​5. THE RIEDLIN COMPANIES (1919 - 1931)
& Prohibition
THE COMING OF PROHIBITION
Earlier Temperance Efforts

Prohibition did not occur overnight.  The Temperance Movement to eliminate the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages began to accelerate after the Civil War. Those that supported this movement, which included many religious denominations and organizations, believed that it would eliminate social evils. Even before the 20th century, some states had already begun outlawing alcohol consumption. In 1893, the Anti-Saloon League was formed in Oberlin, Ohio, and increased the pressure to adopt Prohibition. Brewers were in a quandary about dealing with this issue; it was a major concern discussed at the Kentucky Brewer's Association in 1903 while William Riedlin was President. It also became a point of contention at St. Paul's Church, which William attended in Covington. The minister criticized his congregation for being one of only two in the county that did not support temperance. However, most of the church members were of German descent and associated with the brewery trade. They knew Prohibition would not only negatively affect their livelihoods, but many others as well, including employees at cooperage firms and those in saloons, taverns and restaurants.

 

Some states were more resistant to banning alcohol than others. Before the Prohibition act could become a nationwide law, it was necessary for 36 states to ratify it. Regardless, if some states did not want Prohibition, they would still need to comply. Some brewers hoped that there would be an insufficient number of states to agree to Prohibition - but towards the mid-1910s, it became rather obvious that Prohibition was inevitable. However, various states that adopted laws to prevent the making and consumption of liquor had exempted beer and wine. Therefore, it was a widely held view that such beverages with a lower alcoholic content would be exempted from Prohibition. Furthermore, a substantial amount of all taxes collected from the Federal Government came from the taxes on alcoholic beverages. To the surprise and shock of brewers, beer was ultimately not exempted from Prohibition. With the advocates for temperance influencing the final terms of the 18th Amendment, legislators decided to outlaw any beverage with an alcohol content over 1/2 percent, thus legally prohibiting beer and wine production and consumption in the U.S. in addition to all liquors. The fact that most brewers were of German ancestry also played a role in the issue, as WWI had created much resentment to them, as discussed below.

Anti-German Sentiment During WWI

The political and social events occurring just before Prohibition was legalized nationally deeply affected the events and created long-lasting, significant changes. The beginning of WWI in 1914 would negatively affect the status of German-Americans in broader society, greatly reducing - often eliminating - German-printed newspapers and German-American political groups and social organizations. At the outset of WWI, there was such an outpouring of animosity in America against those with German ancestry that many German-American groups were abandoned. Some Germans even anglicized and changed their names. At St. Paul Church, which the Riedlin's attended, the services that were held in German every other week were eliminated as the U.S. entered WWI. German was no longer taught in many schools and local newspapers that were printed in German ceased. Numerous streets and buildings with German names were changed. WWI also caused shortages of materials necessary for the production of beer in 1917, increasing the cost of making beer by 50% in just one year. This is shown in an audit for 1917, which can be viewed under Corporate Material. The situation worsened in 1918, resulting in greater difficulty in producing beer just a year before the advent of Prohibition.

The anti-German hysteria caused some difficulty for several men in Covington, including J. H. Kruse, who had been the Secretary and Treasurer of the Bavarian Brewery for more than 30 years. He was accused of making unpatriotic comments in March of 1918, and was compelled to resign from the brewery shortly thereafter. Apparently, he and several other men who immigrated from Germany occasionally had some libations, met at a shoe store, sang some German songs and assumed they were having some private conversations. Some members of the Patriotic League of Covington voiced suspicions that nefarious comments towards America had been made in that shoe store. The league hired a detective agency, hid a dictograph in a large clock in the store, and extended wires under the floors to a speaker in the office of a bank next door.

 J. H. Kruse, Secretary / Treasurer of the Bavarian Brewing Co.  c. 1900.

J. H. Kruse, Sec./Treas. of Bavarian

For at least a few days, dictograph operators were recording and translating the conversations that took place in the store. The operators claimed they were able to distinguish the voices of each person involved in the conversations. Evidently, the men never discussed anything that was construed as subversive actions against the U.S. However, there were claims that the men made some very pro-German comments. A few months later, in July of 1918, seven men, including J. H. Kruse, were tried in court. The men denied making the comments that were attributed to them by the dictograph operators. An example of a specific charge that J. H. Kruse denied was saying that he "would rather see his son get married than go into the Navy." It was reported that the trial was orderly, attended by 400 members of Citizens' Patriotic League and had some celebratory qualities, as it was held on July 4th, 1918. Even though the accused men had lived and worked in America for most of their lives, were in their sixties and seventies, and had pleaded innocent, six of the seven were found guilty. Historical research has found that such ethnic prejudice against German immigrants during the war years was not uncommon.

