By Gregg Smith
Time and again the story of America's great brewhouses of the 1800's begin
with the emigration of a German family. Usually you can even predict the
decade the brewer arrived in the United States, typically the 1840's. Such is
not the case with William Massey.
A look at Massey's portrait reveals much of the man. What's there, looking
back at you, is a graying gentleman with longish sideburns, a set jaw and the
slightly down turned mouth that you might expect from a serious Englishman.
In fact, that's what Massey was. Born in England, his father was a brewer
from Stoke who moved his family to Philadelphia when William was still quite
As the young Massey approached the age for setting upon his own career he
followed in his father's footsteps as was the tradition of the day. Seeking a
brewing apprenticeship, his first position was in Philadelphia's Gray's
Brewery at Sixth above Chestnut.
Eventually ambition moved him to look for better opportunities and he soon
found himself in the employ of M.L.Dawson. His first assignment was to
function as Dawson's agent selling malt liquors in the city of New Orleans.
This was in the period before refrigeration when the vast number of beers
consumed in the south were brewed in northern states and sold through agents
like Massey. Apparently William's work was highly valued and as in a few
other stories of the day, such as Beadleston in New York, he was offered a
partnership in 1849.
Located at Tenth and Filbert in Philadelphia the brewery was renamed
Poultney, Collins & Massey. In 1857 Poultney withdrew and the name changed to
Massey, Collins & Company with silent third partner Samuel Houston. Collins
retired in 1866 and the new company became Massey, Houston & Company. Then in
1870 Massey gained full ownership and the company really took off. Under his
full control the brewery gradually increased sales and production finally
reaching the lofty position of number 11 in the nation in 1877.
Gaining a position among the elite in any industry is no accident; it's an
undertaking steeped in dedication. The rapid climb of William Massey in only
seven years to one of the country's leading brewers is a direct reflection of
the leadership he provided. This was underscored on February 20, 1891 when
William Massey passed away. Without the strong guidance of this quiet, stern
looking Englishmen the company was soon in a dramatic fade. Within two years
the company was in serious trouble. Then, in 1894 the William Massey brewery,
once the pride of Philadelphia, closed its doors forever.
© Gregg Smith