Saturday, January 3, 2009

Manhattan Brewing Company

The Manhattan Brewing Company was incorporated in 1892. Producing suds at 3901 S. Emerald, in Chicago, it always seemed to have an locational identity crisis.

For the first 27 years of its existence, it was a large, but otherwise ordinary brewery (one exception was an accidental explosion in 1908 that killed two workers, and could be heard throughout the South side).

In 1919, at the start of national Prohibition, Joseph Stenson, a top Chicago brewer, along with South side gang leader Johnny Torrio, bought the brewery, changing its name to Fort Dearborn Products -- although it continued to make beer. After Torrio's departure from Chicago, the brewery fell into the hands of Al Capone, and it became one of the largest manufacturers of alcoholic beverages during Prohibition.

In the early 1930s, with Capone in prison and Prohibition ended, the brewery came to be held largely by Capone's chief accountant, Louie Greenberg. Greenberg changed the name back to Manhattan, and later began producing a sister brand, Canadian Ace. That the brewery remained in the hands of organized crime is evident from the continued attempted bombings of the factory throughout the 1930s. In the 1940s, Greenberg attempted to open a sister brewery in New York with business partners including prizefighters Joe Lewis and "Sugar" Ray Robinson, but was turned down by state authorities due to his connections with the Outfit in Chicago.

In the 1940s, the Federal Trade Commission successfully sued the brewery on false advertising charges, since Canadian Ace was produced on the South side of Chicago, not in Canada (or in Manhattan!). Both Manhattan Beer and Canadian Ace were highly successful brands in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

After Louie Greenberg was assassinated in 1955, the brewery continued to operate, but faced with increasing competition and a lack of gang muscle, it finally shuttered in 1968. The factory was demolished in the mid-1970s. The lot is empty and overgrown with brush today.

For more about the Manhattan Brewing Company, including historic photos, see this fansite.

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