Duquesne Beer Company

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The 1800s brought booming industrial growth to Western Pennsylvania. With industry came jobs. With jobs came immigrants. And with hardworking immigrants came th…e need for beer. Ethnic neighborhoods were developing all around Pittsburgh with unique tastes and customs shaping the local economy. This was none more apparent than in the breweries of Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. In the last half of the 19th century, there were over nine breweries operating in the South Side. And an up and coming brewing company was about to change the Pittsburgh brewing landscape forever. In early 1899, a handful of Pittsburgh’s major brewers merged with many smaller Western Pennsylvania breweries to form a “Brewery Trust” called the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. The Trust quickly became the largest brewing company in Pennsylvania and the third largest nationwide. At the same time, a group of six South Side businessmen from various backgrounds recognized that Western Pennsylvania needed a larger, more modern brewing company. They believed that multiple brewing facilities under a single ownership would be the way to compete with Pittsburgh Brewing Company. So in this spirit, the Duquesne Brewing Company was incorporated in April 1899, led by company president Henry Miller, a former furniture salesman. Named after the prominent local figure in the French and Indian War, Marquis Duquesne, the Duquesne Brewing Company planned to build three technologically advanced breweries—Plant #1 in the South Side, and the other two in Lawrenceville and Allegheny, although plans for the second and third plants were discarded. Plant #1 was completed in September 1899. Built as a Romanesque six-story structure on the 21st and Mary Streets of the South Side, the brewery initially employed 300 workers. The Duquesne Beer Company was also employing the most innovative technologies available at the time. Mechanical refrigeration, pasteurization, steam heat, and the first electric truck used by a brewer in the nation all helped the company market its first beer by July 1900. Initially the brewery only produced beer by the barrel, but by July 1901, the company was one of the first breweries to pasteurize bottled beer. They bottled the original Duquesne Lager and a new premium lager called Silver Top. Silver Top was soon outselling bottled beers from local and out-of-state competitors, quickly transforming the local Duquesne Brewing into a large regional brewer. In order to compete with the Pittsburgh Brewing Company Trust, in 1905, Duquesne Brewing merged with sixteen widely scattered breweries in the region. The consolidation was named the Independent Brewing Company of Pittsburgh. A year later, Fort Pitt Brewing Company was formed, and along with Pittsburgh Brewing and Independent Brewing, the three groups controlled nearly the entire local beer market. In January 1920, Prohibition went into effect. Independent Brewing desperately tried to stay afloat by selling off assets and even producing varieties of “near beer,” a malt tonic with one-half percent alcohol. But Prohibition was too tough on Independent Brewing and the company was forced to close the doors of its remaining breweries. Independent Brewing was no longer, and John H. Friday, who was president of the company since 1915, would never again see the production of Duquesne beer. He passed away in 1932. His son, John A. Friday Sr., would soon fill his shoes. The repeal of Prohibition in December 1933 brought Friday’s desire to reassemble Independent Brewing, but the attempt to salvage the company failed. Instead of walking away, the business minded Friday led a reorganization under the original charter. The Duquesne Brewing Company was back in business, and purchased the remaining assets of Independent Brewing, using the South Side location as their parent brewery with satellite plants in Carnegie and Stowe Township. With a 325,000 barrel per year capacity, Duquesne Brewing was the largest of eight Pittsburgh brewers to survive Prohibition. The next several years brought creative advertising and the introduction of new beers to the company’s arsenal, including Duquesne Pilsener in 1933. The first appearance of the signature Duquesne “Duke” was in the company’s advertising of the late 1930’s. The German style Duke was thought to be a bit too controversial with the onset of WWII, and the Duke soon adopted the white-jacketed “Prince of Pilsener” look that still exists today. By 1940, Duquesne was brewing 690,000 barrels per year, making it the largest brewery in Pennsylvania and the eighth largest in America. When Friday passed away in 1941, Louis F. Koenig, who worked for Duquesne since 1903, became president of the company. Despite setbacks due to intense competition and World War II, Duquesne was exporting to twelve states at the height of its success. Advances in transportation and refrigeration technology now allowed large national brewers to cut into the profits of local brewers. These obstacles, along with competing labor unions, created hard times for Duquesne Brewing. To combat these factors, Duquesne built a $10-million state-of-the-art brewhouse in 1950. Sadly, Duquesne was never able to fully utilize its 2 million barrel per year capacity. By 1952, Duquesne was operating solely from its South Side plant. In 1954, John A. Friday Jr. became the new president. The next ten years were filled with more cut-throat competition with both local and national brewers, and Duquesne released several new beers in order to cover all areas of the market. In 1965, Duquesne’s light-hearted and manly ad campaigns aimed at the blue-collar market began to reverse three straight years of profit loss. That year, Pittsburgh Brewing Company attempted to buy Duquesne Brewing. However, the U.S. Justice department blocked the purchase citing anti-trust concerns. This decision eventually led to the downfall of Duquesne Brewing. A stock offering soon leveraged the Friday family out of control of the company. Duquesne Brewing held on under new, but unpopular, leadership until 1972 when labor strikes and a financial settlement forced the selling of the company for its labels to C. Schmidt & Sons. The South Side plant was closed after 73 years of operation, putting 425 people out of work. The Duquesne Brewing Company was no more. Duquesne bottle In 2008, Pittsburgh Area attorney Mark J. Dudash and his wife, Maria, incorporated Duquesne Brewing Company. In 2010, the resurrection of Duquesne Pilsener was announced, and was to be brewed by City Brewing Company at the Latrobe Brewing Plant, the old home of Rolling Rock. Duquesne Pilsener, officially released in August 2010, is brewed in the spirit of the Pittsburgh classic but with improved ingredients. Duquesne Beer was awarded a Silver Medal in the 2011 World Beer Championships, securing its place as the top pilsener in the international competition. By the end of 2011, Duquesne Pilsener was widely available in bottles, cans, and on draft. Duquesne Brewing Company continues to grow throughout the region, and the golden yellow beer has secured its throne as the true Prince of Pilsener!

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