Historic Beer Birthday: Gottlieb Heileman

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Today is the birthday of Gottlieb Heileman (January 6, 1824-February 19, 1878). He was born “in Kirchheim unter Teck, Württemberg, Germany” and the founder of the G. Heileman Brewing Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1858

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Here’s how the brewery was described in “100 Years of Brewing,” published in 1903.

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And here’s a biography from Find-a-Grave:

Brewer. He founded the brewery that became the huge G. Heileman Brewing Co. Born in Kirchheim, Wurttemberg (Germany), he emigrated to the USA in 1852, working first in Philadelphia and then went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1853 where he helped Gottlieb Maier found a bakery. In 1857 he moved to La Crosse and was employed in Nicolai brewery and the C&J Michel Brewery until he formed a partnership with Johan Gund in 1858 and they established the City Brewing Co. He became sole owner in 1872 upon Gund’s retirement when production had increased to 3,000 from 500 barrels in 1860; then renamed the firm the G. Heileman Brewing Co. When Heileman died in 1878 his wife assumed ownership becoming the first chief executive of a brewery in the nation. By 1881 production increased to over 7,100 barrels. The commitment to quality paid off well and by 1902 over 160,000 barrels were brewed annually. In 1890 the sole proprietorship was incorporated making his widow, Johanna, one of the first female presidents of a corporation; she remained active until her death in 1917. Until the 1880’s, the brewery sold its beer in oak kegs but began selling in glass bottles for home consumption; as a result, production tripled in the years between 1902, when “Old Style Lager” was introduced, and 1912. Prohibition in 1920 caused the brewery to temporarily switch production to near beer, sodas and malt extract. With Repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the brewery was swamped with beer orders, recapitalized as a public company and by 1953 produced over one-half million barrels of beer. In 1959, G. Heileman Brewing Company began acquiring breweries around the country including Blatz (1969) and Schlitz (1981) and culminated with total production exceeding 17 million barrels of beer annually including 5 million barrels at the La Crosse brewery. The company was acquired by Bond Corporation of Australia in 1987. Subsequently ownership changed hands a number of times until its name and brands, but not its breweries, were sold to Pabst Brewing Company in 1999. Coming full circle to the original 1858 name, former employees and investors acquired the Lacrosse brewing facilities, returned to the City Brewery name and again use Heileman’s 1870 residence on Third Street, directly across from the original brewery, as headquarters. The largest brewery in the United States not owned by industry leaders Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors, its capacity is 5 million barrels annually.

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The G, Heileman Brewery in 1889.

Here’s a much more thorough account of not only Heileman, but also his wife and business partner, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship, entitled The Best of Partners – The Best of Rivals: Gottlieb Heileman, John Gund, and the Rise of the La Crosse Brewing Industry:

The G. Heileman Brewing Company achieved national recognition in the 1960s and 1970s when it aggressively acquired a number of well-known breweries and brands including the Blatz Brewing Company, the Rainier Brewery in Seattle, and the Grain Belt brand (now owned by August Schell Brewing Company). For much of its existence, however, the La Crosse, Wisconsin, firm operated in a conservative manner by brewing for local and regional markets only. This business strategy reflected the vision of one of the firm’s German founders, Gottlieb Heileman (born January 6, 1824, in Kirchheim unter Teck, Kingdom of Württemberg; died February 19, 1878, in La Crosse, Wisconsin), who was content to grow the firm slowly and focus on quality over quantity. John Gund (born October 3, 1830, in Schwetzingen, Grand Duchy of Baden; died May 7, 1910, in La Crosse, Wisconsin), the firm’s co-founder, eventually decided that Heileman’s business practices were too restrictive and ended the partnership in 1872 in order to build a new brewery in La Crosse that could compete with cross-state rivals such as Pabst, Schlitz, and Miller. The G. Heileman Brewing Company and the John Gund Brewing Company continued to pursue separate business strategies until national Prohibition was implemented fully in 1920. Gund’s large brewery collapsed, whereas Heileman’s smaller firm subsisted by producing non-alcoholic beer and malt products until the Twenty-First Amendment was passed in 1933.

Gund’s and Heileman’s different approaches to brewing in the post-Civil War era illustrate the diversity of business strategies employed by brewers during this period. Not all ambitious German immigrant brewers sought to create national – or even large regional – shipping breweries as did the Schlitz-Uihlein family, Adolphus Busch, and a number of other German immigrant brewers. Instead, some focused on serving local and regional markets and utilized technological advances such as artificial refrigeration and pasteurization to refine their products rather than expand their markets and market share. Furthermore, following Heileman’s death in 1878, his wife, Johanna (born August 31, 1831, in the Kingdom of Württemberg; died January 5, 1917, in La Crosse, Wisconsin), served as one of the firm’s main officers until her death in 1917. As the first known female head of a brewery in the United States and as one of the first female corporate executives in any business sector, Johanna Heileman (née Bandel) put her own unique stamp on the firm founded by her husband and his business partner.

John Gund’s vision of La Crosse emerging as the brewing center of the Midwest did not come to pass, but the city’s breweries did briefly outproduce their rivals in Milwaukee during the mid-1880s. This demonstrates that Milwaukee’s emergence as the preeminent brewing center of the Midwest was far from inevitable, and, instead, was contingent on a variety of historical factors that set it apart from other Midwestern brewery cities such as La Crosse, Minneapolis, and Duluth.

Gottlieb Heileman, Johanna Heileman, and John Gund each contributed to the development of the brewing industry in La Crosse, and any study of the G. Heileman Brewing Company’s early history must take into account the commercial, social, and cultural milieu that influenced these three immigrant entrepreneurs’ decision-making after they settled in the United States in the 1850s. Their success partially reflected the growing strength of the American brewing industry after the Civil War – made possible by the waves of German settlers who arrived in the U.S. during the mid- to late nineteenth century and who served as both producers and consumers of lager beer and other malt beverages. Nevertheless, the Heilemans and Gund were ultimately responsible for their individual successes and failures during this era as this study will demonstrate.

Family and Ethnic Background

Gottlieb Heileman (originally Gottlieb Heilemann), Johanna Bandel, and John Gund (originally Johann Gund) all hailed from the southwestern German lands. Gottlieb Heileman was one of eight children born to Caspar and Frederika Heilemann (née Meyer). He was born on January 6, 1824, in Kirchheim unter Teck, a small upland community southeast of Stuttgart in the Kingdom of Württemberg. Johanna Bandel, who also hailed from Württemberg, was born to Johann Ludwig and Kathrina Bandel (née Sigel) on August 31, 1831. She had a number of brothers who later immigrated to the United States. John Gund, on the other hand, was born approximately seventy-five miles northwest of Kirchheim in the community of Schwetzingen in the Grand Duchy of Baden on October 3, 1830. Schwetzingen lay in the rich, alluvial farmland between the Rhine and Neckar Rivers approximately six miles southwest of Heidelberg. Gund was the second of eight children born to Georg Michael and Sophia Elizabeth Gund (née Eder or Edes).

Both Heileman and Gund came from established families within their respective communities. Heileman’s father and maternal grandfather were bakers and Gottlieb Heileman received training as a baker and brewer during his youth. Gund’s father was a farmer who grew hops and tobacco, but John Gund served a two-year apprenticeship as a cooper and brewer following the end of his common school education at age fifteen. He worked an additional year as a journeyman brewer after his apprenticeship ended. The two men immigrated to the United States within four years of each other. Gund arrived in New York City in May 1848 at the age of eighteen, having traveled from Schwetzingen down the Rhine River to Rotterdam and then on to Le Havre and New York. Heileman reached Philadelphia in 1852 at the age of twenty-eight. Johanna Bandel settled in New York City in either 1852 or 1855 at the age of either twenty-one or twenty-four, respectively, and lived with her brothers for a number of years.

All three Germans followed a similar migration trajectory and made their way westward to Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin during the 1850s along with tens of thousands of other German immigrants, primarily from Baden, Württemberg, and the Palatinate. Gund’s parents settled in Freeport, Illinois, in the northwestern part of the state. John Gund found employment sixty miles to the west in Dubuque, Iowa, a commercial center situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River. He worked in a brewery operated by a German named Anton Heeb for two years. In June 1850, he relocated to nearby Galena, Illinois, to operate a brewery with a German named Witzel, possibly twenty-year-old Sebastian Witzel, who may have been an old friend. John Gund’s parents died of cholera the following month. After less than a year, he sold his share in the Galena brewery operation and rented another brewery in the community, known as the Cedar Brewery. About this time, he married fellow German immigrant Louise Hottman, a resident of Galena, with whom he eventually had five children. Two years after renting the Cedar Brewery, Gund decided to relocate to a larger and more prosperous community that would provide a better market for his beer. He and his wife moved approximately 180 miles northwest to the Mississippi River settlement of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

La Crosse had a population of approximately 2,000 residents in the mid-1850s. Situated on the east bank of the Mississippi River, the community had experienced rapid growth during the 1850s as settlers arrived to take advantage of the surrounding farmland and forests. The lumber industry flourished, facilitated by the community’s access to steamboats that plied the Mississippi River from St. Paul down to St. Louis and New Orleans. The city was incorporated in 1856 and benefitted further when a cross-state railroad connection was completed between La Crosse and Milwaukee in 1858

John Gund founded a brewery in La Crosse in August 1854. The small operation was located in a log cabin near the community’s waterfront. A number of other German immigrants founded breweries in the city in the months and years that followed. Gustavus Nicolai and Jacob Franz founded the Nicolai Brewery shortly after Gund founded his brewery. Due to production problems with Gund’s initial batch of beer, Nicolai and Franz were first to bring their beer to market. Charles and John Michel founded the La Crosse Brewery in 1857 after a failed attempt to strike it rich in the California gold fields in the early 1850s. After returning from the West Coast, they attempted to settle in Chicago but soon grew to dislike the community and made their way north to St. Paul. Ice on the Mississippi delayed their river journey and they eventually settled in La Crosse instead. After noting that existing breweries in the community could not meet local demand, they founded their own brewery.

