Heim Breweries

die Heim Brauereien

East Saint Louis IL & Kansas City MO

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Among those who embodied the classic nineteenth-century American rags-to-riches success story is a fair number of men who enriched themselves and their families through the beer industry.

While many of these European immigrants came to their new country as skilled brewers, intending (or at least hoping) to follow their chosen trade, others became somewhat accidental beer barons. These ranks include Theodore Hamm, a butcher and sausage maker whose Minnesota brewery rose to prominence, and Eberhard Anheuser, a St. Louis soapmaker turned brewing dynasty founder.

Though not as well known, two brothers who grew up in Vorarlberg Austria, and their American-born sons, likewise became highly successful brewery owners, operating large breweries in East St. Louis, Illinois, and Kansas City, Missouri, in the decades before Prohibition. Sadly, none of these plants was destined to reopen after repeal, ensuring the obscurity of the Heim brewing saga.


Brothers Ferdinand and Michael Heim were natives of Wolfert ( today Wolfurt Vorarlberg ), Austria, where Ferdinand was born in 1830 and his younger sibling nine years later. The boys' father was a ropemaker in addition to being a farmer.

Ferdinand learned ropemaking as a youngster, and upon immigrating to the U. S. in 1851, followed that trade for a couple of years while living in Utica, New York. He then got the urge to head west, where he spent a short time in Dubuque, Iowa, before heading down the Mississippi River to St. Louis, where he continued in the rope business.

His brother Michael joined him in Missouri after turning fifteen, and the brothers soon entered into the dairy and cattle business. During this time they were also briefly involved in the beer business, operating a small brewery in Manchester, Missouri (today part of suburban St. Louis), from 1857 through 1859.

The Heims lagered the beer from this brewery in a cave, dug in the early 1850's into a hillside near Grand Glaize Creek, north of Old Sulphur Springs Road. Legend holds that the cave later served as a hiding place for townspeople during the Civil War whenever Union or Confederate army troops marched through the area. The cave and surrounding ground was eventually donated to the city of Manchester, and the site is now called Seibert Park. In 1862, the Heims moved to the community of French Village, Illinois, located at the foot of the bluff between the towns of East St. Louis and Belleville. There they continued in the dairy business and began operating a hotel and saloon called the "Yellow House", which became known as a hangout for fellow cattlemen and farmers on their way to nearby markets. It would not be too long, however, before the brothers would find themselves back in the beer business.


The city of East St. Louis, Illinois, is located right across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Though it would experience great population growth in future years (going from several thousand in 1880, to 30,000 in 1900, to 67,000 in 1920), the town was at first slow to develop, owing partly to its tendency to flood. A huge flood devastated the area in 1844, and others followed until a dike was built, offering some protection. While early 20th century Heim advertisements would claim the town's first brewery was established in 1844, there is no existing evidence to support this. Indeed the early brewing history of East St. Louis is as murky as the waters which periodically flooded the town.

The 1850 census gives the first concrete evidence of beer production in the "American Bottoms", as the region was then known, listing a pair of brewers-an Englishman named Ralph Nutread, and a Frenchman named John Chupert. The two were neighbors, indicating they were probably working together, though unless the operation was incredibly crude, neither owned sufficient property to have owned a brewery.

While the 1860 census lists no brewers in "Illinois Town", as East St. Louis was then briefly known, it does list a saloon keeper named Nick Spannagel, who would later be credited as the father of local beermaking. This 26-year old native of France and a partner named Alphonse Lenox were running a large tavern.

While it is certainly possible they were brewing their own beer, as was a common practice at the time, there is nothing to confirm this, and the statement in the 1881 county history that Spannagel founded the East St. Louis brewery in 1856 may well be a typographical error!


Thanks to existing newspaper accounts, the brewing history of East St. Louis from the end of the Civil War is much better documented.

The Sunday Herald of October 22, 1865, reported that Nick Spannagel was about to begin building an "extensive brewery" on the Belleville turnpike, just outside the city limits. According to this account, "If Nic. don't make it pay, there is no use anybody else trying, because he understands the business and ever-body knows him."

