‘Beer Brewing and the Brewery Workers of the United States’ by Herman Schluter from International Socialist Review. Vol. 10 No. 2. August, 1910.

Workers at George I. Amsdell Brewery, Albany c.1910.
‘Beer Brewing and the Brewery Workers of the United States’ by Herman Schluter ‘From History of the Brewing Industry and the Brewery Workers Organization,’ from International Socialist Review. Vol. 10 No. 2. August, 1910.

December, 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers landed in the harbor of Plymouth. When a small party went on shore to reconnoiter and found no water to quench their thirst, one of them laughingly remarked that it was a pity they had not brought along some beer from the supply on board the Mayflower. The Christmas festival was celebrated on board the Mayflower. it is reported, with a good drink of beer, a proof that the Puritans of that time, unlike their successors, knew how to combine their religious observances and convictions with the use of alcoholic beverages.

In the first year of the settlement the colonists planted the grain necessary for brewing beer, but with poor results, for the soil of Massachusetts was not well suited for the raising of barley. They therefore imported the materials for brewing, and also some beer itself, from England. A poem of that time informs us that the Pilgrim Fathers had such a tremendous thirst after alcoholic drinks that for want of beer they made intoxicating beverages out of pumpkins, parsnips, and shavings of walnut wood.

Beer barrel making.

John Jenny was the first professional brewer who came to Plymouth, in 1623, but it is not known whether he pursued his trade in the colonies. In the beginning, brewing in America was naturally a domestic occupation; the colonists brewed beer, just as they baked bread, for the use of their own families

The first Dutch settlers of Manhattan were familiar with the preparation of beer, for in Holland the art of brewing was widespread. There is no doubt, there- fore, that the first inhabitants of Manhattan brewed their own beer, but shortly after the settlement brewing became an independent industry.

As early as 1612 Adrian Block and Hans Christiansen erected at the south end of Manhattan Island a row of buildings, of which one soon became a beer-brewery. This was the first brewery in America, and the building is of further interest because the first white child in New York was born under its roof.

Beer brewing was introduced in Pennsylvania by William Penn himself, who preferred malt beverages to “fire water” and who erected a brewery near his residence in Pennsbury in 1683. It was he who made the “Quaker Beer” famous. Before the end of the century the first brewery was established in Philadelphia, the owner being one William Framton, whom William Penn describes as “a very able man who had erected a large brew- house in order to provide good drink for the people up-river, and down-river.”

In the southern provinces the climate was unfavorable to beer-brewing. Barley did not grow well, or became too hard for malting on account of the heat.

General Oglethorpe tried to establish a brewery in Georgia in 1740 in order to provide beer for his soldiers; to promote this enterprise he forbade the sale of rum and other spirituous liquors…

Workers in 1885 at Schell’s Brewery, Minnesota.

It is reported that when Oglethorpe made an expedition with his soldiers down the river he used a peculiar method to keep his men together. The soldiers were embarked in a number of small boats, and on one of these the General placed the entire supply of beer, The men in the other boats had to row pretty vigorously in order to keep near the one carrying the beer. If they did not reach it in time they had to quench their thirst with river water.

The progress of the industry was slow, but nevertheless there was progress. In 1810, we find in the U.S. 129 breweries, distributed through ten states, The farthest west of these was Ohio.

3. The white population pressed westward, and fertile farms and small villages blossomed in places heretofore trod- den only by the red man. The political movements of the thirties drove a mass of people across the sea, especially of South Germans, and these helped to settle the northwestern part of the United States. This element remained true to its old habits of life, and as a result of this immigration, which in 1848 became a veritable stream, we find breweries started up all over the West….

Further west we find in the forties the foundation for the great brewing establishments which existed there later. In Chicago there was a small brewery in 1833, which was owned by William Lill. The brewing industry of Milwaukee started in 1840 when Hermann Reidelshoer erected the first brewery. At the same time the foundation of the beer- brewing industry was laid in St. Louis.

Lager Beer.

Lager beer requires slower fermentation, because it has to be brewed stronger in order to keep better. It also requires a lower temperature for its production than porter and ale. At a time, therefore, when artificial ice and cooling machines were not known and cooling places had to be provided by making cellars in the rock, the preparation of lager beer was more expensive than the other kind.

