Monday, February 23, 2015

The Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1900

By 1900, the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) had come to dominate the beer market in the City of Oshkosh. Ten years earlier there had been four competing breweries in the city: Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery, John Glatz’s Union Brewery, Lorenz Kuenzl’s Gambrinus Brewery, and Charles Rahr’s City Brewery. But after the 1894 merger of the Horn & Schwalm, Glatz, and Kuenzl breweries to form OBC, the beer market in Oshkosh underwent a dramatic shift.

Now there were just two competing breweries in Oshkosh: OBC and the much smaller brewery operated by the Rahr family. It took a couple of years for OBC to find its footing and absorb the changes that came with the merger. Once it did, though, the brewery began flexing its muscle.

OBC seized control of the Oshkosh beer market and exploited its dominance for all it was worth. And the folks at the brewery weren’t hiding the fact that they were happy to be the kings of beer here.

On March 27, 1900, the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern ran an article about OBC that reads as if it were sponsored by the brewery. It probably was. And I imagine most of the saloon men in Oshkosh were spitting mad after reading it. They were the ones shouldering the burden of OBC’s success (more on their discontent next Monday).

The full text of the article is below. It’s a windy one, but it’s loaded with fascinating information. I’ll highlight a couple of key points beneath it and have a note about the image of the brewery shown here.

The Oshkosh Brewing Co's Plant

One of the most successful business institutions of the city is that of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, located on the south side, a cut of which is herewith presented. This corporation conducts one of the finest plants in the northwest for the manufacture of beer. 

Ever since the consolidation in 1894 of the Horn, Glatz and Kuenzl breweries into the Oshkosh Brewing Company, the business of the company has gradually increased in such proportion until now, when it commands fully three-fourths of the beer business of the city of Oshkosh and is gradually reaching out into different parts of the state. 

The product of the Oshkosh Brewing company is distinctively a home article, and the local trade realizing this has not been backward in conferring its patronage upon the home industry, and purchasing an article; which is conceded to be the very best of its kind placed on the market. 

The company prefers home-grown cereals because they are as good as can be obtained elsewhere, besides being a benefit to the neighboring country. Every bushel is bought in Oshkosh in open market at the highest prices. It assures the farmer of better prices for his grain, and thus indirectly rebounds to the benefit of the city at large. Thus nearly all the money expended remains at home. The company is a strong believer in home industry, and carries out its ideas in this respect, which results in assisting the other industries of the city and, enlarging the business importance of Oshkosh. 

The prosperity of the Oshkosh Brewing Company is well merited, for the reason that its beer cannot be excelled in purity of manufacture and excellence of taste. Only the very best and purest products of the farm in the way of cereals are used in its manufacture, and the users and consumers of beer quickly appreciate this fact and have bestowed upon it the large and excellent patronage which it so justly deserves. 

It is no exaggeration, to state that the plant of the company is one of the most thorough and complete of its kind in the country, being equipped with the latest improved machinery for the manufacture of its beer, into which no adulterations of any kind are permitted to enter. 

Within the last year the officials of the company have made somewhat of a departure which resulted in placing upon the market what is known as the celebrated Berliner Weiss beer, being a white-colored beer, which met with an immediate and pronounced demand. The delicate taste and exquisite purity and color of this product appealed to all consumers of beer, and, as a result, it is in almost universal demand wherever it is known. 

For strictly family use, bottled goods, in Select, Gilt Edge and Export, Standard are produced in pints and quarts, which make an excellent drink, without which no table is complete in its cuisine.

The Oshkosh Brewing Company is the largest corporation of its kind in the city, employing in both its manufacturing and bottling departments in the neighborhood of thirty men. Five men and teams are kept constantly employed in delivering the product in the keg, while the demand for the bottled goods is also so great that the same number of men are always at work in supplying the trade with the bottled goods. All orders for the goods are always promptly attended to. 

Several new improvements were made in the plant the past year, which resulted in increasing its capacity. The brew house was enlarged, new washing and other machines added, and the cellars extended in order to make room for the Weiss beer. The capacity of the corporation is now 50,000 barrels of beer annually, and if it has the success in the future which it has enjoyed in the past, more extensions and more improvements will be rendered necessary. 

The indication at present are that the business in the Weiss beer alone next year will be doubled, and as other brands are equally as popular, it is safe to predict that the prosperous year just passed will be followed by another which will be much greater in the volume of business to be transacted by the firm.

The present officers who have the direction of the affairs of the company are: President, August Horn; treasurer, William Glatz; secretary F. S. Schneider.

     - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern March 27, 1900

A few items of note:

The article indicates that OBC was making 75% of the beer consumed in the city of Oshkosh. That jibes with other figures I’ve come across. In 1900, OBC sold 17,675 barrels of beer. That’s almost 2,000 barrels more than it sold in 1899, and nearly 4,000 more than it sold in 1898. This brewery was growing at a rapid clip. It helped that they were serving a city that per-capita was drinking about 31 gallons of beer annually, or nearly twice the national average.

At this same time, Rahr of Oshkosh was producing approximately 2,000 barrels of beer annually. Another 3,900 barrels were being sent in from brewers outside of Oshkosh.

This overwhelming preference for OBC beer meant the brewery was able to set the price on beer sold in Oshkosh. The competition had been effectively neutered. The saloon men were caught in the middle. Their discontent was growing palpable. It would soon erupt into full revolt (come back next Monday for that story).

That business about OBC buying its cereals from local farmers was no small matter, either. Barley was OBC’s biggest expenditure in the production of its beer. This was a period where most brewers were still malting their own barley. Most of OBC’s malting was done at their facility in the 1600 block of Doty St. This was a craft brewery before anyone had dreamed of such a thing.

The mention of the popularity of OBC’s weiss beer is intriguing. I’d love to know more about this. Was this truly a “Berliner” weiss with all the attended sourness of the style? I’d like to think so, but until that time machine comes along we’ll be left to wonder.

Finally, let’s take a closer look at the image that accompanied this article. Click the image to enlarge it.

This is a composite of the three breweries operated by OBC. Each was located in a different part of the city.

The brewery at the lower right with the red “1” on it was the Horn & Schwalm plant. It was located in the 1600 block of Doty St. A large portion of the Horn & Schwalm brewery still stands.

The “2” brewery was the Glatz brewery, located at the end of Doty St. where Glatz Park now resides. Parts of this brewery’s lagering cellar are still visible there.

The “3” brewery at the upper right is the Kuenzl brewery. This was located in what is now the 1200 block of Harney Ave. Not a trace of it remains.

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