The Lion Brewery, established in 1858, was located on the upper west side of New York City’s Borough of Manhattan in much of the area that would ultimately encompass 107th to 109th Streets between 9th (Columbus) and 10th (Amsterdam) Avenues. An advertisement for the brewery published years later, in 1914, made the point that the Lion and the city literally grew up together.
The Lion Brewery is geographically situated in the Heart of the City, where it was established sixty-five years ago. The first brewhouse was built in what was then known as a farming district, when Manhattan only had a population of 515,000. Within the sixty-five years the City of New York has been built around the brewery and has a population of more than 5,000,000 while the brewery has become one of the largest in the East.
This post-prohibition photograph of the brewery appeared in the January 8, 1934 edition of the Brooklyn “Times Union.”.
The business was established by brothers Albert and James Speyer, and was originally listed as Speyers & Co. in New York City’s 1859 business directory. The Speyer name appears above the main entrance in this early depiction of the brewery found in the April 2, 1859 edition of a German publication called “The Illustrated World.”
In addition to the brewery, the Speyer’s also maintained a depot in lower Manhattan at 257 Bowery where, according to this December 23, 1858 advertisement published in New York’s “Daily Herald,” their beer was available in stone bottles.
The following advertisement in the Brooklyn “Daily Eagle” made it clear that the Speyers’ had established a Brooklyn depot as well.
Shortly after the brewery opened, the Speyer’s touted the quality of their product in the February 9, 1859 edition of the “Daily Herald.”
THE SPERYERS LION BREWERY
Office 257 Bowery , New York
The notice of dealers and consumers of lager beer is called to the under analysis of the product of the above brewery, made by Dr. Chilton, the well known analytical chemist. The object in view is not alone to show the unrivaled superiority in purity and salubrity of this beer, but likewise to prove that no prejudicial additions (for purposes of communicating fallacious lustre, etc.) of resin, alkalies, tannin, etc., are introduced, the finest qualities of barley, malted at the brewery, and best hops to be procured in the United States, Canada or Europe being solely used in the Speyers Brewery.
The notice went on to publish this chemical; analysis of their beer.
All this was short-lived however, when less than two years after opening their doors, the October 3, 1859 edition of the “Daily Herald” reported that the brewery had been destroyed by fire.
At 10 o’clock last night a fire broke out in the extensive lager beer brewery of Albert Speyers, called the Lion Brewery, situated between 107th and 109th Streets and Eighth and Tenth Avenues. The whole of the buildings were destroyed, together with their contents. The estimated loss amounts to about $250,000 – insured for $145,000 in city companies. The origin of the fire is at present unknown.
It was at this point that a German immigrant named Emanuel Bernheimer took an interest in the Lion Brewery. The 1894 “National Cyclopedia of American Biography,” included this description of his background as well as the details leading up to his connection with the Lion.
He associated himself in 1850 with August Schmid and established the brewery known at the time as the Constanz Brewery which was located in East Fourth Street near Avenue B, New York City. This was one of the first lager beer breweries in New York. The business prospered, and two years later, the Fourth Street buildings not being large enough to supply the demand, the firm built another brewery having the same name, at Four Corners, Staten Island. The firm conducted this brewery until 1856, when Mr. Bernheimer sold his interest to his partner, Mr. Schmid. After a lapse of four years, during which he engaged in different manufacturing enterprises, Mr. Bernheimer resolved to again engage in the manufacture of lager beer. It was about this time that the Lion Brewery was consumed by fire…
The two brothers not wishing to continue the business, Mr. Bernheimer formed a co-partnership with James Speyers and rebuilt, in 1860, the present Lion Brewery, under the name Speyer & Bernheimer.
The rebuilding process had begun as early as the spring of 1860 as evidenced by this item that appeared in the April 12th edition of the “Daily Herald” under the heading “New Buildings in the City.”
