Adolph Coors (1847-1929) is a legend in the brewing business. He came to the United States as a penniless immigrant from Germany in 1868, with the dream of becoming a brewer of the finest beer in the world.
Adolph Herrman Kohrs (who changed the spelling of his surname to Coors), was born on February 4, 1847 in Barmen, a Prussian city that would later be known as the German city of Wuppertal. His parents, Helena Hein and Johan Joseph Kohrs, were a working couple of modest means. To help the family, young Adolph was apprenticed to a stationer in the nearby town of Ruhfort, where he worked as a printer's assistant. When the family moved to Dortmund in 1862, Coors signed a three-year article of apprenticeship to the Henry Wenker Brewery. Although this job would lead to later fame and fortune, a tragic event also happened that year-both of his parents died, leaving Coors orphaned at a very young age.
Having to support himself financially, Coors completed his apprenticeship and went to work for Wenker Brewery, as a paid employee. He later worked for other breweries, learning the trade and dreaming of going to America and creating a perfect beer. Political unrest in Prussia forced Coors to make a decision. He knew that he would have to serve King William I or emigrate. Coors became one of the half million Germans who, between 1866 and 1870, left for America.
It wasn't an easy trip. Coors was 21 years old and penniless. He made his way to Hamburg and then stowed away on a ship bound for the United States. Coors was discovered long before the ship reached America's shores, but the captain was forgiving as long as Coors was willing to work in Baltimore to pay for his passage.
For the next year he earned his living as a bricklayer, stonecutter, fireman, and general laborer. Always restless, and not having forgotten his dream of a perfect beer, Coors left Baltimore 1869 for a job with the Stenger Brewery in Naperville, Illinois. He was hired as a foreman and, for two years, learned more about brewing. He saved his money and decided to head west. Even with some money in his pocket, he worked his way to Denver with a railroad job.
Moved to Golden, Colorado
In Denver, Coors purchased a partnership in a bottling company and, by 1872, was the sole owner. He was described in a publication of the day as a dealer in, "bottled beer, ale, porter, cider, imported and domestic wines, and seltzer water." Although he was the owner of a successful business, Coors still dreamed of becoming a brewer. One day, during a walk around Golden, Colorado, he came across the rich Clear Creek valley, east of town. Bubbling up from the ground were many clear, cool springs of crystal pure water. He found an abandoned tannery on the bank of the river, at the base of Table Mountain. Coors knew that perfect water was the most basic ingredient of a perfect beer. He had found the right location for his brewery.
A Modest Beginning
Jacob Schueler trusted Coors, and agreed to finance the young brewer with $18,000. Twenty-six-year-old Coors contributed his own fortune of $2,000. The partners bought land and spent all the rest of their money remodeling the old tannery and buying brewing equipment. In the very first year, the brewery showed a profit, with a premium beer that Coors had developed. His product used the finest ingredients available, and the profits were always reinvested in the business. By 1880, Coors was able to buy out Schueler and become the sole owner of his brewery.
In 1879, Coors married Louisa Weber of Denver and, by 1893, was the father of six children, three sons and three daughters. Coors stopped expanding his business for awhile and concentrated on marketing, a skill that seemed to come naturally to him. From 1880 to 1890, the brewery's output increased from 3,500 barrels a year to 17,600 barrels a year. During the next decade the firmly established brewery survived a national depression, a devastating flood, the growing threat of prohibition, and stiff competition from other brewers around the world. By 1900, the annual output had increased to 48,000 barrels.
In the late 1800s, Coors built a home on the grounds of the brewery. The home remained a family residence, surrounded by pine trees and lawns, much as it was when Coors built it. Most of the rooms retain their original design and décor. Books written by German authors fill the shelves in the library. Oriental rugs, handcrafted furniture, and a round table with a concealed radio near Coors' favorite easy chair are still in place. A large chandelier imported from Copenhagen hangs from a high ceiling, and a Steinway piano waits for players in the music room. There are 22 rooms in the grand Coors mansion. The entire house was moved several hundred feet to make room for additions at the brewery.
