Consolidation started long before Prohibition

Here’s what the beginning of brewery consolidation looks like.

Last week I dug up a bunch of figures about the number of breweries and how much beer they made more than 100 years ago. Mike asked for a little perspective. So this chart starts in 1870 (the number of breweries peaked in 1873) and includes how much beer each brewery produced, on average, as well as per capita consumption by a growing population.

It tracks until 1920, the year Prohibition went into effect and picks up in 1935, a couple of years after repeal. The number of breweries steadily declined after 1935, while per capita consumption eventually surpassed 1910, peaking at 23.8 gallons a head in 1981. By 2000, of course, the three largest breweries produced more than 80 percent of American beer.

Year     Breweries    Barrels    BBL/Brewery    Per capita
1870       3,286 6.6 million       2,089 5.3 gallons
1875       2,783 9.1 million       3,414 6.6
1880       2,741 13.3 million       4,852 8.2
1885       2,230 19.2 million       8,610 10.5
1890       2,156 27.6 million       12,801 13.6
1895       1,771 33.6 million       18,972 15
1900       1,816 39.5 million       21,751 16
1905       1,847 49.5 million       26,800 18.3
1910       1,568 59.5 million       38,010 20
1915       1,345 59.8 million       44,461 18.7
1920       478 9.2 million       19,312 2.7
1935       776 45.2 million       59,008 10.3

Data from the History of the Brewing Industry and Brewing Science in America and the U.S. Brewers Association.

7 Responses to Consolidation started long before Prohibition

  1. Mike August 26, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    Thanks, Stan. It looks much more interesting now. It certainly seems to show an increase in industrialisation and, at the same time, consumption.

  2. Matthew September 1, 2010 at 8:37 am #

    Hi Stan,

    FYI, the first state to entirely outlaw alcohol was Kansas in 1881. Before that, the prohibition party was founded in 1869. “Consolidation” is generally regarded as a byproduct of political pressure to close breweries. National prohibition may not have gone into effect until 1935 but the process began long before.

  3. Stan Hieronymus September 1, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    Thanks, Matthew.

    The consolidation I’m talking about was not so much a matter of political pressure, but a function of business. Larger breweries enjoyed benefits of scale (and quality) and it became easier for them to ship beer to outlying areas. The brewers in those areas were forced out of business.

    • Brew Mechanic November 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

      Sort of like a pre-era Walmart, if you will.

  4. Jess Kidden September 1, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    The 1910 history of the United Brewery Workmen of America, has an interesting section on the pre-Prohibition consolidation in the industry, from labor’s point of view. Starting on page 69.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=jTGC_SB962oC&dq=brewery%20workmen&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q=brewery%20workmen&f=false

    Not sure if links work in the comments section – if not, search Google Books for Hermann Schlüter’s “The brewing industry and the brewery workers’ movement in America” published by the union.

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