In addition to this, yeast which is necessary for the fermentation of lager beer, was not known in America; and as ships took such a long time in crossing the ocean, it was not practicable to import yeast, as it was thought that it would not keep so long.

The great value which was placed on this lager-beer yeast can be judged from the fact that a brother-in-law of John Wagner (who brewed the first lager beer in America) is said to have stolen a pint of it. He was prosecuted for it and was sentenced to two years imprisonment.

In the first decade after its introduction the brewing of lager beer made but slow progress in America. After this. however, with the general development of the industry, the production and consumption of the new beverage grew.

At first the production of lager beer was limited to the winter season, because a particular temperature was necessary for manufacturing and storing it, and it was difficult to obtain this temperature without artificial means. Artificial ice and artificial or mechanical cooling apparatus did not exist. But now, as always happens when a certain need calls for a new invention, the increased demand for lager beer led to the invention of all kinds of cooling machines. The production of artificial ice, and in connection with it, the building of complicated machines for manufacturing ice and producing a low temperature was greatly stimulated by the demand for lager beer. The ice industry really owes its existence to the lager-beer breweries. But the invention of cooling machines and the manufacture of artificial ice again had their effects upon the spread of the lager-beer breweries.

Only the development of the ice and cooling-machine industry enabled the lager beer brewer to do away with the limits which nature had until now drawn. He did not have to brew his lager beer only at certain times of the year, but a any time when it suited him best. Human knowledge and technique had won a victory over Nature.


Naturally by this time the real hand work had almost completely disappeared. The beer-brewing industry was among the first in America in which steam played an important part.

The concentration of the industry also progressed. The average capacity of the breweries of the U. S. from 1850 to 1860 increased only from $13,291 to $16,792. In New York, in 1860 the average pro- duct per brewery, was $36,000.

The system of great industry now began to conquer the brewing industry.

What a difference between the mash vats and the brewing kettles of the first American breweries and the magnificent equipment of the breweries of the present day, with their huge kettles, their giant machines and their system of steam and water pipes which wind for miles through the whole establishment.

In a few decades the industrial development turned the log-houses and the insignificant equipment in which American brewing at first had its home, into gigantic establishments with masses of buildings, factory works, stables, and ware- houses constituting a veritable city within a city ; .all this forms a picture which gives us an insight into a modern industry in which the hand-labor of man plays no important part in comparison with the powers of nature which man has taken into his service and which faithfully perform the work for which the strength of thousands of men would not be sufficient. The levers and wheels and iron fingers of the machine have replaced human hands and perform with equal or even greater skill the work which was formerly done by hand. And they made it possible for a greater change to take place in society within a century than that which took place in a thousand years in earlier historical periods.

In 1908 the average consumption of beer per capita in the U.S. was a little over twenty gallons.

The brewing industry in the U. S. is largely concentrated in the crest cities in which the population is largely of a Northern European origin. The city of New York, with a yearly production of 10,000,000 bbls. stands at the head. Then follow Chicago, with 4,500,000 and Milwaukee, with 4,000,000. St. Louis, Philadelphia and Newark and the vicinity fol. low in order, with an average yearly production of about 3,000,000.

In St. Louis, New York and Milwaukee we find single breweries which have a yearly production of from 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 barrels and which are among the largest beer establishments in the world.

At last the brewery workmen knocked loudly at the doors of the employers and announced that they wanted their share of the immense wealth they had produced for the employing brewers. They demanded the benefits which the working men of other trades had obtained through their struggles. They demanded human treatment, an adequate wage, and tolerable working hours. They demanded the abolition of the condition of virtual slavery under which the workingmen of the breweries especially had existed, notwithstanding the wealth which the brewery owners had accumulated.

Before the eighties we find in the. re- corded proceedings of the conventions of the brewing capitalists hardly any mention of their employees. But from this time on, the workingmen made themselves felt and in almost every one of the later conventions of the employers. the question of opposing the demands of their workingmen occupied the bulk of the proceedings The Brewery Workers’ Movement.

F.A. Poth Brewing Company Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1890.

