After a fire destroyed Wilmington, Delaware’s Diamond State Brewery in 1881, proprietor Joseph Stoeckle had a larger brick facility constructed the following year at the same location on Fifth and Adams streets. Stoeckle elected to adorn his new brewery with a large statue of Gambrinus, the legendary European king of beer. The statue was installed on Saturday, July 8, 1882.
The 11 ½-foot zinc statue was purchased from the M.(ichael) Gebelt & Brothers Company of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, as indicated on the plaque at statue’s right base. Gambrinus was cast from a mold owned by the J.W. Fiske & Company, a prominent Manhattan manufacturer of iron and zinc statuary. Fiske typically outsourced their foundry work to local firms. In fact, identical examples of the Fiske Gambrinus statue were made not only by Gebelt but at least two other Williamsburg foundries – Joseph A. Stoll and M.J. Seelig & Company. Although Fiske brought suit against Gebelt in 1876 for duplicating some of their statue designs without authorization, it did not stop the two companies from doing future business together.
The Fiske Gambrinus statue designs were originally sold in two sizes: a 3 ½-foot version (Fiske catalogue No. 401) and a larger, 10-foot, 3-inch model (No. 402). The statues could be purchased with either a single primer coat of paint or, for an additional charge, polychromatic paint. The Stoeckle statue was the No. 402 version, which is believed to have been among the largest zinc trade statues made in America during the 19th century.
Stoeckle’s colorful Gambrinus statue remained in its alcove atop the Diamond State Brewery for more than 80 years, through the Prohibition era and two World Wars. Perched on what was then one of Wilmington’s tallest structures in one of the city’s highest points, the beloved king toasted the thirsty workers in ship and rail yards along the Christina River and beckoned them to partake when the workday ended.
The Diamond State Brewery, Inc., successors to the Joseph Stoeckle Brewing Co. after Prohibition, went bankrupt in 1955 and closed permanently. In the ensuing years, the complex fell into disrepair and was eventually purchased by Cohen Brothers Furniture, who used part of it as a storage warehouse. Time took its toll on Gambrinus as well. In May 1956, the statue’s right arm and tankard gave way, fell 33 feet to the sidewalk, and shattered.
Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come for the king and his brewery. The brewery stood directly in the path of the planned Adams-Jackson Freeway (i.e. – Interstate 95) through Wilmington and was set to be demolished in late 1962.
Prior to demolition, on September 26, 1962, the Cohens had Gambrinus removed from the brewery and temporarily placed in the window of his furniture store at 511 Madison Street, a couple of blocks from the brewery site. The Cohens initially discussed plans to have the statue restored and donated to a local museum, but those plans never came to fruition. Instead, they sold the statue to Wilmington restaurateur Francis Corridori in 1963.
Corridori had Gambrinus repaired, adding a new extended right arm and goblet, and placed the statue in front of his King’s Inn Restaurant at 2020 Naamans Road in suburban Wilmington. The King’s Inn became simply The Inn in 1972, but the statue remained to toast passersby until the business closed in 1974.
Ownership of the statue passed to Corridori’s son, Tom, who stored it at an Airport Road roofing company warehouse near Newport for several years until that business was sold. In July 1978, the statue was moved to temporary storage at a salvage yard down the road. A Pennsylvania antique dealer offered to purchase the statue in August 1978. While being moved at the salvage yard, the statue was inadvertently dropped and shattered into more than 60 pieces.
The sculpture’s pieces were salvaged and, sometime in the 1980s, came into the possession of historian and metal restoration expert, Robert Howard of Wilmington. Although Howard intended to reassemble Gambrinus, he never did so before his death in 2012. The Friends of Delaware’s Gambrinus Statue (FDGS), a nonprofit organization, was granted ownership of the statue pieces in 2014.
The statue’s pieces are currently in safe storage awaiting restoration. Once funds are raised and work is completed, FDGS intends to donate the restored statue to the Delaware History Museum for presentation and conservation. Not coincidentally, the museum is exactly nine blocks east of King Gambrinus’ former Diamond State Brewery location.
J.W. Fiske sold more than a dozen of the 11-foot-tall Gambrinus statues for breweries from the late 1870s through the 1890s. The Delaware sculpture is only one of five known to still exist. Three are on display in museums and other is outdoors at a brewery.
King Gambrinus is the most significant artifact remaining from Delaware’s “golden age of brewing” in the mid-19th until the early 20th century. Renovation of the sculpture is an apt symbol of the rebirth of the craft beverage industry in the First State and its return as a key cultural, economic, and social driver.