Martin Mason Brewing Company
The Martin Mason Brewing Company, One of the Oldest Concerns of Its Kind in OhioNo Hamilton concern has a more interesting history than the Martin Mason Brewing Company, which today is famous throughout the State of Ohio for the purity and general excellence of its product, and the wisdom and liberality of its policy. Men who are not yet old can remember the beginnings of this enterprise which, which under William Schlosser, has in recent years taken its place as leader in Ohio brewing enterprises and is daily acquiring a wider reputation and an even more secure position in the trade. . .
Martin Mason Brewery Employees, circa 1923
second, Carl Holley; fourth, Wilbur Buehl; seventh, Karl Windgreiber (Below)
second, Carl Holley; fourth, Wilbur Buehl; seventh, Karl Windgreiber (Below)
Mason Brewery, 365 South C Street, Hamilton, had several owners and a series of names, but was best known as the Mason Brewery because its most prosperous period began in 1886 when 30-year-old Martin Mason became involved in its ownership and operations. During its early existence, it was known as the Rossville Brewery. Daniel Beck and John Koeninger built the brewery in Rossville in 1852. It was destroyed by fire in 1853, and rebuilt in 1854 by Jacob Stahl, who operated it until 1869. In 1875, it was known as the West Hamilton Brewery, Henry Eger, malster and brewer.
Martin Mason was born in Hamilton Oct. 1, 1856, a son of German-born parents.
He held a series of jobs before joining Herman Reutti, his father-in-law, in the malting business as Mason & Reutti on Maple Avenue. In 1886 Mason joined Henry P. Deuscher in a partnership in the Rossville Brewery. A year later, Mason acquired Deuscher's interest. As its sole owner, Mason invested $50,000 in improvements, expanded cpacity to 20,000 barrels a year and increased employment from eight to 25 people over 15 years. Because Mason used Eagle as a brand name, the business became known as the Eagle Brewery and the Eagle Brewing Co. In 1896 it was incorporated as the Martin Mason Brewing Co. under the leadership of Martin Mason and William F. Mason. Later, Charles E. Mason and William O. Schlosser also were associated with the company. (Martin, William F. and Charles E. Mason were brothers.) Health problems forced Martin Mason to leave Hamilton in 1898 and he died Feb. 3, 1900, in Tucson, Ariz.
The Mason brewery was the only Butler County brewery to continue business when Ohio prohibition began in May 1919. The Cincinnati Brewing Co. in Hamilton and the Sebald Brewing Co. in Middletown closed. During prohibition, the Hamilton Brewing Co. produced beer in the Mason building until April 1929 when owner John Kiessling closed because of a lack of business. Production resumed when prohibition ended in December 1933. The company was placed in receivership in November 1939, but the brewery continued to produce Old Hollander beer and ale until brewing ended in 1941. Later, the building at the northwest corner of South C and Millikin streets was used as a store and warehouse by Landmark (Butler County Farm Bureau Cooperative) until it was demolished in 1977. (See Rossville and Rossville Historic District.)
In depth Hamilton Brewing Company
After 75-year drought, beer production resumes in HamiltonMunicipal Brew Works first Hamilton brewery since last Old Hollander was produced in 1941; local brewery known as Cincinnati Brewing Company
After 75-year drought, beer production resumes in Hamilton; first commercial brewery in 1813; German brewmasters dominated after 1830s
(The following is an edited version of columns written in 1990 and 1991. They are from a searchable archive of Jim Blount's history columns, dating back to 1988, available at www.lanepl.org/blount.)
Compiled By Jim Blount
To previous generations of Hamiltonians -- especially those residing in the city through the early 20th century -- it seemed the community would always be home to one or more breweries. The population's German heritage, plus others who had acquired a taste for beer, promised to sustain local brews.
But state and national Prohibition (1919-33), the Great Depression (1929-41) and a pending global war (World War II, 1939-45), combined to spell doom for a local industry that probably began in 1813 and provided numerous jobs by the late decades of the 19th century.
The 75-year drought ended earlier this year. The Municipal Brew Works -- with plans to eventually produce 2,500 barrels a year -- served its first customers June 8, 2016 Before that date, the last local beer produced -- by the Hamilton Brewing Company -- was the Old Hollander in 1941.
