In 1867, Jacob Ruppert established the Jacob Ruppert Brewery in the Yorkville section of Manhattan. The first listing for the brewery that I can find was in the 1869 New York City Directory with an address of “Third Avenue near 91st Street.” It would remain there for almost 100 years, growing into one of the largest and most prominent breweries in New York City and the nation. An article in the August 8, 1913 edition of the New York Sun that covered one of their many brewery expansions, described the origins of the initial plant in Ruppert’s own words.
I was born in 1842 in the Seventeenth Ward on Second Street between Avenue A and Avenue B. My father, Frank Ruppert owned the Turtle Bay Brewery, so called because there was a Turtle Bay in the East River in those days.
I learned the business with him in the 50’s, and in 1866 I secured the land where we now stand. It was a little brewery I started in 1867. We were out in the woods then. This section hadn’t built up then. This business has grown and grown until this new brew house was necessary.
Over the years the growth referenced by Ruppert was evidenced by both their geographical expansion and their increase in annual output. According to a feature on the Ruppert Brewery published in the May 23, 1908 edition of the Staunton (Virginia) Daily Leader, by then the brewery had grown from that initial brick building near 91st Street to a plant that encompassed much of the area from 90th Street to 92nd Street between Second and Third Avenue.
That year their annual output was 500,ooo barrels. Eight years later their output had doubled. This April 26, 1916 advertisement in the New York Evening World boasted that they had just broken the one million barrel mark.
Several mid-teens newspaper stories that featured the brewery described the physical plant that supported this growth. One, published in the August 18, 1911 edition of the Brooklyn Standard Union described Ruppert’s opening of the largest beer stock house in the world at the time.
Yesterday afternoon the management of the Jacob Ruppert Brewery gave a reception to about 4,000 wine and liquor dealers and a host of friends in honor of the opening of their new beer stock house, which is the largest individual building of its kind in the world.
The building is located between the brew houses and the bottling plant and is the largest addition to the Ruppert Brewery. The floor space is about 160,000 square feet, which, if laid out in Central Park, would cover nearly four acres of land…
The building, together with the other storage facilities of the Ruppert plant, will hold at one time 318,000 barrels, or 10,000,000 gallons of beer. If put into one long tank, the Ruppert storage capacity would make a tunnel 7 feet in diameter and 6 1/2 miles long.
Another story, this one in the August 8, 1913 edition of the (Brooklyn) Times Union, stated that with the construction of a new brew house the plant had increased their annual capacity to 2,000,000 barrels per year.
Perhaps the most attractive part of the brew house is the department where installed are four immense brew kettles. They are the largest ever built in any brewery. Made of the finest grade of copper, they required 200,000 pounds of the metal for their construction. Each has a capacity of 25,000 gallons. The walls in this room are covered with Italian marble extending three stories high. Balconies overlook the room.
Two photographs of the brew kettles were included in The (New York) Sun’s August 24, 1913 edition.
The 1911 Brooklyn Standard Union story went on to describe their bottling operation which at the time was the third largest in the world.
In order to give the reader an idea of the bottling plant a few facts may here be mentioned. There are over 20,000,000 bottles in use. If placed end to end, they would reach from New York to San Francisco, or about 3,ooo miles; the beer cases employed, if piled end to end, would make a column 80 miles high. The average daily output of the bottling plant is 35,000 bottles per hour – 356,000 bottles per working day of ten hours. But it has a capacity of filling 500,000 a day, not counting the handling of the empties returned each day.
The brewery’s bottling operation was certainly up and running as early as 1908. Newspaper advertisements that year mentioned four brands; Knickerbocker, Ruppiner, Metropolitan and Extra, that were being bottled at the brewery. An early newspaper advertisement, printed in the July 2, 1908 edition of the New York Sun, mentioned “Our New Up-To-Date Bottling Plant.”
Labels, for at least three of these brands were registered with the United Stated Patent Office that year on April 14. They were:
14,137 – Jacob Ruppert Extra Beer
14,138 – Jacob Ruppert Ruppiner Beer
14,139 – Jacob Ruppert Knickerbocker Beer
The labels were depicted in a November 19, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle advertisement that also included pricing information.
