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Oct 23, 2014

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Frederick Lauer story

By Gregg Smith

To become one of the most important figures in United States brewing didn't require a large brewery, great fortune, scientific discovery, or even being well known. It didn't require any of those things usually associated with brewing greatness - only a love of beer. Such was the case with Fredrick Lauer.

Born on October 14, 1810 in Gleisweiler, Bavaria, Fredrick Lauer was an early emigrant to the America. Landing in Baltimore in 1822, the family soon found its way to Reading, Pennsylvania.

The original Lauer brewery was established under rather primitive circumstances by Fredrick's father. Located on Third & Chestnut Streets it was established in a log cabin rumored to have been built by a local native American called "Old Red" who lived there up until the day the brewery was installed. Before long Fredrick took over the business and immediately embarked on a continuous program of upgrading and expanding the equipment and facilities. His perseverance paid off and although the brewery was never among the national leaders he did attain the respectable level of third largest in Pennsylvania.

By 1844 Lauer was making lager beer, thus becoming one of the country's early brewers of that style which secured a him a comfortable income. His volunteer work assisting Reading's incorporation as a city won him a nomination to run for Congress but he respectfully turned down that offer because of the business in which he was engaged; he felt there would have been a conflict of interest. He did however accept a position as a member of the 1860 presidential convention during which he vigorously pursued a party platform endorsing abolition. Later, during the Civil War, he equipped an entire company of the Pennsylvania 104th at his own expense.

Funding of any war is difficult but it's even more so when civil strife rips apart the fragile structure of an economy. One of the financial methods pursued by the Lincoln administration was the creation of alternate taxing schemes and among them was a significant tax on brewery output. It was this aspect of the war that brought Lauer lasting fame.

On November 12, 1862 brewers from throughout the country held a convention in New York City. There they discussed the new taxes and developed a unified response to that immediate threat as well as future government proposals affecting the industry. It was Fredrick Lauer whom they elected as first president of the United States Brewers Association and Lauer accepted the position in much the same manner he undertook other civic duties, fully immersing himself in the responsibilities of his position. Lauer who cheerfully performed the delicate job of balancing national and industry interests by forging agreements each side found acceptable.

Establishing fair and reasonable taxation schemes might have been success enough for many people but Lauer took his job even further. Over the next five years in his role of president he would guide the Association through its formative years; its ever growing number of members laid a foundation for an organization which would establish standards for the industry, self-assess their labor practices and eventually create a highly respected brewers academy.

Meanwhile the brewery in Reading continued with consistent, if modest, success and expanded two additional times under the watchful eye of its loving owner. Even after Lauer turned over the leadership of the United States Brewers Association, he remained active. Others frequently remarked on how easy it was to tell Fredrick's location during the convention by the number of smiles concentrated on the convention floor.

Actively running his business for more than 40 years, Fredrick Lauer finally relinquished operations of the brewery to his sons Frank P. and George F. in 1882. Shortly thereafter, on September 12, 1883 Lauer passed away at age seventy four. But this is not the end of the story. The impact Fredrick Lauer had on his fellow brewers and his legacy of the United States Brewers Association continued to play upon the thoughts of the members who were constantly reminded of his warmth, dedication, perseverance and friendliness. Thus it was that after their annual meeting in 1885 the members traveled from their convention site in New York to Fredrick's beloved adopted city of Reading. On May 23rd in a ceremony charged with emotion they unveiled a monument capped with a lifesize bronze statue of none other than their comrade Fredrick Lauer.

So it's true; you needn't be the biggest, best, wealthiest, or most flamboyant to make history. Fredrick Lauer's brewery is but a shadowy memory in US brewing but the statue commemorating his work remains a lasting tribute in Reading.

Gregg Smith

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