THE WM. RIEDLIN BEVERAGE CO.

In addition to the loss of J. H. Kruse, there was undoubtedly general sentiment against most Bavarian Brewery employees - and all breweries owned by those of German ancestry - including the Riedlins. What made these times even more tumultuous for the Riedlin family was the arrival of Prohibition, which would threaten their business, along with personal tragedies that echoed those they had endured several years earlier. In 1909, William Jr.'s wife passed away in her twenties; in 1912, William's wife Emma passed away; and in 1915, his son Walter died at a resort in Asheville, NC. William's health was also declining. To make plans in anticipation of Prohibition, at a meeting of the stockholders of the Bavarian Brewing Co. on August 20, 1918, the Bavarian Brewing Co. was renamed as the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. In the corporate filing four days later, it was stated that the purpose of this new entity "...shall be the manufacturing and selling of maltuous (malt) liquors, ice, malt, soft drinks, mineral waters, distilled waters, fruit extracts and juices, and other non-intoxicating beverages and for general storage and refrigeration." These operations would also include the production of "near beer" (a beer without more than 1/2% alcohol). It appears that this entity had three directors; William Riedlin Sr. and Jr. as well as Joseph Ruh, the brewmaster. Had J. H. Kruse not been a victim of anti-German sentiment, he would have in all likelihood been named a fourth Director. With this meeting, a plan to transition the brewery to a beverage concern headed by three men was established before it became illegal to produce beer in Kentucky on November 30, 1918. Even so, the newly organized beverage company (and former brewery), was able to store quantities of beer that were estimated to last until at least May, 1919. Initially, as shown by the image below, a stamp for the beverage company was placed on brewery stationery.

In the image above, it was indicated that William Riedlin Sr. was President and Treasurer and William Riedlin Jr. was Vice President and Secretary of the Bavarian Brewery. Because of the situation involving J. H. Kruse, it was necessary for William Jr. and Sr. to jointly assume his responsibilities. This was reflected in the Bavarian Brewing Co. stationery before it received the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. stamp. These men kept the same positions when the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. was first established. However, Wm. Riedlin Jr. was briefly the President of the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. after his father passed away.

Stationery provided specifically for the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. is displayed above. What is noteworthy about this letterhead is that it contains no names and positions. The names of William Riedlin, Jr. and Sr. may not have been printed on this stationary, because it may have been printed after they both passed away in early 1919. (Their passing briefly discussed in period 4. Early 1900s.) In particular, the death of the heir apparent, William Jr., at a young age of only 37 - likely due to the Spanish Flu pandemic - undoubtedly shocked all his surviving family members, but also cast uncertainty on the future of the beverage company. Consequently, it was understandable that there was a period in which the new stationery excluded the names of its officers.

Even though it appears the Bavarian Brewery had stopped producing beer by November 30, 1918, it was still possible to sell beer that Bavarian had in storage near or until the time Prohibition went into effect in Kentucky, which was at the end of June in 1919. Therefore, even after William Riedlin and his sons passed away, Bavarian Beer and other alcoholic beverages could still be sold a few months later.

The beginning of Prohibition was a difficult time for the Riedlins personally; it was also a challenging period for all previously connected with the alcoholic beverage industry. Prohibition required the closure of 380 saloons in Kenton and Campbell counties and the elimination of some 1,500 jobs. In the Greater Cincinnati area, it was estimated that due to layoffs in breweries, barrel-makers and other trades associated with the brewery business, there was a total loss of about 35,000 jobs. In order to have reliable sources to sell their beer, many brewers often owned real estate that they rented to saloons, which were typically located on corners. Bavarian was such a brewer. Additionally, the ownership of saloons belonged to owner-users, and were leveraged by individuals and companies as investments. All owners of these saloon properties became confronted with the challenge of finding alternative uses for them when Prohibition began. Renting space at that time was often difficult and created additional hardships for the owners of former saloon properties.