Gottlieb Heileman reached La Crosse via Milwaukee the same year that the Nicolai brothers arrived in the city. He had worked for a year in Philadelphia after arriving in 1852. He then moved west to Milwaukee around 1854 and established a bakery with Gottlieb Maier in March 1856. The two men took out a $2,550 (approximately $70,000 in 2011$), three-year mortgage on the property, but paid off the balance within a year. Heileman was apparently less interested in baking than brewing, because he sold his share in the bakery for $1,525 (approximately $40,500 in 2011$) and moved west to La Crosse in October 1857. He found employment briefly as a foreman in the Nicolai Brewery but lost his job when Nicolai and Franz ended their partnership shortly thereafter. Heileman found a new position in the Michel brother’s La Crosse Brewery. In June 1858, he married Johanna Bandel, whom he had met during his three-year stay in Milwaukee. She had worked as a domestic servant in the midwestern city after leaving New York. Gottlieb Helieman returned to La Crosse with his bride and soon entered a new phase in his professional brewing career.

Business Development

Gottlieb Heileman and John Gund formed a partnership in November 1858 to operate the City Brewery in La Crosse. Their timing was propitious since the city of La Crosse continued to experience significant population growth, particularly among Northern European settlers, and the first outside railway connection had been completed to Milwaukee the previous month. The structures comprising the City Brewery were constructed at 1018 South Third Street. The location was south of the city’s commercial center near the Mississippi River waterfront. Early production figures for the brewery were modest. During the first decade of operation, production averaged around 500 barrels of lager beer per year (approximately 15,750 gallons). Originally, lager beer production had been limited to the winter months, but during the 1860s local brewers began using ice harvested from the Mississippi River to chill the beer during the critical lagering stage, which could last between six to eight weeks and produced a translucent and highly-carbonated final product. Heileman and Gund produced beer primarily for the local market and sold casks to hotels, taverns, and occasionally individuals. The partners constructed a hotel in downtown La Crosse in 1867 and named it the International Hotel. The facility likely offered an additional source of income for the partners and also provided a venue in which to sell their beer.

After nearly fifteen years in business together, Heileman and Gund dissolved their partnership in 1872. Heileman seems to have been content brewing beer primarily for the local market and this was reflected in the brewery’s modest output of approximately 3,000 barrels per year by the 1870s. By comparison, Eberhardt Anheuser and Adolphus Busch’s Bavarian Brewery in St. Louis produced approximately 100,000 barrels of beer per year during the same decade and the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee produced 121,000 barrels annually. John Gund was far more ambitious than his partner and wished to establish La Crosse as a major center of brewing that would rival Milwaukee and St. Louis. Supposedly, the partners flipped a coin to determine which partner would receive the brewery and which would receive the International Hotel. Heileman won the City Brewery and Gund gained control of the hotel.

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The G. Heileman Brewing Company

Gottlieb Heileman continued operating the City Brewery, now renamed the G. Heileman Brewing Company, following John Gund’s departure in 1872. The firm continued to produce a moderate volume of beer for local and regional consumption through the decade. Heileman died young in February 1878 at the age of fifty-four. Since his son, Henry, was only ten years old at the time, control of the enterprise passed to his forty-six-year-old widow, Johanna. She was assisted by Reinhard Wäcker (sometimes spelled Reinhart Wicker), who served as brewery foreman and dealt with technical matters. As president of the enterprise, Johanna Heileman became the first female head of a brewery in the United States, and after the business was incorporated in 1890, possibly the first female corporate executive in the nation. Of note, on the 1880 federal census, she listed her occupation as “keeping house,” whereas on the 1900 census she listed it as “owner of brewery.”

Other members of the Heileman family also participated in managing the business during the 1880s and 1890s. Emil Traugott Mueller, the husband of Johanna Heileman’s eldest daughter, Louisa, was hired in 1884 as a bookkeeper and assistant manager. As an adult, Henry Heileman served as vice president and assistant manager of the firm until his death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1895 at the age of twenty-six.

Under Johanna Heileman’s oversight, the G. Heileman Brewing Company gradually expanded its production and market reach. In 1880, the brewery produced 7,170 barrels of beer, which put it in a distant third place compared to the Gund Brewing Company and the Michel brother’s La Crosse Brewery. Five years later, the brewery produced 12,000 barrels and employed roughly thirty-five men. The firm produced a number of different beers during this period including a Vienna lager and a dark lager named Hofbrau. They also began bottling beer for regional distribution. They opened their first distribution agency in Glencoe, Minnesota, a city approximately fifty miles west of Minneapolis in 1885 and gradually expanded their reach to the Dakotas and Illinois over the next two decades. The firm also established tied houses, taverns that sold Heileman beer exclusively (i.e. they were tied to a particular producer), in various cities. One was located in downtown La Crosse and another was situated approximately thirty miles east in Cashton, Wisconsin.

The firm sought to maintain good relations with the other breweries in the community and avoid ruinous price wars. In May 1898, the major breweries of La Crosse, including Heileman, Gund, Michel, and a number of smaller facilities agreed to establish uniform prices for kegged and bottled beer. They set the rate for kegged beer at eight dollars per barrel (approximately $224 per barrel in 2011$). For bottled beer, the rate was $2.20 for two dozen quarts of export-strength lager and $1.90 for two dozen quarts of regular-strength lager. At the same time, Heileman and three other La Crosse breweries began quietly investigating the possibility of forming a trust in order to compete against Gund locally and the major Milwaukee shipping breweries regionally. The impetus for the proposed trust was Chicago accountant Otto W. Heibig. After overseeing the installation of brewing equipment at the Gund Brewery following the destructive 1897 fire, Heibig grew interested in pooling the financial resources and physical plants of the other La Crosse breweries. Heibig estimated a combined value for the Heileman, Michel, Franz Bartl, and Zeisler breweries at $930,000 (approximately $26 million dollars in 2011$). In September 1900, the brewers and Heibig filed incorporation papers for the La Crosse Brewing Company and prepared to offer $700,000 in capital stock and $500,000 in bonds. They proposed constructing a new brewery with the capacity to produce 400,000 barrels annually, which was twice Gund’s output of approximately 200,000 barrels per year. Industrial architect Otto C. Wolf of Philadelphia designed the new brewery at a proposed cost of $300,000 (approximately $8.4 million dollars in 2011$). The existing breweries of the members of the trust would be adapted to other purposes with the Heileman facility being converted into a malting plant and the other breweries becoming storehouses and a dedicated ale brewery. Despite the great potential of the project, it never progressed beyond the planning stages. Shortly after the trust was incorporated in September 1900, a brewer in Cincinnati purchased the equipment intended for the proposed facility in La Crosse. The following January, the trust announced its new slate of corporate officers, which included Emil T. Mueller of the G. Heileman Brewing Company as treasurer. Little further action occurred over the next two years and eventually the trust collapsed in 1902, apparently due to resistance from officials at the Heileman Brewery.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, G. Heileman Brewing introduced their best-known beer brand and went through a reorganization. The firm had acquired the trademark for a light lager, Golden Leaf, from a Milwaukee brewery in 1899 and a year later introduced a new heavier lager, Old Times Lager. In 1902, they renamed the beer Old Style Lager following a complaint from another brewery producing a similarly named beer. They also ended production of Golden Leaf to free up capacity for Old Style, which the firm produced exclusively in bottled format, as it was intended for distribution to regional markets. Emil T. Mueller played a key role in promoting the beer brand extensively over the following decade. Johanna Heilemann and the other brewery executives also expanded the firm’s capitalization to $350,000 from the original capitalization of $75,000 and used the funds to increase production to approximately 175,000 barrels per year. The firm’s brewery workers organized themselves around the same time and the firm signed a contract with Local 81 of the International Brotherhood of Brewery Workers, thus avoiding labor conflict.

By the 1910s, Heileman was shipping cases of bottled Old Style Lager to thirty-four states and had entered the lucrative Chicago market with more than fifty saloons and a number of distribution agents. Firm president Johanna Heileman passed away in January 1917, setting in motion a gradual transition from family to professional management at the firm. Johanna Heileman’s son-in-law, Emil T. Mueller, assumed the presidency of the firm, a position he held until his death in 1929. After Mueller died, another son-in-law, George Zeisler Jr., took over as president of G. Heileman Brewing until 1933, when the firm was reincorporated and non-family members assumed the presidency and key positions on the board of directors.

Unlike Gund Brewing, Heileman weathered the storm of Prohibition. Rather than risk producing low alcohol beer in 1919 and 1920, the firm began brewing a new, non-alcoholic beer called New Style Lager in May 1919 when the Wartime Prohibition Act went into effect. Like other breweries around the nation, the firm also produced a variety of hopped malt syrups and extracts that could be used by home brewers to produce beer and a line of soft drinks. Such measures helped the firm eke out an existence during the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1931, a major fire destroyed a number of warehouses and nearly bankrupted the firm, since the brewery had not insured the structures. Brewery officials warned that the firm was unlikely to survive much longer given the prohibition on alcohol sales and the general business disruption caused by the Great Depression. Fortunately, the gradual repeal of Prohibition beginning on April 7, 1933, gave G. Heileman Brewing a second lease on life. In the weeks leading up to April 7, the firm began brewing 3.2 percent beer permitted under the repeal act around the clock and released truck- and trainloads of the beer shortly after midnight on the seventh. Demand was so great that the firm could not fill all its orders and was forced to return numerous checks uncashed. Following the firm’s reincorporation, professional managers sought to update the brewery’s physical plant, improve quality control, which had slipped during the 1930s and 1940s, and expand production and distribution. This process continued into the 1950s and 1960s.

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Personality and Social Standing

Both the Gund and Heileman families participated in the German institutions of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as well as in the local and regional brewing community. Little information survives about their specific involvement in the secular and religious institutions of La Crosse, but records show that John Gund’s eldest son, George, was a member of the local Turnverein in the 1870s. The physical education society had its origins in the post-Napoleonic German lands and was first introduced unsuccessfully to the United States in the 1820s. German 48rs reintroduced the Turner movement at the end of the 1840s and within a few years, Turner societies had emerged in major American cities with German populations. The La Crosse Turnverein was organized in October 1855 and John Gund granted the group permission to practice in the yard of his small brewery in 1856. They may have continued using the space through 1858, when Gund sold the property following his partnership with Heileman.