Despite its name, Municipal Brew Works is a private enterprise, not an arm of city government. It occupies a portion of the former Hamilton Municipal Building, 1935-2000. Although the brewery lists an address of 20 High Street, it is on the back side of that location. It's in space facing Market Street that once housed Hamilton fire companies.
A 50-year void in brewing in surrounding Butler County ended in 1991. That's when the Miller Brewing Company (now Miller/Coors) opened its brewery in St. Clair Township on Wayne-Madison Road, just south of Trenton. At that time, its annual capacity was announced as 10 million barrels.
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Hamilton's leading brewers in the 19th century were John W. Sohn, Henry P. Deuscher, Martin Mason, Louis Sohngen and the Schlosser brothers, Henry and Jacob. Only Mason wasn't a German native, but both of his parents had been born in Germany.
Hamilton historians reported that as early as 1813 a commercial brewery was operated by a person known only as R. Birch. His product is believed to have been English beer, not the popular Bavarian lager that came with the arrival of German brewmasters.
Lager -- introduced in Ohio in the early 1830s -- was produced with a different yeast and a different fermentation process, yielding a lighter, sweeter beverage, that was more effervescent and lower in alcohol content than ale, porter and stout.
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John W. Sohn, a Bavarian native, is recognized as the first of the German lager brewers in Hamilton. He converted a saddlery shop into a brewery in 1839. "The introduction of lager beer decreased the sale of common beer to such an extent that it could not be manufactured at a profit," noted Stephen D. Cone, a Hamilton historian.
Sohn was born May 23, 1815, in Windsheim, Germany, a son of a brewer. At 17, he was apprenticed to his father as a cooper and brewer and two years later came to the United States.
Sohn appeared in Hamilton in November 1834, arriving from Baltimore on foot and via canal boat. His first local job was chipping wood. Later, he worked as a brewer for one year in Hamilton and three years in Cincinnati.
The 24-year-old German immigrant revolutionized local brewing in 1839 when he opened his business at the southwest corner of High Street and Monument Avenue (then known as Water Street), near the site of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument.
Sohn operated the downtown brewery until 1865, when he limited its production to malt, which he sold to other brewers in the area.
But Sohn was more than a brewer. He also was a farmer who developed vineyards on his land. His other businesses included pork-packing, woodworking and tanneries. He also was a member of the board of the First National Bank of Hamilton.
His political activity included service on the county commission, Hamilton City Council and the Hamilton Board of Education. He was an unsuccessful candidate for a seat in the U. S. Congress in 1872. In the mid 1850s, Sohn was a Hamilton representative on the committee that worked for the merger of the towns of Rossville and Hamilton. He died Jan. 11, 1889, at his residence at High Street and Monument Avenue.
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It required about a week in 1874 to process barley raised on Butler County farms into malt for nearly 30 breweries in Hamilton and Cincinnati. A major malt supplier to area brew masters was the Sohngen Malting Co. in Hamilton.
Louis Sohngen, born Feb. 9, 1824, in Weilminster, Germany, near Frankfurt, came to the U. S. in 1848, locating in Cincinnati where he worked as a cabinetmaker. In 1850 he moved to Hamilton, where he was employed making furniture and coffins. A year later, he opened a grocery and grain business.
Sohngen started his malt house on Hamilton's West Side in 1858. The malt house -- then processing 30,000 bushels of grain annually -- was enlarged in 1864 and again in 1873. The building remains at the southwest corner of South C and Franklin streets.
Malt from Sohngen's operation -- then one of six malt houses in Hamilton -- "finds its market in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Wheeling, W. Va., and many other places," said the Hamilton Telegraph in January 1874.
The newspaper reported on the expanded building, then a 160 by 74-foot, four-story brick complex with its estimated value at $50,000. In storage there on two floors the reporter saw 50,000 bushels of barley, then a major crop in the county. [Allowing for inflation, $50,000 in 1874 would be more than $1 million in 2016.]
"To convert this barley into malt, the grain must undergo four processes," the newspaper explained. The first step was steeping or soaking, he said, which took place in five tubs — "one with a capacity of 350 bushels and four with a capacity of 300 bushels each. The barley is shot into these tubs from spouts, covered with water and allowed to remain for 36-48 hours" or until "the grain has absorbed a sufficient amount of water."
The second process, called couching, began when the grain was "removed from the tub to the first or cellar floor, and thrown into a cone-shaped heap" where "it lies for from 36 to 48 hours" with its "temperature gradually rising about 10 degrees and germination begins."
