Introducing Vintage Beer T-Shirts

We here at Foobooz are excited to announce a new partnership with Shibe Vintage Sports, the sports apparel store on 13th Street in Midtown Village. The store is offering a Vintage Brewery Series of t-shirts (see what happens when Philly sports teams go in the dumps) and their first shirt represents Poth’s Brewery in Brewerytown.

The shirt features an overhead shot of the Poth’s brewery and the typeface taken off of their old cans. The artwork was done by John Billet of Beer Paste and Philly Beer Scene.

The shirt is available from the Foobooz Store for $25 and shipping is free for a limited time. You can also grab a Poth’s t-shirt and many other great vintage gifts at Shibe’s storefront at 137 South 13th Street.

And if that Poth’s typeface looks familiar to you, it might because it is featured on the wall outside of Fishtown’s Fette Sau.

In 1861, Frederic Poth (pronounced like Oath, not like moth) came to the New World at age 20 from Wallhamben, a region of Germany near the French border. While many of his contemporaries were settling in newer cities such as St. Louis and Milwaukee, he decided to make a go of it in Philly, which had a historically large German population (In fact, the first permanent German settlement in the U.S. was nearby Germantown, in 1683).

After a few years apprenticing, Poth started his own small brewery in 1870. His big break came at the 1876 centennial, when he set up something rather foreign to Americans but quite familiar in his native Germany: a beer garden. The beer garden itself didn’t make any money. But it served Poth’s lager, a style new to most Americans, who predominately drank ales and whiskey, and the brand recognition he got by selling his unique beer to people from all over the country was priceless.


Poth’s Brewery building. It never quite became Red Bell Brewing.

He soon took over a larger brewery on 31st and Jefferson, in a part of town known as Brewerytown. It was sensibly named, as breweries were scattered throughout the neighborhood, and half of the beer made in Philly at the time came from there. Poth had his brewery rebuilt and modernized in the 1890s, as artificial cooling had just been invented. Portions of that brewery are still standing, though no longer in use. (A company called Red Bell brewing tried to make a go of it at that brewery in the 1990s and failed.)

By the 1880s, Poth’s was the second largest brewery in the city, and Frederic had made a fortune. He invested in West Philly real estate, and made even more money there. He moved into a large and rather ostentatious mansion that’s still standing. The Poth house is at the corner of 33rd and Powelton, currently on Drexel’s campus, and has been a frat house for Alpha Pi Lambda since 1939.

Poth lived out his days in opulence before dying in 1905. His family carried on the business. Like many breweries, Poth’s was decimated by Prohibition. But they didn’t stop making beer. At least not entirely. Says Rich Wagner, local beer historian and author of the terrific book Philadelphia Beer, a Heady History of Brewing in the Cradle of Liberty, “Most of the breweries continued to make beer until they got caught. They’d make a legal beer and then make illegal beer on the side.”

But running an undercover business was both risky and not particularly lucrative, and most of Philadelphia’s breweries shuttered during the 14 years of America’s doomed experiment with temperance.

“When Prohibition ended, Poth’s was the only one who tried to re-open in Brewerytown,” adds Wagner. But the brewery wasn’t able to capture the momentum it had before Prohibition. “A few years later, they declared bankruptcy, re-organized, and moved to 10th and Montgomery.” (Note: That brewery is currently student housing for Temple).

Already limping from the effects of Prohibition, America’s entry into World War II was the final blow for Poth’s. Due to war rationing, according to Wagner, “It was exceedingly difficult for breweries to get supplies, such as coal, malt, and caps for beer bottles.” By the end of the war, one of Philadelphia’s most treasured breweries was no longer.

Poth’s Brewery T-Shirt [Foobooz Store]