Historic Beer Birthday: Jacob Ruppert, Jr.

Jacob-Ruppert
Today is the birthday of Jacob Ruppert, Jr. (August 5, 1867–January 13, 1939). He was the son of Jacob Ruppert, who founded the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company in 1867. Jacon Jr., who went by Jake “was an American brewer, businessman, National Guard colonel and United States Congressman who served for four terms representing New York from 1899 to 1907. He also owned the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball from 1915 until his death in 1939.

Starting out in the family brewing business, Ruppert entered the United States National Guard in 1886 at the age of 19, eventually reaching the rank of colonel. While he was the owner of the Yankees, he purchased the contract of Babe Ruth and built Yankee Stadium, reversing the franchise’s fortunes and establishing it as the premier club in the major leagues. Ruppert was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2013.”

ruppert-1920s

Ruppert was born in New York City, the son of brewer Jacob Ruppert, Sr. (1842–1915) and his wife, the former Anna Gillig (1842–1924). He was the second oldest of six children, along with Cornelia Ruppert-Franko (1865–96), Anna Schalk (born 1870), Frank (born 1872), George (1875–1948) and Amanda Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ruppert-Silleck (1878–1952). His grandfather Franz (1811–83), a brewer from Bavaria, had emigrated to the United States in 1836 or 1842. His mother was also of German ethnicity, and was herself the daughter of prominent brewer George Gillig. Although he was a second-generation American, to the day he died he spoke with a noticeable German accent.

He grew up in the Jacob Ruppert, Sr. House on Fifth Avenue. Jacob Jr. attended the Columbia Grammar School. He was accepted into Columbia College, but instead began working in the brewing business with his father in 1887. He started as a barrel washer, working 12-hour days for $10 a week ($267 in current dollar terms), and eventually became vice president and general manager of the brewery.

Ruppert enlisted in the Seventh Regiment, National Guard of New York, serving in the rank of private from 1886 through 1889. In 1890, he was promoted to colonel and appointed to serve on the staff of David B. Hill, the Governor of New York, serving as aide-de-camp. He became a senior aide on the staff of Roswell P. Flower, Hill’s successor as governor, until 1895.

U206217ACME
The Jacob Ruppert Brewery around 1932.

Ruppert was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1898 as a member of the Democratic Party to the Fifty-sixth United States Congress, defeating incumbent Philip B. Low of the Republican Party in New York’s 15th congressional district. He was supported in his election by Richard Croker, the political boss of Tammany Hall. Ruppert won reelection over Alderman Elias Goodman in 1900. Ruppert was renominated for Congress, this time running in New York’s 16th congressional district, in 1902. Ruppert was not a candidate for reelection in 1906, and he left office in 1907.

Ruppert was also president of the Astoria Silk Works and the United States Brewers Association from 1911 through 1914. In January 1914, he bought J&M Haffen Brewing Company for $700,000 ($16,737,209 in current dollar terms), intending to close the brewery down and develop the property, which was located near The Hub in The Bronx. Upon his father’s death in 1915, Ruppert inherited the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company and became the company’s president. Ruppert also owned real estate, including Pass-a-Grille Key in Florida.

Ruppert, interested in baseball since his childhood, began to pursue ownership of a Major League Baseball team, and attempted to purchase the New York Giants on numerous occasions. In 1912 he was offered an opportunity to purchase the Chicago Cubs, but decided that Chicago was too far away from New York for his tastes. However, Frank J. Farrell and William S. Devery, owners of the New York Yankees, were looking to sell their franchise. Ruppert and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston, a former United States Army engineer and captain, purchased the Yankees from Farrell and Devery before the 1915 season for $480,000 ($11,363,684 in current dollar terms). The Yankees were, at that time, a perennial also-ran in the American League (AL), posting winning records in only 4 of their 12 seasons – and only once since 1906 – since relocating to New York prior to the 1903 season from Baltimore, where the team had played as the Orioles during the AL’s first two years of operation, 1901 and 1902.

