After seeing numerous Coors Light commercials during football, I was reminded of Naperville’s part in the formation of Coors:
The J&N Stenger Brewery sat in what is now downtown Naperville between the late 1840s and early 1890s, slaking thirsts as far away as Chicago, Elgin and Ottawa. It was founded by Peter Stenger Sr. and was later run by sons John and Nicholas. John took over after Nicholas’ death in 1867.
In 1869, Stenger hired 22-year-old Bavarian-born Adolph Coors–yep, that Coors–as a foreman. He stuck around for about four years before taking off for Golden, Colo., where in 1873 he opened The Golden Brewery, forerunner of Coors. No one is sure exactly why Coors left Naperville, although some reasons have been bandied about.
According to the book “Coors: A Rocky Mountain Legend,” Stenger hoped that Coors would marry into the family.
“Stenger had three daughters,” said Brian Ogg, assistant curator of the Naperville Heritage Society. “And I think he did want to marry the brewmaster to one to his daughters. But it didn’t take, for whatever reason, and Coors left town.”
Both parties – Naperville and Coors – went on to do big things. Coors founded a company that is now part of the Molson Coors Brewing Company and has annual sales of $5 billion. Naperville had a number of industries in and near downtown in its early history including this brewery, Kroehler Furniture, and several quarry operations (including what later became Centennial Beach). Today, Naperville is known less for manufacturing and more for a large and wealthy population alongside high-tech and white-collar jobs in major corporations along I-88.
Yet, it is interesting to think about what might have happened if that relationship had worked out. Could Naperville today be home to a brewing empire? Would the city leaders then have made different choices about annexing land and building subdivisions after World War II? Would having such a business in the city exacerbated the downtown alcohol problems of recent years?