The site chosen by Spannagel for the brewery was the location of a combination tavern, boarding house and home. It was in an area once known as Papstown, where a small settlement had been established around 1840. An old water color picture of the structure was printed in the East St. Louis Journal shortly after the advent of Prohibition, when the paper commented that the buildings would again have to be changed. Spannagel converted the building into a brewery, and as a name chose the Lincoln Brewery, after the recently martyred President. The Lincoln Brewery opened on January 30, 1866.

In December of the next year, it was reported that Spannagel had made "large additions" to the facility. The Journal further opined that "his enterprise as the first brewer in East St. Louis seems to have been successful."

Despite his having gotten the brewery off to such a promising start, Nick Spannagel, for unknown reasons, soon decided to sell the brewery to two men from St. Louis, with the last names of Hippo and Siemon. The deal was finalized on December 7, 1868, for the selling price of $7,000. According to the paper, "it is a cheap investment, we are told that it has cost the former owner (Spannagel) over $30,000."

He must have not have been burned too badly by the deal, though, for Nick Spannagel would soon open a soda factory, which would continue operating for many decades. The pioneering brewer's children would go on to number themselves among the more prominent citizens of East St. Louis.

Ownership of the Lincoln Brewery quickly changed hands again, when early in 1869 a gentleman named Krug purchased Mr. Hippo's share of the business. The firm of Siemon and Krug first put its lager beer for sale on February 15, 1869. A newspaper story invited everyone to come to the brewery for the first tapping, with Mr. Krug telling reporters, "we do not want anyone to purchase our beer if we do not make it as good, if not better, as any beer ever consumed in this city." The article also commented on Mr. Siemon's excellent reputation as a brewmaster. Prior to coming to East St. Louis, Ferdinand Siemon had been a partner in the so-called "German Brewery" in St. Louis, where he had teamed with Theodore Eckerly from 1865-67.


Meanwhile, over in nearby French Village, the Heim brothers were successfully operating their "Yellow House." Perhaps they were selling East St. Louis beer in their establishment. Whether or not that was the case, Ferdinand Heim soon moved to the bigger town, where he became proprietor of the Wedge House Saloon, which was adjacent to the Lincoln Brewery and so named because the lot upon which it and the brewery were built was sliced by intersecting roads into a wedge shape, which is still noticeable at the corner of Tenth and State Streets today.

The Heims had done well enough with their hotel that late in 1869, Ferdinand bought out Mr. Krug to become a partner in the brewery. A newspaper report in January, 1870, mentions that the Lincoln Brewery was now being operated by Siemon and Heim. The latter was described as a mere business partner, while Siemon was lauded as being "well known, far and near, to have no superior as a brewer." The brewery was soon to be without his talents, however, as several months later Ferdinand and Michael Heim bought out their partner for $10,000. The new company was to be called Heim and Brother, and soon the Lincoln Brewery name would be replaced by the Heim Brewery.

It is interesting to note that it is Michael Heim who listed himself as a brewer in the 1870 census, where Ferdinand chose to identify himself as a tavern keeper. The brothers and their families (Michael had married a niece of Ferdinand's second wife) had moved into the home across the street from the brewery, and each brother listed $10,000 in real estate holdings and considerable personal property as well.

Heim and Brother desired to increase production at its East St. Louis brewery, and was immediately successful, selling 5,824 barrels in 1870, about double the previous year's output. Business was so good that in the next year considerable new machinery was purchased, doubling brewing capacity, and upon returning from a trip back east to observe different breweries, Ferdinand announced plans to dig a $20,000 beer cellar.

In 1872, a new brick building was put up to house the saloon, and the next year the original brewery was dismantled and replaced by a two-story brick brewery. A minor setback occurred in the spring of 1874, when the roof of the new building was torn off by a severe storm, but under the management of the Heim brothers it seemed nothing could stop the growth of this obscure little brewery.


The Eads Bridge, spanning the Mississippi between East St. Louis and St. Louis, was completed in 1874. The limited rail traffic it opened would serve to further enhance East St. Louis' establishment as a rail center. In fact, East St. Louis would become the second largest railway center in the nation, ranking behind only Chicago.

