Here’s a little tidbit I found somewhere along the line, but don’t know the exact source, although it seems to mostly check out. On January 2, 1898, Pabst “officially” named their beer previously known as “Best Select” to “Pabst Blue Ribbon.” I say “officially,” because it had been known colloquially by that name before then, at least since 1893, when they supposedly won the blue ribbon (despite there being some controversy surround that event) that led to its name. According to Pabst’s own company history:
- 1876: The First Gold Medal. Pabst’s Best Select lager wins a gold medal at the Centennial Celebration, marking the first of many awards the beer will win throughout its 150+ year lifespan.
- 1882: A Blue Ribbon on Every Bottle. Having earned awards at US and international competitions, Pabst begins hand-tying a blue silk ribbon around the neck of each Best Select beer to identify it as a first-place winner. You know, because it was.
- 1889: Another New Name. Pabst follows in his father-in-law’s footsteps, changing the brewery’s name to honor himself. The Pabst Brewing Company is born.
- 1892: One Million Feet of Silk. As production rises, so does the demand for blue silk ribbon. The company purchases nearly 1 million feet of silk ribbon per year, which workers tie by hand around each bottle of Best Select.
- 1893: America’s Best Beer. Pabst is awarded the blue ribbon at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, beating out many other popular American brewers. And not surprisingly, some unpopular ones.
- 1895: What’ll You Have? Patrons keep asking bartenders for the beer with the blue ribbon, and the nickname sticks. The phrase “Blue Ribbon” is added to the Best Select name on the label.
- 1898: A New Name for the Classic Beer. The beer’s name is officially changed to Pabst Blue Ribbon, and the brewery produces one million barrels. Pabst begins exporting heavily to New York, even opening his own hotels, theatres and restaurants that, oddly enough, do not serve rival Schlitz beer.
This is the earliest PBR label I could find, from 1910.
But even by 1933, when prohibition ended, this ad, using an earlier ad, shows that the label hadn’t changed much between 1910 and then.
The book “Brewing in Milwaukee,” by Brenda Magee, has an illustration of the first Pabst Blue Ribbon Select bottles, along with a short history.
When they filed a new trademark application with the U.S. Patent Office on December 8, 1947, apparently in order to be in compliance with the “Act of 1946,” they were granted Registration No. 521,795 on March 7, 1950. In the application, they stated that “[t]he trade-mark was first used in January 1898, and first used in commerce among the several States which may lawfully be regulated by Congress in January 1898.” Similarly, when an Historic Designation Study Report” was prepared in late 1985 for the Pabst Mansion, it stated. “The beer’s reputation was greatly enhanced by being judged the best at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The word’s “Blue Ribbon” were first added to the label in 1895 with the Blue Ribbon label first used in January 1898.”
I’ve been collecting dates now going on forty years, having starting with a small notebook that I’d hand scribble dates wherever I found them. That was recopied in its entirety … twice, because I kept outgrowing them, before finally turning to the infinite space of digital. But in those early days I was not as scrupulous in keeping a record of my sources, mostly for space reasons. But the truth is it was originally something I did for fun, just for me, and I never really saw any potential for it until it decades to late to go back and find the literal thousands of sources I used to compile the original lists. But somewhere, I found an entry giving January 2 in 1898 as the date that Pabst first used, or sold, the Pabst Blue Ribbon beers with a new label, officially calling them that for the first time. Maybe it’s because the first was a holiday and nothing was sold until the next day, who knows. But even though I can’t be absolutely sure of that, it’s still fun to take a look back at the label for one of the most well-known brands of beer through the years, and today seems as good a day as any, 119 years later. So here’s a few more labels I turned up.
Current label logo.