Monday, October 23, 2017

Peoples, Needles, and Women

In the spring of 1914, Peoples Brewing Company released a new beer named Aristo. To promote it, the brewery gave away a cardboard needle case. It was slathered with advertising. If you lived in Oshkosh, this may have landed in your mailbox (click on any of the pictures to enlarge them)...

The brewery hoped the recipient would tear off the postcard portion, fill out the order form on the reverse side, and mail it back to the brewery. Shortly after, beer would be delivered to their doorstep. Here’s a better look at the order form.

At 80 cents a case, Aristo was among the cheapest beers available in the city. Check out the beer listed below it. Standard, at 50 cents for a dozen pint bottles, was even cheaper. Not by much. By the ounce the difference was a fraction of a cent.

What is "un-steamed" beer? It's beer that hasn’t been pasteurized. That was unusual for a bottled beer of this period. The idea was to replicate the flavor of draft beer, which was also unpasteurized. Standard was the same beer Peoples sent out in wooden kegs to Oshkosh saloons. Here they refer to those saloons as “buffets.” They were putting a soft edge on things.

In 1914, there was a lot of trash talk being aimed at breweries. Much of it came from the Anti-Saloon League (ASL). The ASL was making huge strides in its push for a nationwide ban on alcoholic beverages. Breweries responded by trying to promote a more wholesome image. Aristo epitomized that. It was a “Family Beer.” What does that even mean?

This was also an appeal to women. By 1914 – a year after Peoples Brewing opened – sales of the brewery’s beer in saloons was booming. But there weren’t a lot of women hanging out in Oshkosh saloons. If Peoples was going to draw them in it would have to be done through bottled beer sales. The brewery increasingly directed its bottled-beer advertising towards women. Here’s an example from 1916.

After a day's hard work, tending to the many household duties…”  What about the women who were out there working in Oshkosh’s mills? They’re never mentioned in these ads. Peoples issued all kinds of ads featuring working men doing manual labor. But the brewery never portrayed women in such a light. They’re always depicted in the home, exhausted by household chores.

Here’s a more accurate picture of the period. These are the workers at the Oshkosh Grass Matting Co.

I’ll bet a few of those women drank beer. They couldn’t vote, but they could buy beer. That’s the truly dark side of all this. On the whole, breweries were opposed to women's suffrage. Big mistake.

The suffrage movement found an ally in the ASL. The two groups joined forces. And in 1919 they rammed through the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution establishing national Prohibition. A year later, the 19th Amendment was passed granting women the right to vote.

Had breweries supported a woman’s right to vote, they may have diffused the power of the Anti-Saloon League. Perhaps the calamity of Prohibition would have been avoided. Ironically, women’s groups would be instrumental in the eventual derailing of Prohibition.

After beer became legal again in 1933, Peoples generally steered-clear of gender-based advertising. If women appeared in their ads at all, the depictions were usually idiotic. Get a load of this from 1971. A year after this came out, Peoples closed.

It would have been so much easier to do so much better. The picture below could have made a nice ad. It’s from 1957. The happy couple in Jerry’s Bar is enjoying what else? Peoples Beer!

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