Gund and Heileman were members of the Lutheran Church and Heileman’s 1878 funeral at the local Lutheran church in La Crosse was considered to be one of the largest funerals in the history of the city to that date. More than 160 carriages belonging to mourners participated in the funeral procession from the church to the nearby Oak Grove Cemetery. Six prominent brewers in the community served as Heileman’s pallbearers, however, John Gund was not among them. This may have reflected lingering animosity between the former partners. When Gund died in 1910, members of the local Liederkranz Society, which was affiliated with the Turnverein as part of the local Deutscher Verein von La Crosse, attended his funeral along with members of the Brewer’s Union.

Politically, John Gund’s party affiliation reflected broader shifts in German immigrant political participation during the second half of the nineteenth century. He supported the Whig ticket shortly after his arrival in the United States and voted Republican in the 1860s and 1870s, but his allegiance shifted to the Democratic Party in his later years. This may have been linked to the Democrats’ opposition to the growing prohibitionist movement in the United States and the support they enjoyed from populist, agrarian elements in Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. No information exists on Gottlieb Heileman’s political views.

Networks

Members of both families were active in professional and personal networks of largely German-American composition both at the local and national levels. These networks often overlapped, particularly in the case of marriage. John Gund’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Louisa, married La Crosse brewer Charles Michel in 1872. This cemented a bond between the two families who operated the largest and second largest breweries in La Crosse, respectively, throughout the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Similarly, Gottlieb and Johanna Heileman’s daughters married men who would later play key roles in the management of their family firm in the twentieth century.

Family members also participated in professional associations related to the brewing industry. The Heileman family joined the United States Brewers’ Association in 1886 and members of the Gund family participated in the association’s lobbying efforts on behalf of the American brewing industry. The Heileman’s son-in-law, Emil T. Mueller, served as secretary of the Personal Liberty League’s La Crosse chapter. Supported by the U.S. Brewer’s Association, the League lobbied against prohibitionist policies at the local and state levels and worked to protect the business interests of breweries in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Lastly, family members were active in local civic associations and enterprises in La Crosse. John Gund’s eldest son, George, served on the city’s Board of Trade as its first treasurer. Later, he was selected as president of the La Crosse Baseball Association in the late 1880s. He was also among the original investors in the city’s Street Railway Company in 1879, a position that gave him influence over the city’s economic development.

Immigrant Entrepreneurship

John Gund and Gottlieb and Johanna Heileman participated in the introduction of European lager beer and German beer culture to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. They initially served kegged beer to a largely German local clientele. Advertisements for their products appeared in German in local periodicals such as the Nord Stern. Labels for their early bottled products also contained German phrases and in the Heileman’s case listed the producer as “Heilemann City Brauerei.” Over time, though, John Gund and later Johanna Heileman expanded the scope of their respective breweries’ operations in order to provide bottled beer to a broader, regional consumer market that was less directly tied to German ethnicity. Their success in the lucrative Chicago market through tied houses helped to make both Peerless and Old Style well known among regional beer brands, and their advertising and bottle art embraced European iconography but typically avoided explicitly German references.

John Gund and Gottlieb Heileman acquired knowledge and experience in German brewing practices through apprenticeships, and they brought this knowledge with them to the United States. Both men entered the brewing trade on a limited scale after they immigrated and settled in the Midwest. No evidence exists that either man received remittances from family members in the German lands, so they likely had to accumulate slowly the necessary capital in order to open their brewery in 1858. Gund worked in a number of breweries in Iowa and Illinois before moving to La Crosse. Similarly, Heileman worked as a baker in Milwaukee before gaining experience as a foreman at two breweries in La Crosse. Once the partners founded the City Brewery, they pursued a conservative business strategy and likely reinvested their profits in the operation. Rather than trying to grow the business quickly and expand into distant markets, they found plenty of consumers in La Crosse and its hinterlands during the 1860s and 1870s.

Gund returned to Germany in 1873, shortly after he ended his partnership with Heileman. The purpose of the visit was social, but it is likely that he also surveyed the brewing landscape in Germany and brought back knowledge with him that he employed in founding the John Gund Brewery. It is unknown if Heileman returned to German at any point before his death in 1878.

Conclusion

The firms founded by German immigrants John Gund and Gottlieb Heileman reflected the broader fate of the American brewing industry in the twentieth century. Like hundreds of other breweries, the John Gund Brewing Company did not survive Prohibition. The family shut down the operation and eventually sold off the firm’s assets piecemeal over the next two decades. G. Heileman Brewing survived the turmoil of Prohibition and its professional managers eventually determined that the firm had to expand or fall victim to industry consolidation in the 1960s. Consequently, the corporation purchased breweries across the nation during the 1970s, while also fending off challenges from the other major brewing firms of the era, including Pabst, Miller, and Anheuser-Busch. At the same time, publicly-traded Heileman stock became a target for speculators. The firm fended off hostile takeover attempts successfully in the 1980s, but eventually sunk into bankruptcy and was acquired by Stroh in 1996.

La Crosse, Wisconsin, failed to emerge as a major center of brewing comparable to Milwaukee. It simply lacked the population and financial resources of its cross-state rival. By the beginning of the 1960s, Heileman was the only brewery left in the city, whereas Milwaukee was home to major national shipping breweries including Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz. These firms had the financial resources that Heileman lacked and were better able to weather the storm of industry consolidation in the 1970s.

Over multiple generations, the Gund and Heileman families left their mark on the economic and physical landscape of La Crosse. Both Heileman and Gund’s names remain part of the city fabric. One of the old Gund Brewery buildings now houses loft apartments and the former G. Heileman Brewery is currently operated as a contract brewery for a number of brands. Surrounded by busy brewery buildings, Gottlieb and Johanna Heileman’s large brick home still reflects the conservative values of the company’s German immigrant founder.

John Gund and Gottlieb Heileman found success by selling beer to their fellow immigrants. Over time, this success translated into greater business opportunities. Though neither firm exists today, both left a legacy that is felt within the local La Crosse community and the national brewing industry.

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Historic Beer Birthday: Philipp Jung

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Today is the birthday of Philipp Jung (December 23, 1845–July 10, 1911). He was born “in Dorn-Assenheim, Hesse-Darmstadt, which today is a part of Reichelsheim in Wetteraukreis, Hesse, Germany,” but came to the U.S. when he was 25, in 1870. He came first to New York City, then Cincinnati before settling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Jung married Anna D. Best, daughter of the brewer Jacob Best, and they had six children.”

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Here’s a history of his career, from his Wikipedia page:

After his arrival in the United States, Jung was employed by Rogge and Feigenhaln Brewing Company in New York. He also worked as the maltster for the Foss, Schneider and Bremer Brewing Company in Cincinnati. After moving to Milwaukee in 1873, Jung became second foreman for the Phillip Best Brewing Company, then first foreman, and finally superintendent of the company’s south side plant. In 1879, he left Best to form a partnership with Ernst Borchert, founding the Jung & Borchert Brewing Company. In 1888 this became the Falk, Jung & Borchert Brewing Company in one of the earliest mergers involving Milwaukee breweries. The company became a rival to the Philip Best Brewery, which was operated by Frederick Pabst and later became the Pabst Brewing Company. Jung was considered “an important factor both as a manufacturer of large quantities and also as one who gave a distinctive quality to the goods sent out from his plant.”

In 1896, Jung purchased the Obermann Brewing Company at Fifth and Cherry Streets in Milwaukee, where he established The Jung Brewing Company. This firm grew and outlived its founder, finally closing because of Prohibition.

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The Falk, Jung & Borchert Brewing Company.

This biography is from 100 Years of Brewing, published in 1903.

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I think this is the Jung Brewing Co. employees, but it’s hard to tell. There were actually at least four Jung’s who brewed commercially in the U.S. One in Ohio, one in Texas, and two in Wisconsin. But seated in front, second from our left looks like Philipp’s mustache, so think this is the right one.

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Historic Beer Birthday: Peter Schreihart

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Today is the birthday of Peter Schreihart (December 21, 1825-<1916). This is an odd one, insofar as there are conflicting or accounts which are odds with one another, and I suspect there's some truth somewhere, I just don't know what that might be. Anyway, Peter Schreihart was probably born in Austria and may have founded the Schreihart Brewing Co., most likely along with his son John Schreihart, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in 1879. The confusion begins with his being mentioned in "The Brewers' Journal and Barley, Malt and Hop Trades' Reporter, and American Brewers' Gazette, consolidated, Volume 41," published on November 1, 1916.

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Part of this confusion stems from another mention in the “American Brewers’ Review, Volume 31,” from 1917, the year after the previous mention above.

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Note that Peter Schreihart is referred to as a “pioneer brewer” and “founder” in that blurb, but most accounts state that Peter’s son John Schreihart founded the Schreihart Brewing Co. Here’s one such account from the “History of Northern Wisconsin, containing an account of its settlement, growth, development, and resources; an extensive sketch of its counties, cities, towns and villages, their improvements, industries, manufactories; biographical sketches, portraits of prominent men and early settlers; views of county seats, etc.,” published in 1881 by the Western Historical Co., of Chicago:

Pautz’s Brewery was built in 1849, by Mr. Hottleman, he being the first to brew beer in the county. G. Kuntz purchased the brewery of him in 1865. Messrs. Fred. Pautz and John Schreihart became the owners in 1875. In November, 1878, the former purchased the interest of the latter, and is now conducting the business alone. The capacity of the brewery is about 1,600 barrels of beer per annum.

Schreiharts’s Brewery. In 1879, John Schreihart established himself in business, and is now conducting a brewery on Washington street. He has been brought up in the business and understands it.

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From what I can piece together about the brewery itself, it appears to have been built in 1849, and went through several name changes from the William Fricke Brewery, the Christian Fricke Brewery, and then the Carl Fricke Brewery. It seems to have been called by the latter name when Frederick Pautz and John Schreihart bought it in 1875, but it didn’t become the John Schreihart Brewery until he bought out Pautz in 1879. A few years later, in 1884 until the following year, it was known as the John Schreihart & George Kunz Brewery, presumably because Schreihart took on George Kunz as a partner. Then there’s a gap in the record, but by 1891 it was known as the Schreihart Brewing Co. until it was closed by prohibition in 1920. The building apparently lay dormant after repeal in 1933, but from 1937-1942 housed the Bleser Brewing Co., which I assume was because they leased or bought the building where the Schreihart had brewed.

