Monday, February 2, 2015

A 1957 Snapshot of Oshkosh Beer

Welcome to February, the month that officially kicks off the winter doldrums. Here’s something to give you hope. Click that little picture over there. It’ll grow large and comfort you with its sunny warmth.

The photo is from the summer of 1957. It was passed along to me by my friend Janet Wissink. Janet doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks it was probably shot on a Sunday somewhere on the South Side of Oshkosh. That figures. Peoples did their best business on the South Side.

Before we dive into the beer scene of 1957, Let’s meet the folks smiling at us. On the left is Janet’s mother, Audrey Penzenstadler of Oshkosh. The woman in the middle is Esther Kunz, of Appleton. The happy guy with the bottle of Peoples Beer and the hot dog is Esther’s son, Roderick Kunz. More on him later.

This picture was taken at an interesting point in Oshkosh’s beer history. The Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh had closed a year earlier. For the first time in over 100 years, Oshkosh had just two breweries – Peoples Brewing and the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

Both breweries were at their peak. At OBC they produced more than 57,000 barrels of beer in 1957. Peoples had sales of approximately 34,000 barrels that year. The bulk of OBC’s beer was sold in bottles. Peoples sold the lion’s share of its beer on draught in taverns. Whatever the package, most of the beer brewed in Oshkosh that year was consumed locally.

That’s a lot of beer drinking, especially when you consider that Oshkosh had slightly less than 45,000 residents at this point. But people here were dedicated to their local beer. A survey taken in 1957 showed that 75% of the beer drinkers in Oshkosh drank only beer brewed in Oshkosh. The going price for either beer was around $2.40 for a case of returnable bottles.

Combined, these two breweries employed more than 110 people. Both companies were into a modernization phase and putting money into their breweries. Together they were producing more than 90,000 barrels of beer annually. That number would climb to nearly 100,000 barrels within the next two years. Here’s some perspective: The Fox River Brewing company currently brews 600-700 barrels of beer a year in Oshkosh.

In 1957, there were 32 breweries in Wisconsin. OBC was the 10th largest. Peoples was the 16th. While most of Wisconsin’s regional breweries were seeing their fortunes grow worse each year, the breweries in Oshkosh were growing. Of course, it wouldn’t last. fifteen years later each of them were closed.

Back to our picnickers on their sunny day in 1957. I’m sure they weren’t concerned in the least with any of this stuff about Oshkosh’s booming breweries. Roderick Kunz certainly seems to be enjoying that Oshkosh-brewed beer in his hand. Looks as if he’s well into his second bottle. I hope there were more to come.

Roderick Kunz was 26 years old when this picture was taken. On his left hand you can see his new wedding ring. A couple months earlier, Roderick married Fay Penzenstadler of Oshkosh (the daughter of Audrey Penzenstadler, the woman on the far left with the kind smile). Roderick and Fay had just completed their sophomore years at the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh. Here’s to young Roderick having a good time on his summer break. Wouldn’t you like to be there now?


  1. What a great story. I'm pretty sure that my uncles and grandparents kept People's beer going for an extra 5 years. Lol

  2. What a great story. I'm pretty sure that my uncles and grandparents kept People's beer going for an extra 5 years. Lol