Monday, February 8, 2016

An Illustrated History of Oshkosh’s Independent Beer Bottlers – Part One

This is the first in a two-part series of posts about Oshkosh’s pre-Prohibition beer bottlers. Lot's to cover here, so let's dig in....

Prior to the 1870s, few American breweries bottled their own beer. And for good reason. Packaging beer in bottles was slow, sloppy work. Nearly all of it was done by hand. But getting the beer into the bottles was only half the battle.

After the beer was bottled and capped, the chances of it going quite bad were quite good. Primitive bottle corking coupled with crude sanitation practices often resulted in a flat, sour end product. That began to change in the mid-1870s. The complications of bottling beer on a worthwhile scale were gradually worked out. Bottled beer was coming into its own.

In Oshkosh, though, brewers were reluctant to take on the challenge. The first to dive in was John Glatz. He began bottling his Union Brewery’s beer in late 1877. Here’s an early ad for Glatz’s glass-packaged beer.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 21, 1878.

And here’s a bottle of that “Good as Milwaukee beer.” This dates from the late 1880s.



Though the methodology of bottling was advancing, Oshkosh brewers remained apprehensive. Holding them back was an antiquated tax law that required beer to be kegged before it could be bottled. The protocol, which remained in effect until 1890, also prohibited bottling in the brewery where the beer was made. John Glatz got around that restriction by building a small bottling shed behind his brewery. Here's an incredible map from 1889 showing the layout of Glatz's Union Brewery (where Glatz Nature Park now resides). Notice the bottle house at the top of the map.


Most Oshkosh brewers weren’t willing to go to the lengths Glatz did to bottle beer. Instead, they relied on independent bottlers to deposit their product into glass.

At the close of the 1870s, a host of independent beer bottlers came on the scene in Oshkosh. Often working from saloons or even their own homes, these indy bottlers would purchase kegged beer from local breweries and siphon it into pint and quart sized bottles for resale at saloons and grocery stores. Most of these operations were small. Often, just one or two people were engaged in the business.

Let’s see who these bottlers were and where and when they did their business.

Christian Elser
Elser may have been the first independent bottler operating in Oshkosh. He came to the job with a wealth of experience. From 1869 until 1879 he had been a partner with John Glatz in the Union Brewery. There, Elser spearheaded the brewery’s early foray into bottling.

In 1879, Elser sold his interest in the Union Brewery to Glatz. Shortly after, Elser went indy. He opened a bottling plant on what is now W. 17th Ave, between Oregon and Doty streets. Elser appears to have abandoned that business about 1894. Here’s a rare look at one of Elser’s embossed beer bottles.


Silvo Fenn and the Fenn & Nachtrab Bottling Plant
Silvo Fenn was a brewer working at Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery in the early 1880s. Near the end of the decade he launched a bottling operation from his home on Doty, just across the street from the Horn & Schwalm Brewery. Fenn appears to have been the main bottler for the Horn & Schwalm Brewery prior to 1894.

By 1898, Fenn had partnered with Robert Nachtrab to form Fenn & Nachtrab Beer Bottling at what is now 1664 Nebraska. In the early 1900s, Fenn & Nachtrab were the primary bottlers for the Oshkosh Brewing Company. I’ll have much more on Fenn & Nachtrab in the not-too-distant future. For now, here’s a picture of an early Silvo Fenn bottle.


William Ganzer
In the early 1890s, William Ganzer was proprietor of the Fashion Sample Room. It was a saloon located on the east side of N. Main, four doors south of Waugoo. Ganzer turned to bottling in the early 1900s. His line was dedicated to Schlitz. He also worked as a distributor for the Milwaukee brewery. As late as 1917, Ganzer was still tied to Schlitz. Here’s a handsome Ganzer bottle from near the end of his run.


Thomas Getchius
Known around Oshkosh as The Old Roman, T.A. Getchius operated a saloon, dance hall and grocery store on land now occupied by West Algoma Park. He started his bottling operation there in the late 1880s. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a Getchius bottle, though they do exist. Getchius was an interesting guy. There's more about him HERE. The map below shows an outline of the Getchius operation located at what was then 253 W. Algoma.


Gustave Hafemann
Hafemann bottled beer from about 1911 to 1918. He was located on the west side of Grove Street just north of Cleveland. He appears to have worked almost exclusively with the Oshkosh Brewing Company. In 1914, he was listed as an employee of the brewery. By that time he was probably no longer bottling beer on Grove Street. I’ve never come across an image of a bottle bearing the Hafemann name. Considering his close ties to the brewery, there’s a good chance his bottles bore the Oshkosh Brewing Company stamp.

Dietrich Havemann
Havemann ran a small bottling operation from a barn behind his home in the early 1890s. The property spanned the current addresses of 1316 and 1322 Ceape Ave. Havemann’s known financial connections to August Rahr suggests that some of the beer he bottled may have originated at the Rahr Brewery. Havemann bottles are very rare. I’ve never seen one.

August Herzog
Herzog was the foreman of the bottling department at the Oshkosh Brewing Company in the early 1900s. Prior to that he partnered with Robert Ihbe. The duo ran a bottling plant at what is now 1225 Waugoo. Here’s a great looking Aug Herzog bottle from the turn of the century.


Robert Ihbe
Like his partner August Herzog (see above), Bob Ihbe was employed as a bottler by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Herzog and Ihbe moonlighted with an indy bottling operation. This sort of double-dipping was commonplace among Oshkosh bottlers. Ihbe appears to have sold and bottled only OBC beer from his bottle house at what is now 1225 Waugoo. The Ihbe bottling plant opened in the early 1900s. It remained in operation as late 1916. Here’s an outline of the Ihbe property shown in a 1903 map. The big, red arrow points the way. The bottling house was probably near the back of the property.


Frank Kitz Sr.
Frank Kitz the elder was another short timer doing business from his home. Kitz lived and bottled beer at what is now the northwest corner of Parkway and Monroe streets. The home still stands at 530 E. Parkway. The Kitz bottling business operated from this property for approximately six years – from about 1888 to 1894. Here’s a picture of a very rare Frank Kitz bottle.

Image courtesy of mrbottles.com

James Laing
Laing was best known in Oshkosh as a producer and bottler of soda. He did dabble in beer, though, particularly in the years surrounding 1910 when he sold and bottled the Rahr Brewery’s beer. His plant was located on Ceape Ave, just across the street from where the Leach Amphitheater now sits. Here’s a quart bottle from Laing, circa 1912.



And here's a Laing wagon making a delivery to J.J. Nigl's Saloon (now known as Ohio Street Station).


That’s enough for now. I’m working on part two of this series (and here that is). If all goes well, that’ll show up here next Monday.

In the meantime, I send huge THANKS to Steve Schrage. Several of the bottles seen here are from his collection. I’ve grown increasingly indebted to Steve. His enthusiasm and dedication to preserving Oshkosh’s incredible beer history is boundless. Thanks, buddy!

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