In a Glass Darkly: Beer Marks City’s History Brewers Benefited from Workers, Water

Industry and Commerce
Published January 16, 1997

In a Glass Darkly: Beer Marks City’s History Brewers Benefited from Workers, Water

| Published January 16, 1997

The Anheuser-Busch eagle flies in neon again atop the beer and snack company's plant on Rte. 1 in Newark. The Newark Public Library

A couple of weeks ago we looked at Newark’s leather industry. At that time we mentioned that it was one of the city’s oldest and continues to be vibrant after more than three centuries. We also said that Newark, which at one time was a major manufacturing center, continues this role today as a maker of quality staple commodities.

While the state industrial directory lists a great many manufactured goods made here, we can still lay claim to being particularly known for several kinds of products. In the next few months, we will look into some of these areas. Today let us concentrate on our distinction as brewmaster to Newark and America, both ancient and modern.

Cider, peach brandy, Jersey lightning, beer, and ale

From earliest times, alcohol consumption was part of the local scene. Puritan tastes included beer and ale, and the local peach crop was used for brandy. The famous Shoemaker Map of Newark of 1606 indicated that one of our best-known local products, after the manufacture of shoes, boots and saddles, was fine cider. The social stigma of demon rum did not exist before 1800, here or in the rest of the country. We can thank the temperance movement for that phenomenon. In fact, the 1810 U.S. Census indicated that in Essex County alone, more than 17,600 gallons of beer were produced in small home breweries.

The first actual brewery on record in the state was in 1642. Aert Van Putten briefly produced beer in what is now Hoboken. Newark's earliest brewer was probably Caleb Johnson, who was listed in township records as having made 'ale, porter and table beer.' By 1805, John Noble Cumming, a civil and political leader, started his own brewery. It was here that Newark's brewing reputation really began in Cumming's big stone brewery on High Street. This early era came to an end with the financial panic of 1837, when the operation was taken over by an aggressive Scotsman from Albany, N.Y., by the name of Peter Ballantine.

1840-1880: Newark's early beer industry

The good old days, if they were really all that good, included all sorts of brewing names. Among the most prominent were Hauck, Wiedenmayer, Burkenhave, Lorenz and Jacquillard, Hensler, and Hill. Some survived economic panics, wars and acquisitions by larger companies, but few were able to cope with Prohibition. While several breweries were located on High Street, the majority were scattered throughout the Ironbound. The oldest, most successful and largest employer was P. Ballantine Co. Started in the shadows of Newark's first brewery, Peter Ballantine and his partner, Erastus Patterson, began their business on High Street in 1840. After their father's retirement, Ballantine's three sons, Peter, John and Robert, entered the business in 1850 and soon moved their activities to the west bank of the Passaic River. From there they grew and grew, relocated to the Down Neck (Ironbound) area and acquired several competitors. Until 1971, when the company was sold to an out-of-state owner who closed down the operation, it was the city's largest industrial employer. Today, the title of brewer king is held by Anheuser-Busch. Their giant, ever-expanding brewery is located on Routes 1&9 across from Newark International Airport.

1849-1958: Newark emerges as
a beer giant on the national scene

In less than 11 decades, Newark went from a town where the local brewmaster carried hops in a wheelbarrow to one of the nation's and world's largest brewing centers. John Schalk of Baden, Germany, came to town in 1849 and founded his brewery at Napoleon Street and Hamburg Place (Wilson Avenue). After several years, he returned home, leaving his sons, Adolph and Hermann, to develop the business, which later moved to Bowery and Ferry streets. According to one contemporary source, a chemical analysis of beer brewed here 'showed it equal, if not superior, to the best manufactured even in Germany.' In 1854, John Laible of Stuzfeld, Germany, opened his brewery. This is where his nephew, Gottfried Krueger, worked before setting up his own successful brewing operation. Krueger started with a business partner. Upon his partner's death, he took over the company, naming it after himself. Soon the new beer tycoon was making a big impression in Newark as a political figure, and also as the mastermind behind the great mansion on Martin Luther King Boulevard which bears his name. It presently is being restored by the city. Just a few years ago, the old Krueger brewery on what was once Belmont Avenue was demolished. The statue of the mythological German King Gambrinus, pagan god of beer, stood over the front door of the brewery, a well-known landmark for decades.

