This feature, Wish You Were Here!, originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXIX, Number 1 - Winter 2012
Officials of Erie's Wayne Brewing Company evidently realized the value of direct marketing - initiated by Aaron Montgomery Ward when he sent his first mail-order catalogue to consumers in 1872 - when they mailed postcards inviting customers "to visit us, assuring you a hearty welcome and some surprises." A century ago, on April 3, 1912, the company sent a postcard - presumably one of many - to E. Hammer, then living at 424 Ash St. in Erie, assuring the recipient it knew "of no better way to gain your good-will than to earn it. To this end we have recently added to our plant the most perfect system of filtration and sanitation in the world. With this system we are enabled to produce brews of utmost purity and brilliancy, which, neither time nor temperature can change."
The Wayne Brewing Company traces its roots through a succession of owners - even a bank - to 1839, at which time Adam Dietz commenced brewing operations at the corner of Seventeenth and Parade Sts. In 1872 it was known as Downer and Howard Brewers and in 1899 became the Consumers Brewing Company. Ownership continued to change, as it had in the nineteenth century, and the company emerged as the Wayne Brewing Company in 1907. The brewery was one of only two in Erie that reopened after Prohibition ended in 1933. The company closed in 1951 and the building now houses St. Martin Center, a social organization that helps individuals become independent and productive.
Eighty-eight known brewers, the first of whom was David McNair in 1815, operated at least twenty-five breweries in Erie. Pennsylvania claimed at least nine hundred breweries throughout its history. Of the 209 that were in business before the Volstead Act was enacted in 1920, 107 survived Prohibition. Only a handful of those remain today. However, microbreweries, craft brewers, and brewpubs continue to quench Pennsylvanians' thirst with distinctively named beers, ales, lagers, stouts, and porters, carrying on a tradition that dates to William Penn and his Bake and Brew House at Pennsbury Manor, Bucks County, administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).
PHMC has adopted "The Land of Penn and Plenty: Bringing History to the Table" as its annual theme for 2012 to demonstrate the Commonwealth's leadership in farming, food processing, farmers' markets, the locavore movement and, of course, the making of beer, the world's most widely consumed and probably oldest alcoholic beverage.
In addition to proving true the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Wish You Were Here! also demonstrates the importance of ephemera, such as the penny postcard. Wish You Were Here! illustrates, too, the significance of one or two lines scribbled on the backs of postcards - in some cases more than a century ago - that remain revealing and insightful to this day. Images illustrating this feature are drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, of the Pennsylvania State Archives.
For Further Reading