F & M Schaefer Brewing Co., New York

schaefer-4

The F & M stand for brothers Frederick and Maximillian Schaefer. A story marking Schaefer’s 100th anniversary in the March 22, 1942 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle stated that they were one of, if not the first, to brew lager beer in the United States.

The founders (Frederick and Maximillian) really knocked the cognoscenti of their day cold when they put their first brew upon the market. In 1842 beers were of the “top-fermented” type such as ale , porter and common or still beer. The Schaefers introduced the sparkling, lighter-bodied product. It was served cold rather than at room temperature. It was called “lager beer” because it was “lagered,” rested in cold storage.

The start of the business was told in a New York Times item published in their June 7, 1885 edition.

Mr. Fredrick Schaefer – The F. Schaefer whose name appears in the name of the present company, is a native of Wetzlar, Prussia, and was born in 1817. In 1838, when just 21 years of age, he came to this country, and being a thoroughly practiced and experienced brewer he quickly obtained employment in the brewery of Mr. Sebastion Sommers, who at the time owned an establishment between eighteenth and nineteenth Streets, on Broadway, where now stands the well-known Sloane’s carpet store. In the following year-1839- Mr. Maximillian Schaefer, a brother to Frederick, also arrived in this country, and by his exceptional industry and rare business capacity speedily acquired sufficient insight into the commercial methods of this country to warrant his starting in business on his own account. In accordance with this determination the two brothers bought Mr. Sommers’s brewery on Broadway in 1842 and carried on the business there for two years.

I couldn’t find any mention of the original Sommers Brewery in the NYC directories but a story about Brooklyn breweries in the April 26, 1940 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle included a picture of the original Schaefer Brewery in 1842.

The photo caption read:

Oldest brewer of lager beer in the United States is the Brooklyn concern, F. and M. Schaefer Brewing Company. This is how the plant looked back in 1842 when it first began serving the nation’s thirsty.

The 1885 New York Times article goes on to describe how the business ended up at their long time location on Park Avenue (previously called Fourth Avenue) and 51st Street

Then, finding their business rapidly increasing beyond the capacity of the facilities possessed by them, it became necessary to enlarge their borders as it were. Accordingly, in 1844, having secured a more advantageous location at Nos. 109 and 111 Seventh Avenue, between Sixteenth and Seventeenth Streets, they removed there, and the brewery which they erected is still standing, although no longer in active working order. After taking possession of this establishment the demand for their lager increased more rapidly than ever, and was in much greater request than any other brewers. In fact, their trade flourished and spread so rapidly that they again very soon found themselves cramped for room. In 1849, therefore, the plot of land on which the present premises stand was chosen and the cellars were excavated and built. The erection of the present brewery was commenced a year later…

The NYC Directories of the time generally support this part of the story:

  • F & M Schafer (no e), brewers was listed on Seventh Ave in the 1847/1848 Directory, however they’re address was given as “85 & 87 Ave 7” not 109 and 111 as mentioned in the story. They remain listed on 7th Avenue (85-91) through 1863.
  • F&M Schaefer began listing E 51st Street & Fourth Avenue as an address in 1857 (Fourth Avenue was later renamed Park Avenue). Between 1857 and 1863 the company listed both the 7th Ave and 51st Street locations as addresses. In 1864 they dropped the 7th Avenue address.
  • On the 4th of February, 1878, the firm was organized into a joint stock corporation. It was first listed as the F & M Schaefer Brewing Company in the 1879 Directory at the 51st Street address.

The brewery converted from ice to artificial refrigeration in 1880 and the bottling department was added in 1892. The New York Times article described the new refrigeration plant like this:

The company have also recently erected a large four-story building, 44 by 75 feet, on the north side of 51st Street, where their ice machinery is located. No ice whatever is used, a gigantic ice machine taking its place. This machine was built by the Consolidated Ice Machine Company, and has a capacity for cooling equivalent  to 125 tons of ice per day – all on one floor. Previous to this no less than 15,000 tons of ice were consumed by the company every year.

The company was one of many profiled in a special section on “Business and Commerce” in the May 23, 1908 edition of the Staunton (Va.) Daily Leader. The feature described the three types of beer that the company was brewing at the time.

