In 1854 Samuel Liebmann, an established brewer in his native Germany, arrived in the United States and for the next 90 years he and his heirs operated a successful brewery in Brooklyn, New York. Over that span the business was listed in the Brooklyn Directories under the following names:
- 1858 to 1868 – Samuel, and later his sons, were listed individually as brewers
- 1869 to 1871 – S. Liebmann & Sons
- 1875 to 1887 – S Liebmann’s Sons
- 1889 to 1922 – S Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Co.
- 1924 and later – Liebmann Breweries, Inc.
A September 25, 1909 story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle provided a snapshot of first year or two of the business.
Samuel Liebmann, founder of the firm of S. Liebmann & Sons, brewers, came to the United States in 1854 from Ludwigsburg, Wurtemberg, Germany, and with his three sons Joseph, Henry and Charles rented a small brewery in Meserole Street. In 1855 Mr. Liebmann, finding his plant to small, opened a much larger brew house on Forest and Bremen Streets, and from his comparatively small beginning it grew so fast that today the establishment, with its great buildings, occupies four city blocks, making the plant the largest and most complete in the East.
A June 15, 1895 feature on S. Liebmann’s Sons published in the Brooklyn Times Union documented the company’s early growth mentioning that their annual output had grown from 1,200 barrels in 1855 to over 165,ooo barrels in 1894. Another feature on the brewery, this one in the May 23, 1907 edition of the Staunton (Va) Daily Leader stated that by then the output had more than doubled again to 400,000 barrels.
This pre-prohibition growth in output certainly coincided with expansion of the physical plant which was demonstrated by an advertisement printed in the May 19, 1912 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. It included a map depicting the size of the brewery in 1912 and stated:
This drawing shows the great space now occupied by the S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewery, Brooklyn. 58 years ago it occupied but one small building.
Another advertisement, this one in February of 1909, actually showed a picture of their plant at the time.
The business not only grew through physical expansion but also through acquisition as well. The most significant was the Claus Lipsius Brewing Company in 1902. The January 5 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the acquisition like this:
Joseph Liebmann of the firm of S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Company, told an Eagle reporter Saturday morning that some of the members of his firm had bought all of the stock of the Claus-Lipsius Brewing Company, but that there would be no change in the management or in the operation of the Claus-Lipsius Company…
The Liebmann Brewing Company is on Forrest Street and the Claus Lipsius Company is on Bushwick Avenue. The two plants are among the largest in the east and each is well equipped with modern machinery housed in fireproof buildings.
From the start, the business was a family run operation. After Samuel passed away in 1872 his sons Joseph, Henry and Charles assumed control serving as president, vice president and treasurer respectively. The 1895 Times Union feature described the role of each brother.
The whole business, we understand, is divided into departments, of which one of the above named gentlemen is the head. All work together in complete harmony, and the phenomenal growth of the business, placing it among the leading enterprises of its kind in this country, must be ascribed to systematic arrangement. Joseph Liebmann possesses rare financial talent; Henry, as superintendent, has been a mainstay to this company. Charles, a shrewd, deep man, possesses remarkable talents as an engineer, and also as an architect. The three brothers together make a most remarkable combination, and each can fill the position of the other.
The Times Union story went on to say that their sons, David, Julius, Adolph and Samuel were also involved in the business at that time.
Julius and Adolph are practical brewers, having studied in Europe and in this country. David has given his attention to the office, and Samuel is acquiring the art of brewing.
By 1913 the Copartnership and Corporation Directory of Brooklyn and Queens listed this third generation of Liebmann’s as officers of the company and by that time a fourth generation was also involved.
The 1895 Times Union feature referred to their bottling department as a “departure from their regular line of business pursued for so many years by this company,” and it went on to say that it “had more than satisfied expectations.” Based on this statement, I have to assume that the company began bottling their beer at the brewery no too long before the story was written, maybe sometime in the early 1890’s. As far as I can tell, newspaper advertisements for their brewery bottled beer began appearing in the fall of 1896 further justifying this assumption. The earliest ad I can find was published in the October 31, 1896 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The bottling department that in 1895 had “more than satisfied their expectations,” had, by the early 1900’s, become the largest beer bottling establishment in the East.
