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Aug, 1998       Click here to return to
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The Lemp Brewery

In the 1830's and 1840's, thousand's of Germans emigrated to the U.S. Among other factors causing this wave of emigration were, social and political discrimination and economic depression. One of these immigrants was 38 year-old Johann Adam Lemp. Adam arrived on the Eastern shores of America in 1836. Many of these German immigrants preferred to move farther west, away from Americans of several generations residence. Within two years, Adam had settled in St. Louis and established a small grocery business. As part of the grocery, Adam began to manufacture and sell vinegar and using the skills learned in Germany, he began to brew beer as well.

St. Louis had developed a large German population and these Germans loved their beer. Luckily for Adam, they enjoyed his beer in particular. His beer was so popular that in 1840 he closed the grocery and began brewing beer full time. He established the Western Brewery. Initially, Adam was able to brew only 100 barrels per year. His beer continued to do well and he began looking for a larger storehouse which would allow him to produce more beer. The discovery of a natural cave in south St. Louis solved his problem. Lemp installed 20 thirty barrel oak casks in the cool environment where he could store and age his beer. The use of these caves for storing beer (which would later be used by other brewers in the city like Anheuser-Busch) might have been a new idea but brewing was not new to St. Louis. By the time Adam began his brewing operation, there a number of other breweries in the city. Like most of the beer in the United States at this time, the beer being brewed in St. Louis was the traditional English ales and porters. Lemp was brewing what has since become the most common to American pallets, a "lager" beer. In fact, the introduction of Lemp's lager was so well received, that lagers quickly became the local beer of choice and by 1860, there were only two breweries still producing any ale. By this time there were 40 breweries in St. Louis and Lemp's was one of the largest.

Adam had built one of the city's most influential breweries and his thoughts had turned to perpetuating his growing business. He brought his son William into the family business and taught him everything he knew about brewing beer. Very quickly, William rose to the position of plant superintendent. About 1860, having gained an expert ability in brewing, William went into partnership in a brewery of his own with Wilhelm Stumpf. Soon after the start of this enterprise, the U.S. Civil War began and William enlisted in the Third Regiment of the United States Reserve Corp. He was mustered out in late 1861 with the rank of Orderly Sergeant.

On August 23, 1862 Adam Lemp died and William dissolved his partnership with Stumpf to assume full leadership of the Western Brewery. William wanted to greatly increase his brewing capacity and began plans in 1864 for a new, larger brewery. One of the things William realized immediately was the inefficiencies of hauling beer from the brewery to the lagering caves. He decided to build his new brewery directly over his father's caves. This would decrease the time and labor involved in handling the beer, and the location afforded him the room for future expansion.

By 1875, Lemp's new plant was the largest brewing facility in St. Louis and one of the most modern in America. In 1877, William added an improvement to his operation that would allow him to begin introducing Lemp beer around the world. This improvement was the addition of a bottling plant, on the premises. Anheuser-Busch introduced a pasteurization process for beer that allowed breweries to bottle their own beer at the brewery. When first put into operation, Lemp's capacity was 12,000 bottles per day. By 1877, Lemp's Western Brewery was the largest in St. Louis and ranked 19th in size throughout the country. One year later, his beer sales were over 100,000 barrels bringing in over $1.5 million, making Western Brewery the largest manufacturer under a single proprietorship west of New York. But, William wasn't finished yet. In 1878, Lemp installed the first artificial refrigeration machine in an American brewery. It greatly streamlined his brewery operation because he no longer had to rely on the limited capacity and time intensive cave lagering.

Introduction of the railway system in the United States ushered in the era of the "national breweries". The railroads solved the transportation problem of distribution and Lemp developed a vast network of branch offices in hundreds of cities throughout the country. Some were not much more than agents with a small ice house near the railway and others huge warehouses capable of taking orders and delivering the beer to its customers. Eventually, Lemp created his own railroad, the Western Cable Railway Company. This gave him much greater control and flexibility in getting his beer to his far flung markets. With the combination of railroads, pasteurization and bottling, Western Brewery was beibg sold throughout the U.S., South America, India, Japan, China, Australia and throughout Europe.

In November of 1892, Western Brewery was incorporated under the name of William J. Lemp Brewing Company. All stock of the company was owned by the Lemp family. William's two sons, became officers of the new company. William Jr. was named as Vice-President and Louis as Superintendent. William had received his brewing training at the United States Brewers Academy in New York and Louis trained under brewmasters in Germany. The brewing dynasty was passing into the hands of the third generation of Lemps.

