Prost! Brewing History in Davenport: The Evolution of the Zoller Brewing Company

In our photograph collection, we digitized the photograph below picturing a group of workers from Zoller Brewing Company, located in Davenport, Iowa. The twenty-two men in work clothes including aprons are seen posing for a group picture from the 1930s. This image and many others are accessible to the public on the Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive, a digital collection consortium spanning institutions in Iowa and Illinois surrounding the Quad Cities.

The brewery these men worked for, at the time, was known as the Zoller Brewing Company. It began in 1935. In the article, “Brew First Legal Beer in 20 Years,” published in The Davenport Democrat and Leader on February 28, 1935, the newspaper reports that the Zoller Brewing Company began its operations to brew “Davenport’s first batch of legal beer in upward of 20 years” (“Brew First” 10 ). The brewery is located at West Third Street and Wilkes Avenue which is the former site of its predecessors, the Black Hawk Brewery and Malt House and the Independent Brewing Company. This new brewing company was “acquired and reconditioned thruout by the Zoller interests” (“Brew First” 10). Thus the brewery constructed in 1890 was revitalized with new equipment allowing its story to turn another page. The article provides specific details such as where the brew will be aged and most importantly for the reader, when it will be available for consumption. The president, Carleton S. Smith, shared that the beer was going to be perfect beer before a bottle is sold on the market. But the people of Davenport didn’t have to wait long before sipping this brew.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, IA), Feb. 28, 1935, 10.

The history of the Zoller Brewing Company and its land trace its origins back to 1865 to the first Blackhawk brewery founded by Julius Lehrkind. An unfortunate fate befell the brewery in 1871 and 1880 when it was damaged by fire. Mr. Lehrkind sold the land to the Zoller Family.

The Zoller Brothers, August, Ernest, and Charles, who had a history of being maltsters and owning a malt house/brewery as early as 1859, became the new owners of the Blackhawk Brewery, according to Randy Carlson’s The Breweries of Iowa. The brothers took on other rolls in the community as well such as constable and labors. They were listed as maltsters in the 1888-1889 city directory and were sometimes listed as A. Zoller and Bros. They resided in a suburb known as Black Hawk.

On February 17, 1890, The Daily Times announced the Zoller brothers’ new venture of building an “extensive brewery” roughly 44 by 72 feet in size. In the 1890 city directory, the brothers were listed at the proprietors of both the Black Hawk Malt House and the Black Hawk Brewery.

Tracing the history of people and businesses in city directories and other resources can lead to a variety of discoveries and mysteries. From our research, we know that the brewery was located at 2d NW corner Davie meaning it was on Second Street on the northwest corner of Davie Street. In some city directories, it is list as 1802-1812 Second Street and later it was listed as 1801-1803 West Third Street. With the help of our Sanborn Insurance map collection, we can pinpoint locations and a time frame when those buildings were extant.

The location of this brewery has an added layer of mystery because in Randy Carlson’s The Breweries of Iowa, he states that the Zoller’s purchased Lehrkind’s Blackhawk Brewery in the Blackhawk district. This property was sold to the Davenport Malting Company in 1894 and then closed shortly after. The Zoller brothers then purchased land offered by the railroad located at 1801 West Third Street. We will have to research more to find evidence of these claims in resources from our collection. (Carlson 21-22)

This last address is where we know it to be from 1902 onward.

Over the next couple of years, the young brewery faced a fire that caused extensive damage to the malt house totaling around 16,000 as well as a renaming to Independent Malting Company in 1896 according to city directories of the time. (“A Black Hawk Blaze” 1).

The Zoller brothers continued operating the Independent Malting Company until 1919 when it was last listed in the city directories. Ernest Zoller was listed as president, Charles was the vice president, and Fred was the secretary and treasurer. Production ceased due to prohibition.

From that time until 1934, the brothers engaged in other entrepreneurial endeavors such as the Independent Real Estate Company, the Independent Motor Truck Company, and the Independent Produce/Products Company. According to Carlson’s The Breweries in Iowa, “In September of 1934, Articles of Incorporation were taken out renaming the brewery The Independent Brewing Company” (Carlson 23). Unfortunately, the brothers struggled to reopen the brewery without outside assistance. In November 1934, they found three established breweries willing to invest: The Pfeiffer Brewing Co. of Detroit, Michigan; The Southwestern Brewing Co. of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and the Springfield Brewing Co. of Springfield, Illinois (Carlson 23).

In January 1935, articles of incorporation were filed to change the name to the Zoller Brewing Company at 1801-1803 West Third Street. The brewery’s president was Mr. Smith. They became a very popular beer and increased their distribution to a number of surrounding states. Throughout 1935, the Zoller Brewing Company was continuously found in the local newspapers. They advertised tirelessly. In April 1935, the brewery was ready to have the citizens of Davenport taste their beer. (The Daily Times 10)

In 1936, the Zoller Brewing Company celebrated its first anniversary with much fanfare. The organization continued the successful sale of beer with some changes to administrative staff, but the Zoller family continued to be employees of the company.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, IA), May 1, 1936, 10.

1945 was another pivotal year for the brewing company. It changed its a name to Blackhawk Brewing Company with Stewart P. Porter as the president and treasurer, William F. Neumann as the vice president, Alfred Magnusson as secretary, Fred Zoller as assistant secretary, and R. M. Bush as general sales manager. The brewery was still located at 1801-1803 West Third Street.

We will continue the history of the Blackhawk Brewing Company in our next Prost!: Brewing History in Davenport blog post. Please enjoy these delightful Zoller Brewing Company advertisements that were run in the local newspapers.


“A Black Hawk Blaze.” The Davenport Democrat (Davenport, IA), Apr. 17, 1893, 1.

Burggraaf, Mike R. The Saloon & Liquor Trade of Davenport, Iowa & Scott County 1836-1933. [Iowa?]: Unidentified, 2016.

Carlson, Randy. The Breweries of Iowa. Bemidji, MN: Arrow Printing, 1985.

The Daily Times (Davenport, IA), Apr. 30, 1935, 10.

Sanborn Map Company. Insurance Maps of Davenport, Iowa, Volume One. New York, NY: Sanborn Map Company, 1910.

Wilkie, Franc B. Davenport: Past and Present; including the Early History, and Personal and Anecdotal Reminiscences. Davenport: Luse, Lane & Co., 1858.

(posted by Kathryn)

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