American Breweriana Journal January/February 2021
Brewing in Johnstown, Pennsylvania
By Rich Wagner
01 Emmerling B.C. Source: Cody Collection. Emmerling.
02, Cambria B.C. Source: Raub Collection. Cambria
03 Goenner B.C. Source: Raub Collection. Goenner.
It seems improbable that a town settled as early as 1800, by Germanic people, no less, took a half century to have a brewery. Even more surprising is the fact that Johnstown was at a hub of natural resources, transportation and industry. With seams of soft coal ideally suited for producing coke, iron deposits and an abundant supply of lumber, it was ideally suited to become an industrial powerhouse. Not only that, but Johnstown was located near the Allegheny Front, made passable with the construction of the Allegheny Portage Railroad (1832) for the purpose of lifting canal boats up and over the escarpment and connecting the Susquehanna and Ohio Rivers. This reduced travel time between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to three to five days. From Johnstown west it was river travel all the way to Pittsburgh.
Of course, it was only a matter of time, twenty years to be exact, that the Pennsylvania Railroad completed its main line between the cities, reducing travel time to half a day. The rails propelled the city even faster into industrial prominence. In addition, Johnstown provided a connection to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The Cambria Works was an early innovator of Bessemer furnace technology and quickly took the lead as a major producer of steel rails and for a while out-stripped the production of Pittsburgh’s mills.
But as far as we know, Johnstown’s first brewery was set up by Jacob Entress in 1850. Johnstown’s first brewery would become its most successful as Goenner & Co. and last for over a century. Negating the five breweries which appeared and disappeared within a year during the decade, the second most successful was that of John Stemmer & Co. (1859-82), with a prime location next to the Cambria Iron Works. Huether & Bonacker’s brewery lasted a decade (1853-63) and Isaac Parfit’s brewery in Conemaugh Township was in business for seven years (1854-81). Hother John Vogel had a brewery for five years (1857-62) and F.X. Enters had a two-year run in Yoder Twp. (1857-59). Outside of Johnstown George Huether had a brewery in Summer Hill (1853-57) and one in Hollidaysburg that presumably never got off the ground (1870-1870).
04 Source: Rosengrant 2001 Caption: Recent view of the Kost brewery and residence. High ground was no guarantee against flooding. With heavy rains, that caused the 1936 flood, the adjacent spring turned this street into a river.
05 Source: Penn State University. Caption: 1895 Sanborn Map.
06 Source: Rosengrant 2001. Caption: Hot wort from the kettle was pumped to an upper floor into the coolship, a shallow metal basin where it cooled before being sent below to the fermenting cellar.
07 Source: Rosengrant 2001. Caption: Vault in the basement served as refrigerated storage.
There were four new successful breweries in the 1860s and by mid-decade the city had a half dozen breweries. Henry Hansman opened the first on Bedford St. (1860-77). Oscar Graefe had a brewery on Horner St. (1864-78) while the decade’s most successful was Kost’s Brewery (1866-1908). Lambert & Kress was the second most successful enterprise on Upper Portage St. (1868-95). They started out making around 80 barrels a week during the brewing season from October to May. The brewery, malt house and cooper shops employed ten hands and by 1875 were producing 250 barrels a week. They purchased local barley and obtained hops from New York and Wisconsin and shipped beer to nearby markets. The brewery was pressed into service as a hotel in the wake of the Johnstown Flood (1888).
08 Source: Penn State University. Caption: 1886 Sanborn Map.
09 Source: Penn State University. Mayer Brewery 1886 Sanborn Map
10 Source: Penn State University. 1886 Sanborn Map. I have found no references to the Lion Brewery shown across from Emmerling. Also notice Jacob Mayer’s Ale Brewery which was later converted to a cider and vinegar plant.
11 Source: Johnstown Public Library. Caption: Official Souvenir of the First German Day in Johnstown July 19, 1904.
Max Heubach (1872-79) and John Emmerling (1878-1920) came along in the 1870s. There were three more established in the 1880s but wouldn’t last beyond the decade: Jacob Widmann (1880-84), Mayer & Bro. (1884-89) and Jacob Albrecht (1887-90). In 1897 the Cambria B.C. was formed as a corporation and survived prohibition, continuing until 1939.
