Heaven-Sent Beer

A unique event to occur in Berks County during prohibition was the day “heaven-sent” beer rained down on South 9th Street. The Reading Brewing Company had placed a $50,000 bond with the U.S. Treasury Department in order to store the beer that it was brewing at the start of prohibition. In mid-October 1923, George W. Green of Reading Tobacco Company purchased the majority of the brewing company building at South 9th and Laurel streets. Before the sale could be finalized the beer had to be destroyed and the bond released.

Arrangements were made for the disposal of the beer and at 8:45 a.m. on October 27, 1923, special agent D. D. Gough opened the valves to twenty-six 250-gallon tanks. At full capacity these vats could hold 7,500 barrels of beer. However, it was estimated that the vats were only storing 2,800 barrels, valued at more then $50,000. Within minutes agent Gough was standing waste high in beer. All seemed to be going as planned when all of a sudden the manhole on the east sidewalk of South 9th Street flew high into the air. Seconds later, the manhole in the center of the street blew off as well. Geysers of beer spouted from the two manholes. The street became awash with beer.

It did not take long before a large crowd of men, woman and children descended onto the scene. Many of them fought for position to gain access to this “heaven-sent” beer. Along the wall of Reading Cold Storage & Ice Company (directly opposite the brewery) an organized queue of men with large cans formed an impromptu assembly line. They would fill the cans, fill a mug and have a drink, and then put the remainder into milk canisters or other large jugs. Wheelbarrows and express wagons were used to haul off the beer for later consumption.

Motorcycle policeman Frankowiach and patrolman Sailor rushed to the scene of the beer flood to restore order but were absolutely helpless in their efforts to prevent the frenzied mob from helping themselves in full measure to the apparently endless waves of beer that gushed out of the manholes and flooded South 9th Street. They watched scores of children playing in the beer foam and suds that covered the street. One small boy who was standing on the sidewalk watching the antics of the other children was pushed head first into the river of beer and suds by one of the already intoxicated men in the crowd. A woman charged into the mass of men on the sidewalk and dragged him to his feet.

The “beer frenzy,” which began around 8:45 a.m., came to an end around 1:00 p.m., leaving behind the odor of hops and malts. The Reading Eagle commented that the smell lingered on for several days. Agent Gough was left soaked and surprised. It was theorized that the fast moving beer built up an unusually large head causing the sewer to block up which caused the enormous pressure necessary for the beer geysers.


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