German-born Gottfried Krueger showed up in America in 1853, a 16-year old who stepped ashore wearing wooden shoes and knew not a word of English. He settled in Newark where his brewer uncle, John Laible, took him under his wing. Together they founded the company that was to become the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company in 1858. When Laible died in 1975 Krueger became sole owner. It was a business that would last for more than a century until it was bought out by Narragansett in 1961.
Krueger branched out into real estate, entertainment and politics. He owned interests in several other breweries. His real estate holdings included the Krueger Auditorium. Located on Belmont Avenue in what was then the heart of the German district of Newark, the auditorium became a cultural center for German Americans. Krueger became a Newark City councilman and as Essex County Freeholder. He also held the odd position of “lay judge” in the equally odd Newark institution called the “Court of Errors and Appeals.”
Unlike his contemporary Peter Ballantine, there was no bungalow living at the brewery for Krueger. In 1888 he spent $250,000 on a High Street home that was heralded as the most lavish mansion ever built in Newark.In 1914 Gottfried and his wife Bertha set out for a trip to the homeland. It turned out to be a far longer visit than they expected. World War I broke out while they were in Germany and the Kruegers were trapped. To make matters worse, a character by the name A. Mitchell Palmer who paraded about as the “Great War Alien Property Custodian” seized the Krueger holdings.
After the war ended Gottfried found his way back to Newark and was able to regain possession of his business and properties. He died in 1926 during Prohibition as his heirs tried to keep the business afloat by making soda. He never got to see his company make beer history when, in 1935, Krueger left its mark on the brewery business by introducing the first beer in cans.
An 11-year old boy named Mendel Gassel left Latvia and arrived on these shores in 1911. His father had already preceded him, his mother and his four siblings and had settled in Reading, Pa. The family adopted the name Hassel and the Latvian Mendel became the American Max. Max Hasell would only live to age 32 but during that time he was alternately the “Beer Baron of Berks County,” the “Jersey Gentleman Beer Baron,” and a member of the legendary bootlegging Jersey Trio.
Max got his start in Reading as an enterprising young man. He left school at age 14, worked for a while hawkling newspapers, then went into business with a friend making cigars. They eventually opened a retail cigar store.
Then came Prohibition. The ban on alcohol was neither a religious nor a moral issue for Max, it was an economic opportunity and despite his young age he was quick to take advantage of it. Before long he had interests in three Reading based breweries, Lauer Brewing, Reading Brewing and Fisher Brewing. But unlike New Jersey, Pennsylvania took Prohibition seriously.
In 1923 the feds raided Fisher Brewing after arresting one of its truck drivers, Max’s 19-year old brother Morris. Shortly thereafter, Lauer Brewing was raided and tax evasion charges were levied against Hassel. So the Beer Baron of Berks County crossed the Delaware. Hassel put down a stake in Camden by acquiring the Camden County Cereal Beverage Company. It was there that he utilized the common Prohibition era technique of piping beer in fire hoses through the city sewer lines to a warehouse while keeping only the low-alcohol near beer that he was licensed to produce at the brewery.
Max Hassel was of the non-violent sort. At this point in his career he never carried a gun, nor did he surround himself with gun-toting thugs. History has crafted an image of Max Hassel as a fair-minded honest businessman, albeit in a dishonest business.
Beer during Prohibition was not a gentleman’s game and Hassel would soon come face-to-face with that fact when a mobster from Philadelphia named Mickey Duffy paid a visit to Hassel and offered to become his partner. Max said no and shortly thereafter Duffy’s thugs came to Camden and physically tossed Hassel out of the Camden brewery.
Hassel laid low for a bit then decided it was time to change tactics. He made a deal with Duffy, who wasn’t long for the world anyway. He moved to Elizabeth, setting up operations in the Carteret Hotel in 1929. He hooked up with a couple other successful bootleggers, Waxey Gordon and Max Greenberg, to form the Jersey Trio. These guys ran a network of 16 breweries. In addition to Camden Brewing, New Jersey holdings included Eureka Brewing (Paterson), Harrison Brewing, Rising Sun (Elizabeth), Union Brewing and Superior Manufacturing in Newark and Union City Brewing. The Jersey Trio may have been responsible for pumping more beer into the market during Prohibition than just about anyone.
Their success however caught the eye of some high profile mobsters, including Dutch Schultz, It is believed that the hitmen who entered the Carteret Hotel on April 12, 1933, were hired by Schultz. Hassel and Greenberg were killed. Gorden escaped because he had skipped out to spend the afternoon with a prostitute in one of the other hotel rooms.
Max Hassel was killed five days after prohibition ended. Later in the decade Paul “Frankie” Carbo was charged with the murders but he never made it to trial as all of the prosecution’s witnesses disappeared. Welcome to New Jersey Max!