After the 1917 season, Ban Johnson, president of the AL, suggested that Ruppert hire St. Louis Cardinals manager Miller Huggins to take over the same position with the Yankees. Huston, who was in Europe at the time that Ruppert was considering the appointment, disliked Huggins and wanted to hire the manager of the National League’s crosstown Brooklyn Robins, Wilbert Robinson, his drinking buddy. However, Ruppert interviewed Huggins on Johnson’s recommendation, and agreed that Huggins would be an excellent choice Ruppert offered the job to Huggins, who accepted and signed a two-year contract. The hiring of Huggins drove a wedge between the two co-owners that culminated in Huston selling his shares of the team to Ruppert in 1922.

Ruppert and Huston purchased pitcher Carl Mays from the Boston Red Sox in 1918, in direct opposition of an order issued by Johnson. The matter was taken to court, where Ruppert and Huston prevailed over Johnson. The case led to the dissolution of the National Commission, which governed baseball, and helped lead to the creation of the Commissioner of Baseball. Ruppert eventually organized opposition to Johnson among other AL owners.

babe-joins-yanks

The Yankees purchased star pitcher-outfielder Babe Ruth from the Red Sox in 1919, which made the Yankees a profitable franchise. The Yankees began to outdraw the Giants, with whom they shared the Polo Grounds. In 1921 the Yankees won the AL pennant for the first time, but lost to the Giants in the World Series. As a result of the Yankees’ increased popularity, Charles Stoneham, owner of the Giants and the Polo Grounds, raised the rent for Ruppert and Huston for the 1922 season. The Yankee owners responded by purchasing land in The Bronx, across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds, from the estate of William Waldorf Astor for $675,000 ($9,658,002 in current dollar terms), breaking ground on a new stadium in May 1922. That year, the Giants once again defeated the Yankees in the World Series. Yankee Stadium opened on April 18, 1923,[the first ballpark with three tiers of seating for fans, and the first referred to as a “stadium”. Ruppert and Huston financed the project with $2.5 million of their own money ($35,770,378 in current dollar terms).

In 1923, Ruppert bought out Huston for $1.5 million ($21,084,961 in current dollar terms), and he became the sole owner. Later that year, the Yankees finally beat the Giants to win their first World Series title. The Yankees went on to dominate baseball throughout most of the 1920s and 1930s, winning three more pennants from 1926 through 1928, including the Murderers’ Row team which won the 1927 World Series and repeated as champions the following year. They returned to the top with the 1932 World Series title, and then began their strongest period yet with the Bronx Bombers teams of the late 1930s, becoming the first team to win three consecutive World Series titles in 1936, 1937 and 1938. In 1937, the Yankees became the first team to win six World Series titles, and in 1938 they surpassed the Philadelphia Athletics to become the first team to win ten AL championships, with only the Giants winning more pennants in the 20th century.

Lou-Gehrig-Jake-Ruppert
Lous Gehrig, Ruppert and Joe McCarthy in 1935.

In 1929, Ruppert added numbers to the Yankees’ uniforms, which became a feature of every team. He said, “Many fans do not attend games on a regular basis and cannot easily pick out the players they have come to see.”

in 1931 Ruppert bought the Newark Bears who played at Ruppert Stadium in Newark, New Jersey, and begin building the farm system for the Yankees. Ruppert’s 24 years as a Yankee owner saw him build the team from near-moribund to a baseball powerhouse. His own strength as a baseball executive – including his willingness to wheel and deal – was aided by the business skills of general manager Ed Barrow and the forceful field managing of Miller Huggins, until his sudden death at age 50 late in the 1929 season, and Joe McCarthy, beginning in 1931. By the time of Ruppert’s death, the team was well on its way to becoming the most successful in the history of Major League Baseball, and eventually in North American professional sports.

Ruppert and Ruth had public disagreements about Ruth’s contracts. Nevertheless, they were personal friends; according to Ruth, Ruppert called him “Babe” only once, and that was the night before he died. Usually, Ruppert called him “Root” (as “Ruth” sounded in his German-accented voice); he always called everyone, even close friends, by their last name. Ruth was one of the last persons to see Ruppert alive.

Ruppert suffered from phlebitis in April 1938, and was confined to his Fifth Avenue apartment for most of the year. He was too sick to follow the Yankees to the 1938 World Series, what would be their seventh world title under his stewardship; he listened on the radio. In November 1938, he checked into Lenox Hill Hospital, where he died on January 13, 1939.

knickerbocker-yankees
New York Yankees Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio, and Frankie Crosetti with their team owner Jacob Ruppert taken in the late 1930’s.

