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Crockery City Brewing Company, East Liverpool, Ohio

From the new book, "Brewing Beer In The Buckeye State, Volume I" by Dr. Robert A. Musson.

In April 1899, the Crockery City Brewing & Ice Company was organized by parties from both Pittsburgh and East Liverpool, with a capital stock of $200,000. The city's second brewery would initially operate in conjunction with the existing East Liverpool Ice & Coal Co. on West 8th Street, run by George W. Meredith and Joseph Turnbull.

Meredith had been born in 1850 in Utica, N.Y., and had worked in the pottery industry for many years before entering the bottling business. He operated a large liquor bottling and distributing company along with the ice and coal company, and was simultaneously a local bottler and distributor for the Schlather Brewing Co. of Cleveland prior to entering the brewing business himself. Turnbull had been born in 1856 in McKeesport, PA., but grew up in nearby Salineville, OH. He had worked as a coal miner until 1885, when he moved to East Liverpool and entered the retail coal business, to which he later added ice production.

Meredith became the new company's initial president, with John J. O'Reilly as vice-president, John Pfeiffer (of Rochester, PA.) as treasurer, Turnbull as secretary, and Philip Morley as general manager. Also a major player in the new venture was Samuel J. Wainright, of the Wainright branch of the huge Pittsburgh Brewing Co. consortium, and he would soon become the company's president. Soon after incorporation, construction began on the new $75,000 plant, the center of which was a five story brewhouse.

The plant was located in a narrow ravine on the north side of the city, just east of the ice plant on the north side of West 8th Street, near the intersection of Jefferson Avenue (later renamed Franklin Avenue). The streets surrounding the brewery complex were renamed and rerouted several times over the years, and in fact three different streets were called West 8th Street at different times. One of these, the main road along which the brewery stands today, was renamed Webber Way in the 1940s. It ran along the course of what had previously been one of the main railroad branches through the city, known as "Horn Switch". This was originally the primary route of shipping beer from the plant. In later years, the plant's address was 242-250 W. 8th St.

The company's name was a referral to East Liverpool being the pottery and crockery capital of the world, due to a large number of natural clay deposits in the area. The plant's formal opening was on September 29, 1900. Both lager beer ("Blue Label" brand) and ale were produced, at an annual capacity of 30,000 barrels, and the large ice plant had a daily capacity of 50 tons. Two on-site artesian wells provided all of the plant's water needs. Advertising its production of "spirits that lull that tired feeling", the company also pointed out that "Our beer is pure÷because we do not use filthy river water÷we take no chance of contagion÷" Thirty men were employed by the plant at its outset, although as many as forty-five were employed during the busy summer season.

Early in 1906, a rumor was swirling through the region that suggested an impending consolidation of eight area breweries: the Crockery City Brewing Co., Alliance and Ashtabula Brewing Companies, Smith and Renner Brewing Companies of Youngs-town, Meadville (PA.) Brewing Co., Standard Brewing Co. of New Castle, PA., and the Union Brewing Co. of Sharon, PA. As it turned out, the rumor was just that; the deal was never finalized, and each of the companies continued to operate independently.

In 1907, the brewhouse was enlarged to seven stories, and with additions to the ice plant, the improvements cost over $10,000. However, the ice business was sold off to a local competitor one year later, as it was not felt to be profitable at that time. The company would return to the ice business in 1915, when $75,000 was spent on the erection of a new plant with a daily ice production of 75 tons.

Of greater concern to the brewery was the growing Temperance movement. As in many cities, this movement had begun prior to 1900, but in East Liverpool it had a larger and more vocal backing. At the turn of the century, the most common crimes in the city were intoxication and disorderly conduct, and this had become a significant concern to the common citizen. The Anti-Saloon League had been attempting to pressure the local government to limit the operation of local saloons starting in 1893, but it was not until 1900 that the issue was first put to a vote. Although the voters that year chose to keep saloons open by a 3:2 margin, the issue was put to a vote again in 1903 and 1907. In the latter election, the city of 20,000 people was voted "dry" for the first time in its history, making it one of the state's largest cities to do so. Beginning in July 1907, the city's eighty-nine saloons closed down, eighteen months prior to Columbiana County going "dry" due to the Rose "local option" law of 1908. (Ironically, during the same election in which Columbiana County voted itself "dry" by local option, the issue had come up again for a vote in the city of East Liverpool. This time, the city voted itself "wet" by a large majority, but because of the countywide Prohibition vote, the city's saloons remained closed for another three years.) [For an excellent discussion of the events leading up to both local and national Prohibition, as well as the effects thereof, see The City of Hills and Kilns (Life and Work in East Liverpool,Ohio), Chapter 6, by William C. Gates, Jr.]

