|Peoples Brewery 1512 S. Main St.|
Being head of the only brewery in town, though, wasn't Mack’s ambition. He had bigger plans. His goal was to make Peoples Beer a national brand. “To stay in one locale, that’s how you get killed quickly,” he said. Before Mack's arrival in April 1970, The sale of Peoples Beer had been predominantly confined to the Oshkosh area, but Mack had managed to extend the brewery's reach. Peoples was now being sold in Indiana and Tennessee and in January 1972 Mack landed a deal to distribute the beer in California. While most of the nations remaining regional brewers were hunkering down, desperately trying to protect their bits of turf, Mack was taking the opposite approach. He had decided to go toe-to-toe with the big brewers that were set on driving out breweries like his. Peoples became the only non-Milwaukee beer available at Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks games and Mack even secured a license to distribute his beer in Missouri, the home state of Budweiser. He wanted to establish a television presence for Peoples Beer, as well. Mack told his shareholders, “I see everybody on TV but Peoples. We have to get the money for more advertising." A tall order considering the brewery was already $100,000 in debt.
He found a new Brewmaster in Ronald Papenfuss, who had brewed for Lithia in West Bend and Huber in Monroe, and Mack began to zero in on lucrative government contracts for supplying beer to the armed forces. Mack's intention was to take advantage of the affirmative action legislation of 1965 that called for equal representation of minorities in the awarding of government contracts. Since Mack ran the only minority owned brewery in the nation, he suggested his brewery ought to be supplying 10% of the government's purchase of beer. Mack estimated the potential value of such contracts to be in excess of $100 million and had he been able to secure the orders the fate of Peoples Brewery might have been much different.
It was too late, though. By the end of the summer, the brewery was out of ready capital. The fatal blow was delivered on September 26, 1972 when the Internal Revenue Service filed a $35,809 tax lien against Peoples Brewing for failure to pay excise and withholding taxes. Within a month, brewery operations came to a stand still. Initially, Mack claimed the production decline was due to the slack winter months, but this was no ordinary slowdown.
In a last ditch effort to keep the brewery afloat, Mack filed a $100 million lawsuit against the Small Business Administration and the Department of Defense claiming he had been denied the right to sell beer to the government under contract. That didn't pan-out, either. On November 14, 1972 Mack held a press conference at Jabbers, a tavern next door to the brewery and confirmed that his company was no longer brewing beer. The 30 employees of the Peoples Brewing Company were laid off. Oshkosh's long history of beer making had come to an abrupt end.
“It hurt me deeply," Mack would later say. "It looked so beautiful when we came here, although the system tried to mess us up. They told me I couldn’t move to Oshkosh. They told you I was going to replace whites with blacks. We worked like the devil trying to put this together and it made us feel good when we came here to sell stock and white people came through the door all day to buy stock, but every time the newspapers came out it was ‘the black brewery.’ Maybe a few of us got educated on the way things really are in America."
Thanks to John Marx for the photos of Peoples Brewery