THE DICK BROTHERS BREWERY
Written by Ashley Lynn Carter
Written by Ashley Lynn Carter
Beginnings and the Dick Brothers
The Dick Brothers Brewery opened in 1857 by three brothers: John, Jacob, and Matthew. The three Dick brothers originally hailed from Ruppertsberg, Thein-Pfalz, Bavaria where their father was a wine-maker. Having that background, the brothers moved to the United States in 1852 although they did not originally move to Quincy, Illinois. At first they lived in Belleville, moving to Quincy in 1856. The brothers were making their way to Iowa when they stopped in Quincy. Upon their arrival, they discovered a clear, cold, bubbling spring on the property of William Shanahan. With this knowledge in mind, the brothers purchased the land for $5,000 and set to work erecting their own brewery. They basically lived at the brewery until it was fully established and they could hire enough men to work.
When the “three brothers from Belleville” moved to Quincy Matthew was 37, John was 29, and Jacob was 22. Originally Matthew was a cooper, or barrel maker, John was a baker, and Jacob was a salesman for a hardware store. Despite their former professions, the brothers took on new responsibilities at the brewery. John took over the presidency of Dick Brothers although Jacob did much of the management. Jacob also served as the bookkeeper, taking on these responsibilities because his English skills were better than that of his brothers. The original parcel of land the Dick Brothers Brewery stood on was originally sold to them for $5,000 by William Shanahan but the brothers later expanded as their business grew.
Other Local Breweries-Quincy
Anton Delabar is credited as starting the first German brewery in Quincy. He fittingly named it The Quincy Brewery in 1833, nearly 25 years before the Dick Brothers Brewery opened. Also important to mention is the Ruff family. Having already established themselves as brewing royalty in Germany, the Ruff family moved to the United States to pursue brewing further. In 1837, Ludwig and Elizabeth Ruff moved to Quincy. Their son, Casper joined them later that year and started the Washington Brewery at 6th and State Streets. In 1855, he also opened a brewery under his own last name, the Ruff Brewery. The Ruff Brewery was eventually bought by the Dick Brothers in 1945.
Times have changed considerably since the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1934 there were 725 breweries in the United States and that number dropped to 76 in 1971. This drastic shift was due to new techniques and technologies used for brewing beer that larger companies like Anheuser Busch were able to financially secure where smaller breweries, like the Dick Brothers could not. During the 1800s, Quincy was a hot spot for people interested in brewing. Other breweries in Quincy and the year of their openings include: The Harrison Brewery (1870s), The Eber and Hoerring Brewery (1868), Schanz Wahl (1880s), The Gem City Brewery (1890s), The Bluff Brewery (1857), The Jefferson Brewery (1864), The Fischer Brewery (1869), The Schultheiss Brewery (1857), The Western Brewery (1855), and The M.S. 8 (1863). Although Quincy hosted many breweries, only the Dick Brothers and Ruff breweries bottled their beers within the city.
Explosion at the Dick Brothers Brewery
At 4:30 a.m. on December 30, 1903 an explosion erupted at the Dick Brothers brewery. The first of the scene were officers William H. Sullivan and Thomas R. Connell. Both were on their way home passing Ninth and York when they heard the explosion and witnessed one of the night men, Leo J. Goerres crawling out of the building. The other night watchman Henry Reinhold was also knocked over by the blast but fortunately, there were no casualties suffered from the explosion. Although the building was fireproof, the blast from the 300-barrel rice cooker on the third floor devastated the building. The damage included the destruction of a large copper kettle on the second floor which was crushed under the weight of the expensive, third floor machinery and the sacks of rice were scattered everywhere. The total monetary damage was estimated around $50,000.
The Successful Years
During its prime, the Dick Brothers Brewery obtained great notoriety. There was nary a place in the Midwest where people did not know about the three brothers and their beer. The brothers employed around 18 men during the winter when the beer was being brewed and around 10 men and boys during the summertime. Before there was a modern cooling system available to keep beers cold, the brewery had to store beer underground. The brothers built large tunnels underneath the brewery. The tunnels had three “laterals” that stretched close to a half block in length and held 750-gallon wooden vats that contained the beer. In order to reach these tunnels, an employee needed to climb town two sets of ladders. The first ladder led to the fermenting cellar and the second to the lower storage area. Although these tunnels exist today, it is believed that they were not used after 1885.
The Volstead Act, passed November 21, 1918, ended the sale of Dick Brothers’ beer for over 13 years. During the time of prohibition, the brewery stood mainly unused except for a short period where it brewed non-alcoholic beer, storing equipment that was seemingly useless, that is, until April 7, 1933. With the repeal of the Volstead Act, former employees of the Dick Brothers brewery came back together to reopen it. Among the former employees was A.R. Dick, the president, and Secretary-treasurer Laurence Smith. It took about 50 days after the repeal but Dick Brothers was back in business.
1940s and Dick Brothers 1951 Closing
After nearly a century in business, the Dick Brothers Brewery was sold on December 13, 1951 due to bankruptcy. The company tried to raise more capital and obtain loans but to no avail. At one point they attempted to sell off some equipment to a private buyer but the sale did not come to fruition. On October 23, 1937, Dick Brothers submitted an application for reorganization under Section 77B, the bankruptcy law at the time. The application was accepted but the restructuring only lasted for another 13 years when Dick Brothers filed again. This time the application was denied by the RFC and Judge J. Leroy Adair declared the brewery bankrupt and the equipment should be sold off in auction.