Sunday, September 29, 2019

An Oshkosh Beer-Baron Tour of Riverside Cemetery

This Saturday, October 5th, will be the first of two guided tours through Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh to visit the graves and tell the stories of 12 of Oshkosh's most colorful brewers and saloon owners. The tour is being coordinated and led by Donna Brotske of Riverside. I've supplied the research behind the tour and will be on hand to help answer questions and add some details about the people inhabiting the graves we'll be visiting.

The second tour, on October 12th, will be identical to the October 5th tour. Both tours begin at 10 a.m. and will last approximately 90 minutes. Tickets are $10, with proceeds going to help with upkeep, maintenance, and improvements of the cemetery. Space on these tours is limited and registration is required. Call 920-236-5092 to take care of that.

We'll visit the graves of Oshkosh luminaries such as Joseph Nigl, Herman Steckbauer, Lorenz Kuenzl, Charles Rahr, and eight more. It should be a lot of fun. I've been wanting to do something like this for years. I hope you can make it. For more info, check out the Facebook Event Page.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Riot of 1974, Kelly's Super Bar, and the Death of the Wisconsin Strip

Lots of Oshkoshers remember the strip of bars that stood along Wisconsin Avenue where it approaches the Fox River. Saloons began opening there in the 1880s. Some of those bars were in business for over 100 years.

By the 1960s, "the strip" had become Oshkosh’s most notorious drinking lane. The last tavern added to the line-up is at the southwest corner of Wisconsin and High. It opened in 1975 as Kelly's Super Bar.

Kelly's in 2019

The land where Kelly's stands was residential property through much of the 1900s. A modest, two-story home was there until the mid-1950s. The home was torn down and in the spring of 1958, Hartman's D-X Service Station was launched at 219 Wisconsin Street.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 8, 1958.

It would be auto shops and gas stations there for the next 17 years. The last of them was Bob's Sunoco. It closed in late 1973.

Bob's Sunoco at the end of its run in 1973.

By then, the strip was best known for the wild Saint Patrick's Day parties that annually flooded into Wisconsin Street. Those celebrations culminated with the Saint Patrick's Day "riot" of 1974. The drunks ran amok.

On Saturday, March 16, 1974, a crowd of several thousand gathered along the strip south of High Avenue. They lined the street waiting to gain entrance to taverns already filled to overflowing. The scene gradually degenerated as revelers stopped traffic and began smashing windows. Oshkosh Police arrived in riot gear to clear the street.

The encounter began peacefully but by midnight it had turned into a battle. Four Oshkosh cops reported being injured and five squad cars were damaged. The police made 22 arrests, mostly for disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, and resisting arrest. More than half of those taken to jail didn't live in Oshkosh. They had come here for the infamous party. Here are a few pictures from that day...

The aftermath on Wisconsin Street. The sign for Bob's Sunoco can be seen at the upper left.

After the riot, work began on converting the abandoned Sunoco station into Kelly’s. The Irish-sounding moniker was no coincidence. The 1974 melee had received national attention. Oshkosh was known as the place to be on Saint Patrick's Day. Kelly's was named to take advantage of that. The new bar was up and running when Saint Patrick's Day 1975 arrived.

But the 1974 riot was not going to be repeated. In its aftermath, the city adopted a new set of ordinances that included $200 fines for blocking traffic or having an open intoxicant on a public street. Oshkosh Police sent a memo to tavern owners warning that building capacity limits would be strictly enforced and that bars would not be permitted to open before noon and had to be closed by 1 a.m. The police presence was heavy along Wisconsin Street for the 1975 Saint Patrick's Day party. The mood was subdued. Nonetheless, people flocked to the bar with the shamrock over the door.

Oshkosh Advance-Titan, March 20, 1975

The 1974 riot was a turning point for the Wisconsin strip. A series of bar closures occurred there in the years that followed. One-by-one, the older taverns were being torn down. On the west side of Wisconsin Street, a couple of the earliest saloon properties were purchased by the University and demolished.

Even the legendary Tosh's was being rehabilitated. Tosh's was on the east side of Wisconsin Street a block south of Kelly’s. It was considered ground zero for Saint Patrick's Day mayhem. In the early 1970s, Tosh's held the dubious honor of selling more Schlitz Malt Liquor than any other bar in America.

