Buffalo Brewing in the 20th Century: Vignettes

The following is an adapted selection from Buffalo Beer, by Ethan Cox and Michael F. Rizzo.

The dawn of a new century brought much hope for Buffalo. It was the second largest city in New York State and the eighth largest in the country, with over 350,000 residents. The Pan-American Exposition was slated for May 1901 and all the world’s eyes would be on this growing industrial powerhouse. Things were definitely looking up for Buffalo, and the brew and malt industries would continue to evolve.

The Pan-American Exposition was supposed to be Buffalo’s shining moment. A world’s fair that would highlight Buffalo as one of the globe’s leading cities. The brewers were instrumental in donating money to the effort and President William McKinley announced he would attend. Beer was an important beverage at the expo and Pabst Brewing Company sponsored an entire building. They had built their first storage house in Buffalo in 1875.

In the end, President McKinley was assassinated at the exposition, and Buffalo gained the fame it so desired, but not in the way it expected.

“The Best Malt and the Choicest Hops”: The Simon Pure Story

The six-year agreement that William Simon had signed with Susan Schüssler when he purchased the Schüssler brewery had ended. Simon immediately changed the brewery’s name in 1900 to the William Simon Brewery, which would go on to be Buffalo’s longest-lasting brewery.

In September 1900, U.S. Health Reports said of the William Simon Brewery, “a more superior brew never entered the laboratory of the United States Health Reports…This beer is absolutely devoid of the slightest trace of adulteration, but…is composed of the best malt and the choicest hops.” It was an official endorsement for the brewery, but whether or not it translated into actual sales is unknown.

Simon’s son, William J., was born in Buffalo in October 1880. After graduating from Canisius College and Bryant & Stratton Business College, he went to work for his father at the brewery in 1902 and spent four years learning every aspect of the brewery. He then went to Milwaukee where he worked for Valentine Blatz Brewing Company and attended the Hautkes Brewing School. Afterward, he returned to Buffalo where he went back to work at the brewery.

In 1907, the William Simon Brewery sold a company record 73,000 barrels of beer.

In November 1908, William Simon incorporated his brewery as the William Simon Brewery with $500,000 capital stock. When the company was incorporated, William J. was made vice-president. William J.’s brother Gerhard J. joined the brewery in 1908 and was made secretary while son-in-law Joseph G. Schaff was made treasurer. William held the majority shares and was the brewery’s first president.

F.X. Schwab: From the Tin Shop to the Top

Francis Xavier Schwab was born in Buffalo in 1874. After completing school, he went to work at a tin shop and then joined the E. and B. Holmes Company, where he made his first invention. By the time he was nineteen, he was a foreman at the Pullman Palace Car Company on Broadway near Bailey Avenue in Buffalo. Schwab was a German-language singer and traveled to Milwaukee for a saengerfest (singing festival) where Conrad Hammer of Germania Brewing Company noticed him. When Schwab returned to Buffalo, Hammer offered him a job as a brewery solicitor for Germania. In this position, he visited saloons to drum up business for the brewery, at which he excelled, and was said to be the highest-paid solicitor in Buffalo. He was then a collector, salesman and saloon owner before taking a position as general manager of the International Brewing Company on Niagara Street in 1900, a position he held for five years. During that time, he also started a wholesale liquors business, the Frank X. Schwab Company.

In 1905, Frank X. Schwab became a business adviser to Leonard Burgweger, president of Iroquois Brewing Company. Schwab would use his influence and personal connections during his twelve years with Burgweger to help Iroquois become Buffalo’s biggest brewery.

Unionization and Consolidation

On March 6, 1900, representatives from sixteen of the eighteen breweries operating in Buffalo met and formed Buffalo Brewers’ Exchange to “prevent the cutting of prices.” Any brewery deviating from a fixed price would be fined. Attorney Robert F. Schelling was elected treasurer and Charles G. Pankow was elected president. The Christian Weyand Brewing Company and Broadway Brewing and Malting Company elected to not participate and remained independent.

Unions had long been an important aspect in the brewing industry, providing fair wages to workers. All the major breweries in Buffalo used barrels made by union coopers, but sometimes things went awry. There were two coopers’ unions in Buffalo: Mixed Coopers, Local Thirty-three and Beer, Ale and Brewery Coopers’, Local Ninety-three. Local Ninety-three went on a multi-month strike against the breweries in Buffalo Brewers’ Exchange around June 1906, demanding a raise from $15 to $17 per week. They had settled on $16.50 in late July or August when a committee from the Brewery Workers’ Union wanted a new clause added to the contract. The coopers were upset that the Brewery Workers’ Union did not side with them during the strike. It was finally approved and the coopers returned to work.