C. 1903. Left to right and their year of death; Walter Riedlin (1915), William Riedlin Sr. (1919) and William Riedlin Jr. (1919)

AFTER THE DEATHS OF THE RIEDLIN FATHER AND SON
And The Beginning of Prohibition

After the deaths of William Riedlin and his son, a certain amount of time was required to settle their estates before the administration of the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. could be determined. It appears the assets of William Riedlin were transferred primarily to the families of his two daughters, and to a lesser extent, to the families of his two daughter-in-laws. Consequently, the husbands of William Riedlin Sr.'s. daughters Mayme and Lucia - Clarence Cobb and William C. Schott, respectively - became more involved in the Riedlin family interests. With respect to the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co., its Articles of Incorporation were amended on June 4, 1919. Joseph A. Ruh remained a Director and the son-in-laws of Wm. Riedlin, Clarence Cobb and William C. Schott, were appointed as new Directors, replacing the deceased Wm. Riedlin Jr. and Sr. Clarence Cobb became President and Jacob Geiswies was Secretary and Treasurer. To provide their firm with greater flexibility and a better opportunity to be profitable, the purpose of the beverage company was modified to include the following use after beverages: "and the qualifications of an industrial distillery therefore." By enabling the production of industrial alcohol, the directors of the company attempted to provide an additional profit center for their firm.

It is not known how many brewery employees remained at the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. to legally use their facilities after Prohibition began on July 1st, 1919. Unfortunately, many workers were probably laid off. However, and like many former brewers at the advent of Prohibition, the Wm. Riedlin Beverage company launched a “near beer” product in order to retain some of their workers and continue to be operational.  By all accounts, these pseudo beer beverages just did not taste good and, consequently, had little public acceptance. Reportedly, the beverage company stopped making near beer after a year or two. It is unknown what type of sodas, beverages or industrial alcohol were created, but they apparently continued to operate for a couple years after Prohibition began.

Note: Virtually no information has been obtained thus far of the products made and the labels thereon by the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. Anyone that has such knowledge about this is encouraged to contact us.

The above aerial was taken in the 1940s, but the outline and area shaded in yellow shows the entire site comprising the brewery at the beginning of Prohibition in 1919, including about a dozen buildings. The numbers and letters identify the buildings, and are discussed in more detail in the sections for periods  3. Late 1800s and 4. Early 1900s. . Those buildings that are light colored, were originally red brick in color during before and during Prohibition, but were painted afterwards. 

 
THE RIEDLIN REALTY COMPANY

Not to be confused with the Riedlin Beverage Company, the Riedlin Realty Company owned various corner buildings with saloons and other real estate, ensuring Bavarian had dependable outlets to sell its beer. It was established in 1910, as mentioned in period 4. Early 1900s and the Later Riedlin Years. Unable to sell beer in these former saloons after Prohibition, the firm needed to find alternate uses for these properties. This realty firm operated at the same address as the brewery (or beverage concern), 369 Pike Street. Only one of the original officers of the Riedlin Realty Company, Clarence Cobb, remained after the deaths of the Riedlins. Even though Cobb may have continued to be involved with this concern, Ignatius Steidle, who had previously had affairs with the Riedlin's for a number of years, reportedly took charge of the Riedlin Realty Company by 1921. Steidle also served as Chief of Police for Covington, KY, in 1921. At some point around this time, some or most of the assets of the Riedlin Realty Company may have been transferred to the Riedlin Company.

THE RIEDLIN COMPANY

After the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. began struggling to make a profit a couple years into Prohibition, its Directors decided to form a new company, the Riedlin Company, in November of 1922. In doing so, they transferred the powers and duties of the Bavarian Brewing Co. into this new entity. Shortly thereafter, the Articles of Incorporation for the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Company were amended, dissolving and terminating this beverage company; in the process, the purpose of the Riedlin Company was somewhat expanded in contrast to the intent of the beverage company. The Riedlin Company could manufacture and market malt liquors, conduct a cold storage business, deal in real estate and act as a broker in stocks, in addition to operating an industrial distillery as well as the manufacturing and selling ice and soft drinks. Apparently, the company was operating the ice plant to produce and sell ice, and used the brewery to produce non-alcoholic beverages, such as soft drinks. Additionally, the company also had extensive real estate holdings, including the brewery property and securities. The capital stock of the Riedlin Company was $500,000 with a total of 1,250 preferred shares authorized at $100 par value and 375 shares of common at $1,000 par value. The Directors were Clarence Cobb, William C. Schott and Joseph A. Ruh. Each held a similar and modest number of only nine shares. Ownership and financial details of this company are unclear, but presumably the entity was primarily vested among the Riedlin heirs.