The one-story building on the corner was the site of what had been Tosh's

Tosh's was sold in 1976 to Bernard and Catherine Klinzing and John and Doreen Supple. The Supple's also owned Shakey's Pizza in Oshkosh. Their sons, Jay, Joe, and John, would later launch Fox River Brewing Company. John Supple thought the strip was ready for a bar that offered something more than a never-ending beer bash.

The new owners dropped the Tosh's name. The long, straight bar was torn out and replaced with a circular bar more conducive to polite conversation. Table seating and a kitchen were added and the bathrooms were redone. They carpeted the floors. The bar reopened as Joey's in September 1976.

"The college students have changed a lot in the last three years," John Supple said a week before Joey’s opened. "They’ve matured, and I feel they're going to school for a purpose. They need a nice place which is close to campus to get together with their friends.”

Oshkosh Northwestern, October 14, 1976.

At Kelly's, they were pursuing a somewhat similar path. The bar's manager, Tom Hayes, had branded it a "Super Bar" providing college students with a range of services that included check cashing and basic grocery items. "The most important thing a bar in this area can do is be creative and stick with their own ideas," Hayes said.

In the end, though, the old ideas won out. The strip would never shake the reputation that made it notorious. Joey's had regressed to the mean by the time I moved here for school in 1982. It had become the Whiskey Run where for $3 on a Saturday afternoon they'd sell you a plastic cup and fill it with beer again and again until you couldn’t possibly stomach any more. It was not "a nice place." But it was a lot of fun.

The Whiskey Run became Barney's and finally Encounters before the building was torn down in 2001. And that was it for the strip. All of the old bars were cleared out. Today, there's just one tavern left standing on Wisconsin Street. Kelly's was the last bar to go up there. It came when the strip had reached the peak of its infamy. But it was the beginning of the end.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Hoppy and Fresh

There are two beers being released by Oshkosh breweries this week that signify new things happening here.

Hoppy Otter at Fox River River
Hoppy Otter will go on tap this afternoon (Thursday, September 19) at Fox River in Oshkosh. This is the first Fox River beer formulated by its new brewmaster, Andrew Roth. His homebrewing roots are on display as he takes what would otherwise be a standard amber lager and shapes it into something all its own. Roth says this is a beer with a "bit of an identity crisis." He starts with a base of English malts and then brings in a heavy dose of late-addition Mosaic hops that blend tropical-fruit flavors into that malty background. With Roth running the brewhouse, I suspect we'll be seeing quite a bit more of this style-bending approach coming from Fox River in the future. Hoppy Otter is 5% ABV.

Farm Fresh at Bare Bones
Friday, September 20, Bare Bones releases its third wet hop ale in as many years. Wet hop beers use fresh, unprocessed hops that are not dried prior to brewing. This year's batch of Farm Fresh is going to be different. For the first time, Bare Bones has partnered with a Winnebago County hop grower. The hops are from Hidden Valley Hops Farm operated by Justin Gloede in the Town of Winchester. This is the first commercial beer to have been made using Gloede's hops. “I'm pretty excited about that,” Gloede says. Farm Fresh uses organic cascades that were picked just a couple of hours before they went into the Bare Bones kettle. It was a small-batch brew, so it won't be around long. This is local beer in the most elemental sense.

Freshly picked hops at Hidden Valley Hops Farm.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Butch: The Life of an Oshkosh Bootlegger

"There were any number of wildcats in Oshkosh,” Cyril said. “But there were two big operations. Butch Youngwirth ran one of them. He was quite a guy."

Cyril worked as a driver during Prohibition transporting bootleg alcohol in and out of Oshkosh. The wildcats he spoke of were breweries that produced beer during the dry years. Cyril knew Butch Youngwirth well. And there's no doubt that Butch was quite a guy.

His full name was Frank Joseph Youngwirth. He was born on August 7, 1892, in Marshfield, Wisconsin. His parents were immigrants from Bohemia who had come to America in the late 1880s. The family moved to Oshkosh when Butch was still a boy. Frank and Albina Youngwirth would have 18 children in all. Butch was their oldest.

The Frank and Albina Youngwirth family, circa 1910. Young Butch stands tall in the center of the back row.