Phase three was called flooring. "The grain is spread over the malt floor, first to a depth of about 15 inches, and as the spouting progresses this depth decreases to about six inches. It is frequently turned during this process, and after it has been on the malt floors for from 36 to 48 hours, it is ready for the last process."
The fourth step was kiln drying on the fourth floor. The Sohngen malt house used three kilns, with capacities varying from 900 to 1,000 bushels, "which are heated by two large drying furnaces." During this 36-48 hour process, "it is tramped in order to remove the sprouts from the grain.
"About a week's time is necessary to convert a grain of barley into a grain of malt."
"In moving his malt, and for the use of farmers in bringing in barley, Sohngen has use of about 3,500 sacks," the Telegraph said. "He employs at times two teams and has seven employees outside his clerical force." Malt house machinery was "run by a Baxter engine. Coke is used in the drying furnaces, about 25 bushels being used each day to each kiln."
The malt from the Sohngen operation -- then one of six malt houses in Hamilton -- "finds its market [via railroad or canal] in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Wheeling, W. Va., and many other places," noted the 1874 report.
Louis Sohngen retired in 1878, giving control of the business to his sons. He died in 1893. The malt house operated until 1917, during the early months of World War I, when grain shortages caused its closing.
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When he died, Peter Schwab was described as one of Butler County's "most picturesque citizens" by Gov. James M. Cox, himself a native of the county. The German-born Schwab -- reputed to be worth more than $400,000 when he died Sept. 13, 1913 -- was regarded as Hamilton's most famous brewer during his nearly 40 years in that business.
Schwab -- who pronounced his name "Swope" -- showed both his audacity and business genius in naming his firm the Cincinnati Brewing Co. (None of Cincinnati's brewers had used that name.)
By that move, he captured for his Hamilton brewery some of the prestige of Cincinnati (the Queen City of the West), recognized in the last half of the 19th century as one of the world's finest brewing centers.
The brewery occupied a 200 by 400-foot tract at the northwest corner of the railroad, South Front Street and South Monument Avenue, now the site of Hamilton police headquarters.
Schwab's Pure Gold beer gained a market stretching from Washington, D. C., to St. Louis, and from Detroit and Pittsburgh into the southern states.
Schwab -- born May 27, 1838, in Bavaria -- came to the U. S. in 1850 at age 12. He landed at New Orleans, reached Cincinnati via the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and arrived in Hamilton on a canal boat.
His first job was as a cooper's apprentice. Sixteen years later, in 1866, he joined Henry Schlosser and James Fitton in a commission business in Cincinnati. Two years later Schwab returned to Hamilton and, with Ferdinand Van Derveer and Herman Reutti, bought the brewery on South Front Street that had been started in 1858 by John W. Sohn.
Schwab left the partnership in 1870, but in 1874 he purchased the interests of both of his firmer colleagues.
After an 1875 incorporation, the brewery -- with a capacity of only 50 barrels a day -- became the Cincinnati Brewery Co., a shrewd naming coup. Within 15 years, Schwab's marketing skills had built it into a tough competitor in the middle third of the nation.
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Meanwhile, Schwab found time for other businesses, real estate ventures, politics and public service in Hamilton and Butler County. In the 1890s, he was the pioneer in promoting the building of the area's electric railways -- more commonly known as the interurban or traction lines. He was a member of the board of trustees of the Cincinnati, Dayton & Toledo Traction Co. at his death.
Schwab, a Democrat, "was a power politically for years, not only in Hamilton and throughout Butler County, but throughout the state and also in the nation," a newspaper obituary writer noted.
He also wielded power for 12 years as a member of the Hamilton Board of Education, including eight years as its president. According to a newspaper tribute at his death, "much of the progress of the public schools of Hamilton was brought about under his administration."
Locally, he held only one other political position -- on the Hamilton sewer commission, when the city planned its sewer system and paved its first streets.
Schwab, a member of St. John Evangelical Protestant Church, was a trustee of Mercy Hospital, which benefited from his charity, including daily donations of ice for the last 21 years of his life. The hospital opened in Hamilton in 1891.
"Perhaps the one attribute in the life of Mr. Schwab of which little was known was his charity," said a Journal editorial in eulogizing the often-controversial brewer. The writer noted that Schwab -- regarded as an aggressive businessman -- "chose that the world not know (of his charity) and that the secret of his acts of goodness and of help be known only to his Maker himself and the recipient."
