During the second half of the nineteenth century, German Americans revolutionized the U.S. beer industry in terms of what was produced and consumed (lager beer vs. ale), as well as where and how it was consumed (saloon vs. beer garden). A record number of breweries were founded, rising from 431 in 1850 to over 4,000 in the early 1870s, disproportionally owned and operated by German immigrants. While the number of breweries declined afterwards, beer production and consumption continued to increase. During these years, German-style lager steadily replaced British-style ale: before 1850, ale accounted for over 80 percent of national beer production; by 1900 lager made up nearly 90 percent.1
German Americans were at the heart of this transformation, transferring and adapting their managerial and brewing knowledge to the U.S. The Midwest, in particular, witnessed the rise of the so-called beer barons, such as Frederick Pabst, Eberhard Anheuser, and Adolphus Busch—all of whom were of German descent. The breweries they founded constantly ranked in the nation’s top ten, and, to this day, remain familiar in the beer industry, even though none of these men were actually brewers themselves. Rather, they had been trained as a sea captain, a soap and candle manufacturer, and a clerk, respectively. While they certainly played an important entrepreneurial role, they could not have run their businesses as successfully as they did without their head brewers and the knowledge provided by brewing scientists.
Accordingly, my contribution focuses on a central though less well-known brewing scientist: the Bohemia-born Anton Schwarz, educated as a chemist and trained as a brewer, who migrated to the U.S. in 1868. Schwarz developed what historians Simone Lässig and Swen Steinberg have called a “transnational habitus,” which enabled immigrants “to overcome borders without great effort and to move between knowledge cultures with relative ease.”2 My work on Schwarz follows an actor-centered, biographical perspective and shows how migrants successfully used their transatlantic ties and capitalized on their ethnicity to transfer and translate knowledge. In turn, Schwarz’s career not only questions the Americanization paradigm; it also serves as an example of both the adaptation of and circulation of migrant knowledge: he successfully adapted brewing knowledge by introducing brewing with adjuncts, and he attempted to circulate knowledge by proposing a brewer’s school. With regard to alcohol history, the lens of migration history and knowledge circulation not only bridges economic and cultural history and unites the history of science and of humanities; it also underlines beer’s local and global role as an engine of technological progress—though not without failures.
Anton Schwarz was among the first to teach U.S. brewers to think of themselves as scientists and to think of brewing as a craft. Together with John Ewald Siebel, the prominent chemist who founded the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago in 1872, and Max Henius, a biochemist who co-founded the Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology in Chicago in 1886, Schwarz became one of the pioneers of the U.S. brewing industry. All three were born, trained, and educated in Europe (the German states, Denmark, and Bohemia, respectively), were highly mobile, and became sociocultural brokers and translators of scientific and technological knowledge.3
Since Schwarz did not leave behind a diary or autobiography, my research relies on a rather limited though valuable set of sources: first, the highly romanticized account History of the Brewing Industry and Brewing Science in America, published in 1933 and “Prepared as Part of a Memorial to the Pioneers of American Brewing Science Dr. John E. Siebel and Anton Schwarz”; second, contemporary references such as professional notices and obituaries as well as U.S. brewing trade journals. Schwarz became the life-long editor and eventually proprietor of the first U.S. brewing trade journal, Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer, the flagship publication of the United States Brewers Association (USBA). Founded by German American brewers in the early 1860s, the USBA quickly became one of the most powerful trade organizations of its time and still exists until today. The monthly journal launched in 1868, which was published in German only until 1893, bilingually between 1893 and 1919 with the English title The American Beer Brewer, and since then in English only. The three logos, German-only, bilingual, and then English only, appear below.
For nearly thirty years, Schwarz edited Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer and contributed a substantial portion himself on all kinds of topics, though the chemical aspect of the brewing process was one of his main areas of expertise. He also briefly worked for the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung, continued to publish articles in the Czech-language brewing periodical Kvas (“Fermentation”) in his native Bohemia, and translated important European works on brewing into English.