A new building for the “Lion Brewery,” which was burned sometime since. It will be situated on the corner of Ninth Avenue and 108th Street, size 150 x 147, height, four stories; cost $30,000. Will be finished by the 1st of October.
By 1862, New York City’s Copartnership and Corporation Directory listed Speyer & Bernheimer with an address of West 108th Street, near 10th Ave. The directory also listed a lower Manhattan address of 274 Grand Street, which I assume was their office/depot.
The rebuilt brewery included a beer garden and park described like this in a story featuring the Lion that was published years later in the July 23, 1934 edition of the “Brooklyn Citizen:”
In the old days when One Hundred and Eighth Street was a somnolent suburban district, city dwellers in search of pleasure and refreshment would head for Lion Park which then stood across the street from the present location of the brewery. There they found a fine hotel and restaurant, a monster beer garden and picnic grounds which stretched their cooling green shade for blocks.
One summer evening in the park was described like this in the July 8, 1866 edition of the “Daily Herald.”
THE CONCERTS AT THE LION PARK YESTERDAY
The Saturday concerts at the Lion Brewery Park during the season thus far have been very successful.They are always attended by an attractive and select audience , representing the musical portion of the New York public. The Lion Park yesterday was full of visitors, notwithstanding the excessive heat. The orchestral performances were conducted by Mr. Bergmann, and the program on the occasion embraced selections of the choicest compositions of Flotow, Strauss, Ricci, Rossini, Halevy, Meyerbeer and others. The program also included a march of Mr. W. Candidus, a well known composer of this city, a composition which has gained a good deal of popularity among the musicians of this benighted town …
…The Lion Brewery concerts are some of the most appropriate musical enterprises during the hot season.
Bernheimer’s March 29,1890 obituary in the “New York Times” went on to say that he was also one of the first to lease out beer saloons that he had established in various parts of the city. A practice that was soon adopted by many of the city’s other breweries.
Over the course of the next several years, Bernheimer’s partner in the business would change several times. According to The 1894 “National Cyclopedia of American Biography:”
Speyer & Bernheimer continued together two years, when Mr Speyer disposed of his share to August Schmid, the former partner of Mr. Bernheimer.
At this point both the Lion Brewery and Schmid’s Constanz Brewery were both managed under the Bernheimer and Schmid name as evidenced by this listing in New York City’s 1865 Commercial Directory.
Sometime in 1865 Emanuel Bernheimer and August Schmid parted ways when, according to the 1894 “National Cyclopedia of American Biography:”
August Schmid disposed of his interest to his brother, Joseph, from Rock Island, Ill. Emanuel Bernheimer and Joseph Schmid remained together until December 1, 1878, when they retired, the business being continued by their sons, Simon E. Bernheimer and August Schmid.
The two son’s partnership continued until Schmid’s untimely death in 1889. According to the June 5th edition of the The “Evening World” Schmid and another New York brewer, George Ringler, passed away within hours of each other.
Two of Our Big Brewers Dead
Two prominent brewers, well known in this city, will be buried tomorrow, and by a strange coincidence both died within three hours of each other. One was George Ringler, who died suddenly at 10 o’clock Monday night at his residence, 131 East Ninety-second Street. He was forty-seven years old and had been in the brewery business twenty-six years. His companion in death is August Schmid of the Lion Brewery who died at 2 A.M. yesterday at the Hotel Royal.
At that point, Schmid’s wife, Josephine, assumed his role in the partnership and the business continued to be called Bernhemer & Schmid. Several years after Schmid’s death, a February 12, 1894 story in New York’s “The World” provided the following snapshot of the brewery’s worth.
The plant alone is worth $1,500,000 today. Annual income, $250,000; daily income, $684; income tax, $5,000.
The brewery included among other things a stable that housed over 200 horses. During the 1890’s the stable endured at least three separate fires; in 1890, 1895 and 1898. The 1895 fire was described in the April 3rd edition of the “New York Times.”
