2001 (?) No Date Reading Eagle
Lauer's Beer Business Brought Early Industrial Movement to a Head
By Patrick Burns
Thanks to the lager maker's strong leadership, Berks County breweries, such as the Reading Brewing Co., P. Barbey and Son, Deppen Brewing Co. and Lauer Brewing Co. flourished well into the first quarter of the 20th century.
Though many immigrants fostered industries that survived several generations during Berks County's first century, many historians say beer brewer Frederick Lauer was the leader.
Lauer, a noted philanthropist, patriot, bank director and town councilman, brought national prominence to early Reading by organizing national brewers into a political group in the mid-1800s.
Born in 1810 in Gleisweiler, Germany, Lauer, then 12, learned to become a master brewer at his father's Womelsdorf brewery. When he was 25, Lauer opened his own brewery near Third and Chestnut streets.
Unlike many of the leading brewers in Philadelphia who used grape sugar, Lauer used Canadian malt, foreign hops and spring water for his lager beer, according to brewing historian Richard Wagner.
Lauer's North Third Street home and brewery was erected following his own plan, with the main building facing southward on seven acres known as Lauer's Park. Beneath the building, up to 15,000 barrels of beer chilled in three 20-foot vaults with 17-foot ceilings.
Water for the lager was produced from a 2,000-foot artesian well dug under the brewery. It cost $22,000 to drill. Local historian George Meiser IX warned anyone thinking about developing the site to be aware of the well.
"That well is amazing, if you're not careful, that thin could send you to China," Meiser said.
In his book The Passing Scene, Meiser said the cold, dry, natural granite vaults and fresh spring water helped Lauer's lager gain a national following.
"President Andrew Johnson was particularly fond of Lauer's beer," Meiser said.
After fellow brewers elected him as the first president of the United States Brewers Association, Lauer made an immediate impact in promoting beer. He also helped brewers from being overtaxed during the Civil War.
Prior to 1860, the federal government raised money from tariffs and land sales, but with the advent of the Civil War, Congress needed money in a hurry. On July 1, 1862, the Internal Revenue Act was passed, imposing a $1-per -barrel tax on beer.
Lauer began an immediate lobbying campaign, according to John Hall of German Life magazine, LaVale, Md. Lauer had the tax lowered to sixty cents and obtained exemptions for leakage, exploding barrels- up to 15 percent in summer- and the beer consumed by brewery employees.
Thanks to Lauer's strong leadership, Berks County breweries, such as the Reading Brewing Co., P. Barbey and Son, Deppen Brewing Co. and Lauer Brewing Co., flourished well into the first quarter of the 20th century.
Reading brewers, banned in 1919 from making beer containing more than one half of one percent alcohol for fourteen years following the passage of the 18th Amendment, could have had their vats shut down long before if not for Lauer.
Following the Civil War, beer-drinkers found themselves confronted by tambourine-banging, Psalm-singing, Bible-thumping women, who saw alcohol as the cause of many social problems. Lauer and the organized beer brewers faced off against the newly formed Women's Christian Temperance Union.
At the 1866 brewers' convention in St. Louis, Lauer organized the well-financed Permanent Agitation Committee that was charged with waging war on fanatics, who, "are in fact trying to annihilate the self-respect and independence of mankind and free trade."
Lauer stalled the temperance movement by convincing Congress that beer was a moderate alternative to whiskey, and that 20 million acres of unused grain each year would go into illegal and untaxed whiskey.
For all his efforts, members of the United States Brewers Association in 1885 honored Lauer with a life-size bronze monument that rests in City Park.
While Lauer advocates said the statue recalled his unselfish public service, ministers and churches raised objections to placing a monument to a beer maker on city property, Meiser said.
but not all his detractors objected to the statue, according to Historical Society of Berks County documents.
Historical Society documents report that City Council passed the monument proposal after temperance supporters approved the site because it stood in front of the county jail, leaving Lauer among such lowly company.
Sidebar: Lager Beer Has Local Roots
While no one is really quite sure who was first, some historians credit brewer Frederick Lauer with introducing lager beer to America from his North Park Brewery at Third and Chestnut streets around 1842.
Documents from the Historical Society of Berks County suggest that Lauer did not introduce lager beer here, but he is credited with being the second brewer to adopt the required bottom fermenting method favored by German immigrants.
Lager beer was obviously popular with the throngs of Germans living in Berks County in the mid-1800s, but Lauer, and Budweiser-brewer, Adolphus Busch, helped it cross over to multiple ethnic groups.
Today lager is preferred by 85 percent of beer-drinkers.
Eventually, Budweiser's national dominance helped kill small regional brewweries- including Sunshine Brewery in 1970, and Reading's last large-scale palnt, the Brewading Brewery Co., in 1976.
Photo of Brewery. Caption: Courtesy of (Meiser's book) The Passing Scene.
Photo of Statue. Caption: Not everyone was pleased when City Council allowed this monument as it appears now, of Frederick Lauer to be built at City Park in 1885. Lauer's lager sold well in Galveston, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.