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Historic Beer Birthday: Gustave Pabst

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Today is the birthday of Gustave Philip Gottlieb “Colonel” Pabst (November 25, 1866-May 29, 1943). He was the oldest son of Frederick Pabst, who founded the Pabst Brewing Co.. Along with his younger brother, Fred Jr., he was educated at a military academy and trained as a brewer at Arnold Schwarz’s United States Brewers’ Academy in New York. When his father dies in 1904, he assumed control of the brewery, becoming president of Pabst Brewing Co.

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Here’s his obituary, from the Chicago Tribune, published May 30, 1943:

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Colonel Pabst riding a horse with his granddaughter Elsa in 1937.

“Wisconsin, Its Story and Biography 1848-1913,” by Ellis Baker Usher, is mostly about Frederick Pabst, but includes a couple of paragraphs on his son Gustave:

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Frederick, his son Gustave and an unnamed infant.

Pabst Brewery

Historic Beer Birthday: Frederick Miller

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Today is the birthday of Frederick Edward John Miller (November 24, 1824-May 11, 1888). He was originally born as Friedrich Eduard Johannes Müller in Württemberg, Germany. He learned the brewing business in Germany at Sigmaringen, and moved the U.S. to found the Miller Brewing Company by buying the Plank Road Brewery in 1855, when he was 31. For a time it was known as the Fred Miller Brewing Co., but later dropped Fred’s name to become the Miller Brewing Co.

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Here’s a short biography of Miller:

Born in Germany in 1824, Frederick Miller learned the art of brewing from his uncle in France. After working through the ranks of his uncle’s brewery, Miller leased the royal Hohenzollern brewery at Sigmaringen, Germany, and brewed beer under a royal license until political unrest caused him to emigrate to the United States in 1854. Miller arrived in Milwaukee in 1855 and purchased the Plank-Road Brewery, located several miles west of the city. Miller led the company for thirty-five years, pursuing a policy of aggressive expansion and modernization. After his death in 1888, Miller’s sons took over management of the company.

c.-1870-Plank-Road-Brewery
The Plank Road Brewery around 1870.

Here’s his obituary, from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries:

Miller, Fredrick Edward John, November 24, 1824 – June 11,1888, Began Miller Brewing Company in Milwaukee, WI, the second largest brewer in the United States. Fredrick Miller came from a family composed of German politicians, scholars and business owners. He began to learn the craft of brewing beer in Germany. At the age of 14, Miller was sent to France for seven years to study Latin, French and English. While residing in Europe, he visited his uncle in Nancy, France. His uncle was a brewer and Fredrick Miller decided to continue to learn the business of brewing.
Fredrick Miller came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1855. He brought his passion for beer and business expertise with him. With $8,000 in gold from Germany, Miller opened the Plank Road Brewery, a brewery originally started by Fredrick Charles Best that was abandoned in 1854.

Fredrick Miller was married to Josephine Miller on June 7, 1853, before they immigrated to America. Josephine and Fredrick Miller had six children together. Most of the children died during infancy. In April 1860, Josephine died. She left Fredrick with 2-year-old daughter, Louisa. When Louisa was 16, she too died of tuberculosis.

Miller was remarried in 1860 to Lisette Gross and they had several children who also died during infancy and five who survived: Ernst, Emil, Fred, Clara and Elise.

When Fredrick Miller brewed his first barrel of beer in America, he spoke passionately about “Quality, Uncompromising and Unchanging.” It was his slogan, mission and vision for the company. His statement and vision still lives on today.

Through the Great Depression, Prohibition, and two World Wars, Miller Brewing Company has preserved and grown.

Fredrick Miller died of cancer on June 11, 1888; interment in Cavalry Cemetery, Wauwatosa, WI.

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This account of the early Miller brewery is from Encyclopedia.com:

Between the establishment of the Miller Brewing Company in 1855 and the death of its founder in 1888, the firm’s annual productive capacity increased from 300 barrels to 80,000 barrels of beer. This impressive growth has continued to the present day: Miller now operates six breweries, five can manufacturing plants, four distributorships, a glass bottle production facility, a label and fiberboard factory, and numerous gas wells. Beginning with a staff of 25, Miller now employs about 9,500 people. The company currently produces more than 40 million barrels of beer per year and is the second largest brewery in the United States.

The founder of the Miller Brewing Company, Frederick Miller, was born in Germany in 1824. As a young man he worked in the Royal Brewing Company at Sigmaringen, Hohenzollern. In 1850, at the age of 26, he emigrated to the United States. Miller wanted to start his own brewery and regarded Milwaukee as the most promising site, probably because of the large number of beer-drinking Germans living there.

In 1855 Miller bought the Plank Road Brewery from Charles Lorenz Best and his father. These two men had been slow to modernize their operation, but Miller’s innovative techniques made him successful, indeed famous, in the brewing industry. The Bests had started a “cave-system” which provided storage for beer in a cool undisturbed place for several months after brewing. Yet these caves were small and in poor condition. Miller improved upon the Best’s system: his caves were built of brick, totaled 600 feet of tunnel, and had a capacity of 12,000 barrels. Miller used these until 1906 when, due to the company’s expansion and the availability of more modern technology, refrigerator facilities were built.

After his death, Miller’s sons Ernest, Emil, and Frederick A., along with their brother-in-law Carl, assumed control of the operation which was incorporated as the Frederick Miller Brewing Company. By 1919 production had increased to 500,000 barrels, but it was halted shortly thereafter by the enactment of Prohibition. The company managed to survive by producing cereal beverages, soft drinks, and malt-related products.

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Finally, this account is from a brochure prepared by the Communications Department, Corporate Affairs Division, Miller Brewing Co., in the Fall of 1991:

When Frederick Miller brewed his first barrel of beer in America in 1855, he spoke empassionately about “Quality, Uncompromising and Unchanging.” It became his slogan, his vision, his mission for the company. The statement lived then as now in the dedicated commitment of employees.

Miller did more than speak his vision. He lived it. Both in the way he operated his business and in the way he handled his personal triumphs and tragedies, Miller was steadfast in his zeal for true excellence.

A glimpse into the life of Frederick Miller is presented in this brief history, which also includes some highlights of the company over the years. While this presentation is by no means comprehensive, it provides a good overview of the founder’s life and the heritage of the Miller Brewing Company.

He dressed and acted like a Frenchman, but his “confoundedly good glass of beer” won the respect of the German community of early Milwaukee. Tall and spare, Frederick Edward John Miller had a long face with a high forehead and short, Parisian beard. Born November 24, 1824, the man destined to found the Miler Brewing Company hailed from a family of German politicians, scholars and business owners and reportedly received $3,000 annually from an ancestral estate in Riedlingen, Germany.

At the age of 14, he was sent to France for seven years of study, including Latin, French and English. After his graduation, he toured France, Italy, Switzerland and Algiers. On his way back to Germany, he visited his uncle — a brewer — in Nancy, France. He decided to stay and learn the business.

MillerFrederick

Working through the various departments of his uncle’s brewery, and supplementing the experience thus gained with the fruits of observation during visits to various beer-producing cities of Germany, he leased the royal brewery (of the Hohenzollerns) at Sigmaringen, Germany,” according to the 1914 edition of the Evening Wisconsin Newspaper Reference Book. Miller brewed beer under a royal license that read, “By gracious permission of his highness.”

On June 7, 1853, he married Josephine Miller at Friedrichshafen. About a year later, their first son, Joseph Edward, was born. In 1854, with Germany in the throes of political unrest and growing restrictions, the Millers and their infant son emigrated to the United States. They brought with them $9,000 in gold — believed to be partially gifts from Miller’s mother and his wife’s dowry, but “mostly from the fruits of his own labor,” a 1955 research account indicated. An undocumented story said the money was from a royal gift, but the 1955 researcher deemed that account unlikely because of the lack of records to prove it.

After spending a year based in New York City and inspecting various parts of the country by river and lake steamer, Miller traveled up the Mississippi to Prairie du Chien and traveled overland to Milwaukee. According to another old tale, Miller slept on a sack of meal on deck while waiting for a berth to open on the riverboat.

“He found out in the morning that the place had been vacated by a man who had just died of cholera. Miller rushed to the steward, got a bottle of whiskey and swallowed it at a single tilt. He lived in fear for a week, but he didn’t get cholera,” according to a story found in the Milwaukee County Historical Society archives. The same story said that, upon arriving in Milwaukee, Miller remarked: “A town with a magnificent harbor like that has a great future in store.”

Shortly after he arrived in Milwaukee, Frederick Miller paid $8,000 for the Plank-Road Brewery — a five-year — old brewery started by Frederick Charles Best and abandoned in 1854. Miller became a brewery owner in an era when beer sold for about $5 per barrel in the Milwaukee area and for three to five cents a glass at the city’s taverns. The Plank-Road Brewery — now the Milwaukee Brewery — was several miles west of Milwaukee in the Menomonee Valley. It proved ideal for its nearness to a good water source and to raw materials grown on surrounding farms.

Another story said that, on his first day at the plant, Miller “took a brief interlude from work and killed a black bear that had poked its nose out of the bushes across the road from the brewery.”

Because the brewery site was so far from town, Miller opened a boarding house next to the brew house for his unmarried employees. The workers ate their meals in the family house, at the top of the hill overlooking the brewery. Their annual wages ranged from $480 to $1,300, plus meals and lodging.

In an 1879 letter to relatives in Germany, Miller described the meals of the employees, who began work at 4 a.m.: “Breakfast for single men (married men eat with their families) at 6 o’clock in the morning consists of coffee and bread, beef steak or some other roasted meat, potatoes, eggs and butter. Lunch at 9 o’clock consists of a meat portion, cheese, bread and pickles. The 12 o’clock midday meal consists of soup, a choice of two meats, vegetables, cake, etc. The evening meal at 6 o’clock consists of meat, salad, eggs, tea and cakes.”

