Today is the birthday of Otto Bremer (October 21, 1867-February 18, 1951). He was born in the Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) area of Germany, and along with his brother Adolf, settled in Minnesota, in the St. Paul area.
Bremer was a German American banker and philanthropist. He founded Bremer Bank and the Otto Bremer Foundation, which grants funds for use in the communities where the banks operate. His brother Adolf married brewer Jacob Schmidt’s daughter, and by 1901, Adolf and Otto Bremer owned 25 percent of the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company stock. When Schmidt passed away in 1911, the Bremer brothers took control of the brewery. When Adolf died in 1939, Otto assumed the role of president of Schmidt’s brewery until he died in 1951.
Here’s a partial history of the Jacob Schmidt brewery during the time the Bremers were involved, from Wikipedia:
Jacob Schmidt started his brewing career in Minnesota as the Brewmaster for the Theodore Hamm’s Brewing Co. He left this position to become owner of the North Star Brewing Co. Under Schmidt’s new leadership the small brewery would see much success and in 1899 Schimdt transferred partial ownership of his new brewery to a new corporation headed by his son in law Adolph Bremer, and Adolph’s brother Otto. This corporation would later become Bremer Bank. With the new partnership the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company was established. In 1900 the North Star Brewery would suffer a fire that would close it for good. With the new management team in place a new brewery was needed, the new firm purchased the Stahlmann Brewery form the St. Paul Brewing Co. and immediately started construction on a new Romanesque brewery incorporating parts of Stahlmann’s original brewery along with it including the further excavation of the lagering cellars used in the fermentation process to create Schmidt’s Lager Beer
Upon Schmidt’s death in 1911 the Bremers took full control of the company and continued to see success and growth. In 1920 National Prohibition came to Minnesota and stopped the production and sale of intoxicating beverages. Schmidt’s was one of the few breweries to see success and remain open all throughout prohibition in offering nonalcoholic beverages or near beers such as Malta and City Club as well as other beverages. It was rumored that Schmidt’s continued to produce real beer during prohibition complete with a secret underground tunnel that allowed for beer to be transported from the brewery on the bluffs to awaiting ships on the Mississippi river below. None of these rumors were ever confirmed though.
Since Schmidt’s never stopped production of beverages in the brewery it was one of few breweries in Minnesota that was ready to produce real beer when prohibition was lifted in 1933. Schmidt’s re-released City Club beer as an strong beer with the new slogan of “Tops in any Town”. After prohibition Schmidt’s saw widespread success and continued to grow. This Success brought attention to the Bremer family leading to the kidnapping of Edward Bremer by the Barker-Karpis gang on the 16th of January, 1934; he was released on the 7th of February of the same year with 200,000 bail. As Schmidt’s continued to grow becoming the 7th largest brewery in the country by 1936 it was decided offering City Club in cans would be more profitable and became one of the first brewers in Minnesota to offer beer in cans. Like Hamm’s Schmidt’s offered beer in flat top cans, but became one of the only brewer to switch back to cone top cans after. During World War II Schmidt’s was granted a contract from the government to supply beer to the troops, made possible by a long standing friendship between the Bremers and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1951 Otto Bremer died and City Club beer began to be phased out. In 1954 due to mounting pressure and competition from outside National Brewers the Bremers decided to leave the brewing industry and sold the company to Detroit based brewer Pfeiffer.
And here’s another biography of both Adolf and Otto Bremer, from Funding Universe:
Otto Bremer and his younger brother Adolph immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1886. The Midwest, where the young men settled, had experienced a period of rapid growth: the population had exploded and business opportunities were abundant. Otto Bremer’s first job was as a stock clerk for a wholesale hardware business in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1887, he took a bookkeeping position with the National German-American Bank–he had three years of elementary banking training in Germany, according to a Ramsey County History article by Thomas J. Kelley. Bremer eventually became chief clerk.