He grew up on the south side in a house on 6th between Idaho and Knapp streets. There was a saloon at one end of the block and a church at the other. His father was a laborer who also sometimes worked as a bartender at Joseph Nigl's saloon at 9th and Ohio. The Youngwirths were part of a growing population called Highholders – a tight-knit community of working-class Bohemian and Bavarian immigrants living south of the Fox River in Oshkosh’s 6th and 13th wards.

Butch Youngwirth's boyhood home at 906 West 6th Avenue.

Butch wasn't much for school. He quit before he had turned 15. He took a job in a lumber yard. He was 20 and still living at home when he married Henrietta “Hattie” Smith in 1913. Hattie was a few months older than Butch and, like him, she was first-generation American.

Butch and Hattie on their wedding day, April 2, 1913.

The newlyweds moved to the other side of town. They rented a small house on a V-shaped lot at the northwest corner of Pearl and Jackson. It wasn't much. Butch got a job working at a machine shop on Oregon. Hattie stayed home and had babies. Their first was named Harold. He was born 10 months after they had married. Almost every year after, there was another baby on the way. Over the next seven years, Hattie gave birth to six more children.

Hattie and Butch, circa 1918, with their four children (left to right) Norman, Dorothy, Clarence, and Harold.

The Youngwirths were scraping by. Butch couldn't seem to settle into anything. He bounced from job to job and the family went from one rented home to the next. They eventually moved back to the 6th Ward and into a rented house on 5th Street. It was practically in the back yard of the house where Butch had grown up. He was working as a roofer when apparently he decided he’d had enough of this kind of living.

In October 1921, Hattie gave birth to George, their fifth son. He would be the last of their seven children. A few months later, Butch took a lease on a soda parlor at the northeast corner of 6th and Ohio. Soda parlors were unheard of in Oshkosh until Prohibition began in 1920. Now there were almost a hundred of them. They had been saloons before the dry law went into effect. Butch's place was one of those that made the switch.

556 West 6th Avenue, the former home of Butch's speakeasy.

There had been a bar there since about 1877 when the property was purchased by John Luck who converted the building into a grocery store/saloon. They had been selling liquor there ever since. The Oshkosh Brewing Company bought the saloon in 1906 and ran it as a tied house until Prohibition hit. In May 1922, the brewery sold the property to a woodworker named John Mauritz who, in turn, leased the building to Butch. Butch got a license to sell soft drinks and went into business for himself.

Butch had no interest in selling soda water. There was no money in that. Like nearly all of Oshkosh's new soda parlors, Butch's place operated as a speakeasy. It wasn’t long before he attracted the attention of the police. On August 7, 1922, Butch Youngwirth celebrated his 30th birthday. A week later, he was arrested on a charge of selling bootleg liquor at his soda parlor. He had picked the wrong time to launch a speakeasy.

Since the start of Prohibition, Oshkosh police had shown little interest in enforcing the dry law. That changed – temporarily at least – after the July 29, 1922 death of Marie Repp. The 19-year-old Repp, had drowned in Sawyer Creek after attending a dancing and drinking party held at a former saloon on what is now Oshkosh Avenue. Her death brought on a public outcry for the police to do something about the tide of bootleg booze flowing through the city. Butch was caught up in the ensuing dragnet.

On the night of August 14, 1922, Butch's speakeasy was raided by Oshkosh Police Chief Arthur Gabbert. Gabbert walked in to find a  young girl with a glass of booze in front of her. Butch was arrested and fined. It was the one and only time he would be arrested on a liquor violation during Prohibition.

The incident did nothing to change his mind about the new path he was on. Butch would go on operating his speakeasy at 6th and Ohio until at least 1926. And as late as 1930, he was still sometimes telling people who didn't know him that he made his living running a soft drink parlor. Everybody who knew him knew better.

This photo, circa 1925, is believed to have been taken inside Butch's speakeasy at 6th and Ohio. Butch stands behind the bar. The lack of signs or advertising for anything relating to alcohol is in stark contrast to the four men with mugs of beer standing at the bar.

It's unknown exactly when Butch transitioned from retailing alcohol to producing it. It's likely, however, that by 1924 he had already begun making his first forays into beer production. Butch was a brewer. Beer was the only drink he made. In Oshkosh, like much of Wisconsin, beer remained the alcoholic beverage of choice throughout the dry years.

