Minneapolis, MN

John Orth: Pioneering Brewer and German Settler Who Shaped St. Anthony's Brewing Industry

Ron Dansley

Orth Brewery, 1228 Marshall Northeast, MinneapolisPhoto byMNHS

John Frederick Orth was born in Rott, Alsace, France, on May 20, 1821. He learned to brew beer while in Rott and honed his skills as a brewer after leaving in 1840. Before immigrating to America, Orth traveled to Germany, Italy, and Spain. In 1847 he arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania. On August 6, 1849, Orth wed Mary Weinell. Not long after their wedding, the couple moved to Galena, Illinois, before settling in St. Anthony, MN, in July of the following year. He and his wife were the area's first German settlers.

Orth built a brewery near the Mississippi River shortly after he and his wife arrived in the area. The first beer the company produced was made on November 1, 1850. Located at 1228 Marshall Ave NE, the small 18' x 30' wooden structure was the first commercial brewery in Hennepin County and the second in Minnesota, behind Saint Paul's Yoerg Brewing Company.

Lager beers were available, but because the brewery was in a Yankee settlement with few Germans, it initially featured ale and porter beers. On December 17, 1850, an ad Orth ran in the Minnesota Democrat formally announced the brewery's opening and lauded the superior taste of its product.

Mr. and Mrs. Orth had laid roots in the lumber city and soon began expanding their family. The couple's eldest son, John W., was born in St. Anthony on September 9, 1850. He was the first of six children, four boys, and two girls, to be born into the family over the next eleven years. Their second son, Charles, passed away at the age of seven.

John and Mary Orth and their remaining five children lived near the brewery at 1207 (1211) Marshall Street, N.E. Each adult son worked at the brewery in some capacity during their lifetime

Success came immediately. The brewery's initial output of two-and-a-half barrels of beer lasted the townspeople of St. Anthony less than a month. The following year, its first full year in business, the brewery's yearly production grew to three hundred barrels. Cellars were dug in the nearby sandstone on the north end of Nicollet Island to cool and store the product during the fermentation and conditioning phases.

The brewery's output grew throughout the decade because of population growth and increased demand. By 1860 it was producing over 1,000 barrels a year.

By 1861 a new brewery sat on the site once occupied by the original structure. The small wood-frame building was removed, and a three-story brewhouse with a stone first story and wooden upper levels sat in its place. The popularity of Orth's beer grew ,and by the early 1870s, was "in good demand in the Minnesota Valley." The company struggled to fill the incoming orders. Orth refused to rest on his laurels and strove to improve his product. He added a nearby ice vault for refrigeration, believing this new process led to better beer.

Orth was a committed abolitionist and an early member of the Minnesota Republican Party. As the party grew increasingly in favor of temperance, the frustrated brewer became a Democrat. He was a public figure and politically active during his tenure as a brewery owner. In 1855 Orth was elected from St. Anthony's first ward to serve on its first city council. Years later, in 1872, after Minneapolis annexed a portion of St. Anthony, Orth served two terms on its new city council. He was a member of St. Anthony's Turnverein Society, a German social organization that promoted physical fitness, and the Harmonia Singing Society.

In 1872 Orth reported in the local paper he anticipated producing 4000 barrels during the year. Technological advances and population growth helped push production to nearly 7000 barrels by the decade's close. In 1880 the brewery produced over 11,000 barrels of beer.

On June 1, 1883, the brewery, now at 1228 Marshall, was incorporated as the John Orth Brewing Company. Its reported capital worth was $200,000. Orth was the company's president, and his sons each took roles on its Board of Directors.

By the mid-1880s, Orth had stepped away from the day-to-day operation of the brewery. In November 1886, he and his wife took an extended vacation through Europe, Algiers, and North Africa. Orth contracted hay fever while in North Africa and became violently ill.

In early June 1887, during the trip home, Orth suffered paralysis in New York City. The group pressed on toward home. On June 15, 1887, John Orth, president of the Orth Brewing Company, died near Chicago while a passenger on a railroad toward Minneapolis. He was sixty-six years old. After his death, his sons carried on the operation of the brewery.

During this same period, the brewery business was consolidating. In the U.S., production had grown 81% since 1880, but the number of breweries decreased by 43% during the same period. Contributing factors included recently enacted federal liquor taxes, increased competition, and investment from foreign entities. In July 1890, in response to these influences, the John Orth Brewing Company, Heinrich Brewing Association, Germania Brewing Association, and the F.D. Nuremberg Brewing Association merged to form the Minneapolis Brewing Company. Orth's son, John W., was named president of the new organization.

The company soon built a new brewery with a 150,000-barrel annual peak capacity in 1892. It was located near the site of the old Orth brewery.


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Historian and writer. Currently researching and writing Omitted Histories.

Hugo, MN

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