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​5. THE RIEDLIN COMPANIES (1920 - 1931)
& Prohibition
Earlier Temperance Efforts

Prohibition did not occur overnight.  The Temperance Movement to eliminate the production and sale of alcoholic beverages occurred as early as 1851 in Maine. However, the effort to ban 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 on the local level in many communities, particularly at church. For example, at St. Paul's Church, which William and his family 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 many were associated with the brewery trade. They knew Prohibition would not only negatively affect their livelihoods, but many others as well, particularly those involved with cooperage firms, saloons 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, until 1913 when the 16th Amendment allowing for personal and corporate taxation was ratified. This allowed the U.S. Government to become less dependent upon the taxation of liquor.


Still, to the surprise and shock of brewers, beer was ultimately not exempted from Prohibition when the 18th Amendment was passed in 1919. Largely due to the U.S. involvement in WWI against Germany , which resulted in much prejudice and resentment against German-Americans, including most brewers who were of German ancestry (as discussed below), advocates for temperance persuaded legislators to outlaw any beverage with an alcohol content over 1/2 percent. As a result, in addition to banning all liquors, all beer and wine production and sales in the U.S. was also prohibited.

Anti-German Sentiment During WWI

Political and social events occurring just before Prohibition deeply impacted America and created significant changes. The beginning of WWI in 1914 would negatively affect the status of German-Americans in the broader U.S. society, greatly reducing - often eliminating - German-printed newspapers and German-American political groups and social organizations. Beginning with the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, and with the entry of the U.S. into WWI in 1917, there became 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, and only held in English. 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. (A couple of these audit pages are created into a graphic image and posted on the second floor of the Kenton Co. Government Center.) The situation worsened in 1918, making it more difficult to produce beer just a year before the advent of Prohibition.

The anti-German hysteria created tragedies for several men in Covington. One such man was J. Henry. Kruse, who was born in Covington and had been the Secretary and Treasurer of the Bavarian Brewery for more than 35 years. Like Riedlin, he also had other business and civic interests. He was president of the Latonia City Trustees, an organizer of the Latonia First National Bank, active in his church and involved with German-American organizations.  He often socialized with a group of several men who frequently met at a cobblers (shoe) shop in Latonia owned by Charles Bernard Schoborg located in the bank Kruse helped organize. These other men had immigrated from Germany, or were first generation Germans, and were older - in their sixties. The men assumed they were having some private conversations, sometimes in German, and would talk about the Bavarian Brewery, events in Covington and also about WWI.

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

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

Unbeknownst to this group of men, there were some people in the community that were members of the Citizen's Patriotic League (CPL) of Covington who became suspicious of them because of their German descent. There were rumors that they were occasionally making nefarious and unpatriotic comments towards America at Schoborg's store. To look into this, private individuals with the CPL hired a private detective agency in March of 1918 to spy on these men. To do so, the agency hid an electronic listening device, called a Dictaphone, in a large clock in the store, and extended wires under the floors to a speaker in a bank office next door. This was done without any government issued search warrant. Over a period of a couple of months, Dictaphone operators in the bank listened, translated and transcribed the conversations that took place in the store. The conversations were not recorded, because this was beyond the technical capabilities at that time. The operators claimed they were able to (subjectively) distinguish the voices and complete statements of each person involved in the conversations, even though the large clock where the speaker was hidden constantly made a loud ticking noise. The noise was such a distraction that the CPL tried to have the noise of the clock reduced. This was done by having a local utility company gain access to the shoe store under the guise that they were adjusting a meter. A total of seven men were engaged in these conversations and all were completely unaware that there will people secretly listening and documenting their conversations. It is important to mention that this was entirely being done through actions of citizens in the community, and without the approval of local or federal authorities.