The city grew rife with wildcat breweries. They sprung up in nearly every part of town. There were a number of organizations behind these breweries. "There was quite a few, little small ones," said the former bootlegger named Cyril. "Maybe 7 or 8 of them, I'd say, at least."

There were two organizations, though, that operated on a larger scale. Butch built his outfit into one of them. The other had its headquarters at the southwest corner of 9th and Knapp at a tavern that came to be known as the Böhmerwald.

What would become the Böhmerwald Tavern in the early 1900s.

An Oshkosh bootlegger named Slim was among those involved in the Böhmerwald group. “When I started, the agreement was made that we'd make the kegged beer and buy the bottled beer from them (Butch’s group),” Slim said. “Then something happened along the line there. First thing you know, they were making kegged beer and we were making bottled beer.”

These were not simple, homebrewing set-ups. These were commercial, albeit illegal, breweries in the truest sense. Some had bottling lines and pasteurized their beer. Others sold beer by the keg into saloons and private clubs. Some employed salesmen and delivery drivers and had production levels that surpass those of the craft breweries we have today.

One such brewery that Butch kept was located at 1325 Oregon. It operated in tandem with a speakeasy run by Mary Kollross at that same address. Mary's brother Eddie Kollross was part of Butch's outfit. When that brewery was raided by federal agents in 1930, they discovered more than 160 barrels of finished beer on hand and a four-head bottling machine.

The middle building with white siding at 1325 Oregon Street was the location of one of Butch’s breweries.

The risk of a brewery being raided was ever-present. For Butch, that risk was more financial than existential. "He’d pay the guy who owned the land to keep the brewery there, and also to take the rap if they got caught," Cyril said. "If they got sent to the House of Corrections in Milwaukee, Butch would pay him well for the time he spent there. I think about a hundred bucks a week."

Meanwhile, the beer kept on flowing. "He had quite a few places in town where he could be back in business in 24 hours if the feds came in and busted things up," Cyril said. "He only had one going at a time, but the others were always ready." Butch's oldest son Harold said that at one point his father had seven breweries; some in production others in waiting.

Butch wasn't averse to getting his family involved. One of his breweries was in the basement of the home where his sister Mollie lived at 826 West 6th Avenue. Her husband, Hubert "Hub" Molitor, was later arrested when he was caught working at what appears to have been another of Butch's breweries located on a farm on 20th Ave. When that brewery was raided in 1931, more than 350 barrels of fermenting beer were found on the premises. Federal agents described it as "a most elaborate plant... filled with large vats."

 The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern headline from August 26, 1931, after the raid on what was, in all probability, one of  Butch’s breweries.

The tall, thin young man who married Hattie Smith in 1913 had become a person he could scarcely have imagined a decade earlier. In the latter half of the 1920s, Butch's illicit operation flourished and he made no bones about who was boss. "He was an honest man," Cyril said, "but I'll tell you, you towed the mark when you worked for him. He was as honest as you could find, but he was big too, and he was about as wide as he was tall."

Butch was 6'3" and weighed about 250 pounds. His physical presence was central to the persona he adopted. "The guy was so intimidating," said his grandson Wayne Youngwirth. "He had hands that were just massive and he could be such a prick. He always wore this big ring. That thing was the size of a super-bowl ring. He'd sit there and turn it around on his finger when he talked to you."

"You remember old Bruno Siewert?" Cyril said. "He was a great big, heavy butcher. He was about as big as Butch. Well I’ll tell you, I walked into a tavern one time and Bruno Siewert was there drunk and so was Butch; he had a good shine on. And Bruno Siewert picked up a half-barrel full of beer, you know it was one of them wooden kegs and they were heavy. He put it on his shoulder and walked back and forth across the barroom with it. He set it down and said 'I'll give a hundred dollars to anybody here that can do that.' Butch gets up and says, 'Well, you just lost yourself a hundred dollars.'"

