After the cities founding there were only a couple breweries open in Columbus at any given time. This changed with the influx of German immigrants who settled the cities undeveloped south side. The first breweries to open was the City Brewery opened by Louis Hoster (1836) followed by George Shlegal’s Bavarian brewery in 1849.
The Bavarian Brewery might be better known for it’s second operator, Nicholas Schlee, who was instrumental in building the Great Southern Hotel. These breweries occupied both sides of Front street in what would become the German brewery district. Next was Conrad Born’s Capital City Brewery which opened it’s doors in 1859 to serve the thirst of the ever growing German population.
The demand was so great that each of these three breweries grew to ten or more building complexes that consumed the district and give it the character and industrial charm we are familiar with today. Each was complete with a bottling plant and stables for the horse drawn wagons that delivered the local brew. Bavarian born August Wagner left his brewmaster post at the Hoster brewery to venture out on his own. Wagner’s Brewery was the final addition to the to the large german breweries in the pre-prohibition era.
Hoster, Schlee, and Born consolidated their operations in response to outside competition flowing in on the rails and
maybe more significantly the tide of public sentiment. The conglomerate was known as the Hoster Columbus Associated Brewery Association. The sentiment of the era was anti-booze and anti-German coinciding with the first world war and the prohibition movement. The brewers had the unfortunate luck of being in the same town as the anti-saloon leagues national headquarters. The temperance movement which in large part was reignited locally spread nationwide and with the help of the women’s temperance movement, churches, and some powerful political figures instituted a death blow to the large German breweries in the form of the 18th amendment to the constitution.
The last major brewer in the city was August Wagner, who became President and general manager of The Gambrinus Brewing Company. By 1919 he had purchased all of the stock for the company to become the sole owner, and changed the name in 1938 to August Wagner Breweries, Inc. He was known to parade around on a horse in a costume of Gambrinus, the patron saint of beer. A statue of Gambrinus was located at 605 S. Front St. until recent years. 29 breweries have existed in and around the village throughout its history.