The Rising Sun Brewing Company was in operation for almost 50 years during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Located in the vicinity of 7th Street and Marshall Street in Elizabeth, New Jersey, it was one of just two major breweries located in that city.
Established in 1887, the roots of the business date back much earlier. According to a 1901 publication called “One Hundred Years of Brewing:”
John F. Wagner commenced brewing lager beer at Elizabeth N. J., in 1865, and the continuation of the business, to which has been added the manufacture of ale and porter, is in the hands of the Rising Sun Brewing Company.
Wagner was listed in the Elizabeth directories as a brewer from the mid 1870’s up until 1883. At that point it appears that he turned the operation over to Benjamin Witter who called it the Orient Brewery.
Within a year, newspaper accounts across the nation announced that a boiler explosion had destroyed the brewery. The September 24, 1884 edition of the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times Leader told the story like this:
A BREWERY BURNED
ELIZABETH N. J., Sept. 23. – This evening an upright boiler in Witter’s brewery exploded, the fragments being thrown through the roof and 300 feet from the building. The brewery immediately took fire and was totally consumed, together with its contents. F. W. Bauer’s grocery store adjoining was also burned. The loss is about $25,000. Two men were reported to have been killed by the explosion, but the report lacks confirmation.
A year later on December 5, 1885 Camden N. J.’s Morning Post announced that the business had failed.
Failure of a Brewery
ELIZABETH, N. J., Dec 5 – The failure is reported of the Orient Brewery in this city, Benjamin Witter, proprietor, for the sum of $31,000.
An advertisement published three months later, in the February 23, 1886 edition of the Elizabeth Daily Journal, indicated that the brewery, still called the Orient Brewery, was back up and running by then. The brewery also ran this advertisement in the 1886 Elizabeth directory.
A year later, in 1887, the Rising Sun Brewing Company had incorporated and was listed at the former address of the Orient Brewery. Whether the cost of rebuilding ultimately forced Witter to sell the brewery due to bankruptcy or the new owners of the business rebuilt and operated it for a year under the old name is not clear. Nonetheless, by 1887 it was certainly under new ownership.
“The City of Elizabeth Illustrated,” published in 1888 by the Elizabeth Daily Journal, described the operation in its first year or so.
The Rising Sun Brewing Company was incorporated under the laws of the State of New Jersey, on March 2, 1887, with a capital of $50,000. The incorporators are citizens of Elizabeth, who are interested in the development of home trade, which they supply with a wholesome article of ale and lager beer.
In addition to their home trade the Rising Sun Brewing Company have an extensive business in Newark and New York City, which they supply with their products.
The business of the company is growing rapidly, and the present output of beer is at the rate of thirty thousand barrels per annum. The quality of the beer, which is of the finest, is equaled only by a few breweries and surpassed by none.
The 1888 feature also included a description of the physical plant along with a rendering.
The buildings are substantially built of brick, and are situated at Nos. 29 to 35 Seventh Street, corner of Marshall Street. The premises are amply supplied with all of the modern appliances for the manufacture of ale and beer. They have a complete equipment of horses and wagons for transportation purposes. The present buildings were put up a few years ago on the site of a brewery which had been destroyed by fire, and the extensive plant presents an imposing appearance, the wagons and teams in the vicinity of the brewery presenting a scene of constant activity.
By 1890 the Elizabeth business directory listed the business under the title of both “brewers” and “beer bottlers,” so it appears they were likely bottling their own beer close to, if not at the start of the new company.
The brewery grew with Marshall Street serving as its central spine. The manufacturing plant was located on the west side of the street while the offices and distribution facilities were located on the east side. This 1930 photograph of the brewery shows Seventh Street running from foreground to background and Marshall Street across the picture. The brewery is the building pictured on the right, with the towered office and distribution plant plainly visible across the street. According to a September 18, 1932 story in the N. Y. Daily News the beer was piped from vats located in the brewery under Marshall Street to kegs in the distribution plant.
As early as the late 1800’s you could grab a “Rising Sun – Special” on draught, “after business hours or, when at your leisure,” at Elizabeth’s Cafe Broeker. Their beer menu, printed in the 1897 Elizabeth N.J. directory, mentioned that you could also enjoy a Salvator, brewed by Peter Breidt. Breidt’s City Brewery was the only other major brewery located in Elizabeth at the time.
