max hasselMax Hassel and his family immigrated to the United States in 1911; and settled in Reading, PA where Max would grow up. He quit school at age 14 as most children did during that time. From there he and a friend, Israel Liever, rented a room on Chestnut Street and where they made hand rolled cigars for a living. During that time Max and Izzy formed two wholesale companies; the Union Cigar Co. and Universal Cigar Co. They also opened a cigar store at 860 Penn Street and hired Max’s younger brother Calvin to work for them.

As a teenager, Max was best remembered for hawking newspapers on Penn Street as a newsboy. He sold the Reading Telegram, a daily newspaper printed by the Reading Times at Sixth and Walnut Streets. Max eventually became a collector for the Reading Telegram.  For a time he worked as a “cash boy” in Pomeroy’s department store where he learned quickly that the boss, not the employee, makes the big bucks.

When Prohibition started in the 1920’s, Issy’s father, Hyman, owned the Berks County Bottling Works at 409 South Fifth Street. Berks Bottling was a wholesale liquor distributor and bottlers of all kinds of beer and carbonated drinks. Max worked for Hyman where he learned his craft and eventually the craft of bootlegging. Within a few years Berks Bottling went out of business, but Max had learned the tricks-of-the-trade. He also understood the law of supply and demand. Max used his Berks Bottling knowledge and contacts plus an abundance of ingenuity to become the patron saint of local guzzlers.

Max had the foresight and strength of personality to impose his will on businessmen twice his age. They were rewarded with huge profits by riding his coattails plus a certain amount of notoriety. Hassel bought into local Reading, PA breweries like Lauer Brewing Company and Reading Brewing Company and eventually owned Fisher Brewing Company. During prohibition, he became best known as “The Beer Baron of Berks County” where he ran a lot of bootlegging of illegal strong beers and ales from various local PA breweries.

Max Hassel had interests in many Pennsylvania breweries including:
  • Columbia Brewing Company | Columbia, PA
  • Deppen Manufacturing (former Deppen Brewery) | Reading, PA
  • Eagle Brewing Company | Catasauqua, PA
  • Fisher Brewing Company | Reading, PA
  • Fuhrman & Schmidt (F&S) | Shamokin, PA
  • Reading Health Beverage (former Reading Brewery) | Reading, PA
  • Lauer Brewing Company | Reading, PA
  • Lebanon Valley Brewing Company | Lebanon, PA
  • Liberty Brewing Company | Tamaqua, PA
  • Rieker Brewing Company | Lancaster, PA
  • Seitz Brewing Company | Easton, PA
  • Superior Beverage (formerly Sprenger Brewery) | Lancaster, PA

By 1933 Max was envisioning legal and undisguised control of many PA breweries. On April 12, 1933 Max visited the Harrison Brewery in Harrison, NJ to lay the foundation of running legitimate breweries from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Upon returning to his suite at the Elizabeth Carteret Hotel in Elizabeth, NJ; Max Hassel was fatally shot in room 824 along with one of his partners Max Greenberg by mobster hitmen. This was only 5 days after the repeal of prohibition that legalized beer on April 7, 1933.

Birth:  April 24, 1900
Death:  April 12, 1933

Burial: Kesher Zion Cemetery | Shillington, PA
GPS: 40.29659 lat, -75.93169 long

A book was published about Max Hassel’s rise to power called “Bootlegger: Max Hassel, The Millionaire Newsboy” by Edward Taggert.