The next year, the Heim brothers built a beer garden and concert hall on the grounds of the brewery. Called Heim's Garden, the site would be an entertainment and party center for many years. It would also soon be the only intact part of Heim's Brewery! Shortly after 6 p.m. on April 20, 1876, an alarm went out that the brewery was on fire. The local fire department was at first hampered by a faulty engine, and by the time additional help arrived from St. Louis, little could be done to stop the flames. So much water was required to douse the blaze that nearby cisterns went dry and firemen had to get water from a slough many blocks away.

In the end, the brewhouse and stockhouse were, according to the Journal, a "heap of charred ruins…the refrigerator, walls of which are still standing, was thought to be almost fireproof, but intense heat from burning hops and malt made bricks so hot that the hay insulation for the ice caught fire and was shortly destroyed."

Ferdinand Heim estimated that the loss was about $100,000. The brewery was insured for only $32,000. Heim said the loss would be less if any machinery could be salvaged and if any of the 3,800 barrels of beer stored in the vaults beneath the ruined stockhouse was still potable. The origin of the fire remained undetermined, but was presumed to have been from a chimney spark near the grain elevator.

Within a couple weeks a portable steam engine and pump were installed next to the rubble in order to remove all the water from the brewery's basement. Undaunted, the Heim brothers were determined to quickly rebuild, and starting over from almost scratch would afford them a chance to modernize.


Reconstruction began exactly three months after the fire, when a cornerstone was laid during a large ceremony which included the firing of a cannon and music by the Knight Templar's band. Into a jar and cigar box were placed various items including coins from the 1700's, newer U. S. coins, merchant's calling cards, newspapers, and bits of malt and hops. In addition, Edward Schroeder, who operated a soda factory just down the street, included a bottle of "buck" beer.

Brick and stone contractor John Niemes then placed the jar into the hollow square of the cornerstone, covered it with sheet iron and cement, and together with the mayor, the Heims, and other local dignitaries, covered the hole with dirt, each man throwing down three shovels full "after the German custom."

Following a few speeches, including that of newspaper publisher Bowman, who closed the ceremony by remarking on the "foresight, enterprise and pluck" of the Heim brothers, the crowd enjoyed an evening of music and dancing at Heim's Garden.

Plans for the new brewery called for a four-story building housing the engine and boiler rooms, warehouse and office, and a three-story structure to the rear, divided from the front building by a brick wall and containing the brewhouse and stockhouse. Included in the brewhouse were a 40' x 56' iron cooling pan and a ventilated roof.

Into the icehouse, parts of which had survived the fire, would be placed a double elevator and, soon, a newfangled refrigerating machine. Before the end of the year, construction was far enough along for brewing to begin again.

This was an era of great advances in the brewing industry, with the advent of ever improving mechanical devices, and the Heims' desire to keep abreast of such changes can be seen in a section from Rich's epic volume One Hundred Years of Brewing. The 1903 tome to worldwide brewing quotes Ferdinand Heim, Jr., by then president of his family's company, who recounts the installation of one of the first Boyle ice machines at Heim's East St. Louis brewery in 1878.

This type of machine, invented by a Scotsman from Chicago named David Boyle, utilized compressed ammonia for cooling, and such machines, which greatly facilitated year round brewing, were destined to replace the use of natural ice in the storage cellars of most beermakers over the next few decades.

The first such device had been installed just the year before at the Bemis and McAvoy Brewery in Chicago, and according to the junior Heim, who was a teenager when the machine was put in place:"when we put in this Boyle machine, there was one being put in by the same parties at the Frank Fehr Brewery, in Louisville. By our system the brine was piped through the different cellars, while at the Fehr Brewery it was pumped to a certain height and then precipitated through an open space.

"Our system was successful and Fehr's was not; ours, in fact, was one of the first really successful ice machines to be installed in any brewery in the U. S. We had visitors from all over the country---from the larger breweries and packing houses."


The 1880's began a time of great growth in East St. Louis, and Heim's Brewery was poised to grow right along with the city. According to the 1881 St. Clair County history, the three-story brick brewhouse and attachments covered nearly an acre. Featured in the book were ink-drawn illustrations of Heim's Brewing Company and both brothers.

