A Concise History of America’s Brewing Industry

Written by Martin H. Stack, Rockhurst University, courtesy EH.net

1650 to 1800: The Early Days of Brewing in America

Brewing in America dates to the first communities established by English and Dutch settlers in the early to mid seventeenth century. Dutch immigrants quickly recognized that the climate and terrain of present-day New York were particularly well suited to brewing beer and growing malt and hops, two of beer’s essential ingredients. A 1660 map of New Amsterdam details twenty-six breweries and taverns, a clear indication that producing and selling beer were popular and profitable trades in the American colonies (Baron, Chapter Three). Despite the early popularity of beer, other alcoholic beverages steadily grew in importance and by the early eighteenth century several of them had eclipsed beer commercially.

Between 1650 and the Civil War, the market for beer did not change a great deal: both production and consumption remained essentially local affairs. Bottling was expensive, and beer did not travel well. Nearly all beer was stored in, and then served from, wooden kegs. While there were many small breweries, it was not uncommon for households to brew their own beer. In fact, several of America’s founding fathers brewed their own beer, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (Baron, Chapters 13 and 16).

1800-1865: Brewing Begins to Expand


National production statistics are unavailable before 1810, an omission which reflects the rather limited importance of the early brewing industry. In 1810, America’s 140 commercial breweries collectively produced just over 180,000 barrels of beer.[1] During the next fifty years, total beer output continued to increase, but production remained small scale and local. This is not to suggest, however, that brewing could not prove profitable. In 1797, James Vassar founded a brewery in Poughkeepsie, New York whose successes echoed far beyond the brewing industry. After several booming years Vassar ceded control of the brewery to his two sons, Matthew and John. Following the death of his brother in an accident and a fire that destroyed the plant, Matthew Vassar rebuilt the brewery in 1811. Demand for his beer grew rapidly, and by the early 1840s, the Vassar brewery produced nearly 15,000 barrels of ale and porter annually, a significant amount for this period. Continued investment in the firm facilitated even greater production levels, and by 1860 its fifty employees turned out 30,000 barrels of beer, placing it amongst the nation’s largest breweries. Today, the Vassar name is better known for the college Matthew Vassar endowed in 1860 with earnings from the brewery (Baron, Chapter 17).

1865-1920: Brewing Emerges as a Significant Industry

While there were several hundred small scale, local breweries in the 1840s and 1850s, beer did not become a mass-produced, mass-consumed beverage until the decades following the Civil War. Several factors contributed to beer’s emergence as the nation’s dominant alcoholic drink. First, widespread immigration from strong beer drinking countries such as Britain, Ireland, and Germany contributed to the creation of a beer culture in the U.S.. Second, America was becoming increasingly industrialized and urbanized during these years, and many workers in the manufacturing and mining sectors drank beer during work and after. Third, many workers began to receive higher wages and salaries during these years, enabling them to buy more beer. Fourth, beer benefited from members of the temperance movement who advocated lower alcohol beer over higher alcohol spirits such as rum or whiskey.[2] Fifth, a series of technological and scientific developments fostered greater beer production and the brewing of new styles of beer. For example, artificial refrigeration enabled brewers to brew during warm American summers, and pasteurization, the eponymous procedure developed by Louis Pasteur, helped extend packaged beer’s shelf life, making storage and transportation more reliable (Stack, 2000). Finally, American brewers began brewing lager beer, a style that had long been popular in Germany and other continental European countries. Traditionally, beer in America meant British-style ale. Ales are brewed with top fermenting yeasts, and this category ranges from light pale ales to chocolate-colored stouts and porters. During the 1840s, American brewers began making German-style lager beers. In addition to requiring a longer maturation period than ales, lager beers use a bottom fermenting yeast and are much more temperature sensitive. Lagers require a great deal of care and attention from brewers, but to the increasing numbers of nineteenth century German immigrants, lager was synonymous with beer. As the nineteenth century wore on, lager production soared, and by 1900, lager outsold ale by a significant margin.

