Monday, July 6, 2015

Akron History: Burkhardt Brewing Company

The following essay first appeared in the June/issue #8 of The Devil Strip--our new, twice monthly, arts & culture newspaper in Akron. Issue #8 is now available--go out and pick up a copy or eventually read it on-line.  As many of you know, I love researching and writing about Akron history. I'm writing a regular column about Akron history for The Devil Strip.  If you have any suggestions or requests for particular topics, let me know.

A Burkhardt's newspaper ad from 1911.

The Backstory on Burkhardt Brewing Company
by Joanna Wilson 

Beer and brewing have deep roots in Akron. One of the leading breweries, Burkhardt Brewing Company, was one with lasting import as well as an interesting story.  German immigrant Wilhelm Burkhardt first came to the area to work at a brewery in Cleveland.  In 1874, he arrived in Akron to become brewmaster and eventually part owner (with Frederick Gaessler) at the already established Wolf Ledge Brewery in South Akron.  A fire destroyed the wooden buildings of the brewery five years later.  Gaessler sold his interests to Burkhardt, leaving Wilhelm to re-build Wolf Ledge Brewery by himself.  Three years later, in 1882, Wilhelm died leaving behind a widow and three young children.

In a story that makes me proud to be an Akronite, Wilhelm’s widow took over her husband’s business, rolling up her sleeves to build a company that would support her family for the next 74 years. One of the first things Margaretha did was change the name to Burkhardt’s Brewery.  In 1903 the company incorporated as M. Burkhardt Brewing Company and she raised her sons in the business.  Margaretha was the head of the brewery for 27 years (1882-1909) until her son Gus took over.  However, she continued to work for the company as director for another 16 years, until her death in 1925.

Burkhardt's 1933 ad.
Burkhardt Brewing Company survived prohibition by brewing near beer, making soft drinks, manufacturing ice and by the strength of their other diversified holdings.  After the end of prohibition, Burkhardts returned to brewing beer and benefited from the loyalty of rubber workers.  The brewery continued to grow into one of the area’s leading regional beers.  Unfortunately, in the post-WWII era, national breweries began to dominate the market and force smaller companies out.  Margaretha’s grandson William was president of the company in 1956 when it was sold to the larger regional, Burger Brewing of Cincinnati. By 1964, Burger closed due to bankruptcy.
But that’s not the end of the story.  Some of the large complex of buildings formerly known as Burkhardts still stands.  When you go to Grant Street to visit Thirsty Dog Brewing and Aqueduct Brewing, you’re standing in the old Burkhardt's brewery building.  The blonde brick building next door labeled The M. Burkhardt Brewing Company with the gorgeous ornamental horse-head keystones over the doorways is actually the former stables and ice house facility.  Can you imagine a time when horses pulled wagons filled with kegs of beer around Akron’s streets?  Another cool connection: one of Burkhardts’ former brewmasters brought his nephew, Jacob Paquin, to Akron from Alsace-Lorraine.  Paquin ended up starting the original Norka Beverage Company which was in business from 1924-1962.  We might not be enjoying NORKA today if it weren’t for the Burkhardt Brewing Company.

Newspaper ad--year unknown.

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