It was all part of the show. By the end of the 1920s, he had made himself notorious. "Butch was the most well known because he was always out and about drinking and gambling," Cyril said. "Geez, he was a wild man. Everybody knew him. I remember him and his buddies driving around in their Buicks every Monday to make their collections at the saloons. When they got all the money, they’d go over to this place, sit in a booth and put the money in a big pile in front of them. Then they'd start counting it. But they never bothered to count the singles. Just the big stuff. The singles they put off to the side."

That same scene was played out in the Youngwirth home. Butch's youngest son, George, recalled beer peddlers coming to the house at two or three in the morning to drop off money they had collected. The dining table would be heaped with cash. "I remember Butch made $38,000 one year and $40,000 the next," Cyril said. "That was a lot of money in those days."

It certainly was. And what Butch didn’t gamble away he kept mostly for himself. At the time, modern homes in Oshkosh were selling for less than $5,000. But Butch was keeping Hattie and their seven children in a $25 a month rental (since demolished) at 8th and Knapp. Butch wasn't spending much time there.

In the spring of 1925, Butch who was then 32, impregnated a 20-year-old woman who lived nearby his family’s home. Her name was Caroline Nachtmann and she lived with her parents at 1048 West 7th Avenue. She remained there after the birth of her daughter, Phyllis Ann Nachtmann, on December 17, 1925. Caroline's relationship with Butch was ongoing. It's not known when Hattie learned of it or of the daughter Butch had fathered. But their marriage deteriorated in the years that followed.

His relationship with Hattie wasn't the only thing coming to an end. By 1931, there was little doubt that Prohibition would be repealed. The return of legal beer was assured after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932. That spelled doom for the bootleggers. Butch’s business was wiped out when beer was legalized in April 1933. He wasn’t caught unprepared.

In 1930, Butch and Eddie Kollross bought a saloon formerly owned by Pabst Brewing. The building was near the northeast corner of Wisconsin and Pearl. There had been a speakeasy there during the early years of Prohibition. In August 1932, Butch bought out Eddie's stake in the property. And in 1933, after beer became legal again, he re-named the bar Butch's Tavern. He joined the Bartender's Union. He went legit.

Butch's post-Prohibition business card.

It was not a smooth period of transition. In 1932, he'd crashed his car into a vehicle on 4th Street. The occupant of the other car, Theodore Staerkel, was injured in the collision. Butch drove off. He was arrested the following morning and charged with drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident. Staerkel wanted charges pressed, but a week later changed his mind to the dismay of the district attorney. Butch got off with a $100 fine.

Then in 1934, Butch and Hattie's oldest daughter, Dorothy, died at their home following a tonsillectomy. She was 18 years old. Butch and Hattie divorced not long after. The kids stayed with her. Hattie later moved the family into a modest home she purchased at the corner of 10th and Knapp. Butch moved into an apartment above his tavern on Wisconsin. His oldest son, Harold, went to work for him tending bar.

Butch with his parents in the early 1940s.

The former bootlegger settled into an existence more mundane than the one he had grown accustomed to. He had managed to put some money into real estate and stocks, but as the years went on almost all of that was sold off to pay for his gambling and the price of maintaining a reputation that had become central to the identity he liked to project.

"In taverns, he was always buying drinks and trying to be the big-time operator," recalls his grandson Wayne Youngwirth. "He was always throwing money around." Butch wouldn't talk about bootlegging, but as Wayne came of age he began to learn bits and pieces of the story. And there was a certain privilege that came with being his grandson. Wayne said, "By the time I was 15, my brother and me were going into bars and everybody knew we were Butch's grandsons. These older guys would say 'Get Butch's grandson one.' No one ever gave us any shit."

But the downside was fierce. "Grandpa was such a mean son of a bitch," Wayne said. "I could tell you story after story about him. He never was a family guy, but he would come over every Sunday for dinner. My dad helped him out all the time, but Butch would never do a damned thing to help him. None of his boys liked to talk about him because of all of the shit he pulled when they were growing up. He’d come home in the middle of the night screaming and hollering, all bombed, and then there were the mistresses and all of that. They knew everything, they saw it. My dad forgave him all the time for the bullshit he pulled. I never could understand that."