Together, these factors helped transform the market for beer. Total beer production increased from 3.6 million barrels in 1865 to over 66 million barrels in 1914. By 1910, brewing had grown into one of the leading manufacturing industries in America. Yet, this increase in output did not simply reflect America’s growing population. While the number of beer drinkers certainly did rise during these years, perhaps just as importantly, per capita consumption also rose dramatically, from under four gallons in 1865 to 21 gallons in the early 1910s.

Table 1: Industry Production and per Capita Consumption, 1865-1915

Year National Production (millions of barrels) Per Capita Consumption (gallons)
1865 3.7 3.4
1870 6.6 5.3
1875 9.5 6.6
1880 13.3 8.2
1885 19.2 10.5
1890 27.6 13.6
1895 33.6 15.0
1900 39.5 16.0
1905 49.5 18.3
1910 59.6 20.0
1915 59.8 18.7

Source: United States Brewers Association, 1979 Brewers Almanac, Washington, DC: 12-13.

An equally impressive transformation was underway at the level of the firm. Until the 1870s and 1880s, American breweries had been essentially small scale, local operations. By the late nineteenth century, several companies began to increase their scale of production and scope of distribution. Pabst Brewing Company in Milwaukee and Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis became two of the nation’s first nationally-oriented breweries, and the first to surpass annual production levels of one million barrels. By utilizing the growing railroad system to distribute significant amounts of their beer into distant beer markets, Pabst, Anheuser-Busch and a handful of other enterprises came to be called “shipping” breweries. Though these firms became very powerful, they did not control the pre-Prohibition market for beer. Rather, an equilibrium emerged that pitted large and regional shipping breweries that incorporated the latest innovations in pasteurizing, bottling, and transporting beer against a great number of locally-oriented breweries that mainly supplied draught beer in wooden kegs to their immediate markets (Stack, 2000).

Table 2: Industry Production, the Number of Breweries, and Average Brewery Size

1865-1915

Year National Production (millions of barrels) Number of Breweries Average Brewery Size (thousands of barrels)
1865 3.7 2,252 1,643
1870 6.6 3,286 2,009
1875 9.5 2,783 3,414
1880 13.3 2,741 4,852
1885 19.2 2,230 8,610
1890 27.6 2,156 12,801
1895 33.6 1,771 18,972
1900 39.5 1,816 21,751
1905 49.5 1,847 26,800
1910 59.6 1,568 38,010
1915 59.8 1,345 44,461

Source: United States Brewers Association, 1979 Brewers Almanac, Washington DC: 12-13.

Between the Civil War and national prohibition, the production and consumption of beer greatly outpaced spirits. Though consumption levels of absolute alcohol had peaked in the early 1800s, temperance and prohibition forces grew increasingly vocal and active as the century wore on, and by the late 1800s, they constituted one of the best-organized political pressure groups of the day (Kerr, Chapter 5, 1985). Their efforts culminated in the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment on January 29, 1919 that, along with the Volstead Act, made the production and distribution of any beverages with more than one-half of one percent alcohol illegal. While estimates of alcohol activity during Prohibition’s thirteen year reign — from 1920 to 1933 — are imprecise, beer consumption almost certainly fell, though spirit consumption may have remained constant or actually even increased slightly (Rorbaugh, Appendices).

1920-1933: The Dark Years, Prohibition

The most important decision all breweries had to make after 1920 was what to do with their plants and equipment. As they grappled with this question, they made implicit bets as to whether Prohibition would prove to be merely a temporary irritant. Pessimists immediately divested themselves of all their brewing equipment, often at substantial losses. Other firms decided to carry on with related products, and so stay prepared for any modifications to the Volstead Act which would allow for beer. Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, and Anheuser-Busch, the leading pre-Prohibition shippers, began producing near beer, a malt beverage with under one-half of one percent alcohol. While it was not a commercial success, its production allowed these firms to keep current their beer-making skills. Anheuser-Busch called its near beer “Budweiser” which was “simply the old Budweiser lager beer, brewed according to the traditional method, and then de-alcoholized. … August Busch took the same care in purchasing the costly materials as he had done during pre-prohibition days” (Krebs and Orthwein, 1953, 165). Anheuser-Busch and some of the other leading breweries were granted special licenses by the federal government for brewing alcohol greater than one half of one percent for “medicinal purposes” (Plavchan, 1969, 168). Receiving these licensees gave these breweries a competitive advantage as they were able to keep their brewing staff active in beer-making.

