HE CONSUMERS' BREWING COMPANY
In 1893, a business was begun known as the Consumers'
Brewing Company. Incorporated in West Virginia to take
advantage of the limited regulations in that state, Consumers'
set up shop in Lowell, Massachusetts. The men who organized
the company were from around the region. Lowellian John H.
Coffey, one of the primary organizers, owned a provisions
shop in the city's Acre neighborhood with his two brothers.
Another important organizer was John J. Joyce of Lawrence
who ran an important bottling establishment in that city with
Maurice J. Curran. The stockholders of the brewery hailed
from all parts of New England and New York and elected
Joyce as company president and Coffey as secretary and
The site chosen for brewing operations was well suited
for the company's needs. A 12 acre parcel was purchased
from the estate of Sylvanus Bartlett along Plain and Payton
Streets in the Ayer's City section of Lowell. The land was not
only adjacent to the main line of the New York, New Haven
and Hartford Railroad, it was also, more importantly, the
location of an excellent fresh water well field. The brewing
plant included a lager production and storage house, a similar
ale house, a bottling department, an office building, a boiler
house, horse stables, a cooper shop and other structures.
Over $250,000 was expended to build the plant including
the purchase of the best brewing equipment available. The
company also paid high salaries to recruit top brewery experts.
Consumers' first brewmaster was Louis Wentzler who
previously worked for the Pabst Company of Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, at that time the second largest brewery in the nation.
The first batch of Consumers' brew was made in April of 1894
and, after aging, was ready for the market in June. When
Consumers' was finally prepared to start business, the
company's employees and stockholders held a formal opening
with entertainment provided by Hibbard's Orchestra, lots of
German and American food and, of course, complimentary lager beer.
Although the brewery sent out 3,500 invitations, over
8,000 people showed up to Payton Street on the hot day of the
event. One spectator to the opening related that, "Something
like 100 kegs of lager were consumed during the afternoon. In
the early part of the afternoon the respectable invitees could
get up to the drinks but despite the efforts of the police under
Sergeant Webster the bum element crept in and secured
prime positions up front where they drank till they couldn't
stand up. In the brewery are iron stairs. These soon got
slippery and all gents with unsteady legs went down various
flights with their legs in the air. After a while the bums became
so obnoxious and jaggy that the police made a final effort and
cleared them out quite effectively about 5 o'clock. When the
bums were kicked out they lined Ayer City highways in all
directions, straggled across fields, sang, fought and blessed the
During the brewery's early years, a majority of the workers
were German immigrants who created a small but thriving
community in Ayer's City. The Germans, carrying over
European traditions, organized in 1896 and formed the United
Brewery Workmen of the U.S.A. The union was one of the
first in the nation to win an eight hour workday and helped
maintain excellent working conditions and benefits for its
members. Some time later, the German workers built their
own community meeting place, Der Deutsche Halle (the
German Hall), in Plain Street across from the brewery, which
was used for union gatherings, cultural activities and company
THE HARVARD BREWERY IS BORN
In January of 1898, a stockholders meeting was held where
New York interests who recently gained control of a
majority in shares were represented. One of the decisions
made at the meeting was to change the brewery's name to the
Harvard Brewing Company in order to distinguish the concern
from other Consumers' Brewing Companies in Chicopee,
Massachusetts and in New York state. Another change was in
personnel, with the addition to the office leadership of
Ward B. Holloway who previously worked for the
Rochester Brewing Company. Later in the year, Holloway
took over the position of secretary and general manager from
John Coffey while within a few years, John Joyce was
dropped down to vice president.
While Consumers' had focused on the local market, the
new management's efforts were geared toward making
Harvard a regional "heavy-hitter." An expanded product line
up was introduced with ten labels including $1000 Pure Beer
Crimson Label, Dark Special, Brown Autumn Ale, Old Stock
Porter, Sparkling Pale Ale and Present Use Porter.
Manufacturing capacity was increased from 200,00 barrels
per year to 300,000 and, to finance the expansion, the
brewery's capital stock was increased from $300,000 to
Harvard's pre-prohibition years were marked by a building
boom as the company continually modernized the plant.
Although the brewery was struck by a major fire at the lager
house in 1900 which caused a $75,000 loss, production and
improvements barely skipped a beat. An 1,100 foot tunnel was
dug in 1901 connecting the lager and ale houses with a walkway
and pipes for direct beer storage at the bottling department. A
new wagon shed and a larger warehouse were constructed in
1907 with a new boiler house, condenser building and grain
storage tank built in 1910. An extensive addition was also made
to the bottling house in 1914 creating one of the largest breweries
in New England.