12 Conemaugh B.C. Source: Penn State University. 1913 Sanborn Map
13 Conemaugh B.C. bottle. Source: http://brucemobley.com/
14 Conemaugh B.C. bottle. Source: http://brucemobley.com/
In the twentieth century two breweries were established as corporations and both lasted until prohibition: Conemaugh B.C. in nearby E. Conemaugh Township (1906-20) and Germania (1907-20), which is now home to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.
The Conemaugh B.C. was granted a charter in February 1906 with $100,000 capital. Bollinger Bros. brewery architects and engineers of Pittsburgh put up a modern 30,000-barrel plant which went into production a year later. In 1912 they reported just over 20,000 barrels in sales. In February 1918 the company announced they would discontinue business after selling off the beer in stock. In June they leased the plant to a Uniontown businessman who announced his intention to manufacture cereal beverages. In September the plant was producing vinegar, acetic acid, syrups and extracts.
15 Source: Wagner 1983. Caption: Germania brewery complex.
16 Source: Penn State University. Caption. 1913 Sanborn Map.
17 Source: johnstownhistoryblogspot.com. Ad, Germania B.C.
18 Source: Johnstown Area Heritage Association website. Caption: Johnstown Area Heritage Center
Germania B.C. In 1907 the Germania B.C. was capitalized with $75,000. They purchased a site for $25,000 and Philadelphia Brewery Architect and Engineer Otto C. Wolf drew up plans for a $150,000 5-story brewing plant and production commenced in June 1908. In 1911 they produced nearly 10,000 barrels and in 1912 nearly 15,000 barrels.
With prohibition looming, the company sold the property and equipment to Louis Zang for $38,000. Two months later he sold the property to Ferguson Packing Co. for one dollar. In 1946 Morris Electric Supply Co. purchased the property, and later became Morris Paper Co. Johnstown Area Historical Association acquired the property in 1992 and began developing the site. The Heritage Discovery Center opened in 2001. In 2008-09 the third, fourth and fifth floors of the building were renovated.
19 Source: Bob Kay via beercoast.com
20 Source: Bob Kay via beercoast.com
21 Source: The Western Brewer May 1898. Caption. Cambria B.C. In 1900 Wolf completed a new office.
22 Source: Penn State University Caption: 1913 Sanborn Map.
23 Source: Internet. Caption: Prohibition era Near-Beer sign.
24 Source: Internet. Caption: Post-prohibition ball knob.
Cambria B.C. was capitalized at $100,000 in 1897. The company engaged Otto C. Wolf, Philadelphia brewery architect and engineer for a complete brewery outfit, ice house and office building. In 1904 stockholders voted in favor of selling the Cambria B.C. to the Independent B.C. of Pittsburgh but the deal fell through. The following year, capital was increased to $400,000 and $250,000 in bonds were issued to finance a building program to greatly increase the capacity of the plant. In 1906 they expanded the bottle house and increased storage cellar capacity by adding four Pfaudler tanks and expanded their bottling house. Two years later they increased capital from $100,000 to $400,000 and raised $250,000 in bonds.
25 Source: johnstownhistoryblogspot.com. Caption: Emmerling residence and brewery.
26 Source: Bob Kay via beercoast.com
Emmerling’s Empire Brewery John Emmerling was born in Philadelphia in 1851. After attending public schools and apprenticing in the brewing trade he traveled extensively as a journeyman and ended up in Pittsburgh. He was involved with Ernst Hauch’s brewery on the south side and married Philimina Hauch. They moved to Johnstown in 1878 to start a brewery. The following year Emmerling was producing just over 100 barrels a year which he soon increased to 500 barrels. He installed refrigerating machinery in 1890 and added a bottling department. By the turn of the century his Empire Brewery was producing 15,000 barrels a year.
John's son, Otto Flood Emmerling was born during the Johnstown Flood of 1889 and when he died at the age of 104 was the last living survivor of the catastrophe.
