Sinsheim Geschichtsblätter 2012

Ludwig/Louis Bergdoll - a Sinsheimer Becomes a Millionaire in Philadelphia

By Wiltrud Flothow

Ludwig Bergdoll was born in Sinsheim July 25, 1825, his parents were the citizen and master smith Georg Bergdoll and Catharina nee Schneider. He was baptized 2 days later by Dean Karl Wilhelmi, his godparents were Ludwig Bergdoll, who later became a master clothmaker, and Catharina Bender. Witnesses to the christening were Georg Bergdoll, citizen, church alderman and master clothmaker in Sinsheim, and his uncle, Jacob Schneider, citizen and brewer in Steinsfurt.(protestant church register, Sinsheim)

Georg and Catharina Bergdoll had 6 more children: Georg Jacob b/d 1819, Margaretha, b. 1820, d. 1839, Johann Georg, b. 1822, Christine Luise, b. 1827, Elisabetha, b. 1830, and Johanna Elisabeth, b. 1834.

The family lived on the main street, opposite the town hall.

When Ludwig was not yet 9 years old, his father died on May 5, 1834. The very next day the city council informed the Grossherzogliche Amtsrevisorat of the death of the citizen and master smith Johann Georg Bergdoll min. and the engagement of Jacob Seidel as assistant to the widow and of the master joiner Adam Schopf for the young children. (StA, B 422/1834)

The mother had to care for 6 children, daughter Johanna being born a few months after her father’s death. The economic situation of the family seems to have been a difficult one, customers of her late husband seem to have been very reluctant to pay for their bills. Christoph Münch, Ludwig Trübelhorn, Adam Geiger and Ludwig Kaufmann were ordered on 27 March 1835 by the town council to meet their obligations, Münch and Trübelhorn were even impounded. (StA Ratsprotokolle 1835)

The mother remarried on May 10, 1836, the master wagonmaker Johann Heinrich Stein, a widower, whose wife Eva Catharina Weiler had died in 1831. Not only the Bergdoll children were members of this patchwork family, there were also the children of Heinrich Stein’s first marriage. And the family continued to grow: Ludwig Jacob, b. 1837, Jacob Ludwig, b. 1839, Margarethe Wilhemine, b. 1842.

Apparently the family now lived at house number 90, which Heinrich Stein had bought in 1813. In 1842 the property was assessed at 1500 Gulden for the compulsory fire insurance: a. a one-storey house with a vaulted cellar, built of stone for 500 Gulden, b. 2 two-storey pigsties with wood store for 50 Gulden, c. a barn with stable, built of stone for 600 Gulden, and d. a two-story annex with appartment, workshop for a wheelwright and wood store, the lower storey built of stone for 250 Gulden. (StA B 560)

Also in 1842 the contents of the house, workshop, barn and stables were insured with the Aachener Münchener Insurance Company for 4000 Gulden altogether: 1. furniture, clothes, bedding and victuals for 1950 Gulden, 2. books, clock, fruit, hay and straw for 1250 Gulden, 3. tools, cart, plough and tools for Heinrich Stein’s profession for 205 Gulden, 4. fire wood and wood for the job, animals for 595 Gulden. (StA B 555)

But Johann Heinrich Stein also died very early, on September 25, 1843, and Catharina Stein now had to care for 7 children not yet of age.

