History of Brewing Peacock Brewery - Rockford Brewing Company, Rockford Illinois

Colonists began brewing beer as early as the turn of the seventeenth century. Early settlers brewed an ale using corn. By the end of the century breweries were located in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. For the most part beer was brewed locally in fairly small batches and stored in wooden barrels.

The first brewery constructed outside of the thirteen colonies was built in the French settlement of Kaskaskia (Illinois) in 1765. During the last half of the nineteenth century beer production grew. By 1810 the population of the US was 7 million and there were between 130 - 140 operating breweries producing nearly 185,000 barrels a year.

In the early 1800s, the steam engine had a major effect on beer production and laid the groundwork for brewing to evolve from a small home craft to a larger industry. Prior to that time, brewers depended on water or animal power to grind the malt. In 1819, a steam engine was installed in a brewery in Philadelphia and marked the first time an engine was used for beer production in the US. Large breweries eventually followed suit and employed steam instead of horses to do the grinding and agitating, but horses continued to be used by some smaller breweries for production and they were also used for transport of the finished product. Many larger breweries used teams of draft horses to drive the delivery wagons.

At the same time brewing was becoming a more industrialized craft, an organized movement was taking place to speak out against alcohol consumption. One such a group, the American Temperance Society, was started in Boston in 1826. Within three years membership in the group had grown to 100,000. By 1833, membership in temperance societies reached nearly 1,250,000, and there were over 5,000 such groups across the US.

Commercial brewing began in Chicago around 1833. In that year William Haas and Konrad Sulzer, two German immigrants who moved to Chicago from Watertown, New York, established the first full-scale brewery in the city. Within three years, the men were running a successful business and Sulzer sold his interest to William Ogden. In 1839 William Lill bought out Haas, and two years later Michael Diversey bought out Ogden. The brewery became known as Lill & Diversey. Lill & Diversey was sometimes called the Chicago Brewery. By 1857, Lill & Diversey had established itself as the largest brewery and distributer in the West. Milwaukee, WI was also in the beginning stages of establishing a brewing industry. In 1844, Jacob Best started a brewery in that city that would eventually become the Pabst Brewery.

Up to this point, Americans preferred the taste of ales and porters, English-style beer, and this is what most breweries produced. But during the last half of the nineteenth century, lagers became more popular. This was due, in part, to the large emigration of Germans to the US between the years of 1848 and 1860. Many of these German families ended up in mid-western cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. Germans brought new brewing methods with them as well as a taste for their homeland lager beer. Slowly, this type of beer increased in popularity.

By the middle of the century, temperance societies had grown. In the beginning these groups called for self-imposed abstinence, but as time went by they called for legislation to prohibit alcohol all together. Even though beer production numbers were continuing to grow, the temperance societies were gaining influence. In 1852, the state of Vermont enacted prohibition legislation. Over the next few years a number of states tried prohibition, but the legislation was generally short-lived.

By 1860 there were 1269 breweries across the US producing over 1 million barrels a year for a population of 31 million. At that time, almost 85% of the brewers were located in New York and Pennsylvania. In 1862, an act was passed that put a $1 a barrel tax on beer during the Civil War. The tax was sometimes referred to as a war tax, as it was levied to help fund troops and the costs of the war. The same year the tax was enacted, the National Brewer's Association was formed. Overall, beer consumption rose dramatically during the Civil War.

Technology after the Civil War ensured continued growth of the industry. One of the most influential improvements for the industry was the advent of artificial refrigeration techniques. Refrigeration extended the brewing season, and helped with the consistency of the product. Another advance was the process of pasteurization. Pasteurization helped lengthen the shelf life of beer, making it easier to transport.

Overall, the industrialization of brewing led to an increase in production and eventually a decrease in the number of breweries. In 1870 there were 1,972 breweries in the US. That number grew to 2,272 in 1880, but by 1890 the number of breweries began to decrease. That year there were 1,928 and in 1900 fewer yet, 1,758 breweries. Fewer breweries did not translate to less production. In fact, in the year 1880 there were 12,800,900 barrels produced in the US; in 1890 the number of barrels produced was nearly double. By 1900, American breweries produced over 39,000,000 barrels and the number topped 59,000,000 by the year 1900. Simply put, fewer breweries were producing more beer. Another fact was true: the US population was increasing but not at the same rate of beer production. Between the years of 1865 to 1914, consumption per capita rose from just under four gallons to 21 gallons.

The brewing industry had the same growing pains as many other industries during the end of the nineteenth century. Working conditions were often subpar, hours were long, and many were underpaid. Workers organized in 1886 and formed the National Union of Brewers. During 1888 there were brewery worker strikes in Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York.

There were still plenty of small, local breweries, but brewing was rapidly becoming a big business. As the turn of the century approached, a new trend emerged. British syndicates began to invest in American breweries. As syndication became popular, the industry saw a number of consolidations and mergers. The larger breweries used the growing railroad system to transport beer to more remote markets. Some of these larger breweries became known as shipping breweries and their distribution ability greatly added to their market strength. Many believe that Chicago was surpassed by other cities, like Milwaukee, because their breweries failed to capitalize on expanding distribution.

The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was formed in 1874. Their main objective was promoting alcohol abstinence, but they promoted other causes as well including fair labor laws, women's suffrage, and international peace. Frances Willard, the organization's president from 1879 - 1898, did much to help the group gain legitimacy. Under her helm, the WCTU politicized their platform. One member of the group, Carrie Nation, brought national attention to the WCTU message in a very unconventional way. Nation began a crusade in which she and other women vandalized and destroyed saloons, first with rocks and later with hatchets. Legislators seemed to be listening. By 1912, nine states were dry. In 1914 there were 14 dry states; and in 1916, 23 states had enacted prohibition legislation. Finally in May of 1919, Representative Volstead sponsored federal enabling legislation to prohibit the production, sale and transport of intoxicating liquors. By fall of that year, the 18th amendment was passed.

The repercussions of national prohibition were surprising. Alcohol production, including brewing, had long been a thriving legitimate industry. The manufacturing, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages did not go away after prohibition; it went underground. Gangster and criminals soon controlled the market and a new era of lawlessness ensued. Crime rates in many cities went up dramatically during the prohibition period and organized crime families grew more powerful. Many pre-prohibition breweries scrapped their equipment and sold or converted their properties for new uses. Others converted their operations to the production of related products like soda or versions of near beer, a virtually non-alcoholic beer allowed by law. A few were given special contracts to produce beer for medicinal use, an area tightly regulated by the government. Decisions made by the breweries during prohibition regarding facility usage and capital investments ultimately determined which companies would emerge after prohibition and dominate the brewing industry for years to come. Prohibition lasted for nearly 13 years; on April 7, 1933 prohibition was repealed.

Prohibition caused many smaller breweries with local-focused distribution to close. Larger, more heavily invested breweries continued operating by converting to the production of other beverages or malt syrup. When prohibition ended, the larger shipping breweries were prepared to resume beer production. Several hundred locally oriented breweries did reopen, but they were unable to regain their pre-Prohibition competitive edge and quickly exited the market. From 1935 to 1940, the number of breweries fell by ten percent.