 

Regardless, it seems that the intention to form the Riedlin Company was to empower it with the former duties of the Bavarian Brewing Co., consolidate various assets, perhaps make it profitable, and possibly to make the entire company desirable for an acquisition. In particular, certain assets of this company would have been attractive to medicinal and industrial concerns, or even illegal operators making alcoholic beverages. At the time the Riedlin Company was formed in 1922, the self-proclaimed "King of the Bootleggers," George Remus, had settled across the river in Cincinnati and was busy acquiring various distilleries. Whether or not Remus or one of his associates ever made an effort to acquire the former Bavarian Brewery Plant from the Riedlin Company is unknown. However, as Remus owned some distilleries and may have had a relationship with another former brewery in Kentucky, it was certainly a possibility. Because of his impactful associations to the Cincinnati, OH and Covington, KY regions, Remus is examined in an ancillary section. (See 5A. George Remus.)

1922. This photo shows the brewery, possibly from the Covington Turners building on W. Pike street facing southwest. The Stock House appears on the left, the Ice Plant is on the right center, and behind it is the Tall Stack. In the lower right, it appears some trucks are being loaded, possibly with ice or beverages. Source: Northern Kentucky News

LIQUIDATION OF THE RIEDLIN COMPANY AND ITS ASSETS

In 1924, about a year after the Riedlin Realty Company was formed, Clarence and Mary (Mayme) Cobb were separated. Beginning in 1925 and before the couple were officially divorced in October of 1925, efforts were made to dissolve the Riedlin Company. The story was reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky Edition, January 3, 1925. At the time, William C. Schott, the other son-in-law of William Riedlin, was President of the Riedlin Company and John Geiswein was Secretary.

 

The dissolution of the firm began with the selling of the former Bavarian Brewery Plant to Lucia Riedlin Schott for $160,000. She then sold the ice house to the Kenton County Ice Co. for $40,000. This entity was incorporated by Joseph Ruh, Ferdinand Ruh and M. L. Galvin, who planned to continue its operations. It appears other properties were also transferred from the Riedlin Company to Lucia and/or William C. Schott in February of 1925. One of these was to the Covington Warehouse and Storage Company; another property was transferred to Frank J. Fedders et al. In addition, it is believed the most of the brewery equipment was disposed of in 1925.

 

Unlike other brewery families that sold their properties, the purchase of the brewery plant by Lucia, and the activities of William with the Riedlin Company, helped secure the brewery property - allowing it to eventually become operational again. At the same time, however, ancillary and surplus brewery buildings that were not considered to be necessary were sold. In addition to the discussed transactions, various other properties were sold by Lucia and Will between 1925 and 1932; some were transferred to their friends and to Will's brothers.

Disposition of Beer

Becoming the owner of the brewery property, if not earlier, Lucia became aware that considerable beer was stored on the premises. This may have been beer that remained from before Prohibition or legally created "near beer." Her legal representatives made arrangements to have this beer disposed of without any tax or legal consequences. On February 6, 1925, The Courier newspaper in Louisville, KY, indicated that permission was received from the Internal Revenue Service in Covington to drain 25,000 barrels of beer (775,00 gallons) into the city sewers. During this year, Federal authorities had become much stricter in prohibiting the illegal production of alcohol products in the Cincinnati area. (As will be discussed below, George Remus was arrested and began serving time in prison during this period.)

Illegal Use of the Brewery
& the Beginning of Organized Crime in Northern Kentucky

Unbeknownst to Lucia and William Schott, some illegal making of liquor occurred on the brewery property a couple years after they moved into their newly completed Pine Meer home in Cincinnati in 1924. In March of 1927, George Schneider, a fish and poultry dealer from Covington, was accused along with several of his acquaintances of running a still in the Wash House of the Bavarian Brewery. Less than a year later, in January of 1928, a man named Henry Collins was sought for operating a 300-gallon capacity still along with storing 25 gallons of whisky in the brewery, possibly in the Stock Houses Addition. The brewery tunnel system may have aided in the brewery break-in and use of its facilities. Some of the moonshiners and bootleggers active in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky at this time would later establish places for illegal gambling, strip clubs, and prostitution in Covington, but especially across the Licking River in the adjoining city of Newport, KY. Several became notorious after Prohibition was repealed in the 1930s and 1940s. (An examination of the criminal activities in Northern Kentucky is explored in Sin City Revisited.)