The hayloft of the Lion Brewery stables was burned early yesterday morning causing $10,000 damage. The Lion Brewery occupies the entire block between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues and One Hundred and Seventh and One Hundred and Eighth Streets. The stables are near Amsterdam Avenue.
The stables are a three-story stone building. There were 200 horses in the stalls of the first and second floors. The hayloft occupied one of the rooms on the third floor. The horses were untied as soon as the fire was discovered and driven out hurriedly into an open lot nearby, where most of them were cororraled. Thirty of the horses, being panic-stricken, got away, and continued their flight uptown. They are Percherons and very valuable. Twenty or more men were sent out at once after the horses and most of them had been recovered when night came..
The fire in the hay was a stubborn one, and a great many engines were called out. It took nearly two hours to get the fire under control. All the hay in the loft was ruined, either by fire or water. There was enough to have lasted until Autumn.
The Lion Brewery stables were burned four years ago, and a number of horses were killed. Bernheimer & Schmid are the proprietors of the brewery.
Around the turn of the century, disagreements arose between Simon Bernheimer and Josephine Schmid that resulted in Bernheimer appealing to the courts to have the partnership dissolved. The details were laid out in a June 22, 1900 story in the “New York Times.”
Suit was begun in the Supreme Court yesterday for a dissolution of the old established firm of Bernheimer & Schmid, proprietors of the Lion Brewery on Columbus Avenue, One Hundred and Seventh and One Hundred and Eighth Streets, on account of a disagreement between the partners as to the conduct of the business and the desire of Simon E. Bernheimer to retire from active management of the business which was started forty years ago…
…The suit for the dissolution of the partnership was filed by Wetmore & Jenner, attorneys for Mr. Bernheimer, against Mrs. Schmid with a request for the appointment of a receiver, the sale of the assets and property as a going concern and a division of the surplus to the partners.
The complaint recites that since the formation of the present firm in 1889 the partnership has been renewed to December 1, 1897, since which time it has been continued at will by mutual consent.
It is alleged that differences between the partners have recently arisen, and have threatened to diminish and impair the business. Among other matters which Mr. Bernheimer alleges is the insistence of Mrs. Schmid that the brewmaster and superintendent of the brewery, who has been connected with the brewery for many years, shall be summarily discharged, that the product of the brewery shall be materially diminished, and new methods of manufacture and sale to which the plant is not adapted, shall be made.
An attorney named John M. Bowers was appointed as receiver in December, 1901, and a year and a half later, a July 24, 1903 “New York Times” story announced that their issues were resolved when Schmid bought out Bernheimer’s share of the business:
Justice Bischoff in the Supreme Court yesterday granted the application made yesterday by Lawyer John M. Bowers, the temporary receiver of the Lion Brewery, for permission to transfer the property now in his hands to Mrs. Josephine Schmid, who has purchased the interest of Simon E Bernheimer, her partner in the Lion Brewery, and thereby dissolved the copartnership which existed between them.
A story published years later in the January 10, 1908 edition of the “New York Times” put the purchase price for Bernheimer’s share at $1,400,000.
On a side note: Shortly after relinquishing his share of the Lion, Bernheimer became Josephine’s neighbor when he, along with Max Bernheimer and Anton Schwartz, the Lion’s former brewmaster, purchased the J. F. Betz Brewery, located at Tenth Avenue and 128th Street in Manhattan.
Around the time that Schmid bought out Bernheimer, a July 2, 1903 feature published in the “Evening World” provided this description of the Lion’s operation.
A brewery, worth $5,000,000, producing half a million barrels of beer annually and yielding half a million dollars in profit, is to be owned and managed by a woman.
Think it possible?