Originally Rising Sun was in the hands of several Elizabeth, New Jersey businessmen including Charles Seeber who, according to his January 18, 1900 obituary, was the principal stockholder. Seeber served as president of the company up until his death in 1900. At that point, another stockholder, Phillip Schauble, assumed the presidency with Seeber’s son, George, serving as vice president.
Four years later, a story in the November 25, 1904 edition of the Central New Jersey Home News reported that the Rising Sun business had changed hands.
ELIZABEH, NOV. 25 – One of the most important real estate deals transacted in the city in recent years took place Wednesday when the Rising Sun Brewery here changed hands and is now in the control of a syndicate represented by Alderman Edward Neugent as president. The price was $300,000, all of which was delivered in cash…
The syndicate will conduct the business on a much larger scale than heretofore, and will also enlarge the facilities of the plant.
Two months later, in January, 1905, the stockholders elected George Seeber as president, a position he held up through the start of Prohibition and beyond.
In addition to Alderman Neugent, stockholders in the new company included the former governor of New Jersey (1898 to 1902) Foster M. Vorhees and the head of Citizen’s Bank, H. Hayward Isham. An October 27, 1905 story in the (Bridgewater N. J.) Courier-News, explained that this roster of influential individuals allowed them to conduct “business as usual.”
This is Plainfield and Union County politics, but it is also politics everywhere else. The Rising Sun Brewing Company of Elizabeth….owns or controls a large proportion of the saloons in Union County. Among its stockholders are men high in official authority and powerful in the councils of both political parties. It controls the granting of licenses to such an extent that brewers in other counties can hardly obtain licenses to sell their beers in Union, and it commands the saloon vote so completely that politicians and bosses are glad to do its bidding in return for its influence at election time. “The saloon in politics” is a misnomer, so long as brewers can own the saloons and crack the whip over political bosses of both parties.
Prior to Prohibition the company marketed their light brew under the name “Bohemia” and their dark beer as “Seeber.” An advertisement for Bohemia appeared in several December, 1913 editions of the Central New Jersey Home News.
Another advertisement, this one in the September 15, 1915 edition of the Hackensack (N. J.) Record, pitched a free advertising tray to be included with the sale of each case.
The sun has arisen. The Rising Sun Brewing Co., Bohemia Beer. Pure malt and hops only. $1.00 per case, 24 bottles. A beautiful tray given with each case of beer.
It’s possible that the tray pictured below, recently offered for sale on the internet, could be a surviving example of this advertised offer.
With the advent of National Prohibition the company began advertising a non-alcoholic version of both Bohemia and Seeber, now marketing them under the singular name – See-bo (light and dark).
Newspaper advertisements for See-bo began appearing in late 1919 and early 1920; the following appearing in the January 20, 1920 edition of the Passaic (N. J.) Daily News.
Around the same time another advertisement creatively delivered their marketing pitch, cleverly avoiding the fact that it was non-alcoholic.
Not a “near”-this, nor a “near” -that but the ACTUAL THING. You can’t mistake it for anything but what it really is. Touches the spot as nothing else can. Made in a plant that knows how, and bottled right here at the brewery – as good when it reaches you as when it leaves us. Just try it – order a case (light or dark, or assorted) from your dealer or grocer, or telephone the local distributor.
Within a year they had added both a “Half & Half,” and a non-alcoholic ale called “Dublin Brew” to their menu as well.
Newspaper advertisements for these products, plentiful in the early 1920’s, completely disappear by 1924. Around this time it appears that Seeber leased the brewery to others. Names mentioned in newspaper stories over the next several years mention Louis Parkowitz and later the Oneida Manufacturing Co. as lessees, however, other stories suggest that the brewery was actually being run by New York gangster Waxey Gordon. The history of the brewery during the latter half of the 1920’s serves to support this suggestion.
The brewery was certainly illegally brewing and distributing real beer as evidenced by this December 8, 1928 story in the (New York) Daily News.
Court action yesterday prevented a general smashup of the Rising Sun Brewery at Elizabeth N. J., after dry agents had made an ax-and-crow-bar raid there. And the agents needed police protection, because of the unpopularity they had achieved.
Elizabeth likes its beer, and the crowd that gathered when blows of ax and hammer resounded through the neighborhood was in no friendly mood.