Ruppert’s father, Jacob, Sr., left behind an estate of $6,382,758 ($111,618,204 in current dollar terms) when he died in 1915, which Ruppert increased to $40 million by the time of his death in 1939. This was managed by his heirs. His brother George, who served as the Yankees’ vice president, declined to take over the team presidency, and instead recommended that general manager Ed Barrow be given control of the club. Under Barrow’s leadership, the Yankees won a fourth consecutive World Series in 1939, and captured three more AL titles and two World Series from 1941 to 1943 as the nation entered World War II. After mismanaging Ruppert’s brewery, the heirs sold the Yankees to Dan Topping, Del Webb and Larry MacPhail in 1945. The brewery sold its flagship beer, Knickerbocker beer, to Rheingold, and went out of business in 1965.

On April 16, 1940, the Yankees dedicated a plaque in Ruppert’s memory, to hang on the center field wall of Yankee Stadium, near the flagpole and the monument that had been dedicated to former manager Miller Huggins. The plaque called Ruppert “Gentleman, American, sportsman, through whose vision and courage this imposing edifice, destined to become the home of champions, was erected and dedicated to the American game of baseball.” The plaque now rests in Monument Park at New Yankee Stadium.

An apocryphal story says that Ruppert is responsible for the Yankees’ famous pinstriped uniforms; according to this account, Ruppert chose pinstripes in order to make the often-portly Ruth appear less obese, but the uniform was in fact introduced in 1912.

A beer was named after Ruppert, as were Ruppert Stadium in Newark, New Jersey. Ruppert Park in Manhattan, is part of the Ruppert Yorkville Towers housing complex was built on the site the brewery in Yorkville, Manhattan.

Gehrig Lou 1489-68WT_Grp_NBL
Ruppert and Lou Gehrig in 1938.

Special-Knickerbocker-Export-Brew-Labels-Jacob-Ruppert--pre-Prohibition-

Hungover Heroes: Max McGee

packers
Today is the birthday of Max McGee. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard his name, most people haven’t. He “was a professional football player, a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL. He played from 1954 to 1967, and is best known for his 7 receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the first Super Bowl in 1967.” And it’s his performance in that first Super Bowl that was so amazing, in no small part because he was badly hungover.

In 1967, McGee was at the end of his career. In fact, it was the second-to-last season he played. He was not a starter for the Packers that year they went to the first Super Bowl, and caught only four balls all year. So apparently, not expecting to play at all during the Super Bowl, the night before he broke curfew and spent the night with two women he met at the hotel bar. He rolled in around 6:30 a.m. the morning of the big game, passed Bart Starr in the hallway just getting up, and tried to catch a few winks before game time.

He was feeling pretty rough, but took his spot on the bench, fully expecting to be glued to it all game. He told starting wide receiver Boyd Dowler “I hope you don’t get hurt. I’m not in very good shape,” referring to the fact that he was badly hungover. Unfortunately, shortly after the game started, Dowler separated his shoulder and came out of the game, replaced by McGee. He had to borrow a helmet from another teammate, because he had left his in the locker room. McGee was reportedly startled as he heard Vince Lombardi yell, “McGee! McGee! Get your ass in there.”

max-mcgee-catch

A few plays later, McGee made a one-handed reception of a pass from Bart Starr, took off past Chiefs defender Fred Williamson and ran 37 yards to score the first touchdown in Super Bowl history. This was a repeat of his performance in the NFL championship game two weeks earlier, when he had also caught a touchdown pass after relieving an injured Boyd Dowler. By the end of the game, McGee had recorded seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns, assisting Green Bay to a 35-10 victory.

Just check out that first catch, for the very first touchdown in a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the NFL won’t allow you to watch the video on my site, even though you can see it on YouTube or directly the NFL website. Thank goodness they protected a 50-year old event from being seen here. Who knows what money might have been lost by them had you been able to see it here instead of their own website.

