Heim Breweries (continued)

 Heim Brauereien


                                                       

A DECADE OF CHANGE

In May, 1889, rumors abounded that the East St. Louis brewery was being sold. While Ferdinand Heim at first denied them, the next month it was made official-Heim's Brewery in East St. Louis was being sold for $385,000 to the newly formed St. Louis Brewing Association. Originally controlled by an English syndicate, the SLBA represented a merger of eighteen breweries, all of them from the Missouri side of the river except for the Heim plant.

While the SLBA would gradually close some of its breweries, the Heim Brewery continued operating under its own name and kept on marketing Heim's Select as its flagship brand. Though the Heim family continued to have an interest in the company, Henry C. Griesedieck soon took over as plant manager.

Within a few years Ferdinand Heim, Sr., moved to Los Angeles to get back into the ranching business. His sons would relocate to Kansas City to concentrate on their operation in that city, and proceeded to establish a large new brewery in 1892 in Kansas City on the northeast corner of Guinotte Street at Agnes. A giant malt house and elevator were built at the new 14-acre site, and large ice plants operated there as well.

According to period advertising, railroad tracks on the brewery property ran about one and one-half miles, allowing a fleet of company owned refrigerator cars to begin the shipment of Heim's Kansas City beer "into every town and city west of the Mississippi." Stockhouse No. 2 contained the largest vat for the storage of beer in the world, having a capacity of 10,000 "kegs." A number of brands were brewed, with the most emphasis placed on selling Heim's Scharnagel Select, which "finds its greatest companions among the ladies." Heim's Kyffhauser was a bohemian style beer, for those that "prefer a stronger beer." Heim's Wisconsin Club was the beer to offer in times of "social hospitality," being the "choicest …richest…rarest treat you can offer."

With the new plant in the East Bottoms completed, the old Kump plant was eventually spun off and renamed the Bavarian Brewing Company about 1890, headed by Michael G. Heim as president. Closed in 1894, after yearly sales had plummeted to 18,000 barrels, Bavarian's Kyffhauser and Baierisch brands were picked up by the new Heim brewery.

Over in East St. Louis, the SLBA continued making improvements at the Heim Brewery, building an 86' x 50', four-story warehouse in 1890. By 1892, that brewery had sixty employees and production reached 50,000 barrels.

In October 1895, ropemaker turned brewery magnate Ferdinand Heim passed away. The man who had presided over the growth of his namesake brewery and then bought another for his sons died under odd circumstances. He was visiting Kansas City and stopped in a restaurant, where he was twice bitten in the calf by a dog. The wound eventually got seriously infected. Heim went to St. Louis for further treatment, but nothing could be done to stop the infection, and he died at a home in East St. Louis, where he was buried in St. Henry's Cemetery. The funeral procession was described as one of the largest in the city's history.

Upon his father's death, Joseph Heim assumed the role of company president, with Ferd Jr. corporate secretary and Michael G. plant superintendent of the Ferdinand Heim Brewing Company.

INTO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

In 1901, a new bottling house was built at the East Bottoms brewery in Kansas City. The Heim Brewery had become the largest in Kansas City, producing in excess of 140,000 barrels annually, which also placed it in the top fifty nationally. Unfortunately, good times are sometimes matched by bad, as happened during the great Kansas City flood of 1903. As the brewery was located in a flood plain, it was particularly hard hit by the rising water, which for a time also left 22,000 homeless and immersed 225 taverns.

Merger mania was also to hit the Kansas City brewing industry, with the formation of the Kansas City Breweries Company in 1905. The Heim plant and the two facilities of the Rochester Brewing Company were included in the new company, spearheaded by a group of Cincinnati investors. The Rochester company had been created by combining the old J. D. Iler and the then inactive Imperial breweries not long before, and brought an additional 50,000 barrels of capacity to the table. While the Heim brothers stayed occupied with their numerous other investments, they remained on the KCBC board of directors.

Meanwhile, the Heim Brewery in East St. Louis continued operating successfully as well. In May of 1897, Robert Bethmann was appointed general manager. Bethmann, who was born in Prussia in 1851, arrived in the U. S. in 1869 and had operated grocery stores in several towns. He accepted a position with the Wainwright Brewery in St. Louis in 1888, and had become a director of the SLBA. Bethmann would remain at the Heim helm until it was shut down by Prohibition. Two other long-time employees included local agent Charles Hartmann, and Louis Boismenue, who worked in the brewery office. Doubtless numerous production employees enjoyed lengthy careers as well.