The day included a rest period from noon until 1 p.m. with work concluding at 6 p.m. Miller himself arose between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. each day during the summer to “energetically tour the brewery and write a few letters.” After a 7 a.m. breakfast of Swiss cheese with rye bread and fresh butter and a large cup of coffee with cream, Miller devoted the rest of his morning to correspondence.

He spent his afternoons attending to business outside of the office, including trips to the post office, bank, railroad office and to make purchases. He went to bed at 8 p.m. in winter and 9 p.m. in the summer.

Miller was a resourceful businessman, establishing a beautiful beer garden that attracted weekend crowds for bowling, dancing, fine lunches and old-fashioned gemuetlichkeit. “You can perceive that people in America, especially where Germans are located, also know how to live,” Miller wrote. “When one plods through the week and has dealt with all sorts of problems, one is entitled to enjoy his life on Sundays and holidays and should not complain about spending a few dollars mote or less.”

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An April 24, 1857, newspaper account heralded the opening of a new beer hall by Miller on Milwaukee’s East Water Street where he dispensed “an excellent article of ‘lager’ to all thirsty visitors.”

When sales dropped during the Civil War, Miller is said to have traveled with a shipment of beer directly to St. Louis, and made deliveries himself, by horse and wagon.

In June 1884, he constructed a new brewery on two acres of land he purchased near Bismark in the Dakota Territory. Unfortunately, the state went dry the day the brewery was to open, according to one account. However, the Dakota brewery was listed among Miller’s assets when he died of cancer in 1888.

Records do not indicate the cause of Josephine’s death in April 1860, leaving Miller to care for Louisa, age 2. One family story states that Josephine died from an influenza outbreak while on a ship traveling back to Germany for a visit. Another speculated that she might have died in childbirth. At the time of her death, Milwaukee was issuing burial certificates at a rate of about 60 to 70 per week, with deaths mostly because of cholera.

Whatever the reason, Josephine’s death, and the deaths of their children, would haunt Miller throughout his life. The couple had six children, most of whom did not survive infancy, and Louisa who died of tuberculosis at the age of 16.

Miller married Lisette Gross later in 1860, and they, too, had several children who died in infancy and five who survived: Ernst, Emil, Fred, Clara and Elise.

In the 1879 letter, Miller offered a glimpse of his personal torments: “Think of me and what I had to endure – I have lost several children and a wife in the flower of their youth. I myself was at death’s door several times and still God did not foresake me. Instead I was manifestly blessed in the autumn of my life.

“Whenever I think of all of them, how they were taken away from me so quickly and unexpectedly, then I become sad and melancholy…

“In spite of all the misfortunes and fateful blows, I never lost my head. After every blow, just as a bull, I jumped back higher and higher…

“Whenever I think about it, I realize we must submit ourselves without murmur or complaint to the unexplainable wisdom of God and that such wisdom transcends human understanding.”

Miller’s children with Lisette provided the descendents who, with their spouses, later led Miller Brewing Company through the purchase of most of their stock by W.R. Grace Co. in 1966. Philip Morris Inc. purchased the company in 1969 and the rest of the family’s stock in 1970.

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Historic Beer Birthday: Henry F. Hagemeister

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Today is the birthday of Henry Frank Hagemeister (November 18, 1855-June 27, 1915). He “was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and the Wisconsin State Senate.” His father founded the Hagemeister Brewery in 1866, calling it the Union Brewery. Henry joined the brewery at the bottom, and worked his way up, and ran it with his father, and the changed the name to Hagemeister & Son. After his father passed away, Henry took over, and incorporated it as the Hagemeister Brewing Co. in 1890. Hagemeister stayed open through prohibition, and in 1934 changed its name to the Valley Brewing & Refrigerating Co. but closed for good the same year. Here’s his basics, from Wikipedia:

He was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1855, [the son of German immigrants] and educated in the parochial and public schools of Green Bay. He would go on to work in brewing and banking, as the president of the Hagemeister Brewing Company, and president of Kellogg’s National Bank.

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Here’s a biography of Hagermeister from the “Commemorative Biographical Record of the West Shore of Green Bay, Wisconsin,” published in 1896.

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And here’s a longer biography from “Wisconsin: Its Story and Biography, 1848-1913, Volume VIII,” written by Ellis Baker Usher, and published in 1914:

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Schnitzelbank

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Several weeks ago, while researching the birthday of Pennsylvania brewer Henry Fink, I happened upon the advertising poster below. Intrigued, because I’m fascinated with symbols, I couldn’t make out what they were because the largest image I could find is this one. All I could figure out at the time was that it had something to do with a song.

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Eventually I gave up, and moved on, because if I’m not careful I’ll keep going off on tangents and down rabbit holes until I’ve gotten myself well and truly lost, not to mention wasted hours of unproductive time. But I kept coming back to it, and eventually, I had to figure out what exactly it was or go crazy. So I started taking a closer look into the poster and figured out that they’re all over the place and it’s a famous German song called the “Schnitzelbank.” And the Fink’s ad poster, or versions of it, is everywhere and has been used by breweries, restaurants and others for years. Which makes sense because, although it’s a “German-language ditty for children and popular among German Americans with an interest in learning or teaching German to their offspring,” it’s also commonly sung by adults for entertainment and nostalgia, and usually while they’re drinking beer.

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In German, Schnitzelbank apparently “literally means ‘scrap bench’ or ‘chip bench’ (from Schnitzel ‘scraps / clips / cuttings (from carving)’ or the colloquial verb schnitzeln “to make scraps” or “to carve” and Bank “bench”); like the Bank, it is feminine and takes the article “die”. It is a woodworking tool used in Germany prior to the industrial revolution. It was in regular use in colonial New England, and in the Appalachian region until early in the 20th century; it is still in use by specialist artisans today. In America it is known as a shaving horse. It uses the mechanical advantage of a foot-operated lever to securely clamp the object to be carved. The shaving horse is used in combination with the drawknife or spokeshave to cut down green or seasoned wood, to accomplish jobs such as handling an ax; creating wooden rakes, hay forks, walking sticks, etc. The shaving horse was used by various trades, from farmer to basketmaker and wheelwright.”

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A traditional shaving horse around 200 years old.

And that’s also why the posters always include a Schnitzelbank, because in addition to it being the title, it’s also how the song begins.

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Here’s one description of the Schnitzelbank song:

A Schnitzelbank is also a short rhyming verse or song with humorous content, often but not always sung with instrumental accompaniment. Each verse in a Schnitzelbank introduces a topic and ends with a comedic twist. This meaning of the word is mainly used in Switzerland and southwestern Germany; it is masculine and takes the article “der”. It is a main element of the Fasnacht celebrations in the city of Basel, where it is also written Schnitzelbangg. Schnitzelbänke (pl.) are also sung at weddings and other festivities by the Schitzelbänkler, a single person or small group. Often the Schnitzelbänkler will display posters called Helgen [which is “hello” in German] during some verses that depict the topic but do not give away the joke.

Often the songleader uses the poster to lead people in the song, pointing to the symbols as they come up in the lyrics, as this photo from the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn Lodge illustrates.

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The song uses call and response, with the leader singing one lyric, and the chorus repeating it back as it goes along. So here’s what the traditional version of the song sounds like:

Some Sauerkraut with Your Schnitzelbank? has an interesting reminiscence of a visit to a Fasching Sonntag in the St. Louis area around 1982, and includes his experience taking part in the singing of the Schnitzelbank song.

In the evening, everyone moved upstairs to the parish hall, which was the typical multipurpose gymnasium with a stage at one end. Set up with long tables in parallel rows on both sides, the band in place on the stage, and the large crowd ready for the music to begin, the hall had lost its bland, bare, everyday atmosphere. On the stage, off to one side, was a large easel with a poster on it. I didn’t pay much attention to it, thinking it was for announcements later in the evening. The band started, and the dancing began in the clear space down the middle of the hall, mostly polkas and waltzes, with a few variety numbers like the dreaded Duck Dance, which explained the need for pitchers of beer. Finally, when the crowd was well exercised and well lubricated, someone approached the easel with a pointer in his hand. People started shouting “Schnitzelbank! Schnitzelbank!” The music began, and the person with the pointer called “Ist das nicht ein Schnitzelbank?” and the crowd heartily responded “Ja, das ist ein Schnitzelbank!” Then came a chorus of music, to which everyone sang, “O Die Schoenheit un der Vand, da das ist ein Schnitzelbank.” And so it continued for several verses, the person on stage pointing to another object on the poster with “Ist das nicht ein.…?” and the crowd responding at the top of their voices. I was puzzled at first, but eventually joined in and didn’t think much more about it. I’m pretty sure that only a few people knew all the German words, and that some had memorized it over the years, while the ones in front were close enough to the poster to read the words under the pictures—everyone else just shouted a cheerful approximation of what they thought their neighbor was saying.

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The Schnitzelbank, or Schnitzel Bank, is a song with short verses, meant to be sung the way it was at the Fasching Sonntag, with a leader and group response. It is sung in some areas of Germany for Fasching, Fastnacht, or Karnival, and also during Oktoberfest, and other occasions where there is a happy, celebratory crowd. In America, the posters are displayed at a few German restaurants and some tourist attractions with a German American heritage, such as the Amana Colonies in Iowa and some Pennsylvania Dutch locations. Singing the Schnitzelbank in America dates at least to the turn of the 20th century, which is when the John Bardenheier Wine and Liquor Company printed its version on an advertising poster.

According to “The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk,” first published in 1966, the melody first appeared in 1761 by a French composer and lyrics were written a few years later, n 1765, and it was known as “Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman,” but it became far more well-known as “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in subsequent years. Apparently it first appeared as “Schnitzelbank” in 1830.

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This is the most common version of the poster, and as far as I can tell the symbols have become more or less fixed sometime in the mid-20th century. Perhaps it’s because one company is licensing the imagery to various purposes, or the song has simply evolved to its modern form, made easier by recordings and a growing number of shared experiences.

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So let’s break down the most common version of the song:

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            Symbol Translation
schnitzelbank1 Is this not a Schnitzelbank?

