With the ascension of two of the largest breweries in America–Anheuser-Busch and Lemp–in St. Louis, it was only logical that the 19th annual convention of the United States Brewers’ Association would take place at Germania Hall here.
For St. Louis’ brewers, 1879 was a year of celebration. The end of the decade that saw an exponential growth in German manufacturing and production in Gateway City, as well as the political victory back home in Europe, was a time for celebration for the large immigrant community that had been treated as outsiders in their new country. And with the ascension of two of the largest breweries in America–Anheuser-Busch and Lemp–in St. Louis, it was only logical that the 19th annual convention of the United States Brewers’ Association would take place at Germania Hall here.
The convention opened with remarks by William Lemp Sr. who was at the time the head of one of the largest breweries of the city. He would be awarded the award for the lightest and shortest beer brewer at convention (fellow St. Louisan Charles Stifel had already won the award). There was much more to discuss, including “All of which Consider Beer to Be the Grandest Agent of Civilization.” Lemp presented Henry H. Rueter of Boston, the president of the national organization.
Rueter’s speech may be notable for its immediacy in threatening Prohibition. This was 50 years prior to 1919’s ratification. It is interesting to note that the same defense plan, which would also fail half a century later, was already being presented by the beer brewers. It was easy, but perhaps a little absurd to modern readers: Beer was non-toxic and was the ideal, wholesome, family-oriented, alcoholic alternative to whiskey.
Rueter presented fascinating statistics showing that the Temperance Movement was gaining ground in America. These numbers also accounted for some unease at the convention. Maine, which had passed one of the first laws against alcohol in 1851 (though Prohibition was completed much later), produced only seven barrels in 1878. This is a decrease of 7,021 barrels in production from 1877. North Carolina only had four barrels of beer produced between 1877 and 1878.
Missouri, thanks to the St. Louis breweries, had much to boast about in the 1870s despite its small size. Although it was far behind New York State in terms of production, Missouri was still sixth with 507,963 barrels, an increase by 79,270 over the previous year. Missouri was also sixth in beer production, with 5.21 percent.
Rueter explained then some cultural contributions.
It is well-known that cases of intoxication are rare in old countries where beer and light wine are easily available at low prices and can be freely consumed by all classes of citizens. The committee is confident that intoxication, which can lead to pauperism, and subsequent crime, would be reduced in this state if there were no restrictions on the sale of Lager beer. It could then be offered at such a low cost as to supersede the consumption of strong liquors.
It is hard to argue against cheap beer. Rueter cited Dr. A. Baer’s research as a member of the Royal Sanitary Council, the Physician-in Chief at the Prison of Plotzensee, Germany, and the Grundzuge der Physiologie as evidence that beer has many health benefits. Beer contains a variety of salts, phosphates, and other substances that can help to prevent “nervous agitation”. It was even said to be helpful for patients in hospital. Rueter continued his breathless consumption of the restorative properties of beer.
“In addition, the hop bitter acts as a useful tonic and vigorously assists digestion action. The modicum alcohol also has a stimulating, animating effect on brain. Beer, taken as a whole, is a drink that cannot be beat. It has a variety of qualities that, together, have a very beneficial effect on the human organism.
Lunch was provided by local brewers. The afternoon featured more presentations on the export market. This was growing while imports of foreign beer were steadily declining. The delegates were more interested to see the city and its famous brewery, so the convention was abandoned as carriages were assembled outside.
The Wainwright Beery was our first stop. It had just finished a new malt house. The delegates were also treated to the latest bunging machines and paper bottle wrappers while there. A new type of felt paper, which can be used to insert between bottles in crates, was very popular.
The carriages then headed to the Lemp Brewery. There, they were greeted with a loud explosion that sounded almost like a cannon firing. The workers had actually placed gunpowder on an antlisk in the blacksmith’s workshop and struck it with a red hot hammer. This ignited the gunpowder and caused “merriment among the onlookers.” The delegates were welcomed to the brewery by beer stands placed throughout the buildings. These stood offered “offerings for Gambrinus,” who is the patron of brewing.
To conclude the celebrations, the delegates and 10,000 members from the German American community gathered at Joseph Schnaider’s Beer Garden, Lafayette Square, for a concert. 1000 tickets were sold at 25 cents each at one gate before the show started. Although the gates opened at 8:45 p.m., they were already full an hour later. However, people still tried to get in at 11 p.m. After a spectacular fireworks display, the crowds dispersed around midnight, but many people were still trying to enter the grounds at 11 p.m. The brewers were exhausted from the day and had already gone home. The 19th annual convention was a great success.