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Through perseverance and daring, Peter Schwab converted a struggling local brewery into a profitable operation with a national reputation by the turn of the century.
Its 1874 brewing capacity was only 50 barrels a day. In Schwab's first year sales were only 12,000 barrels. It took a few years to realize any profit. By 1890, his successful marketing required that the Cincinnati Brewing Company expand its capacity to 400 barrels per day and add an ice plant.
An 1891 advertisement boasted of producing 78,695 barrels (or 40 million glasses) of beer between May 1, 1890, and May 1, 1891, a 50% increase over the previous year. Wholesale agent operated in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Dayton and other cities.
Schwab advertised his Pure Gold brand as "the beer that made Milwaukee jealous" -- a jab at his competitors in a city with a liking for German lager.
By 1903, Schwab's annual sales were 82,000 barrels and plant capacity was extended to 120,000 barrels a year. The operation included malting, bottling and refrigerating departments. A subsidiary, the Hamilton Artificial Ice Co., manufactured 85 tons of ice daily.
A new bottling building opened in the early 1900s. Instead of five men bottling only 10 barrels of beer daily, output rose to 85 barrels a day -- or about 19,000 bottles in 10 hours.
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The Cincinnati Brewing Company waged periodic "beer wars" with brewing combines in other cities. In June 1901, a representative of Indianapolis breweries was in Hamilton to challenge Schwab on his home turf in retaliation for Schwab's price cutting in Indy. Indianapolis brewers sold their beer in Hamilton at $7 a barrel, but Schwab chopped his price to $4 and $5 per barrel. .
Later, another beer war pitted Schwab against Columbus and Milwaukee brewers over the sale of beer to Cincinnati saloons. The Hamilton brewer offered his beer in Cincinnati at $6.40 per barrel -- $1 less than the Columbus and Milwaukee price.
Schwab -- who usually prevailed in the beer wars -- directed the Hamilton brewery until his death in 1913. His successors stopped beer production in 1920, after Prohibition had closed legitimate markets for alcoholic beverages.
For the next 49 years, the South Front Street complex was used by the Valley Ice Company. The buildings were demolished in 1969. Kroger and a chain drug store were built on the site. When Kroger closed in the mid 1970s, the land and structure were acquired by the city and converted to a police headquarters and municipal court.
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The last beer-produced in Hamilton was in a building on the west side of South C Street, just north of Millikin Street. Although it had several owners and a series of names, the building at 365 South C Street was best known as the Mason Brewery.
Daniel Beck and John Koeninger built a brewery there in 1852, then in the town of Rossville, that merged with Hamilton in 1855. In 1853 fire destroyed the brewery. In 1854 Jacob Stahl rebuilt it and operated it until 1869. Other owners included Henry Egger and H. P. Deuscher.
In its early years, it was called the Rossville Brewery. Its most prosperous era began in 1886, when 30-year-old Martin Mason became involved in its ownership and operations.
Mason was born Oct. 1, 1856, in Hamilton, one of eight children of Martin and Barbara Mason. His parents, both immigrants from Germany, ran a boarding house at Third and Court streets in Hamilton.
Mason held a series of jobs in Hamilton before joining Herman Reutti, his father-in-law, in the malting business of Mason & Reutti on Maple Avenue. In 1886, Mason joined H. P. Deuscher in a partnership in the Rossville Brewery, and a year later he acquired Deuscher's interest.
As its sole owner, Mason invested $50,000 in improvements and expanded brewing capacity to 20,000 barrels a year. Brewery employment increased from eight to 25 people in the next 15 years.
Because Mason used Eagle as a brand name for his beer, the brewery also was known as the Eagle Brewery. An 1888 advertisement called it the Eagle Brewing Co., with Martin Mason as proprietor.
In 1896 it incorporated as the Martin Mason Brewing Co., under the leadership of Martin Mason and William F. Mason. Later, Charles E. Mason and William O. Schlosser also were associated with the company. (Martin, William F. and Charles E. Mason were brothers.)
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Martin Mason also was an officer of the Miami Valley National Bank, and a member of the board of education for four terms. Health problems forced him to leave Hamilton in the fall of 1898 for the warmer climates of El Paso, Tex. and Tucson, Ariz. He died in Tucson Feb. 3, 1900, but his body was returned to Hamilton for burial in Greenwood Cemetery.