The shippers, and some local breweries, also made malt syrup. While they officially advertised it as an ingredient for baking cookies, and while its production was left alone by the government, it was readily apparent to all that its primary use was for homemade beer.

Of perhaps equal importance to the day-to-day business activities of the breweries were their investment decisions. Here, as in so many other places, the shippers exhibited true entrepreneurial insight. Blatz, Pabst, and Anheuser-Busch all expanded their inventories of automobiles and trucks, which became key assets after repeal. In the 1910s, Anheuser-Busch invested in motorized vehicles to deliver beer; by the 1920s, it was building its own trucks in great numbers. While it never sought to become a major producer of delivery vehicles, its forward expansion in this area reflected its appreciation of the growing importance of motorized delivery, an insight which they built on after repeal.

The leading shippers also furthered their investments in bottling equipment and machinery, which was used in the production of near beer, root beer, ginger ale, and soft drinks. These products were not the commercial successes beer had been, but they gave breweries important experience in bottling. While 85 percent of pre-Prohibition beer was kegged, during Prohibition over 80 percent of near beer and a smaller, though growing, percentage of soft drinks was sold in bottles.

This remarkable increase in packaged product impelled breweries to refine their packaging skills and modify their retailing practice. As they sold near beer and soft drinks to drugstores and drink stands, they encountered new marketing problems (Cochran, 1948, 340). Experience gained during these years helped the shippers meet radically different distribution requirements of the post-repeal beer market.

They were learning about canning as well as bottling. In 1925, Blatz’s canned malt syrup sales were more than $1.3 million, significantly greater than its bulk sales. Anheuser-Busch used cans from the American Can Company for its malt syrup in the early 1920s, a firm which would gain national prominence in 1935 for helping to pioneer the beer can. Thus, the canning of malt syrup helped create the first contacts between the leading shipping brewers and American Can Company (Plavchan, 1969, 178; Conny, 1990, 35-36; and American Can Company, 1969, 7-9).

These expensive investments in automobiles and bottling equipment were paid for in part by selling off branch properties, namely saloons (See Cochran, 1948; Plavchan, 1969; Krebs and Orthwein, 1953). Some had equipped their saloons with furniture and bar fixtures, but as Prohibition wore on, they progressively divested themselves of these assets.

1933-1945: The Industry Reawakens after the Repeal of Prohibition

In April 1933 Congress amended the Volstead Act to allow for 3.2 percent beer. Eight months later, in December, Congress and the states ratified the Twenty-first Amendment, officially repealing Prohibition. From repeal until World War II, the brewing industry struggled to regain its pre-Prohibition fortunes. Prior to prohibition, breweries owned or controlled many saloons, which were the dominant retail outlets for alcohol. To prevent the excesses that had been attributed to saloons from reoccurring, post-repeal legislation forbade alcohol manufacturers from owning bars or saloons, requiring them instead to sell their beer to wholesalers that in turn would distribute their beverages to retailers.

Prohibition meant the end of many small breweries that had been profitable, and that, taken together, had posed a formidable challenge to the large shipping breweries. The shippers, who had much greater investments, were not as inclined to walk away from brewing.[3] After repeal, therefore, they reopened for business in a radically new environment, one in which their former rivals were absent or disadvantaged. From this favorable starting point, they continued to consolidate their position. Several hundred locally oriented breweries did reopen, but were unable to regain their pre-Prohibition competitive edge, and they quickly exited the market. From 1935 to 1940, the number of breweries fell by ten percent.

