Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 11: The Acee Deucee Ghost Sign

At first glance, this ad appears to be relatively simple. What we have here is a painted sign advertising Chief Oshkosh Beer. Better yet, it still remains, in all its faded glory, on the north exterior wall of Herbie's Acee Deucee Lounge at 1329 Oregon Street. But when was it put there? That’s where things start getting complicated. My best guess is that the ad went up sometime between 1961 and 1965. Here’s why I think that: Although it’s getting difficult to see, the color scheme of the ad and the lettering are consistent with the 1961 redesign of the Chief Oshkosh Beer label. A few years later, in the mid-1960s, the Oshkosh Brewing Company substantially cut its advertising budget. New signs of this type would have been rare after 1965. And then there’s that line at the bottom: “Quality Since 1864.” Here’s where the water gets deep.

The Oshkosh Brewing Company always had a difficult time figuring out exactly how old it was. The company liked to pin its start date on the formation of Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery; the oldest of the three Oshkosh breweries that merged to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) in 1894. The problem with that was that the Horn & Schwalm Brewery often vacillated on the date it affixed to its launch. Leonhardt Schwalm purchased the land for and began preparing his new brewery in 1865. The following year, he partnered with his brother-in-law August Horn, making 1866 the legitimate start date of their brewery. But 20 years later, they appeared to have forgotten that. An arbitrary start date of 1864 begins popping up in their advertising around 1886, a mistake that would continue rearing its head well into the next century.

After OBC’s formation in 1894, they had managed to figure out that the 1864 date was incorrect. An early letter head for OBC contained the lines, “Established 1866. Incorporated 1894.” But it wasn’t long before they lost the thread, again. By 1898, OBC had reverted to using the 1864 date in its advertising. Odd, considering that during that same year the company was involved with a published history of the brewery that correctly identified 1866 as the start date of the Horn & Schwalm Brewery. Confused yet? It gets worse.

In 1914, 48 years after the launch of the Horn & Schwalm Brewery, OBC celebrated it’s 50th anniversary (two years early) and issued a commemorative label for its bottled beer. The mistake took hold and would become the party line until the early 1950s. The error may have been discovered during the research for Oshkosh: One Hundred Years a City, a book published in 1953 for the city’s Centennial. There, for the first time in a while, the 1866 date again appears. From that point, and for the next ten years, OBC identified its start as 1866. In 1956, OBC even threw a large party inviting the entire city out to the brewery to celebrate its 90th anniversary. You would think that would have clarified the matter permanently. It didn’t.

After David Uihlein bought the brewery in 1961, he must have come across some of the old ephemera that listed 1864 as the start date. Uihlein re-adopted the incorrect date. And in 1964, just eight years after OBC had celebrated its 90th anniversary, OBC celebrated its 100th anniversary. What I like is that nobody seemed to notice that the brewery was jumping the gun by a couple of years. And that’s how you end up with the 1864 date appearing on the Acee Deucee sign. Does this make your head hurt? I need a beer.

1 comment:

  1. Good bit of OBC history related to this ghost sign. If you haven't bought a copy of The Breweries of Oshkosh you don't know what a historical reading treat you are missing. The writing, the pictures, and the layout are the best of any brewing history book that I own or have read. Just buy it!

    Growing up in the Wausau area I recall a number of these ghost signs advertising local brews like Schoen's Old Lager and Adel Brau. These were painted on buildings, barns, and silos.

    A question for readers of this blog if you will. Does anyone know if the breweries hired artists to paint the signs or who else might have done them? Distributors? Outdoor advertising companies? Are any of these building artists still around? Did the Acee Deucee get a beer discount for the painted sign on their building? It would be fun to hear some stories from sign artists who did this type of work.