Born into a German-speaking Jewish family in 1839, he briefly studied law at the University of Vienna before taking up chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute in Prague under Karl Balling, an influential brewing chemist. He graduated in 1861 and became the manager of several large breweries in Budapest. According to the biography provided by Arnold and Penman, Schwarz decided to come to the U.S. shortly after the early death of his wife, believing that “he would find a more promising field for his work.”4
When Schwarz arrived in the U.S., the beers that were produced left much room for improvement, both in his old home and his new one. Most U.S. brewers had no idea how to aim for consistency, neither using microscopes nor trying to protect yeast sources. While this might have worked with small batches for local markets, it would not work once brewers sought larger markets. So-called national shippers, such as Anheuser-Busch and Pabst, relied on scientific and technological advances that secured and improved the quality and stability of their beer in order to be able to “ship” their products on an (inter)national scale. Anheuser-Busch maximized its profits when it became the first brewery to introduce pasteurized bottled beer. Busch, who was fluent in English, German, and French, had read the work of the French chemist Louis Pasteur early on. By the late 1870s, Schwarz also noted in Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer that the method of pasteurization was no longer a secret, though some yeasts were better suited than others.5
In general, the brewing trade journals spread the “news” then and now, allowing us to trace the circulation and adaptation of brewing knowledge. The journals enabled brewers to follow technological, economic, political, and sociocultural developments in the industry. Each issue of Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer included scientific articles, production figures, patents, correspondences, (inter)national industry news, and job application ads. For example, brewers intentionally pointed to their expertise with pasteurization to find work:
Moreover, Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer featured articles that had already been published in European (mostly German) trade journals and vice versa. According to Schwarz, his articles were also referenced in European beer journals. Frequently, Schwarz and his colleagues traveled to and reported from Europe about their visits to breweries and meetings with fellow beer experts.
Circulating Knowledge: Brewing with Adjuncts and Founding a Brewing School
In particular, Schwarz focused on spreading knowledge about brewing with adjuncts and on establishing a permanent brewer’s school in the U.S. He published extensively on brewing with corn and rice as alternatives to more typical protein-rich barley. Already in 1844, Karl Balling, his former mentor in Prague, had published a study on brewing with substitutes such as potatoes and starch powder. In the U.S., Schwarz focused his research on rice— and successfully so: Anheuser-Busch’s famous Budweiser contained a small amount of rice that was directly linked to Schwarz’s research.7
In the following decades, as part of the growing temperance and pure food movements, brewers, scientists, politicians, and the public discussed the question of (supposed) adulteration on both sides of the Atlantic. While Schwarz, who passed away in 1895, would not live to see the National Pure Food law go into effect in 1907, which officially allowed the use of adjuncts, he helped U.S. brewers in creating a distinctive U.S.-style lager beer. The result was lighter and less hoppy than European lager beers.8
Furthermore, Schwarz was an avid advocate of proper scientific training for brewers. Without scientific knowledge, no consistent beer could be produced. Already in 1869, he pushed for the founding of a brewers’ school in the U.S. At the time U.S. brewers had to send their sons to Europe to one of the three brewing schools in Lyon, Worms, and near Munich.9
For the next twelve years, Schwarz tirelessly lobbied for such a school: time and again he pled for support by publishing articles, directly contacting brewers, and visiting the USBA conventions whose members kept on rejecting his proposal. Schwarz even incredulously noted in 1878 that a brewery school had just opened in Yokohama, Japan.10
Among Schwarz’s reasons for urgency concerning brewer’s education was the seemingly endless supply of secret ingredients and remedies then emerging. In Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer, he declared war on charlatans in order to drive unethical practices from the trade. For instance, in 1878 a man called Dr. Lonsky offered a “beer curator” for $25 (about $650 today) that supposedly kept beer stable at warm temperatures for months. Schwarz called out the impostor by purchasing the “secret,” then analyzing it and publishing his findings in his journal. He concluded that the “secret” was using known chemical bonds that nobody should pay for.11
Up until the early 1880s, the majority of brewers in Europe and North America still seemed rather skeptical of brewing science. Science education was just beginning to take off in U.S. colleges and universities. In 1876, the John Hopkins University, conceived and constructed as the first research university in the U.S, opened its doors in Baltimore, and in 1880 the University of California established a program of instruction and research in wine growing and enology.12
Schwarz must have felt frustrated, although the reason why the USBA saw no need to establish its own brewers’ school was tied to the very power relations he was working in. The members of the USBA could be described as the “brewers’ establishment,” a rather elite organization of German Americans that not only excluded non-German speakers and, hence, most ale brewers, but was also dominated by the big “shippers,” who tended to use the organization for their own gain rather than for the brewers’ trade as a whole. These elites had the money to send their sons abroad for training.
Finally, after returning from the international brewers’ congress in Munich in 1880, Schwarz took matters into his own hands, opening a laboratory and holding lectures. Two years later, on November 1, 1882, Schwarz opened his privately run United States Brewing Academy in New York with courses held in German and English. Twenty students attended the first six-month course. Until today, several generations of brewers in the U.S. have been trained in New York. 13
European migration to the U.S. brought a wave of human ingenuity. By using their transatlantic ties and knowledge, German Americans laid the bedrock of U.S. brewing science during the second half of the nineteenth century. The transfer and domestication of German-style lager beer goes hand in hand with the implementation, adaptation, and diffusion of knowledge.