On July 4th, 1918, these seven men, including J. H. Kruse, were stunned when they were summoned by the local police and brought into a "court of inquiry." It was presided upon by state and federal prosecutors to determine whether federal warrants should be issued against them. This was the first hearing of its kind in the county, and extremely unusual on a holiday. But it was deliberately arranged in a celebratory and festive manner by the CPL on July 4th in front of 400 of its members. The charges against the men were for "divers and sundry treasons" based on the Sedition Act. Even though the attorney prosecuting the case for Kentucky, Stephens Blakely, was also President of the CPL and was clearly subject to a conflict of interest, this was ignored. All men pleaded innocent, but the Federal authorities, in the presence of the large CPL crowd biased against the men, issued warrants against  them. All seven men were released on bonds and the first trial was scheduled for Schoborg on August 1, 1918. The trial for Kruse didn't begin until September 6, 1918, but this was the day after Schoborg and another man, Henry Feltman, had been found guilty. Kruse was also found guilty, after a jury deliberation of only 20-mintues. All three men were scheduled for sentencing on September 13th. Each received a prison sentence of five to ten years at the Federal Penitentiary in Moundsville, WV. However, they were allowed bail while the cases were on appeal, with bonds up to $40,000 -  a considerable sum at that time.


The Appeals Court in Cincinnati affirmed their convictions some 18 moths later on March 31, 1920. This was more than a year after WWI ended on November 11, 1918 and a year after William Riedlin and his son passed away in early 1919. The three men appealed their cases for a Supreme Court hearing In April of 1920. But it was denied on June 7, 1920. A month later, petitions were signed by hundreds to commute the sentences of the men. It seemed there was a chance they might receive a pardon through the administration of President Wilson. However, it was apparent after Thanksgiving, 1920, that this would not occur. The three aforementioned men began serving their sentences at the Moundsville Penitentiary on December 10, 1920. Efforts were still made to have the men pardoned. Finally, in June of 1921, a pardon was obtained through President Warren Harding - after the men served about six months.  However, by this time Kruse's life was in shatters. A couple years earlier, Prohibition had closed the Bavarian Brewery where Kruse worked, and as noted, his good friend and business associate, William Riedlin, had passed away. Most significantly, Kruse's reputation had been ruined. In late 1921, Kruse moved to Florida where he lived until he died in 1953 at the age of 88. 


This group of men noted above that were convicted by the CPL in Covington were not the only ones. Other residents in the city were also improperly accused and convicted. In addition, the CPL was active in closing German schools and newspapers, changing the German names of streets and buildings, and sometimes even having people fired from their jobs. Worse, some CPL members formed vigilante groups that would physically beat German immigrants based on unfounded suspicions. Some "patriotic" groups during WWI throughout the country not only had similar practices, but they would even tar and feather or try to lynch those of German ancestry, based on rumors. A more detailed account of the hysteria against Germans in Covington shortly before and during WWI, and the circumstances that lead to the conviction of an innocent Kruse and his friends, can be found in a paper by Lisa Gillham. It can be accessed here. Unfortunately, there were several hundred other German-Americans throughout the U.S. during WWI that were also improperly convicted and that were subject to beatings and other atrocities. It was no wonder that some German-Americans, out of fear, changed and anglicized their names during this period.


In addition to the loss of J. H. Kruse, there was undoubtedly general sentiment against most Bavarian Brewery employees who were of German descent - 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 interests, along with personal tragedies that occurred, which echoed family losses 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 and compelled to resign in July, 1918, he would have in all likelihood been named a fourth Director. With this meeting, a plan to transition from a 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 the last day it was legally able to sell beer, in May of 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 shown above that blocked out Kruse's name and added his positions to the Riedlin's. 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.

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

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 May 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 (tied-houses), which were typically located on corners. Bavarian was such a brewer. Additionally, the ownership of saloons also belonged to non-brewer 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 all owners of former saloon properties.

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 granddaughters and 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, including 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, 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 around 1940. 


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 business affairs with the Riedlin's for a number of years, reportedly took charge of the Riedlin Realty Company by 1921. That same year, Steidle also served as Chief of Police for Covington, KY. 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.


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. During this 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, attempt to 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 purportedly had a relationship with the Wiedemann Brewery in Newport, KY. Because of his impactful associations to the Cincinnati, OH and Northern Kentucky, Remus is examined in an ancillary section. (See 5A. George Remus.)