Unlike the much smaller Greenwood Brothers brewery nearby, which depended on local sales, the Crockery City brewery was not crippled by local Prohibition. It had sales eastward into Pennsylvania, northward into Mahoning County, and all along the Ohio River, areas which remained "wet", and the plant was able to remain in production until Columbiana County went "wet" again, beginning in 1912. Expanding the company's influence northward was the leasing in 1914 of the small Leetonia Brewing Co. plant in northern Columbiana County, recently closed, for storage and distribution purposes.

The company's officers remained essentially the same throughout the pre-Prohibition era, with the exception of Turnbull, who died in January 1913. Personnel additions over the next few years included William Stoffel as superintendent of bottling operations, Anton Zix, formerly of the Wellston (Ohio) Brewing & Ice Co., as Brewmaster, and Ambrose E. Webber as general manager. Webber was born locally in 1876, and had been the plant foreman since its inception and had gradually worked his way up through he company. New brands around this time included C. C. (Crockery City) Beer (introduced in 1910), and Progress Beer.

The company had survived the first wave of Prohibition, between 1907 and 1911, but in 1919 it would be put to a more severe test. When all sales of alcohol became illegal in the state of Ohio in May of that year, the company was renamed as The Crockery City Ice and Products Company, and the production of soft drinks and near beer commenced. Later that year, the company purchased the local plant of the Tatgenhorst Brothers dairy, renaming this division as the City Pure Milk and Ice Cream Co. Such diversity would allow the company to continue functioning as a profitable enterprise for the next fourteen years.

By 1923, Wainwright and Meredith had left the company, and Webber moved into the position of president. His 23 year old son Leonard C. Webber, who had joined the company some ten years earlier, was appointed vice-president. The two men remained at the top of the company for the next twenty years. Ambrose Webber was also the proprietor of the local Diamond Drug Store at the same time. With the repeal of Prohibition on April 7, 1933, the company would move quickly to return to brewing. 3.2% beer was available for sale on April 15, and was greeted with much enthusiasm from East Liverpudlians. Full strength beer would not return until the end of the year, however. Modern brewing equipment was installed, increasing the plant's annual capacity to 65,000 barrels. Within two years the plant had become the city's second largest employer, with 135 men working in the company's various divisions. By that time, Louis H. Nichols was the plant's chief engineer, and Alfred A. Mueller was the master brewer, although he would later be replaced by Thomas J. Keane.

Several changes took place around 1939. The company sold off its dairy operation to the Golden Star Dairy Co., which continued to run the plant next door to the brewery until the 1970s. The Crockery City Co. also became the new local bottler of Coca Cola around this time, doing business as the Coca Cola Bottling Co. of East Liverpool, and utilizing the brewery's bottling works. In addition, a new division of the company was established for the dealing of livestock. This was known as Crockery City Farms, with the livestock all located on a farm along U. S. Route 30 near Lisbon, several miles north of East Liverpool.

On June 1, 1946, the brewing division was purchased by a new group of investors from Akron, to be known as the Webb Corporation. Chairman of the board of the new group was George Bachmann, the owner of a bar in Akron. George A. DeLuca, of the DeLuca Distri-buting Co. in Akron was the president, with caf» owner Anthony C. DeLuca as vice-president, attorney Dominic Olivo as secretary, and bar owner Boris Mitseff as treasurer. The new master brewer was William F. Obert, who was assisted by Henry Paczek. By 1951, more modernization had increased the plant's annual capacity to 80,000 barrels, and by this time, Olivo had become the company's president and plant manager, with William Bamer now as secretary and treasurer. During this time, the Webbers continued to operate the Crockery City Farms and Coca Cola Bottling Co. out of the same complex.

Several new brands of beer and ale had hit the market after Prohibition, and even more were released after World War II. Webber's Old Lager and Bulldog Ale were the standard brands used throughout the era, even after the plant's purchase by the Webb Corporation. Most of these were bottled or kegged, although in the Spring of 1949 the company began to use cap-sealed cans made by the Continental Can Co., but only for the packaging of Webber's Old Lager Beer.

By 1951, however, regional and national competition had taken its toll, as financial difficulties led to the company declaring bankruptcy in September. After several attempts to refinance the company failed, brewing operations officially ended February 9, 1952.

By the follow-ing year, the large brewhouse was vacant, although the Coca Cola Bottling Co. continued to operate, with Leonard Webber in charge after his father's death in 1954. Leonard continued to manage the company until his death in 1965, and several years after that the buildings were vacated. The plant remains standing and nearly completely intact to this day, occupied by several small businesses. However, the brewhouse has undergone significant decay in the past few years, and unless a large-scale renovation of the building takes place, it may soon fall prey to the wrecker's ball.

Copyright 2005 by Zepp Publications



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