The good people at Arcadia Publishing sent me a copy of one of the newest additions to their Images of America series, and a very interesting one it is indeed. D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc., by Robert A. Musson, MD, covers the family brewery from its 1829 origin as the Eagle Brewery to its current status as America’s oldest operating brewery. What is perhaps most encouraging to see is the sheer number of photographs and prints the slim volume packs in; it suggests that the company archives are in a healthy state of organization. And, like any good introductory history, it raises more questions than it answers; I came away from the book wanting to know more.
While I was familiar with the general outline of Yuengling’s story – German immigrants, initial success, creative Prohibition work-arounds, post-war decline and re-invigoration – there were a number of surprises. I had never been aware of how far afield Yuengling’s reach was in the 19th century, and the snippets about David Yuengling, Jr., opening breweries in Virginia and New York was intriguging indeed. I was previously quite unaware that Harlem once boasted its own Yuengling Brewery, much less one turning out more than 30,000 barrels of just one beer – Champagne Ale – annually. Equally unknown to me was the family’s purchase of a further brewery in Harlem with an even greater capacity that was used solely for lager, and the brief notes about these plants serve to highlight the shift in the nation’s taste from ale to lager. Both buildings were sold by the tail end of the 19th century, but it’s a very interesting illustration of Yuengling’s expansion and quite purposeful contraction at that point.
Also of note was a caption about Minna Dohrman Yuengling, wife to Frederick and mother to Frank; there was a passing mention that she essentially co-managed the brewery with Frank after Frederick’s death in 1899, but I would love to know more about her and her role in the business. Even the more detailed Yuengling: A History of America’s Oldest Brewery, by Mark A. Noon, doesn’t give much more away – it sounds as thought there may be some rather juicy meeting minutes locked away somewhere. The late 19th and early 20th centuries seem an especially busy period in Yuengling’s history; I was somewhat surprised to see a poster from c. 1900 (page 33, for those reading along) that included the tag ‘America’s Oldest Brewery’ – it was particularly interesting as the text indicates that it wasn’t widely used in signage until the 1950s (p. 67), though it’s possible the earlier poster had a very different audience.
There are many other hints and clues scattered throughout the book that suggest there is much more to discover; my only complaint is that all the photos and prints are black and white (as is standard for the Images of America series); particularly for the early advertising, it would be nice to see some in full color.
But all told, it’s a pleasant introduction to Yuengling, and a useful reminder that change is a constant in the beer industry. If you’re still at a loose end for a holiday or new year present, why not pick up a copy?