(1854 - 1910)
Jon (Johann) Huebner learned the brewing trade in Bavaria. He also learned from his father, Jacob, at Columbia Brewing Co., the family brewery located in Logansport, Indiana.
To fully explore the life of Jon Huebner, you need to start with Peter Lenk, another great Toledo brewery pioneer. Peter Lenk’s success brewing lager allowed him to build the City Brewery at Hamilton and Division Streets in 1865. The location was strategic both for transportation and logistical purposes. He built the brewery along Swan Creek, which at the time was a navigable waterway that flowed into the Maumee, and also on a railroad spur, which made the transportation of raw materials and finished goods very easy and profitable. Further, the steep bank of Swan Creek allowed him to easily construct deep underground cellars – ideal for the process of lagering beer.
The original brewery was comprised of two five-story brick buildings one for a brew house and the other for storage and malt production. The initial capacity was about 10,000 barrels. Lenk’s Toledo Pilsner Beer was the mainstay of the brewery. His beer was distributed throughout Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and even as far east as New York. The brewery continued to grow and re brand along the way, first as the Toledo Brewing Company in 1869 and then as Toledo Brewing and Malting Company in 1881. By the 1870s, the plant had an annual capacity of 25,000 barrels making it the city’s third largest.
Jon Huebner joined the company as brew master in 1877 and was active in the organization until his death in 1910. When Peter Lenk died in 1893, Huebner and James Pilliod, a Toledo attorney, became the sole owners of the brewery. With Huebner as President, the company saw tremendous success, increasing output to more than 70,000 barrels by 1895 – which made it the city’s largest brewery. Huebner’s success fueled his ambition, and it was under his initiative that The Toledo Brewing & Malting Co purchased The Schmitt Brewing Co (formerly the Eagle Brewing Company) and The Maumee Brewing Co. In 1902, the business was incorporated as the Huebner Brewing Company.
Building on their continual success, they expanded the plant, adding a modern five-story brew house and enlarged cellars – these additions allowed the brewery to double in capacity, reaching 150,000 barrels per year.
At the turn of the century, there was a trend throughout the brewing industry to form combines, unifying breweries that formerly competed. These combines were meant as cost saving measures, but they also served as an attempt to regulate local saloon trade and to better compete with other local regional and national breweries.
Not satisfied with the recent acquisitions, the Huebner Brewing Company made a move to secure a greater degree of domination in the Toledo brewing arena. In 1903, Huebner closed the Schmitt plant and sold the Maumee plant. They used these funds in an attempt to create an even larger combine which was meant to include Grasser & Brand, Finlay, Buckeye and the Home Brewing Company. Finlay and Grasser & Brand both joined the combine, which was originally to be called the Toledo United Breweries Co, but eventually became known as the Huebner-Toledo Breweries Company. Buckeye and Home Brewing both turned down Huebner’s offers, which left the new company with less dominance than it had hoped. Still, the new Huebner-Toledo Breweries Company had an annual capacity of 500,000 barrels, making it the largest in the region.
Unfortunately, and through no fault of its own, the new company soon encountered a nearly unbeatable foe – the Temperance Movement. Already in the late nineteenth century, there was growing support for Prohibition in Ohio. In 1905, the same year that the new combine came into existence, the Ohio Anti-Saloon League was successful in getting the Ohio Legislature to enact the Brannock Bill. This bill provided for the “local option” which gave local communities some authority to control the sale of alcohol within their jurisdictions.
The Brannock Bill was vetoed by Governor Myron Herrick, which was one of the primary reasons he lost the gubernatorial election that same year. In 1908, the Rose Law was passed. Under the Rose Law, counties in Ohio could vote themselves dry. A strong indicator of the growing strength of the movement can be found in the details of the law. If a county had dry towns but voted wet, the dry towns could remain dry. On the other hand, if a county had wet towns and voted dry, the wet towns became dry as well.
At the time Ohio had nearly half of its 4 million residents living on farms and in villages of less than 3,000 people. While the cities, predictably remained wet, much of the state went dry. By March 1908, nearly 90% of the townships in Ohio had voted themselves dry.
How did this affect Huebner? By 1909, the plant produced only 175,000 barrels, a 25% drop from the previous year. The company cut costs, partially by closing the Grasser & Brand plant, and brewing continued, but the fight was far from over.
Ohio seemed determined to outlaw alcohol. The Ohio Alcohol Prohibition Amendment failed to pass in 1904, but Ohio went dry on May 27, 1919. This was a full six-months before nationwide prohibition. Congress passed the Volstead Act on October 28, 1919.
Huebner’s response to Prohibition was a fateful mistake. Although they rightfully saw that Prohibition would be a lengthy ordeal, the brewery put all of its efforts into producing non-alcoholic beverages. Considerable sums were spent on creating and advertising their new products – the face of which was Ledo (a name-play on Toledo). Ledo was a non-alcoholic cereal beverage that was supposed to look and taste like beer). By 1921, it was clear that brewing non-alcoholic beer was not a sustainable business. The Finlay plant was closed that year, with the Huebner plant closing its doors for good one year later.