The younger Lemps spent an enormous amount of time and energy managing the brewing empire started by their grandfather, but they also began to enjoy the wealth that the operation had brought to the family. Louis became an accomplished horseman and a very successful breeder and racer. His interests included the fledgling aviation craze and he was extremely active in St. Louis politics. William Jr. was colorful and flamboyant. He was an expert horseman and enthusiastic outdoorsman. At the same time he enjoyed the finer things in life and possessed an extensive collection of Oriental art.

By the end of 1800, the William J. Lemp Brewing Company had grown to gargantuan proportions. It covered 11 city blocks, produced 500,000 barrels of beer annually, employed 550 at the brewery and another 650 in other departments, used 600 refrigerated rail cars on a continuous basis to ship his beer, brewed six brands of beer and was truly a worldwide distributor.

Industrial families of this era typically included large families, ensuring at least one surviving son to carry on the business. The Lemp family included eight children that survived infancy, five of whom were boys. Even though William Jr. had been vice-president of the company for several years, William Sr. had chosen another son to eventually take control of the company when he retired. This was the fourth eldest son, Frederick, William Sr.'s favorite. Frederick earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis and was also a graduate of the U.S. Brewers Academy like his older brother.

By the time Frederick was 25, he was completely involved in the family business. Somewhere toward mid-1901, Frederick began to experience health problems. In October he decided to take his wife and new child to Pasadena, California in hopes that the change of climate would improve his health. At first it seemed that the move was a good idea, then he had a relapse and died suddenly on December 12, 1901.

Frederick's death, had a devastating effect on William Sr. He lost much of the enthusiasm he formerly had for the brewery. Three years later, in 1904, his closest friend, Captain Frederick Pabst died. This seemed to push William Sr. over the edge. He seemed distracted and annoyed and completed changed from the formerly rock steady businessman. On the morning of February 13, 1904, William Sr. shot himself with a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver.

As long as alcohol has been around in America, there have been groups trying to regulate its consumption. In 1869 a political party had been formed called the Prohibition Party with the express purpose of legislating their radical temperance. In 1893, the Prohibition Party was eclipsed by The American Anti-Saloon League. This group work endlessly to stamp out alcoholic consumption in the U.S. by any means possible. By the late teens, they had gain enough influence through the congressmen they had helped into office, that they were able to push through the legislation know as the Eighteenth Amendment. National Prohibition went into effect on January 16, 1920.

Resourceful brewers who had seen the amendment coming had made plans to weather the storm. These brewers modified their plants to a number of concerns one of which was the production of "near beer." The William J. Lemp Brewing Company was one of these breweries. Their non-alcoholic beverage was called Cerva and was reported to be a very good product. Unfortunately, the overhead of the plant far exceeded the profits returned from the sales of Cerva. Production was halted in June of 1919.

By this time Lemp family members were wealthy, independent of profits from the brewery operation and they lacked the interest in the brewery needed to keep it afloat in these trying times. William Jr. gave up on the return of beer and without ceremony, locked the gates to the brewery and went home. Seeing the great brewery sitting idle was almost as painful as having to close it, so at the age of 54, William decided to liquidate the business. He sold the Falstaff trademark to "Papa Joe" Griesedieck, formerly the president of Griesedieck Beverage Company. After the repeal of Prohibition, Papa Joe would found the Falstaff Brewing Corporation.Next William put the physical plant up for auction. The brwery operation that had been valued at $7 million in 1919, brought just $585, 000 at auction.

The months following the auction were difficult for William. He had engineered the dissolution of the once vast and proud brewing empire his predecessors had spent their lives building. His depression grew deeper and, like his father before him, he became erratic and nervous. Finally, on December 29, 1922, William Lemp Jr. shot himself in the heart with a .38 caliber pistol.

A final attempt to return the Lemp name to the brewing industry came with the repeal of Prohibition. By 1939 beer had firmly re-established itself in the American marketplace. In August of that year, William J. Lemp III entered into an agreement with Central Breweries, Incorporated, of East St. Louis, IL. In this agreement, William licensed Central to use the Lemp name for their beer. In return, Central would pay the Lemps royalties on all beer brewed under the Lemp name. In October, Central changed the name of the brewery to the William J. Lemp Brewing Company and by November they were bottling Lemp beer. Initially, the new brew was an unqualified success. However, the costs of getting the operation up and running proved too much for the new corporation. By December of 1940, trading of the company's common stock was halted and a year later the company was bankrupt. The company was purchased by Ems Brewing Company, canceling the contract with William J. Lemp III and on March 1, 1945, Ems discontinued the use of the Lemp name in connection with their beer.v
There are still a number of vestiges of the Lemp empire visible in St. Louis. The family's mansion on Lemp is currently a fashionable restaurant. The huge manufacturing facility still stands a short distance from the Mississippi River in South St. Louis. Parts of the complex are used by various manufacturers and parts have fallen into total neglect with the entrances to the caves padlocked closed.
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