Just after daybreak five agents from New York, led by W. J. Calhoon, battered their way through the gates. A truck sped through another gate and got away and ’tis said, it carried with it a full load of brew. A crowd collected about the place and its attitude was such that the Elizabeth police were summoned.
Later the agents set about to dismantle the plant. But along came a temporary restraining order from Judge Runton in Newark to spoil that sport. It seems, according to the attorney for the brewery, that the raiders had forgotten the formality of getting a search warrant.
One man, Louis Parkowitz, was found in the brewery. He was released in $1,000 bail.
The brewery survived this incident but wasn’t able to survive another incident in 1930 when an enforcement agent was shot and killed during a government raid. A September 20, 1930 Daily News article told the story; a story that brings to mind the “Untouchables” television show.
A raiding dry agent, already marked for death, was killed yesterday in a gun battle between brewery guards and Philadelphia prohibition operatives , who were trapped by the gangsters in the fortress-like Rising Sun Brewery at Elizabeth, N. J.
The dead man was John J. Finiello, ace of Philadelphia raiders, who had a reputation for being incorruptible.
“Get the rat!” said one of the gunmen, pointing to Finiello who stood with raised hands.
Sensing the peril, the agent reached for his revolver, and fired twice, but he died with eight bullets in his body. Five of the shots pierced the search warrant which was in one of Finiello’s pockets.
Later, according to an October 3, 1930 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the story got better.
John G. Smith, chief of Federal prohibition agents led a squad to the Rising Sun Brewery, followed an underground passageway and went up at the other end into a blacksmith’s shop where he found 1,500 half barrels of beer. Julius H. Russell, owner of the building was arrested and held pending an investigation.
The next day’s edition of the Daily News included a photo of the illicit beer barrels.
After well over a year of legal proceedings, the March 2, 1932 edition of the Courier-News announced that the brewery had been ordered padlocked.
Federal Judge William Clark yesterday ordered the Rising Sun Brewery in Elizabeth where John Finiello, dry agent, was killed during a raid, padlocked for one year.
Counsel for company consented to the order, ending suddenly proceedings the government instituted many months ago. The brewery was raided in Sept., 1930, but the defendant company carried the issue of the legality of the raid to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, where the bench warrant was held valid.
The padlock was removed on April 7, 1933 and on February 14, 1934 the Courier-News announced the brewery’s reopening.
Elizabeth – Formal opening of the Rising Sun Brewing Co, this city, was attended by a large number of city officials and other citizens today. The plant, closed during prohibition days, was the scene of the shooting of John G. Finiello, a prohibition agent, in September 1930, during a raid…
Shortly after the re-opening the company apparently changed its name to the Seeber Brewing Company. The business was certainly a family affair as evidenced by the 1935 Elizabeth directory listing for the Seeber Brewing Company that named George Seeber, Jr. as manager (George Seeber Sr. passed away in 1930), Herbert Seeber as vice president, John Seeber as “brewery worker” and Phillipine Seeber as secretary. The listing also included the phrase “brewers since 1877,” so they continued to acknowledge their “Rising Sun” history.
This July 2, 1936 advertisement in the Montclair (N. J) Times demonstrated that they also stayed true to the former “Rising Sun” brands.
Unfortunately the Seeber Brewing Company’s lifespan was short. According to the September 14, 1937 edition of the Hackensack Record:
The Seeber Brewing Company of Elizabeth, successor to the Rising Sun Brewing Company, faced liquidation today under a Federal court order.
The May 17, 1939 edition of the Courier-News reported that the plant was ultimately taken over by the Schultz Brewery of Union City N. J. but their occupancy was even more short-lived.
The Schultz Brewing Company of Elizabeth was ready today for a public sale of its assets. Federal Judge Guy L. Fake signed an order yesterday directing the sale of the company on May 25. The company which moved from Union City to Elizabeth recently to take over the Seeber Brewing Company, said it could not meet bills accumulated since last September and could not pay back $17,000 it had borrowed.
Today, a scan of Google Earth reveals that very little remains of the brewery complex. One possible exception is a brick building that includes a smokestack located at 650 Marshall Street.
Another, also brick with a modified entrance, lies right across the street at 647 Marshall Street.
The bottle, actually found in the bay by a friend of mine, is export style and machine made. It certainly resembles the bottle shown in early 1920’s See-bo advertisements.
It’s likely from the Prohibition era or possibly a Bohemia or Seeber bottle from the decade prior.