Monday, March 20, 2017

Fisher’s Wildcat Brewery on South Main

Theodore Fisher was thriving. He had a three-story building at the corner of 6th and S. Main streets. There he ran a hotel, a saloon, and a brewery. The hotel was legal. The saloon and brewery were not. It was 1927. Prohibition was on. There was real money to be made in beer, now that it was illegal.

The Former South Side Hotel, Saloon and Brewery at what is now 601 S. Main St.

Theodore Fisher was born in Wisconsin in 1872. Much of his early life was spent on a Pierce County farm in western Wisconsin. But farming was not for Fisher. He wandered out of Pierce County and wound up in Oshkosh.

About 1917, Fisher took over the saloon and hotel at the corner of 6th and S. Main. A bachelor, he made his home in a room above the saloon. Downstairs, Fisher sold beer made by the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

The Fischer Saloon in 1919 with an Oshkosh Beer sign.

After the dry law arrived in 1920, the Oshkosh Brewing Company could no longer supply Fisher with beer. Fisher saw an opportunity there. He’d make his own beer. He set up a brewery in the basement under the saloon. He hired a brewer named Frank Weber. He could produce about six barrels of beer in each batch. The money came rolling in.

Before Prohibition, Fisher had been selling draft beer for a nickel a mug. Approximately half that nickel went to the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It was tough for a saloonkeeper to get ahead. The dry law changed the equation. It caused beer prices to skyrocket.

Fisher could sell bottles of his wildcat brew for a quarter – five times what he used to get for a schooner of OBC’s beer. And there was no outside brewery taking a cut from that quarter. The illicit beer trade was lucrative in the extreme. All was well until the summer of 1927.

July 4, 1927. Fisher's Wildcat Brewery & Saloon on the parade route.

Federal Prohibition enforcement officers had turned their attention to northeast Wisconsin. The area was teeming with wildcat breweries. A series of raids were planned that would begin in Oshkosh, move to Appleton, and conclude in Green Bay.

On the Wednesday evening of August 24, 1927, the raids began. “Five federal dry operatives hit Oshkosh with a crash,” the Daily Northwestern reported. Fisher’s place was the first taken down.

The Milwaukee Sentinel reported that the cops broke in to find 110 cases of bottled beer. Another 200 gallons of beer were ready for bottling. In all, Fisher had some 420 gallons of beer at the time of the raid in his basement brewery. In today’s money that beer would be worth just over $15,000. It all went down the drain.

As was their practice, Prohibition enforcers smashed the brewery and shattered every container of beer.

“The hotel basement was flooded with the fluid from the broken bottles and jars witnesses said. The place was piled with debris after the smashing party they declared. The fire department was called to the place to stop a gas leak, which it was alleged was started when a pipe was broken.”
   – Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, August 25, 1927.

The cops arrested Frank Weber, the brewer, and Otto Finder, a bartender at Fisher’s saloon. Fisher was nowhere to be found. A warrant was issued for his arrest. He turned himself in the next day. He wasn’t in jail long. Fisher cut a check for $2,000. By Thursday afternoon the three were back on the street.

It’s not known whether Fisher repaired his brewery and went back to making beer. If he did, he didn’t get caught again. In any case, he kept right on running his hotel and “soft drink” parlor.

The arrest didn’t appear to hurt his reputation any. In 1933, the year Prohibition ended, Fisher was elected to the Oshkosh city council representing the Third Ward. He stayed on in the tavern business in Oshkosh until the end of the 1930s.

Theodore G. Fisher died in Milwaukee in 1940. He was 68 years old.


  1. Too bad you don't have the recipe for Frank Weber's Wildcat beer! I'm sure a lot of care went into the brewing. Did the $2000.00 also bail out Frank and Otto or are they still in the Oshkosh jail?

    1. Leigh, I'd love to see a recipe from that place!
      The $2,000 got all of them out of the pen.

    2. Weber's wildcat brewing process was so rushed that each glass of beer was served with a chunk of yeast cake. No one cared. The beer won 1st place in beers served on South Main Street within two blocks of the river. There were 29 competitors. Half the judging panel went blind after the taste testing.