Here’s more about the story from Sports Illustrated:

McGee came to California ready to party. He chafed at a week of locked-down training camp in Santa Barbara and when the team moved to Los Angeles on the eve of the big game, he made plans with those two flight attendants, assuming that Hornung, who was nursing an injured neck and wouldn’t play in the game, would join him. McGee snuck out after assistant coach Hawg Hanner’s 11 p.m. bed check and soon afterward, called Hornung. “He called and said ‘I’ve got two girls and yours is gorgeous,’ ” says Hornung. ” ‘Come out and have a couple drinks with us.’ ” The fine was at least $5,000 and Hornung was getting married later that week and his neck was sore. He declined. The next time he heard from McGee was at 6:30 the next morning. “He called from the lobby and asked if they did a second check. I said ‘No, you lucky bastard, now get your ass up here.’ ”

Before every game, Dowler, Dale and McGee would have a brief, ritual meeting to go over the game plan and review tendencies one last time. “We’re having our little meeting,” says Dowler, 79 and living in Richmond, Va., “and Max says, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go down today.’ I said, What do you mean? Max says, ‘I was out all night and I had a few more drinks than I should have and I didn’t get much sleep. So just don’t go down.'”

super-bowl-i-kansas-city-chiefs-v-green-bay-packers-1

Dowler says, “Max had a strong constitution. I figured he could deal with it. But he did not expect to play.” This was a potential problem. Dowler had played most of the 1965 season and all of the ’66 season with a bad right shoulder; a calcium deposit had developed on the joint. Yet the Packers’ coaching staff had seen weaknesses in the Chiefs’ pass defense, including a propensity to leave the middle of the field open on blitzes. Starr was going to throw the ball extensively. “Plus, their defensive backs,” says Dowler. “They had ‘The Hammer’ [future Hollywood actor Fred Williamson] on one side and some other guy, No. 22 [Willie Mitchell] on the other side. Neither one of them were very good, one-on-one. It wasn’t going to be like trying to beat Lem Barney or Night Train Lane [of the Detroit Lions].”

(McGee knew this, too. Maraniss, in When Pride Still Mattered, quotes McGee as telling Packers broadcaster Ray Scott, “I’ve been studying film and I’ve found me a cornerback. I’m gonna have him for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Still, if he had expected to play, he most likely would have stayed in the night before. Or possibly not.)

On the Packers’ first series, McGee took a seat next to Hornung on the bench and made small talk about the night before and Hornung’s upcoming wedding. On the field, Lombardi opened with three consecutive running plays. On the third, Dowler executed a crackback block on Chiefs’ free safety Johnny Robinson, who was dropping down in run support. “My shoulder was not in good shape at all coming into the game,” says Dowler. “I usually put a foam pad underneath my shoulder pad, but since we were going to be throwing the ball a lot, I wanted to have some flexibility. I took the pad out. When I hit Johnny Robinson, I heard the calcium deposit crack and I knew immediately that I was finished.”

super-bowl-i-kansas-city-chiefs-v-green-bay-packers-3

McGee was summoned into the game, but couldn’t find his helmet. He put on a giant lineman’s helmet with a full cage and on his first snap missed connecting with Starr on a curl route. On the Packers’ next possession, Starr came out throwing: 11 yards to tight end Marv Fleming, 22 yards to running back Elijah Pitts, 12 yards to Dale. And then on third-and-three from the Kansas City 37, McGee ran a simple skinny post against Mitchell’s outside position and broke wide open. Robinson had blitzed, leaving acres of green in the middle of the secondary. Starr’s pass was far behind McGee, who reached back, controlled the ball and then turned straight upfield, into the end zone and history. It was a remarkable catch, by a man with a hangover and no sleep, running at full speed. McGee’s second touchdown, on another inside move against Mitchell, gave the Packers a 28–10 lead in the third quarter. That one came on a better throw by Starr, but McGee juggled it as he crossed beneath the goalposts, which were on the goalline. “The game of his life,” says Hornung.

Max-McGee-Signed-Packers

You can also see more video from television programs talking about McGee performance, such as when a TV show ranked the Top 50 Super Bowl Performances, and picked McGee’s Super Bowl I play as #31, and in another show which ranked McGee’s catch #10 among the “Top 10 Super Bowl Plays.”

And while it’s true that I’m a giant Green Bay Packers fan, and they’re the only football team I’ve ever rooted for, I still love this story about how the hungover Max McGee helped them win the first Super Bowl in 1967.