The Mason Brewery was the only Butler County brewery to continue business after Ohio Prohibition began in May 1919.
The Cincinnati Brewing Co. in Hamilton, and the Sebald Brewing Co. in Middletown closed when a constitutional amendment and state and federal legislation imposed severe restrictions on the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages.
The Hamilton Beverage Co. produced "near beer" in the Mason building until April 1929, when owner John Kiessling closed because of a lack of business.
Prohibition ended in December 1933 and production resumed at the South C Street brewery. The Hamilton Brewing Co. in December 1936 employed about 25 people. Its featured products were beer and ale in half-gallon and gallon jugs, while demand was increasing for bottled beer for home delivery.
In November 1939 the Hamilton Brewing Co. was placed in receivership at the request of its principal stockholder. It continued brewing its Old Hollander beer and ale until operations ended in 1941. Later, the former brewery was used by Landmark (Butler County Farm Bureau Cooperative) until demolition.
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The brewing industry extended beyond Hamilton. Butler County farmers also reaped the economic benefits of the beer trade. Barley was a major crop during the last half of the 19th century. Competition from other regions, World War I and more than 14 years of Prohibition (1919-1933) brought changes in the first half of the 20th century. Barley was no longer a big money crop for Butler County farmers.
For about 50 years, Butler County ranked first or second in annual barley production among Ohio's 88 counties. In 1868 -- three years after the Civil War -- the county was No. 1 in acreage (9,165) and second in yield (26.9 bushels per acre with 246,500 bushels produced).
Most of the county's barley went to malt houses in Hamilton and Cincinnati for initial processing. Then the malt was shipped to breweries in the region.
The 1871 city directory listed six local malt houses. On the east side of the Great Miami River were (1) John Schelly, on the north side of Maple Avenue between South Fifth and South Seventh streets; (2) Schlosser & Co., at the southwest corner of South Front and Ludlow streets; (3) Peter Schwab & Co., at the northwest corner of South Front and Sycamore streets and (4) John W. Sohn & Co., at the southeast corner of Monument Avenue and High Street.
West Side maltsters were (1) Henry Egger, on the west side of South C Street near Millikin Street; and (2) Louis Sohngen, at the southwest corner of South C and Franklin streets. Only Egger and Schwab were listed as brewers in 1871.
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In 1874, the Hamilton Telegraph, said U. S. beer consumption had reached 277 million gallons a year -- "or nearly seven gallons to every man, woman and child."
"Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee and Hamilton are the centers of the malting interest in the West," the newspaper said, "and from these centers the breweries in the country draw their principal supplies." The newspaper said "the malt manufactured in Chicago and Milwaukee is made from spring barley; that in Cincinnati and in this city, from fall barley."
"The superiority of fall barley for the purpose of the brewers is recognized, and hence for the best qualities of beer, Cincinnati and Hamilton furnish the largest supplies of malt for the West," the report said.
Barley production in the county in 1871 had been 400,968 bushels, or more than a fifth (20.6%) of the state total of 1,941,240 bushels. Butler County farmers planted 16,887 acres of barley that year, third in acreage behind 58,723 acres of corn and 34,318 acres of wheat.
In the 1890s -- a period of frequent economic uncertainty -- the state and county barley output declined. In 1895, for example, Butler County farmers led Ohio in producing 153,324 bushels of barley, more than twice the 60,875 grown in Shelby County, which ranked No. 2. The local crop represented 22.6% of Ohio's total of 676,383 bushels in 1895. In the 1890s, Midwest brewers were increasing their purchases of western varieties of barley.
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Brewers in the southern part of the city led the campaign for a second bridge over the Great Miami River in Hamilton. The first Columbia Bridge was built 40 years after the first High-Main Street Bridge had been completed in 1819 by the Miami Bridge Company to connect the towns of Hamilton and Rossville.
In the 1850s, some brewers were several blocks south of the only bridge, known as the Miami Bridge, (on the site of the present High-Main Bridge. The southern brewers wanted a second crossing. They believed their rivals near the only existing bridge had an advantage in buying the best barley raised in Butler County west of the river.
Instead of the Brewers Bridge, it was called the Columbia Bridge because the Columbia Free Bridge Co. was employed in 1858 to construct the span. It was completed in 1859, and stood for 39 years before being washed away in the March 24, 1898, flood.