Nothing is known about Ludwig’s elementary schooling. It is remarkable that he was apprenticed at the late age of 17: he was apprenticed with his mother’s brother. According to the rules his name was inscribed in the apprentices’ role of the combined guild of coopers and brewers, once at the beginning of his apprenticeship and then at the end. “Actum Sinsheim, 4th December 1842, before the board of the cooper and brewer guild, in the presence of the masters of the guild Schiek and Bickel. Today appears our fellow master Jacob Schneider from Steinsfurt and with him the citizen and master wheelwright Heinrich Stein from here with his stepson Ludwig Bergdoll, also from here and say: the latter has absolved his trial period and is more than ever determined to learn the trade of a cooper and brewer with the first one, they apply to have Ludwig inscribed as an apprentice at the following conditions: 1. Jacob Schneider accepts Ludwig Bergdoll as his apprentice for 3 years and promises to teach him the profession of a cooper and brewer as best as possible during this time and not to withhold him any advantage of the trade, 2. whereas the stepfather of the apprentice, Heinrich Stein promises to pay Jacob Schneider the apprentice’s premium of 60 Gulden, this sum to be paid on the spot.” (StA B 589) Then Jacob Schneider and Ludwig’s stepfather sign the contract.

In 1844, not even 2 years later, his master, Jacob Schneider, applied for his apprentice to be freed from his apprenticeship: “Sinsheim, 21 August 1844: Our fellow master Jacob Schneider from Steinsfurth appears before the board of the guild and declares that his present apprentice Ludwig Bergdoll would have to continue his apprenticeship till December 4th, but because of his good behaviour during the time with him he would like to waife the final months and would like to ask to have him declared free and inscribed as a Geselle/journeyman of the trade of a cooper and brewer. Also to give him his certificate of apprenticeship for his future career.” (StA B 589)

Apparently his mother or Ludwig himself did not know what to do next, in any case he attended the newly opened Gewerbeschule at Sinsheim, a vocational school, for the next 6 months, first as an apprentice with Kaufmann Bergdoll and then with Kaufmann Frank. He now had 6 lessons a week in technical drawing, arithmetic, essay writing, economics, natural science. School times were on Sunday mornings from 6-8 am, the other weekdays from 6 pm onwards.

On October 7, 1844 the cooper and brewer Geselle  Ludwig Bergdoll applied for the permission to travel as a journeyman. It is not clear whether he actually did so.

Ludwig was conscripted in 1845, but apparently he was not drawn. In 1849 he and his friend Johann Hasenstab were requested in the Sinsheimer Amts- and Verkündigungsblatt to obey the special conscription, but they did not do so, for obvious reasons.

On August 5, 1845 the town councillors had to deal with Ludwig and his brother Georg, a baker, because of slander. No further details were noted. The street wardens also had to deal with Ludwig and Georg: they were noted in their register for minor offences: Georg Bergoll, baker, got a fine of 60 Kreuzer because of excesses on May 6, 1844, Bergdoll, single, the cooper, had to pay 30 Kreuzer because of staying in the pub after curfew on August 22, 1844, and 30 Kreuzer for excesses and scandal on March 30, 1846. The fine was paid for 3 days later. ( StA B 540) One must note the quick punishment and also the quick payment.

These excesses must have happended shortly before the (illegal) emigration: on June 27, 1846 the Mecklenburg Bark Doris, leaving from Antwerpen, arrived at New York. On board there were 158 passengers, among those were Louis Bergdoll, male, from Sensheim, and James Hassenthal [Johann Hasenstab], male, also from Sensheim.

In June 1850 the mayor of Sinsheim, Haag, compiled a list (GLA 377/2899) of all the emigrants who had left without permission, among those were Ludwig Bergdoll and his sister Louise. Most emigrants in this list were young people. Just as Ludwig Bergdoll they could not see any future for themselves at home. Crop failure and overstaffing of the trades marked the economic situation at home. Even many masters has difficulties feeding their families. The young people were attracted by the prospect of improving their situation, of personal freedom and adventure. Quite often they went first and seeked to provide economic stability, parents and siblings then followed. This was also the case with Ludwig: brother Georg emigrated in 1850, Mother and siblings/stepsiblings in 1851. They went the prescibed way, thus to ensure that they could come back and become citizens again if needs be:

1. An application for permission to emigrate: “I apply for permission to emigrate. I have good news  from my three other children who have beeen in Philadelphia for several years already about their establishment there and the urgent invitation to go and join them. And I think that with their help my other children will be well received there and able to make their fortune, whereas here they do not find any prospects. Katharina Stein.”(GLA 377/2477)