McGee-1962-Topps

Beer In Ads #2333: Morale, Tell Uncle Bert I Can Still Lick Him Pitching Horseshoes


Monday’s ad is by the Brewing Industry Foundation, from 1944, part of a series of ads the beer industry undertook during World War 2 under the title “Morale is a Lot of Little Things.” It was one of the first concerted efforts by the brewing industry after they were getting back on their feet after prohibition finally ended around a decade before. The series tried to show support for the troops and help with morale at home. And it must have worked, because the campaign won awards at the time. In this ad, a Navy sailor is writing home and missing lots of little things, like beating his uncle at horseshoes and enjoying “a refreshing glass of beer or ale.”

USBIF-Morale-1944-fence-painting

Beer In Ads #2306: Frankie Frisch Graduates To Carling


Tuesday’s ad is for Carling’s Red Cap Ale, from 1951. In this ad, part of another series featuring well-known celebrities of the day and the tagline “x person, too, has graduated to Carling’s — the LIGHT-HEARTED ale!,” it features “American baseball player and manager” Frankie Frisch wearing an Oxford cap, or mortarboard, with a small red cap on top of it while holding up a glass of Red Cap Ale. He was “nicknamed The Fordham Flash or The Old Flash, was a German-American Major League Baseball player and manager of the first half of the twentieth century. Frisch was a switch-hitting second baseman who threw right-handed. He played for the New York Giants (1919–1926) and St. Louis Cardinals (1927–1937). He managed the Cardinals (1933–1938), Pittsburgh Pirates (1940–1946) and Chicago Cubs (1949–1951). He is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum.

Carling-1951-frankie-frisch

Beer In Ads #2304: Clem McCarthy Graduates To Carling


Sunday’s ad is for Carling’s Red Cap Ale, from 1950. In this ad, part of another series featuring well-known celebrities of the day and the tagline “x person, too, has graduated to Carling’s — the LIGHT-HEARTED ale!,” it features “American sportscaster and public address announcer” Clem McCarthy wearing an Oxford cap, or mortarboard, with a small red cap on top of it while holding up a glass of Red Cap Ale. “He also lent his voice to Pathe News’s RKO newsreels. He was known for his gravelly voice and dramatic style, a “whiskey tenor” as sports announcer and executive David J. Halberstam has called it.”

Carling-1951-clem-mccarthy

Beer In Ads #2297: Jack Kramer, I’ve Found Out


Sunday’s ad is for Carling’s Red Cap Ale, from 1950. In this ad, part of a series featuring well-known celebrities of the day and the tagline “I’ve found out,” it features “American tennis player” Jack Kramer holding a beer and giving his testimonial about why he loves Red Cap Ale. “A World No. 1 player for a number of years, and one of the most important people in the establishment of modern men’s “Open”-era tennis, he was the leading promoter of professional tennis tours in the 1950s and 1960s.”

carling-1950-jack-kramer-2

In some of the ads, the inset box is not blank, but included another person, presumably a regular non-famous person and probably localized for where the ad ran, if not in a national publication.

Carling-1950-jack-kramer

Historic Beer Birthday: Robert “Mac” MacTarnahan

portland-wh
Today is the birthday of Robert “Mac” MacTarnahan (May 1, 1915-October 25, 2004), one of Oregon’s most famous athletes. Mac was one of the original investors in Portland Brewing Co., which was later named MacTarnahan’s Brewing in his honor. I met Mac twice, once in Portland at an event at the brewery, and once he visited me in California when I was still the beer buyer at BevMo. I hope I have half the energy he did when I’m in my eighties. A couple of years ago, my friend and colleague John Foyston wrote a nice remembrance of Mac in The Oregonian, which included the obituary he wrote in 2004. Raise a glass today to Mac’s memory.

mac-1
Brewer Alan Kornhauser, Mac and Portland Brewing co-founder Fred Bowman.

robertmactarnahan
Mac’s Oregon Sports Hall of Fame photo. Here’s his entry:

Oregon’s most accomplished Masters Athlete, Robert “Mac” MacTarnahan is the first masters competitor ever chosen for induction into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. His athletic feats are amazing. Mac is a four-time Masters world record holder with a national record in the mile plus three world record holders in the 3000-meter steeplechase. In the steeplechase, he is a six-time AAU National Masters champion, two-time USA National Senior Olympic champion, two-time World Senior champion. Mac is also a five-time National Masters wrestling champion. The wiry Scot owns more the 50 Masters Gold Medals.