The Heim Brewery's importance to the SLBA is shown by its continuous efforts to enlarge and upgrade the plant. The bottling plant was expanded, and ice plant capacity doubled to eighty tons per day. New stables were built, and in 1903 work began on an $85,000 five-story stockhouse. Just two weeks later a $28,500 contract was signed for an expansion of the brewhouse. At this time, in addition to bock beer in the spring, the brewery was producing three brands-Heim's Pale, Heim's Lager and Heim's Select. The latter had been reformulated, was selling for ten cents a bottle, and was described in ads as a "high-grade, pale beer, with a beautiful amber color." Not only that, but Heim's Select "baffles competition…a healthful, invigorating drink for the capitalist, business or laboring man."

Production was consistently at 70,000 barrels a year and nearly a hundred men worked at the brewery and ice plant. General Manager Bethmann was frequently described as one of the best known men in East St. Louis. The plant had grown to cover nearly five acres on a full city block.

The Heim Brewery introduced a new brand called "Our Pride" in 1909. To counter the prohibition movement, the brewery advertised this beer in a fashion typical of the period: "Bread and beer-Both are Food…Heim Brewery Beer excels in food values, possessing all the nourishing elements of hardy barley that makes blood, bone and muscle, and the exquisite natural tonic in "Our Pride" Beer, derived from perfect hops, imparts vigor to the system, aiding the tired brain and strengthening the nerves. Demand "Our Pride"' don't accept an ordinary beer that costs just as much."

This same ad also calls the brewery "The Oldest and Model Brewery of Southern Illinois." While there may have been some truth to the latter, Heim was far from the oldest brewery in the area, especially when claiming only its actual 1865 founding, as this ad did. To try to validate this claim, later ads would give 1844 as the founding date, but as discussed earlier, one not supported by existing evidence.

THE FINAL DECADES

Meanwhile, over in Kansas City, in 1899 the Heims completed construction of their first Electric Park, an amusement park famous for its light displays after dark. It was in large part a replica of the Vatican Gardens that Joseph Heim had visited and admired on a trip to Italy. After the city began its southern expansion, in 1907, the park was dismantled and moved to the corner of 47th and Paseo, illuminated with what was said to be over 100,000 electric light bulbs. The new Electric Park also featured Heim beer on draught, piped in directly from the nearby East Bottoms brewery. With so many new attractions, the park began billing itself as the Coney Island of Kansas City.

A giant new brick and tile smokestack was put up at the East St. Louis brewery in 1912, probably the last major renovation. While things were rising at the Illinois Heim plant, they were falling in the Heim brewery in Kansas City. That same year, the top floor in a three-story building where grain was being dried collapsed, causing $20,000 in damages. The World War I years were unkind ones to the brewing industry, and the Heim Brewery in Illinois was no exception.

In July of 1917, fueled by ignorance and economic turmoil, a horrible race riot took place in East St. Louis, claiming 48 lives. While the brewery emerged unscathed, the SLBA joined many other businesses in suing the city for failing to protect their property. According to the suit, a white mob had caused $1,000 damages to one of the company's saloons on South 4th Street, and $3,350 worth of property was destroyed at two other south end taverns. To add insult to injury, on December 29 of the same year, two large signs denouncing Heim's beer were painted on downtown East St. Louis buildings, reading "DON'T DRINK HEIM'S BEER-They didn't Subscribe for the Red Cross-LET THE PRO-GERMANS HAVE IT."

In July of 1918 it was announced that the East St. Louis plant was suspending production. Government orders for conserving coal had forced the SLBA, which by then consisted of ten breweries, to consolidate brewing operations to just three plants, with the others to be used as distribution centers. The massive ice plant at the Heim Brewery was to be closed as well. Most of the 155 employees were to be laid off, and the plant that had produced 90,000 barrels of beer in 1917 fell silent.

It is unclear if brewing ever resumed. The ice plant did soon reopen, though. In a recent interview with Wilson Dorries, whose family operated a soda bottling plant and beer depot in Breese, Illinois (and who would later be briefly associated with the nearby brewery in Highland), in the years before and during Prohibition ice from the Heim Brewery was in great demand by such companies because it came in 400 pound blocks. Other ice dealers could only provide 300 pound chunks, which of course would melt much quicker.

