Wiessner Brewery - American Brewery, Baltimore Maryland
In 1853, ten years prior to the American Civil War, John F. Weissner (1831-1897) arrived from Uhlfeld, Bavaria. He worked for several years in Baltimore before being hired to work at the brewery owned by George Rost. This is where Weissner became a brewmaster along side of his brother-in-law George Baurenschmidt, who would later prosper with his own brewery. In In 1862 Weissner returned to Bavaria to discuss with his family the plans to open his own brewery. A year later he returned with some money and family approval to build his own brewery. Levi and Henry Strauss, then in the malting business, extended Weissner credit for starting up his.
Weissner opened his brewery, in 1863, and added his brewery to the twenty-one already in operation throughout Baltimore. The brewery was built on part of the estate known as Greenwood, originally established by Philip Rogers in 1807. It was Charles Rogers, grandson of Philip, who leased Weissner two acres and a dairy farm for his brewery site, which fronted Belair Avenue. It is reported that the brewery skirmished with Union soldiers who "mooched" the beer being produced.
During the early operation of the brewery Weissner himself was the plant's brewmaster. He emphasized producing high-quality beer rather high quantity. Weissner's beer sold for $2, per barrel, more than any of the other local beers. Weissner also followed the tradition of providing board and lodging for fellow brewery workers. This helped establish the large German community that lived in northeast Baltimore. Throughout the 1870s to the mid-1880s production steadily increased to 20,000 barrels per year with only small expansions of structures occurring.
In 1886, Weissner obtained a mortgage, for $10,000 to build a new plant. The new plant that was constructed was a Victorian vernacular style some have called Teutonic Brewery. Locally the five-story building was called the Germanic Pagoda. The building stands impressively with three rowers, stained glass windows, and distinctive decorative details. After this construction the plant was able to produce up to 40,000 barrels per year. The new plant also progressed later that year with the purchase of two Linde Wolfe ice machines and steam kettles which pushed production to 100,000 barrels per year.
The business was incorporated into the John F. Weissner & Sons Brewing Company in 1891 with the addition of his sons to the business. Five years later on June 4, 1896, the land was deeded to Weissner. In that same year, the plant began its own bottling department. Prior to this, the bottling was performed by William F. Kuzmaul. The kegs were brought one block to his facility, at 1743 North Gay Street, and carried by the Weissner employees. At this time Weissner also began a major building expansion to accommodate the expanded production capabilities. John F. Weissner passed away on the first of January, 1887.
After the death of their father John F. Weissner Jr., George F. Weissner, and Henry F. Weissner took over the brewery with John becoming the new president. Beer production peaked to about 110,000 barrels a year in the following years after the death of the elder Weissner. The plant continued its expansion to accommodate its new bottling and shipping needs. About nine years later, in 1906, John F. Weissner Jr. passed away. In 1909, George F. Weissner succeeded his brother as president of the company. The brewery continued to progress and modernize under the new president. Finally in 1920 beer production ended with the passage of Prohibition.
In 1926, the American Malt Company rook over the Baurenschrnidt Brewery for its malt production. By 1931 the American Malt Company outgrew this site and purchased the Weissner Brewery complex. John Loughlin FitzSimons (1883-1942) made the purchase and also created one of the biggest moves of machinery and equipment in Baltimore's history. The move was completed and the plant made operational in 30 days. Only a small part of the equipment left at the brewery was usable in the production or packaging of malt syrup due to the fact that much of the equipment had become outdated.
The company amended its charter in 1933 and became the American Brewery Incorporated, in anticipation of the repeal of Prohibition. In July of that year the company began selling beer under the name American Pilsner and also became the third brewery to start producing beer in the hours after Prohibition had been repealed. FitzSimons decided that both beer and malt be produced when Prohibition ended as malt was still a very lucrative product.
In 1934, the brands that were being produced were American Pilsner, Old Baron, and Nut Brown Ale. This year also marked the changeover from steam to electric power. Two years later the brewery added a large platform to assist in its distribution. April 3, 1942 marked the death of John L. FitzSimons just at the time the nation was entering the Second World War. Claude A. FitzSimons was named president and succeeded his brother.
The brewery ended the production of malt, in 1948, in order to prevent the rise in beer production costs. The plant then saw a series of expansions and modernizations of new equipment in this period. Throughout this time to the mid-1960s beer production on average reached 300,000 barrels a year.
By coincidence, the nation, in 1967, was once again in the midst of war when the brewery was sold to the Allegheny Beverage Corporation. The corporation began brewing Heibrau, Keg, and Arrow beers. Finally, due to competition from several national breweries, Allegheny donated the 2-acre site of the Weissner Brewery to the City of Baltimore, in 1973.
A sizeable complex of buildings surrounds the brewhouse on both sides of Gay Street, among them a boiler house and engine room (steam was used to heat the mash from an early date, when most brewers still were using direct heat); cavernous stock cellars, on four underground levels, of brick and stone with cast-iron columns and wrought-iron beams; a pub or beer garden (not a little of the product must have been consumed on the premises); bottling houses; a cooperage shop; and several office buildings. Across the street is a three-story townhouse surrounded by a brick and cast-iron fence. the residence of Weissner and family. Its large size was strictly functional, for it housed not only the family but also workers newly arrived from Germany.
The complex, last known as the American Brewery (the American label), closed in 1973. Most of the equipment has been removed, except some large vats in the brewhouse.