The condition of the Brewery Workmen in America before their organization was as bad as can be imagined. It was not only that the wages paid were the smallest possible and that the working time was confined only by the natural limits of humane endurance, but besides this the treatment of the workmen was of such a kind that it seems impossible today to understand how they could submit to it. Cuffs and blows were every day occurrences. When the brewery owner developed into a great capitalist, he transferred to his foremen the privilege of beating the men which he had formerly exercised in person, and the foremen continued to use it until the brewery workmen through their organization freed themselves from this remnant of the barbarism of the Middle Ages.

In the middle of the forties of the nineteenth century the brewery workers received wages from $4 to $6 a week. This was for the week-workers; but most of the brewery laborers were employed by the month. They received at that time from $4 to $12 a month, together with board and lodging and washing.

In the sixties the wages of brewery workmen amounted to from $20 to $25 a month… From the wages of $40 to $55 a month which the brewery workmen in New York were receiving shortly be- fore 1880 (elsewhere it was only $35 or $40), the brewer boss deducted $5 a week for board and the remaining $20 or $25 was turned over to the workman.

St. Louis.

The workmen were generally required to live wherever the boss required. Frequently they had to sleep together in one large room, but very often they were so exhausted with their heavy work that they simply threw themselves down on the hop-sacks in the brewery to sleep a few hours till work began again.

The inhumanly long hours of labor and the consequent exhaustion of the men led to an excessive use of beer, which was always at their disposal, but which was frequently taken into consideration in fixing the wages. The fatigue and exhaustion resulting from their hard and long continued work compelled the men to drink in order to keep themselves going, They (the employers) promoted drunkenness among their men and sought to degrade them in order that they might exploit them and use them up the more freely.

The brewing industry is one of those in which the capital used for the purchase of labor-power plays but a comparatively small part. In comparison with the total capital in use in the brewing industry only a few workingmen are employed. These men, owing to their hard labor and the inhuman conditions under which they worked, did not have much opportunity for organization. About 1870 there were on the average only six workmen for each brewery in the U.S., and by 1880 this number had grown only to twelve.

In August, 1866, a general convention of workingmen was held in Baltimore. As a result of this convention the shortening of the working day to eight hours became the principal demand of the entire proletariat of America. The courts soon put an end to this Eight-hour Law.

When, in 1877, the American working class again began to grow uneasy, and when the great strike of the railroad workers led to general struggles and disturbances, the brewery owners, probably recalling to mind the strike of their own slaves in the year 1872, decided to give a few crumbs from their wealth to the men who produced all their riches. The wages of the brewery workmen were increased from $40 to $50 and $52 a month. In this way the strike of 1872, though lost, yet did lead, after half a decade, to an improvement in the condition of those who were at first defeated.

In the labor movement even the lost battles bring progress for the fighters.

The first brewery workmen’s union was born in Cincinnati on December 26, 1879.

Under the pressure of the constantly growing labor movement and the fighting courage of the workingmen, the other brewery owners were compelled to recognize the union and to. deal with its workingmen. In the winter of 1885 —86 all the breweries of New York and the vicinity were again organized. Brewers, beer drivers, and maltsters’ unions were formed. The men negotiated with their opponents as power against power and brought it to the point that the organization of brewery owners, the Brewers’ Ass’n, closed a contract with the labor union, good for one year, on April 16, 1886.

According to this contract, the brewery workers of New York and vicinity were promised an increase of wages to the amount of 50 per cent and a shortening of the working hours averaging three hours a day. Under this agreement the wage of the workers amounted to from $15 to $18 per week, the daily working hours were reduced to ten, and Sunday labor was entirely eliminated, The extend of this success can be fully realized when one considers that before the making of this contract the wage of the brewers was from $40 to $50 per month, with 12 to 18 hours work per day, and Sunday labor of from two to five hours, not to mention further objectionable conditions in the breweries which were greatly modified by this contract.

It can be seen that this was an extraordinary victory which the brewery workers had gained through the solidarity of the working class and through the valiant assistance of the labor press. The workingmen of the brewery trades had suddenly emerged from conditions which were almost intolerable and now their conditions were at least nearly as good as those of their fellow-workers in other trades. From being serfs, they had become men.

