Today is the birthday of Leopold F. Schmidt (January 23, 1846-September 24, 1914) who founded the Olympia Brewing Co. in Tumwater, Washington in 1896. Although it was originally called the Capital Brewing Company, but changed it in 1902 to reflect its flagship Olympia Beer, and also began using the slogan “It’s the Water.”
Gary Flynn from Brewery Gems has the best biography of Schmidt. He also has a shorter piece about Schmidt’s first brewery in Montana, the Centennial Brewing Co., which he sold in 1896, before moving to Washington to scout locations for his next venture. He settled on Tumwater, and built a brewery “at Tumwater Falls on the Deschutes River, near the south end of Puget Sound. He built a four-story wooden brewhouse, a five-story cellar building, a one-story ice factory powered by the lower falls, and a bottling and keg plant and in 1896, began brewing and selling Olympia Beer.”
The Schmidt House, set high on a wooded bluff at the mouth of the Deschutes River, was built at the turn of the 20th Century for local brewery owner Leopold Schmidt and his wife Johanna. Mr. Schmidt already owned a successful brewing operation in Montana when a business trip first brought him to the Tumwater area in the early 1890s. Discovering that the artesian springs here were perfect for brewing beer, Schmidt sold his Montana holdings and built a new brewery at the foot of Tumwater Falls which shipped its first beer in 1896.
At first the Schmidt’s moved into an existing house on the slope above the brewery, a home that the family affectionately nicknamed “Hillside Inn.” As his brewing business prospered, Mr. Schmidt began planning a larger, more elegant residence that would stand at the top of the hill. In 1904 the couple moved into the new house with their daughter, the youngest of six children. Their five sons continued to live at Hillside Inn and work in the family business. For reasons lost to posterity, the Schmidt’s called the new house “Three Meter.”
Leopold and his wife Johanna, posing with their six children in a portrait taken in the late 1890s.
Another portrait of Leopold Schmidt.
Here’s more on Olympia, again from Flynn:
In October 1896, after issuing $125,000 in capital stock, he established the Capital Brewing Company, nucleus of what would become the highly successful Olympia Brewing Company. The brewery was an unqualified success, its product outselling competing beers from Seattle and Tacoma. The pure artesian water and Schmidt’s brewing skills were a perfect match. The enterprise steadily grew in production in the following years, reaching peak production of 100,000 barrels of beer in 1914, just in time for statewide prohibition. This not only shut down the Olympia plant but also the other two plants in the state, the Bellingham Bay Brewery and the Port Townsend Brewery. Oregon also voted to go “dry” in 1914, five years before national prohibition, which ended the Salem Brewery Association. Only the two Acme Brewery plants in San Francisco were spared, albeit temporarily.
After prohibition was repealed, Leopold’s son Peter Schmidt ordered the construction of larger brewery buildings upriver from the 1906 building, rather than repurchasing and retrofitting the aging structure.
Olympia’s brewery in 1933.
There’s quite a lot on the history of Olympia Brewing, and here are a few good sources. The Cooperpoint Journal has Water to Beer: A Timeline of Industry and Drinking and the Seattle Weekly wrote Olympia Beer: The Water and the History. But Brewery Gems again has a thorough History of the Olympia Brewing Company, and the Olympia Tumwater Foundation had a concise history. Even cooler, the Foundation has some great old photos online, in Images of the Old Brewhouse : A Pictorial Exhibit from the Archives of the Olympia Tumwater Foundation.