The boom days of the 1880s were followed by a bust in the early 1890s. Banks in St. Paul’s sister city of Minneapolis went under. The National German-American Bank had to suspend operations for a time. By the end of the decade, the nation was in a deep economic depression.
Otto Bremer left the National German-American Bank at the turn of the century to make a run for the office of city treasurer. A well established and respected member of the community by this time, he won the election and served for five terms. (He had an unsuccessful but closely contested race for mayor in 1912.) Meanwhile, his brother Adolph was making his own headway in St. Paul’s business community. One connection led to a romance as well. Adolph married Marie Schmidt, the daughter of North Star Brewery owner Jacob Schmidt, in 1896.
While serving as city treasurer, Otto Bremer became a charter member of the board of directors for the American National Bank. The bank was formed in 1903 through the merging of two St. Paul banks. Bremer held 50 of the 2,000 shares of capital stock. The charter members of the board of directors, well aware of potential pitfalls, operated a conservative banking business, unlike the days of wild growth when banks and customers were extended beyond their means.
Brother Adolph’s responsibilities also continued to grow. When the brewery was reorganized as the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company in 1899, he was named president. Adolph Bremer took over operating control when Schmidt died in 1910. He brought Otto in as secretary and treasurer shortly thereafter.
As Adolph gained ownership in the brewery, Otto Bremer increased his holdings in the bank, becoming a major shareholder by 1916. Adolph joined his brother on the American National Bank board of directors that year.
In 1921, Benjamin Baer, the bank’s second president and an original board member, died. Otto Bremer was named chairman. He also bought much of Baer’s stock and by 1924 gained controlling interest in the bank.
The brewery and its sales agencies in rural Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin provided a direct link to the Bremers and American National Bank in St. Paul. The brewery or the Bremers owned the land or buildings the sales agencies occupied, creating a starting point for further business relationships in the communities.
Otto Bremer became an advisor to local bankers, who often formed corresponding partnerships with American National. Dependent on the cyclical agricultural economy, country banks needed loans from city banks with a more diverse and therefore a more stable of base of business. Otto Bremer formed a deep commitment to the rural communities, and when economic disaster struck he was there to help.
Trouble began with a ramp-up of farm production in response to the needs created by the United States’ entry into World War I. Farmers began planting more acres and buying expensive machinery. Agricultural land increased in value. Farmers took out larger loans to drive the expansion. Demand collapsed following the war. Harsh weather conditions in the Midwest further hampered farmers. Loans went unpaid. A recession hit the nation in 1920, taxing city banks supporting the stressed country banks.
“Bent on maintaining the public trust in the country banks, Otto Bremer loaned them his good name and his money. Throughout the 1920s banks came into the fold of the American National Bank or the Bremer group,” wrote Kelley. Eventually, Bremer had to begin borrowing against his assets to keep country banks afloat.
By 1933, he held large or controlling interests in 55 banks in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Montana, apart from his holdings in American National. However, he was $8 million in debt. The backing of Adolph Bremer’s shares in the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company and a loan from the Federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation helped Otto Bremer keep his stock in American National and the country banks in the family.
Despite the one-two punch delivered by the farm recession and Great Depression, the Bremer brothers had kept control of both the brewery and the bank. When Adolph Bremer died in 1939, Otto Bremer succeed him as president of the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company.
Otto Bremer in 1943.
In 1943, he created the Otto Bremer Company. The bank holding company consolidated his holdings in the country banks and would protect them from being sold to settle his estate, according to the Kelley article.
The Otto Bremer Foundation was formed the next year to make charitable grants in the communities served by the country banks. The ownership of the Otto Bremer Company was transferred to the foundation in 1949. After Bremer’s death in 1951, the banking chain entered an extended period of consolidation. The brewery was sold in 1954, but descendants of Adolph Bremer held stock in American National until it was sold to Milwaukee-based Firstar Corp. in 1996.