​District Detroit Meeting Minutes

​The first page of Master Brewers archives
inventory listing at Iowa State

Several months ago, I received a package in the mail that rates as perhaps the most unique item that I have ever received in my (almost) six years as your heritage chair. This rare heritage gem was sent to me from Master Brewers’ former Technical Director Ray Klimovitz. It is a “meeting minutes” book from District Detroit. This is a handwritten journal, the likes of which was typical of many of MBAA's local districts. What makes this one so amazing is the time period that it entails. Its first entry is dated July 6, 1918. Its last entry is dated October 21, 1937. As if the “start” and “stop” dates of the meeting minutes book weren't amazing enough, the bulk of it includes none other than all of the U.S.A.'s Prohibition years. It serves to help fill in a few details of Master Brewers’ history and struggles to remain viable through that critical period.

 The Master Brewers’ archives are housed in the Special Collections Division of Iowa State University. The image below illustrates the first page of our archives inventory listing there. I have highlighted the “gap” in archival box 1 between folders 2 and 3. We have virtually no information about Master Brewers between 1887 and 1934!

All of that material was lost, damaged, and/or destroyed. Our Master Brewers collection description at Iowa State reads, in part: “The bulk of the collection dates from 1950 onward leaving the first 60 years of the organization only sparsely documented.”

These District Detroit Meeting Minutes serve to shed some light on the years 1918 through 1937, in the form of a very unique, handwritten, primary historical resource.

​District Detroit Meeting Minutes Book title page
​District Detroit Meeting Minutes Book first entry

On opening the book, a quick scan of its yellowing, lined pages reveals the beautiful penmanship of most of its numerous recording secretaries, executed and flowing in calligraphy-like script, their eloquent vocabularies crystal-clear in their content.

​District Detroit Meeting Minutes Book first entry

Some journal entries are written in English, often for many consecutive months. Then, quite suddenly, entries are written in German, often for many consecutive months. One particular recording secretary, Colleague Wm. Stempel, assumed his duties on November 5, 1921, and wrote his entries in beautiful, cursive English. Then, quite abruptly, Colleague Stempel switched to recording his entries...in German!

Entries from each monthly meeting always included the mention of receipts for dues, immediately followed by a mention of disbursements. Other frequent entries include aspects of district membership, with members always referred to as “colleagues.”

“The following colleagues were absent....[names listed]...”
“Colleague [name] has been excused from today’s meeting because of a death in the family”
“No protests were voiced against the candidacy of [name], and the District recommends that he be admitted to membership”
“The following colleagues [names], after due warning by the secretary, were suspended for non-payment of dues...”

When colleague attendance at meetings was down, “...it was unanimously voted to...assess a fine of 50 cents for non-attendance.” Those fines helped sponsor a “German Child Feeding Campaign.”

“Special” meetings were held, as needed, for any number of wide-ranging reasons. One such special meeting was “called” on November 23, 1918, by Wm. Stempel, who by then had become the District Detroit President “...to take proper action upon the death of one of the charter members of our District, Colleague Jos. Kaiser, who was killed in a traffic accident.”

As might be expected, the meeting minutes book reveals the district’s struggle to remain viable during that period, as well as Prohibition concerns.

  • April 1919: After the vote for national Prohibition, a meeting entry reads, “It was decided to continue our monthly meetings as heretofore."
  • August 1919: an entry addressed, “A letter in regard to the elimination of near-beer articles in the Communications (the forerunner of our Communicator) was, after a lively discussion again laid on the table until the next meeting pending the action of congress on what constitutes an intoxicating beverage.”
  • May 1921: “A letter was read from Colleague Hans Gersity relative to the conditions in Quebec, Canada, in which he stated that they were manufacturing beer having 5% alcohol by weight, but were not permitted to produce near beer. The secretary was instructed to address an appropriate reply.”
  • November 5, 1921: Colleague Armin Rickel reported the progress of the National Association Against Prohibition.
  • An entry that shows up rather routinely: “Colleague [name] has resigned his position, and has accepted a position in Canada.”
​District Detroit Meeting Minutes Book: meeting minutes 9 days
after the 21at Amendment was ratified. Text is written in German.

One of my favorites was entered May 20, 1920. A monthly meeting was held at the offices of the British-American Brewing Company of Windsor, Ontario, where colleagues could...drink beer! One entry for that meeting reads: “Following adjournment the colleagues enjoyed quaffs of good 9% proof lager...The occasion recalled the pleasant reminiscences of our yester-years. The colleagues spoke and sang of those wonderful times which are now only memories.”

Folded and enclosed within the Meeting Minutes Book was a typed resolution, written and signed by District Detroit President Herman A. Rosenbusch. The resolution addressed a concern about the state of brewing education after the ratification of the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition. It reads in part:

“W H E R E A S due to the passage of laws legalizing the manufacture and sale of beer, a number of schools purporting to teach the art of brewing have sprung into existence.”
“W H E R E A S those responsible for the establishment of these schools are more interested in the immediate financial returns rather than seeking to elevate the standards of the profession.”

The resolution went on to ask MBAA to adopt “uniform entry requirements for admission” into those schools. It was to be presented at the 1933 MBAA National Convention.

What a joy this meeting minutes discovery has been. As I wrote earlier, this book is the most unique item that I have ever received as your Heritage Chair. It serves to fill a significant gap in Master Brewers’ 130 year history. Not only is the meeting minutes book a very unique handwritten, primary historical resource. It is, quite possibly, the only surviving original MBAA document offering critical insight into the Prohibition period. Though written from the perspective of one district, that district was one of the most active and influential in that period, predating even national MBAA. There are numerous references to the "National Association" on a wide range of topics.

This heritage gem will be sent to Iowa State and housed in our archives there, protected in perpetuity.

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