In 1907 the company added a new wash house and wagon barn and modernized his cellars with Pfaudler glass enameled steel chip casks. The following year they added a story to his brew house for enclosed hot and cold-water tanks and malt storage. In 1909-10 they added a two-story bottling house, complete with a 60-barrel pasteurizer, capable of turning out 700 cases per day, along with an additional $30,000 on improvements. In 1911 production exceeded 35,000 barrels. The company continued modernize their bottling department in the decade leading up to prohibition.
Around this time, John’s son Charles, along with Charles Kist and others were reported by The Western Brewer to be interested in purchasing the bankrupt Ligonier B.C. and were involved in the formation of the Idlewild B.C. of Greensburg and the Jenners B.C. in that town.
The brewery did not come back after repeal.
27 Source: “Uncle Ernie” Oest. Caption: Goenner’s brewery circa 1950s.
28 Source: Penn State University. 1913 Sanborn Map.
29 Source: Bob Kay via beercoast.com.
30 Source: Wagner 1983. Caption: Goenner brewery, August 4, 1983.
31 Source: Rosengrant 2001. Caption: The Bottleworks is an art gallery located in Goenner’s bottle house.
32 Tray. Source: Ziegler Collection.
33 Source: Bob Kay via beercoast.com Caption: Hahn licensed the brand to Goenner & Co., Brownsville B.C. and Rockwood B.C. but none produced it for more than two years.
Goenner B.C. In 1850 Zach Entress established a lager beer brewery at 2nd & Walnut streets in Cambria Borough. It changed hands twice before Jacob Goenner took over in 1874. It was called the Cambria City Brewery. The Johnstown Flood occurred at the end of May in 1889 and the brewery was the only thing left standing within a two block radius. It was badly damaged but was cranking out beer in less than two months.
Jacob died in July. His widow Margaret and son-in-law John L. Stibich became proprietors. They added a four-story brick storage house in 1892 and incorporated as Goenner & Co. two years later. By the turn of the century the brewery had a capacity of 50,000 barrels.
In 1901 the company purchased additional lots and began extensive expansion and improvements. In 1907 they built a modern brew house and a five-story building for bottling and storage. In 1910 they launched a $100,000 building program including a 300-barrel brew house, executed by Bollinger Bros., which tripled the capacity of the plant. They purchased new bottling equipment enabling them to package 650 barrels per day. In 1913 the company erected a large garage and wagon stable and had plans drawn up for a new boiler house and ice plant. They also registered the trademark for what would become their flagship brand, Goenner’s “New Life” beer.
In 1920 the Emmerling family changed the name of their company to Conemaugh Products Co. and shortly thereafter declared bankruptcy. J.L. Hunter purchased the plant and transferred the mortgage to the company which became known as Emmerling Products Co. In November 1923 Otto F. Emmerling instituted equity proceedings requesting a receiver be appointed for the brewery and that sale of its property be under direction of the court. It seems the company was having trouble paying the bills having been re-purposed for the manufacture of soda, candy, ice cream and similar products. He requested the appointment of a receiver to restrain officers of the company from disposing of any assets.
At the end of January 1922 J.O. Denny, representing Cambria B.C. pled guilty to violating the national prohibition act and was fined $3,000.
In early March 1922 General Prohibition Agent for the Pittsburgh District John Exnicios and Ben Ingram, head of the brewery squad traveled to Johnstown to observe the Goenner plant. A heavily laden truck left the brewery and the agents pulled it over about a quarter of a mile down the road and got samples of beer. They went back to the brewery for additional samples and returned to Pittsburgh where analysis showed the beer contained 4% alcohol. The following day Exnicios headed to Washington to meet with Federal Prohibition Commissioner Roy A. Haynes regarding the alcohol situation in his district. Two months later a truck containing 18 barrels of Goenner beer was seized.
In Mid-August, Mayor Joseph Cauffield put Johnstown on the map with a flood…. of BEER! Frustrated with the lack of enforcement of the law, he instructed brewers and saloon keepers to "manufacture and sell good beer," and if they sell "poor beer" they would be arrested. “My order," said the mayor “was called forth by two reasons. While it is aimed at bootleggers mainly, I also had in mind the fact that the city’s water supply is not fit for use. The water is absolutely impure, and I’m sure our citizens will welcome good beer as a relief from such a condition.”
