compiled by Mike Retzlaff
In reading lots of old issues of American Brewers’ Review and Western Brewer, monthly newsletters for the professional brewing trade, I found all sorts of things that were common at the time, but not thought of these days. One of those things was fires in breweries.
Fire was a common and dreaded fact of life. Breweries were not immune to conflagrations.
The majority of brewery fires were due to:
- Grain dust/flour igniting or exploding
- Ammonia cylinders or piping ruptures
- Overflowing / boiling over pitch vessels
- Lightning strikes
- Ruptured steam lines and exploding steam vessels
- Arson or “incendiarism”
- Overheated malt during drying operations
- Hay in stables igniting
I’ve included a summary of a number of fires reported. This is only a small representation.
- Fire started in the upper stories of the ice machine house of the American Brewing Co., of New York, July 4 and damaged the building and contents about $522,000. It is said to have been caused by a balloon that was sent up to celebrate the day and accidentally settled upon the building.
- Fire in the plant of the Arnholt Brewing Co., of Philadelphia, Pa., Nov. 29, destroyed several buildings and did $60,000 damages. The main structure was saved. When the ﬁremen had been playing on the ﬁre for ten minutes, 20 big vats became burned through, releasing I,700 barrels of beer, which ﬂowed in torrents down through the burning brewery into the street.
- An explosion in the malthouse of the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Co., of Newark, N. J., July 9, started a fire in which one of the employees was dangerously burned, while the loss to the plant was insignificant. It is thought sparks from a stone in the malt, while passing through the mill, ignited the dust and caused the explosion.
- The National Board of Fire Underwriters has offered a reward of $500 for the apprehension and conviction of the parties responsible for the burning of the Lakeside brewery plant at Auburn, N. Y., Sept. 14. The plant is owned by the Bartels Brewing Co., of Syracuse, N. Y., and was bought for $16,500. The insurance was $50,000, but the secretary of the firm states that considerable improvements were made since the purchase. The fire was extinguished before it had gained much headway. Concerning the alleged incendiary attempt, it is stated that barrels of kerosene and gasoline had been emptied on the floors, that holes had been chopped through the latter through which ropes saturated with oil dangled down, and that benzene in open receptacles stood around. The gas was turned on all over the building. A local politician, who had worked at the Lakeside plant, is sought after in connection with the affair.
- Crossed electric wires caused a $25,000 ﬁre in the big stables of the J. & P. Baltz Brewing Co., Philadelphia, Feb. 11. The ﬂames spread so rapidly that had it not been for the heroic work of two of the company’s watchmen, the 108 horses in the building would have been burned to death. One of the ﬁremen who had climbed on the roof, fell through into the burning building and was rescued with the greatest difficulty. The building was completely gutted. The loss is covered by insurance.
- Fire, believed to have been of incendiary origin, damaged the plant of the Weckerling Brewery, New Orleans, a branch of the New Orleans Brewing Assn., on March 1, to the extent of $200,000, covered by insurance. The upper part of the Structure was badly damaged, only the lower ﬂoor escaping destruction. The night engineer believes that an explosive was thrown through one of the windows. The machinery was stopped on the evening previous to the ﬁre, and there was nothing near the compressor to explode, yet the report of an explosion was distinctly heard by several employees.
- The cold storage building of the Oklahoma Ice & Brewing Co., at Oklahoma City, Okla., now owned by Adolphus Busch, was discovered to be on ﬁre Dec. 23. About the time of the discovery an accident occurred in the city water works, and the ﬁre department had to work mostly with chemicals. During the progress of the ﬁre the department attached a hose to a beer vat and for nearly an hour beer was squirted on the blaze, which was controlled only after hard work. It is claimed that the ﬁre was of incendiary origin, as a man bearing a bundle of hay was seen approaching the building shortly before the ﬁre broke out. The estimated loss on building and contents is $60,000, covered by insurance.
- On May 18th fire threatened to destroy the building of the Howard & Childs Brewery, West 33d St., New York. The blaze started on the fourth floor used for storage purposes of all kinds and was first announced by an automatic alarm. Nearly 100 horses whose stables were on the first and second floors were led out blindfolded without any loss. The damage is estimated at from $40,000 to $50,000.
- A blaze in November damaged the stables of the Joliet Citizens Brewing Co., of Joliet, Ill., and entailed a $2,000 loss. The origin of the fire has not been learned. Members of a Rock Island RR switching crew discovered the fire and saved a dozen valuable horses and other equipment. Several tons of hay were destroyed beside a large quantity of oats and grain. The upper portion of the barn was destroyed.