Table 3: U.S. Brewing Industry Data, 1910-1940

Year Number of Breweries Number of Barrels Produced (millions) Average Barrelage per Brewery Largest Firm Production (millions of barrels) Per Capita Consumption (gallons)
1910 1,568 59.5 37,946 1.5 20.1
1915 1,345 59.8 44,461 1.1 18.7
1934 756 37.7 49,867 1.1 7.9
1935 766 45.2 59,008 1.1 10.3
1936 739 51.8 70,095 1.3 11.8
1937 754 58.7 77,851 1.8 13.3
1938 700 56.3 80,429 2.1 12.9
1939 672 53.8 80,059 2.3 12.3
1940 684 54.9 80,263 2.5 12.5

Source: Cochran, 1948; Krebs and Orthwein, 1953; and United States Brewers Almanac, 1956.

Annual industry output, after struggling in 1934 and 1935, began to approach the levels reached in the 1910s. Yet, these total increases are somewhat misleading, as the population of the U.S. had risen from 92 to 98 million in the 1910s to 125 to 130 million in the 1930s (Brewers Almanac, 1956, 10). This translated directly into the lower per capita consumption levels reported in Table 3.

The largest firms grew even larger in the years following repeal, quickly surpassing their pre-Prohibition annual production levels. The post-repeal industry leaders, Anheuser-Busch and Pabst, doubled their annual production levels from 1935 to 1940.

To take for granted the growing importance of the leading shippers during this period is to ignore their momentous reversal of pre-Prohibition trends. While medium-sized breweries dominated the industry output in the years leading up to Prohibition, the shippers regained in the 1930s the dynamism they manifested from the 1870s to the 1890s. Table 4 compares the fortunes of the shippers in relation to the industry as a whole. From 1877 to 1895, Anheuser-Busch and Pabst, the two most prominent shippers, grew much faster than the industry, and their successes helped pull the industry along. This picture changed during the years 1895 to 1915, when the industry grew much faster than the shippers (Stack, 2000). With the repeal of Prohibition, the tides changed again: from 1934 to 1940, the brewing industry grew very slowly, while Anheuser-Busch and Pabst enjoyed tremendous increases in their annual sales.

Table 4: Percentage Change in Output among Shipping Breweries, 1877-1940

Period Anheuser-Busch Pabst Industry
1877-1895 1,106% 685% 248%
1895-1914 58% -23% 78%
1934-1940 173% 87% 26%

Source: Cochran, 1948; Krebs and Orthwein, 1953; and Brewers Almanac, 1956.

National and regional shippers increasingly dominated the market. Breweries such as Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and Schlitz came to exemplify the modern business enterprise, as described by Alfred Chandler (Chandler, 1977), which adeptly integrated mass production and mass distribution.

Table 5: Leading Brewery Output Levels, 1938-1940

Brewery Plant Location 1938 (bls) 1939 (bls) 1940 (bls)
Anheuser-Busch St. Louis, MO 2,087,000 2,306,000 2,468,000
Pabst Brewing Milwaukee, WI

Peoria Heights, IL

1,640,000 1,650,000 1,730,000
Jos. Schlitz Milwaukee, WI 1,620,000 1,651,083 1,570,000
F & M Schafer Brooklyn, NY 1,025,000 1,305,000 1,390,200
P. Ballantine Newark, NJ 1,120,000 1,289,425 1,322,346
Jacob Ruppert New York, NY 1,417,000 1,325,350 1,228,400
Falstaff Brewing St. Louis, MO

New Orleans, LA

Omaha, NE

622,000 622,004 684,537
Duquesne Brewing Pittsburgh, PA

Carnegie, PA

McKees Rock, PA

625,000 680,000 690,000
Theo. Hamm Brewing St. Paul, MN 750,000 780,000 694,200
Liebman Breweries Brooklyn, NY 625,000 632,558 670,198

Source: Fein, 1942, 35.

World War One had presented a direct threat to the brewing industry. Government officials used war-time emergencies to impose grain rationing, a step that led to the lowering of the alcohol level of beer to 2.75 percent. World War Two had a completely different effect on the industry: rather than output falling, beer production rose from 1941 to 1945.

