Schaefer was founded in Manhattan, New Yok City in 1842 by brothers Frederick Schaefer (1817-1897)and Maximilian Karl Emil Schaefer (1819–1904), natives of Wetzlar, Prussia, Germany.
Frederick had emigrated to the U.S. in 1838, followed by Maximilian in 1839. After working for the Sebastion Somers Brewing Company, the brothers managed to buy the fledgling brewery. When the brothers came to the United States, they brought with them there own recipe for lager beer, reputedly brewing one of the first light, crisp, cold brewed and cold aged beers in America in 1848.
In time the operation proved highly successful, rising into the number six slot among American brewers by 1871.
Max's son Rudolph Jay Schaefer took over as president until his death in 1923.
The firm had a large brewery complex on Park Avenue in New York City and caves for lagering its beer along the East River. In the early 20th century it sold the valuable plant real estate and opened a new brewery in Brooklyn.
By the 1950s and again in the 1970s Schaefer was the number five beer in America.
As it grew it purchased several regional breweries, in cities like Albany, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and Baltimore, Maryland. A $106 million public stock offering was held in 1968, with the F.& M. Schaefer Corporation emerging as a holding company for its production subsidiary, the Schaefer Brewing Company. Pursuing greater efficiency, it built a large, high-output plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania in the Lehigh Valley, which opened in 1972 and resulted in closure of the company's remaining satellite breweries. In 1974 it was expanded from its original 1,100,000 barrels-per-year capacity to 2,500,000 and then, in 1975, it expanded again to 5,000,000 barrels plus.
In 1981 Schaefer was acquired by Stroh Brewing Company which, in turn, was acquired by Pabst Brewing Company in 1999.