A man whose perseverance, industry and business sagacity has been largely instrumental in the establishment of one of Rock Island’s largest industries was George Wagner, one of the founders of the Rock Island Brewing Company, a man in whom those potential elements that are essential in every successful career, seemed to center.
George Wagner was born in Wurtemberg, Germany, January 13, 1832. He died January 10, 1907, in Rock Island. In his boyhood he attended the common schools of his native land, and there acquired a fair education. After leaving school he was apprenticed to a baker, and in this apprenticeship he remained several years learning his trade.
In 1853 Mr. Wagner, realizing that in America a young man willing and able to work could achieve more than he could possibly hope to in the older countries, left Germany and came to the United States, locating in New York. After working at his trade for two years in that city, he, together with a cousin, came west, settling in Rock Island. Here the two embarked in the bakery business, which they carried on for two years, at the end of which time Mr. Wagner sold out his interest to his cousin who continued in the business. Mr. Wagner moved to Moline, where he again established a bakery, continuing in business for eight years. During these years he was successful, so successful in fact that he felt justified in establishing a steam cracker bakery, the first in this part of the country. This venture also proved a successful one and brought to him substantial returns.
In 1865, having prospered in whatever he had thus far undertaken, Mr. Wagner decided to return to his native land, and with that end in view he sold out his business interests in Moline. He changed his plans, however, and looking about for some new field for his activities he purchased a small brewery in Rock Island, owned by Mr. Schmidt. This business, small in its inception, had a continuous and steady growth until it became one of the most extensive in Illinois. As Mr. Wagner’s patronage increased he enlarged his plant and kept abreast of the times by adding modern facilities and equipment. For thirty years he labored in building up and enlarging the scope of his plant, until the forming of the present Rock Island Brewing Company, and amalgamation of the brewing plants of Mr. Wagner, Ignatz Huber and Raible & Stengel. Mr. Wagner’s son, Robert, was elected president of this newly formed stock company and Otto Huber, a son of Mr. Ignatz Huber, whose brewery the new company had taken over, became secretary, the younger men thus assuming the more active management of the new enterprise.
In 1853, the same year that he left the fatherland for America, Mr. Wagner was married to Miss Frederica Epinger, a young lady of his native City of Wurtemberg. Together they severed the ties that bound them to their homeland, and bravely set out to face the. hardships and privations that they knew they must encounter in a new country. Six children were born of this marriage, three of whom are living, they being Robert, who as has been stated, is the president of the Rock Island Brewing Company, and who resides in Rock Island; Ernest, one of the leading business men of St. Paul, Minnesota; and George, formerly a real estate dealer in Rock Island. Mr. Wagner was for years a member of the Democratic party, but in 1896, when silver was the paramount issue of that party, he voted for William McKinley, as he believed in the maintenance of the gold standard. He was a member of the Odd Fellows and also of the Druids. For fifty years George Wagner had been a citizen of Rock Island. He was one of those who believed in the future of the city he had chosen for his home, and by his active and progressive spirit did much to promote its industrial growth. He was never actuated by any narrow, selfish motives, but prospering himself he rejoiced in the prosperity of others, knowing that the welfare of one individual alone never furthers but only retards the growth of a community. He was upright and honorable in all his dealings with his fellowmen and won and merited the esteem of all who knew him. In his old age he lived a life of comparative retirement enjoying the warm regard of many, who, knowing him as he was, found him to be possessed of those qualities that go to make up a good citizen and an honorable man.