Table 6: Production and Per Capita Consumption, 1940-1945

Year Number of Breweries Number of barrels withdrawn (millions) Per Capita Consumption (gallons)
1940 684 54.9 12.5
1941 574 55.2 12.3
1942 530 63.7 14.1
1943 491 71.0 15.8
1944 469 81.7 18.0
1945 468 86.6 18.6

Source: 1979 USBA, 12-14.

During the war, the industry mirrored the nation at large by casting off its sluggish depression-era growth. As the war economy boomed, consumers, both troops and civilians, used some of their wages for beer, and per capita consumption grew by 50 percent between 1940 and 1945.

1945-1980: Following World War II, the Industry Continues to Grow and to Consolidate

Yet, the take-off registered during the World War II was not sustained during the ensuing decades. Total production continued to grow, but at a slower rate than overall population.

Table 7: Production and per Capita Consumption, 1945-1980

Year Number of Breweries Number of barrels withdrawn (millions) Per Capita Consumption (gallons)
1945 468 86.6 18.6
1950 407 88.8 17.2
1955 292 89.8 15.9
1960 229 94.5 15.4
1965 197 108.0 16.0
1970 154 134.7 18.7
1975 117 157.9 21.1
1980 101 188.4 23.1

Source: 1993 USBA, 7-8.

The period following WWII was characterized by great industry consolidation. Total output continued to grow, though per capita consumption fell into the 1960s before rebounding to levels above 21 gallons per capita in the 1970s, the highest rates in the nation’s history. Not since the 1910s, had consumption levels topped 21 gallons a year; however, there was a significant difference. Prior to Prohibition most consumers bought their beer from local or regional firms and over 85 percent of the beer was served from casks in saloons. Following World War II, two significant changes radically altered the market for beer. First, the total number of breweries operating fell dramatically. This signaled the growing importance of the large national breweries. While many of these firms — Anheuser-Busch, Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz — had grown into prominence in the late nineteenth century, the scale of their operations grew tremendously in the years after the repeal of prohibition. From the mid 1940s to 1980, the five largest breweries saw their share of the national market grow from 19 to 75 percent (Adams, 125).

Table 8: Concentration of the Brewing Industry, 1947-1981

Year Five Largest (%) Ten Largest (%) Herfindahl Index[4]
1947 19.0 28.2 140
1954 24.9 38.3 240
1958 28.5 45.2 310
1964 39.0 58.2 440
1968 47.6 63.2 690
1974 64.0 80.8 1080
1978 74.3 92.3 1292
1981 75.9 93.9 1614

Source: Adams, 1995, 125.

The other important change concerned how beer was sold. Prior to Prohibition, nearly all beer was sold on-tap in bars or saloons; while approximately 10-15 percent of the beer was bottled, it was much more expensive than draught beer. In 1935, a few years after repeal, the American Can Company successfully canned beer for the first time. The spread of home refrigeration helped spur consumer demand for canned and bottled beer, and from 1935 onwards, draught beer sales have fallen markedly.

Table 9: Packaged vs. Draught Sales, 1935-1980

Year Packaged sales as a percentage of total sales

(bottled and canned)

Draught sales as a percentage of total sales
1935 30 70
1940 52 48
1945 64 36
1950 72 28
1955 78 22
1960 81 19
1965 82 18
1970 86 14
1975 88 12
1980 88 12

Source: 1979 USBA, 20; 1993 USBA, 14.

The rise of packaged beer contributed to the growing industry consolidation detailed in Table 8.

1980-2000: Continued Growth, the Microbrewery Movement, and International Dimensions of the Brewing Industry

From 1980 to 2000, beer production continued to rise, reaching nearly 200 million barrels in 2000. Per capita consumption hit its highest recorded level in 1981 with 23.8 gallons. Since then, though, consumption levels have dropped a bit, and during the 1990s, consumption was typically in the 21-22 gallon range.

