become a riding academy and are carrying on a brisk trade …. Where formerly no ‘outlanders’ lived within the radius of several blocks, there are scarcely three German families left to a block, to keep up the old customs and the old language. But along Jefferson and Master streets may be seen the little old-fashioned two-story houses, capped on the corner with a wooden turret, like those in small Bavarian towns …. In one of these houses … an old shoe- maker bends over his last and dreams of the days, even twenty years ago, when the neighborhood was newer and the speech; old … We all spoke German then … We had our singing societies and our dubs. Good times were plenti­ful, and always they were made more joyful by a glass of foaming beer …. ‘ ”

Seven years later, with the repeal of Prohibition in sight, a local newspaper article re­corded the wild anticipation of brewmasters and their forces. “Idle Men Flock to Breweries – Unemployed Mechanics and Laborers Look for Jobs in Old Brewerytown – Await Rush for Lager! … It was a gray day all over Philadelphia yes­terday except in Brewerytown. There’s a sort of radiation from smiling faces of men on the streets and inside the brew­eries that made the scene sunnier. For they are begin­ning to polish up the handle on the big front door …. I guess the Big Boy [Pres. Frank­lin Delano Roosevelt] knows his stuff and spring is coming, too,’ said a white haired old fellow happily. He worked for many years in Brewerytown, is now 72 and hopes they’ll find some kind of job for him …. ‘We’ll have beer Monday; said another, who seemed to have ‘inside information,’ and ‘when it comes to the fellows in there they ain’t gonna pay attention to no lists. They’ll come out here and get all the workers they want: The reo­pening banks were hardly any busier …. A white sign at the top of one of the F. A. Poth Son’s building’s, 31st & Jeffer­son sts., bearing the words ‘Beer is Coming Back,’ in large letters, draws its crowds of hopeful unemployed. The original Poth Co. was one of the largest of the breweries …. Fred J. Poth, oldest of the sons, and president of the company, sat at his desk bur­ied in a stack of booklets on modern bottling and labeling machines …. The office at present is occupied by the Cooper Supply Co., but the old atmosphere remains …. Diplomas from brewery schools, mostly in German, in heavy gold frames hang on the walls. Handsome half gallon steins, depicting all sorts of amusing scenes, line the man­tle. The girls in the office of the soft drink concern like to han­dle them and play let’s pre­tend …. ‘Glad beer is coming back?’ ‘Believe me,’ they say, nodding their heads and grin­ning…..

“There will be life once more in old Brewerytown, deserted these many years. Hurrying feet will once more resound there but never again the rumble of heavy beer wag­ons or the clatter of horses’ hoofs. It will never be the same old Brewerytown. Mod­ern machinery and methods have changed the beer indus­try. Horses have given way to gasoline trucks …. In the old days beer to be good had to lager about six months. By the new methods you turn out a batch of beer in two or three weeks …. ”

Even with its many addi­tions and improvements, Brewerytown had become obsolete by 1920. Much of the equipment was antiquated, even though tremendous tech­nological progress was made by the time Prohibition closed the breweries. Even so, much more progress had been made in the thirteen years following the closing of the breweries: fewer coopers were needed, as steel tanks replaced wooden vats and tubs; brewers no longer had to generate their own direct current on site because utility companies provided electricity which could operate powerful mo­tors; stables gave way to ga­rages, which further reduced the need for manpower and allied services; and advances in refrigeration made the ice making machine an oddity, a thing of the past. Innovations in packaging, too, rendered bottling equipment of the nineteenth century inade­quate. Within two years after Prohibition’s repeal, the can was introduced and entirely changed the way beer was packaged and shipped. Advertising evolved into a sophisti­cated science, and the creation and marketing of national brands dissolved much of the loyalty to local beers. Beer did not take as long to age because it was lighter in body and color than pre-Prohibition beer, and new recipes were designed to appeal to a populace which had grown up in the era of the soft drink.

Several companies at­tempted to make the transi­tion. After repeal, Arnholt and Schaefer and Bergner and Engel were licensed from 1933 to 1934. Poth, however, was the only original Brewerytown firm to actually reopen. Poth’s brewery, which produced Viking Beer, operated from 1933 to 1936 at Thirty-First and Jefferson streets. Its old plant was no longer cost-efficient, and the company purchased a newer plant across town, the Class and Nachod Brewery. One building, identified both as a stable and garage, illus­trated the matter of technologi­cal transition. Despite dramatic urban development, the com­plex still stands at Twelfth and Montgomery streets, now part of Temple University’s campus.

Class and Nachod devel­oped a flagship brand, Black Eagle, whose label pictured an eagle with a B emblazoned on one wing and an E on the other, an uncanny resem­blance to the old Bergner and Engel label. For many old­-timers this brought a little bit of Brewerytown back to life, even if only through brand recognition. Poth continued the label after purchasing Class and Nachod, and pro­duced Black Eagle until the company finally closed in 1941. Astute rail commuters can still distinguish a faded “Black Eagle Beer” sign on the old Poth building, after departing from the North Philadelphia Station on their way into the city. The structure retains several distinctive architectural details, including a two-story turret and a noteworthy hand­cut stone arch.

Black Eagle was the last dying gasp, a phoenix risen out of Brewerytown only to nest briefly in another section of Philadelphia. innovations in national marketing followed World War II, and advertising – especially television-and packaging irrevocably altered the industry. Beer making in Philadelphia, as well as throughout the country, would dwindle until only a few firms remained. Finally, in 1987, Schmidt’s was the last of the Philadelphia brewers to dose its doors.

A two-year hiatus followed Schmidt’s demise, until a businessman opened the city’s first brewpub in November 1989. Today, the Samuel Ad­ams Brew House purveys traditional English-style ales, a return to a very old-and time­-honored – Philadelphia tradi­tion. One year after the debut of Samuel Adams, the Dock Street Brewing Company opened, the first lager beer brewer since Schmidt’s dosed. While these two micro­breweries cannot begin to compare with the brewers of earlier decades in terms of production and labels, it is intriguing to note that brew­ing, Philadelphia Style, has come full circle.


For Further Reading

“American Breweries We Once Knew.” Zymurgy. Summer 1982.

Dochter, Richard and Richard Wagner. “The Brewing History of Pittsburgh: A Microcosm of the U.S. Brewing Industry.” Zymurgy. Winter 1985.

____. “Lauer’s Brewery, Reading, Pennsylvania, circa 1874.” Zymurgy. Summer 1983.

Wagner, Richard. “The Beers and Breweries of Philadelphia.” Zymurgy. Spring 1991.

____. “Bringing Colonial Brewing and Malting to Life.” Zymurgy. Summer 1989.

____. “History of Bube’s Brewery.” Zymurgy. Spring 1984.

____. “Suburban Hop Farming.” Zymurgy. Spring 1986.

____. “William Penn’s Brew­house: A Historical Perspective.” All About Beer Magazine. December 1987.


Since 1980 the authors have conducted a survey of brewery operations throughout the Commonwealth. To date, they have researched, located, and identified more than four hundred sites, half of which include extant brewing buildings and related structures. Reports of their find­ings have primarily appeared in Zymurgy, a magazine for the home brewer. They have also issued commemorative posters, in addition to conducting tours of brewery buildings, complexes, and sites in Philadelphia, Allentown, Pittsburgh, and the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area.


Rich Dochter is the director of a day care center in Central Penn­sylvania.


Rich Wagner, Hatboro, is a high school science teacher.