Date of Degree

2-2018

Document Type

Capstone Project

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Cindy R. Lobel

Subject Categories

American Art and Architecture | Cultural History | Digital Humanities | Ethnic Studies | European History | European Languages and Societies | Food Studies | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Jewish Studies | Labor History | Liberal Studies | Other American Studies | Other History | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures | Science and Technology Studies | United States History | Urban Studies and Planning

Keywords

New York History, South Bronx, German, Immigration, Industrialization, Lager Beer

Abstract

The Bronx: a bucolic oasis laden with history, a suburb within city-limits, an urban warzone, and thanks to the recent renaissance, a phoenix of progress rising from the proverbial ashes of the fires that burned through the borough in the 1970’s. But many people are unaware that the Bronx also brewed.
Uncovering the brewing industry of the Bronx tells not only the story of the lost industry, but it also communicates the narrative of the development of the Bronx. The brewers were German immigrants who developed a thriving industry by introducing lager beer to the United States by taking advantage of the natural landscape, as well as the modernizing infrastructure.
The Bronx Was Brewing: A Digital Resource of a Lost Industry was created because the Bronx needs more online scholarship available for the general audience. It explains the industry through summaries and photo-essays on Bronx Immigration and Industrialization, Failure and Renaissance, including scores of historical maps, original and archival photography, statistics, and illustrations.
For a time, the Bronx was known for its parkland, zoo, Botanical Gardens, schools, the Grand Concourse, and most of all, its industry. But, it is the burning Bronx that has offered the most indelible image of the borough. The Bronx is no longer burning; tenements have been restored, streets cleaned-up, subway cars washed clean of the graffiti, new suburban ranch homes built where rubble and trash used to litter the South Bronx; the Grand Concourse has even been declared a Historic District inspiring people to move uptown to a neighborhood they would not have even considered visiting, let alone living in. Yet, it is the image of the Bronx of over thirty-five years ago that is still summoned-up when urban decay is discussed in Detroit, or even in Paris –never the brewing industry.
Society did not so much forget the history of the Bronx: most people are completely unaware of it –including New Yorkers. Especially, the brewing industry of the South Bronx where there were approximately 17 German breweries within a 10-block radius. There were several reasons why the brewing industry was successful in the Bronx: prospectors were attracted to the cheap land which beckoned pioneering manufacturing businesses that did not require a lot of investment capital; the era's surplus wealth enabled entrepreneurs to take rewarding business risks; the modernizing transportation systems linked the Bronx to Manhattan making the area prime real estate for an industrial center and the rail and waterways provided access to the hops and barley being farmed in upstate New York; scientific development geared towards protecting raw materials and water in the Bronx also benefited the Bronx breweries. And of course, the Bronx provided a huge inventory of immigrant laborers.
For much of the nineteenth-century, beer was deemed a lot safer to drink than water and the Bronx’ geography was perfect for the lager fermentation and industry. Surrounded by fertile land (with natural ridges, perfect for cave-fermented lager), creeks, canals, rivers, rails, the German brewers could cart in clean Adirondack water on the Croton Aqueduct, ice from upstate lakes, and grain from upstate. The industrialization and modernization of the Bronx helped the industry thrive, and was also a catalyst in its demise, as the industry eventually moved to the mid-west.
In the nineteenth century, New York City became one of the country's largest brewing centers. The majority of these early breweries were in Manhattan and Brooklyn, so, the German breweries in the Bronx are not as well known. The historical archives rarely mention the Bronx, and when they do, it is listed as “New York”. This is because the area where most of the Bronx breweries were located, Morrisania, was the annexed district of New York County, while the rest of the borough was still Westchester. Two common threads are evident in the sources used for researching New York: one, beer is often mentioned, and two, the Bronx is rarely mentioned, not even in the index. Digital Bronx resources are few and far between; research on the Bronx is scattered, incomplete, or miscategorized. The Bronx is often an afterthought within New York’s historical archives when compared to Manhattan and Brooklyn. Thus, researching the Bronx Breweries is a slow process. Unless, you know intuitively that an address that simply says, "Third avenue, NY" is actually in the Bronx and not Manhattan, you would not know where the important brewing center was located.
The Bronx Was Brewing: A Digital Resource of a Lost Industry views the rise of the Bronx through its beer culture and why it was an impetus in the evolution of the city and its drinking habits. By beginning with the location of the breweries, we will explore why the Bronx, for a time, became part of the lager capital of the world. By utilizing a multi-disciplinary approach to Bronx history, one can track the changing tastes in, and culture of, Bronx beer, from the evolution of the lager industry, to the failure caused by Prohibition, to the Bronx of today.

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