Lena Jung Sohn was one of the most influential figures in the beer industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and she wasn’t afraid to show it as president and owner of William S. Sohn Brewing Co. and later as owner and co-director of Mohawk Brewery.
By Sean E. Andres
Magdalena, or “Lena,” Jung was born on 24 June 1857 to Magdalena Oeh and blacksmith Philipp Jung. Little Lena’s maternal aunt was Barbara Oeh Moerlein, second wife of Christian Moerlein. Nine of the Moerlein children were Lena’s full first cousins. Her paternal uncle Daniel owned the Jung Brewery. Her sister Katherine married Jacob Born, and her first cousin Magdalena Moerlein married Conrad Born, both Borns of the Born brewing family in Columbus. It seems that Lena was destined for the brewing business.
In 1876, Cincinnati’s most established brewer and mentor to the other brewers John George Sohn died, leaving John Kauffman to be the senior-most brewer in Cincinnati, having been in it for 31 years. Just a week after J.G.’s death, a bullet shot through the Sohns’ parlor window, narrowly missing his widowed wife Barbara and dropping beside her. Was it a person in favor of temperance? A wronged worker? A rival? A jealous family member who wants all her money? Suspiciously, it was just after the reading of the will. Sohn left his estates and house to Barbara, money to his daughters Ida, Carolina, and Mathilda, and the brewery to his sons, J.G., Jr. and William Sebastian.
William Sebastian Sohn and Magdalena “Lena” Jung married in 1877 at a time when the brewing industry was being attacked by the temperance movement, supported by the Gazette, feeding anger and fear against the brewers, amidst rumors that they used poison instead of malt and hops and that the cost per barrel would rise. Lena, already heavily exposed to the brewing industry, would come to learn the industry first-hand through her husband while also keeping house and raising four children – Walter, Alma, Elsie, and Edna.
Aside from Barbara’s near-death experience, during this time, a number of terrible events occurred at the brewery, including an engineer’s gruesome death in the fly wheel and the repeated burning of the Orpheus building. However, the Jungs and Sohns were also among the few worldwide to invest in new washing-machine technology in the late 1880s. They were always looking to innovate their business practice.
William bought out his brother’s interest and took over the business in 1900. J. G., transferring the Sohn & Co property to William S. Sohn Brewing Company in 1900 with William and Lena being co-owners. Lena’s family by blood and marriage was running the Cincinnati brewing industry at this point.
William died on 26 February 1902, leaving the brewery to Lena, and she was voted in as president. Lena was actively using her name as President of the William S. Sohn Brewing Company, after Marianne Kauffman hid hers under initials and women before her staying out of being mentioned at all. Lena didn’t mind the spotlight and enjoyed the labors of the beer baronesses before her. She did her best to take care of her employees and show them they were like their own family. If an employee or their family died, she ensured that the entire brewery pitched in for donations of some sort as well as her family.
In addition to making a happier, more caring place to work, Lena continued the tradition of making the brewery state-of-the art. In 1904, the brewery began constructing a new bottle shop, “modern in every detail and the machinery and equipment of the latest and most improved on the market.” Lena also began selling off what didn’t make the company money. That meant selling off some of the enterprises they owned—like a saloon, grocery, and boarding house. What she couldn’t sell, she rented out instead, becoming an effective landlord. This allowed her to earn income, even after stepping down as president of the brewery in 1907 with George H. Osterfield replacing her. Her son Walter remained as secretary and treasurer. Lena remained as the owner of the brewery and its properties, even during its transfer to new presidents and new names.
Alma, Elsa, and Edna lived with their mother at Marion Ave and Winding Way and later 212 Ludlow Avenue, but they enjoyed trips to Atlantic City. After all, they were women of a more unsavory reputation, being in the brewing industry, so it was a fitting city for vacations. At home, Lena also invested in new (and most definitely loud) technology, installed by Pogue’s. She was an early adopter of Williams Oil-o-Matic Heater, developed by the company because of the oil shortage during WWI. The heater burned used automobile engine oil.
Lena’s oldest daughter Alma married a longtime friend on 29 January 1912, distiller Robert C. Heinzman, who patented many inventions to innovate the distilling industry throughout his life, perfect for a family that was always looking for innovations. Robert moved in with the family and continued living with them, even after Alma’s death from a pulmonary embolism on 29 October 1918, a little over a month after her infant died.
The family deeply grieved over the loss of Alma, and Prohibition brought about even more change the following year. The family had to adjust to life during Prohibition, but they only had to change how they appeared. The Mohawk Brewing Company continued to make near-beer and full beer under Walter’s supervision, until 3 August 1925 when the brewery was raided by federal agents. This forced Walter to step down from an active role in the brewery, and the brewery continued on as an ice house and malt beverage makers.
When Prohibition ended, the owners of Mohawk Brewery didn’t want to re-open. Lena was old, and Robert was retired. Shareholders voted to dissolve the Mohawk Brewery, and co-directors Lena, Robert, and Norbert J. Sprengard dissolved the brewery on 1 June 1936, and sold it to the owners of what would become Clyffside Brewing. This was the end of Lena’s business ventures. Lena, after some vacationing to Atlantic City with her daughters, died at her home on 24 July 1940, at the age of 83. Walter lived until 1962. Edna and Elsa lived in Cincinnati and Atlantic City until their respective deaths in 1979 and 1981.
When the beer baronesses married inside the alcohol industry, they could continue with their children. But when the women in the alcohol industry didn’t marry, there was no one in the family to continue the brewing business. As a brewing woman, you had a limited selection, being an improper lady. That meant you had to marry someone who didn’t care about social status, marry another man in the brewing industry, or not marry at all. Many of the women chose or were forced into that last option. Because Lena’s lineage did not continue with her children, neither did her direct family’s stronghold on the brewing industry, severely exacerbated by Prohibition. The men may have made the industry, but it was the women who kept it going.
This was written using hundreds of documents from news articles via Newspapers.com and NewspaperArchives.com, census records via FamilySearch, Williams Directory via Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, Hamilton County Probate office, Hamilton County Auditor’s office, Columbus Metropolitan Library, American Brewers’ Review and Charles Greve’s Centennial History of Cincinnati and Representative Citizens, Volume 2, via Google Books, and FindAGrave.