Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Passing of Harold Kriz, the Last President of the Oshkosh Brewing Company

Harold Francis Kriz died on May 16, 2013, at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh. He was 79 years old. Kriz was the last president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, serving in that role from 1969 until 1971 when the brewery closed. But Kriz’s history with OBC went back much further.
Harold Kriz

Kriz was born in Oshkosh on January 19, 1934. A son of the south side, he went to work at the
brewery on June 9, 1952; just a few months after his 18th birthday. Kriz served as the brewery’s chief accountant for most of his time there and was on hand to see the brewery at its peak in the middle and late 1950s. And he was there when the brewery suffered through its steady decline in the 1960s. In 1965, Kriz was made general manager of OBC, an appointment made by David Uihlein, who had purchased the brewery in 1961. Uihlein, a member of the Milwaukee family that owned Schlitz Brewing, had little time for OBC. Instead, he was devoting most of his efforts to business interests outside of Oshkosh. It fell to Kriz to navigate what had become a sinking ship. At the time, Kriz was 31 years old and the father of six young children. Presiding over the downfall of an iconic local business couldn’t have been easy for the life-long Oshkosh resident.

In June 1969, Kriz led a group of brewery employees in purchasing OBC from its absentee owner. At the time, OBC was on track to produce approximately 33,000 barrels for the year; about half of what the brewery’s output had been prior to the takeover by Uihlein. But Kriz, who became president of OBC, was resolute. He told the Milwaukee Sentinel, “There’s still a place for the small brewer.” Not for this one. The brewery’s slide into insolvency went unabated. The Oshkosh Brewing Company stopped making beer in September 1971. Two months later, Kriz announced that the brewery’s brands had been sold to their rival across the street, the Peoples Brewing Company. After 106 years, the Oshkosh Brewing Company was no more.

Harold Kriz’s obituary appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern last Friday, on May 17, 2013. The obituary makes no mention of Kriz’s association with the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It sums up his working life in a single line: “He was an accountant for many years in Oshkosh.” It’s an unfortunate diminution of his career. I don’t think Kriz has ever been given his proper due where OBC is concerned. The risk he undertook trying to resurrect a brewery that had been decimated by the misguided practices of its previous owner was substantial. That he failed to revive the brewery seems to have continued to sting him. Others and myself made numerous attempts to speak with Kriz about his years at OBC. He didn’t want to talk about it. That’s too bad. Now that he’s gone, he takes with him a story that will remain untold – his own. I wonder if that’s how he really wanted it.


  1. I can readily understand Mr. Kriz not wanting to be interviewed about his time at OBC. Surely rehashing failure in your life's work would stand out among reasons for not being interviewed. That said, nearly all small local brewery failures in the 50's, 60's and 70's are frequently linked to inefficiency, inconsistent quality, and tremendous competition on price from large more modern breweries. Throw in big advertising budgets especially involving TV that local brewers couldn't match and local beer markets moved away from beers like Chief Oshkosh.

    What would have made the interview with Mr.Kriz interesting is the fact that OBC was owned by David Uihlein during much of its decline. How did Kriz and Uihlein deal with the fact that Old Milwaukee from the Uihlein controlled Jos. Schlitz was taking over their market? What did Kriz think about Uihlein cheapening the beer formula? Why did Kriz think the 1969 employee buyout from Uihlein would improve the OBC fortunes? And finally how did Kriz deal with losing tap handles in local bars and home refrigerator space of decades old friends of OBC to out of town beers? That had to be a personal hurt felt by Kriz and his brewery workers.

    1. Good points, Leigh. That group that tried to bring the brewery back had to have known what they were up against, it’s amazing that they even gave it a shot. I just wish Kriz would have been more forthcoming about his years at OBC. He had nothing to be ashamed of.