Monday, October 31, 2016

Sign of the Times

Last week I was sifting through old photos of people drinking beer in Oshkosh saloons. In two of the pictures, something jumped out at me. See if you can guess what grabbed my attention. I’ll narrow it down: it’s not the mugs of dark beer or the kids hanging out at the bar.

Here’s the first photo. It’s from 1903. This is a look inside the Wenzl Miller Saloon.

That’s Wenzl Miller behind the bar. Miller’s stand was as rudimentary as a saloon could get. It was located at the north west corner of 6th and Ohio streets, at what is now 600 W. Sixth Ave.

A few words about Mr. Miller. He was born in Austria in 1845. Wenzl left his homeland for America when he was about 25 years old. He worked in lumber mills here before launching his saloon. He also ran the Sixth Ward Meat Market at what is now 601 W. Sixth Ave. The butcher shop was just across the street from the saloon. He and his wife Caroline had 14 children. Wenzl Miller died in 1932. He was 86 years old.

Up next is a place I wish I knew more about. It would be nice to know anything about it. Looks like it could be an Oshkosh saloon. Judging by the paraphernalia, clothes and dark beer, I’m guessing this was taken sometime in the early 1900s.

I love that picture. The guy with the cats in his lap. The kid standing directly under the sign “MINORS NOT ALLOWED IN HERE.” Wonderful.

Have you guessed the common theme? It was hanging behind the bar in both saloons. Here it is in luscious, living color.

This lithograph of the Oshkosh Brewing Company was produced near the turn of the century. There’s a bit of exaggeration going on here. OBC looked nothing like what you see in the print. It’s a composite image. It shows three separate OBC facilities. Each was in a different part of town. Mashing them together made for a more impressive effect. Brewers used to do this kind of thing in their advertising all the time.

Look at those saloon photos again. Compared to the lithograph, with its luminous color, the saloon scenes look so old. It’s the limitations of early photography that makes it so. Those places were vibrant, brimming with life. If we could see the colors our view of the past would be different. The distance between now and then wouldn’t seem so great. We have much in common with these people.


  1. Great pics Lee, just a guess, but the second pic has a lot of OBC signage, OBC tied house?

    1. Could very well be. I've been looking through pictures that I have of OBC tied houses. So far nothing matches up. We'll figure it out eventually!

  2. What about the triangle bar right across the street from Chamber of Commerce no building there anymore but I seen one picture only from the inside... does anyone know which one I'm talking about I believe I have it but I need to find it

    1. I remember that place. Right across from cook a browns

  3. The first photo is of my great-grandfather's (Wenzel Miller) "sample saloon.". His name is above the bar. Yes, he also owned Miller's Meat Market across the street. My grandfather, Louis Miller, worked there along with his brothers. I'm so proud to know that my ancestors were such hard-working citizens of Oshkosh in the very early days of it's history.