In order to further its business status during this era, the
Harvard Brewery became profoundly involved in Lowell's
governmental scene. While this involvement helped the company
to smoothly navigate the increasing regulations imposed on large
businesses it also established itself as a major target for political
criticism. Alderman George H. Brown won the mayoralty
election of 1908 on a platform mainly based on breaking up "the
brewery's complete control of the politics of Lowell." Allegations
that Harvard dominated the licensing of liquor dealers in Spindle
City came to a head when Holloway, Joyce and other managers
were arrested with members of the license commission on charges
of conspiracy. Despite the submission of much incriminating
evidence, the death of a key witness led to charges being dropped
against the brewery officials.
PROHIBITION COMES TO MILL CITY
Survival of local political critics did not help the company
stave off a more serious threat to its existence - the temperance
movement. The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment
in 1919, declaring the sale of alcoholic drinks to be illegal, sent
the brewery scurrying to recast itself as a viable business. With
the expertise of the new brewmaster, Doctor Richard H. P.
Juerst, and a name change to the Harvard Company, the
brewery began offering non-intoxicating beverages such as
root beer, ginger ale, grape juice and "near-beer." Initially
sales were reasonable but when the federal government imposed
embargoes on freight shipped around the region, Harvard soon
found it difficult to obtain adequate supplies as well as market
their non-alcoholic labels. An attempt at diversification was the
leasing of unused operations space for storage and warehousing
but this amounted to little revenue.
In order to offset the dire financial situation, company
executives, including Director Frederick Quinn and Treasurer
Bartholomew Scannell, decided to have Harvard make their
"near-beer" a little nearer than federal law permitted.
Although profits naturally jumped, the illegal endeavor was
short lived when a truck filled with 100 barrels of Harvard
beer was hijacked in Lowell during August of 1925. As the
hijackers were transferring the kegs of brew to their own
private cars, their movements were noticed by most of the
An article in the Lowell Courier-Citizen reported that
"As soon as it became known in the locality what was going
on, hundreds appeared and surrounded the truck. They all
clamored for a chance to secure a barrel of the beer. Men
came to blows and bedlam reigned. Besides the men involved,
it is known that several women even procured barrels and
rolled them along the sidewalks or in the streets to homes
thereabouts." Naturally, the police became aware of the
disturbance and upon showing up to the scene, the mob
dispersed in all directions. When the liquor squad inspected the
back of the truck, they discovered only two dozen kegs still
remaining. Tracing the truck to the Harvard Company, the
Lowell police called in federal agents from Boston.
When the agents tried to gain entrance to the brewery,
Scannell refused them admittance for lack of a search warrant.
Upon hearing workers smashing barrels inside, the officers
forced a door at the side of the building and found their shoes
immersed in four to five inches of spilled beer. It was reported
that laborers were casting full kegs of the Harvard product into
nearby River Meadow Brook so as to escape their seizure.
The raid was the largest in New England's prohibition history
with over 100,000 gallons of full strength brew confiscated by the
government. An extended trial led to the charges being dropped
against most of the company officials. However, Director Quinn
and two of the owners were given fines ranging from $150 to $500.
By this time, the brewery was unable to pay its mortgage and was
auctioned off by Lowell real estate specialist Walter Guyette and
sold back to the bank.
THE REOPENING OF THE BREWERY
The federal elections of 1932 produced a slate of winners,
including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who were seriously dedicated
to repealing prohibition. As the political climate looked very
promising towards the resumption of legal brewing, a group of
New York investors began searching for a brewery to purchase
and reopen. The investors were led by Erwin Lange, who had previous experience managing breweries, and Walter Blumenthal,
a senior partner in a New York City banking firm. The syndicate's
search brought them to Lowell, where Walter Guyette convinced
Lange and Blumenthal to buy the dormant Harvard plant in
December of 1932. The Harvard Brewing Company was reborn
with Lange as president, Blumenthal as treasurer and Guyette
named as a director.
When word spread that the brewery was to resume operations,
over 500 men showed up to Payton Street looking for work.
