Any trip to a Philadelphia pub will reveal that Philadelphians, by and large, have an acute affinity for beer. Despite this, it is a little known fact that, in the fifty years between 1870 and 1920, Philadelphia was a national center for beer production. Early in this period, most of the city’s beer makers were German immigrants operating out of small breweries in neighborhoods like Kensington and Northern Liberties. To store enough beer to last through Philadelphia’s long and notoriously hot summers, and to keep the populace happy, the brewers used large storage vaults located in the city’s northwest suburbs. Ice culled from the Schuylkill River kept the beer from spoiling.
During the 1880s, word of Philadelphia’s delectable lagers spread. To keep up with the increased demands (and to take advantage of new advances in refrigeration technology) Philadelphia’s brewers moved to large state-of-the-art breweries in the city’s 29th ward, earning it the moniker, Brewerytown. By the turn of the century, eleven large breweries had made Brewerytown their home. Immigrants eager to find jobs and to support such industries as malt houses, equipment suppliers, and and saloons followed close behind and turned the area into one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The footbridge featured in the picture above (located near 29th and Parrish) likely carried workers to and from their jobs at the Bergdorff Beer plant that stands tall in the background.
- Dochter, Rich, and Rich Wagner. “Brewerytown U.S.A.” Pennsylvania Heritage 17 (Summer 1991): 24-31.
- Wagner, Rick. “Brewerytown, Philadelphia – The Grand Daddy of ‘Em All!” http://pabreweryhistorians.tripod.com/grandaddy.htm (accessed 30 May 2006).