Three kinds of beer are brewed – “Wiener,” very light in color; “Lager,” an amber-colored beer, and their “Special Dark,” which is highly recommended by physicians for its nutritious qualities. The “Wiener” and “Special Dark” are unsurpassed in this country, while the “Lager” compares very favorably with other popular brews. These beers are also bottled for hotel, export and family trade. The bottling is done directly from the vats, which are under government supervision.

The business remained at the 51st Street location until the mid-1910’s when they decided to move across the East River to Brooklyn. An article in the “real estate” section of the May 29, 1915 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle introduced the upcoming move and two weeks later Schaefer took out an advertisement in the Eagle introducing themselves to Brooklyn.

Another industry is to be added to the rapidly growing commercial center in the vicinity of the Williamsburg Bridge. No movement in the past ten years has been so marked as the demand for factory sites in this locality and the decision of the F & M Schaefer Brewing Company to abandon its present plant on Park Avenue and Fiftieth Street, Manhattan, for a more accessible location at the Brooklyn waterfront is further proof of the value of the section for business purposes.

The new Brooklyn plant opened in June 1916 and the old Manhattan plant was sold off in parcels.

Prior to National Prohibition I didn’t find many Schaefer newspaper advertisements. One I did find was for their Wiener Beer entitled “Special Holiday Brew” put out during the 1893 Christmas season. Another advertisement that was pretty common between 1893 and 1906 referred to their Bock Beer and made a point that its bottled at the Brewery.

        

The Brooklyn plant stayed open during prohibition making cereal beverages and manufacturing artificial ice and dyes. Their license to brew beer after Prohibition was posted in a June 1933 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Their advertising message at the end of Prohibition was “Our Hand Has Never Lost It’s Skill” and one advertisement in November of 1933 goes on to say:

A man may have a poor memory for faces, but he never forgets the first time he is introduced to a glass of Schaefer.

By 1938, Schaefer was selling one million barrels per year and in 1944, two million. They purchased the Beverwyck Brewery Company in Albany, NY in 1950 and in the 1970’s acquired the rights to the Piels label.  Between 1950 and 1970 Schaefer was one of the top selling Breweries in the nation and in 1968 the company went public.

At the same time however, like other local breweries they were losing market share to the national brands. In 1972 they opened a new modern Lehigh Valley Plant in Allentown Pa and four years later they closed the aging Brooklyn Plant and consolidated there. An Associated Press item on January 23, 1976 reported:

The F. and M. Schaefer Brewing Co., New York’s only remaining brewery has announced it is moving to Allentown Pa.

Schaefer Chairman Robert W. Lear said about 850 workers will lose their jobs as a result of the move.

Blaming mounting production costs for the closing, he said brewing operations for the company’s Schaefer and Piels beers would be consolidated at the firm’s new Lehigh Valley plant in Pennsylvania.

Lear said at a news conference at the company headquarters Thursday that the move was “dictated by financial losses caused by excessive and increasingly rising cost of brewing beer at our Brooklyn plant.

Major factors in the move, he said, were the obsolescence of the plant, the high cost of utilities, municipal services and taxes and a high labor intensity factor resulting from inefficient plant layout.

The Schaefer family sold to the Stroh Brewing Co in 1981 and Stroh was later absorbed by PABST who retains the license to Schaefer and sells a reformulated brew to niche markets today. The Allentown facility is currently owned by the Boston Brewing Co who makes Sam Adams.

There’s no longer any sign of the Schaefer complex in Brooklyn. The former brewery site bounded by 9th and 10th Streets, Kent Avenue and the East River is now part of a waterfront park.

In Manhattan, St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church purchased the portion of the brewery site on Park Avenue between 50th and 51St Street and built the church that remains there until today. It opened to the congregation in 1918.

I’ve found three different styles of bottle. Two are champagne styles with a tooled crown finish. One is brown with the company name written in script and the other aqua with the company name and beer barrel insignia embossed on the front. The beer barrel insignia is similar to the one in the 1893 Christmas advertisement shown above (but the banner substitutes the words “Brewing Co.” for “Wiener Beer”).

  

The third, export style, is machine made.  The machine made export was certainly made after 1916 when they modernized in Brooklyn.

The bottles are all embossed New York as opposed to Brooklyn, so it looks like they never changed the embossing to reflect the Brooklyn plant.