Their flagship beer was Knickerbocker whose slogan was “The Beer That Satisfies.” Advertisements as early as the one below from October, 1909 contained that slogan.
In 1915 Jacob Ruppert passed away, leaving the entire brewing operation to his son, Jacob Ruppert, Jr., who ran the brewery until his death in 1939. Involved in the business from an early age, by 1890 he was serving as the brewery’s general manager and according to a story in the October 20, 1933 edition of the Long Branch (N.J.) Record, in 1896 became head of the business when Ruppert, Sr. retired. A prominent figure in his own right, he was a colonel in the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard and served four terms as a U. S. Congressman from New York (1898 to 1907) . The same year that he inherited the brewery he purchased the New York Yankees, serving as team president when they acquired Babe Ruth, built Yankee Stadium and won their first championship.
Ruppert, Jr. kept the brewery open during the Prohibition years producing near-beer. An item in the November 17, 1932 edition of the New York Daily News stated that during Prohibition the Ruppert brew was run through a machine that reduced the alcohol content to half of one percent . The article, written as national prohibition was nearing its end, included a photograph of what they referred to as the “de-alcoholizing machine” and included the quote: “If the gods are kind this contraption may soon go to the junk pile.”
Despite the fact that the brewery couldn’t brew real beer during the Prohibition years, it remained in the hearts and minds of many New Yorkers. It was at the Ruppert Brewery that, in 1927, Babe Ruth was photographed signing his first big contract (three years at $70,000 per year). According to a March 5, 1927 story in the New York Daily News, Ruth had actually inked his contract earlier and the signing at the brewery was simply a staged photo-op. Ruth, left handed, was photographed signing with his right hand.
An advertisement for Knickerbocker Beer that appeared in the April 6, 1933 editions of several New York City newspapers signaled the end of Prohibition for Ruppert:
Like An Old Friend Returning!
To many of the fathers and Grandfathers of this present generation of New Yorkers the return of Knickerbocker Beer must be like the home coming of a genial friend, absent for a while from his native place, but never wholly forgotten…
That rare unforgettable flavor is back again – all the zest and the sparkle, the tonic qualities and the wholesome delight that made the Knickerbocker beer of their youth the favorite of taste wise New Yorkers is yours today!
An item, published in the April 6, 1933 edition of the Brooklyn Times Union, reported that Ruppert shipped the first two cases of beer that left the brewery to Al Smith, the former governor of New York.
Al Smith to Receive Ruppert’s First Brew
Alfred E. Smith, one of prohibition’s most distinguished and persistent foes, will receive by special messenger the first two cases of beer to move out of Col. Jacob Ruppert’s brewery tomorrow morning it was announced today.
With the post-prohibition demand for beer increasing, Ruppert purchased the property and plant of George Ehret’s Hell Gate Brewery in 1935. Ehret’s brewery, at one time the largest in the nation, had shut down prior to the end of Prohibition. Located just north of Ruppert’s plant, it effectively doubled the size of his operation. The purchase was reported in the April 9, 1935 edition of the Brooklyn Citizen.
One of the outstanding real estate transactions in the history of New York realty movements is the cash purchase by Jacob Ruppert Brewery of the 60 lots occupied by the buildings of the George Ehret Brewery. The property is located directly adjacent to the great Ruppert plant and is bordered roughly, by Ninety-second, Ninety-third and Ninety-fourth Street between Second and Third Avenues.
In discussing the purchase of the Ehret buildings Jacob Ruppert, president, said: “the return of legal beer witnessed an immediate trend toward our product, and ever since the time two years ago this month when our beer once more went on sale in New York the popular demand has been steadily upward…
With the George Ehret property next to ours so ideally located, we had to look in that direction for expansion and the deal consummated at this time now places us in position to plan for the immediate and steady growth of our production, practically doubling our present plant site.”
A year later, in 1936, the company began selling beer in cans. In early July announcements similar to this one were appearing in newspapers across the country.
