The Christian Magnus Eagle Brewery and Bottling Works put out 25,000 barrels of 4.5 percent beer when it was in full production in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The brewery was built in 1859 by Jacob Wetzel, who hired Christian Magnus, the son of an Old World brewery owner, as his brewmaster and foreman.
Magnus was born in Germany in 1834. At age 23, he decided to see what opportunities he could find in the New World. By 1859, he had found his way to Cedar Rapids and Wetzel’s brewery.
Wetzel was in the process of adding another story to the brewery in 1861, when Magnus moved on to establish his own brewery in Kankakee, Ill.
That venture lasted only a few years. Magnus sold his brewery and moved back to Cedar Rapids to marry Wetzel’s daughter, Mary, and become a partner in the Wetzel & Magnus Brewery.
Four years later, Magnus bought out his partner and became the sole owner. Under his management, the Eagle brand was born.
A fire gutted the business in 1877, but Magnus rebuilt it within a year. It was five stories high, constructed of white Anamosa limestone. The main building was 80 by 100 feet with a cupola that had windows facing in four directions off a slanted roof.
On a trip to Italy, Magnus found a statue of an eagle perched on a wine cask. He had it shipped home and mounted it on the main building. It became the company’s trademark.
In addition, the brewery had an office, bottling works, five cellars that could hold 2,000 barrels, two ice houses that held up to 2,300 tons of ice, and a capacity to produce 60 barrels of beer in 12 hours.
The front of the brewery looked out over Cedar Lake. In the winter, when the demand for cold brews was low, workers went out on the lake to harvest ice for the ice houses. The brew house stayed cool in the summer because it backed up to the hill into which the aging cellars were carved.
The business had five delivery wagons, and the railroad came to the plant’s front door. Eagle beer was delivered throughout Iowa and into adjoining states.
In 1882, Iowa’s prohibitionists succeeded in getting the Legislature to pass an amendment to the state constitution making the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal.
But Iowa was a dry state for only a short time. The state Supreme Court declared that amendment unconstitutional the following year.
In 1883, Magnus was prospering. He was re-elected president of the Iowa Brewers’ Association, and his business was expanding with a new 40-by-70 stock cellar.
Again, a prohibition law was passed in 1884. On Aug. 20, Magnus Brewery was closed. Authorities searched the premises and found 700 barrels of beer just as the law was about to go into effect. Magnus declared that those barrels were produced before the July 4 cutoff date.
The prohibition law remained in effect until the “mulct law” took effect in 1893, essentially allowing each county to make its own liquor laws.
When Christian Magnus died July 25, 1911, he was heavily invested in the community with interests in real estate, the Cedar Rapids National Bank, the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway and Light Co.’s interurban and the Allison Hotel.
In 1937, the derelict former brewery building was torn down.
In 1860, master brewer Joseph Schneider and a partner opened the Cedar Rapids Brewery, “opposite the lower bridge” in Cedar Rapids, on the same block as Magnus’ brewery. It was four stories, 90-by-130 feet and had an engine house, large barn, hop house, two ice houses and a warehouse. It stood on top of six cellars. By 1865, Schneider was the sole owner. It was purchased by George Williams & Co. and was on “Ely near Van Buren Street.”
The residents of Marion watched with some envy as barley wagons passed through town on the way to Cedar Rapids’ successful breweries.
John Coenen, who had helped establish the Cedar Rapids Brewery, arrived in Marion and decided to build a brewery there.
Coenen Bros. Brewery was built in 1866 on First Avenue, between 10th and 11th streets. It was built of Anamosa stone into a bluff and had a natural spring on the grounds. The bluff provided an excellent place to carve out two cellars 120 feet into the hill, and a railroad track ran close by.
The building was 36 by 60 feet and three stories high. The walls of the first floor were 3 feet thick, the second floor 2 feet, and the third, 1.5 feet. The brewery’s capacity was 30 barrels a day. Wagons full of grain were unloaded at the top of the hill into the brewery’s third story.
Coenen was born in Prussia in 1829. He came to the United States in 1853, finding his way to Cedar Rapids in 1857. After helping to establish a brewery there, he came to Marion in 1858 and operated a saloon and restaurant until the brewery was finished. Joseph Coenen joined his brother at the brewery in 1866. In 1873, the Coenens added on to the brewery.
After operating the business for just over a decade, the Coenens sold it to the Schneider Bros. — Charles, August and Joseph — in 1878. One of the Schneiders, Charles, was a son-in-law of John Coenen. Schneider Bros. closed when the first prohibition law in Iowa took effect. After moving their business to Ohio, Schneider sued the state in 1886 for loss of property.
In 1916, a much stronger prohibition law passed, and prohibition came to Iowa four years before Congress passed the 18th Amendment.
That law spelled the end of breweries in Cedar Rapids and Marion.
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