Hattie died in 1957 at the age of 65. She was buried in Lake View Memorial Park next to the grave of her daughter Dorothy. Butch was still seeing Caroline Nachtmann. For years she worked at Diamond Match, just down the street from his tavern. She still lived in the house at 1048 West 7th Avenue where she had raised their daughter. The house had become hers after the death of her mother in 1954. Caroline Nachtmann committed suicide in that house in 1965. She tied an electric cord around her neck and hung herself from a sewage pipe in the basement. Her body was discovered later that day by Phyllis, the daughter Butch had fathered.

Butch sold his tavern to his son Harold in 1963. He retired the following year at the age of 72. A year after that, Harold sold the bar to the Wisconsin Board of Regents. They tore it down. Butch moved into a small apartment attached to the tavern owned by his son Leroy at 7th and Knapp.

Leroy’s Bar at 701 Knapp Street.
The adjoining building at 703 Knapp is the apartment where Butch resided during the final years of his life.

"Grandpa, as he got older, was burning through everything he had," Wayne said. "Leroy built that apartment for him. My mom, who hated him, always had to take meals over. He didn’t go out much anymore."

On April 27, 1973, Butch was admitted to Mercy Medical Center. He never left. Butch died there on May 2, 1973. Frank Joseph Youngwirth was 80 years old.

"My dad called me and told me Grandpa passed away," Wayne said. “I had already heard it from Leroy. There was a lot of bitterness there. The kids all got together and I'll never forget it. I was sitting there and I knew it was going to get heated. Leroy got up and said, 'Where are we going to put him?' Then Clarence got up and said. 'That fucker is not going to be buried next to my mother. That fucker can rot in hell.' It was vicious. He was buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery next to his mistress. I helped carry that son of a bitch right there to his grave."

Butch’s headstone in Sacred Heart Cemetery.
The statue of the Madonna seen behind it stands beside the grave of Caroline Nachtmann.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Peoples Brewing and African American Entrepreneurship in the Civil Rights Era

John Harry, a graduate student in history at UW-Milwaukee, recently published a scholarly article in Voyageur Magazine about the final years of Peoples Brewing of Oshkosh. In conjunction with his article, Harry is speaking Thursday night (September 12) at Fifth Ward Brewing in Oshkosh. He'll be talking about Theodore Mack, the last president of Peoples, and Mack's role in leading Peoples as a black-owned brewery during the civil-rights era.

I've known John for a while now and can attest that he brings an interesting perspective to this complex story and how it relates to what was happening in our city in the early 1970s. John’s talk begins at 7pm. Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Strange Case of Peoples Beer in Nigeria

Theodore Mack had a line he often repeated for reporters. "When the going gets rough, I send me."

Theodore Mack

In 1972, the going for Mack got very rough. Since becoming president of Peoples Brewing in 1970 he had discovered just how brutal the beer business could be. In early 1972, Mack's brewery was faltering. Bills were going unpaid and the brewery’s board of directors was demanding answers. That fall, the downward thrust turned fatal. Peoples Brewing stopped making beer during the third week of October 1972. And that's when things got weird.

On November 2, Peoples Brewing sued the federal government claiming the brewery had been blocked from securing contracts to supply beer to the military. The lawsuit was an act of desperation. Peoples had already defaulted on loans backed by the Small Business Administration. The federal government was threatening to seize the brewery.

While that was playing out, Mack announced that he was considering moving Peoples to Alabama. On Friday, December 1, Mack led Alabama state legislator Fred D. Gray on a tour of his moribund brewery in Oshkosh. The two of them were childhood friends. After the tour, they drove to Milwaukee and held a news conference. Mack told reporters he would visit Alabama within the next 10 days. He said, "I don't run around the country unless I mean business."

The obstacles to this adventure would have been monumental. Considering the position he was in, it’s extremely unlikely that Mack would be able to raise the money or credit needed to move the brewery's operations to Alabama. Then there’s the fact that commercial brewing in Alabama wasn't even legal in 1972. Back in Oshkosh, Mack tempered his bluster. The Daily Northwestern reported on December 4 that Mack now "disclaimed" the stories about moving the brewery to Alabama.

Then came the plans for Africa. On January 8, 1973, Mack left for Nigeria. Four days later, he arrived in Ogbomosho, a city in southwest Nigeria. There, Mack met with a group of potential investors and pitched his idea for building a brewery in the city. In a letter signed by Mack dated January 16, 1973, he affirmed that the Nigerians, “Were very interested in the People’s Brewery Company being established in Ogbomosho.” The plan was to build a 200,000 barrel brewery at a proposed cost of $8 million. “It is believed by both parties that extreme haste is of the utmost essence in this matter,” Mack concluded.

