Historic Beer Birthday: Joseph Schlitz

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Today is the birthday of Joseph Schlitz (May 15, 1831-May 7, 1875). “A native of Mainz, Germany, Schlitz emigrated to the U.S. in 1850. In 1856 he assumed management of the Krug Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1858 he married Krug’s widow and changed the name of the company to the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. He became more successful after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, when he donated hundreds of barrels of beer as part of the relief effort. Many of Chicago’s breweries that had burnt were never to reopen; Schlitz established a distribution point there and acquired a large portion of the Chicago market.”

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Here’s a biography from Find a Grave:

Businessman, Beer magnate. He propelled the tiny Krug brewery of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, into the giant Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. Born in Mainz, Rheinhessen, Germany, he had a fair education with a four-year course in bookkeeping and had already acquired some practical business experience when he arrived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1850. There he landed a position as bookkeeper for August Krug’s brewery and became a valuable asset and close friend. The same year, August Uihlein, age 8, accompanied by his grandfather, Georg Krug, a 68 year old innkeeper from Miltenberg, Bavaria, came to Milwaukee to see his uncle August. The brewery’s total production in 1850 was about 250 barrels annually and by 1855 it was up to 1,500. Upon Krug’s death in 1856 Schlitz assumed management of the Krug Brewery and in 1858 he married Krug’s widow, invested his own savings and changed the name of the company to the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. Capable of storing 2,000 barrels in 1858 he had increased production to 5,578 barrels of beer in 1867 when the brewery ranked as the number 4 brewery in Milwaukee behind Valentine Blatz and two others. He enjoyed further success after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, when he donated thousands of barrels of beer to that city, which had lost most of its breweries, thereby making Schlitz “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” He quickly opened a distribution point there and began a national expansion. Schlitz returned to visit Germany in 1875 and died when his ship hit a rock near Land’s End, England, and sank. He was one of Milwaukee’s richest men and his company was brewing almost 70,000 barrels a year. Despite the loss of Schlitz the company remained viable through a lesson he had learned from August Krug’s death. Wisely inserted into his will, two provisions ensured the company’s health after his passing: one stipulated the business could never remove “Joseph Schlitz” from its name; the other appointed Krug’s nephew, the same one Krug brought over from Germany as an eight year old in 1850, to be head of the brewery. Schlitz’s choice of then 33 year old August Uihlein couldn’t have been better as he, along with his brothers Henry and Edward, continued the business strategies initiated by Schlitz. The company developed a system of agencies across the United States to sell beer, and developed its own vast rail distribution system taking it from tenth largest US brewer in 1877 to third by 1895. Being among the top three breweries was little comfort when prohibition came about. But the company met the challenge as did others, restructuring the brewery as Joseph Schlitz Beverage Co. to produce near beer, yeast, soft drinks, malt syrup and a chocolate candy named “Eline” (a phonetic play on Uihlein). Returning to brewing in 1933, the company moved ahead on expansion plans that led them to second and finally first place in US beer production. For the next 40 the years the company would remain near the top and at one point was ranked as the largest in the world until its purchase by Stroh Brewing of Detroit, Michigan (now owned by Pabst Brewing Co.). The Schlitz name remains prominent even today in Milwaukee through a number of prominent city landmarks in Milwaukee including Schlitz Park, the Schlitz Hotel, and the famous Schlitz Palm Garden that were funded by his brewery.

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This account is from the Milwaukee Independent as if Schlitz was a young businessman worthy of recognition as one of “Forty under 40:”

Probably one of the most famous names associated with Milwaukee beer history. Schlitz was born in Mainz, Germany where he received his education and also a four year program in bookkeeping. He arrived in Milwaukee in 1850 and shortly thereafter was hired by August Krug to be the bookkeeper for his growing brewery. From 1850 up to 1855 the brewery grew from 250 barrels to 1500 barrels a year. Following a German practice Schlitz and other brewery employees lived with their employer. Work was generally 10 hours a day six days a week.

In the same year that Schlitz arrived in Milwaukee another arrival was 8 year old August Uihlien, a future head of the brewery, whose uncle was August Krug. Krug was injured in a brewery accident in 1856 and died as a result of his injuries. It is reported that Krug, realizing he was dying, told Anna Marie, his wife, that she could depend on Schlitz to help run the brewery. Whether this is true or not, Schlitz began to play a major role in running the brewery and in 1858, two years after Krug’s death, Joseph and Anna Marie were married. Schlitz invested in the brewery and then changed the name of the brewery to Schlitz Brewery.

Under Schlitz the brewery was growing and by 1867 brewing 5,775 barrels a year, making it the 4th largest brewery in Milwaukee just behind Blatz brewery. In 1871the great Chicago fire destroyed the local breweries and Schlitz and others saw an opportunity to gain market share by offering free beer for short period and then building distribution capacity in Chicago. This was also the beginning of Schlitz starting a national distribution effort to expand the business eventually becoming the largest brewery in the U.S. Schlitz, Pabst and Budweiser would vie for this number one distinction with Budweiser the eventual winner.

Schlitz was also an avid marksman and took a trip back to Germany in 1875 to participate in a sporting event as well as visiting family. Upon his return to Milwaukee his ship, the Schiller, sank off of Land’s End, England. His body was never recovered; his wife even offered a $25,000 prize for recovery. The Schlitz monument at Forest Home is a cenotaph, term for monument for someone who is not actually buried at that location. The monument also has a rendering of the ship the Schiller at its base.

