Beer has a beautiful and tragic history in the United States. Imagine where we would be if it weren’t for the crushing effects of prohibition. I am a whole-hearted supporter of the current craft beer revolution and do my part by brewing a little of my own. As a longtime history geek, I like keep an eye on where the industry has been, too. Which brings me to this post. I plan on doing the occasional historical brewery, tavern, beer related post. Starting…now.
Hydraulic Brewery / N. Thomas Brewery / Dayton Breweries
Founded in 1865 as the Hydraulic Brewery at First and Beckel by John Wager. The brewery had a slow buildup and passed through many hands until finally making it’s way into the possession of Nicholas Thomas and George Weddle in 1880. Thomas was a German immigrant, like many others who started breweries in the Dayton/Cincinnati region. He previous owned a grocery and, from the sound of things, blindly leapt into the brewing business. Weddle sold his stake in the brewery to Thomas in 1893 and under his control the brewery grew to a 80,000 barrel capacity (from just 600 when Thomas first began with the company). The Hydraulic Brewery was eventually incorporated as the N. Thomas Brewery in 1900, with Thomas as the president. The brewery continued to grow and build new additions, including a 300 barrel at a time brewhouse in 1902.
At about this time, Dayton was fighting the advances of the dry movement and many area breweries saw fit to form an organization that would have more power to wield control over unsightly taverns causing much of the consternation of the movement. They would cut off the beer supply to the rowdy taverns, which would mean no more customers, and the tavern would close. The dry movement would then have to thank the breweries themselves for closing the bars. It obviously failed since prohibition happened, but at least they tried. The N. Thomas Brewery stayed independent at first, but eventually joined the group two years later in 1906. You could say that was the end of N. Thomas, but the name lived on and the beer continued to be brewed up until prohibition and in fact, the output was ramped all the way up to 150,000 barrels a year. With that, the Dayton Breweries closed a partner brewery, The Adam Schantz Brewery, but renamed the N. Thomas Brewery to the Schantz-Thomas Brewery.
Prohibition eventually did the conglomeration in, as it did with so many other breweries nationwide. At the end though, only the former N. Thomas, now Schantz-Thomas Brewery was still producing suds for the public.
But wait, there’s more! Miami Valley Brewing Co.
Thankfully, prohibition didn’t last forever. With the repeal of the Noble Experiment in 1933, the site of the former Hydraulic/N.Thomas Brewery once again created the wonderful elixir. The Miami Valley Brewing Company built a new brewery at First and Beckel to produce post-prohibition lagers and ales. MVB started out with the Nick Thomas Line of beers. Pilsener, Bock, Holiday brew, were part of the initial offerings. Later, MVB started pushing other brands like the London Bobby line, and Miami Special. Robert Musson’s “Brewing in the Gem City” has a load of labels from that time frame. My favorite has to be the Miami Special that has palm trees and a sailboat on it…because that’s what people think of when they think Miami Valley (I get it, Miami Florida, I just think that’s a bit ridiculous). MVB continued to brew, eventually expanding the plant to 175,000 barrel capacity following World War II, however increasing competition from national brands made sales relatively flat. Brewing finally ended for good in 1950 at the First and Beckel street location, ending 85 years of brewing there.
The Brewery was tore down in the years following MVB’s closure. A junk yard now sits at this once mighty and important site in the history of Dayton’s brewing legacy. Apparently, a couple of the smaller buildings remain to include the old bottling/canning line. While sad, it isn’t unlike many of the old industrial sites of past.
For a much more thorough history of the brewery with great images of the men who created the breweries, the complexes themselves, and the vessels that their beers were served in, please check out:
“Brewing in the Gem City” by Robert A. Musson, M.D. (offers a very solid history with an excellent collection of photographs)
“Breweries of Dayton” by Curt Dalton (Focuses more on the academic histories, with images to augment, as well)