Schoenhofen Brewery: Of suds and (unfounded) suspicions

Among the questions we answer about a noted Pilsen brewery: Did it broadcast messages to the German enemy during World War I?

January 16, 2014

(Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers)
Schoenhofen Brewing

Ted Land asked Curious City to clear up rumors about the old Schoenhofen Brewery in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

Besides wanting to get a snapshot of the brewery in its heyday, Land also wanted someone to get to the bottom of persistent hearsay about the facility.

Here’s his entire request, in his own words:

My brother lives next door to the old Schoenhofen Brewery on W. 18th st. near Pilsen. I've often wondered about the now-shuttered facility -- how busy it was and what they produced there. A quick internet search reveals some websites stating that Schoenhofen was once one of the largest brewers in the Midwest, which even had its own spring supplying fresh water to the operation. Another site mentions something about how federal agents seized the brewery during WWI because members of the Schoenhofen family were broadcasting radio messages to Germany from the brewery's tower. Any truth to this?

My own investigation didn’t get far; I found many anecdotes about the brewery, but no definitive source could end the confusion for good.

But then I found a relevant story in Mash Tun Journal. Paul Durica, a recent University of Chicago Ph.D. and frequent Curious City collaborator, brought his immense research skills to bear on the Schoenhofen rumors — once and for all.

Durica shared his findings on an episode of the Strange Brews podcast, joining Ted Land, me and my co-host, Alison Cuddy, for a taping in Pilsen, just a few blocks from the Schoenhofen Brewery. Among the points he took up: 
  • Rumors of radio signals being broadcast to the German enemy during WWI.
  • Claims about the brewery's water purity
  • The brewery's appearance in the Blues Brother movie
  • The brewery's creation of Green River soda pop

After the conversation Land said, “That’s well more than I thought I’d learn about this building. I still want to see the artesian springs, though.”

Strange Brews is WBEZ's podcast covering craft beer and related culture. Hosted by Andrew Gill, Alison Cuddy and Tim Akimoff, episodes are recorded on location around the Midwest and include interesting guests including brewers, artists and craft beer lovers. Follow web producer Andrew Gill on Twitter.