Today is the birthday of Jean Baptiste Bechaud (October 31, 1848-April 20, 1922). He was born in Franfhein, Lower Bavaria on the Rhine, in Germany, but moved to the U.S. with his parents at the age of six, settling in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. At some point, he anglicized his name to John Bates, but seems to have used the two interchangeably depending on the setting. In 1871, along with two of his brothers, Adoph and Frank, founded the A.G. Bechaud Brewery, which was also known as the A.G. Bechaud & Bros. Brewery and later, beginning in 1875, traded under the Empire Brewery name, before returning to Bechaud Brewery when it reopened after prohibition ended, before closing for good in 1941.
This is Bechaud’s obituary in the Fond du Lac Daily Reporter, on Thursday April 20, 1922:
JOHN B. BECHAUD DIES, AGED 75. Well Known Businessman of City Succumbs to Long Illness. LEAVES SIX CHILDREN. John Bates Bechaud, aged 75 years, prominent in Fond du Lac business circles for many years, died at 2:50 o’clock this afternoon after an illness of a year, which had been acute for the past two months. He had been a resident of Fond du Lac for 53 years. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made. Mr. Bechaud was born in Germany Oct. 31, 1846, his parents immigrating to America in 1851. The father, John P. Bechaud, conducted a hotel in Fond du Lac for four years after the family arrived in America, later removing to a farm. The son remained with the father until 1871, when he joined with his brothers, Adolph and Frank H. Bechaud, in the organization of the Bechaud Brewing company. Serving as a private in the Sixth Michigan Cavalry from the date of his enlistment in 1864 until the close of the Civil war, Mr. Bechaud served with another Michigan cavalry regiment in the West until his discharge in 1866. He was affiliated with the Elks, Eagles and Masonic order. The surviving relatives are the widow, Mrs. Mary Bechaud, and three sons and three daughters, Mrs. M.H. Nelson, Mrs. M.H. Boudry, Mrs. P.L. Kolb, and Rudolph and Louis Bechaud, Fond du Lac, and Armand Bechaud, Chicago.
And here’s another obituary from the Fond du Lac Daily Commonwealth, also on Thursday, April 20, 1922:
J.B. BECHAUD IS DEAD, WAS FAILING FOR LONG PERIOD. End Comes at Residence Near 3 O’clock. WAS A CIVIL WAR VETERAN. John B. Bechaud, one of Fond du Lac’s prominent citizens and businessmen, died at 3 o’clock this afternoon at the residence 108 South Union street. He had been in failing health for some time. Mr. Bechaud was born Oct. 31, 1846 in Germany, and came to this country in 1851. Mr. Bechaud on acquiring his majority followed agricultural pursuits until 1871 when he became associated with his brothers, F.H., and Adolph, in the brewing business. He served as vice president of the Bechaud Brewing Co. He was a member of the Masons, Elks, Eagles and National Union. He served as a member of the city common council and the school board.
This history of the Bechaud Brewery is from Oshkosh Beer’s post “An Illustrated History of the Brewing Industry in Fond du Lac.”
In 1871, Fond du Lac’s most successful brewery was opened at 515 Main Street by the brothers Frank, John and Capt. A.G. Bechaud. Formed during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, their brewing company also set the standard for longevity among Fond du Lac beer makers, surviving until 1941, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his third term in office.
The Bechaud brothers, all born in Bavaria, started brewing at their Main Street location but they also bought lakeshore property on Lake Winnebago just northwest of the city limits, where they envisioned locating their permanent brewing empire. However, the beachfront brew-house was not to be. Instead, in 1873, the Bechauds opened their new large brewery on Eleventh Street, just west of Hickory Street.
The Bechauds also maintained a Main Street address. Their “sample room” gave people a chance to enjoy the freshest beer the company had to offer. The most popular brand produced by Bechaud, “Empire” was bottled and sold in various cities. Their other beers included “Műnchner” and “Pilsener.” In all, the company sold an average of 15,000 barrels of their beers annually.