A look back: Santa Rosa tinkerer invented hop picking machine

Growing up in Santa Rosa, Florian Dauenhauer had no idea his lifelong hobby of tinkering would one day save his struggling business and revolutionize an industry.

When Dauenhauer and his brother Joe became partners in 1940 at a Sacramento hop ranch, they hadn’t anticipated labor issues.

With their business on the line and no workers to pick hops, Dauenhauer went to work on inventing a machine to do it.

“I thought we might lose our shirts if we didn’t have a machine,” he said in a 1977 Press Democrat interview.

The result was a hop picking machine invention that would revolutionize hop farming and the beer industry for years to come.

Hops were once a leading agricultural crop in Sonoma County.

First planted around 1858, almost 3 million pounds were harvested annually in the county by 1930, according to “Moon Napa & Sonoma” by Philip Goldsmith.

It took 300 people working by hand from dawn to dusk for 30 days to pick and clean 40,000 pounds of hops. With Dauenhauer’s machine, it took only five operators and 12 field workers one eight-hour day to pick and clean 56,000 pounds of hops in 1957, according to Press Democrat reports.

By then hops ranches were mostly gone from the region, but Dauenhauer and his family remained in Santa Rosa and continued to run their company.

A native of North Dakota and Wisconsin, Dauenhauer moved to Santa Rosa when he was a teenager and spent most of his life here. He enjoyed spending hours tinkering in his basement, where he built Van de Graaff generators, alchemic contraptions and helicopter models, among other things, according to Dauenhauer Manufacturing Company.

Hops have a wide range of flavors from sweet citrus to resinous pine, but one certainty about hops is most beers would be dull without them.

“As long as they’re making beer, they’ll be using hops,” Dauenhauer said in 1986.

Dauenhauer died in 2000. Friends and family described him as curious, creative and a perfectionist.

In a nod to local history, Russian River Brewing Co. at one point brewed a beer called Sonoma Pride Dauenhauer, a wild ale.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the date when hops were first planted in Sonoma County.

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