A concern calling itself the Liberty Ice Company operated the brewery icehouse through the mid-1920's, while in 1925, the brewery office and stockhouse were being used by the Slack Furniture Company as a furniture warehouse.

In January 1926, it was announced that a group of St. Louisans headed by Charles Richardson was buying the brewery property for around $275,000. The new owners announced plans to raze most of the buildings come spring, and to replace them with a motel, office building and theater. Promoters called this the first step toward establishing a "new heart" for downtown East St. Louis.

A few days later the Heim ice plant was sold to Carter Brothers, Inc., local coal and ice dealers, who planned to use it for an ice warehouse and distribution center. These plans for the city's "new heart" were soon arrested, however, for by July of 1927 the property was back in the hands of the St. Louis Brewing Association, which bought the brewery back at a master's sale for $172,000. Ice making at the brewery must have stopped at some point for the 1928 city directory lists 1001 State Street as vacant.

Prohibition had brought an end to beer production in Kansas City as well, and just like in East St. Louis the plant there was sold to an ice company.

The mid-1920's were a tough time for the Missouri Heims, as their wealth began to evaporate with the brewery closed, and other misfortunes befell the family. In 1925 the second Electric Park burned to the ground. In February, 1927, Joseph Heim became the first member of the second generation of brewing Heim brothers to pass away. According to his obituary, he owned considerable property in Florida, from where his vacationing brothers were returning for his funeral. Florida also figured into the Heim's financial decline. The family had invested heavily in Florida land, and lost tremendous sums when the bubble burst on land prices there. In fact, Joseph was said to be down to his last million at the time of his death.

Michael Heim died at his home in Cocoa, Florida in January 1934, followed by brother Ferdinand G. Heim, Jr. in 1943 of pneumonia in Kansas City. In April of 1931, it was announced that the large malt house at the old E. St. Louis Heim Brewery was being torn down. According to a newspaper account the structure was difficult to demolish as it was so solidly built. The walls were made of large stones, with the long beams and supports having come from the wooden structures used during preliminary construction of the Eads Bridge half a century earlier. The article also mentioned that while the brewhouse and office would also be leveled, some of the other buildings were being used and would remain.

Eventually the remaining buildings on the East St. Louis brewery grounds were all torn down as well. In the mid-1940's a Sears store was built on the site. Today, at the wedge-shaped intersection of Tenth and State can be found the offices of the East St. Louis School District 189, which took over the old department store buildings.

As for Kansas City, major portions of the Bavarian Brewery were torn down and replaced by a carriage factory shortly after 1894. The land under the brewhouse has been recycled twice, first housing a store and three apartment buildings, which were in turn demolished to make room for the Missouri Theater, erected in 1921. Posterity has been kinder to the East Bottom's Heim plant, as its malthouse, stockhouses #1 and #2, bottling house, and fire house still stand, as testament to the Heim family's brewing accomplishments.

Accomplishments, indeed. From before the Civil War to the start of Prohibition, the breweries once operated in two states by the immigrant sons, and grandsons, of a Tyrolean ropemaker brewed fine beers that pleased the palate of many a beer drinker. While the proud name of Heim has not graced a bottle of beer in 80 years, the grand accomplishments of Ferdinand and Michael, and their sons, while they happened long ago, have not, and should not, be forgotten.



Kevin Kious and Donald Roussin are both staff writers of the ABA Journal. A number of items from both authors' collections were utilized in this article. Among the sources used in researching this article were: 1881 St. Clair County History; 1874 and 1901 county atlases; The Dawn of a Great City; One Hundred Years of Brewing, by H. S. Rich and Company; Have you Read the Story, by Ferd. Heim Brewing Co.; Belleville News-Democrat and Daily Advocate; city directories; and various U.S. Censuses; East St. Louis Journal, Gazette, and Herald; Hometown Beer: A History of Kansas City's Breweries, by H. James Maxwell and Bob Sullivan; and St. Clair Guide to Embossed Bottles.

Bob Kay, Roy Legendre, H. James Maxwell and Robert Thebeau provided assistance in the preparation of this article, as did East St. Louis historian Bill Nunes.



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