Table 10: Production and Per Capita Consumption, 1980-1990

Year Number of Breweries Number of barrels withdrawn (millions) Per Capita Consumption (gallons)
1980 101 188.4 23.1
1985 105 193.8 22.7
1990 286 201.7 22.6

Source: 1993 USBA, 7-8.

Beginning around 1980, the long decline in the number of breweries slowed and then was reversed. Judging solely by the number of breweries in operation, it appeared that a significant change had occurred: the number of firms began to increase, and by the late 1990s, hundreds of new breweries were operating in the U.S. However, this number is rather misleading: the overall industry remained very concentrated, with a three firm concentration ratio in 2000 of 81 percent.

Table 11: Production Levels of the Leading Breweries, 2000

Production (millions of barrels)
Anheuser-Busch 99.2
Miller 39.8
Coors 22.7
Total Domestic Sales 199.4

Source: Beverage Industry, May 2003, 19.

Although entrepreneurs and beer enthusiasts began hundreds of new breweries during this period, most of them were very small, with annual production levels of between 5,000 to 100,000 barrels annually. Reflecting their small size, these new firms were nicknamed microbreweries. Collectively, microbreweries have grown to account for approximately 5-7 percent of the total beer market.

Microbreweries represented a new strategy in the brewing industry: rather than competing on the basis of price or advertising, they attempted to compete on the basis of inherent product characteristics. They emphasized the freshness of locally produced beer; they experimented with much stronger malt and hop flavors; they tried new and long-discarded brewing recipes, often reintroducing styles that had been popular in America decades earlier. Together, these breweries have had an influence much greater than their market share would suggest. The big three breweries, Anheuser Busch, Miller, and Coors, have all tried to incorporate ideas from the microbrewery movement. They have introduced new marquee brands intended to compete for some of this market, and when this failed, they have bought shares in or outright control of some microbreweries.

A final dimension of the brewing industry that has been changing concerns the emerging global market for beer. Until very recently, America was the biggest beer market in the world: as a result, American breweries have not historically looked abroad for additional sales, preferring to expand their share of the domestic market.[5] In the1980s, Anheuser-Busch began to systematically evaluate its market position. While it had done very well in the U.S., it had not tapped markets overseas; as a result, it began a series of international business dealings. It gradually moved from exporting small amounts of its flagship brand Budwesier to entering into licensing accords whereby breweries in a range of countries such as Ireland, Japan, and Argentina began to brew Budweiser for sale in their domestic markets. In 1995, it established its first breweries outside of the U.S., one in England for the European market and the other in China, to service the growing markets in China and East Asia.[6]

While U.S. breweries such as Anheuser-Busch have only recently begun to explore the opportunities abroad, foreign firms have long appreciated the significance of the American market. Beginning in the late 1990s, imports began to increase their market share and by the early 2000s, they accounted for approximately 12 percent of the large U.S. market. Imports and microbrews typically cost more than the big three’s beers and they provide a wider range of flavors and tastes. One of the most interesting developments in the international market for beer occurred in 2002 when South African Breweries (SAB), the dominant brewery in South Africa, and an active firm in Europe, acquired Miller, the second largest brewery in the U.S. Though not widely discussed in the U.S., this may portend a general move towards increased global integration in the world market for beer.

Annotated Bibliography

Adams, Walter and James Brock, editors. The Structure of American Industry, ninth edition. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995.

Apps, Jerry. Breweries of Wisconsin. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. Detailed examination of the history of breweries and brewing in Wisconsin.

Baron, Stanley. Brewed In America: A History of Beer and Ale in the United States.

Boston: Little, Brown, and Co, 1962: Very good historical overview of brewing in America, from the Pilgrims through the post-World War II era.

Baum, Dan. Citizen Coors: A Grand Family Saga of Business, Politics, and Beer. New York: Harper Collins, 2000. Very entertaining story of the Coors family and the brewery they made famous.

Beverage Industry (May 2003): 19-20.

Blum, Peter. Brewed In Detroit: Breweries and Beers since 1830. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999. Very good discussion of Detroit’s major breweries and how they evolved. Particularly strong on the Stroh brewery.