Industrial Organization.

In the very beginnings of the union it had become evident that, in view of the special character of the industry, the only practicable and effective organization of brewery workers would be one which embraced all the workingmen in the industry— that is, an industrial organization, not merely a trade organization, which would divide the working- men of the industry into various unions. The Nation! Secretary in 1887 said: “The chief factor is in the uniting of all trades employed in the brewing industry. Experience in our struggles has taught us what solidarity means. If the drivers, the coopers, the engineers, the firemen, the malsters, had helped us, our victory would have been assured within twenty-four hours— that is what is being said everywhere and it is correct. Not only are the brewers dependent upon these branches; no, each one is dependent upon the others. Solidarity, man for man from roof to cellar, all for each and each for all—this alone can secure our future.”

At the St. Louis Convention of the brewery workers in 1899 the National Secretary, in his report recommended that a general vote be taken among the engineers, the firemen, and the teamsters in the National Union of United Brewery Workmen on the question whether they desired to remain in that organization or to join the unions of their respective trades. The Convention rejected the proposition. In support of this refusal it was pointed out that to split up the United Brewery Workmen into different trade organizations would give the brewery owners the longed-for opportunity to play off one portion of the workingmen against another.

Reisch Brewing, Springfield, Illinois. 1903.

It was manifest that it was of great advantage to the brewery owners to split up the brewery workers into different trade organizations, and we may, therefore, assume the truth of the report made to the brewers’ convention at Philadelphia in 1901 that there existed proofs that certain officials of local unions of engineers and firemen had joined with brewery workers in order to injure the United Brewery Workmen.

Antagonism Between the A.F. of L. and the Brewers.

The jurisdiction disputes between the United Brewery Workmen and the trade organizations of teamsters, coopers, engineers and firemen were naturally brought before the annual meetings of the A.F. of L. In the decisions of this body the general interest of the labor movement ought to have been decisive consideration, but instead of that, favoritism and personal matters were often taken into account and as a rule a stand was taken against the brewery workers’ organization.

Later on, the Executive of the Federation requested the United Brewery Workmen to withdraw all the charters which it had issued to firemen’s’ and engineers’ unions, etc. etc.; The Federation took a stand against them (the brewery workers) and declared that the engineers’ and firemen’s’ unions which belonged to the United Brewery Workmen must give up their charters and join their trade unions conditionally upon the consent of the brewery workers’ convention.

The United Brewery Workmen refused to give up their jurisdiction over brewery firemen and engineers. Toward the end of the year, 1906, the convention of the A.F. of L. assembled at Minneapolis. A resolution was passed at this convention providing that the United Brewery Workmen must submit within 90 days to the decision of the A.F. of L. in regard to jurisdiction over firemen, engineers and drivers employed in breweries, under penalty of having its charter withdrawn by the Federation. On June 1, 1907, the Executive of the A.F. of L. declared the charter of the United Brewery Workmen revoked.

The action of the (A.F. of L.) Executive met everywhere with adverse criticism. Renewed negotiations resulted in the restoration to the United Brewery Workmen of their old charter in the A.F. of L. and in the declaration that they were to have jurisdiction over all workingmen employed in the brewing industry.

In New Orleans the struggle lasted more than a year. In that city there existed a union of beer drivers belonging to the United Brewery Workmen. The officers of the Teamsters’ Union were not deterred by this fact from organizing a new local union, which then offered its men to the brewery owners at lower wages. Officials in the A.F. of L. played anything but a good role in these disputes.

The industrial organizations of brewery workmen, mine workers, etc., find their interest in having all the workingmen in their industries, including teamsters, engineers, etc. in their organization.

Alpen Brau brewery workers. St. Louis, ca. 1890.

For the workingmen in the brewing industry, the species of industrial organization which unites all the workingmen employed in that industry is the only possible form of organization. It

is, therefore, a question of life and death for these workingmen to maintain it, and they cannot under any circumstances allow it to be taken from them.