William C. Schott's Attitude Towards Prohibition

According to accounts from William C. (Will) Schott, he believed the passing of Prohibition was wrong and contributed to many other problems, such as bootlegging and organized crime. However, he respected the laws and neither he, Lucia, nor other family members made attempts to produce beer or other alcoholic beverages illegally at the brewery, or to consort with anyone that did. In fact, he expressed contempt for those that broke Prohibition laws. By contrast, others connected with breweries and distilleries profited greatly (and illegally) during the Prohibition years. While Will became involved with the Riedlin Company, he was also the General Manager of the Cincinnati Galvanizing Co. and was involved with other family firms, including the J.M. Schott & Sons Cooperage Co., Schott Brothers Realty and WFBE radio. Fortunately, Will, his family, and his brothers' families had these other businesses they could rely upon during Prohibition, and even during the Great Depression.

 

Like most families associated with the brewing business, Will and Lucia enjoyed drinking alcoholic beverages. Both enjoyed a beer with lunch and dinner, and sometimes as a nightcap. When socializing with other couples, Will liked a Scotch with a splash and Lucia enjoyed a Manhattan. They continued to consume alcoholic beverages at times during Prohibition. However, rather than frequent illicit night clubs or bars known as speakeasies, it appears they would mostly limit their alcoholic consumption to a private country club near their Pine Meer home in Cincinnati, or on the beach during their winter vacations to Florida. At that time, it was rather easy for anyone there to obtain quality liquor in Florida from Cuba via the "Rum Runners," - distributors who often sold their liquor from boats. They often enjoyed going to the beach drinking bottles or rum covered with meshing. They liked Florida so much that they even acquired a home for a couple of years in Miami Beach in the late 1920s, where Will and Lucia spent the winters with their family and friends and their sons attended school. However, that ended as the Great Depression deepened in the early 1930s.

In summary, the Riedlin men who were most familiar with the brewery and the brewing business no longer remained in leadership positions just before Prohibition to navigate through the challenging times ahead. However, the Riedlin daughters (Mayme and Lucia) both married and had families with children, as did Walter Riedlin before he passed away - making it possible for the family-owned business to continue. (See the section on The Riedlin Family.) As discussed, the family of William Riedlin's daughter Lucia with William C. Schott, in addition to other descendants, would become more closely involved with the Bavarian Brewery. Prohibition did not spell the end of this brewery, as it did for most, and the legacy of William Riedlin would continue.

CONTINUE TO
Section 5A - George Remus & The Roaring 20s
​​​​​​​​​​​
T I M E L I N E

To place the events described above in  perspective, following are some major events that occurred in the Bavarian Brewery Time Period 5: 1920 - 1931:

  • 19th Amendment / Women’s Right to Vote & Volstead Act (1920)

  • Radio Broadcasts begin (1920)

  • Warren G. Harding is President (1921-1923)

  • Calvin Coolidge is President (1923-1925)

  • George Remus jailed, murders wife on release (1924-27)

  • Electric Refrigerators available in 50% of homes (1925)

  • Calvin Coolidge Reelected as President (1925-1929)

  • Wall Street Crash & Great Depression starts (1929)

  • Herbert Hoover is President (1929-1933)

For a summary of all the periods in the history of the Bavarian Brewery, pleaseee the entire Timeline.

 

SOURCES:

​Batchelor, Bob, The Bourbon King

Behringer Crawford Museum, Covington, KY

Boh, John, Kenton County (KY) Historical Society Bulletin, March/April 2018

Newspapers.com and Cincinnati Enquirer (1919 - 1929)

Schott Family Information

C.B. Truesdell, (The History of) The Bavarian Brewery, 1954. (Unpublished manuscript.)

Wikipedia.

Shown in the background is an aerial photo of the Bavarian Brewery, showing the overall site plan as of 1918,

even though the photo was taken a couple decades later.

 
The Historic and Former
 
 
Bavarian Brewery

 
In Covington, Kentucky