Rubsam & Horrmann was founded in 1870 when two German immigrants, Joseph Rubsam and August Horrman took over the brewing operation of Krug & Bach. The business incorporated in 1888 under the name “Rubsam & Horrmann Brewing Co.”
Their brewery, located in Stapleton, Staten Island was called the Atlantic Brewery. According to a document called “One Hundred Years of Brewing,” published in 1901, the origins of the brewery date back as far as 1854.
…In the succeeding year (1854) brewery vaults were built at Stapleton, S.I., and used for storage by Bernheimer & Schmid of Four Corners, until 1865. Krug & Bach then commenced to brew beer upon their site, the vaults and the brewery being the foundation of the plant now conducted by the Rubsam & Horrmann Brewing Company. The firm of Rubsam & Hormann was formed in 1870.
An early depiction of the brewery complex was included in “One Hundred Years of Brewing.”
This original plant consisting primarily of wooden frame structures was destroyed by fire in 1878. This March 22, 1878 story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the fire and resultant damage.
The large brewery of Rubsam & Horrmann, at Stapleton, Staten Island, which was destroyed by fire yesterday morning caused damage to many houses that were injured by fire and water. The wind was high at the time and sparks were carried a great distance setting fire to several buildings, among others to Mr. Rubsam’s residence which was destroyed. The brewery and two ice houses were burned and the ice was spared simply because it could not burn. The loss is estimated at $250,000 partly covered by insurance. Mr Rubsam’s loss on his residence is $15,000. The loses are partly covered by insurance. The fire broke out in the mill used for grinding malt, and is supposed to have been caused by the undue heating of the malt. The brewery building was situated about a half a mile distant from the ferry landing , between Boyd and Canal Streets.
The 1886 Staten Island directory, the earliest I have access to, continued to list Rubsam & Horrmann on Canal Street so apparently the brewery was restored rather quickly and at or near the same location. The restored brewery is shown in these two old photographs, the first is dated 1895 and the second from a slightly different angle is undated.
One feature not visible in the photographs was the brewey’s storage vaults that according to “One Hundred Years of Brewing” pre-dated the plant. Fortunately, they were described in a 1908 feature on Rubsam & Horrmann published in the May 23, 1908 edition of the Staunton (Virginia) Daily Leader.
They are huge caverns burrowed in the side of Boyd’s Hill, the imminence on which the plant stands. Here 40,000 barrels are always in storage, which insures proper aging of the beer.
The brewery also featured three artesian wells.
The water is the purest. It is secured from three artesian wells sunk on the grounds and is of the fine quality for which Staten Island is famous.
The Staunton Daily Leader feature went on to describe the beers produced by the brewery at the time.
Three grades of beer are brewed, the regular lager, the “Standard,” a dark brew, and the “Pilsner,” a light. For the “Standard” only hops, malt, yeast and water are used. In the lighter beers rice is an element. Upward of 70,000 pounds of imported hops are required for these brews every year.
The output is now (1908) 160,000 barrels a year more than half of which is marketed outside the Borough of Richmond, throughout the other four boroughs of New York, in New Jersey, Connecticut and up-State in New York. The extent of the Atlantic Brewery plant is indicated by the fact that it employs, including the bottling works, no less than 150 hands.
This 1915 advertisement still mentioned the three brands: Pilsner; Standard, now called Bavarian Standard, and Premium, which I assume is the regular lager mentioned in the story above.
During much of prohibition Rubsam & Horrmann continued to operate manufacturing ice and near-beer. This 1923 advertisement, one of a series that appeared in New Jersey newspapers, was for two of their near beer brands being sold at the time, Pilsner and Wurzburger.
In 1930 the brewery was once again damaged by fire. The September 5, 1930 edition of the Asbury Park Press described the fire.
A century-old brewery, which since prohibition had manufactured ice and near beer, was wrecked by fire last night with a loss estimated by the owners at $1,500,000.
