Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Beer Brewing Schwalms of Oshkosh

Though last week’s post about Theodore Schwalm ended on a dour note, his death did not impede the rise of the beer-brewing Schwalm family in Oshkosh and beyond.

Arthur L. Schwalm
Arthur L. Schwalm was just two-years-old when his father, Theodore Schwalm, died in 1888. But like his father, Arthur was destined to become a beer man. His path to the beer business was nothing like his father’s, though. Prior to his brewery days, he attended the Oshkosh Teacher's College and then the University of Wisconsin where he earned a bachelor of arts degree and was captain of the football team. When he returned to Oshkosh, Arthur went to work in the bottling plant of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. He stayed with the company through the bleak years of Prohibition, eventually becoming vice-president of the brewery and in 1942, following the death of Otto Horn, was made president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Arthur L. Schwalm was 56-years-old.

He managed the brewery through its most expansive period and gained a prominence within the larger brewing community that few regional brewers enjoyed. He was vice-president of the Wisconsin Brewers Association and a director of the American Brewers Association. He would also be the last member of the original families who formed Oshkosh Brewing to lead the company.

When Arthur died in 1961 at the age of 76, he was still president of Oshkosh Brewing. The obituary that appeared for him in the Oshkosh Northwestern mentions that his interest in brewing was probably sparked by his grandfather, Leonhardt Schwalm, whom he never met. The piece omits any influence his father, Theodore Schwalm, may have had upon him. Two months after Arthur’s death, the company was sold to David V. Uihlein, of the family who controlled Milwaukee’s Schlitz Brewing.
A. Thomas Schwalm

From the vantage point of the 1940s, that ending to the story would have been entirely unexpected. Arthur Schwalm had groomed his son, A. Thomas Schwalm, to follow him into the beer making business and for a time, that’s the path he trod. After Graduating from the University of Wisconsin, A. Thomas Schwalm was trained as a brewer and was brewmaster for the Oshkosh Brewing Company through the 1940s.

But A. Thomas Schwalm’s brewing days came to an abrupt end in 1950 when his father-in-law, Oscar J. Hardy, died. Hardy was the owner and publisher of the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern and when he passed, A. Thomas Schwalm left the beer business and took over the paper with his brother-in-law, Samuel W. Heaney. Together they ran the Northwestern as co-publishers until 1994. A. Thomas Schwalm passed away in 1997. The following year the Northwestern was sold to Ogden Newspapers.
Thomas Hardy Schwalm

There was still beer in the Schwalm blood, though. A. Thomas Schwalm’s son, Thomas Hardy Schwalm, would follow the paternal tradition and establish a career in the beer business working for Schlitz, Strohs and in 1994 he became president of Barton Beers Ltd., then the largest independent beer importer in the United States. But Thomas Hardy Schwalm’s real claim to fame would be the SoBe line of teas and energy drinks. Yes, those big bottles filled with glowing fluid that you see at every gas station from coast-to-coast were conceived by an Oshkosh beer man. We’ve come a long way from Theodore Schwalm and the days of Chief Oshkosh Pilsner.

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