(“Yes this is a Schnitzelbank”)

schnitzelbank17 Short and Long
schnitzelbank2 Him and Her
schnitzelbank3 Criss and Cross
schnitzelbank6 Shooting Gun
schnitzelbank18 Wagon Wheel
schnitzelbank4 Crooked and Straight
schnitzelbank5 Big Glass
schnitzelbank7 Oxen Bladder
schnitzelbank19 Heap of Manure
schnitzelbank9 Cantankerous Boy
schnitzelbank10 Heavy Woman
schnitzelbank8 Fat Sow
schnitzelbank11 Tall Man
schnitzelbank12 Fir Tree
schnitzelbank14 Wedding Ring
schnitzelbank15 Dangerous Thing

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schnitzelbank-frankenmuth-clockFrom Mader’s Famous Restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Here’s another band performing the song. This is the Gootman Sauerkraut Band at the Bravarian Pretzel Factory 2014.

As I mentioned, this all started because a brewery used the Schnitzelbank poster as an advertisement. Apparently that was not unique, and I’ve find a number of others who did likewise. Here’s a few of them:

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The Eastside Brewery of Los Angeles, California, from the 1930s.

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Drewery’s, the Canadian brewery, from the 1940s.

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The Huebner Brewery of Toldeo, Ohio, from sometime prior to prohibition.

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This one, though not for a specific brewery, was for Sitter’s Beverages, a distributor of beer, wine, liquor and cordials in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It’s undated, but given that the telephone number is “1917” (yes, just those four numbers) I suspect it’s pre-prohibition. One source puts the date between 1912 and 1919.

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A promotional towel, from Koerber’s Brewery, also from Toledo, Ohio.

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The Pearl Brewery of San Antonio, Texas

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Jacob Ruppert’s Brewery of New York City, 1907. Though notice that the almost uniform symbols were changed for Ruppert’s ad, substituting his own beer and brewery, along with other more beer-friendly items into the song list.

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Although it’s possible that the symbols weren’t quite as settled in the early 20th century, as this postcard, also from 1907, has several that deviate from the standard symbols, including some also in the Ruppert’s poster, but also some that are not in that one.

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Yuengling Brewery also apparently had their own Schnitzelbank poster, based on the Ruppert’s design. This one is a linen towel being used as a window shade, though it’s too small for me to read the date.

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Though the Ruppert’s design appears to be copyrighted again in 1934, based on this generic one found by someone in an antique store.

Schnitzelbank-1953-Falstaff

Likewise, this one for Falstaff Beer uses the traditional symbols, but adds two more, one for “Gutes Bier” (good beer) and “Falstaff Here.”

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This one’s also not from a brewery, but the Alpine Village Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada. This one’s newer, as it opened in 1950, became somewhat famous, but then closed in 1970.

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This one is labeled as being a “Pennsylvania Dutch Schnitzelbank” and has 20 symbols rather than the standard sixteen. And only eight of those are the usual ones. I don’t know how I missed it growing up (I grew up near Pennsylvania Dutch country in Pennsylvania, and in fact my grandparents grew up on Mennonite farms, but were the first generation to leave them).

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Apparently it’s also a big deal in Amana, Iowa, where there’s a gift and toy store called the “Schnitzelbank” and where, in 1973, the Amana Society created this Schnitzelbank poster.

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The Schnitzelbank Restaurant in Jasper, Indiana, uses the poster as their placemats.

This random German poster, which translates as “Oh you beautiful Schnitzelbank” has only about half of the standard symbols on it. I’m not sure when this one was created but it’s available on Polka Time as an “Oktoberfest Poster.”

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Also more modern, the New Paltz Band has their own version of the song using non-standard symbols.

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And speaking of music, Marv Herzog used the poster on an album cover. The album, of course, included the Schnitzelbank song.

And lastly, the Animanics did their own version of the Schnitzelbank song in episode 56 entitled “Schnitzelbank,” which aired in 1994. It’s described as “a traditional German song that the Warners learn in German from Prof. Otto von Schnitzelpusskrankengescheitmeyer. The lyrics were adapted by Randy Rogel.”

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From Henry Sticht’s “Schnitzelbank Two-Step,” 1907.

Beer Birthday: Lucy Saunders

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because beer is food: in cooking, at the table, and by the glass …

So begins the website of beer cook Lucy Saunders, whose birthday is today. Lucy has done much to promote both cooking with beer and enjoying food with beer through her books and other writings. She’s a treasure, in more ways than one. Join me in wishing Lucy a very happy birthday Lucy.

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At the beer bistro in Toronto for Stephen Beaumont and Maggie’s wedding reception.

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Lucy with Stacy Williams, Brand Manager for Gambrinus, at the Hot Brands reception at the NBWA Convention, when it was in San Francisco a few years ago.

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During CBC in Austin, Texas in 2007, at the Moonshine bar for an event with Lucy for her book, Grilling with Beer. Here, Lucy with three contributors to her book, myself included.

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Lucy with Vinnie Cilurzo at the GABF brewers reception in Denver in 2006.

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Shaun O’Sullivan from 21st Amendment, Fergie Carey, co-owner of Monk’s, Lucy Saunders, the beer cook, and Tom Peters, also co-owner of Monk’s at the Canned Beer Dinner several Junes ago.

Historic Beer Birthday: John Gund

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Today is the birthday of John Gund (October 3, 1830-May 7, 1910). Gund co-founded what would become the The G. Heileman Brewing Company with Gottlieb Heileman. They formed a partnership in November 1858 to operate the City Brewery in La Crosse, but “after nearly fifteen years in business together, Heileman and Gund dissolved their partnership in 1872.” After leaving City Brewing, Gund immediately “established a new brewery on the southern edge of La Crosse that he named the Empire Brewery, and which was incorporated in 1880 as the John Gund Brewing Company.” Gund employed all three of his sons in his new venture, and eventually his son Henry became president of the brewery after his father’s death in 1910.

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Here’s a short biography from Find-a-Grave:

Came to America in 1848 and settled in LaCrosse in 1854. He began his own brewery until in 1858 he and Gottlieb Heileman formed the City Brewery. John later left and founded the Empire Brewery in 1872 but — due to the fact there were 14 breweries in LaCrosse at the time — his business failed.

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And here’s a lengthy history of the brewery from The Peerless Beer Legacy:

The John Gund Brewery (1854-1920)

The story of the John Gund Brewery is a story of the American Dream. Many immigrants came to the US in search of a new and better life. John Gund accomplished this goal and became one of the forefathers of the modern beer industry.

John Gund was born in Schwetzingen, Germany in 1830. He was the second of eight children. After finishing this education at the common schools he began an apprenticeship working at a brewery in the winter.

John Gund arrived in New York on May 16, 1848. Shortly after arriving in New York the family moved to Freeport, Illinois. After his fathers and mothers death in 1850 of cholera, Gund married Louise Hottman and in1852 moved to Dubuque, Iowa. Gund added to his earlier knowledge by working at the brewery of Anton Heeb.

In 1854 Gund pack up and left the brewery and Iowa to move to LaCrosse, WI. John Gund’s first Brewery was a far cry from what was to come of this legend. His first brewery was in a log cabin he built at the corner of Front and Division Street. In just 4 years Gund sold the cabin and entered into a partnership with Gottlieb Heileman. These two men built and opened the City Brewery in 1854.

In 1872, Gund sold his share of City Brewery to Heileman and began building the Empire Brewery on South Ave. When opened the brewery had 9 buildings: Main Building, Storage Cellars, Brew house, Icehouse, office, Malt House, Dry Kiln, Engine House, and across the street the Bottle House. Later, a second Bottle house was built. The total cost of the brewery was $250,000. Empire Brewery had a staff of 25 people and was able to produce 30 thousand barrels per year. Much of the beer was exported, but much was used to supply the city’s bars.

The John Gund Brewing Company opened May 1, 1880 with only $100,000 capital. John appointed his family member to officer positions. These included: John Gund- President, Henry – Traveling Agent, George Gund – Manager, and John Gund Jr.- Bookkeeper. (Wife Died 1880 of severe cold.)

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The John Gund Brewing Company was booming. The brewery covered 5 acres and produced 60 thousand barrels of beer in 1897. Many of the neighboring states benefited from this fine brew. Gund Beer was shipped all over Wisconsin, Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Everything John Gund has built almost came crashing down the night of September 25, 1897. This night the city of LaCrosse witnessed a “one of the most destructive fires in the history of LaCrosse”(Baier, 1976). The fire was reported at 1:00am and was finally put out by noon the next day. The fire destroyed much of the Gund Brewery. The estimated damage of the fire totaled $200,000. Only the Engine house and cold storage could be saved. Insurance only covered $125,000. Fortunately enough beer was saved to allow for the brewery to fill orders and continue operation until the brewery was rebuilt. Clean up and rebuilding began the next day.

The new brewery was finished on April 16, 1898. The new brewery was larger, consisting of 8 buildings: Brew house, bottling house (now next to Brew house), mill house, dry house, hop storage, and malt house. It was also improved. New modern machinery and equipment was added. The new brewery even contained an elevator. Gund even prepared for another catastrophe by making the new brewery fireproof.

Business was again booming for the Gund Brewery. Capital stock for the company climbed to two million dollars. Unfortunately tragedy again strikes the Gund Brewery. This time the tragedy goes to the top. After fighting apoplexy for many months John Gund dies of the disease on May 7, 1901. In honor of a great man the brewery shut down for the day. Leadership of the John Gund Brewery now rests in the hands of Henry Gund and rumors spread like wildfire that the brewery would be moved to Omaha, Nebraska.

The John Gund Brewery survived and thrived after, yet another devastating disaster. By 1900 Gund Brewery became the “largest brewery in the old Northwest, outside of Milwaukee” (Baier, 1976). The World was beginning to take notice of Gund’s Peerless Beer. This became evident when in 1900 it won a metal at the Paris Exposition and in 1904 won the Gold metal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (World Fair in 1904). The explosion in popularity caused for an increase in production. This need caused the increase of works to 450 in 1910. This year the brewery produced over 600,000 barrels of beer.

