​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 began 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 of how to deal with this issue.  This was a major issue discussed at the Kentucky Brewer's Association in 1903 while William Riedlin was President.  It became an issue at St. Paul's Church that William attended in Covington, where the minister criticized his congregation of being one of only two in the county for not supporting 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, e.g. employees at cooperage firms and those in saloons, taverns and restaurants.  Some states were more resistant to banning alcohol than others. Before Prohibition could become a nationwide law, it was necessary for 36 states to ratify Prohibition.  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.  Towards the middle teens in the 1900's, it become rather rather obvious that Prohibition was inevitable.  However, various states that adopted laws to prevent the making and consumption of liquor, exempted beer and wine.  So, 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 not exempted from Prohibition.  With the advocates for temperance influencing the final terms of the 18th Amendment, they decided to outlaw any alcohol beverage with an alcohol content over 1/2 percent, thus legally prohibiting beer and wine production and consumption in the U.S., besides all liquors.  The fact that most brewers were of German ancestry, also became an issue, as discussed in Community Involvement.

Anti-German Sentiment During WWI

Not to be ignored were the political and social events occurring just before Prohibition was legalized nationally.  These created some significant and long lasting changes. The beginning of WWI in 1914 would negatively affect German-Americans and would greatly reduce and often eliminate German printed newspapers and German-American political groups and social organizations shortly after the U.S. entered WWI in the spring 1917.  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 the St. Paul Church that 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 resulted in shortages of materials in the production of beer in 1917, increasing the cost of making beer by 50% in one year. This is shown in an audit for 1917, which can be viewed under Corporate Material. This situation worsened in 1918, resulting in greater difficulty in producing beer, just a year before the coming of Prohibition.

The anti-German hysteria caused some difficulty for several men in Covington, including one of Bavarian's long time officers who had been the Secretary and Treasurer brewery for more than 30 years, J. H. Kruse.  He was accused of making unpatriotic comments in March of 1918, and needed 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.  There had been suspicions by some members of the Patriotic League of Covington that various nefarious comments towards America had been made in that shoe store. So, the league hired a detective agency.  They 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 saying comments that were claimed 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. Holding the trial on the fourth of July, which was attended by a few hundred people from a patriotic league, was likely not advantageous to these men.

THE WM. RIEDLIN BEVERAGE CO.

Besides the loss of J. H. Kruse, there was undoubtedly general sentiment against most of those employed at the Bavarian Brewery, any brewery, or of German ancestry, including the Riedlins.  What made these times even more tumultuous for the Riedlin family, was the coming of Prohibition that would threaten their business and the misfortunes they would soon experience, besides those they endured several years earlier. In 1909 William Junior's wife passed died 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 Senior and Junior 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 a fourth Director. So, 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 stationary.

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 Junior and Senior to assume his responsibilities.  This was reflected in the Bavarian Brewing Co. stationary 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 Junior was briefly the President of the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. after his father passed away.  

Stationary was provided specifically for the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Co. is displayed above. What is noteworthy about this letterhead is that it has no names and positions. The names of William Riedlin, Jr. and Senior 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 Section 4, the Early 1900s.) In particular, the death of the heir apparent, William Jr., at  a young age of only 37, likely to the pandemic of the Spanish Flu, 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 the new stationary excluded the names of its officers.

Even though it appears the Bavarian Brewery 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, as previously mentioned.  Therefore, even though both William Riedlin and his sons passed away, Bavarian Beer and other alcoholic beverages could still be sold a few months later.
 

While the beginning of Prohibition was a difficult time for the Riedlins, it was also a very challenging time for everyone previously connected with alcoholic beverages.  Prohibition required the closure of 380 saloons in Kenton and Campbell counties and the elimination of some 1,500 jobs. Overall in the Greater Cincinnati area, it was estimated that due to layoffs a 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 rented to saloons, which were typically located on corners. Bavarian was such a brewer. Additionally, the ownership of saloons belonged to owner-users, and by individuals and companies as investments.  All owners of saloon properties became confronted with the challenge of finding alternative uses for their properties when Prohibition began. Renting such space at that time was often difficult and created additional hardships upon 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, who were Clarence Cobb and William C. Schott, respectfully, 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 Junior and Senior. 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 being able to produce industrial alcohol, the directors of the company attempted to provide another 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, in order to retain some of their workers and to continue to be operational, like other former brewers at the advent of Prohibition, the Wm. Riedlin Beverage company began making a "near beer." By all accounts, these pseudo beer beverages 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, but they apparently operated 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 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 the Early and Later Riedlin Years. 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, enabling Bavarian to have dependable outlets to sell its beer.  It was established in 1910, as mentioned in the Later Riedlin Years. Unable to sell beer in these former saloons after Prohibition, these properties were no longer needed.  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 Riedlin's. 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 became in 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. struggled to make a profit a couple years after Prohibition began, 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, early in the following year, the Articles of Incorporation for the Wm. Riedlin Beverage Company were amended dissolving and terminating this beverage company.  In the process of doing this, 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, besides 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 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, this was certainly a possibility.  Because of his associations in the Cincinnati, OH and in Covington, KY, Remus is examined in an ancillary section. (See George Remus.)

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

LIQUIDATION OF THE RIEDLIN COMPANY AND ITS ASSETS

About a year after the Riedlin Realty Company was formed, sometime in 1924, 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. This was reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky Edition, January 3, 1925.  William C. Schott, the other son-in-law of William Riedlin, was then the 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 and 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 families of breweries that sold their brewery properties, the purchase of the brewery plant by Lucia, and the activities of Will with the Riedlin Company, helped secure the brewery property allowing it to eventually be operational once again. At the same time, however, there were ancillary and surplus brewery buildings, which were not considered to be needed, and were sold. Besides those transactions mentioned, various other properties were sold by Lucia and Will between 1925 and 1932, and some of those 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 make 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 became much more strict in prohibiting the illegal production of alcohol products in the Cincinnati area. (As mentioned further below, this is also around the time that George Remus was arrested and began serving time in prison.)

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 Pine Meer home located in Cincinnati in 1924.  In March of 1927, a fish and poultry dealer from Covington, George Schneider, along with several of his acquaintances, were accused of having 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 25 gallons of whisky that were found 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. ( See Sin City Revisited.)

According to past 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 any attempts to produce beer or other alcoholic beverages illegally at the brewery, or to consort with anyone that did so. In fact, he had contempt for those that did. However, there were others connected with breweries and distilleries who greatly profited 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 other businesses they could rely upon during Prohibition, and even during the Great Depression.  Will and Lucia still enjoyed drinking alcoholic beverages.  But rather than do so in an illicit night club or bar known as speakeasies, it appears they would mostly limit their alcoholic consumption at a private country club near their home, or during their winter vacations to Florida.  At that time, it was rather easy for anyone there to obtain quality liquor from Cuba via the "Rum Runners," who often sold their liquor on the beach.  The Schott family frequently enjoyed going to the beach and drinking from bottles covered with meshing. They liked Florida so much, they even had a home for short while on 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 that were most familiar with the brewery and the brewing business no longer remained 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. (See The Riedlin Family.) As discussed, particularly the family of William Riedlin's daughter Lucia with William C. Schott, and other descendants, would become involved with the Bavarian Brewery. Prohibition was not the end of the brewery, as it was for most, and the legacy of William Riedlin would continue.

 

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

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.

© 2020 by Webvisers Inc. Proudly created with Wix.com

  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Facebook