Sign Up Today For The Brookston Hitting Derby

baseball
I confess I completely forgot about the baseball season starting tomorrow. I’d set up the annual Brookston Hitting Derby, but promptly forgot about it again. We used to call it a Home Run Derby because to keep things simpler, we only counted those, but more recently I monkeyed with the scoring (because I generally can’t keep well enough alone) so while it’s still simpler than being in a full-blown fantasy baseball league, there are now more ways to get points. Still, we do it just for fun, and there are twenty spaces available if you want to play along, although we only need four to draft (two more now). But hurry up, the league will draft late tonight since the season starts tomorrow, so sign up today if you want to join.

In order to join the league, follow this link, and I think that’s all you have to do, other then follow the on-screen instructions. If that’s not right, or you’re having trouble, leave a comment below and a way to reach you. Otherwise, see you on the diamond.

brookston-baseball

Beer In Ads #2210: Right Down Their Alley … A Mellow Glass Of Beer Or Ale!


Thursday’s ad is a trade ad, by the United States Brewing Industry Foundation, from 1941. After prohibition ended, the industry started doing PSA-type ads in an attempt to create goodwill for beer and brewers. They would later go on to do a fairly sophisticated series of ads between 1946 and 1956, known unofficially as Beer Belongs. Officially, they were “The Home Life in America” series, consisting of 120 ads, with a new ad running in major periodicals each month. Last year, for my Beer in Ads series, I featured every one of them. But in the years before that, the U.S. Brewing Industry Foundation (a precursor to the original Brewer’s Association) dabbled with a variety of similar ads promoting the industry as a whole. These were especially popular during World War 2, and in fact they even won an award from the government for some of these ads. Most of the ads were black and white, although a few were in color, though usually in a minimal way, with a few colors accented rather than being in full color.

In this ad, some affluent young men and women are enjoying an evening of bowling, a popular pastime in the 1950s. And apparently, “beer and bowling” is as perfect a pairing as “ham and eggs,” “hot dogs and mustard,” or “Thanksgiving and mince pie.” Personally, I don’t think mince pie goes with anything. But I do agree that “Beer belongs so definitely with your hours of relaxation.”

USBF-1941-bowling

Historic Beer Birthday: Frederick C. Miller

miller-old
Today is the birthday of Frederick C. Miller (February 26, 1906–December 17, 1954). Fred was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “the son of Carl A. Miller of Germany, and Clara Miller (no relation), a daughter of Miller Brewing Company founder Frederick Miller.

1954-Fred-C.-Miller

Succeeding his younger cousin Harry John (1919–1992), Miller became the president of the family brewing company in 1947 at age 41 and had a major role in bringing Major League Baseball to Wisconsin, moving the Braves from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953. He coaxed Lou Perini into moving them into the new County Stadium and the Braves later played in consecutive World Series in 1957 and 1958, both against the New York Yankees. Both series went the full seven games with Milwaukee winning the former and New York the latter.

Fred-Miller-with-Warren-Spahn-Courtesy-of-David-Klug

Fred Miller was also notably a college football player, an All-American tackle under head coach Knute Rockne at the University of Notre Dame, posthumously elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985. He later served as an unpaid assistant coach for the Irish, flying in from Milwaukee several times a week.

fred-miller-fb

He also “volunteered as a coach for the Green Bay Packers and, during a difficult financial period, even helped fund the team. Miller Brewing remains the largest stockholder of the Green Bay Packers,” which probably explains why they played half of their home games in Milwaukee before Lambeau Field was refurbished.

miller-chof

Here’s his biography from the College Football Hall of Fame:

A native of Milwaukee, Fred Miller was the grandson of the founder of the Miller Brewing Company. The qualities which later made Fred a great business executive were already evident when he entered Notre Dame in 1925, and they were quickly recognized by the immortal Knute Rockne. It was under Rockne’s tutelage that the 6-1, 195-pounder came to his gridiron peak, earning All-America mention in 1927, and again in 1928, and achieving the ultimate Notre Dame football honor by being named captain of the 1928 team. His quest for perfection was not limited to the gridiron. During his years at Notre Dame he coupled athletic prowess with academic proficiency and established the highest scholastic average of any monogram winner. Miller was involved in real estate, lumber, and investments before becoming president of the Miller Brewing Company. In 1954, he and his son, Fred Jr., were killed in an airplane crash. Miller was 48 years old. He was survived by his wife, six daughters and a son.

fred-miller-stadium
Miller at Milwaukee’s County stadium, where he helped moved the Boston Braves to in 1953, along with paying $75,000 for the County Stadium scoreboard in the background.