Cochran, Thomas. Pabst Brewing Company: The History of an American Business. New York: New York University Press, 1948: A very insightful, well-researched, and well- written history of one of America’s most important breweries. It is strongest on the years leading up to Prohibition.

Downard, William. The Cincinnati Brewing Industry: A Social and Economic History. Ohio University Press, 1973: A good history of brewing in Cincinnati; particularly strong in the years prior to Prohibition.

Downard, William. Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980: Part dictionary and part encyclopedia, a useful compendium of terms, people, and events relating to the brewing and distilling industries.

Duis, Perry. The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicagoand Boston, 1880-1920. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983: An excellent overview of the institution of the saloon in pre-Prohibition America.

Eckhardt, Fred. The Essentials of Beer Style. Portland, OR: Fred Eckhardt Communications, 1995: A helpful introduction into the basics of how beer is made and how beer styles differ.

Ehert, George. Twenty-Five Years of Brewing. New York: Gast Lithograph and Engraving, 1891: An interesting snapshot of an important late nineteenth century New York City brewery.

Elzinga, Kenneth. “The Beer Industry.” In The Structure of American Industry, ninth edition, edited by W. Adams and J. Brock. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995: A good overview summary of the history, structure, conduct, and performance of America’s brewing industry.

Fein, Edward. “The 25 Leading Brewers in the United States Produce 41.5% of the Nation’s Total Beer Output.” Brewers Digest 17 (October 1942): 35.

Greer, Douglas. “Product Differentiation and Concentration in the Brewing Industry,” Journal of Industrial Economics 29 (1971): 201-19.

Greer, Douglas. “The Causes of Concentration in the Brewing Industry,” Quarterly Review of Economics and Business 21 (1981): 87-106.

Greer, Douglas. “Beer: Causes of Structural Change.” In Industry Studies, second edition, edited by Larry Duetsch, Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1998.

Hernon, Peter and Terry Ganey. Under the Influence: The Unauthorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch Dynasty. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991: Somewhat sensationalistic history of the family that has controlled America’s largest brewery, but some interesting pieces on the brewery are included.

Horowitz, Ira and Ann Horowitz. “Firms in a Declining Market: The Brewing Case.” Journal of Industrial Economics 13 (1965): 129-153.

Jackson, Michael. The New World Guide To Beer. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988: Good overview of the international world of beer and of America’s place in the international beer market.

Keithan, Charles. The Brewing Industry. Washington D.C: Federal Trade Commission, 1978.

Kerr, K. Austin. Organized for Prohibition. New Haven: Yale Press, 1985: Excellent study of the rise of the Anti-Saloon League in the United States.

Kostka, William. The Pre-prohibition History of Adolph Coors Company: 1873-1933. Golden, CO: self-published book, Adolph Coors Company, 1973: A self-published book by the Coors company that provides some interesting insights into the origins of the Colorado brewery.

Krebs, Roland and Orthwein, Percy. Making Friends Is Our Business: 100 Years of Anheuser-Busch. St. Louis, MO: self-published book, Anheuser-Busch, 1953: A self-published book by the Anheuser-Busch brewery that has some nice illustrations and data on firm output levels. The story is nicely told but rather self-congratulatory.

“Large Brewers Boost Share of U.S. Beer Business,” Brewers Digest, 15 (July 1940): 55-57.

Leisley, Bruce. A History of Leisley Brewing. North Newton Kansas: Mennonite Press, 1975: A short but useful history of the Leisley Brewing Company. This was the author’s undergraduate thesis.

Lender, Mark and James Martin. Drinking in America. New York: The Free Press, 1987: Good overview of the social history of drinking in America.

McGahan, Ann. “The Emergence of the National Brewing Oligopoly: Competition in the American Market, 1933-58.” Business History Review 65 (1991): 229-284: Excellent historical analysis of the origins of the brewing oligopoly following the repeal of Prohibition.

McGahan, Ann. “Cooperation in Prices and Capacities: Trade Associations in Brewing after Repeal.” Journal of Law and Economics 38 (1995): 521-559.