2. The regulation of their finances according to the notice in the Sinsheimer Amts- und Verkündigungsblattt: “Actum Sinsheim 18th October 1850: in presence of the town council: Auction protocol of 20th February 1850 ... - the relicts of the late master smith Georg Bergdoll a. baker master Geoorg Bergdoll with his wife Auguste nee Würzinger, b. the citizen and farmer Michael Schiek from here authorised by Ludwig Bergdoll from the State of Pennsylvania, c. for Christine Luise  Bergdoll from here, d Katharina Stein nee Schneider as the lawful guardian and Adam Schopf as her support  for Lisette Bergdoll and Johanna Bergdoll, both still minor, sell to Ludwig Bergdoll, citizen and cloth maker one half of a 2-story dwelling [a more precise description is to be found in the papers of the fire insurance of 1842: a. a 2-story house, the lower floor built of stone, b. a 2-story annex with appartment and vaulted cellar, the lower floor built of stone], half a barn, half a yard and pig sties, on the market, opposite the town hall, next to the house of the buyer himself and the inn “Lamm”, for the sum of 2000 Gulden.”

In addition to that in 1851 the widow Stein sells Heinrich Stein’s house and barn to the citizen and master cooper Georg Doll for the sum of 1100 Gulden. The money goes straight to her creditor, Pastor Pfäffius in Epfenbach. (StA Grund- und Pfandbuch Bd 43)

On November 20, 1851 the boat Saratoga, coming from Le Havre, reached New York. Among the passengers were: Catharina Stein, 52 y, the Bergdoll children - Elisabeth, 21 y, Johanna, 16 y, and the Stein children - Catherine, 24 y, Louis, 9 y, Jacob, 8 y, Margaretha Wilhelmina, 7 y.

When Mother and siblings arrived in Philadelphia in 1851, Louis had already settled down in his profession: The Western Brewer sums up his career in his obituary in 1894, if not correct in every detail: “ Louis Bergdoll was born in Senzheim. grand Duchy of Baden, Germany, July 21, 1825, one son of a large family. His father died when he was only eight years old, and after completing his education, Louis went to Heidelberg to learn the brewer’s trade. In 1846 he came alone to America and worked in Engel and Wolf’s, Muller’s and other breweries in the city of Philadelphia. In 1849 having in the meantime included the rest of his family to come to America, he started in business for himself in a small way on Vine street above Fifth. He prospered reasonably, but in 1851 Charles Psotta, his brother-in-law. was taken into partnership”.

In fact he set up his own business in 1849, first with Peter Schemm, brewer and cooper just as he was, a pub in 176 Vine Street. The same year, 14th October, Louis got married to Elisabeth Woll in the German Lutheran Church St Michaels and Zion in Philadelphia. According to the US census of 1850, Schemm and Bergdoll lived at the same address in Upper Delaware Ward, Philadelphia. The partnership broke up soon, because in 1851 Louis Bergdoll founded a brewery together with Charles Psotta, a brewer from St Wendel, Saarland. Also in 1851, Louis was naturalized before the District Court of Philadelphia, according to his passport application of 1884.

Charles Psotta first married Louis’ sister Louise, who died in childbirth in 1854, a year later  her younger sister Elisabeth. The partnership with Charles Psoatta was only disolved by the latter’s death in 1877.

Bergoll&Psotta expanded. In 1856 the tavern/brewery found a new place in 508 Vine Street. They made their money by the brewing of Lager Beer, cold storage Lager. Lager beer had been brewed in Philadelphia since 1840, the Bavarian yeast made it possible, and became popular very quickly, not only among the many German immigrants. Just as the other brewers Bergdoll&Psotta made use of the water from artesian springs and in the beginning of the natural, later artificial caves for storage before there were more modern facilities for storage and cooling.