The plant known as the Atlantic Brewery and owned by Rubsam and Horrmann, covered an acre in the heart of Stapleton, S. I. Only the brick walls of the seven-story building remained. Included in the destruction was a tower housing a huge clock which with faces in four directions furnished time to residents for almost 75 years.
The story went on to say that the fire was confined to the main building of the plant. Subsequently, the building, including the clock tower, was rebuilt and made operational again. Years later that clock tower would welcome home GI’s from World War II. According to the June 28, 1945 edition of the New York Daily News:
New York Harbor is getting Redder, Whiter and Bluer with every coat of paint, and the star spangled look of it thrills homecoming GI’s (clock tower of the R&H Brewery at Stapleton, S.I., has blossomed out with eight-foot letters spelling out “Welcome.”
The 1933 Staten Island Directory still listed the brewery office with a Canal Street address. By that time, recognizing Prohibition was coming to an end, a March 24, 1933 New York Daily News article indicated that improvement plans were in the works.
The Rubsam & Horrmann Brewing Co., 191 Canal Street, Staten Island, is awaiting action at Albany before determining how many new men to hire, but is planning to spend $250,000 for new equipment.
Less than three months later, the company’s brands were being advertised as far away as California under the heading “Old Friends Are Best.” This advertisement appeared in the June 17, edition of the Bakersfield Californian.
It appears Rubsam & Horrmann was one of the first companies that advertised through the sponsorship of television shows. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s they sponsored sports related shows with titles that included: “Rates Highest,” hosted by Jack McCarthy and “Powerhouse of Sports,” hosted by Jimmy Powers. “Rates Highest” would appear before N.Y. Giants baseball games but apparently tackled topics that appealed to fans of all three New York baseball teams. This July 9, 1948 advertisement that appeared in the New York Daily News previewed a show that tried to answer the question “Who has the best second baseman – Yanks, Giants, Dodgers?”
They didn’t confine themselves to sports either. In 1950, they sponsored the broadcast of the St Patrick’s Day Parade.
In December, 1953 Piels bought the Rubsam & Horrmann’s brewery as well as their R & H label. The sale was reported in the December 14, 1953 edition of the (Allentown Pa.) Morning Call.
Piel Bros., one of New York’d oldest brewers has acquired Rubsam and Horrmann Brewing Co. of Staten Island. Piel plans to use new plant capacity to serve distributors in lower New Jersey.
In 1962 Piel Bros was acquired by Drewery Limited U.S.A., Inc. and the old Rubsam & Horrmann plant fell victim to the resultant reorganization. According to the May 28, 1963 edition of The South Bend (Indiana) Tribune:
Drewerys Limited U.S.A., Inc., incurred a first-quarter consolidated loss of $419,212, or 68 cents a share, Carleton S. Smith, board chairman, told stockholders at their annual meeting here today…
Smith attributed the decline in earnings to reorganization plans begun in October, 1962, with the closing of the company’s Edelweiss plant in Chicago, followed last January with the closing of the Staten Island plant of Piel Bros.
The liquidation sale notice signaling the end of the brewery was printed in several July, 1963 editions of the Wilmington Delaware News Journal. The sale appeared to have included the brewery’s machinery, equipment and contents.
Today, the area between Canal and Boyd in Stapleton includes a relatively recent development of attached residences. Other areas are vacant. As far as I can tell, there is no sign of the former brewery buildings.
I’ve found two R & H bottles. The first is a mouth blown champagne, actually embossed 11 3/4 oz., with a blob finish.
The second is machine made, 12 1/2 oz champagne style. The style and embossing exactly match the bottles shown in the 1923 prohibition era advertisement pictured previously.
The bottle most likely dates no later than the prohibition era. Post prohibition advertisements no longer feature the champagne style bottle but exhibit the export and stubby style instead. The advertisements below were from 1935 and 1939 respectively.