Meier, Gary and Meier, Gloria. Brewed in the Pacific Northwest: A History of Beer Making in Oregon and Washington. Seattle: Fjord Press, 1991: A survey of the history of brewing in the Pacific Northwest.

Miller, Carl. Breweries of Cleveland. Cleveland, OH: Schnitzelbank Press, 1998: Good historical overview of the brewing industry in Cleveland.

Norman, Donald. Structural Change and Performance in the U.S. Brewing Industry. Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA, 1975.

One Hundred Years of Brewing. Chicago and New York: Arno Press Reprint, 1903 (Reprint 1974): A very important work. Very detailed historical discussion of the American brewing industry through the end of the nineteenth century.

Persons, Warren. Beer and Brewing In America: An Economic Study. New York: United Brewers Industrial Foundation, 1940.

Plavchan, Ronald. A History of Anheuser-Busch, 1852-1933. Ph.D. dissertation, St. Louis University, 1969: Apart from Cochran’s analysis of Pabst, one of a very few detailed business histories of a major American brewery.

Research Company of America. A National Survey of the Brewing Industry. self-published, 1941: A well research industry analysis with a wealth of information and data.

Rorbaugh, William. The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979: Excellent scholarly overview of drinking habits in America.

Rubin, Jay. “The Wet War: American Liquor, 1941-1945.” In Alcohol, Reform, and Society, edited by J. Blocker. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979: Interesting discussion of American drinking during World War II.

Salem, Frederick. 1880. Beer: Its History and Its Economic Value as a National Beverage. New York: Arno Press, 1880 (Reprint 1972): Early but valuable discussion of American brewing industry.

Scherer, F.M. Industry Structure, Strategy, and Public Policy. New York: Harper Collins, 1996: A very good essay on the brewing industry.

Shih, Ko Ching and C. Ying Shih. American Brewing Industry and the Beer Market. Brookfield, WI, 1958: Good overview of the industry with some excellent data tables.

Skilnik, Bob. The History of Beer and Brewing in Chicago: 1833-1978. Pogo Press, 1999: Good overview of the history of brewing in Chicago.

Smith, Greg. Beer in America: The Early Years, 1587 to 1840. Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 1998: Well written account of beer’s development in America, from the Pilgrims to mid-nineteenth century.

Stack, Martin. “Local and Regional Breweries in America’s Brewing Industry, 1865-1920.” Business History Review 74 (Autumn 2000): 435-63.

Thomann, Gallus. American Beer: Glimpses of Its History and Description of Its Manufacture. New York: United States Brewing Association, 1909: Interesting account of the state of the brewing industry at the turn of the twentieth century.

United States Brewers Association. Annual Year Book, 1909-1921. Very important primary source document published by the leading brewing trade association.

United States Brewers Foundation. Brewers Almanac, published annually, 1941-present: Very important primary source document published by the leading brewing trade association.

Van Wieren, Dale. American Breweries II. West Point, PA: Eastern Coast Brewiana Association, 1995. Comprehensive historical listing of every brewery in every state, arranged by city within each state.


[1] A barrel of beer is 31 gallons. One Hundred Years of Brewing, Chicagoand New York: Arno Press Reprint, 1974: 252.

[2] During the nineteenth century, there were often distinctions between temperance advocates, who differentiated between spirits and beer, and prohibition supporters, who campaigned on the need to eliminate all alcohol.

[3] The major shippers may have been taken aback by the loss suffered by Lemp, one of the leading pre-Prohibition shipping breweries. Lemp was sold at auction in 1922 at a loss of 90 percent on the investment (Baron, 1962, 315).

[4] The Herfinhahl Index sums the squared market shares of the fifty largest firms.

[5] China overtook the United States as the world’s largest beer market in 2002.

[6] http://www.anheuser-busch.com/over/international.html

Citation: Stack, Martin. “A Concise History of America’s Brewing Industry”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. July 4, 2003. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/stack.brewing.industry.history.us