The talk of brewery consolidation came up from time to time in Buffalo as fierce competition pushed many breweries to their limits. In March 1902, a deal worth $2,000,000 was rumored to be in the works. The breweries mentioned in the consolidation were Lion, Broadway, Kaltenbach, Star, Iroquois, Beck’s, Lake View, Germania, East Buffalo, International and Phoenix. Attorney Robert F. Schelling and Edwin G. S. Miller were named as those behind the consolidation. One brewer said the reason for the consolidation was “the breweries of this city have not been making the money they used to.” The breweries had been “practically eating each other up” and “cutting each others throats for years.” They would also help anyone that wanted to open a saloon, even if “the applicant hadn’t a dollar.” The consolidation would also close between two hundred and four hundred saloons controlled by the breweries. Buffalo had more breweries “than any city in the country except possibly New York and Chicago.” Beer consumption was primarily on the East Side “among the Germans and Poles” but had decreased by 1902 from a high in 1897, even though the population had grown by seventy-five thousand.

By June 1903, a Cleveland group led by Henry Boehmke was rumored to be leading new takeover talks. The deal would make John L. Schwartz president with attorney Robert F. Schelling again engineering the deal. Together, they would have made a powerful consortium, but Schwartz and others denied the rumors. In the end, neither this deal nor any other major consolidation ever took place.

The Drinking Scene Develops

One of the most interesting aspects of German beer culture is beer gardens. In Buffalo, although the German population reached nearly 50 percent of the total population at one point, real beer gardens never really developed. There were locations that the German people, sometimes the elite, did gather and some were similar to beer gardens. The Parade House on Humboldt Parkway and Teutonia Park on Fillmore Avenue were popular with the Germans in that part of the city, which was predominantly German at the time.

Weyand’s restaurant, located on Main Street at the corner of Goodell Street, was open from about 1909 until Prohibition. It is now the site of the Catholic Diocese (formerly the Buffalo Courier-Express). The Christian Weyand Brewing Company was located next door, so the beer was cold and fresh. As was typical of German restaurants, cold dishes of Swiss cheese, ham and rye bread were popular.

The German-American Café was located at Main and High Streets, but when Carl Strangmann took over the German-American Brewing Company, he converted it into “a beautifully decorated restaurant.” He hired a New York City chef and served the “best in food and drinks for moderate prices.”

Wideman Poaches Persch

One of the principal stockholders and treasurer of the German-American Brewing Company, Carl J. Wideman, was sued in New York Supreme Court by John P. Persch of New York for $100,000 in July 1905. It was not, as you would assume, a typical lawsuit. Persch, of New York City, was in Buffalo for about six months in 1904 in order to purchase the stock of several breweries, including Wideman’s stock of the German-American. In order to influence Wideman’s decision, he forced his wife, Gretchen, to accompany Wideman many places to try and win his affections and make the transaction go smoothly. What Persch didn’t expect was for Gretchen to fall in love with Wideman and leave him. Divorce proceedings went on for several years.

Early Innovation

An article in the Buffalo Daily Courier in April 1907 explained how Buffalo Cooperative Brewing Company was unlike other breweries because they did not sit on their laurels once they had a great beer, unlike other brands. They always “endeavored to furnish newer, better brands in a sufficient number.” In fact, they were “a researcher in brewing, experimenting to find new brews and devising them to meet every taste.” Their brands at the time included Superior Sparkling Ale, (a pilsner), Superior XXX, (a stock ale), Capusiner Beer, a “food beer” dark and aged, Superior Porter and Extra and Lager.

Most breweries would not have survived long if they sat on their laurels.

Hot Heads and Cold Ones: Fuel(s) For a Growing City

Just a year after expanding his brewery, the wealthy brewer and founder of Broadway Brewing and Malting Company, Julius Binz, died in March 1908. After discovering natural gas on his property in 1886, Binz co-founded the Erie County Natural Gas Fuel Company.

Said to have a temper, in July 1884 Binz assaulted a man who came to pay his bill at the brewery, slugging him and knocking him down a flight of stairs, causing him to lose teeth and be laid up for several weeks.

Binz was a major in the Knights of St. John and active in other societies. He was only sixty-one at his death and left an estate valued at $500,000. He is buried in the United German and French Cemetery in Cheektowaga.

A Drinking Town

In 1908, Buffalo breweries produced 31 million gallons of beer, most of which was consumed locally, making the per capita consumption approximately 77.5 gal for every man, woman, and child in the city of Buffalo.

Assault on August: Koch Kicks Back

Oftentimes, business owners or managers took the daily receipts home and would deposit them the following morning. August P. Koch was manager of the International Brewing Company at 1076 Niagara Street and lived at 457 Normal Avenue. On May 9, 1908, Koch was walking home when he was attacked by two men, hit over the head and knocked down, but he quickly jumped up and fought back. A second blow struck him but he continued fighting, and the would-be robbers were frightened off by his resiliency. He survived the attack but the assailants were not caught. Koch, it turned out, wasn’t carrying any money that night.

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