Ask Mrs. Josephine Schmid, owner of more than 50 saloons and known as New York’s “Brewery Queen,” who is about to buy out the interests of her partners, Max E. and Simon E. Bernheimer and become sole proprietor of the Lion Brewery at One Hundred and Eighth Street and Columbus Avenue…
Besides her brewery interests, Mrs. Schmid is the sole owner of not less than fifty saloons, and when she acquires her partners’ interests she will be a part owner of thirty five more.
The feature included this turn of the century depiction of the brewery.
Shortly after she took full control of the business, Josephine Schmid incorporated it under the name of “The Lion Brewery of New York City.” This March 30, 1904 advertisement in the “Times Union” was one of the first to exhibit the newly minted corporate name.
By most accounts, Josephene had been active in the management of the brewery both before and after August Schmid’s death and according to a January 3, 1904 story in “The Sun,” her taking full control was a positive step for the brewery.
Free to carry out plans which had long been a subject of contention under the partnership agreement, she started in by reorganizing the entire working force – promoting here, discharging there, hiring new hands, etc.
Those who are well informed on the subject say that every change she made has proved to be for the best. That is saying a good deal. So far as can be learned there is no other case on record in which a woman has been the efficient active head of so large a business concern operated only by men.
Less than a year after assuming control of the business, Josephine bought the New York City brewery business of “Conrad Stein’s Sons.” This led to an odd story covered by several New York City newspapers on January 27, 1904. As reported by “The Sun:”
If the North River wasn’t drunk yesterday afternoon it ought to have been, for about 12,000 kegs of beer were dumped into it.
The beer came from Conrad Stein’s Sons’ Brewery, in Fifty-Seventh Street, near Eleventh Avenue. Some time ago the Lion Brewery got control of the Stein business, but the bill of sale did not include the building, machinery or the supply of beer on hand. What the Lion Brewery did get was its good will and outstanding accounts. The Steins have decided to retire from business, and the building and machinery are to be sold at auction on Thursday.
When the Lion Brewery got control there were some 3,072 barrels of lager in the Stein Brewery and to keep it in the brewery the Stein concern would have to renew a bond for $75,000 with the internal revenue authorities…
A representative of the Lion Brewery said they didn’t want the beer, because it wasn’t up to their standard. Moreover, if the beer were sold some $3,000 would have to be paid out in revenue stamps.
So it was decided to let all this good beer go to waste…All the barrels were carried into the cellar and the bungs were knocked out. There are pipe connections between the floor and the sewer and the beer flowed merrily through these into the river. The pipe connections were not big enough to carry off the beer as fast as it left the barrels, however, and soon the beer was a couple of feet deep on the cellar floor.
“It was a beautiful, pale sea,” said one of the inspectors, who gloomily watched the beer go to waste.
In 1908, according to a January 10th “New York Times” story, the Lion Brewery was valued at $5,000,000 and Josephine was drawing an annual salary of $500,000. That same year, a May 23rd feature published in the Staunton (Va.) “Daily Leader” provided this verbal tour of the Lion.
A tour of inspection through the big plant reveals many features of interest surrounding the production of the famous pilsener, lager and culmbacher beers there brewed. There are for instance, the large granaries where huge bins with a total capacity of 100,ooo bushels, stand filled with malt. Nearby are piled bags filled with the other cereals which enter into the composition of Lion Brewery beer, while bales on bales of choice hops, both from this country and from Europe, are stored.
Then come the huge caldrons in which first is boiled the mash and then is cooked the resultant liquid which eventually becomes beer. Thence the visitor passes through the fermenting cellars where vats of enormous capacity stand in what seem countless rows, each filled with beer in the first stage of fermentation.
From these vats the liquid is transferred to the cellars for aging. Some of these cellars are hewn out of solid rock, 35 feet below street level. Others are above ground. The combined capacity of these vats is for an output of 600,000 barrels, thus assuring the consumer of the proper aging of the Lion Brewery beers before they are put on the market.
The tour went on to describe the stable, now with a 300 horse capacity, that also included a veterinary hospital that could treat up to 12 equine patients, an equine ambulance and a veterinary surgeon on staff.