Soon the final blow would come to the brewery. In 1919 the 18th amendment was enacted. So began the years of Prohibition. The Brewery closed its doors. Luckily, on May 27th a law was passed making it legal to produce “war time” beer. Wartime beer was beer that was limited to 2.3%-4% alcohol content. The doors to the John Gund Brewery opened again to produce this beer. Still struggling, the brewery was it with another problem. The Brewery Workers Union in Lacrosse went on strike. The brewery was hit hard, offering jobs to men, woman, and children to help fill the void created by the strike.

The straw that finally breaks the John Gund Brewery’s back was the complete Prohibition. The Gund Brewery closed its doors for good later that year just as many other breweries throughout the US were doing.

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Immigrant Entrepreneurship, under German-American Business Biographies, has a lengthy tale of both John Gund and Gottlieb Heileman I pulled out the passages about Gund:

John Gund (born October 3, 1830, in Schwetzingen, Grand Duchy of Baden; died May 7, 1910, in La Crosse, Wisconsin), the firm’s co-founder, eventually decided that Heileman’s business practices were too restrictive and ended the partnership in 1872 in order to build a new brewery in La Crosse that could compete with cross-state rivals such as Pabst, Schlitz, and Miller. The G. Heileman Brewing Company and the John Gund Brewing Company continued to pursue separate business strategies until national Prohibition was implemented fully in 1920. Gund’s large brewery collapsed, whereas Heileman’s smaller firm subsisted by producing non-alcoholic beer and malt products until the Twenty-First Amendment was passed in 1933.

John Gund, on the other hand, was born approximately seventy-five miles northwest of Kirchheim in the community of Schwetzingen in the Grand Duchy of Baden on October 3, 1830. Schwetzingen lay in the rich, alluvial farmland between the Rhine and Neckar Rivers approximately six miles southwest of Heidelberg. Gund was the second of eight children born to Georg Michael and Sophia Elizabeth Gund (née Eder or Edes).

John Gund found employment sixty miles to the west in Dubuque, Iowa, a commercial center situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River. He worked in a brewery operated by a German named Anton Heeb for two years. In June 1850, he relocated to nearby Galena, Illinois, to operate a brewery with a German named Witzel, possibly twenty-year-old Sebastian Witzel, who may have been an old friend. John Gund’s parents died of cholera the following month. After less than a year, he sold his share in the Galena brewery operation and rented another brewery in the community, known as the Cedar Brewery. About this time, he married fellow German immigrant Louise Hottman, a resident of Galena, with whom he eventually had five children. Two years after renting the Cedar Brewery, Gund decided to relocate to a larger and more prosperous community that would provide a better market for his beer. He and his wife moved approximately 180 miles northwest to the Mississippi River settlement of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

La Crosse had a population of approximately 2,000 residents in the mid-1850s. Situated on the east bank of the Mississippi River, the community had experienced rapid growth during the 1850s as settlers arrived to take advantage of the surrounding farmland and forests. The lumber industry flourished, facilitated by the community’s access to steamboats that plied the Mississippi River from St. Paul down to St. Louis and New Orleans. The city was incorporated in 1856 and benefitted further when a cross-state railroad connection was completed between La Crosse and Milwaukee in 1858.

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John Gund founded a brewery in La Crosse in August 1854. The small operation was located in a log cabin near the community’s waterfront. A number of other German immigrants founded breweries in the city in the months and years that followed. Gustavus Nicolai and Jacob Franz founded the Nicolai Brewery shortly after Gund founded his brewery. Due to production problems with Gund’s initial batch of beer, Nicolai and Franz were first to bring their beer to market. Charles and John Michel founded the La Crosse Brewery in 1857 after a failed attempt to strike it rich in the California gold fields in the early 1850s. After returning from the West Coast, they attempted to settle in Chicago but soon grew to dislike the community and made their way north to St. Paul. Ice on the Mississippi delayed their river journey and they eventually settled in La Crosse instead. After noting that existing breweries in the community could not meet local demand, they founded their own brewery.

After nearly fifteen years in business together, Heileman and Gund dissolved their partnership in 1872. Heileman seems to have been content brewing beer primarily for the local market and this was reflected in the brewery’s modest output of approximately 3,000 barrels per year by the 1870s. By comparison, Eberhardt Anheuser and Adolphus Busch’s Bavarian Brewery in St. Louis produced approximately 100,000 barrels of beer per year during the same decade and the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee produced 121,000 barrels annually.[10] John Gund was far more ambitious than his partner and wished to establish La Crosse as a major center of brewing that would rival Milwaukee and St. Louis. Supposedly, the partners flipped a coin to determine which partner would receive the brewery and which would receive the International Hotel. Heileman won the City Brewery and Gund gained control of the hotel.

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Gund immediately established a new brewery on the southern edge of La Crosse that he named the Empire Brewery, and which was incorporated in 1880 as the John Gund Brewing Company. A bottling house was included in the new brewery, which indicated that Gund intended to distribute the beer regionally. At the time, federal law required that excise taxes be paid on kegged beer. Only after the tax stamp had been applied to the keg could brewers then bottle the beer for sale. Bottling beer was also labor intensive since employees had to fill and cork individual bottles by hand during this era and then pasteurize each lot. Consequently, bottling beer was more time consuming and expensive than distributing it in kegs. Bottled beer’s key advantage lay in the fact that it could be shipped more easily and thus could reach more distant markets than kegged beer.

Gund’s decision to end his partnership with Heileman in 1872 may had been attributable, at least in small part, to the 1871 conflagration in Chicago. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed the city’s nascent brewing industry and opened the door to brewers in nearby cities with railroad connections to Chicago. Gund along with brewers from Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati began shipping beer to Chicago and established a presence in the taverns and other drinking establishments of the city.

Gund and his three sons, George, Henry, and John Jr., continued to expand their brewery’s operations during the 1870s and 1880s. After John Gund incorporated the brewery in May 1880, he assumed the title of brewery president and his sons took other positions in the firm. The firm was capitalized at $100,000 (approximately $2.3 million dollars in 2011$) with the stock remaining in family hands. By 1887, the facility covered five acres and produced 45,000 barrels of beer annually. While this output still lagged behind the volume produced by major shipping breweries of the era such as Pabst, Schlitz, and Anheuser-Busch, when combined with the other breweries of La Crosse, the city’s beer production briefly surpassed the quantity produced by any other city in Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, in 1884. Given that La Crosse’s population was ten percent of Milwaukee’s population during this decade, such an output is impressive to say the least. Gund took advantage of La Crosse’s rail and river connection to the Upper Midwest and the Chicagoland area to distribute beer to the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois. Henry Gund served as a traveling agent for the firm and established a distribution center in Minneapolis in 1882.

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A major fire at the Gund brewery in 1897 destroyed the original 1872 structure but also enabled Gund to reconstruct the brewery with expanded capacity the following year. The new facility was designed by prominent Chicago architect Louis William Lehle, a German immigrant University of Stuttgart graduate who was responsible for designing breweries throughout the United States for a number of major firms including Blatz, Grain Belt, and Dixie. Gund’s focus on bottled beer was reflected in the new design of the brewery. The bottling plant was relocated from a building across the street from the brewing complex to a new building next to the brew house. This arrangement allowed beer to be pumped directly from holding tanks to the bottling line. Improvements in bottling technology, such as the development of crown caps in 1892, made the production process less labor intensive. Gund’s bottling line was capable of producing twenty-five million bottles per year.[ By 1900, production at the new brewery grew to 200,000 barrels per year and tripled to 600,000 a decade later. Nevertheless, the Gund Brewing Company was still a middle-tier producer in comparison to other major regional breweries such as Pabst or Schlitz, whose output exceeded one million and one-and-a-half million barrels, respectively, during the same period.

In conjunction with its focus on bottled beer production, the firm began to develop a specific branded beer, which it called Peerless. The brewery invested great effort into promoting the brand and entered Peerless into a variety of international competitions including the 1900 Paris Exposition and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Peerless won a medal at both expositions and the Gund Brewery used the publicity generated by the beer’s performance in its advertising.

Generational transition in brewery management took place gradually from the 1880s through the first decade of the twentieth century. Gund’s three sons served in various roles at the brewery. George Gund worked as brewery manager. Henry served as a traveling agent for the firm and later as bookkeeper after his younger brother, John Jr., left the firm in 1887 to pursue other interests. His elder brother also left the firm in the 1890s and established a brewery in Seattle and later purchased an existing brewery in Cleveland. With the departure of his brothers, Henry gradually assumed greater responsibilities at the brewery despite health problems. By the early 1900s, he was in his forties and was well respected within the local and regional brewing communities. He was elected vice president of Wisconsin’s Brewer’s Association in 1901 and by 1904 had assumed the position of vice president and treasurer of the John Gund Brewing Company. In May 1910, John Gund passed away a few months shy of his eightieth birthday.

Politically, John Gund’s party affiliation reflected broader shifts in German immigrant political participation during the second half of the nineteenth century. He supported the Whig ticket shortly after his arrival in the United States and voted Republican in the 1860s and 1870s, but his allegiance shifted to the Democratic Party in his later years. This may have been linked to the Democrats’ opposition to the growing prohibitionist movement in the United States and the support they enjoyed from populist, agrarian elements in Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.

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Historic Beer Birthday: Valentin Blatz

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Today is the birthday of Valentin Blatz (October 1, 1826-May 26, 1894). Blatz was a German-American brewer and banker. He was born in Miltenberg, Bavaria and worked at his father’s brewery in his youth. In August 1848 Blatz immigrated to America and by 1849 had moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Blatz established a brewery next to Johann Braun’s City Brewery in 1850 and merged both breweries upon Braun’s death in 1852. He also married Braun’s widow. The brewery produced Milwaukee’s first individually bottled beer in 1874. It incorporated as the Valentin Blatz Brewing Company in 1889 and by the 1900s was the city’s third largest brewer.