In Washington, Commissioner Haynes declared that he had only seen newspaper reports of the Mayor’s open defiance of the law and would not announce any plans, adding that if the prohibition laws were violated the prohibition enforcement forces would take necessary action. In Pennsylvania however, State Prohibition Director Davis removed O.R. Stiffler, chief federal prohibition agent from office and headed directly to Johnstown.
Cauffield’s many political foes were after blood to which the mayor replied, "They can have this job any time they want it!” It was reported that the “millionaire mayor” was set to join four brothers with oil interests in Ohio. A headline in the Dayton Herald proclaimed: “Johnstown Has Hangover and Mayor Plans to Move” and “Real Beer Saloons Remain Open and Citizens Wait For Some Action.” The article stated that agents were "rarin’ to go” while waiting for instructions from Washington. Headlines from around the country proclaimed Cauffield the “Beer Mayor” and he received many congratulatory letters including: “Landed in New York Saturday from Antwerp, I was delighted to learn that there is at least one American Citizen who is not a coward and has the courage as an official to authorize his fellow-citizens to disobey the Volstead imposition,” and “Please send me by parcel post one keg of Johnstown’s best drinking water.”
Commissioner Davis insisted that "there was a lot of near beer sold and passed off for the real thing and that the public was “buncoed,” claiming that there was no real beer sold, and that the mayor was seeking cheap notoriety in flagrant defiance to the law he was sworn to uphold.
An August 23 article in The New York Tribune quoted the mayor: "Funny thing these prohibition agents and minions of the law can't see things as they really are. Just ask Director Davis for me why the Federal officers have permitted the delivery of real beer, the kind that contains more than the legal rate of alcohol each Friday to the saloons in this city. If the prohibition officials would uphold their oath of office this flood of illegal booze would stop and it would not be necessary to draw the attention of the head of the department in Washington to conditions here.
"I didn't issue my invitation for Johnstown people to drink beer with the thought in my mind that real beer was not to be had, I knew different, and that is exactly what I wanted the law abiding public and the Washington officials to know. All other means apparently having failed, I knew publicity would wake them up. I can't down the liquor traffic alone and I used this method to draw the attention of the outside world to conditions here."
And while Director Davis was officially reporting to his superiors in Washington that the "Johnstown situation had been vastly exaggerated," Cauffield said that most of the citizens who know the conditions say that beer has not only flowed freely for months, but still can be obtained with little trouble by any person who wants it and has the price.
September 2, 1922 barely a week after Johnstown’s “wet Roman Holiday,” one of Goenner’s trucks was confiscated on the Somerset highway and samples of the beer were taken. Federal agents raided the brewery and were met with resistance as they pounded on the doors of the bottling plant. When they finally got in there was evidence that workers had deliberately broken bottles and there was beer flowing down the drains. Samples of the beer being packaged were secured and were found to contain 4½% alcohol. To which the mayor replied, “Well, they are showing some action.”
The same year, Cambria B.C. was fined $3,000 for violating the Volstead Act and two years later was enjoined as a common nuisance in U.S. District Court. The suit further recommended a U.S. marshal take possession of all liquors, fixtures and other property in the brewery. In October 1925 in a sweep three breweries in the area where each of the managers were arrested, agents destroyed 1,741 barrels of beer at the Cambria brewery and in December the brewery was denied a permit for the following year.
In March 1924 the Goenner brewery requested withdrawal of the injunction against the plant. The U.S. Marshal was directed to take charge of the buildings and destroy all the beer therein. In July the plant was ordered closed until April 1925.
The Emmerling brewery or Conemaugh Products Co., was raided on April 7, 1925 and agents discovered a barroom, a 500-gallon still and rectifying plant for aging whiskey, 250 gallons of whiskey and 110 cases of beer in a tunnel beneath the plant. In searching the premises, they found 1,000 barrels of beer in vats, 200 barrels of beer in the racking room, and 50 barrels of beer in the brew room along with 18 bags of malt and other ingredients for manufacturing beer. They identified the place as a “wildcat brewery” operating without a license. Authorities also claimed a carload of beer they had just seized in McKees Rocks came from the plant. E.C. Emmerling and J.T. Frey received the search and seizure warrant and were arrested and taken before U.S. Commissioner Smith. They posted $2,600 bail to secure their appearance before Commissioner Smith in Federal Court in Pittsburgh in May.