According to the 1908 feature in the Staunton Daily Leader, that year, of the 400,000 barrels produced by the brewery, “no less than 65,000 barrels were bottled in their own bottling establishment.” This picture of their bottling operation was published in the October 5, 1907 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The Times Union story also mentioned the menu of beers and ales being brewed and marketed by S Liebmann Sons in the late 1800’s.
Three kinds of lager are manufactured by this company, Regular, Rheingold, Wurzburger. In ales, at present use, a stock ale and a porter. These are sold in New York State, New Jersey, New England, the South and Cuba with shipments to all parts in bottled goods. Particular attention is called to the “Teutonic,” a concentrated liquid extract of malt and hops. This was placed on the market in October, 1894.
Originally marketed for medicinal purposes, Teutonic was referred to as “A Valuable Substitute For Solid Food,” and “Recommended and Prescribed By All Leading Physicians.” in this December 19, 1896 advertisement found in the publication “Brooklyn Life.”
How long Teutonic was on the market as a malt and hops extract is unclear but it apparently didn’t last too long. In April, 1909 Liebmann ran newspaper advertisements announcing that they were now selling their Wurzburger beer under the Teutonic name.
Advertisements that followed in May of 1909 referred to Rheingold and Teutonic as their pale and dark beers respectively.
According to a November 20, 1937 story in the Brooklyn Citizen, the company’s signature brand, Rheingold, was adopted as the brand name from one of the Wagnerian operas at a time when the music of the famous Richard Wagner enjoyed its greatest popularity in this country.
When exactly that was is not clear to me. A story in the June 27, 1893 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle talked about Liebmann’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, mentioning Rheingold specifically, so it dated back at least that far.
The Liebmanns have acquired, during long years of experience, a thorough knowledge of the tastes of the beer drinking public and have developed from this knowledge the two brands so widely associated with their name, their Wurzburger dark beer and the Rheingold, their pale table lager.
The article goes on to say that:
The Liebmann lager was awarded a premium at the Centennial, in Philadelphia, in 1876.
Based on this it’s clear that the lager beer itself dates back at least to the 1870’s, and likely as far back as the origins of the brewery in 1855. However, at this point the story refers to the beer as the “Liebmann lager” so whether it was actually branded as Rheingold in 1876 is open to interpretation.
A 1912 photograph of Moeschle’s Cafe in Ridgewood Queens indicated Rheingold was well accepted as a brand by that time.
During Prohibition, a June 21, 1921 article in the “Beverage Journal” stated that S Liebmann’s Sons were making ice, cereal beverages, root beer and cider. One such cereal beverage they were marketing was N-A-B which they described in advertisements as:
A new beverage made from the choicest products of the farm.
References to the N.A.B. Department of the S. Liebmann Brewing Company appear as early as the April 23, 1918 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Another product they attempted to market was called “Scotch Brew” Their advertisements called it:
A malt and hops brew, made by a rare Scotch formula that dates back to 1740 – yet within the law!
The company actually ran promotions to try and stimulate sales. One set of promotions offered a free bottle of Scotch Brew to New Yorkers on specific days.
As Sir Harry’s guest you’re invited to drink a bottle of Good Old Scotch Brew FREE with your lunch or dinner. In the hotels, clubs and restaurants of NewYork on Wednesday, November 22nd.
Later, another advertisement offered a free bottle to anyone buying specific products from grocery stores and delicatessens on May 2, 1923.
Hit hard by National Prohibition as early as May of 1922 S Liebmann’s Sons began auctioning off their retail/saloon properties. A story in the May 21, 1922 issue of the New York Times introduced one such auction.
S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Company will dispose of twenty-two Brooklyn properties consisting of stores, business buildings, flats, tenements and vacant lots, including ten corners at auction on Tuesday evening, May 23, at 8 o’clock, in the Brooklyn Real Estate Exchange, 189 Montague Street., by the Jere Johnson Jr. Company, auctioneers.
This advertisement associated with the auction appeared in the newspapers as well.
At least two more auctions of similar size followed, one in January of 1923 and the other in June of 1923.
