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Oct 25, 2014

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William Massey

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 young.

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

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