Two of Coors' sons, Grover and Adolph Jr., graduated from Cornell University in preparation for assuming a role in the family business. In 1912, when he was 65, Coors appointed his son, Adolph Jr., to be superintendent of the Coors Company. By then, all three sons were firmly involved with the company, which remained a family enterprise. By then it had also become a center for most community activities in Golden.
In 1914, the Volstead Act was passed, which prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. This should have meant the end to a prominent brewery and to the fortunes of the family who owned it. The Act was devastating, but Coors and his family had planned ahead. They had devised ways to keep their brewery open as others around the country closed down. They could no longer brew their famous beer, but the vision of Coors led his company to other activities and the brewery survived.
During the 17 so-called "prohibition years," Coors turned his brewery into a cement manufacturing plant, and also a plant that fashioned scientific and chemical products made from porcelain. He made use of the brewing equipment to produce several local products, including a near-beer called "Mannah." This recipe was produced like beer, but after fermentation the liquid flowed through a large still that condensed the alcohol out. The product could then be sold. The alcohol was pumped into government-bonded cellars for later sale to drug companies, hospitals, and other approved markets. During prohibition the Coors company also produced malted milk, which is made the same way as malted barley for beer. Coors eventually became the leading producer of malted milk, and would probably have continued selling to candy companies if the pressure of producing one of the most popular beers in the world hadn't forced cancellation of the malted milk division. Meanwhile, Coors Porcelain Company, created solely to get the company through prohibition, grew into one of the world's leading industrial and technical ceramic manufacturers.
During prohibition, Coors had to dump more than 17,000 barrels of beer into Clear Creek, but they remained in business. Of the 1568 breweries operating in 1810, only 750 reopened when the controversial Volstead Act was repealed in April, 1933. In the first year after prohibition ended, the Coors brewery produced more than 136,000 barrels of beer. By 1955, production had climbed to over one million barrels a year.
Because Coors worked hard and stayed out of the public spotlight, some people believed he was only interested in his business. Others felt he was a cold man. This was not true. Not only did Coors warmly support his employees and community, he was also a loving husband and proud father. It was said of Coors that his most enjoyable times were those spent with his family and friends. Coors had special lanes built so his boys could bowl, he played basketball and pool, and took great pleasure in eating dinner with his whole family every night in the spacious dining room. He did, however, insist upon dinner being served at precisely 6:30 p.m.
New Products Introduced
During his lifetime, Coors consistently reinvested profits in the company, constantly expanding the brewery and improving the product. His overwhelming concern for the high quality of his beer never prevented his investigation of new ideas. It was his deep conviction that a good businessman needs to remain flexible enough to move with the times.
Adolph Coors Company, the holding company for its principal subsidiary, Coors Brewing Company, became a world leader in making and selling premium beers, always based upon Coors' demand that only the best products be used in the brewing. Eventually the brewery produced Original Coors Beer, Coors Light Beer, Coors Extra Gold Beer, Coors Non-Alcoholic brew, Keystone Beer, and other brews. It imported for sale George Killian's Irish Red Beer, George Killian's Irish Honey Ale, and Zima, a new type of alcoholic beverage.
Coors beer spread across the country by demand from beer lovers rather than by design of the company. It became almost traditional with traveling service men, salesmen, college students and others to take a six pack or a case of Coors on a trip to the east, to share with friends. Soon the friends began to demand that excellent beer from Golden, Colorado. As the fame of the product spread, distribution grew.
The company continued to introduce innovative products and practices, and to involve itself in new brewing technology. Tinplate cans, aluminum cans, a special malting process, the "sterile-fill" process and constant refrigeration are some of the practices introduced by the Adolph Coors Company.
Coors died in an accidental fall from a hotel window while visiting Virginia Beach, Virginia on June 5, 1929. He knew in retirement that his company had been built on solid foundations, and that it would survive and grow under the direction of his sons.
Further Reading on Adolph Coors
Baker, Debbie. Coors Brewing Company, Golden, Colorado Coors History, http://www.coorsandco.com/HIindex.html