During World War II, brands such as Budweiser and Coors began using less grain in their beers as the U.S. government rationed commodities for the war effort. Following the conflict, they didn't restore their recipes because their customers liked the lighter beers. Yuengling, which didn't alter its recipe much during or after the war, was getting bypassed in the market.
"We were out of business and too dumb to know it," Yuengling said. "All the breweries in the '60s and early '70s were going under."
Yuengling pushed his father to cut costs by automating their bottling operations, one of many initiatives that the two butted heads over. Tired of the fighting, Yuengling left the business in 1973 to start a beer and wine distributorship. He returned to the family business 11 years later as his father developed Alzheimer's disease.
In 1985, he sold the distribution company and purchased the company from his father for an undisclosed sum. Annual production was 137,000 barrels that year.
At Maroons, a Pottsville bar named for the local National Football League franchise locals contend won the national title in 1925, Yuengling paraphernalia lines the walls along with sports memorabilia. Five Yuengling offerings are on tap.
As with other watering holes in the city of 14,000, a Yuengling draft costs $2.50, based on a company policy to keep prices low for its beer in Pottsville. The practice, Yuengling said, is to thank local customers who have remained loyal to the brand and its unchanging flavor as Budweiser, Miller and other brands grew through ubiquitous marketing campaigns.
Outside Pottsville, where the company employs 175 people, Yuengling's strategy is to sell their products within 75 cents of the cost of a Budweiser and Miller in bars, and close to them in retail stores. Shadowing national brands on price contrasts with other craft brewers, who aim to sell their products at a premium, according to Boston Beer's Koch.
That strategy has allowed Yuengling to increase sales volume more than 2,000 percent since he bought the company. In his first decade of ownership, word of mouth was enough to double the business.
By 1999, he was having trouble meeting demand. Yuengling decided to pull his product out of New England and other markets to focus on the Pennsylvania while building a second, $50 million brewery in Pottsville.
That year another chance to expand presented itself when the family owners of Stroh Brewery Co., a Detroit-based brewer founded in 1850, decided to shutter most of its business. Yuengling bought Stroh's 1.6 million barrel capacity plant in Tampa, Fla. Within six months, it allowed him to fill every order.
Two years later, the second Pottsville brewery opened and Yuengling began broad selling in the south. The added capacity dovetailed with momentum in the craft beer movement - encouraged by consumers who demanded more flavors - that has enabled brands such as Yuengling and Sam Adams to grow in a tepid market.
"It's simple: people are drinking less and drinking better," said Koch. "There's not much more to it than that. We've seen the same trend before in wine and in hard liquor."
Yuengling, who expanded into Ohio in 2011, says he has no immediate plans to further expand capacity or enter new markets.
"Run your brewery at capacity or close to it, that's how you are successful financially," he said.
His market share is about 10 to 15 percent in the states he sells in, good enough for a national market share of about 1.2 percent, according to Bloomberg Industry's Shea.
Yuengling doesn't exhibit the kind of wealth his business affords him, preferring to wear blue jeans, sneakers and Yuengling-logoed shirts around the office. He lives 20 blocks from the brewery, and is known to get up before sunrise to plow snow.
In the evening, he drinks a couple of beers. If Yuengling isn't for sale, he'll drink Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada. Associates who order wine or cocktails are viewed with suspicion.
"We're in the beer business, so that's what I support," he said. "I find it kind of strange that beer wholesale owners, I see them with a glass of wine sometimes. What the hell are you doing here? You're promoting a competitor!"
Yuengling says he has no plans to sell the company in a public offering or to a potential buyer. He hears out investment banker pitches and then sets them aside. The dominant beer makers have stopped asking if he's interested in selling. Two of Yuengling's four daughters, Jennifer and Wendy, hold management positions at the company. He hopes a third, who clashed with him much like he butted heads with his father, will want to return to the business too.
"We put 'American-owned, family operated' right on the case. And you know what? It means something to some consumers," he said, a smile emerging as he pulled a drag from his cigarette. "It doesn't mean something to everybody. But they are anti-corporate America, the younger people today, and maybe rightfully so."