American Breweriana Journal May/June 2006


Brewing in the Iron City

 

By Rich Wagner

 

In the November/December 2004 issue of American Breweriana I did a story entitled “Pennsylvania Brewery Preservation – Success Stories” in which I covered my fascination with and dogged determination to visit, photograph, document and research Pennsylvania breweries regardless of what shape they were in. With the ABA Convention being held in Pittsburgh this summer I’d like to elaborate on my quest, particularly as it applies to Western Pennsylvania.

 

To recap, let’s just say that in the summer of 1980, Rich Dochter and I spent a week touring the Keystone State with our girlfriends in a 1950 Buick in search of hospitality! Between brewery tours and campsites, we took in the local color, talking with old-timers who were all saying the same thing: “just about every town around here had a brewery…” They’d direct us to the nearest standing relic and we’d poke around and photograph what remained of Pennsylvania’s brewing legacy.

 

After returning home, I started talking with people about all the Pennsylvania breweries we visited, and about how many more we discovered that were no longer in business. This led me to breweriana collectors. One of the first of which was Larry Handy who is probably the one that told me about Friedrich and Bull’s The Register of United States Breweries 1876-1976. I sent away for it and was dumbfounded to see how many Pennsylvania towns not only had a brewery but had several, and that wasn’t even counting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh! Using a Pennsylvania roadmap I underlined every town listed in the book. As it turned out there of the 235 towns listed, about seventy weren’t even listed on the map! Looking for breweries in all these places would be quite a challenge and little did I know that a life-long quest was brewing!

 

By October of 1981 my girlfriend had become my wife and we decided to go out to Pittsburgh for a BCCA/ECBA trade show and continue searching for old breweries. Using the roadmap we stopped in Rockwood where the brewery building was a Kosher Chicken factory and Uniontown where the Fayette Brewing Co. building housed a tire warehouse. We found rubble in Masontown, nothing in Republic and we left Washington, Pennsylvania with more questions than answers.

 

The show was being held at the Ober Haus, the hospitality room at the Iron City brewery. There we met Bob Gottschalk who was working with Friedrich and Bull on a revision to their book. Bud Hundenski was the convention coordinator and he introduced me to Len Rosol another avid local collector who knew the area like the back of his hand. I started scribbling in my notebook as the two of them began telling me what they knew: “Alliquippa’s, long gone, Braddock is still standing, Homestead’s gone, Tube City in McKeesport is still standing, there’s one in McKee’s Rock, I think the one in Carnegie’s still there, Schmelz’s brewery is on Steuben St. in the West End, you can see the big clock on the side of the Duquesne brewery on the South Side, Keystone is long gone, the old E & O brewery still stands on the North Side, Baeuerlein’s is in Millvale, Fort Pitt is still standing in Sharpsburg, there’s one in Mt. Oliver, they tore down the old Victor Brewery in Jeannette years ago, the breweries in Butler and Finleyville may still be there Rosco is long gone, Elco is gone…” the list went on and on. I felt like a miner who had just hit the mother lode!

 

After the show we drove in and around Pittsburgh and found many of the breweries Bud and Len had told us about. We continued searching on our way home, driving through Ruffs Dale, Tarrs, Boswell, and Connellsville, finding a few more breweries to photograph. In the ensuing years, Rich Dochter and I would spend a week of summer vacation traveling around the state looking for more breweries, going to libraries, historical societies and talking to people. We amassed quite a bit of information as we visited literally hundreds of brewery sites throughout the state.

 

In 1985 we published an article in Zymurgy (magazine of the American Homebrewers’ Association) entitled “The Brewing History of Pittsburgh – A Microcosm of the U.S. Brewing Industry.” Rich Dochter’s idea was to tell the history of Pittsburgh’s breweries through a virtual tour of those left standing. That concept led to our first actual bus tour in 1987 of the breweries in Philadelphia. In May of 1990 Pittsburgh’s Landmarks Foundation sponsored our first Pittsburgh Brewery Tour. A year later the Eastern Coast Breweriana Association made the tour part of their convention and subsequently the Society of Industrial Archeologists and the National Association of Brewery Advertising each hosted our tour.

 

Probably the most interesting aspect of the many breweries in Western Pennsylvania was the fact that around the turn of the century they coalesced into two competing “combines,” At about the same time there were a total of fifty-eight breweries involved in mergers across Pennsylvania: the Pennsylvania Central Brewing Co. (12) in Pennsylvania’s “northern coal fields” (primarily in Luzerne and Lackawana Counties); the Consumers Brewing Co. in Philadelphia (6) and Erie Brewing Co. (4). But the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. (21) and the Independent Brewing Co. of Pittsburgh (15) accounted for over half of all the breweries involved in these mergers.

 

In general, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company branches were located primarily within Pittsburgh, while those of the Independent Brewing Company of Pittsburgh, were in towns surrounding the city. These mergers mirrored nationwide, especially the subsequent closing of smaller and more inefficient branches. Prohibition altered the landscape of the industry considerably and only five branches of IBC and three of the PBC came back to life after repeal. These two companies along with Fort Pitt in Sharpsburg, which prior to World War II acquired the Victor Brewing Co. in Jeanette, emerged as the “big three” of the region.

 

In the March/April issue of American Breweriana Journal Bob Kay contributed an article on the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. He illustrated the article with photographs of nearly a dozen branches from “Uncle Ernie” Oest’s scrapbook taken in the 1950s along with labels from Bob’s extensive collection. In this issue, a new ABA member, Will Hartlep is covering the Duquesne Brewing Co., the main branch of the Independent Brewing Company of Pittsburgh. My focus will be on IBC’s competitor the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. It’s anyone’s guess as to what we will find when we convene in Pittsburgh this summer, but suffice it to say, Pittsburgh Brewing has been the city’s lone survivor for over thirty years, carrying on a brewing tradition that spans over two centuries.


Note: The above was excerpted from an article that includes descriptions of all twenty-one branches of the Pittsburgh Brewing Company as well as illustrations of seventeen branches which was published to coincide with the American Breweriana Association's Convention in Pittsburgh.


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