Monday, July 15, 2013

Oshkosh Hops and the Jacob Ruppert Brewery

Last week I stumbled across something odd in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of July 22, 1927:
To old residents of the city, the mention of Col. Jacob Ruppert of New York City, owner of the Yankees and the Yankee stadium, where the Dempsey-Sharkey fight was held Thursday evening, has brought reminiscences of an uncle of that New York sports, magnate who visited this city frequently fifty years ago as a buyer of hops; Colonel Ruppert, then a brewer, realized the excellent quality of hops raised on the south side of the river and sent his uncle here to buy the best.
When I first read the article, I didn’t quite believe it. The “fifty years ago” mentioned in the blurb would take us to 1877. At that time, the Jacob Ruppert Brewery of New York City was the eighth largest brewery in the nation producing a whopping 84,432 barrels of beer (the largest American brewery at the time was that of George Ehret, also of New York City, with a production of 138,449 barrels). The notion of a brewery this size sourcing the hops of a small county 950 miles to its west seems far-fetched. Especially when you consider that New York State was then the largest producer of hops in the country. Why would Ruppert bother with Oshkosh? But after a little digging, it appears that the “old residents” weren’t just bullshitting us.

They were a bit off on the date and they were a little confused about who was running the Ruppert Brewery then, but it does indeed appear that Ruppert was buying hops in Oshkosh. The uncle referred to in the article is almost certainly Francis Ruppert. He was the brother of Jacob Ruppert Sr. who launched the Ruppert Brewery in 1867. In the late 1860s and early 1870s, Francis Ruppert kept a room in Oshkosh at the Tremont House at the northwest corner of State & Waugoo. He gave his occupation as a Hop Dealer in both the 1869-70 Oshkosh city directory and the 1870 Census. At the time, hops were a hot commodity in Winnebago County. Ruppert appears to have liked the stock here well enough to settle in to take his pick. It’s a telling piece on the quality of the hops grown here.

Too bad it didn’t last. In the 1870s, the hop market in Winnebago County began to collapse due to pricing pressures. Francis Ruppert returned to New York City. Brother Jacob Ruppert Sr. died in 1915 and his son Col. Jacob Ruppert Jr. took over the brewery. That same year, Ruppert Jr. bought the New York Yankees and with the help of Ruth and Gehrig made them into the most dominant team in baseball. So, how do you feel about that? Oshkosh hops played a minor role in establishing the Yankees dynasty. It’s a curious world, friends.

Here’s a whole lot more on the history of hops in Oshkosh.

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