The American Can Company will supply the Jacob Ruppert Brewery with its beer can needs. The brewery will start distribution of canned beer within a few weeks.
By September, 1936 this advertisement, for Knickerbocker Beer in “Keglined” cans was appearing in several New York City newspapers.
Jacob Jr.’s brother, George Ruppert, took over after Jacob’s death in 1939. The following year he announced that the company was celebrating the production of their 30,000,000th barrel of beer. On July 6, 1940 The (Brooklyn) Tablet reported:
Two milestones in the long history of the Jacob Ruppert Brewery were passed this week, according to an announcement by George E. Ruppert, president.
One was the 73rd anniversary of the opening of the brewery on its present site in June, 1867, by Jacob Ruppert, father of George Ruppert and of the late Col. Jacob Ruppert.
The other was the production of the brewery’s thirty-millionth barrel of beer.
In a statement today George Ruppert said:
The 30,000,000th barrel of Ruppert beer was spotted on the racking line early this week, has been appropriately painted in bright red, white and blue colors and will be the feature of a number of anniversary features.
The late 1940’s and 1950’s were not kind to the Ruppert Brewery with competition from national brands, aging infrastructure and the cost of doing business in New York City all taking their toll.
The February 9, 1961 edition of the New York Daily News reported that the business had lost over $500,000 in both 1958 and 1959 and was on track to lose well over $2,000,000 in 1960. According to an April 8, 1962 item in the New York Daily News, only a generous agreement with the Teamsters’ unions saved the brewery around that time.
Union Pact Saves Brewery
Manhattan’s only brewery was saved from bankruptcy by a money-saving pact it entered into with three brewery men’s union locals last year. Jack Waldon, executive vice president of the 95 year old Jacob Ruppert Brewery said the company, which had lost $2 million in 1960, showed a profit of $600,000 in 1961 as a result of an agreement it made with Teamsters’ Locals 323, 1096 and 1.
The save-the-company plan called for all 1,200 members – keg drivers, bottlers, bottle drivers and inside men – to take rotating five-week layoffs and for 91 men to retire. The arrangement saved the company more than $1.6 million without a single man being fired, and those who retired got $1,000 bonuses in addition to their pensions.
Apparently too little too late, the brewery closed it doors for good at the end of 1965. The Poughkeepsie Journal reported the closing in their January 2, 1966 issue.
The Jacob Ruppert Brewery, a landmark in the Yorkville section of New York City ceased operations Friday.
The Ruppert beer will continue to be brewed by Rheingold Breweries, Inc., which paid $12 million for the trademark, formula and equipment.
Sadly, a March 2, 1969 story in the New York Daily News described the end of Ruppert’s Manhattan plant.
…A landmark of the East Side for over a century is now nothing more than four square blocks of red brick “nuisance.” The complex of 35 fortress-like buildings which formed Yorkville’s Ruppert Brewery will soon be as flat as yesterday’s beer.
Occupying 70% of the area from 90th to 94th Sts., between Second and Third Aves., the antiquated brewery had to go because it was believed to be on the largest site in Manhattan suitable for an urban renewal project without the need for large scale residential relocation. Less than 400 people lived in the few walk-ups which shared the site with Ruppert.
Founded in 1867 by Jacob Ruppert…the brewery grew slowly, building by building, over a number of years. But it’s going to disappear a lot faster.
The following photograph accompanied the story. It reads: “Scaffolding protects jackhammer team from fall as they chip away wall of Ruppert Brewery at 91st St. off Third Ave.”
There’s no sign of the brewery complex today. The entire area from 90th Street to 94th Street between Second and Third Avenue consists entirely of modern high rise buildings.
I’ve found quite a few Ruppert bottles over the years, both tooled crowns and machine made versions of the same export style embossed “Jacob Ruppert Brewer New York” in a small circle at the base of the neck. The brewery certainly preferred the export style bottle, which, as evidenced by this 1940 Chicago advertisement, they were still using at that time.
I’ve also found a porcelain top that says”Compliments of Jacob Ruppert Bottling Department.”