Such high hopes. They may have been farfetched, but the idea itself was sound. The Nigerian beer market was booming and on the verge of another upsurge of growth. Mack’s plan might have worked.

Beer in Nigeria, 1970s.

What a drag it must have been for him to come back to the hopeless mess still waiting in Oshkosh. A couple of weeks after returning from Nigeria, Mack sent out a letter on Peoples Brewing Company stationary. The letter opened with...

Dear Stockholder:
There will be a stockholders meeting Tuesday, February 20, 1973, at 10:00 a.m., at Jabber’s Bar, 1518 South Main Street, Oshkosh. Jabber’s is adjacent to the brewery.

The shuttered brewery and the neighboring Jabbers Bar. The Pabst sign in front of Jabber's replaced a sign for Peoples Beer that had hung there when the brewery was open.
The meeting had to be held at the bar next door because there were no lights in the brewery. The power had been cut off. Mack went on in the letter to tell of the latest woes including the news that the Marshall & Ilsley Bank had informed him that “The Peoples Brewing Company has reverted back to the federal government.” It was a roundabout way of telling the shareholders that their money was lost. On a brighter note, Mack mentioned his recent trip to Nigeria. But he was not currently “in a position to reveal what transpired there.”

Fifteen months later there were wrecking balls knocking down the brewery on South Main in Oshkosh. The plan for the brewery in Nigeria came to nothing. The Peoples Brewing Company was dead. Mack quit the beer business. He remained in Oshkosh and went to work selling insurance for New York Life.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

When Canned Beer Came to Oshkosh

Off we go to 1935 when canned beer first arrived in Oshkosh. And what was the first canned beer sold here? That would be this one, Pabst Export...

Pabst was the second American brewery to can its beer. The first was Krueger Brewing of Newark, which released its cream ale in cans in January 1935. In August 1935, Pabst began canning its Export Beer, and in early September 1935, those cans began rolling into Oshkosh.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, September 9, 1935.
These were flat-top cans without a tabbed opening. To get at the beer you had to use this new thing called a churchkey. If you bought the beer, they'd give you a churchkey to go with it. The instructions were printed on the side of the can.

Cans of Pabst Export were distributed in Oshkosh by Kuebler Distributing from its warehouse on the north side of Parkway just east of Main (the building is gone). Pabst advertised the new package heavily here. The ads touted the benefits of the "Keglined TapaCan” lined with a polymer coating to keep the beer tasting like beer and not like tin.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, September 24, 1935.

A case of canned Pabst Export sold for $2.75 when it was first introduced in Oshkosh. At the time, it was the most expensive beer sold here. Budweiser was also being sold in Oshkosh then for $2.75. In today's money that would be about $40. Meanwhile, a case of bottles of Chief Oshkosh or Peoples or Rahr's sold for a measly $1.75.

A few months after the Pabst cans appeared, G. Heilemann Brewing of La Crosse began selling cans of Old Style beer in Oshkosh. They arrived in time for the 1935 holiday season. It was the first cone-top style can sold here. Old Style was distributed here by Lee Beverage of Oshkosh, which is still going strong.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, December 18, 1935.

Next came Schlitz, hitting Oshkosh with its cone-top cans in March 1936. The Schlitz cone tops were also brought in by  Kuebler Distributing. This was an odd one. Schlitz promoted it as a kind of health-food... "Stay on the "sunny side" by drinking SCHLITZ SUNSHINE VITAMIN D BEER. It brings you Vitamin D... developed directly by the sun's rays!"

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 27, 1936.

The cans kept on coming. The local breweries were in no hurry to join in. The Oshkosh Brewing Company became the first brewery here to can its beer. OBC introduced crowntainers of Chief Oshkosh in 1949. But by that time, the novelty of canned beer had faded. It was just another can of beer. Not anymore. The website puts the value of this can at $2,800. And to think, you could have bought a six-pack of them in 1949 for less than a dollar.

Like to know more? Here's An Illustrated History of Oshkosh Beer Cans.