The Keg (Eastern Coast Breweriana Association) Summer 1994

The Brewers' Building of the Centennial Exhibition - Philadelphia 1876

By Rich Wagner

Having visited the New York World's Fair in 1964, Expo 67 in Montreal and Expo 74 in Spokane, I can imagine the excitement that must have surrounded the first "World's Fair" when the Centennial Exhibition was held in Philadelphia in 1876 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The Exhibition opened May 10, 1876 and ran until November 10, 1876. Nearly 10 million people visited the Exhibition. It was financed by a public stock offering. People bought 20,000 shares at $10 per share and raised $2.8 million.

The years following the Civil War brought many scientific and technical advances. Applications of newly discovered scientific principles promised an improved standard of living and hope for a better tomorrow. The brewing industry reaped many benefits from these innovations and in order to display their craft, the brewers erected their own building at the Exhibition. This was despite the fact that 5,000 temperance societies had formed since 1833 and had consolidated as the American Temperance Union at a meeting in Philadelphia. They had begun to view lager beer with as much disdane as distilled spirits. The brewers defended their product as "healthful, nutritious and mildly stimulating." They got to have their own building, but it was located downwind from the livestock displays.

The United States Brewers' Association had the Brewers' Building constructed as an annex to Agricultural Hall at a cost of $30,000. It served as a meeting place for their sixteenth convention, which was held June 7-8. The building was 96 feet wide by 272 feet long; two stories with a main front that stood out from the center to provide a grand entrance. A square tower above the center illuminated the interior. Perched at the crest of the second roof was a beer barrel of immense proportions. Flags from all brewing nations (ie. All the nations of the world) graced the roof of the building.

Above the north entrance was a statue of jolly King Gambrinus, inventor of lager beer. The south entrance was adorned with a hop trellis that extended along the sidewalks leading to the entrance. Over the eastern entrance was a large trophy surrounding a medallion on which was inscribed the following sentence: "In the year 1863, 1,558,083 barrels of beer were brewed in the United States; in 1875, 8,743,744 barrels were produced from malt liquors, on which a tax was paid of $9,144,044." All the entrances were decorated above with implements of the trade. The architect was H.J. Schwarzmann and the builder was James B. Doyle of Philadelphia.

The center room rose 85 feet, the four other rooms had 45-foot ceilings. Near the center of the hall was an elevator that took visitors to the gallery outside the building which provided a panoramic view of the grounds, the Schuylkill River and surrounding countryside. The interior was decorated handsomely with bunting of various colors and at the center of the hall, Tuchfarber & Co. of Cincinnati displayed a life-sized painting by Victor Nehlig of Pocahontas saving the life of Captain John Smith to demonstrate their process of transferring pictures to iron. The exhibition of showcards occupied a good sized room on either side of the entrance.

Inside the Brewers' Building were displays of every manner of product and implement used in the brewing trade. None the least of the displays was the "Centennial Brewery" erected at great expense by Charles Stoll of New York. He installed a working 150-barrel brewery! Opposite the brewery was a complete malt house with equipment provided by Hughes and Bergner of Philadelphia. Architectural and engineering firms displayed models of breweries and equipment.

There was an exhibit on William Penn's brew house at Pennsbury Manor. Next to this was a model of a modern brew house. Samples of hops, barley, and other cereals as well as malt liquors of all kinds in glass and wood were exhibited. In all there were 207 exhibitors that represented firms selling raw materials, refrigerating equipment, sheet metal implements, elevator buckets, cooperage, steam pumps and engines and any other product that brewers might desire.

On the northern side of the building was the "Ice House" which was 70 feet long by 80 feet wide, double-walled and lined with wood shavings. This building contained three compartments: one each for ale, beer and sampling. Each compartment could be held at a different temperature. Samples of the finest beer, ale, porter and brown stout were available for tasting. All malt liquors intended for competition were housed in the Ice House. The U.S. Brewers' Association also sponsored competition for malt and hops and offered cash prizes in gold coin. The judging was conducted in October. Bergner & Engel of Philadelphia won two medals and a diploma for their Tannhaeuser Beer. After the exhibition B & E used the Ice House as additional storage for their brewery across the river in Brewerytown.

To gain some perspective on the voracity of the visitors to the Exhibition consider the statistics proved in an article in the Philadelphia Times: …within the grounds, up to the 5th of August, Lauber's restaurant had sold 44,175 gallons of lager beer and 6,000 gallons of wine and 130 gallons of other liquor; the Grand American Restaurant had sold 15,500 bottles of table claret and champagne, 60,000 gallons of lager beer and 26 gallons of ale; the Southern restaurant had sold 35,200 gallons of lager beer and 7,050 gallons of other liquors; the French Restaurant had disposed of 33,750 bottles of wine, besides liquors; and the Jewish restaurant had sold $29,900 worth of lager beer, weiss beer, etc.

Memorial Hall is all that remains of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It's green dome can be seen while heading into town on the Schuylkill Expressway. Today it houses a giant model of the Centennial Exhibition grounds and buildings in the basement. It was made by craftsmen of the day who painstakingly recreated every building, rail line and arborital embellishment. It was donated to the Fairmount Park Commission. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. has a building from the Exhibition complete with exhibits from states, countries and commercial enterprises.

If you would like more information I recomment a trip to the Free Library of Philadelphia which has a good selection of material on the Centennial Exhibition of 1876.


Bull, Friedrich, Gottschalk. American Breweries. Bullworks. Trumbull, CT. 1984.

Edwards, David. Descriptive Guide to the Buildings on the line of the West End Passenger Railway co. Centennial Exhibition Grounds. By a "Britisher" Part 1. Philadelphia. 1876.

Ingram, J.S. Centennial Portfolio - A Souvenir of the International Exhibition at Philadelphia. Thomas Hunter, Publisher. Philadelphia 1876.

One Hundred Years of Brewing, A Supplement to the Western Brewer. H.S. Rich & Co. Chicago, IL. 1903. Reprinted by Arno Press. New York, 1974.

McCabe, James D. The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition. National Publishing Co. 1975.

The Western Brewer, A Journal of the Barley Malt and Hop Trades. Chicago, IL. 1876.

100 Years of Brewing.