In 1860, Joseph Hensler established his brewery when he purchased the old firm of Aaron Lorenz and Jacquillard on Hamburg Place. He made good beer for the German taste. His house and brewery were built close to one another. The former survives as a funeral home, but the latter was demolished some years ago. Like many 19th-century brewers, Hensler lived close to business to keep a watchful eye on its operations. From 1875 until 1943, the name of Christian Feigenspan was synonymous with good Newark beer. Like Krueger, Feigenspan was an excellent businessman as well as a generous local philanthropist. His townhouse in Lincoln Park faced the handsome Colleoni statue, which he underwrote. His High Street mansion, one of the finest in town, survives today as an important architectural legacy of earlier times. The landmark P.O.N. sign which stood atop Hensler's brewery was closely identified with Newark. The letters, which stand for 'Pride of Newark,' remained illuminated all through Prohibition, only to disappear when the company was sold to Ballantine in 1943. By the 1880s, Newark was home to 26 breweries with an annual output of 420,000 barrels of beer. A mere decade later, production had risen to more than 2 million barrels.

Brewing success was not due to luck, but based on the fact that Newark was blessed with excellent transportation, had a skilled workforce at its disposal, contained a large beer drinking immigrant population and had secured an excellent source of plentiful and inexpensive water. Joseph G. Haynes, Newark's 20th mayor, demanded of the town's common council the promise to provide Newark citizens and industry with good water. Indeed, more than once Haynes stressed that Newarkers should not use 'filthy Passaic River water.' Largely through his efforts, the city succeeded by 1899 in using 6 million taxpayer dollars to purchase the 35,000 acres of the present Newark watershed in Sussex, Passaic and Morris counties. Along with this purchase, three reservoirs were built and an elaborate series of pipes laid to get this water to town. While fresh water provided better health for Newarkers, it also served as the backbone of one of our greatest industries. Haynes stated, 'If a single death of a human could have been traced to use of (watershed water), my opponents would have clamored—and justly—for my indictment for murder.' With the new source of water, disease-related death ended and a great industry—brewing—was further nourished.

The 20th century has brought great changes to the industry. It has been a period marked by close-downs and start-ups, a time when small companies disappeared and giant enterprises emerged. Prohibition and its repeal spurred massive changes. The largest and oldest surviving brewery, P. Ballantine and Co., was purchased in 1933, and finally disappeared in 1971, leaving a gaping financial as well as psychological wound in the Ironbound and Newark. On another front, the old Hoffman soft drink bottling operation on South Orange Avenue, built in 1911, was purchased and converted to beer production in 1934 by the Pabst Brewing Co. Its landmark 50,000-gallon water tower, in the shape of a bottle, towered 150 feet over the plant and was a well-known sight along the Garden State Parkway. The biggest change occurred in the mid-1940s when Anheuser-Busch purchased 50 acres of prime real estate adjoining the Pennsylvania Railroad's Waverly Yards. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery on Route 1 is the third-largest in the company's system after St. Louis and Los Angeles. According to Jim Lukaszewicz, plant manager, the company has prospered since its opening for three major reasons: 'It produces a good product, is located in a population center of millions of people, and benefits from Newark's and New Jersey's excellent transportation network.'

Like Clark Thread and Wiss Scissors of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the beer barons saw Newark's name carried from east to west and from north to south millions of times on the labels of their products. If you were to pour out the beer from the 137 million cases brewed here annually, it would fill 3.28 billion glasses – a lot of 'bottles on the wall.' From home brewing to mega-industrial production, Newark has been and remains a good place to make beer. You might say it's all a matter of taste.