That being said, by the time the above feature was written, the brewery was already in the process of converting from horse and wagon to gasoline powered trucks. The conversion process was articulated in the February 1, 1913 edition of a publication called “The Power Wagon.”
The Lion Brewery New York, whose plant occupies more than a city block on Columbus Avenue between West 107th and 109th Streets, New York City, has been a user of gasoline trucks since 1906, when one 5-ton truck was put into service. A 3-ton Hewitt was purchased in 1907, and a 7-ton machine of the same make was purchased in 1909. These machines effected such a saving and opened so much territory that the services of three 3-ton and four 7-ton Hewitts and two 5-ton Macks were required during 1910. The 1912 deliveries consisted of four 5-ton G. V. electric machines.
Newspaper advertisements for their beers were few and far between however, in 1914 and 1915 they did run a series of ads that flashed the slogan:
The Lion Brewery of New York City
Makes Imported Unimportant
One ad went on to describe their Lion Pilsener as a wholesome, pure light beer which they claimed was “the first American Pilsener brew,” and “the beer that made the Lion Brewery famous.” Another described it like this:
Their medium dark Wuerzburger was described as:
Every spring during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the brewery advertised a Bock Beer as well.
In 1917 Josephine, now with the last name del Drago after she married an Italian Prince named Don Giovanni del Drago in 1909, was sued by her daughter, Pauline Schmid Murray, who demanded $3,000,000 in damages on the score that her mother injured her interests through mismanagement. Josephine’s response, issued by her attorney and published in the April 10, 1917 edition of “The Herald,” made it clear that as early as 1917, prohibition laws, coupled with the rising cost of doing business, were both having a serious negative effect on the business.
Mr. Bowers declared that from $500,000 earned in 1909, the net receipts of the brewery have fallen to a point where they are discouraging to the proprietor. Another drawback, he stated, was the increased cost of barley and hops.
“I suppose in that respect,” remarked Justice Erlanger, “you are in the same position as your competitors.”
“Exactly,” replied the attorney. “All are up against prohibition, the high cost of brewing and five cents as the absolute limit in the price for a glass of beer.
A year later the 1918-1919 N.Y.C. Copartnership and Corporation Directory listed Pauline’s husband, Hugh A Murray as the president of the “Lion Brewery of New York City,” with both Pauline and Hugh named as directors. There’s no mention of Josephine and I suspect, but can’t confirm, that Pauline’s 1917 law suit, along with the decline in business served as the catalyst for this change.
Murray continued to serve as president until both he and Pauline died in a 1931 automobile accident.
The brewery survived the prohibition years by producing near beer as well as other items whose manufacture was readily adaptable to the equipment on hand. According to a January 21, 1919 story in the “New York Tribune,” one such item was ice.
Breweries and liquor stores of New York are already being altered to meet the new conditions that will be brought about when the nation goes “dry” on June 30.
The Lion Brewery in Manhattan is going to make ice.
“We have a capacity of 200 tons a day at this time and we shall increase the output to 400 tons a day as soon as we can get to it,” said the manager of the brewery last night.
Another was the manufacture of dyes. A book entitled “Intemperate Spirits, Economic Adaptation During Prohibition,” by Alice Louise Kassens, explains the connection:
Brewery processing equipment was readily adaptable to synthetic chemicals. They had access to clean water, storage and fermentation tanks, filter presses, pumps, steam boilers, cooling capacity, warehouses, laboratories and chemists. Additionally, breweries were typically multi-storied which was ideal for using gravity to aid the production process of dyes.
The Lion facilitated the manufacture of dyes under a newly formed corporation called the Noil Chemical & Colors Works, Inc., a company that the August 24, 1923 edition of the “Wall Street Journal” included on a list of dye manufacturers. The Journal went on to say:
If one spells the first name of the company backwards it will be found to be “Lion.” As a matter of fact in the damp past the present dye factory was the Lion Brewing Co., situated at 108th Street and Columbus Avenue, New York City. Incidentally the new company is making one of the best dyes in the country.
