Gunther Brewing Company - Hamms, Baltimore Maryland

Date added: April 03, 2020 Categories: Maryland Industrial Brewery
2002 View Southwest toward Stable/Ice Plant.  Brewhouses in background

Though the president of the Gunther Brewing Company at its founding in 1900 was George Gunther, Jr., the force behind the operation seems to have been his father. George Gunther, Sr., whose last name was originally spelled Guenther, had been involved in brewing in the area for more than twenty years after arriving from Germany in 1866. Gunther worked to "sweeten" dank cellars at the northeast corner of Conkling and O'Donnell Streets in the early 1870s, joining Christian Gehl's brewery in 1878 and working in the brewery that stood on Conkling Street to the north of the current Gunther complex. Gehl had established his brewery in 1876 in connection with a set of earlier lagering cellars dating to the proprietorship of Conrad Herzog, who first leased the land in 1857. Contractors dug the cellars for Herzog, who then rented them to brewers including George Rossmarck. George Gunther took over the Gehl brewery in 1880, and after a fire built a new brick brewery in 1887. Otto Wolf, a noted Philadelphia brewery architect, designed the structure (now gone). Gunther continued the firm until 1899, when he sold his operation to the Maryland Brewing Company, the brewing trust. The trust continued to operate the brewery, as did the successor G.B.S. Brewing Co., which ran the plant as its Bay View Branch.

Because he had agreed not to brew again under his name, Gunther's reentry into the industry with a new brewery required him to use his son's name when he established a new firm. The George Gunther, Jr. Brewing Company was erected on the northeast corner of Conkling and Toone Streets, at the south end of the same block as its namesake. Workers broke ground on February 10, 1900, and again Wolf was the architect, designing the Romanesque Revival style brewhouse that continues to occupy the corner site. Also in the complex were a stable for teams that pulled delivery wagons, a boiler house, a shop, and an office, all of which remain in some form. Buildings lined the perimeter of the site, forming a keg yard in the center where loading and unloading took place. The Boiler House heated the brew kettles, and more importantly, powered the ice machines that cooled the lagering tanks now stored above ground. The brewery's railroad siding allowed delivery of grains, which were raised to the top of the complex where they were milled in preparation for malting.

Prohibition affected the Gunther Brewing Company, but the concern managed to emerge stronger than most of its competitors. Predicting the end of legal alcohol, the company formed the George Gunther, Jr. Manufacturing Co. in 1919 to produce near beer as well as ice using its ice plant. The business failed to outlast Prohibition, entering receivership in May of 1931, but the next month Gunther's Brews, Inc. was incorporated to continue using the plant.

Gunther's Brews was ready for operation when Prohibition ended on April 7, 1933 and lost no time beginning beer production. In a sink-or-swim period of expanding markets in the 1930s, production volume became crucial, and Gunther responded by constructing more buildings. Brewhouses, always tall, vertically-organized buildings designed to use gravity to speed the beer through its process, grew even taller. Unornamented multistory industrial buildings reflected both a change in architectural styles and the diminished importance of the brewery's physical presence in comparison with the advertising image of its "brand."

Gunther's conversion to electrical power facilitated its growth. Along with other Baltimore breweries, Gunther shifted from self-generated steam power to purchased electricity. While breweries had formerly relied on their own powerhouses, a combination of circumstances promoted the shift from steam to electricity. By the end of the 19th century, every step of the brewing process required vast amounts of live steam and power to facilitate heating, cooling, and transportation of materials. Moreover, the demand for steam during the brewing process was intermittent.

Electrical power made the growth in scale and size of post-prohibition breweries possible. As breweries consolidated and enlarged the scale of their operations, spatial utilization on their historic urban sites became tighter and tighter. Electrical motor-driven compressors were far more compact, efficient, and dependable than steam engines. Purchased electricity was also considerably less expensive during this period. In Baltimore, the Globe Brewery pioneered this transformation in brewing practice when they converted from steam to electricity in 1912.

Gunther began changing its power source even before Prohibition had ended, using Central Station Service for refrigeration and ice manufacture. By 1932, they had completely shifted to electricity. The brewery installed three 400 kva transformers and an additional 37-1/2 kva transformer devoted solely to lighting, bringing their substation capacity to nearly 500 kw. This changeover allowed Gunther to abandon steam engines and electrical generators housed in the powerhouse and throughout the plant, providing them with both additional flexibility and production capacity as they continued to expand in the years before World War II.

In 1934, the brewery was renamed the Gunther Brewing Company and built a new office quarters as well as a 1-story, 58 x 102 ft. addition with a 40 ft. ceiling for beer storage. The following year, the firm took bids for a 1-story addition of 52 x 75 ft. to its bottle storage house (completed in July), built a brick warehouse of 40 x 85 ft., and began constructing a 1-story office building. Only the office building and the addition to the bottle storage house remain. The office building was absorbed within the 1947 remodeling of the old office.

Around 1934, Gunther also expanded to the north, buying the remnants of the property that earlier belonged to the 1880s brewery of George Gunther, Sr. The White-Seidenman Co. Warehouse, an ex-roller rink and boxing arena, stood behind five pre-1890 facades that had once fronted the wash house and storage building of the George Gunther Sr./G.B.S. Brewing Company, the rest of which was by now ruined or gone. Most notably, Gunther erected a 5-story addition to its brewhouse in 1936. This tall, glassy addition stands behind the 1900 brewhouse. In the winter of 1941, the firm also finished a large new bottling building, the contract for which called for a structure of 42 x 115 ft.

After the war, the scale of expansion increased. The tall Stock House that became the signature building of the firm was built in 1949-1950. Ten to 14 tanks stretching 42 ft. in length and with a capacity of 1000 Bbl each would hold lagering beer in the building. Soon, 40 smaller tanks on the 1st and 2nd floors would hold beer during its primary fermentation. Also, the company built a modern office on the southeast corner of Conkling and O'Donnell Streets in 1955. The office had a tall pylon, now painted, representing the gold color of the firm's beer. New warehouse additions reflected automation, standardization of bottles and kegs (now of metal), and the introduction of palletizing for expanded rail shipping to broader markets. Advertising budgets grew in proportion. By 1959, Gunther Brewing Company was the second largest in Maryland, producing approximately 800,000 barrels per year and employing approximately 600 people.

Gunther Brewing Company's outward success was not sufficient to save it from the fate of other breweries swallowed up by larger firms. At the end of 1959, Hamm's Brewing Company of St. Paul, Minnesota purchased the company for takeover on January 1, 1960.

Hamm's undertook a $10 million building program in the 1960s. Walter Kidde Company of New York designed the 1961 Blue & White 4-story stock house, along with a new quality control lab, transfer room, and Maryland Room. The company also acquired 9 acres alongside their site for future expansion.

Consolidation continued in the 1960s, as F.& M. Schaefer Brewing Company of Brooklyn bought Hamm's in 1963. Schaefer preserved both Hamm's and Gunther's main brands, and began producing its own Schaefer brand at the former Gunther plant. This required plant modifications to allow four simultaneous production lines. Schaefer's own krausening methods, or second fermentation under pressure at low temperatures, also required changes to the plant. The changes extended brewery operations for fifteen years, as Schaefer closed the brewery July 7, 1978.