Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 15: Introducing the Chief Oshkosh 8-Pack

Here’s an ad for Chief Oshkosh Beer that’s got a lot more going on than a quick glance would lead you to believe. This appeared in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on March 10, 1961. Before we get into the background noise that makes this interesting, let’s discuss that ugly cartoon in the middle panel (click on the image to enlarge). That’s a fairly representative image of just how stupid beer advertising had grown in the post-war period. When the Oshkosh Brewing Company first began using Native American Imagery in the 1890s, their advertising was filled with some truly beautiful paintings and drawings of Chief Oshkosh. That had gone fairly well to hell by the 1940s, but even then, the stuff at least looked pretty good. By the 1960s you had this: a crummy sketch of a subnormal with a beer belly wearing a feather and loincloth as he trots around an 8-pack of Chief Oshkosh. Did people find this shit amusing? Probably. After all, this is the same era that brought you the Hamm's Beer bear, an idiotic figure that annoyed me even as a child. Sadly, things haven’t improved much. OK, let’s move along before I lose it completely and start bitching about people walking on my lawn.

One of the more interesting things about this ad is that it may mark a historical first in the brewing industry. This was the first ad for the Chief Oshkosh 8-pack of returnable bottles, which may be important because OBC was claiming that this was the first time an American brewery had sold its beer in an 8-bottle package. Big deal, right? Some thought so. Here’s what the Northwestern had to say about it in another section of the paper that day:
The Oshkosh Brewing Company made brewing history today with the introduction of what is believed to be the nation's first eight-bottle carton, a major forward step in the beer retailing field.
What’s left out is that it was an innovation born of desperation. At this time, OBC was being hammered by stagnant pricing in the beer market. The new package was an attempt to charge just a bit more for a product whose price had seen little increase in the past 10 years. In 1961, you could still pick up a six-pack of Chief Oshkosh for less than 90 cents. And there were plenty of smaller Wisconsin breweries selling their beer in Oshkosh at prices well below that. It was turning into a tough time to be a regional brewer.

Which may help explain the backstory to this ad. When this appeared, Arthur Schawlm, president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, and Earl Horn, the brewery’s vice-president, were in negotiations to sell the Oshkosh Brewing Company to David Uihlein, a member of the family that held controlling interest in Schlitz Brewing. Uihlein, it would later be reported, had a plan of his own. He wanted to turn around and sell the Oshkosh Brewing Company to Schlitz. It was messy plot that would fall flat. In August 1961, Uihlein did manage to purchase the Oshkosh Brewing Company, but it turned out that Schlitz wanted nothing to do with Chief Oshkosh. So Uihlein came to Oshkosh and attempted to run the brewery himself. And thus would begin the Oshkosh Brewing Company’s ten-year slide into oblivion. The 8-pack, however, is still with us. I can think of worse legacies.


  1. I am now going to laugh every time I see a lazy mutt "6pac". Not that I haven't been already, just now I'll laugh harder.

  2. Now you'll know who to thank, Patrick!

  3. In Madison in the late 1960's Huber Beer in returnable bottle cases was frequently sold around campus at 2 cases for $5.00. Many of these cases had three 8 pack carriers per box which could be sold separately. I bought quite a few of these 8 packs at Miller's Market a couple blocks off Regent St. near campus. Same concept as your featured Chief Oshkosh 8 packs and I wonder if these packages came from cases or if they were a truly separate packaging concept.