Monday, April 3, 2017

Sitter Beverage, Schnitzelbank and the end of Prohibition in Oshkosh

Last week, I blogged about the the Sitter family's early years in Oshkosh and the wildcat brewery they operated during Prohibition. You can find that story here. Today we head back to Sitter Beverage, which was located at what is now 1255 Harney Ave.

We pick up in the spring of 1933… It was a happy time in Oshkosh. There was sense of anticipation. National Prohibition was coming undone. Legal beer was coming back.

On March 22, President Roosevelt signed off on legislation clearing the way for beer that was 4% ABV or less. That same evening, Matt Sitter ran an ad in the Daily Northwestern urging people to send him their orders.
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; March 22, 1933.

The Sitters were back in the beer business. Bonafide. But there was a hitch. Oshkosh’s three breweries were already swamped with orders for beer. Matt Sitter had to scramble to find an out-of-town source. We get the story from a relative of Matt Sitter.

Tom Sitter lives in Oshkosh. Matt was his grandfather’s brother. Tom was told of Matt Sitter's rush to get beer in early April 1933. Here's Tom...

"In 1982, I was at work and a customer stopped by. He asked if I was related to Matt. He was the driver of the first load of beer to come to Oshkosh for Matt for the day Prohibition ended. I wish I could remember his name and what brand.

He said everything was going fine with his trip back from Milwaukee. He approached the Main Street bridge from the South and as he crossed the river he almost crapped his pants. Both sides of the street were lined with people waiting for the first loads of beer to arrive (I can only think of the song “Happy Days are Here Again!”). It scared him so much that he was happy that his first turn was to go down Ceape Street.

He got to Harney Avenue and was instructed to back the truck up the narrow driveway to unload.  As he was backing up someone yelled out to him “stop, stop, you are going to snap the wire”.  It was a wire for the telephone.  At that point Matt Sitter yelled out, 'That beer is worth more than any G** Damn wire, get that truck back here to unload!'"

And so, Matt Sitter had his beer. In the future, he wouldn’t have to hustle so to get it. After the initial furor waned, Sitter partnered with Peoples Brewing Company. Sitter Beverage became the primary distributor for Peoples Beer in the Oshkosh area.
March 16, 1939

Matt Sitter expanded the family business beyond beer. He began offering, wines, cordials, whiskey. Here’s the head of a December 23, 1933, advertisement celebrating the Sitter family’s 50 years in Oshkosh.

And here’s a mid-1930s whiskey bottle from Sitter Beverage.

Sitter’s advertising sometimes paid homage to his family’s European roots. The example below comes in the form of a "Schnitzelbank" poster. Schnitzelbank is an old, call-and-response German song. It was popular among the German immigrants who came to America in the latter half of the 1800s. Schnitzelbank was often sung while drinking beer. If you want to grab a beer and sing along, here’s how it’s done (and here's another example).

Here's another copy of the poster.

Sitter Beverage flourished in the years following the repeal of Prohibition. But Matt Sitter’s success was cut tragically short. He died of stomach cancer in 1940. By 1948, Sitter Beverage had closed. Mathius Sitter is buried in Oshkosh’s Riverside Cemetery.

Thanks to Tom Sitter, he's been a great help with this. Tom gets the last word. "Here is the link for Bernhard Sitter and his Bier Hotel at Gut Riedelsbach. It is 8 to 12 miles from my Great Grandfather’s (Johann Sitter's) birthplace, which is now in the Czech Republic (Formerly in Austria). His birthplace was Boehmischroehren, Austria. If his last name is Sitter, and he makes and likes beer, I know he is a direct descendant!!"

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