But beyond his sports accomplishments, he was an effective leader of his family’s brewery, as detailed by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in Remembering Frederick C. Miller, Milwaukee brewing’s 1st rock star:

Frederick C. Miller was the first brewery rock star.

Industry types praised Miller in the 1940s and early ’50s in the same way they gush over leading craft brewers today.

Frederick J. Miller was the builder of the brewery that is marking its 160th anniversary this year. Frederick’s son, Ernest, who took over after his father’s death, was a caretaker for the brewery keeping the status quo.

But Frederick C. Miller, part of the focus of a monthlong celebration of the company’s history that wrapped up last weekend, was the innovator who sparked new relationships, new buildings, put new ideas in motion and marched the family brewery past regional dominance to become the nation’s fifth-ranked brewery.

When you sip a beer at Miller Park or Lambeau Field it’s because of Fred C. He identified the relationship between beer and sports, and ran with it like the all-American football player he was.

“Fred was iconic,” said David S. Ryder, MillerCoors vice president for brewing, research, innovation and quality. “He was named as president of Miller Brewing in 1947, and from the day that he was named president, Miller Brewing started to grow.”

Frederick C. died when his plane crashed on takeoff at what is now Mitchell International Airport on Dec. 17, 1954. He was 48. His son Fred Jr., 20, and two pilots on the Miller Brewing payroll were killed on impact in the crash; Frederick C. was thrown clear of the crash but died hours later in the hospital.

A crowd of 3,000 mourners attended the funeral services, and the overflow was described by The Milwaukee Journal as “everyday folks — men in overalls and other rough work clothes, mothers carrying babies, young people and old.”

During Frederick C.’s time, Miller’s brewery expanded and sales grew from 653,000 barrels in 1947 to more than 3 million in 1952. He added buildings, including a new brewhouse and a new office building. He turned the former ice caves into The Caves Museum, a place where brewers could assemble for lunch or special occasions.

Liberace, a West Allis native, cut the ribbon for The Caves in 1953, according to John Gurda’s book “Miller Time: A History of Miller Brewing Company.”

Miller-airplane

Here’s a newspaper account of the tragic death of Fred and his son in 1954.

Miller-sportsman-dies

1949-Miller-tops-1-million-barrels

And lastly, here’s some interesting speculation from my friend, historian Maureen Ogle, that Miller Brewing might have done considerably better against their rival, Anheuser-Busch, if Fred Miller had not died prematurely in that place crash when he was only 48 years old.

It’s rare that the presence or absence of one person makes a historical difference (I said “rare,” not impossible). But I think that the death of Fred C. Miller in 1954 altered the course of American brewing. Miller was aggressive, ambitious, smart — all on a grand scale. He was the first beermaker to come along in decades who showed the potential to go head-to-head with the Busch family, particularly Gus Busch, who ran A-B from the late 1940s until the mid-1970s.

Miller became company president in 1947, and over the next few years, he shoved, pushed, prodded, and otherwise steered his family’s brewing company not-much-of-anything into the ranks of the top ten. But in late 1954, he died (in a plane crash) — and Miller Brewing lost its way.

As Miller faltered, A-B solidified its position as the dominant player in American brewing. Had Fred Miller not died, I believe the course of American brewing would have turned out differently: Fred Miller would have transformed his family’s company into a formidable powerhouse. He would have challenged A-B’s dominance. He would have been able to command-and-direct in a way that, for example, Bob Uihlein was not able to do at Schlitz during the same period.

Put another way, in the 1950s, Gus Busch met his match in Fred C. Miller. Things might have turned out differently had Miller lived

I can’t prove that, of course, but hey — what’s all that research good for if I can’t express an informed opinion.

And lastly, the Wisconsin Business Hall of Fame created a short video of Miller’s life that’s a nice over view of him.