In 1924 S Liebmann’s Sons merged with “Obermeyer and Liebmann” under the name of Liebmann Breweries, Inc. Obermeyer and Liebmann was founded in 1868 by two sons-in-law of Samuel Liebmann and located literally across the street from S Liebmann’s Sons. Information on Obermeyer and Liebmann prior to the merger is contained in another post on this site.
After the merger, Liebmann Breweries, Inc. according to an article in the February 7, 1926 edition of the Brooklyn Standard Union, was still “engaged in the manufacture and sale of near beer exclusively for the bottle trade.”
Their new Liebmann Breweries, Inc. trademarks included one with”Liebmann Breweries” written in a semi-circle (used on kegs) and another with a circled “L.” (used on boxes). According to the trademark notices printed in several May and June 1933 editions of Brooklyn newspapers the first was in use by the applicant since April 1, 1924. The second, apparently post Prohibition, was in use since April 7, 1933.
By the time National Prohibition was nearing its end Liebman had positioned themselves well for the sale of real beer again by absorbing much of the competition. According to a March 29, 1933 story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle they had absorbed many famous brands of beer and breweries including Welz & Zerwick, George Ehret’s, Beadleston & Woerz and the Krumenaker Bottling Works and some 30 other brands and that “they will now be bottled as Liebmann’s.”
The March 29 story went on to say that at the end of March they began bottling and storing the real thing prior to the legal sale date.
It is at Liebmann’s Brewery, at 36 Forest St., that the floodgates of beer have been unloosed. Blessed with particularly ample storage space, the Liebmann brewers halted the making of near-beer on Friday and began bottling the real thing – to the extent of 3.2 alcoholic percent – yesterday. And, said Thomas Buechner, chief of the sales and advertising staff, the bottling will continue and the beer will be stored, at the rate of something like 2,500,000 bottles a week until the law says that it may be sold.
This April 7, 1933 advertisement in the New York and surrounding area newspapers welcomed Rheingold back after Prohibition.
Look for this picture in store windows about town. It is the sign of good beer – better beer than you ever had before. And when you see it step right in. Place your order for Rheingold. Remember there’s going to be a landslide and delay may mean disappointment. We want no friend of Rheingold to miss the first real treat in 14 years. Watch for the Rheingold sign in your neighborhood. Then be prompt.
In 1937 the brewery claimed to be celebrating its 100 year anniversary. (To accomplish this feat they had to reach back to Samuel Liebmann’s days in Germany.) A story commemorating the anniversary in the November 20, 1937 edition of The Brooklyn Citizen demonstrated that the brewery’s physical plant and annual output was continuing to grow.
Liebmann Breweries, Inc., is now celebrating its one hundredth anniversary, a full century having elapsed since Samuel Liebmann, master brewer, founded his own brewery in Schmiedelfeld Castle, Germany, in 1837…
Now with a capacity of 1,000,000 barrels per year, the present plant of Liebmann Breweries, Inc. occupies an area of six city blocks in the heart of Brooklyn, and the present Rheingold beer is now available all along the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida. In the Greater New York area alone, the company operates six of its own distributing depots…
Throughout the summer two complete eight-hour shifts man the Liebmann plant. Of the total sales at the present time about thirty percent is package goods.
The story went on to say that it was at that time that Liebmanns introduced Rheingold “Extra Dry.”
The event will be marked by the introduction of a new beer, to be known as Rheingold Extra Dry Lager.
The new brew, according to Thomas Liebmann, advertising manager of the company, is an answer to an ever increasing demand for a “dry” beer for those who prefer this kind of beverage to beer having a sweet taste.
A series of introductory advertisements for Rheingold Extra Dry began appearing in the newspapers in November and December of 1937. This one appeared in the December 9, 1937 edition of the New York Daily News.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s the demand for Rheingold Extra Dry was fueled in part by one of the most famous and successful beer promotions of all time, the Miss Rheingold Contest. In the contest, which ran annually from 1940 to 1964, entrants would be pared down to six finalists by a group of celebrity judges. Here’s the 1948 finalists.
