In 1841 a young German immigrant named Charles Mayer opened a small general store in Indianapolis, Indiana, on West Washington Street. Besides selling dry goods, toys, nails, cigars and fishing lines, he sold glasses of beer from a keg in his back room. This beer was brewed from a local brewer named John P. Meikel, whose brewery was located on 135 West Maryland Street.
The population of Indianapolis in 1840 was 2,692, but by 1860 the population of Indiana’s capitol city had grown to 18,611, the growth partly due to the influx of German immigrants, who enjoyed their beer. The number of saloons in 1857 were 23, but by 1867 the number had mushroomed to 107. Meikel had continued his brewing business till 1875, through the 1861-1865 Civil War that brought thousands of soldiers and extra business into the city. Taking advantage of this new commerce, German immigrants Peter Lieber, Christian F. Schmidt and Casper Maus had each opened successful breweries. In 1890 these three breweries were combined to form the Indianapolis Brewing Company. This combined company was owned by an English syndicate.
John P. Frenzel, whose parents were born in Germany, was president of the Merchants National Bank, and later formed the Indiana Trust Company. Albert Lieber was the oldest son of Peter Lieber, and incidentally was the grandfather of writer Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut wrote that his grandfather lived an expensive social life, and during the Prohibition years had to sell off his high-priced real estate holdings, including his mansion overlooking the White River. Albert Baker was the founder of the prominent law firm, Baker and Daniels, and Edward Daniels was his partner. John W. Schmidt was the son of Christian F. Schmidt and was the head of of Schmidt Brewery Company. I believe Paul de Fere and George W. Fuller, Jr. were from England.
According to “The Journal Handbook of Indianapolis”, 1902, edited by Max R. Hyman, the three plants of the Indianapolis Brewing Company had “a combined output of 500,000 barrels yearly. In the various plants employment is given to 1,000 hands, the products being excellent qualities of beer, the specially noteworthy brands being their Progress bottled beer and their ‘Tafel’ and ‘Duesseldorfer’ beers, which are both keg and bottled beers. These beers have a wide reputation for their superior quality and were awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900.”
Between the Civil War years and 1880 among smaller brewers were brothers Frederick and Henry Harting, Frank Wright of Capital Brewery, Peter Balz and Peter Poehler. Lieber, Maus and Schmidt dominated the Indianapolis brewing business during this time, and kept their separate brewery sites after they consolidated into the Indianapolis Brewery.
After 1890 smaller breweries sprang up, the most successful being the Home Brewing Company, the American Brewing Company and the Capital City Brewing Company. The Home Brewing Company was started in 1892 by August Hook, who had been the foreman of the C.F. Schmidt brewery since 1882. (Incidentally August’s son, John Hook, opened his Hook’s Drug Store at 1101 S. East Street in 1900, and became one of the prominent drug store chains in Indiana through much of the twentieth century.)
The American Brewing Company opened in 1897 by Joseph C. Schaf. He had been the Assistant Manager for the Indianapolis Brewing Company. The Capital City Brewing Company was opened in 1905 by Charles Krauss, who also owned a “Driven Wells, Cisterns and Pumps” company.
Before Indiana’s Prohibition law went into effect on April 2, 1918, almost two years before the 18th Amendment became a national law, fifteen breweries were listed in the Indianapolis City Directory. It was like the public’s thirst for beer was the strongest before its sale was illegal. It’s no wonder “speakeasies”, or “blind tigers” as the authorities labeled them, became popular during the Prohibition years.
Indianapolis Star, April 3, 1918
Written by Bob Gilyeat, with the help of Indiana State Archives archivist Vicki Casteel.