Conemaugh Products Co. resumed production of high powered beer and in October 1925 the government seized the brewery and its equipment. In November a Federal Court ordered all contraband at the brewery, considered to be forfeited to the government. The ensuing libel suit called for the destruction of 150 barrels and 100 half-barrels of beer and five gallons of whisky; 16 slot machines, etc. In November, Cambria county got an order to retrieve nearly $2,000 in back taxes from the seized assets. Other articles confiscated by prohibition agents were to be restored to the brewery as part of the real estate, bound by lien mortgage from Ernest C. and Otto F. Emmerling including machinery and other equipment.
Eighteen were indicted, including two Emmerling brothers: the brewmaster testified and was given a fine and short jail term. But most of the publicity centered around D.J. Shields, politician and real estate broker who was accused of bribery and taking “protection money.” He was given a fine and sentenced to a year in jail. The case went on for a couple of years with appeals and went to state then federal supreme court. Shields ended up being pardoned by F.D.R. in the early 1930s and was Johnstown’s mayor from 1936-39.
In April 1925, Goenner & Co., was ordered closed for a year. The United States marshal was directed to take charge of the buildings and destroy the beer stored there. Brewery officers were found guilty of contempt of court by Federal Judge Schoomaker, together with the Mountain Products Co., of Johnstown, in a case involving the removal of beer from the company's brewery contrary to an injunction. Fines ranged from $1,000-$5,000 and prison sentences from three months to one year for company officials, all of whom posted bail and filed for appeal.
Brewing in Johnstown After Repeal
Only two of Johnstown’s breweries came back when 3.2% beer was made legal in April 1933. Both survived Johnstown’s second-most famous flood, dubbed “St. Patrick’s Day Flood,” in March 1936 when a third of the city was under 17 feet of water. Oddly enough in the wake of that disaster, relief workers gave out (legal) distilled spirits to the survivors as a stimulant.
Cambria Brewing Corp. was reflagged Cambria B.C. in 1936 and remained in business for three more years until First National Bank of Johnstown took possession. In 1941 the plant was torn down.
Goenner & Co. reached normal production levels within two months after repeal and was hiring more men. Brewmaster Paul Hahn was schooled in German breweries and had worked for Anheuser-Busch and Cambria Brewing. He thought that even German beer could be improved upon and formulated Hahn’s Bavarian Beer. Goenner continued their flagship “New Life Beer” and introduced “Old Monarch” along with a lineup of assorted Goenner beers.
A year later American Brewer Reported that Goenner & Company had installed new bottling equipment and had $51,000 worth of cooperage in stock with plans to bring their million-dollar plant to its 125,000 barrel a year capacity with a work force of over 50 men.
In June, 1937, a strike at Cambria Steel Co. led to riots and Mayor Shields, a staunch anti-labor politician, cut off the supply of alcohol in the city. Goenner succeeded in getting an injunction to permit them to make deliveries outside the city. The same year brewers were forced to raise the price of beer because of increasing costs for grain owing to a low harvest due to drought and sales to foreign countries.
Six of seven partners of the Goenner brewery retired in June 1941 but the company stated that business would continue as usual with William F. Goenner as president. What lay ahead was a tough time for brewers with war-time rationing, something that hit smaller regional breweries particularly hard. In Johnstown however, workers at Cambria Steel may have helped keep the brewery afloat.
In 1946 due to post-war starvation in Europe, brewers grain allotments were cut by a third. A longstanding conflict between the AFL and CIO brewery workers led to a number of strikes around the country, including Western Pennsylvania. This led to a prolonged strike that gave unaffected brewers from beyond the region an opportunity to gain market share. In 1947 Pennsylvania doubled the State tax on beer from $1.24 to $2.48 per barrel. Three years later the Federal tax on beer was raised from $8.00 to $9.00 to finance the Korean War.
And Johnstown was a prime target for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh brewers as well as the industry’s growing domination by large Midwestern shipping breweries that relied heavily on television advertising. Finally, in December 1953 Wm. F. Goenner announced the brewery was closing at the end of the year putting their forty employees out of work.