In closing chapter X comrade Schluter says:

“The future of the brewery workers’ organization depends upon the further extension of the industrial form of organization and its connection with the most progressive part of the labor movement. The attempt has already been made to get into closer connection with the food trades, for the present without result. These attempts ought to be repeated. The political organization of the working class, the socialist movement, must be supported and promoted by the brewery workers with all their might in the interest of their own organization and in the interest of the final goal of the entire labor movement, the annihilation of wage slavery, the ending of class rule. The brewery worker must raise himself to the recognition of the fact that his struggle is only a part of that general struggle which is waged by the working class of all countries and which has as its aim the complete emancipation of labor. He must realize that this general struggle is his struggle also, that it must end in victory if the proletarians are not forever to remain proletarians.

Struggle for the formation of a human society in which there will be no wage work and no exploitation, no ruler and no ruled, no capitalists and no wage workers! The industrial struggle is but a part of the great general struggle of the working class for a better future— a future which will be of benefit not only to workingmen, but to all humanity.

This struggle can and will be fought out by the working class alone!”

We have quoted at length from the new book by Hermann Schluter, “The Brewing Industry and the Brewery Workers’ Movement in America”, published by the International Union of the United Brewery Workmen of America, at Cincinnati, Ohio. Comrade Schluter presents so many interesting data upon economic development in the United States that it has been hard to limit our quotations at all. The struggles and victories and defeats of the United Brewery Workers make one of the most inspiring pictures in the pages of the industrial history of America. No obstacle has been large enough to daunt them. They have fought steadily until at last they have gained their points. Such men make glorious comrades in the our great class conscious struggle for the

Workers at George Walter’s Star Brewery, circa 1885. Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

abolition of wage slavery. We hope our readers will not forget this book. Experience is the best teacher and the Brewery Workers have had much of it. You will find many difficult things made plain in Comrade Schluter’s book. In ordering copies, address International Union of the United Brewery Workmen, Cor, Vine & Calhoun Sts., Cincinnati, Ohio. Price, Leather, $1.50

The Brewing Industry and the Brewery Workers’ Movement in America by Hermann Schlüter. Published b the International Union of United Brewery Workmen of America, Cincinnati. 1910.

Contents: Preface, The Beer-Brewing Industry, Introduction, Beer-Brewing Industry in the Middle-Ages, Beer-Brewing in the American Colonial Period, The Modern Beer-Brewing Industry, Brewing as a Great Industry, The Brewery Workers Movement, Prior to Organization, Beginnings of Organization, Permanent Organization, The Founding of the United Brewery Workmen and First Victories, The Struggle of 1888, The Development of the United Brewery Workmen, The American Federation of Labor and the Brewery Workmen, Labor Union and Political Organization, Hygienic Conditions of Brewery Workmen, Achievements and Prospects, Prohibition and Sunday Closing, Workingmen and Prohibition, Taxes and the Brewing Industry. 346 pages.

Marxist historian Herman Schlüter (1851-1919) was born in Schleswig-Holstein and joined the left wing of German Social Democracy as a teen and helped publish newspapers and magazines of the SPD. A correspondent of Engels’ both in Germany and later when Schlüter emigrated to the US in 1889 where he joined the editorial board of the New Yorker Volkszeitung. At first he was a member of the the Socialist Labor Party, later he joined the Socialist Party, which he represented at the Amsterdam Congress of the Second International in 1904. An anti-opportunist and anti-revisionist, he contributed to the debate in Marxism in both Germany and the US. However, it is Schlüter’s historical works, mainly of the proletarian movement in the US and England, that are his lasting legacy.

The German Language Federation of the Socialist Party was formed at the First National Convention of the German-speaking Socialists of the United States, held in 1912. Germans had been dominate in the US socialist movement for years and it was only by 1912 that a separate language group was thought necessary. The federation had between 3-5000 members, was headquartered in Chicago with Adolph Dreifuss and Ludwig Lore was Executive Secretary of the German Federation until the 1919 split. The majority of the Federation voted to stay in the SP, but join the Comintern at a special conference in 1919. That decision was rejected and a split, like that happening all over the Socialist movement,. Those who left the SP were further split between those following the Communist Labor Party and those following the Communist Party of America, both of which developed German Language Federations.

PDF of full book: https://books.google.com/books/download/The_Brewing_Industry_and_the_Brewery_Wor.pdf?id=jTGC_SB962oC&output=pdf

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