From Cars to Cans

Today, Clevelanders can celebrate the April 7th National Beer Day holiday with a choice from any number of thriving local craft breweries. On the original ‘New Beer’s Day’ in 1933 the area breweries weren’t ready to release new production yet, so the city celebrated the passing of the Cullen Act, legalizing the production & consumption of beer (with up to 3.2% alcohol content) with beer shipped in from outside the city. Regardless, as President Roosevelt famously quipped after signing the bill, it was a “good time for a beer”, and Clevelanders joined the nation in drinking over 1.5 million barrels of beer on that day. Cleveland brewing would be up and running just a month later when Pilsener became the first of the local breweries back on the scene in early May with its beloved P.O.C beer.
Cleveland breweries experienced a glorious, but brief, Brewing Renaissance after Prohibition’s repeal. The popular demand would also inspire more companies to turn to the profitable business of brewing as Prohibition rattled to its death. James Bohannon, President of Cleveland’s luxury car manufacturer Peerless Motors, believed the car company could not survive the looming Depression, but did see potential in brewing as early as 1931. The company began refitting its 8 acre manufacturing plant on Quincy Ave. into a brewery, and in 1933 officially reorganized as the Brewing Corporation of America.
The brewery and Black Label would see continued success through the 1950s—becoming the 4th largest brewer in the nation (although at that point it was controlled by Canadian Breweries Ltd.) At the same time, due to heavy competition paired with a gradual decrease in beer sales both in the city and across the country, all of the historic Cleveland brewers would slowly close their doors. Original beer production would end in Cleveland in the 1960’s, though Carling carried on until the company decided to close its Cleveland production in 1971. The Peerless building was then purchased by C. Schmidt and Sons, a Philadelphia company, and continued as the sole production brewery in Cleveland until it too closed its doors in 1984.
This adaptation of the Peerless factory is a favorite story with WRHS staff. The Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum boasts a sleek 1932 Peerless automobile built as a special project between Peerless and the American Aluminum Company (ALCOA). The chassis and engine were built completely out of aluminum here in Cleveland, while the aluminum body was done by the ALCOA team in Burbank, CA. The prototype was driven out to California with a temporary body in order to finish the build at ALCOA. Completed, it returned to Cleveland to find the company closing and reorganizing as a brewery. The automobile was kept on the floor of the brewery for some time as a type of mascot. It was so beloved that workers even hid it during WWII to keep the aluminum body from being scrapped for the war effort!