Monday, March 7, 2011

First Breweries of Oshkosh: Part 2 - Joseph Schussler’s Oshkosh Brewery

In 1850 there were 431 breweries in the United States. Two of those were in Oshkosh.

In November of 1849 Joseph Schussler began setting up Oshkosh’s second brewery after purchasing more than an acre of land from Henry A. Gallup, an early Oshkosh settler. The plot was located on the south side of what is now Bay Shore Drive in the approximate area currently under the address of 1031 Bay Shore Drive.

Oshkosh Democrat September 6, 1850
By all indications, Schussler had ambitious plans for his new brewery. Shortly after purchasing the property from Gallup, Schussler and his business partner, John Freund, placed a series of advertisements in the Oshkosh Democrat announcing that they had “Erected a BREWERY in the village of Oshkosh” and were “prepared to supply the Tavern, Grocery, and Saloon keepers of the surrounding country with good Ale and Beer”. The advertisements end on a note that would be echoed by Oshkosh brewers for the next 120 years with Schussler and Freund promising that their beer was better than that “obtained from abroad under the title of ‘Detroit Ale’ or ‘Milwaukee Beer’”. Already the specter of Milwaukee lager was haunting the brewers of Oshkosh. Small-town anxiety aside, Schussler and Freund charged they were “confident in warranting a superior article”. 

Schussler had every right to feel confident. He had arrived in Oshkosh with an impressive set of skills. Born in Baden, Germany in 1819 he was trained as a brewer and cooper (barrel maker) in his homeland before coming to America. Prior to his arrival in Oshkosh at the age of 30, Schussler had worked for several years as a brewer in Milwaukee and eventually came to be known for his ability as a brewmaster and his singular approach to beer making. It was reported that “His brewing method is different from others, and known only to himself.”

Early on it appears that Schussler’s Oshkosh Brewery was a success. By the summer of 1850 local businesses were advertising that they carried Oshkosh Beer and Schussler’s notices in the paper stating that he and Freund would pay the highest market prices for any quantity of barley indicate the beer had gained a following. But it seems that Schussler’s early success didn’t hold.

At the close of 1850 Schussler’s business partner, John Freund,  appears to have encountered financial difficulties apart from the brewery. And on January 1, 1851 Schussler and Freund dissolved their partnership. Schussler acquired a new partner for the brewery, Francis Tillmans, and in June of 1851 took a second mortgage against the property. If Schussler was trying to leverage his holdings to finance his brewery, the strategy didn’t work. In June of 1852 Schussler signed his assets over to his creditors. The Oshkosh Brewery of Joseph Schussler would not be heard from again.

Schussler’s involvement with beer in Oshkosh doesn’t end there, though. He stayed on in Oshkosh, moving over to Wisconsin Street and putting his coopering skills to work to earn his living. It appears, though, that in 1860 he had returned to brewing beer in Oshkosh. In the census of 1860 Schussler, once again, identifies himself as a brewer. Where or what he was brewing is not revealed. There were three breweries operating in Oshkosh at this point. Schussler could have been pitching-in at any of them.

In 1861 Schussler’s story takes a tragic and somewhat odd turn. Following in his father’s footsteps, Schussler’s 12 year-old son August had gone to work at the Frey Brewery in Fond du Lac. On January 18, 1861 August Schussler was tending a machine probably used for milling grain at the brewery when he fell into the machinery and was instantly crushed to death. Within months of August Schussler’s death, Joseph Schussler moved his family to Fond du Lac and went to work at the brewery where his son had been killed.

1875 Advertisment for Schussler's Fond du Lac Brewery
Schussler remained at the Frey Brewery until 1865 and then returned to barrel making for several years before establishing his second brewery in 1872. That year Schussler opened the West Hill Brewery on Hickory Street in Fond du Lac. This time, things worked out better. The West Hill Brewery met with wide acceptance in Fond du Lac and by 1878 Schussler was brewing over 1,000 barrels of beer a year, an output that rivaled the larger breweries of Oshkosh. Schussler continued brewing into his 70s and in 1890 turned the brewery over to his sons. Soon thereafter, however, the West Hill Brewery faltered. Though Schussler would live to see the turn of the century, his Fond du Lac brewery folded in 1892. The beer career of Oshkosh’s second brewmaster had come to a close.


  1. Note: August Schuessler was working in his Uncle's brewery, Jacob Frey was married to Dorethea Neukirch. August's mother was Stephanie 'Fannie' Neukirch Schuessler. Another Neukirch sibling, Margaretha 'Marie' Neukirch married C.T. Melms. The father of these girls was Franz Neukirch who started the So. Side Brewery in Milwaukee and handed it over to his son-in-law C.T. Melms. After CT Melms died, Phillip Best (Pabst) purchased the brewery. Thank you for this posted article. Susan M. Meister - 1-4-2014

  2. Thanks, Susan. You're right on all counts. You know your stuff! My plan is to do another post about Schuessler (or Schussler depending on the era) in the coming months. I’ve come across a good bit of other interesting info about him since the book came out and want to get it out there. Just curious, are you by any chance a Schuessler relation? If you’d like to discuss further, contact me at