The success story for Bergdoll&Psoatta continued. The firm grew, changes were made, extensions and new buildings were put up. New quarters were built in 29th and Parrish Street, dwellings for the workers, too. Otto Wolf (1856-1916) was one of the architects, he also built other breweries. Ernest Hexamer created surveys of the Bergdoll Brewery between 1866 and 1894, which illustrate its growth.

Charles Psotta died in 1877, and Louis Bergdoll then managed the brewery, now named City Park Brewery, on his own.. Later on, his 2 sons-in-law, John Joseph Alter and Charles F. Schoening joined him in the management.

On April 13, 1889, the year of the Bergdoll brewery’s 40th anniversary, The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in an article: “The Philadelphia Brewers. They make the beer which is drunk all over the United States: ...The Louis Bergdoll Brewing Company is one of the oldest firms, having been established in 1849. The offices of the company are at Nos. 508 and 510 Vine Street, and the brewery is situated at Twenty-ninth and Parrish Streets. The company manufactures beer exclusively... The beers are made from the best Canada malt and the finest Bohemian hops. The Bergdoll beer has long enjoyed a standard reputation, and possesses superior strength, flavor, aroma and color. ... The new brewery is one of the best in the country...”

There were also set-backs: in 1887 a fire destroyed large parts of the brewery, fortunately the insurance companies covered the damage. Also in 1887 the workers of the brewery went on strike. Again and again the firm/ Louis Bergdoll had to deal with law suits.

There was also private sorrow: presumably 3 Bergdoll children died very young - a Louis Bergdell [!], 3 weeks old,  died in December 1849, another Louis Bergdoll, 1 y, in December 1851, and daughter Caroline Wilhelmina in 1860. In November 1871 son George, 11 years old, was killed at the brewery, when the workmen were engaged in lining hogsheads with rosin. In the process a great deal of steam was generated, and this blew out one of the hogsheads, which struck the boy with great violence, killing him almost instantly. The coroner ruled “accidental death”. Son Charles died in 1883 at the age of 28, daughter Elizabeth, married to Charles Schoening, died the same year at the age of 31. Only 2 children survived the parents: daughter Louise, born in 1850, married to John Joseph Alter, and son Louis, born in 1857 he also died early, in 1896.

Louis Bergdoll travelled extensively in Europe, for the benefit of his health and for business reasons. In 1892, he visited the Spa at Karlsbad, Bohemia. In 1893 he was in Europe again, visiting his relatives in Sinsheim, descendants of his god-father, the clothmaker Ludwig Bergdoll, as the Sinsheimer Landbote proudly reported.

Wilhelm Bauer wrote in his article “emigrant from Sinsheim appalled by poverty” in the Rhein Neckar Zeitung new year’s edition 1995: and .. realizes that a great part of his former countrymen live in great modesty, if not extreme poverty, he spontanously gives a donation of 20 000 Marks, .. a foundation for the local poor. As soon as he was back in Phildalphia, he has the sum of 20 ooo Mark transferred to the town of Sinsheim and the foundation is established. The preface of the foundation states that on October 19, 1893, the brewer Ludwig Bergdoll in Philadelphia has given the sum of 20 00 Mark for a foundation for the local poor. .. At the same time the donor has decided that the foundation should be called “Louis Bergdoll’sche Stiftung von Philadelphia”. According to the above mentioned charter the return of the foundation should be distributed each year in the month of January to the poor, regardless of their religion, with a special consideration of people who became poor without any fault of their own.”