Although the job seekers could not be employed immediately,
President Lange instructed the watchman to take everyone's
name promising that former Harvard workers would be rehired
when the refurbishing of the brewery started. From March through
September of 1933 the Harvard plant underwent a complete
modernization at a cost well over $200,000. Besides providing
jobs to brewery workers, the return of Harvard created a small
economic boom for local businesses who received the building
contracts and for the city which collected substantial taxes and
The company's large investment provided Harvard with the most
advanced brewing machinery available including a complete
bottling production line which mechanically washed the bottles,
filled them with brew, capped them off, pasteurized the product
and labeled the containers automatically. When, in September of
1933, Harvard officially opened the bottling house, the brewery's
capacity reached 1,000 barrels of beer a day. The return of Doctor
Juerst as brewmaster ensured that the product was of the same
consistency and flavor as before prohibition and contributed to the
success of sales.
Harvard's only brand at first was the Green Label lager
which was widely advertised and distributed throughout the region.
The summer and fall of 1933 saw a backlog of orders
for the Green Label beer being built up, keeping the brewery
at maximum production. To meet the large demand for Harvard's
product other labels such as Harvard Full Stock Ale,
Export Beer and Porter were marketed. As a sign of loyalty
and good business sense, Harvard maintained a policy of
filling orders for Lowell clubs and distributors before others. Although sales were excellent for several years after
prohibition, by 1937 the Harvard Brewing Company was
headed for bankruptcy. Another change in ownership, with
Fritz Von Opel as the primary investor, led to a change in the
company's leadership when, in 1938, Walter Guyette assumed
the position of general manager. Through the efforts of Guyette,
Doctor Juerst and Treasurer Henry Protzmann and with the
continual hard work put forth by the brewery laborers, the
company returned to its former position as a prosperous
concern by the time the United States entered the Second
World War in 1941.
THE END OF HARVARD
In the midst of Harvard's prosperity, the federal government
stepped in again to take control of the company. In February
of 1942, Von Opel was arrested in Palm Beach, Florida and
interned as a "potentially dangerous alien" despite being a citizen
of the neutral European nation of Liechten-stein. The brewery,
which Von Opel owned 97 percent of the shares and his father, Wilhelm, the other 3 percent, was seized under the Alien
Property Custodian Act. Heading up the Office of Alien
Property were Custodian Leo Crowley, a former Navy
admiral, and Assistant Custodian James Markham, a Lowell
lawyer whose brothers worked at the brewery.
When Von Opel was released, he fought an extended
legal battle to regain his assets from the government. At the
heart of the legal cases was $3,700,000 worth of stocks
which Von Opel unsuccessfully sought at the Federal District
Court and Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. In 195 1,
Von Opel won a review to the United States Supreme Court.
In a unanimous decision, the justices again refused the return
of Fritz's stock holdings stating that Wilhelm Von Opel's three
percent interest was "paramount and controlling" while his son's
was "wholly subordinate."
The government held the brewery for several more years
through the 1950's, long after the threat of Nazi Germany had
passed. By 1956, sales of Harvard beer had declined
considerably and political pressure on President Dwight
Eisenhower's administration led the government to finally release
the brewery. After competitive bids were taken, Washington
sold off Harvard for $800,000 to a Miami, Florida real estate
concern called the Fort Knox Construction Company. The Harris
brothers of Fort Knox appeared to be more interested in
obtaining a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and in
profiteering on the real estate value of the Harvard site than in
In December of 1956, the Fort Knox Company sold the
Harvard Brewery to Peter Doelger, Inc. of New York for the
sum of $2 million. The Doelger concern, realizing the poor
financial situation of Harvard, shut down the Lowell brewery
and moved production of Harvard beer to their own Hampden
Brewing Company in Willimanset, Massachusetts. Doelger, Inc.
stripped the brewery of all its stores, machinery and equipment
and sold it off to companies as far away as South America.
Although the corporation had promised to set up a major
distribution center in Lowell and keep all former Harvard workers
employed, only a few people were kept on the payroll and offered
permanent positions out in Willimanset.
As for the buildings, the lager house was heavily damaged in a
fire during 1957 and razed in 1961 with most of the other
structures to make room for the Sears shopping center built
during the early 1960's.
One contemporary critic noted the major culprit in the closing
of the Harvard Brewery; "The real difficulties came in the period
after December, 1941, when the property was seized by the
government. Thereafter, in considerable degree, it became a
plaything in the hands of alert politicians. They used it
considerably as a patronage outlet, either in the assignment of
unnecessary positions, or in the purchase of goods that were
not needed. Thus the brewery was stripped of much of its
stability as a going business." Although the government effectively
ruined a great brewery, the memory of Harvard continues in the
company's paperwork and photographs, in the collections of
bottles, cans and advertising, and in the stories of the workers
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