The history of beer brewing in Wilmington has been a topic of great interest here at Hagley in the past few years. We've had exhibits and special events centering on beer history, and, recently, a visit from Delaware's own VIP of brewing, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. All the beer-talk has gotten me really excited to share some of my own knowledge of Wilmington's brewing heritage, in particular, about the once-great Hartmann & Fehrenbach Brewing Company.
Hartmann & Fehrenbach Brewing Company was founded by John Hartmann and John Fehrenbach, German immigrants and brothers-in-law. After emigrating from Germany in 1849, Fehrenbach learned the art of brewing in Philadelphia, where Hartmann owned a wine retail shop. Both men and their families eventually made their way to Wilmington, where they were active in the German-American community, including the Delaware Saengerbund and German Library Association. At the same time, lager beer, a traditional German favorite, had become hugely popular among American beer-drinkers, so perhaps it comes as no surprise that, in 1865, the two men went into business together, establishing the Hartmann & Fehrenbach Brewing Company. Located at the corner of Lovering Avenue and Scott Street in the city's Forty Acres neighborhood, the business grew rapidly as Hartmann & Fehrenbach's Brandywine Lager Beer gained a reputation for quality and purity.
In 1888, the brewery expanded significantly, hiring Brooklyn-based brewery architect Frederick Wunder to supervise the construction of a three-acre brewery complex at the Lovering Avenue site. The new plant included a four-story main brewery building, engine house, wagon house, boiler house, ice-making plant, cooper shop, stables, and office, and had an annual capacity of 75,000 barrels of beer. Modern brewing equipment and an efficient layout allowed the brewery to make three batches of beer in twenty-four hours. An 1,100-foot artesian well supplemented the Brandywine River water traditionally used by Hartmann & Fehrenbach for brewing.
By 1890, both original founders had died, and the brewery passed to their heirs, John G. Hartmann, John G. Fehrenbach, and Charles Fehrenbach. The sons continued to expand the business, establishing a bottling plant and distribution depot downtown. John G. Fehrenbach operated his own cafe and retail store at 203 W. Seventh Street in Wilmington, advertising "Fresh Lager Beer Always on Tap." By 1899, Hartmann & Fehrenbach were shipping lager beer and porter to Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
Business was great for Hartmann & Fehrenbach...until Prohibition. After the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919, which banned the production and sale of alcohol throughout the country, Hartmann & Fehrenbach, like many other breweries, tried to hold on by switching to the manufacture of soft drinks and "near beer," de-alcoholized beer approved for sale in the U.S. under Prohibition. The company stayed afloat for a while, but ultimately closed in 1931. In 1932, the brewery was put up for sale. In a sense, this was terribly tragic, since Prohibition was repealed just one year later in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment. Once one of Delaware's largest breweries, eventually most of the brewery buildings were demolished. Today, Gallucio's Restaurant occupies the only remaining building.
For more information, check out Beer & Brewing History at Hagley Museum and Library
Delaware’s Industries: a historical and industrial review. Philadelphia: Keighton Printing House, 1891.
Biographical and genealogical history of the state of Delaware. Chambersburg, Pa. : J.M. Runk, 1899.
Wilmington city directories, 1868-1936.
Judy Stevenson is Pictorial Collections Archivist at Hagley Museum and Library