Eminent American Brewing Scientist Anton Schwarz

Of the founders of modern brewing science in America, three figures were pre-eminent: John Siebel, Max Henius, and Anton Schwarz. Perhaps Robert Wahl should be bracketed with them, he co-authored with Henius the 1902 American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades, a landmark publication in U.S. brewing history, amongst many other writings.

They brought brewing in America – North America – from rule of thumb, empirically-based methods to a systematic, science-based approach. One that is where practice was continually informed by science. These men introduced in North America or helped standardize cereal adjunct brewing (primarily Schwarz), pasteurization, pure yeast culture, refrigeration, and many other innovations, most of which remain today at least in mass market brewing. They also founded influential brewing schools in Chicago and New York, Schwarz’s school in New York, United States Brewing Academy, was the first (1882) to continue on a permanent footing.

All were European-born except Wahl although his name suggests a European, probably German, heritage. Henius and Schwarz were Jewish-born, in Denmark and Bohemia, respectively. Henius’s father was a Polish-born emigre to Denmark of modest origins who made good in the distilling business.

Contemporary references to both including professional notices and obituaries rarely if ever mentioned their Jewish background. I am not sure why this is, I think they were not practicing Jews, and probably agnostic or atheist in belief. This plausibility is increased, although certainly not guaranteed, given their training as scientists.

Nor do they seem to have professed a cultural attachment to Judaism. Schwarz was buried in New York’s Cemetery of the Evergreens, for example, established in the mid-1800s specifically as a non-denominational cemetery. Their obits I have been able to find refer to their support or involvement for example with Danish (Henius) and German (Schwarz) cultural bodies, but not specifically Jewish ones.

Given American brewing then was largely a German-influenced world and Jews were far from numerous in that sector of industry, one wonders if people like Henius and Schwarz downplayed their background, particularly as Europe was still a breeding ground of anti-semitism as melancholy events proved only too well in the 20th century. This is speculation though.

As a Jew, Schwarz’ career was noticed by the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, which had this to say of him and also his able son Max, who died even younger than his father:

Austrian chemist; born at Polna, Bohemia, Feb. 2, 1839; died at New York city Sept. 24, 1895. He was educated at the University of Vienna, where he studied law for two years, and at the Polytechnicum, Prague, where he studied chemistry. Graduating in 1861, he went to Budapest, and was there employed at several breweries. In 1868 he emigrated to the United States and settled in New York city. The following year he was employed on “Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer” (“The American Brewer”) and soon afterward became its editor. A few years later he bought the publication, remaining its editor until his death. He did much to improve the processes of brewing in the United States, and in 1880 founded in New York city the Brewers’ Academy of the United States.

Schwarz’s eldest son, Max Schwarz (b. in Budapest July 29, 1863; d. in New York city Feb. 7, 1901), succeeded him as editor of “The American Brewer” and principal of the Brewers’ Academy. He studied at the universities of Erlangen and Breslau and at the Polytechnic High School at Dresden. In 1880 he followed his father to the United States and became associated with him in many of his undertakings.

Both as editor and as principal of the academy he was very successful. Many of the essays in “The American Brewer,” especially those on chemistry, were written by him. He was a great advocate of the “pure beer” question in America.

Bibliography:

  • The American Brewer, New York, Nov., 1895, and March, 1901.

The depth of Schwarz’s scientific achievements can be best gleaned from John P. Arnold’s and Frank Penman’s History Of The Brewing Industry And Brewing Science in America (1933)Max Henius was still living and an essay is included from him referencing Schwarz’ many achievements in brewing science (Henius saluted John Siebel as well, giving them both equal billing in the pantheon).

When Anton Schwarz died, numerous trade and professional journals lauded him in unusually expressive terms. Here is one example, from Henius and Wahl’s American Brewers Review (see top-right column, double-click for high resolution):

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Here is another example (pp 54-55) of the very high regard in which he was held, from the Proceedings of the 36th Annual Convention of the United States Brewers’ Association. The writer, a graduate of Schwarz’s school, noted that the school provided every year a free seat in its programme for an impecunious student.  The writer had occupied that free position and his gratitude is very nicely expressed.

The passing of the elder Schwarz, at a relatively young age, was attended by an element of mystery. The obituaries stated he was a heavy smoker and this apparently contributed to his early death, but some used the term “peculiar” to describe the passing. A son, Gustave, told newspapers after that his father had suffered from heart ailments for years and died from this cause.

Anton had lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in a handsome brownstone. He worked in Manhattan in Chatham Square, pictured below in its heyday.

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The tragedy of Anton’s passing was deepened by the fact that his widow, Augusta, took her own life not long after, at only 48. Augusta, the second wife, hailed from Stuttgart and was daughter of a brewer. She must have participated with her husband in their financial affairs as the press noted she owned numerous properties in the Brooklyn area.

As recounted in the New York Sun, she was disconsolate, had certain medical issues, and seemed worried a contest would ensue over his estate involving the stepchildren. Oddly to my mind, the story suggested she had confessed to a loveless marriage not long before her husband died. The manner of her passing, involving gas, poison, and a self-inflicted gunshot, were gruesome. The spectacle of the dying mother must have shocked her son who found his mother after hearing the shot.

Just a few years later (1901), Max, a son of Anton from his first marriage, died at only 38 after a failed appendicitis operation. Max too received warm tributes from his colleagues in the American professional brewing press as he had continued his father’s work and assumed sole direction of The American Brewer. Given Anton’s first wife had died in Europe when his first two children were very young, this was a family which tragedy had touched in unusual proportions.