Annual brewing capacity was over 50,000 barrels and there were forty employees. The Heims had $150,000 invested in buildings and machinery, with annual sales of $500,000. Furthermore, Heim's was "perhaps the best equipped establishment in the state...by aid of an expensive ice manufacturing machine their cellars are encased in perpetual ice."

Times were clearly good at the brewery, but as with most businesses there were to be problems, setbacks and even disasters. The first of these began in 1880, when the brewery received a letter from the mayor regarding its sewage. According to the letter, "wastage from the brewery and ice house is...causing offensive sickness." Petitions were circulated declaring the brewery a nuisance, with later editorials a bit more blunt in accusing brewery waste of causing "an intolerable stench." The problem was not settled until 1882 when the Heims finally subscribed money to the city for building a better sewer system, something they could afford now that annual production had reached 40,000 barrels.

Construction was started on a bottling department and a huge new malt house in September 1882, and by May the next year demand for Heim's beer was exceeding production, despite the facility running day and night. As a tribute to the product that had made them a success, in March 1883 it was reported that a statue of King Gambrinus was to be placed atop the brewery.

On May 24, 1883, younger brother Michael Heim died suddenly. He was only 44 years old. Left to carry on managing the company were his older brother and three nephews. In honor of his brother, Ferdinand had a $2,000 memorial erected.

The next year was another eventful one. In May, the brewery built twelve cottages at the rear of the property to help house the growing number of workers. At the annual autumn fair held in St. Louis, Heim's Brewing Company ran off with two prestigious awards, winning first prize for its keg beer and second premium for its bottled product. Ferdinand Heim was also about to win his bid to become Illinois state legislator, but of more importance to his business was a trip taken to Kansas City in October.

Accompanied by his oldest son and company vice-president Joseph, plus brewery foreman Phillip Kopf, the trio journeyed over 250 miles to the west to inspect the Frank Kump Brewery, which the Heims would ultimately purchase.

Originally from Germany, after spending a year in Chicago, Frank Kumpf had come to Kansas City in 1859, and started a soda plant located close to the levee. In 1867, Kumpf purchased some buildings on 14th and Main, which extended back to Delaware, and after two years of making brooms, switched to the brewing of ale and porter.

A new brewery was erected in 1869, and eventually lager beer was also produced, apparently of good quality, as the brewery sold all that could be made, and was even able to charge $2.00 more per barrel than its competition. By now having dropped the letter "f" from his (and his brewery's) name, Frank Kump's brewery was producing around 12,000 barrels a year at the time of the sale to the Heims in 1884.

After the purchase, the former Kump's Brewery was officially merged with the East St. Louis plant, and "Heim's Brewing Company" was painted in a prominent location on an outside wall of the Kansas City facility. By 1887, after the Heims had remodeled and enlarged their new Kansas City purchase, yearly production at the 14th Street brewery was exceeding 50,000 barrels of Heim's beer, marking another success for the Heims. Supervising this production was Phillip Kopf, who had moved from East St. Louis to become the brewmaster in Kansas City, a position he would retain until his death in 1899. One of the worst accidents ever to occur in the midwest brewing industry happened in East St. Louis on December 27, 1886. Three men were killed and three seriously injured after an exploding water tank triggered the fatal incident.

Workmen for the Consolidated Ice Company of Chicago had nearly finished an addition to the refrigeration room in the stockhouse, and were filing a water tank in order to test the equipment. Iron braces holding the tank failed, and tank and timbers came crashing down on an ammonia tank. Both tanks burst, trapping several men in the debris. Local workman John Kiefer was hideously suffocated to death by the ammonia, and two men from Cincinnati were similarly overcome despite being taken from the building still alive.

The accident was blamed on the iron braces losing their strength after becoming cold. Heim's beer won yet another blue ribbon at the St. Louis Fair in 1887. Two years later a huge new ice machine was installed at the East St. Louis brewery, with a 25-ton daily capacity, later increased to forty tons. This would enable the brewery to enter the retail ice business, like the Kansas City facility already had done with its 80-ton ice machine.

From the American Breweriana Journal, issue 103, March-April 2000 By Kevin Kiouis and Donald Roussin

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