Monday, September 20, 2010

The Beginning of Beer in Oshkosh

Since this post first appeared there has been a significant number of additions to the Schussler story. Here is the full and complete version.

On September 21, 1849 the Oshkosh True Democrat published an overview of Oshkosh that included the news that our town now had its own brewery. Unfortunately, the paper neglected to mention either the name or location of the new brewery. It’s likely the editors assumed they needn’t bother with such fussy details. The 1,032 residents of Oshkosh probably already knew all about it.

There is no conclusive proof as to who was the first commercial brewer in Oshkosh, but there are a few shreds of information floating about that give us a glimpse into the very earliest days of brewing here. If it’s true that the first brewery opened in 1849, then there’s a good possibility that the brewer was a man named Joseph Schuessler. In the census of 1850 Schuessler is the only person living in the area whose occupation is listed as Brewer. We know that Schuessler was 30 years old in 1850 and had emigrated from Baden, Germany, but where he lived and brewed in Oshkosh at that time remains unknown.

From September 6, 1850
Here’s what we do know: In June of 1850 advertisements for beer brewed in Oshkosh begin to appear in the Oshkosh True Democrat when Johnson’s Ice Cream Saloon places a series of notices announcing their opening on the east side of Ferry Street (now Main Street). Among the products John Johnson lists for sale are Detroit Ale and Oshkosh Beer. Then in September of 1850 Schuessler and his business partner John Freund begin buying space in the paper to say that they have erected a brewery in Oshkosh aptly named the Oshkosh Brewery, but like those before them they neglect to mention where the brewery is located. The first of these advertisements appears on September 6, 1850 and state that Schuessler and Freund “are prepared to supply the Tavern, Grocery, and Saloon keepers of the surrounding country with good Ale and Beer” and promise “a superior article — better than is obtained from abroad under the title of "Detroit Ale" or "Milwaukee Beer." The beer brewing business in Oshkosh was up and running.

It seems the brewery faltered early on, though. By the end of 1850 John Freund was having financial trouble and his partnership with Schuessler was dissolved on January 1, 1851. Schuessler then took on a new partner, Francis Tillmans, but the business didn’t recover, it either petered out or was sold off. Hopefully, there will be more to come on that.  In any case, it appears that by 1857 Schuessler was no longer making his living brewing beer. The Oshkosh City Directory for that year lists his occupation as cooper (barrel maker) and has him living on Wisconsin Street near Warren Road and the Fox River. As a cooper, Schuessler would have remained tied to the growing Oshkosh brewing scene, though, and perhaps he dabbled in beer making even after his brewery was no more. In the 1860 census his occupation is again listed as Brewer, but shortly after that his trail grows cold. By 1864, the man who was perhaps the first professional brewer in Oshkosh, had left town.


  1. Joseph Schuessler was my great, great grandfather. He was born in the province of Baden, Germany in 1819. After the Oshkosh experience which you describe he moved to Fond du Lac and took over a brewery on Macy Street owned by his brother in law, a Mr. Fry. In 1871 he built the West Hill Brewery which was destroyed by fire in 1891. His wife, the former Fanny Neukirch, was the daughter of Franz Neukirch, who did a lot with beer in Milwaukee, and who was the first person to take out naturalization papers in Milwaukee County.

    1. Tom, did you get a chance to see the update to this post? There's a link at the top to it. I'd really like to hear more from you about Joseph Schuessler. I also have a couple things related to him to you might be interested in. Can you drop me an email at
      Thanks, Tom!

    2. Great job, Lee. Now I see your full post, which is great work by you. What a sad story about 12 year old August who died at that Fond du Lac brewery as you say. What was a 12 year old doing in a dangerous place like that? I am sure that his father was burdened about that for the rest of his life. Here is a great article about Franz Neukirch which includes Milwaukee Brew history.

      I can be reached by email at
      Thank you again for this research.