Charles Stegmaier's Legacy

The following article appeared in The Wilkes-Barre Record on Monday, August 13, 1906, two days after his death in California. The headlines read "Charles Stegmaier Dead: Passed Peacefully Away at Ripe Old Age in California on Saturday." The story was printed as the following:

Charles Stegmaier, the head of the Stegmaier Brewing Company and one of the most prominent business men of the Wyoming Valley, died at his home in Los Angeles, California, on Saturday of general debility. Mr. Stegmaier, who has made his home with his daughter in California for some years, was nearly 85 years old and during the past year he had been falling noticeably, so that the announcement of his death did not come as an entire surprise to the members of the family here. For about a week Mr. Stegmaier had been confined to his bed and at 1:15 o'clock on Saturday afternoon he passed peacefully away. The members of his family here were immediately notified and arrangements were made to have the body shipped to this city for internment. In accordance with these instructions the body was prepared for burial and was shipped from California last evening at 6 o'clock and is expected to arrive here the latter part of the week. Christian E. Stegmaier, one of the sons, has left this city and will meet the funeral party in Chicago, accompanying them to this city.

Mr. Stegmaier, although for a number of years past residing with Mrs. Philip Forve, his daughter, in Los Angeles, has been identified with the business interests of this city for nearly half a century and was the founder of the Stegmaier Brewing Company. He visited this city less than two years ago and met many of his old friends whom he had not seen for a number of years, being much pleased at the renewal of these acquaintances.

Many of those who witnessed the industrial parade in this city on May 1, during the city's centennial celebration, still recall a magnificent team of six horses attached to a huge float on which among other things, was the body of a small wagon, upon which was a placard stating that the wagon box was the one first used by the founder of the firm in delivering the products of the first brewery started by him here. Coincident with his death also is the destruction of the old original brewery building at the corner of Baltimore and East Market Streets. There is now supplanting this old frame building a huge brick structure, which is to add largely to the capacity of the plant. That it was thought that this addition to the present structure would be necessary in time is shown by the fact that it was contemplated and planned when the present building was erected and that it has not been built prior to this time is due entirely to the sentiment which was attached to the old building.

Mr. Stegmaier's Career
Charles Stegmaier was born in Gmund, Wurtemberg, Germany, on October 7, 1821, and at the age of 15 was engaged as an apprentice to learn the art of brewing. Thirteen years later, having thoroughly mastered the trade and recognizing that the prospects for rapid advancement were better in America than in Germany, he sailed for this country, arriving in New York in the year 1849. At that time no lager beer was brewed there, the supply coming from Philadelphia. To the Quaker City he went and found employment with Engle & Wolf, brewers. A short time afterward the late John Reichard, the founder of Reichard & Weaver brewery of this city, engaged Mr. Stegmaier, who came to this city ending 1851 brewed the first lager beer brewed in Wyoming Valley. Later Mr. Stegmaier accepted a position as brewer with the late George Lauer of Pottsville. At this time he was thriftily saving money and looking the region over with the intention of selecting a suitable place to start a brewery of his own, and, with fine discrimination he chose this city, confident that this location, its growing mining industry and its many natural advantages would in time make a large and prosperous city, with a rapidly growing population.

His Modest Start
Accordingly in 1857 he started brewing on a small scale on Hazle Street near where the Charter House now stands, bottling and selling his product in that manner and making deliveries in a small band wagon, the box of which is preserved in a glass case at the present big brewery. He devoted himself to every detail of the business, made friends, extended his trade, and a few years later this had grown to such proportions that in partnership with George C. Baer, under the firm name of Baer & Stegmaier, small brewery was erected on the Hunt property on South Canal Street, near the wire bridge. There were no facilities there for storing and aging the beer, however, and an abandoned mine tunnel at Port Bowkley, owned by George Hollenback, was used for that purpose until 1863, when the brewery and the tunnels on East Market Street upon the site of the present Brewery were completed. This permitted the firm to enlarge its brewing and storing capacity and to steadily increase its trade.

During the panic of 1873, when values depreciated to such an extent that many business concerns were driven to the wall, the firm failed. Later Mr. Stegmaier, in conjunction with his son, Christian E. Stegmaier, under the firm name of C. Stegmaier & Son, leased from the Bowkley estate the ale brewery at the corner of North River Street where the Laurel Line now intersects it, and some years later again acquired the brewing plant on the site of the present brewery. The trade was then extended to all parts of the valley and beyond it, the size of the plant was gradually increased and in 1897 the business had grown so that it was deemed expedient to incorporate the company as the Stegmaier Brewing Company, of which the subject of this sketch became, and has since remained, the president.

Interested In Many Enterprises
While the distinction of the deceased came principally from his activity as a business man and head of the large brewing industry, he was at the same time interested financially in about all of our largest commercial enterprises and in a number of our banking institutions. Many years ago the stock holders of the First National Bank recognized his business sagacity and elected him a member of the board of directors. In the various industries in which he was interested his influence for good was ever manifest and his advice materially aided in the solid progress of affairs.

In addition to his capacity for work Mr. Stegmaier possessed the faculty of making friends and the art of retaining them. He was shrewd in business, but scrupulously honest; he was frugal in his habits yet lavish in his hospitality, beyond all he had a great grasp upon his business at all times and knew every detail thoroughly. When he retired a couple of years ago from active participation in the work he did so with the satisfaction of knowing that the brewery business which he started had grown to be the largest outside of Philadelphia and Allegheny counties, in the State. Since that time he had spent much of his time at his home in Los Angles, California, with his daughter, Mrs. Phillip Forve.

On January 4, 1852, Mr. Stegmaier was married to Miss Katherine Baer at St. Mary's parsonage on South Canal Street by Reverend E. A. Shaughnessy, who was then rector of St. Mary's Church and in charge of the congregation of Catholics in this city, there being then no German Catholic Church here. Of the six children who blessed the union five survive- Charles, Jr., Christian E., George J., Fred J., and Louise, Mrs. Philip Forve. Mrs. Stegmaier died in August, 1885 after a well spent life devoted to aiding her husband, encouraging him to win the success which came to him and rearing her children.

His Progress In Business
Mr. Stegmaier's progress was identical with the development of the city, and to the welfare of the city he always gave the assistance expected of a good and prominent citizen. All he could do to improve and develop it was done, and he was, during all his years in business, in close touch with every movement toward that end. He has perhaps, unsought, for he was a most modest man and disliked praise or notoriety, been the means of securing employment for more men by the financial encouragement he gave to manufacturers and other industries than any man in the city. He was always willing to help a deserving man or a deserving cause. His liberality is well known; to charity he gave largely, but with the discretion expected from a business man such as he was.

It was in his home life where his great nobility of character shone most resplendently. His love for his wife and family was that of the man reared in the Fatherland, and to this he added the open generosity of the land of his adoption. He was proud of his children and to each in turn, he taught the mysteries of his craft and the principles of his business. He so arranged it that each of his boys should become part and parcel of the firm, so that upon his demise the name of the great brewing business should be perpetuated.

While the deceased always retained the fondest memories of the Fatherland, he was in all things American and a firm believer in American institutions. He loved Wilkes-Barre for Wilkes-Barre's sake and his last days were filled with sweet recollections of the old town, made all the more tender because of his struggles as a young man and his success at ripe old age.

The death of Mr. Stegmaier is a cause for public sorrow. He was a prominent citizen and at the same time one who believed firmly in the future of the city. He was generous, charitable, progressive, and his death is a source for genuine sorrow.