The following is the work of Wilhelm W. Seeger, former professor of German at Grand Valley State University. This is the fourth part of his essay published in the Grand River Valley Review, Volume VIII, Number 1, 1988, by the Grand Rapids Historical Society. Posted with permission.
The local brewers, however, were not the only ones vying for Grand Rapids customers. In 1887, a Grand Rapids city directory listing for the Toledo Brewing and Malting Company marked the beginning of a phenomenon that would increase significantly over the years: outside competition. Although they did not brew their products in Grand Rapids, growing numbers of out-of-town firms sold their beer in the city through local agents. By the turn of the century, these outside competitors would include not only the Toledo Brewing and Malting Company but also the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, whose modern descendant is one of today’s brewing industry giants; the Muskegon Brewing Company; the Finlay Brewing Company of Toledo, Ohio; and the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, whose local agents were the Grand Rapids Storage and Transfer Company.
Seeking a way to counter the threat of outside competition and needing additional capital for expansion, the individual Grand Rapids brewers, like other industrialists of the time, ultimately came to recognize the advantages of joining forces. In December 1892, six Grand Rapids breweries – the Kusterer Brewing Company, Tusch Brothers, George W. Brandt and Company, Veit and Rathman, Adolph Goetz, and the Frey Brothers – consolidated their individual operations to form the Grand Rapids Brewing Company.
Consolidations such as this one were the order of the day in the 1880s and 1890s among breweries across America. In need of additional plant facilities to keep up with consumer demand, the large beer producers, rather than making huge capital investments of their own, bought out smaller breweries to increase output. At the same time, British syndicates buying up breweries throughout the United States were initiating price wars, a practice that was proving to be very costly for syndicate and non-syndicate brewers alike. In order to oppose these syndicates and compete with the larger breweries, local brewers formed their own combinations.
As Stanley Barron explains in his book, Brewed in America: “In the particular case of the brewing industry, there had been a huge outlay of capital between 1880 and 1890 for new equipment, new buildings, new processes, new personnel. Only the most soundly based firms could survive this investment so long as price cutting was not restrainable.” ( 10 )
In Grand Rapids, the merger of six local breweries into the Grand Rapids Brewing Company provided the new enterprise with capital for the construction of new, modern facilities and created a combine large enough to compete with brewers from outside the West Michigan area.
The Grand Rapids Brewing Company opened for business on January 1, 1893. The officers of the new company had been prominent for many years in the local beer-brewing industry. Charles F. Kusterer was president; Jacob Veit, vice president; Frederick A. Tusch, secretary; C. E. Kusterer, treasurer; and Adolph Goetz, brewmaster.
On Wednesday, August 7, 1895, the cornerstone of the Grand Rapids Brewing Company’s “splendid plant” was laid during an official ceremony described in glowing detail by the Grand Rapids Evening Press:
“Yesterday afternoon the cornerstone of the Grand Rapids Brewing Company’s fine new brick building was laid with all the due pomp and ceremony appropriate to the occasion…. William Wisner Taylor, ex-city attorney, as master of ceremonies, delivered an address appropriate to the occasion, the exercises beginning promptly at 5 o’clock. On closing his address, Mr. Taylor first took a handful of barley, one of the necessary ingredients for the manufacture of lager beer, and scattered the grain into the niche containing the tin box, and next a handful of hops was added to the collection. He then concluded the ceremonies by breaking a bottle of beer over the cornerstone, which act was followed by three cheers for the success of the Grand Rapids Brewing company.” ( 11).
10. Barron, Brewed in America p. 272.
11.Grand Rapids Evening Press, August 7, 1885.