Finlay Brewing Company

Cedar and Summit
Finlay Brewing Company

We’ve now arrived at the site of what was once one of Toledo’s largest and most stable breweries. On this large empty block on our right, The Finlay Brewing Company was started in 1853 by Irishman William Finlay at the corner of Summit and Elm. In the early years, the company was very successful brewing only ale and porter. The plant grew with its success, notably in the 1870’s, when it was remodeled for the production of lager beer.

Riding the wave of the lager beer craze, the output grew from 12,000 barrels in 1874, to 34,000 barrels by 1879, at which point it was by far the city’s largest.

Finlay’s brick brew house grew to an annual capacity of 80,000 barrels, with an actual output of 54,000 barrels in 1881.  This impressive growth was due in large part to the fact that they were the city’s first brewer to pursue significant sales outside of Toledo – from Indiana to New York.

After William Finlay’s death in 1888, the brewery changed management a few times. Of note was Valentine Ketcham – the namesake of the Valentine Theatre – who became president in 1898.  

The last decades of the Finlay plant are closely tied to beer bottles. In the early 20th century, Finlay Brewing Company was the first company to use bottles produced by the Owens Bottling Machine. The “machine of a thousand gears.” It actually had almost 10,000 parts and it was able to produce 17,000 bottles in a 24-hour period vs just under 3,000 using a crew of six men and boys (known as "blowers dogs").

Before Michael Owens’ invention, beer was primarily sold in barrels. If you wanted to carry out your beer, you brought an expensive hand-blown quart bottle to your local saloon and had it filled from the tap.

In 1905, Finlay was included in the rollup of the Huebner Toledo Breweries Company. The Finlay plant was the primary bottling plant for this combine. They brewed their own brands until 1917, and then the plant was converted for bottling and ice production only. As with many local breweries, prohibition spelled the end of the Finlay Brewing Company.  The plant was closed for good in 1921 and the building was used as a paper warehouse for years before being raised in 1983.

By the way, if we were to head up north on Summit we would run into the General Steedman statue at Jamie Farr Park at Summit and Galena.  Mr. Finlay funded the monument – the two were close friends – the monument was originally located at “Finlay Place” a triangular area at the intersection of St. Clair, Erie, and Summit streets.

Turn left on Summit, right on Lagrange, travel west on Lagrange.

Copyright © 2020 Tedd Long