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Here’s a biography of Blatz from Find-a-Grave:

Businessman, Beer Magnate. Valentin Blatz, born to Casper Blatz, a brewer, in Miltenberg am Main, Bavaria, Germany, attended municipal schools until age 14 when he began an apprenticeship in his father’s brewery. He began in 1844, to acquire additional experience at breweries in Augusburg, Wurzburg and Munich until 1848 when he emigrated from Bavaria to Buffalo, New York, where he worked for a year at Philip Born’s brewery. Arriving in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1849, he became brewmaster at John Braun’s Cedar Brewery producing 150 barrels annually. He boarded at Braun’s home until 1851 when, after having saved $500, he established his own brewery. Shortly thereafter, Braun was fatally thrown from his horse-drawn beer wagon and Blatz eventually married Braun’s widow. Subsequently he combined Braun’s small brewery and his own into a new company, City Brewery; with output of 500 barrels annually it would eventually become one of the largest breweries in Milwaukee. Blatz was widely acknowledged to be the first of the great Milwaukee brewers to establish a reputation outside of Wisconsin, the first to begin developing a national distribution network, and the first to establish a bottling plant in connection with his brewery. During its early years of development, he operated the brewery as a sole proprietorship and reportedly out-paced both the Pabst and Schlitz operations. With production exceeding 200,000 barrels in 1889, he incorporated it as the Val. Blatz Brewing Company with capital stock of $2,000,000 and sold it in 1891 to a group of British and American investors, United States Brewing Company, reportedly netting himself (also a member of the syndicate) and his family $3,000,000 and full control of the Milwaukee operation. Blatz was the only beer available on tap in German restaurants at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

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A year later he died unexpectedly at the Hotel Ryan in St. Paul, Minnesota, returning from a trip to California, where he had vacationed and attended a midwinter exposition. Ironically, he had postponed the trip several times because of a premonition he would not return to Milwaukee alive, but made the trip because of his wife’s deteriorating health so they could spend part of the winter in California’s milder climate. At his death, he was one of Milwaukee’s wealthiest men, with an estate estimated at between $6,000,000 and $8,000,000. Throughout his life he had been active in community affairs and belonged to the Milwuakee Old Settlers Society and a host of other organizations. In 1866 he became the first president of the Merchants National Bank, and in 1868 he was elected President of the Second Ward Savings Bank, a position held until his death. A member of the Milwaukee Brewers Association and the Chamber of Commerce, he belonged to an influential group of local businessmen who organized the Milwaukee Industrial Exposition in 1879. Also served a single term as a Milwaukee city alderman in 1882. His company survived prohibition with “near beer” and other non-alcoholic products until 1933, when it resumed producing beer, until 1958 when it was purchased by Pabst. The Blatz label was sold to G. Heileman brewing in 1959, which was acquired by Stroh Brewery in 1996, which was sold to Pabst in 1999 who now owns it.

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And here’s a biography of both Valentin and his Blatz Brewery, from the Blatz Brewing Company Records, 1862-1944, housed in the University of Wisconsin Library:

Valentin Blatz was born on October 1, 1826, in Miltenberg am Main, Bavaria. The son of a local brewer, Caspar Blatz and his wife Barbara, he attended school until age fourteen at which time he began an apprenticeship in his father’s business. In 1844 Blatz began an extended tour of some of Europe’s greatest breweries where he spent his time learning new techniques and the latest in brewing technology until, at age twenty-one, he was forced to return home in order to fulfill his military obligation in the army. However, his father, a prominent community leader, obtained a substitute to serve in his place and shortly thereafter, like thousands of his countrymen, Valentin Blatz left Bavaria for the United States. Landing in New York City in August 1848, Blatz found work almost immediately at the Born Brewery in Buffalo, New York.

Blatz remained in Buffalo for approximately one year after which time he journeyed west to Milwaukee. Arriving in 1849, he found work as the foreman (some sources say brewmaster) at John Braun’s Cedar Brewery that had been established in 1846. It was a small operation, employing only a few workmen and capable of producing approximately 150 barrels of beer annually. The brewery’s storage capacity was said to be only 80 barrels. Blatz worked for Braun and boarded at his home until 1851, when, after having saved $500, he purchased half of a city lot and began his own brewing business.

Around the time that Blatz was establishing his own brewery, John Braun was killed suddenly after being thrown from his horse-drawn wagon while on a trip selling beer. He left a son, John, and a wife, Louise, who was pregnant with the couple’s second child. In December of 1851 Blatz married Braun’s widow and adopted her infant child (also named Louise) who was born after Braun’s death. Blatz also raised his late employer’s son John as his own. Although he was never formally adopted, John Braun became known generally around Milwaukee as “John Blatz.” Valentin and Louise (Braun) Blatz also had five children of their own: four sons; Albert, Emil, Valentin Jr., and Louis (who died at a young age); and one daughter, Alma.

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The marriage allowed Blatz to acquire Braun’s small brewery and combine it with his own operation, which he named City Brewery. This formed the basis of what would eventually become one of the largest and most prominent breweries in Milwaukee. Blatz was widely acknowledged to be the first of the great Milwaukee brewers to establish a reputation outside Wisconsin, the first to begin developing a national distribution network, and the first to establish a bottling plant in connection with his brewery. During its early years of development, the Blatz brewery reportedly out-paced both the Pabst and Schlitz operations.

Blatz operated his business as a single proprietorship until 1889 when it was incorporated as the Val. Blatz Brewing Company with a capital stock of 21 $2,000,000. Officers of the new corporation were Valentin Blatz, president; Albert C. Blatz, vice president; John Kremer (a son-in-law), secretary; and Val. Blatz, Jr., superintendent. The company was quietly sold in 1891 to a group of British and American investors incorporated as the United States Brewing Company and known variously as the “English Syndicate” or the “Chicago Syndicate.” The sale reportedly netted Blatz (who was himself a member of the syndicate) and his family $3,000,000 and left them in full control of the local operation.

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Three years later, on May 26, 1894, Valentin Blatz died suddenly while staying at the Hotel Ryan in St. Paul, Minnesota, on his return from a trip to California, where he vacationed and attended a midwinter exposition. Ironically, it was a journey that he had reportedly postponed several times because of a premonition that he would not return to Milwaukee alive. A newspaper reported at the time that it was only because of his wife’s deteriorating health that he agreed to go to California where they could spend part of the winter in a milder climate. At the time of his death at age sixty-eight, Blatz was regarded as one of Milwaukee’s wealthiest men, with an estate estimated at between $6,000,000 and $8,000,000. Throughout his life Blatz was a generous man. In his will he not only left thousands of dollars to more than a dozen local charities, hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the aged, but also provided for the four children (Cora, Selma, Elsie, and John) of his late step-son “John Blatz.” He was survived by his wife, Louise, who was with him in St. Paul; three sons, Albert, Emil, and Valentin, Jr.; and two daughters, Louise (Mrs. John) Kremer and Alma (Mrs. Gustav) Kletzsch. He was interred in Milwaukee’s Forest Home Cemetery.

Throughout his life, Blatz had been active in community affairs. He was a lifelong member of the Milwaukee Musical Society and belonged to a host of other groups, including the Milwaukee Old Settlers Society, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.), the Aurora Lodge of Freemasons, The Arion Club, the Frei Gemeinde, the Liederkranz Society, the Germania Maennerchor of Chicago, the Eichenkranz Maennerchor of New York, several local Turnverein Societies, and–reportedly one of his favorite haunts–the West Side Old Settlers Bowling Club. In 1866 he became the first president of the Merchants National Bank, and in 1868 he was elected President of the Second Ward Savings Bank, a position he held until his death. Blatz was a member of the Milwaukee Brewers Association and the Chamber of Commerce, and also belonged to an influential committee of local businessmen who organized the Milwaukee Industrial Exposition in 1879. Blatz, who became an American citizen in 1855, was elected for a single term as a Milwaukee city alderman in 1882

After Blatz’s death, the brewery was operated by two of his sons, Albert C. and Val. Blatz, Jr., and John Kremer, a son-in-law. The United States Brewing Company, which purchased the brewery in 1891, owned and operated it until the onset of national prohibition in 1920.

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This lengthy article is from the Industrial History of Milwaukee, published in 1886.

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The Valetin Blatz home c. 1886.
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This 1946 ad features a plate with founder Valentin Blatz.

Here’s a history of Blatz, from the current Blatz beer website, which is currently owned by Pabst Brewing.

Blatz was one of the premier Milwaukee breweries. It was founded by John Braun in 1846, shortly before Wisconsin achieved statehood, and was originally called the City Brewery. Braun’s fledgling business produced about 150 barrels of beer annually – until 1851 when Valentine Blatz, a former employee, established a brewery of his own next door to the City Brewery. Braun died later that year and Blatz soon married his widow, thereby uniting the City Brewery and his own operation.

At the time of the marriage, the combined breweries produced only 350 barrels per year. However, by 1880 total annual production reached 125,000 barrels. The brewery’s growth continued, and in 1884 Blatz ranked as the third-largest beer producer in Milwaukee.

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Blatz was the first Milwaukee brewer to market beer nationally. He set up distribution centers in Chicago, New York, Boston, New Orleans, Memphis, Charleston, and Savannah. He was also the first of the Milwaukee brewers to include a bottling plant within his brewery. In addition, Blatz operated his own carpenter shop, railroad cars, cooper shop, machine shop and coal yard.

In 1890 Blatz sold his brewery to a group of London investors, who continued to operate the plant until Prohibition. Following the repeal of the eighteenth amendment, the Blatz brewery again flourished, producing over a million barrels annually during the 1940s and 1950s. Its labels included Blatz, Pilsener, Old Heidelberg, Private Stock, Milwaukee Dark, Culmbacher, Continental Special, Tempo, and English Style Ale.

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By 1955 only six Milwaukee breweries remained open. Of these six, Miller, Pabst and Schlitz were the biggest and most successful. Blatz was big, too, but stiff competition and skyrocketing production costs prevented it from growing further. In 1958 the brewery was finally sold to Pabst; however a federal court order at the time prevented Pabst from Brewing at the Blatz facilities. In 1959 this giant, Blatz, ceased all operations. Shortly there after, Pabst purchased the Blatz brands, and relaunched the brand as a craft-style beer, true to the high-quality style that Valetine Blatz espoused.

Today, Blatz continues to be recognized for it’s quality and tradition. While the Blatz Brewery is now home to some of Milwaukee’s Finest Citizens, Blatz Beer will always be Milwaukee’s Finest Beer.

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