Schlitz and his wife had no children and thus Anna Marie turned to the nephews of August Krug, the Uihlien brothers, to help run the brewing business. Once the brothers gained control of the brewery they did consider changing the name of the brewery, but they determined that the brand name Schlitz was too well established to change. The famous brewer marketing phrase, “The beer that made Milwaukee famous” came into being in the early 1900s.

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And this part of longer article on Immigrant Entrepreneurship entitled “Political Revolution, Emigration, and Establishing a Regional Player in Brewing: August Krug and Joseph Schlitz.” This is whereSchlitz entered the story:

Joseph Schlitz (born May 15, 1831 in Mainz, Rhenish Hesse, Kingdom of Prussia; died: May 7, 1875 at sea), the namesake of the Schlitz brand, has often been presented as a successful visionary whose career as an American industrial titan was tragically cut short before accomplishing his greatest potential achievements. In this narrative, August Krug is often relegated to the role of an unimportant precursor. It is difficult to push back against such narratives that have been critical in shaping perceptions of nineteenth-century U.S. business history as a saga of intrepid leadership. Joseph Schlitz was indeed an important brewer and entrepreneur. But in fact the nationwide fame of his name owes more to the development of the brewing business under his successors, the Uihlein brothers, rather than his own accomplishments.

Schlitz was born on May 31, 1831, in Mayence (Mainz), as the son of Johann Schlitz, a cooper and wine trader, and his wife Louisa. He was trained as a bookkeeper but also learned the basics of brewing in his parents’ milieu. With this he surely had good preparatory skills for a business career but it is highly doubtful that he received “an excellent mercantile education and decided financial ability.” Joseph Schlitz arrived on June 15, 1849 in New York after a journey from Le Havre on the Charleston-based 600-ton sailing vessel Noemie. He described himself as already a merchant and told the officials that he planned to stay in New York.

Instead, he went to Harrisburg, Pa., where he was probably engaged in managing a brewery. He moved to Milwaukee and joined the Krug brewery in 1850. After his marriage to Anna Maria Krug in 1858, he renamed the brewery after himself in 1858. Well-known and respected as a shrewd businessman, he was able to enlarge his company and his private fortune. In 1860, with real estate valued at $25,000 and additional assets of $50,000 (roughly $675,000 and $1.35 million, respectively, in 2010 dollars), Schlitz was already one of the richest men in Milwaukee. At that time, his household included his wife, two 26-year-old servants from Austria, and four young male immigrants from Bavaria, Hesse, and Baden, working as barkeeper, bookkeeper, brewer and in a beer hall. This was not a typical upper-middle-class household. Instead, Schlitz maintained the traditional German model of the Ganze Haus, in which an artisan and his apprentices lived under the same roof. However, the success story was not a linear one. The 1870 census valued Schlitz’s real estate at $34,000 ($626,000 in 2010 dollars), while his additional assets had declined to $28,000 ($586,000 and $483,000, respectively, in 2010 dollars). The Schlitz home now accommodated no fewer than sixteen people, fifteen of them of German descent, with only one U.S.-born servant. August Uihlein, at that time bookkeeper of the brewery, also lived under the Schiltzes’ roof.

Schlitz lived a scandal-free life. He tended to support the Democratic Party but was never a party man. He was a Catholic, a Mason, and a member of various lodges and associations, but these connections were apparently more important for business than for individual enlightenment. Schlitz registered for military service at the beginning of the Civil War, but never saw active duty.

His growing wealth, together with his reputation as a trustworthy businessman, was crucial for attaining business positions that both aided his core brewing business but also provided opportunities for investing his profits. When Milwaukee’s Second Ward Bank was reorganized in 1866, Joseph Schlitz became a director alongside other brewers like Philip Best and Valentine Blatz, and it became known as “the Brewers Bank.” The directorship carried innate prestige; indeed, in the first reports of Schlitz’s death he was described as “the President of a Banking Association in Milwaukee.” Other business endeavors were closely related to his German-American community. Schlitz was a director of the “Northwestern gegenseitige Kranken-Unterstützungs-Gesellschaft,” a life insurance company initiated by some of the city’s most prominent German-American businessmen. Such business endeavors were necessary as a civic answer to the severe lack of social insurance and public social subventions in nineteenth-century America. Citizens had to take care of their own risks, and ethnic communities and businesses strove to provide responses to such concerns. Schlitz was also secretary of the Brewer’s Protective Insurance Company of the West, which eventually became the Brewers’ Fire Insurance Co. of America. Realizing the immense number of fires in general and in the brewing business in particular, this was a self-help solution that was necessary for both risk management and to protect a company’s capacity to grow.

Schlitz died in one of the largest shipping disasters of the late nineteenth century. After an absence of 26 years, he was planning to visit his town of birth, Mayence. The loss of the steam ship Schiller on May 7, 1875, off the coast of Cornwall, caused 335 casualties, including several prominent Milwaukee residents, and it was “painfully interesting to thousands of Milwaukee people.” The Milwaukee Board of Trade passed resolutions out of respect in memory of Joseph Schlitz and German-immigrant merchant Hermann Zinkeisen, head of the commission house Zinkeisen, Bartlett & Co. His body was never recovered, but a cenotaph was nonetheless erected at Milwaukee’s Forest Home Cemetery. His wife offered a $25,000 reward for the corpse, but it was never found. In 1880, a rumor that the remains had been discovered caused a sensation but in the end, it was discovered to be a hoax. Schlitz had a life insurance policy of $50,000 (just over $1 million in 2010 dollars), a sum helpful for the further expansion of his brewery.

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