Tonawanda Brewing Company
Tonawanda Brewing Company
The northeast corner of Hinds and Niagara Streets in Tonawanda hosted a succession of breweries. According to The History of Brewing in Tonawanda, New York (1867-1948) 533 Niagara Street, Tonawanda, New York by John P. Eiss, they were:
- 1867-1883 George Zent Brewery
- 1883-1893 Niagara River Brewing Co.
- 1893-1898 Busch Brewing Co.
- 1898-1900 Niagara River Brewing Co.
- 1900-1918 Tonawanda Brewing Co.
- 1924-1928 (Prohibition) Tonawanda Beverage Co., River Beverage Co.
- 1931-1933 (Prohibition) Schwab’s Liquid Malt
- 1933-1935 Tonawanda Brewing Co.
- 1935-1948 Frontier Brewing Co.
In early-1917, paranoia slowly descended across Western New York. The fears grew amid the looming backdrop of America’s potential entry into the Great War. As the United States inched closer towards joining the Allied powers, public concerns emerged over the potential impact of the war on the local populace, raising questions over the loyalty of the region’s sizeable German population. Local newspaper accounts of domestic saboteurs, fictional and real, heightened public suspicions. One such story centered on the arrest of Bernhardt Voelcker, head of the Tonawanda Brewing Company. In the early stages of the war, the German-born businessman vocally supported the Axis power. By 1917, however, Voelcker’s pro-German views were no longer tolerated, and a cause for public suspicion. Apprehension over his loyalty only grew with news of the brewer’s arrest. According to local newspapers, law enforcement authorities detained Voelcker for allegedly “plotting” against the United States government. Almost immediately, community residents responded to the news by boycotting Voelcker’s wares, refusing to purchase his beer. Two days after news of his arrest first broke, Voelcker responded to the controversy by taking out a paid advertisement in a local newspaper. In the article, he publicly professed his unending loyalty to his “adopted country.” As he declared, “Every dollar I own is invested in American property… and [that] ought to convince everybody.” In doing so, Volecker hoped to not only clear his name but also cut his economic losses caused by the boycott.
Volecker’s story is reflective of the growing internal tension that emerged in many American communities with the start of World War I. What makes Voelcker’s account so fascinating is that the arrest never actually occurred. Rather the account of brewer’s incarceration was merely an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke concocted by several so-called friends, that spun wildly out of control. Yet, as the story makes clear, in April 1917 the people of Western New York were in no joking mood when it came to tales of Germany spies and saboteurs living in their midst.