Early Brewing in Milwaukee

The American Brewer    Dec. 1933

First Brewery In Milwaukee Constructed 93 Years Ago
                                                          by MARTIN FRANCIS.

The Milwaukee brewing industry which in 1933 is going full blast is more than 93 years old and has a colorful history. In fact in another seven years the industry here will celebrate its 100th anniversary, a wonderful tribute to those sturdy pioneers who decided that Milwaukee was an ideal place in which to make beer.

In the year 1840 a little shack, 20 by 30 feet, and one and one-half stories high, was put up for the manufacture of beer by a German whose name appears to have been lost in the records. The brewery was not a financial success, however, and passed through several hands, finally being purchased by Charles T. Melms, who later sold out his interests to Jacob Best.

Jacob Best in 1844 had put up his own box-like brewery and there still is existence today the sketch of that ancient establishment with a team of oxen drawing a brewery wagon in the foreground and a barefoot boy on the left hanging to a cow with a bell around her neck.

Stern-faced Jacob Best, with his beard and full mustache drooping below high cheek bones, had come directly to Milwaukee where two of his son already had settled. With the father in the clipper ship across the Atlantic had come another son, Philip, born at Mettenheim, Rheinhessen, Germany, in 1814.

Jacob Best retired in 1853 and Philip became the sole proprietor in 1860, the other sons having withdrawn. By this time, the Empire Brewery, as it was called, already had a decade’s experience in the brewing of lager beer, the first batch of which was brewed late in 1851, where the Pabst Brewing Company now stands.

The brewers of Milwaukee in 1850 made nothing but top fermentation beers. That year, however, one of them sent to Germany for yeast with which to brew a kettle of lager, but with slow trains and slower vessels, this enterprising brewer began to doubt, however, whether his yeast ever would arrive.

One fine morning, therefore, he walked around to Jacob Best’s plant and told the old man that he would let him have the shipment of yeast as soon as it arrived if Herr Best would pay the cost of transportation. After two days of deliberation, Mr. Best allowed he would, and some time later a worn, wooden box of about, a foot and a half square arrived and that was the beginning of lager beer in this part of the world.

The yeast contained in the traveled package was packed in a sort of sawdust, around which were wound several folds of strong hopsacking. The wrapping was taken off carefully and to the astonishment of all the yeast was found to be in good condition.

“We took it to the top of the building,” writes the Best brew-master of that time, “and allowed it to dry thoroughly. Then we dissolved the whole mass in a pail and allowed it to run through a sieve which held the sawdust and permitted the yeast to pass into a proper receptacle below. The capacity of our kettle in those days was just 18 barrels, and we calculated that the yeast we had was just enough for one brew. Neither Philip nor I slept very much while we were trying the new yeast—but it was a success.”

Philip Best a few years later incorporated his business as the Philip Best Brewing Company, now known as Premier-Pabst Company. The capitalization in 1873 was $300,000, which was increased in 1874 to $2,000,000. About this time other plants were in operation. These included the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, the Val Blatz Company, Adam Gettelman Company,

Frank Falk Company, and several others. Milwaukee was brewing about 700,000 barrels a year and was beginning to take its place as one of the leading brewing centers in the United States.

In 1889 the annual output of the Best Company had passed the 500,000 barrel mark under the direction of Captain Fred Pabst, who had married Philip’s daughter, Marie Best, and about this time the firm name was changed to Pabst Brewing Company.

The plant established by Franz Falk in 1856 and later consolidated with the brewery of Jung and Borchert, founded in 1878, was destroyed by fire in 1892, and that business, too, was subsequently sold to Pabst.

Frederick Pabst, who had been instrumental in putting his business on an international basis, was born in Saxony in 1836. He arrived in Chicago with his parents in 1848. His mother died of cholera which swept the city at that time, his father lost what money he brought with him, and at twelve Fred Pabst obtained employment at the old Mansion House in Chicago at $5 a month and board.

Five years later he took a job as cabin boy on one of the liners on the Great Lakes plying between Milwaukee and Chicago. Four years later he was a captain. In 1862 he married Miss Best, and after some years on the Great Lakes, became interested in the brewery.

About five years after Jacob Best had set up his brewery August Krug, another German, was busy erecting a small brew house.

In the following year he built the first underground vaults in the city for the storage of beer. Mr. and Mrs. Krug, who had no children, had adopted August Uihlein, who was born in Miltenberg, Germany, whence, incidentally, came the Falk and Blatz families. August’s mother, Mrs. Benedict Uihlein was born Krug, and it was her brother that started the brewery in Milwaukee which later, as the Joseph Schlitz Company was to become one of the most famous in America.

Young August had started for the new country at the age of nine under the guidance of his uncle Krug. They set out from the port of Hamburg on the sailing vessel Helen Schomann. Somewhere in mid-ocean the ship sank, and Mr. Krug and August were picked up by a British clipper ship. Mr. Krug died in 1856 and an employee of his, Joseph Schlitz, took charge, later purchased the plant, and also married the widow Krug.

August Uihlein Krug meanwhile had been registered in the public school of Milwaukee and had later started doing odd jobs, when, in 1857, another tragedy at sea changed his course in life. In that year his stepfather by adoption, Joseph Schlitz went down off the Scilly Islands in the ship Schiller and never was heard from again.

The Krug-Schlitz interests passed to young August, who thereupon wrote to Germany for his four brothers to join him here. The capitalization of the company they took in hand stood at $12,000,000 at the turn of the century.

Valentine Blatz, of the Val Blatz Brewing Company, was born in 1826, the son of a Bavarian brewer. In 1848 he went to Buffalo, and then to Milwaukee, where he worked for John Braun, brewer. Later he started his own plant but when Braun died he married the widow and united their plants.

In 1851 the Blatz Brewery output amounted to about 150 barrels, by 1882 it had exceeded the 100,000 barrel mark. In 1894 Mr. Blatz died. The present head is Edward Landsberg, who originally started with Mr. Blatz as an office clerk.

Franz Falk was probably connected with more breweries in Milwaukee than any other pioneer in the industry. He was associated with Mr. Krug, then with Mr. Melms, next came the firm of Falk & Goes. In 1889 the Falk interests became associated with those of Jung & Borchert, and in 1892 the combination was absorbed by the Pabst Brewing Company.

The Miller Brewing Company also traces its beginning back to Jacob Best. In 1854 Charles Best retired from the business started by his father and engaged in the manufacture of vinegar. In 1850 he founded the Plank Road Brewery, where his brother Lorenz joined him. Operating as Best Brothers this plant is said to have made the first shipment of beer to New York City. In 1885 the plant was purchased by Frederick Miller. Cream City Brewing Company, Obermann, and Gettelman companies, also trace their ancestry back to plants that started in the early fifties.

In 1882 Milwaukee breweries were using about 4,500,000 bushels of malt annually, 2,500,000 of hops, 46,000,000 bottles, most of which were quarts, and 60,000 tons of coal. The daily shipment of beer from the city amounted to 100 carloads and an equal number brought in the empties. Annually the railroads were paid $875,000.

The Milwaukee industry reached its zenith in about 1907, with almost 4,000,000 barrels and before the last chapter was written the brewer that made the city famous had reached Africa with Roosevelt; the Antarctic with Amundson; Perry saw an empty bottle of Pabst near the North Pole, and Dewey at Manila quenched his thirst with Schlitz.

The new era of brewing is in full sway in the city again. Milwaukee brews are selling well and retaining their old reputations. It appears as if the city is again destined to increase its beer output year after year. With modern transportation and merchandising, everyone expects to see the breweries here expand year after year. 

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