Then the public at large, voting in bars, grocery stores and delicatessens up and down the east coast, wherever Rheingold was sold, would select the winner who would then participate in their advertising campaign over the next year. Here’s 1948 winner, Pat Quinlan in an advertisement.
An item in the September 21, 1957 edition of the New Yorker magazine provided a good indication of how successful this advertising campaign was.
In what American election is the greatest number of votes cast? The answer is, of course, the Presidential election. In what American election is the next-greatest number of votes cast? The answer is the annual Miss Rheingold contest. In 1956, the vote totaled just over 23 million, this year it promises to be even bigger.
The demand for Rheingold resulted in Liebmann Breweries acquiring the John Eichler Brewing Company in 1947. The Acquisition was reported in the May 29 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Liebmann Acquires Eichler Brewing
Liebmann Breweries Inc., has acquired the John Eichler Brewing Co. of New York, an acquisition that will bring the Liebmann Breweries capacity to an estimated 2,500,000 barrels a year, Liebmann Breweries, Inc., announces. Liebmann brews Rheingold extra dry beer.
The purchase, according to Julius Liebmann, president of the Liebmann company, was due to the difficulties which the company has had in completing its postwar expansion program. Due to building operation difficulties, jurisdictional strikes and inability to obtain essential equipment, the company has not been able to expand as rapidly as demand has warranted.
As a result, Mr, Liebmann said, the company decided to acquire new capacity by direct purchase. Eichler Brewing with a capacity of about 500,000 barrels a year, has one of the best and most modern plants in the country, he added. Liebmann has no plans for bringing a new beer on the market as a result of the expansion, but will concentrate on meeting consumer demand for Rheingold, he said.
In 1950 they acquired John F. Trommer’s Orange New Jersey plant telling much the same story in the the (Passaic N. J.) Herald-News.
…Liebmann’s will extensively renovate the brewery and use it to increase production of Rheingold.
In 1964, after 90 years and four generations of ownership, the family sold the business to Pepsi-Cola United Bottlers. The New York Daily News reported the sale in their February 29, 1964 edition
Bottlers Buy Brewery
Pepsi-Cola United Bottlers, one of the country’s largest independent soft drink bottlers, said it had bought the 110-year-old Liebmann Breweries for $26 million. Bernard Relin, president of Pepsi-Cola United, said his company had signed contracts with “major stockholder groups” of Liebmann and also offered to purchase all other common shares of the Brooklyn brewery.
After the sale the company name was changed to Rheingold Breweries, Inc.
Over the next ten years competition from national brewers and the cost of doing business in New York was taking its toll on the business and by 1974 Pepsico was threatening to shut it down. The situation faced by the brewery at that time was summarized in New York Daily News story on January 7th.
Richard I. Ahern, president and chief executive officer of Rheingold, claims the company has little choice, due to the $8 million loss it sustained last year.
“Its an unfortunate fact,” Ahern said, “that the large national breweries with their out-of-area plants and lower operating costs can actually deliver beer in the New York metropolitan area at lower costs than we can and still make profits.”
Another company spokesman pointed out that the cost of operating in the city was simply too high. The cost, he said, included labor, the delivery of materials and every basic operating expense, even the cost of electricity.
On a side note it wasn’t just Rheingold dealing with these economic realities. The story went on to say that since 1948, 13 NYC breweries had closed their doors and at the time the story was written, only Rheingold and Schaefer were still operating within the city limits.
Chock Full ‘O Nuts Corporation ultimately bought the brewery in 1974 but two years later, according to an Associated Press story:
ended production at its 122-year-old Brooklyn plant and will now operate from its newer, more economical brewery in Orange N . J.
The Orange, New Jersey plant closed a year later in 1977.
I’ve found quite a few S Liebmann bottles over the years, all embossed S Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Co, so they date between 1889 and 1924. They include tooled blobs from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s and tooled crowns from the 1900’s to 1910’s.
One tooled crown embossed with a circled “SLS” matches the trademark depicted in a series of advertisements circa 1909.
I’ve also found a Liebmann Breweries, Inc. export style bottle with the post prohibition, circled “L” trade mark. The embossing on the sides and base exactly matches the description from a Liebmann bottle notice from the June, 1933 editions of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.