The brewery survived another fire, this one on the Fourth of July, 1927 and ultimately welcomed the end of National Prohibition with this advertisement in the April 7, 1933 edition of New York’s “Daily News.”
Directly below the image the ad read:
To three generations of New Yorkers, the name “Lion Pilsener” awakens fond and pleasant memories. Broadway, when it was Broadway, Churchill’s, Rector’s, Shanley’s. Way back as far as 1850, Lion Pilsner was the compliment of good food, good music and good cheer throughout Manhattan Isle.
Today, Lion Pilsener returns. To greet old friends and win new ones…with the same old mellow, wholesome Pilsener Brew.
“It must be imported!” the old-timers used to say, “Such Pilsener is Old Country Magic.”
But how wrong they were! For every amber drop of Lion Pilsener has flowed from the crystal-lined pipes of Manhattan’s oldest and most historic brewery. And throughout New York today, good old Lion Pilsener is on tap again.
On a side note: The above advertisement, like most post-prohibition Lion advertisements, references the Lion’s start date as 1850 not 1858. 1850 was actually the year that the Constanz Brewery was established, an indication that by then, the histories of the Constanz and Lion Breweries had become commingled for marketing purposes.
A June 15, 1934 advertisement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle made it clear that by then they had added an ale to their light and dark brews.
Later “Daily News” advertisements in 1939 and 1940 create confusion (at least in my mind) when they simply called their beer “Lion Beer,” without specifying a type.
With the Murray’s having passed away in 1931, the post-prohibition brewery was in the hands of their daughter (Josephine’s granddaughter), Mrs. Paula Murray Courdert. A January 8, 1934 story in the “Times Union” named her husband, Frederick R. Courdert, Jr., as vice president and assistant director, Byron Clark, Jr. as vice president and Pasquale Ferri as secretary and general manager. They operated it until the early 1940’s when it was acquired by the Greater New York Brewery, Inc.
When the “Lion” brand disappeared isn’t clear to me. The last “Lion Beer” newspaper advertisement I can find that exhibits their trademark was in the October 24, 1941 edition of the “Baltimore Sun.” By that time it was being sold in a can as well.
By August 0f 1943 their brewery building was certainly abandoned and the machinery and equipment were scheduled for auction. The auction notice was published in several east coast newspapers.
Less than one month later, on September 14, 1943, the “Daily News” reported that the main six-story brewery building caught fire one last time.
Smoke billowed over upper Manhattan last night and early today while firemen fought flames in the abandoned Lion Brewery on Columbus Avenue between 107th and 108th Sts. The fire was discovered at 8:40 P.M. on the fourth floor of the six-story building, which has stood almost a century. A second alarm was sounded an hour later. Nine firemen were overcome by smoke and treated at the scene.
Finally a March 5, 1944 story in the Daily News entitled “Look Out Below” might serve as the Brewery’s obituary.
Starting at the top. The workman slinging the sledge hammer got this job because he doesn’t get dizzy spells at high altitudes. He’s at work demolishing the 150 foot smokestack of the old Lion Brewery, brick by brick for a total of 901,624. The land is to be used as a playground by the Board of Education.
In case you’re curious, that lone figure at the top of the stack didn’t finish the job, the wrecking ball did.
The bottle I found is a machine made, 12 ounce champagne style bottle. The heel of the bottle is embossed with their corporate name, “The Lion Brewery of New York City,” dating it no earlier than 1903 when the business incorporated under that name. It pretty much resembles the bottles exhibited in this 1915 advertisement.
The shoulder of the bottle is embossed with their trade mark lion with its paws resting on a barrel.
The trademark was registered on September 5, 1905 and is described in detail on the patent notice below.