The whole sum of 20 00 Mark was loaned at an interest of 4 1/2 % to the married couple Julius Hohenstatt, who had bought the Immelhäuser Hof in 1891. According to the books which are still  in the local archives at Sinsheim nearly 25 000 Mark were paid out to the local poor from 1894 till 1923 before the inflations of 1923 and after WW II did away with the capital. The town of Sinsheim made Louis Bergdoll an honorary citizen shortly before his death. It is not sure whether Louis Bergdoll received the document in time. [It seems not to be among the Bergdoll papers that are in the Philadelphia archives]. On request by the town of Sinsheim the bereaved sent a copy of a portrait  that the artist Anthony Lamar had painted in Philadelphia. It is now, as it was in the time when the money was paid out, in the old town hall of Sinsheim.

Louis Bergdoll died in Philadelphia on August 10, 1894.

The Sinsheimer Landbote wrote in his obituary: “Sinsheim, 25 August. Yesterday the sad news arrived here in our town that Herr Louis Bergdoll in Philadelphia, the latest honorary citizen of the town of Sinsheim, had died on 10 August after a long severe illness. The life and work of this man, who through his generosity has assured himself an everlasting monument in the hearts of the local population, has been described in an obituary of a [German-speaking] newspaper there:

Philadelphia, 11 August. Again death has made a gap in the German community in Philadelphia. Louis Bergdoll, president of the Louis Bergdoll Brewing Co. deseased yesterday. He has been suffering from the Bright kidney disease and tuberculosis for many months and for several weeks he has not been able to take solid food. .. Louis Bergdoll was the typical “selfmade” man ... Through energy, will power and never ending hard work he has managed to extend his business, until his brewery, which has been turned into a stock company several years ago, became one of the biggest of our town today.... His fortune is estimated at 8 million Dollars.”

What remains to be remembered of Louis and the Bergdoll family in Sinsheim?: an entry in the book of honorary citizens; a portrait in the old town hall, now the local museum; a Bierkrug, a stein, given as a present to his relatives on his visit to Sinsheim in 1893 and now donated to the local museum by their descendants; an arch in the park, which came from his parents’ house opposite the old town hall; a grave stone in the cemetery of the relatives he visited in 1893.

In the USA it is more his grandsons who determine the reputation of the Bergdoll family on the Internet, grandsons who were more interested in airplanes and motor racing and who were known as draft dodgers in WW I. But: the name of the Bergdoll brewery survived all this as well as the Prohibition and the final closure in 1934. The City of Philadelphia has a rich brewing heritage, also thanks to Louis Bergdoll as a pioneer lager beer brewer, as Rich Wagner, Pennsylvania Brewery Historian, is writing.

In Philadelphia there are still many buildings of the former brewery to be found, now turned into appartments, the Bergdoll House, the Bergdoll Mansion in 2201 Green Street, the former employees’ cottages and the mausoleum in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, whereto most of the Bergdoll family members were transferred. There are history and brewery enthusiasts in Philadelphia, who just as Rich Wagner work on the history of the various breweries, organize bus tours and guided tours to the many breweries and mausoleums of the beer barons. Thus they make sure that the old buildings are preserved. Today there are two breweries and six pubs, that brew their own beer.

In 2011 West Laurel Hill advertised a competition for homebrewers to present their best pre-Prohibition style beer. The entries were served during a tour of the graves and mausoleums of the great brewing families  who are buried there. The tour was guided by the noted Pennsylvanian Brewery Historian Rich Wagner.


Stadtarchiv Sinsheim = StA,

Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe = GLA

Further Information

Wagner, Rich. Philadelphia Beer, A Heady History of Brewing in the Cradle of Liberty. The History Press, Charleston, 2012

Hexamer General Surveys

National Register of Historic Places: City Park Brewery, Bergdoll Louis House, Bergdoll Mansion

Ship lists, passport applications, US Censi, death registers.

Thanks to Descendants

Dr H Ziegler-Aalen, Dr W Ziegler-Kelkheim (descendants of Ludwig Bergdoll the clothmaker), Deutschland

Yana Merrill and Jim Carpenter, USA

Thanks to Individuals

Rudolf Barg, Sinsheim, Deutschland

Rich Wagner, Philadelphia, USA