Monday, April 18, 2016

When the Big Breweries Converged on Oshkosh

It’s 1891. The beer scene in Oshkosh is changing fast. The city’s breweries are struggling against a tide of beer sent in by large, shipping breweries. Here’s the Oshkosh Times to sets the scene...

... nearly all the large brewing companies of the country have established or will soon do so warehouses and branch offices here.

The Christian Moerlein Company, of Cincinnati, built a warehouse last fall. Falk, Jung & Borchert of Milwaukee, also have a branch establishment here and the erection of warehouses will be commenced immediately by the Anheuser-Busch Company of St. Louis, Pabst Company, of Milwaukee, and Schlitz Company, of Milwaukee.

These beer warehouses are called coolers and need little ice owing to the formation of the walls which are two feet in thickness and consist of alternate dead air spaces and layers of sawdust.
     -- Oshkosh Times, March 29, 1891

The Times neglected to mention that Miller Brewing would also soon join the march on Oshkosh. The inundation of beer would have a devastating effect on the breweries located here. In 1891 there were four breweries producing beer in Oshkosh. At the close of 1894 there were two.

I covered the Schlitz blitz a couple weeks ago and over the next few weeks I’ll get into the other breweries mentioned here. But let’s start with the Christian Moerlein brewery.

In 1890, Moerlein was the largest brewery in Cincinnati and the 14th largest in America. The Moerlein brewery was launched in 1853 by Bavarian immigrant Christian Moerlein. He was still at the helm of his brewery when it put down stakes in Oshkosh. Here’s a look at the man...

The Oshkosh branch Moerlein built in the fall of 1890 was a fairly small affair. The only picture I’ve seen of it is this one, circa 1892. You'll see the Moerlein sign and building on the left side of the image...

This building was located near the southwest corner of what is now Commerce and Pearl streets. Here’s a map from 1890. Moerlein’s warehouse was situated right about where the red star has been stamped.

Here’s that same area today…

Let’s dial this in. Here’s the 1890 map overlaid with the current aerial view.

These beer warehouses and bottling plants were all clustered in the same area. The Falk, Jung & Borchert, Miller, Pabst and Schlitz branches were within a two block radius of the Moerlein branch. The railroad spurs that criss-crossed this part of town made it an attractive destination for breweries shipping in beer by rail.

Moerlein appears to have made the smallest dent of any of these breweries. The 1893 City Directory, which came out a couple years after the Moerlein warehouse went up, doesn’t even list the brewery or mention it having an agent in Oshkosh.

When you consider the size of the city, it’s fairly amazing that so many breweries would show such an interest in Oshkosh. The city’s population in 1891 was approximately 23,000. But its reputation was known far and wide: Those Oshkosh folks consume heroic quantities of beer!


  1. You always come up with new things I never have heard of. That is really cool

    1. Thanks, Randy! Not far from your new place.