Brewing trade journals such as Der Amerikanische Bierbauer served as key conduits for the brewers to gain and share their knowledge. Its lifelong editor, Anton Schwarz, had a huge impact, especially with regard to introducing brewing with adjuncts to a wider audience and by founding the United States Brewers’ Academy. Schwarz capitalized on his ethnicity and language skills, constantly staying up to date on European innovations while pursuing his own research and starting his own school across the Atlantic. Ultimately, Schwarz and his émigré colleagues took U.S. brewing to a new level—though not without conflict as the initial resistance to the brewers’ school attests. This conflict, in turn, poses important questions for further research regarding beer’s ties to nationalism, the rise of empires, and the (mis)uses of indigenous knowledge. The special issue of the Economic History Yearbook, “International Knowledge Transfer and Circulation within the Brewing Industry since the 18th Century” to be published in January 2024, which I edited together with Nancy Bodden, addresses some of these issues, as does the upcoming “Conversation on Beer Imperialism” that I will be moderating at the Chicago Beer Culture Summit, featuring Jeffrey Pilcher, Malcolm F. Purinton, and Semih Göketalay, in October.
Jana Weiss is DAAD Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-editor of History of Intellectual Culture: International Yearbook of Knowledge and Society. With a focus on transatlantic history, she is currently working on a book examining how German Americans triggered the lager beer revolution in the U.S.
- For an overview of the U.S. beer history, cf. Stanley Baron, Brewed in America: A History of Beer and Ale in the United States (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1962); Martin H. Stack, “Local and Regional Breweries in America’s Brewing Industry, 1865 to 1920,” Business History Review 74, no. 3 (2000): 435–63; Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer (San Diego: Harcourt, 2006); Amy Mittelman, Brewing Battles: The History of American Beer (New York: Algora Publishing, 2008). ↩︎
- “Knowledge on the Move: New Approaches toward a History of Migrant Knowledge,” in “Knowledge and Migration,” ed. Lässig and Steinberg, special issue, Geschichte und Gesellschaft 43, no. 3 (2017): 313–46, 333. ↩︎
- On Schwarz, cf. the article in the Jewish Encyclopedia; John P. Arnold and Frank Penman, History of the Brewing Industry and Brewing Science in America (New York: USBA, 1933); Charles W. Bamforth, “A History of Brewing Science in the United States of America,” Brewery History 121 (2005): 81–93. See also the Economic History Yearbook‘s special issue, “International Knowledge Transfer and Circulation within the Brewing Industry since the 18th Century,” ed. Nancy Bodden and Jana Weiss (forthcoming 01/2024), especially Pavla Šimková, “The Birth of the Scientific Brewer: International Networks and Knowledge Transfer in Central European Beer Brewing, 1794–1895.” ↩︎
- Arnold and Penman, History, 23. ↩︎
- Schwarz, “Zum Pasteurisieren des Bieres,” Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer 1 (1878): 3–6. On Busch, cf. Ogle, Ambitious Brew, 62–64. ↩︎
- N. N., “Pasteurisieren,” Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer 4 (1879): 136, translation J.W. ↩︎
- Cf. Ogle, Ambitious Brew, 76. ↩︎
- NB: While the German Purity Law that does not allow any additives except for malted barley, hops, water, and yeast in beer production is frequently mentioned today, it did not apply to all of Germany until 1906. ↩︎
- Moreover, one could visit courses at polytechnical high schools and universities (cf. Astrid Schneck, “Travelling for Knowledge: Educational Opportunities in 19th-Century Bavarian Brewing Education,” Economic History Yearbook (forthcoming 01/2024). ↩︎
- Schwarz, “Warum wir keine Brauerschule haben!,” Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer 6 (1878): 169–70; F. Emken, “Ist die Errichtung einer hiesigen Brauakademie im Interesse des hiesigen Braugewerbes?,” Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer 12 (1879): 485–87. ↩︎
- Schwarz, “Der neue Bier-Konservator oder Das Geheimnis des Dr. Lonsky,” Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer 10 (1878): 321–23. ↩︎
- Cf. Todd Timmons, Science and Technology in Nineteenth-Century America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 187–88. ↩︎
- Schwarz, “Editorielle Notizen,” Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer 10 (1880): 567; idem, “Eröffnung des Lehrcursus für Brauer an der Ver. Staaten Brauer-Akademie,” Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer 10 (1882): 217. ↩︎