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Stegmaier Brewing Co.

Charles Stegmaier was born on October 7, 1821 in Wurtenberg, Germany where he would later learn the art of brewing beer. He worked in several local breweries in Wurtenberg until the age of 27 when he set sail for America. He quickly found a job working in the small Corporation Brewery in Philadelphia. Soon after he worked with the Louis Berdoll brewery where he met John Reichard of the Reichard & Weaver brewery in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1851. Charles and John formed a partnership and produced the first lager beer in that section of the state. This partnership did not last however. That same year, Charles married Catharine Baer who was the daughter of George C. Baer. A few years later Charles would accept a position at the George Laurer brewery in Pottsville.

In 1857, Charles Stegmaier moved back to Wilkes-Barre. Once there he formed a partnership with his father-in-law George Baer and built a small brewery on South Canal Street where he brewed beer in a wooden kettle and stored it in an abandoned coal mine under the building. In order to expand their operation they built a new brewery, complete with underground vaults, on East Market Street. The new brewery opened in 1863 but would close just 10 years later.

Charles needed to find work to support his family so he operated a hotel for two years until he was able to purchase the Joel Bowkley brewery on North River Street. He formed a new partnership with his son Christian and they were finally able to raise the funds necessary to buy back the Baer and Stegmaier brewery in 1880. The business continued to grow and they expanded further by building a new brew house and storage facility in 1894. This increased their yearly output to 300,000 barrels.

The business was doing very well by this point and in 1897 Charles and Christian would incorporate as the Stegmaier Brewing Co. Charles stepped down from being the company’s manager in 1902 letting Christian take the helm along with his other sons Fred and George. Within the community the Stegmaier family was well known for their charity, as they contributed a lot to the development of Wilkes-Barre.

In 1910 and 1913, Stegmaier Brewing Co. won eight gold medals in Paris, Brussels and Rome. After the end of prohibition it was one of the largest independent breweries in all of North America. At it’s peak, Stegmaier was producing half a million barrels a year and used the rail lines of Wilkes-Barre along with a fleet of 60 trucks to distribute its beer. Stegmaier beer could be purchased all along the East Coast of the U.S.

The Stegmaier Brewing Co. saw many years of success before they closed their doors in October of 1974 when a sudden announcement of the sale of the company to another local brewery, Lion, Inc., was made by Edward R. Maier. Edward was the great grandson of Charles Stegmaier. The announcement was a surprise to the workers at Stegmaier Brewing Co. The company had always been a family owned business and was well respected by it’s employees. Many of the employee’s parents and grandparents had worked in the brewery. After the sale to Lion, Inc., which was Stegmaier’s closest competitor, about 50 employees were hired, including Edward Maier who stayed on as Executive Vice President. The remaining 150 lost their jobs.

Since 1974 the old Stegmaier Brewing Co. building sat vacant. During the 1990s, Wilkes-Barre city council voted to have the building torn down but it was later saved by a federal project to take over the building. On February 17, 1998 the Stegmaier Federal Building opened as an office building for the U.S. Post Office and other federal programs. The building was restored and preserved as one of Wilkes-Barre’s most significant historic landmarks.

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The Birth of Anthracite Coal in America

The first known use of anthracite coal dates back 1750 when a native american brought some to a gunsmith in Nazareth, PA whose supply of charcoal had run out.

Sometime between 1750 and 1755, anthracite coal was being used in the Wyoming Valley and during the Revolutionary War it was sent down the Susquehanna River to be used by the arsenal at Carlisle.

Obadiah Gore of Nazareth used anthracite coal in his blacksmith forge as early as 1769.

There is also record of soldiers stationed at Fort Augusta using it at a source of heat according to the fort’s garrison Ensign Holler. He said in a letter dated the winter of 1758 that a wagon load of stone coal, brought in some six leagues from Fort Augusta, was shipped down river from around Nanticoke.

Three discoverers of anthracite in Pennsylvania were made by Nicho Allen in Pottsville, Philip Ginter near Mauch Chunk and Isaac Tomlinson at Shamokin. What is more remarkable, all these discoveries were made about the same time. and yet it is a fact that coal was mined in the Wyoming Valley nearly a quarter century before these “discoveries.”

The use of anthracite for domestic purposes appears to have been discovered by Judge Jesse Fell, of Wilkes-Barre. Fell wrote on February 11, 1808 that he had “made the experiment of burning the common stone coal of the valley in a grate, in a common fireplace in my house, and found it will answer the purpose of fuel, making a clearer and better fire, at less expense, than burning wood in the common way.”

News of this successful experiment soon spread through the town and country, and people were going to witness the discovery. Grates like the one Judge Fell used were soon in use by his neighbors, and in a short time were in being used throughout the valley.

In the spring of that same year, John and Abijah Smith loaded two arks with anthracite coal at Ransoms Creek, in Plymouth, and took it down the Susquehanna River to Columbia; but on offering it for sale, noone could be persuaded to purchase any. They left the black stones behind them unsold, and returned to their homes.
 
The next year the Smiths, not least bit discouraged, took two arks of coal and a grate back to Columbia. The grate was put up, and the coals were burned in it, thus proving the practicability of using coal as a fuel. They sold their coal, and thus began the initiative of the immense anthracite coal trade of Pennsylvania.
Today, the original grate Judge Jesse Fell used is on display at the Luzerne county Historical Society museum in downtown Wilkes-Barre, PA.
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